Monthly Archives: May 2018

Bio-material Stronger Than Steel

At DESY‘s X-ray light source PETRA III, a team led by Swedish researchers has produced the strongest bio-material that has ever been made. The artifical, but bio-degradable cellulose fibres are stronger than steel and even than dragline spider silk, which is usually considered the strongest bio-based material. The team headed by Daniel Söderberg from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm reports the work in the journal ACS Nano of the American Chemical Society. The ultrastrong material is made of cellulose nanofibres (CNF), the essential building blocks of wood and other plant life. Using a novel production method, the researchers have successfully transferred the unique mechanical properties of these nanofibres to a macroscopic, lightweight material that could be used as an eco-friendly alternative for plastic in airplanes, cars, furniture and other products.


The resulting fibre seen with a scanning electron microscope (SEM)

Our new material even has potential for biomedicine since cellulose is not rejected by your body”, explains Söderberg.

The scientists started with commercially available cellulose nanofibres that are just 2 to 5 nanometres in diameter and up to 700 nanometres long. A nanometre (nm) is a millionth of a millimetre. The nanofibres were suspended in water and fed into a small channel, just one millimetre wide and milled in steel. Through two pairs of perpendicular inflows additional deionized water and water with a low pH-value entered the channel from the sides, squeezing the stream of nanofibres together and accelerating it.

This process, called hydrodynamic focussing, helped to align the nanofibres in the right direction as well as their self-organisation into a well-packed macroscopic thread. No glue or any other component is needed, the nanofibres assemble into a tight thread held together by supramolecular forces between the nanofibres, for example electrostatic and Van der Waals forces.


Electric Powered Flight Ten Times Less Expensive

Consumer passenger flight could be the next industry that’s transformed by electric powertrains, and Seattle’s Zunum Aero wants to be at the forefront of that change. The Seattle-based company, which is backed by Boeing’s HorizonX fund and Jet Blue’s Technology Ventures, has a plan to change the fundamental economics of regional flight, and shift the economics of air travel on a path towards eventual fully electric flight.

The first Zunum aircraft is designed for regional service, with seating for 12 passengers and a delivery window starting in 2022. The economics are potentially game-changing, with operating expenses of around $260 per hour for the aircraft. With a max cruise stepped of 340 miles per hour (547 km/h) in the air, a take-off distance of 2,200 feet (671 meters), a total hybrid-electric range of 700 miles (1127 km), which it hopes to scale to over 1,000 (1610 km) )in time and 80 percent lower noise and emissions vs. traditional regional planes, Zunum is position its airplane as the perfect way to light up under-utilized regional airports across the U.S., providing affordable and efficient commuter flights where economic realities have made running regular service impractical.

In the past, very intentionally, we were quiet about operating costs, because it’s just shockingly low what you can get with an electric. So that you can get an aircraft of a size that could never compete with an airliner that can get you below commercial fares,” Zunum Aero CEO Ashish Kumar told in an interview. He put the cost per seat operating expenses at around 8 cents per mile. “That’s about one-tenth the operating cost of a business jet per hour,” he said.


A Pinch Of Salt Improves Drastically Battery Performance

Researchers at Queen Mary University of London, University of Cambridge and Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research have discovered how a pinch of salt can be used to drastically improve the performance of batteries. Surprisingly, the salt reacted with the sponge in special ways and turned it from a homogeneous mass to an intricate structure with fibres, struts, pillars and webs. This kind of 3D hierarchically organised carbon structure has proven very difficult to grow in a laboratory but is crucial in providing unimpeded ion transport to active sites in a battery. In the study, published in JACS (Journal of the American Chemical Society), the researchers demonstrate that the use of these materials in Lithium-ion batteries not only enables the batteries to be charged-up rapidly, but also at one of the highest capacities.

Due to their intricate architecture the researchers have termed these structures ‘nano-diatoms’, and believe they could also be used in energy storage and conversion, for example as electrocatalysts for hydrogen production.

This metamorphosis only happens when we heat the compounds to 800 degrees centigrade and was as unexpected as hatching fire-born dragons instead of getting baked eggs in the Game of Thrones. It is very satisfying that after the initial surprise, we have also discovered how to control the transformations with chemical composition,” said lead author Dr Stoyan Smoukov, from Queen Mary’s School of Engineering and Materials Science.


Orgasmic Fruit Flies

Male fruit flies enjoy orgasms more than alcohol – and Israeli researchers who tested the insects’ addiction to pleasure hope to apply their discovery to controlling human substance abuse. Scientists from Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv exposed the flies to a red light that activated a protein, corazonim (CRZ), in the abdomen that triggers ejaculation 

Galit Shohat-Ophir, who headed the team, said they then tested how repeated ejaculation affected the flies’ desires for other pleasures, such as alcohol-spiked liquid. Flies that orgasmed, as opposed to a control group that had not been stimulated, shunned the alcohol, preferring to congregate in the “red light district” because “it feels good” there, said Shir Zer Krispil, who led the study.

The scientists, whose research was published in the journal Current Biology, surmised that substance abuse in humans could be moderated by other rewardsnot necessarily of a sexual nature – that are naturally available, such as social interaction or sports.

In experiences where there is high reward level by natural reward – alcohol as a drug reward is not valuable,” Shohat-Ophir said.

Strain Improves Performance of Atomically Thin Semiconductor

Researchers in UConn’s Institute of Materials Science significantly improved the performance of an atomically thin semiconductor material by stretching it, an accomplishment that could prove beneficial to engineers designing the next generation of flexible electronics, nano devices, and optical sensors.

In a study appearing in the research journal Nano Letters, Michael Pettes, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, reports that a six-atom thick bilayer of tungsten diselenide exhibited a 100-fold increase in photoluminescence when it was subjected to strain. The material had never exhibited such photoluminescence before.

The findings mark the first time scientists have been able to conclusively show that the properties of atomically thin materials can be mechanically manipulated to enhance their performance, Pettes says. Such capabilities could lead to faster computer processors and more efficient sensors.

The process the researchers used to achieve the outcome is also significant in that it offers a reliable new methodology for measuring the impact of strain on ultrathin materials, something that has been difficult to do and a hindrance to innovation.

Experiments involving strain are often criticized since the strain experienced by these atomically thin materials is difficult to determine and often speculated as being incorrect,” says Pettes. “Our study provides a new methodology for conducting strain-dependent measurements of ultrathin materials, and this is important because strain is predicted to offer orders of magnitude changes in the properties of these materials across many different scientific fields.”


Israeli Startup To Grow Meat In The Lab

 Tyson Foods (TSN.N), the largest U.S. meat processor, has invested in an Israeli biotech company developing a way to grow affordable meat in a laboratory that takes live animals out of the equation.

Future Meat Technologies focuses on producing fat and muscle cells that are the core building blocks of meat, and is one of several firms working on technology to match rising demand for meat without adding more pressure on land from livestock. The firm’s founder and chief scientist, Yaakov Nahmias, said cultured meat typically had a production price of about $10,000 per kg but so far his company had reduced that to $800/kg and had “a clear roadmap to $5$10/kg by 2020.” Tyson’s venture capital arm has supported the Jerusalem-based startup by co-leading $2.2 million in seed investment.

We continue to invest significantly in our traditional meat business but also believe in exploring additional opportunities for growth that give consumers more choices,” said Justin Whitmore, Tyson’s executive vice president for corporate strategy. In December, Tyson raised its stake in plant-based protein maker Beyond MeatDemand for meat is expected to double between 2000 and 2050, when the earth’s population is set to surpass 9 billion, and proponents of growing meat in the lab say it is the only way to meet such demand without destroying the environment.


Laser Shoes to Fight Parkinson’s

Freezing of gait, an absence of forward progression of the feet despite the intention to walk, is a debilitating symptom of Parkinson’s disease. Laser shoes that project a line on the floor to the rhythm of the footsteps help trigger the person to walk. The shoes benefit the wearer significantly, according to research by the University of Twente and Radboud university medical center (Netherlands), which has been published in Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.


Walking problems are common and very disabling in Parkinson’s disease. In particular, freezing of gait is a severe symptom which generally develops in more advanced stages. It can last seconds to minutes and is generally triggered by the stress of an unfamiliar environment or when medication wears off. Because the foot remains glued to the floor but the upper body continues moving forward, it can cause the person to lose her balance and fall.
Parkinson patient experience a unique phenomenon. By consciously looking at objects on the floor, such as the lines from a zebra crossing (‘visual cues’), and stepping over them, they are able to overcome their blockages during walking. This activates other circuits in the brain, hereby releasing the blockages and allowing the person to continue walking. This is why patients often make use of floor tiles at home. With the laser shoes, these useful cues can be continuously applied in everyday life, to walk better and safer. The principle behind the laser shoes is simple: upon foot contact, the left shoe projects a line on the floor in front of the right foot. The patient steps over or towards the line, which activates the laser on the right shoe, and so on.

The present research study shows a beneficial effect in a large group of patients. The number of ‘freezingepisodes was reduced by 46% with the use of the shoes. The duration of these episodes was also divided by two. Both effects were strongest in patients while they had not taken their medication yet. This is typically when patients experience the most problems with walking. But an improvement was also seen after the patients had been taking their medication.


Harvesting Clean Hydrogen Fuel Through Artificial Photosynthesis

A new, stable artificial photosynthesis device doubles the efficiency of harnessing sunlight to break apart both fresh and salt water, generating hydrogen that can then be used in fuel cells.

The device could also be reconfigured to turn carbon dioxide back into fuel.

Hydrogen is the cleanest-burning fuel, with water as its only emission. But hydrogen production is not always environmentally friendly. Conventional methods require natural gas or electrical power. The method advanced by the new device, called direct solar water splitting, only uses water and light from the sun.

If we can directly store solar energy as a chemical fuel, like what nature does with photosynthesis, we could solve a fundamental challenge of renewable energy,” said Zetian Mi, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Michigan who led the research while at McGill University in Montreal.

Faqrul Alam Chowdhury, a doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering at McGill, said the problem with solar cells is that they cannot store electricity without batteries, which have a high overall cost and limited life.

The device is made from the same widely used materials as solar cells and other electronics, including silicon and gallium nitride (often found in LEDs). With an industry-ready design that operates with just sunlight and seawater, the device paves the way for large-scale production of clean hydrogen fuel.

Previous direct solar water splitters have achieved a little more than 1 percent stable solar-to-hydrogen efficiency in fresh or saltwater. Other approaches suffer from the use of costly, inefficient or unstable materials, such as titanium dioxide, that also might involve adding highly acidic solutions to reach higher efficiencies. Mi and his team, however, achieved more than 3 percent solar-to-hydrogen efficiency.


A stamp-sized nanofilm stores more data than 200 DVDs

Ninety percent of the world’s data has been created in the last two years, with a massive 2.5 quintillion bytes generated every single day. As you might suspect, this causes some challenges when it comes to storage. While one option is to gradually turn every square inch of free land into giant data centers, researchers from the  Center for Advanced Optoelectronic Functional Material Research, Northeast Normal University (China) may have come up with a more elegant solution. In a potential breakthrough, they have developed a new nanofilm80 times thinner than a human hair — that is able to store large amounts of data holographically. A single 10-by-10 cm piece of this film could archive more than 1,000 times the amount of data found on a DVD. By our count, that means around 8.5 TB of data. This data can also be retrieved incredibly quickly, at speeds of up to 1GB per second: The equivalent of 20 times the reading speed of modern flash memory.

In the journal Optical Materials Express, the researchers detail the fabrication process of the new film. This involves using a laser to write information onto silver nanoparticles on a titanium dioxide (titania) semiconductor film. This stores the data in the form of 3D holograms, thereby allowing it to be compressed into smaller spaces than regular optical systems.

That’s exciting enough, but what really makes the work promising is the fact that the data is stored in a way that is stable. Previous attempts at creating films for holographic data storage have proven less resilient than alternate storage methods since they can be wiped by exposure to ultraviolet light. That makes them less-than-viable options for long-term information storage. The creators of this new film, however, have shown that it has a high stability even in the presence of such light. This environmental stability means that the device could be used outside — or even conceivably in harsher radiation conditions like outer space.

Going forward, the researchers aim to test their new film by putting it through its paces outdoors. Should all go according to plan, it won’t be too long before this is available on the market. We might be willing to throw down a few bucks on Kickstarter for a piece!


Non-toxic Virus Quickly Dissipate Heat From Electronic Devices

The researcher team of Tokyo Tech discovered that the film constructed by assembling a nontoxic filamentous virus functions as a heat dissipation material, and that can be simply prepared by drying the virus aqueous solution at room temperature. This discovery is expected to elucidate the mechanism of new heat transport in electronics.

Organic polymeric materials generally have low thermal conductivity and are not suitable for rapid heat dissipation of electric and electronic equipment in the past. In order to improve its thermal conductivity, it has been considered effective to heat transfer through a covalent bond by “orientation processing” in which molecules are aligned in the same direction, or to composite with an inorganic material.

A research team led by Assistant Professor Toshiki Sawada and Professor Takeshi Serizawa is focusing on the capability to form regularly assembled structures in a wide scale from nano to macro (so called hierarchical assembly) observed in the natural systems and the hierarchically assembled structures prepared in this way, the phenomenon where molecules accumulate around the perimeter as an aqueous solution in which molecules are dissolved evaporates (coffee ring effect) was utilized to assemble a filamentous virus for the film preparation. As a result, it was found that the thermal diffusivity at the edge of the film drastically enhanced to a value comparable to that of inorganic glass, and that facilitates the utilization of the hierarchically assembled biomacromolecule. This helps future development of electric and electronic devices composed of not only viruses but also various naturally derived molecules.

(a) Phage and (b) hexagonally assembled structures of the phages in the film.

Until now, orientation processing and compositing with inorganic materials have been considered effective for the high thermal conductivity of organic polymeric materials. However, since this virus film can be prepared by evaporating an aqueous solution of a filamentous virus at room temperature, it is expected to lead to the establishment of a method for easily constructing heat dissipation materials under mild conditions that do not require special operations.