The figure illustrates a hierarchical network of carbon nanotubes mimicking the protein network in a living cell to connect a small heat source (red area) to a larger area that serves as a heat sink.Nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS) devices have the potential to revolutionize the world of sensors: motion, chemical, temperature, etc. But taking electromechanical devices from the micro scale down to the nano requires finding a means to dissipate the heat output of this tiny gadgetry. 

In a paper appearing in the March 26 issue of Nano Letters, Professor Markus Buehler and postdoctoral associate Zhiping Xu of MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering say the solution is to build these devices using a thermal material that naturally dissipates heat from the device’s center through a hierarchical branched network of carbon nanotubes. The template for this thermal material’s design is a living cell, specifically, the hierarchical protein networks that allow a cell’s nucleus to communicate with the cell’s outermost regions.

Greg Rutledgeby Anne Trafton

In his office, MIT Professor of Chemical Engineering Gregory Rutledge keeps a small piece of fabric that at first glance resembles a Kleenex. This tissue-like material, softer than silk, is composed of fibers that are a thousand times thinner than a human hair and holds promise for a wide range of applications including protective clothing, drug delivery and tissue engineering.

Such materials are produced by electrospinning, a technique that has taken off in the past 10 years, though the original technology was patented more than a century ago. In Rutledge's lab, researchers are exploring new ways to create electrospun fibers, often incorporating materials that add novel features such as the ability to kill bacteria. 

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