Tag Archives: materials

Cheap Nano-Catalysts For Better Fuel Cells

Researchers at Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science & Technology (DGIST) in Korea have developed nano-catalysts that can reduce the overall cost of clean energy fuel cells, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Catalysis B: Environmental.

Polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) transform the chemical energy produced during a reaction between hydrogen fuel and oxygen into electrical energy. While PEMFCs are a promising source of clean energy that is self-contained and mobile – much like the alkaline fuel cells used on the US Space Shuttle – they currently rely on expensive materials. Also, the substances used for catalysing these chemical reactions degrade, raising concerns about reusability and viability.

DGIST energy materials scientist Sangaraju Shanmugam and his team have developed active and durable catalysts for PEMFCs that can reduce the overall manufacturing costs. The catalysts were nitrogen-doped carbon nanorods with ceria and cobalt nanoparticles on their surfaces; essentially carbon nanorods containing nitrogen, cobalt and ceria. Ceria (CeO2), a combination of cerium and oxygen, is a cheap and environmentally friendly semiconducting material that has excellent oxygen reduction abilities.

The fibres were made using a technique known as electrospinning, in which a high voltage is applied to a liquid droplet, forming a charged liquid jet that then dries midflight into uniform, nanosized particles. The researchers’ analyses confirmed that the ceria and cobalt particles were uniformly distributed in the carbon nanorods and that the catalysts showed enhanced electricity-producing capacity.

The ceria-supported cobalt on nitrogen-doped carbon nanorod catalyst was found to be more active and durable than cobalt-only nitrogen-doped carbon nanorods and platinum/carbon. They were explored in two important types of chemical reactions for energy conversion and storage: oxygen reduction and oxygen evolution reactions.

The researchers conclude that ceria could be considered among the most promising materials for use with cobalt on nitrogen-doped carbon nanorods to produce stable catalysts with enhanced electrochemical activity in PEMFCs and related devices.

Source: https://www.dgist.ac.kr/

How To Use The Body’s Inbuilt Healing System

Imperial researchers have developed a new bioinspired material that interacts with surrounding tissues to promote healing. Materials are widely used to help heal wounds: Collagen sponges help treat burns and pressure sores, and scaffold-like implants are used to repair broken bones. However, the process of tissue repair changes over time, so scientists are looking to biomaterials that interact with tissues as healing takes place.

Now, Dr Ben Almquist and his team at Imperial College London have created a new molecule that could change the way traditional materials work with the body. Known as traction force-activated payloads (TrAPs), their method lets materials talk to the body’s natural repair systems to drive healing.


The researchers say incorporating TrAPs into existing medical materials could revolutionise the way injuries are treated.

Our technology could help launch a new generation of materials that actively work with tissues to drive healing,” said Dr Almquist, from mperial’s Department of Bioengineering.
After an injury, cells ‘crawl’ through the collagen ‘scaffolds’ found in wounds, like spiders navigating webs. As they move, they pull on the scaffold, which activates hidden healing proteins that begin to repair injured tissue. The researchers in the study designed TrAPs as a way to recreate this natural healing method. They folded the DNA segments into three-dimensional shapes known as aptamers that cling tightly to proteins. Then, they attached a customisable ‘handle’ that cells can grab onto on one end, before attaching the opposite end to a scaffold such as collagen.
During laboratory testing of their technique, they found that cells pulled on the TrAPs as they crawled through the collagen scaffolds. The researchers tailor TrAPs to release specific therapeutic proteins based on which cells are present at a given point in time.

This is the first time scientists have activated healing proteins using differing cell types in man-made materials. The technique mimics healing methods found in nature. “Creatures from sea sponges to humans use cell movement to activate healing. Our approach mimics this by using the different cell varieties in wounds to drive healing,” explains Dr Almquist.”

This approach is adaptable to different cell types, so could be used in a variety of injuries such as fractured bones, scar tissue after heart attacks, and damaged nerves. New techniques are also desperately needed for patients whose wounds won’t heal despite current interventions, like diabetic foot ulcers, which are the leading cause of non-traumatic lower leg amputationsTrAPs are relatively straightforward to create and are fully man-made, meaning they are easily recreated in different labs and can be scaled up to industrial quantities.

TrAPs could harness the body’s natural healing powers to repair bone

TrAPs provide a flexible method of actively communicating with wounds, as well as key instructions when and where they are needed. This intelligent healing is useful during every phase of the healing process, has the potential to increase the body’s chance to recover, and has far-reaching uses on many different types of wounds. This technology could serve as a conductor of wound repair, orchestrating different cells over time to work together to heal damaged tissues,” said Dr Almquist.

The findings are published in Advanced Materials.

Source: https://www.imperial.ac.uk/

Megalibrary To Boost Discovery of New Materials

Different eras of civilization are defined by the discovery of new materials, as new materials drive new capabilities. And yet, identifying the best material for a given application—catalysts, light-harvesting structures, biodiagnostic labels, pharmaceuticals and electronic devices—is traditionally a slow and daunting task. The options are nearly infinite, particularly at the nanoscale (a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter) where material propertiesoptical, structural, electrical, mechanical and chemical—can significantly change, even at a fixed composition.

A new study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) supports the efficacy of a potentially revolutionary new tool developed at Northwestern University to rapidly test millions (even billions) of nanoparticles to determine the best for a specific use.

Laser-induced heating of nanoparticles on micropillars for carbon nanotube growth

When utilizing traditional methods to identify new materials, we have barely scratched the surface of what is possible,” said Northwestern’s Chad A. Mirkin, the study’s corresponding author and a world leader in nanotechnology research and its applications. “This research provides proof-of-concept—that this powerful approach to discovery science works.”

The novel tool utilizes a combinatorial library, or megalibrary, of nanoparticles in a very controlled way. (A combinatorial library is a collection of systematically varied structures encoded at specific sites on a surface). The libraries are created using Mirkin’s Polymer Pen Lithography (PPL) technique, which relies on arrays (sets of data elements) with hundreds of thousands of pyramidal tips to deposit individual polymerdots” of various sizes and composition, each loaded with different metal salts of interest, onto a surface. Once heated, these dots are reduced to metal atoms forming a single nanoparticle at fixed composition and size.

By going small, we create two advantages in high throughput materials discovery,” said Mirkin, the executive director of Northwestern’s International Institute for Nanotechnology (IIN). “First, we can pack millions of features into square-centimeter areas, creating a path for making the largest and most complex libraries, to date. Second, by working at the sub-100 nanometer-length scale, size can become a library parameter, and much of the action, for example, in the field of catalysis, is on this length scale.”

Source: https://news.northwestern.edu/


How To Shrink Objects To The Nanoscale

MIT researchers have invented a way to fabricate nanoscale 3-D objects of nearly any shape. They can also pattern the objects with a variety of useful materials, including metals, quantum dots, and DNA.

MIT engineers have devised a way to create 3-D nanoscale objects by patterning a larger structure with a laser and then shrinking it. This image shows a complex structure prior to shrinking.

It’s a way of putting nearly any kind of material into a 3-D pattern with nanoscale precision,” says Edward Boyden, the Y. Eva Tan Professor in Neurotechnology and an associate professor of biological engineering and of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT. Using the new technique, the researchers can create any shape and structure they want by patterning a polymer scaffold with a laser. After attaching other useful materials to the scaffold, they shrink it, generating structures one thousandth the volume of the original.

These tiny structures could have applications in many fields, from optics to medicine to robotics, the researchers say. The technique uses equipment that many biology and materials science labs already have, making it widely accessible for researchers who want to try it. Boyden, who is also a member of MIT’s Media Lab, McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, is one of the senior authors of the paper, which appears in the Dec. 13 issue of Science. The other senior author is Adam Marblestone, a Media Lab research affiliate, and the paper’s lead authors are graduate students Daniel Oran and Samuel Rodriques.

As they did for expansion microscopy, the researchers used a very absorbent material made of polyacrylate, commonly found in diapers, as the scaffold for their nanofabrication process. The scaffold is bathed in a solution that contains molecules of fluorescein, which attach to the scaffold when they are activated by laser light.

Using two-photon microscopy, which allows for precise targeting of points deep within a structure, the researchers attach fluorescein molecules to specific locations within the gel. The fluorescein molecules act as anchors that can bind to other types of molecules that the researchers add.

You attach the anchors where you want with light, and later you can attach whatever you want to the anchors,” Boyden says. “It could be a quantum dot, it could be a piece of DNA, it could be a gold nanoparticle.” “It’s a bit like film photography — a latent image is formed by exposing a sensitive material in a gel to light. Then, you can develop that latent image into a real image by attaching another material, silver, afterwards. In this way implosion fabrication can create all sorts of structures, including gradients, unconnected structures, and multimaterial patterns,” Oran explains.

Source: http://news.mit.edu/


How To Replace The Thick Glass Lenses by 2D Metalens

In optics, the era of glass lenses may be waning. In recent years, physicists and engineers have been designing, constructing and testing different types of ultrathin materials that could replace the thick glass lenses used today in cameras and imaging systems. Critically, these engineered lenses — known as metalenses — are not made of glass. Instead, they consist of materials constructed at the nanoscale into arrays of columns or fin-like structures. These formations can interact with incoming light, directing it toward a single focal point for imaging purposes.

But even though metalenses are much thinner than glass lenses, they still rely on “high aspect ratio” structures, in which the column or fin-like structures are much taller than they are wide, making them prone to collapsing and falling over. Furthermore, these structures have always been near the wavelength of light they’re interacting with in thickness — until now. In a paper published in the journal Nano Letters, a team from the University of Washington (UW) and the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan announced that it has constructed functional metalenses that are one-tenth to one-half the thickness of the wavelengths of light that they focus. Their metalenses, which were constructed out of layered 2D materials, were as thin as 190 nanometers — less than 1/100,000ths of an inch thick.

This is the first time that someone has shown that it is possible to create a metalens out of 2D materials,” said senior and co-corresponding author Arka Majumdar, a UW assistant professor of physics and of electrical and computer engineering.

Their design principles can be used for the creation of metalenses with more complex, tunable features, added Majumdar, who is also a faculty researcher with the UW’s Molecular Engineering & Sciences Institute and Institute for Nano-Engineered Systems.

Source: https://www.washington.edu/

Ultrathin, Ultralight NanoCardboard For Aerospace

When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure. Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call “nanocardboard,” an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square centimeter of nanocardboard weighs less than a thousandth of a gram and can spring back into shape after being bent in half.

Nanocardboard is made out of an aluminum oxide film with a thickness of tens of nanometers, forming a hollow plate with a height of tens of microns. Its , similar to that of corrugated cardboard, makes it more than ten thousand times as stiff as a solid plate of the same mass.


Nanocardboard is made out of an aluminum oxide film with a thickness of tens of nanometers, forming a hollow plate with a height of tens of microns. Its sandwich structure, similar to that of corrugated cardboard, makes it more than ten thousand times as stiff as a solid plate of the same mass. A square centimeter of nanocardboard weighs less than a thousandth of a gram and can spring back into shape after being bent in half.

Nanocardboard‘s stiffness-to-weight ratio makes it ideal for aerospace and microrobotic applications, where every gram counts. In addition to unprecedented mechanical properties, nanocardboard is a supreme thermal insulator, as it mostly consists of empty space. Future work will explore an intriguing phenomenon that results from a combination of properties: shining a light on a piece of nanocardboard allows it to levitate. Heat from the light creates a difference in temperatures between the two sides of the plate, which pushes a current of air molecules out through the bottom.

Igor Bargatin, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, along with lab members Chen Lin and Samuel Nicaise, led the study.

They published their results in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: https://phys.org/

New Material For New Processor

Computers used to take up entire rooms. Today, a two-pound laptop can slide effortlessly into a backpack. But that wouldn’t have been possible without the creation of new, smaller processors — which are only possible with the innovation of new materials. But how do materials scientists actually invent new materials? Through experimentation, explains Sanket Deshmukh, an assistant professor in the chemical engineering department of Virginia Tech whose team’s recently published computational research might vastly improve the efficiency and costs savings of the material design process.

Deshmukh’s lab, the Computational Design of Hybrid Materials lab, is devoted to understanding and simulating the ways molecules move and interact — crucial to creating a new material. In recent years, materials scientists have employed machine learning, a powerful subset of artificial intelligence, to accelerate the discovery of new materials through computer simulations. Deshmukh and his team have recently published research in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters demonstrating a novel machine learning framework that trainson the fly,” meaning it instantaneously processes data and learns from it to accelerate the development of computational models. Traditionally the development of computational models are “carried out manually via trial-and-error approach, which is very expensive and inefficient, and is a labor-intensive task,” Deshmukh explained.

This novel framework not only uses the machine learning in a unique fashion for the first time,” Deshmukh said, “but it also dramatically accelerates the development of accurate computational models of materials.” “We train the machine learning model in a ‘reverse’ fashion by using the properties of a model obtained from molecular dynamics simulations as an input for the machine learning model, and using the input parameters used in molecular dynamics simulations as an output for the machine learning model,” said Karteek Bejagam, a post-doctoral researcher in Deshmukh’s lab and one of the lead authors of the study.

This new framework allows researchers to perform optimization of computational models, at unusually faster speed, until they reach the desired properties of a new material.

Source: https://vtnews.vt.edu/

Electric Car: How To Make Super-Fast Charging Batteries

Researchers have identified a group of materials that could be used to make even higher power batteries. The researchers, from the University of Cambridge, used materials with a complex crystalline structure and found that lithium ions move through them at rates that far exceed those of typical electrode materials, which equates to a much faster-charging battery. Although these materials, known as niobium tungsten oxides, do not result in higher energy densities when used under typical cycling rates, they come into their own for fast charging applications. Additionally, their physical structure and chemical behaviour give researchers a valuable insight into how a safe, super-fast charging battery could be constructed, and suggest that the solution to next-generation batteries may come from unconventional materials.

Many of the technologies we use every day have been getting smaller, faster and cheaper each year – with the notable exception of batteries. Apart from the possibility of a smartphone which could be fully charged in minutes, the challenges associated with making a better battery are holding back the widespread adoption of two major clean technologies: electric cars and grid-scale storage for solar power.

We’re always looking for materials with high-rate battery performance, which would result in a much faster charge and could also deliver high power output,” said Dr Kent Griffith, a postdoctoral researcher in Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry and the paper’s first author.

In their simplest form, batteries are made of three components: a positive electrode, a negative electrode and an electrolyte. When a battery is charging, lithium ions are extracted from the positive electrode and move through the crystal structure and electrolyte to the negative electrode, where they are stored. The faster this process occurs, the faster the battery can be charged. In the search for new electrode materials, researchers normally try to make the particles smaller. “The idea is that if you make the distance the lithium ions have to travel shorter, it should give you higher rate performance,” said Griffith. “But it’s difficult to make a practical battery with nanoparticles: you get a lot more unwanted chemical reactions with the electrolyte, so the battery doesn’t last as long, plus it’s expensive to make.

Nanoparticles can be tricky to make, which is why we’re searching for materials that inherently have the properties we’re looking for even when they are used as comparatively large micron-sized particles. This means that you don’t have to go through a complicated process to make them, which keeps costs low,” explained Professor Clare Grey, also from the Department of Chemistry and the paper’s senior author. “Nanoparticles are also challenging to work with on a practical level, as they tend to be quite ‘fluffy’, so it’s difficult to pack them tightly together, which is key for a battery’s volumetric energy density.”

The results are reported in the journal Nature.

Source: https://www.cam.ac.uk/

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.”

Source: https://today.uconn.edu/

Tool Speeds Up Manufacturing Of Powered Wearable

People could soon power items such as their mobile phones or personal health equipment by simply using their daily movements, thanks to a new research tool that could be used by manufacturers.

In a new paper published by Nano Energy, experts from the Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) at the University of Surrey (UK) detail a new  methodology that allows designers of smart-wearables to better understand and predict how their products would perform once manufactured and in use.

The technology is centred on materials that become electrically charged after they come into contact with each other, known as triboelectric materials – for example, a comb through hair can create an electrical charge. Triboelectric Nanogenerators (TENGs), use this static charge to harvest energy from movement through a process called electrostatic induction. Over the years, a variety of TENGs have been designed which can convert almost any type of movement into electricity. The University of Surrey’s tool gives manufacturers an accurate understanding of the output power their design would create once produced.

This follows the news earlier this year of the ATI announcing the creation of its £4million state-of-the-art Nano-Manufacturing Hub. The new facility will produce plastic nanoscale electronics for wearable sensors, electronic tags and other electronic devices.

Ishara Dharmasena, lead scientist on this project from the University of Surrey, said: “The future global energy mix will depend on renewable energy sources such as solar power, wind, motion, vibrations and tidal. TENGs are a leading technology to capture and convert motion energy into electricity, extremely useful in small scale energy harvesting applications. Our work will, for the first time, provide universal guidance to develop, compare and improve various TENG designs. We expect this technology in household and industrial electronic products, catering to a new generation of mobile and autonomous energy requirements.”

Source: https://www.surrey.ac.uk/