New Plastic Conducts Electricity Like Metal

Scientists with the University of Chicago have discovered a way to create a material that can be made like a plastic, but conducts electricity more like a metal. The research, published Oct. 26 in Nature, shows how to make a kind of material in which the molecular fragments are jumbled and disordered, but can still conduct electricity extremely well.

This goes against all of the rules we know about for conductivity—to a scientist, it’s kind of seeing a car driving on water and still going 70 mph. But the finding could also be extraordinarily useful; if you want to invent something revolutionary, the process often first starts with discovering a completely new material.

In principle, this opens up the design of a whole new class of materials that conduct electricity, are easy to shape, and are very robust in everyday conditions,” said John Anderson, an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago and the senior author on the study. “Essentially, it suggests new possibilities for an extremely important technological group of materials,” said Jiaze Xie (PhD’22, now at Princeton), the first author on the paper.

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Robots Sort Recycling, Detect If An Object Is Paper, Metal Or Plastic.

Every year trash companies sift through an estimated 68 million tons of recycling, which is the weight equivalent of more than 30 million cars. A key step in the process happens on fast-moving conveyor belts, where workers have to sort items into categories like paper, plastic and glass. Such jobs are dull, dirty, and often unsafe, especially in facilities where workers also have to remove normal trash from the mix. With that in mind, a team led by researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has developed a robotic system that can detect if an object is paper, metal, or plastic.

The team’s “RoCycle” system includes a soft Teflon hand that uses tactile sensors on its fingertips to detect an object’s size and stiffness. Compatible with any robotic arm, RoCycle was found to be 85 percent accurate at detecting materials when stationary, and 63 percent accurate on an actual simulated conveyer belt. (Its most common error was identifying paper-covered metal tins as paper, which the team says would be improved by adding more sensors along the contact surface.)


Our robot’s sensorized skin provides haptic feedback that allows it to differentiate between a wide range of objects, from the rigid to the squishy,” says MIT Professor Daniela Rus, senior author on a related paper that will be presented in April at the IEEE International Conference on Soft Robotics (RoboSoft) in Seoul, South Korea. “Computer vision alone will not be able to solve the problem of giving machines human-like perception, so being able to use tactile input is of vital importance.”

A collaboration with Yale University, RoCycle directly demonstrates the limits of sight-based sorting: It can reliably distinguish between two visually similar Starbucks cups, one made of paper and one made of plastic, that would give vision systems trouble.



Brain Metals Drive Alzheimer’s Progression

Alzheimer’s disease could be better treated, thanks to a breakthrough discovery of the properties of the metals in the brain involved in the progression of the neurodegenerative condition, by an international research collaboration including the University of Warwick.

Iron is an essential element in the brain, so it is critical to understand how its management is affected in Alzheimer’s disease. The advanced X-ray techniques that we used in this study have delivered a step-change in the level of information that we can obtain about iron chemistry in the amyloid plaques. We are excited to have these new insights into how amyloid plaque formation influences iron chemistry in the human brain, as our findings coincide with efforts by others to treat Alzheimer’s disease with iron-modifying drugs,” commented Dr Joanna Collingwood, from Warwick’s School of Engineering, who was part of a research team which characterised iron species associated with the formation of amyloid protein plaques in the human brainabnormal clusters of proteins in the brain. The formation of these plaques is associated with toxicity which causes cell and tissue death, leading to mental deterioration in Alzheimer’s patients.

They found that in brains affected by Alzheimer’s, several chemically-reduced iron species including a proliferation of a magnetic iron oxide called magnetite – which is not commonly found in the human brainoccur in the amyloid protein plaques. The team had previously shown that these minerals can form when iron and the amyloid protein interact with each other. Thanks to advanced measurement capabilities at synchrotron X-ray facilities in the UK and USA, including the Diamond Light Source I08 beamline in Oxfordshire, the team has now shown detailed evidence that these processes took place in the brains of individuals who had Alzheimer’s disease. They also made unique observations about the forms of calcium minerals present in the amyloid plaques.

The team, led by an EPSRC-funded collaboration between University of Warwick and Keele University – and which includes researchers from University of Florida and The University of Texas at San Antonio – made their discovery by extracting amyloid plaque cores from two deceased patients who had a formal diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. The researchers scanned the plaque cores using state-of-the-art X-ray microscopy at the Advanced Light Source in Berkeley, USA and at beamline I08 at the Diamond Light Source synchrotron in Oxfordshire, to determine the chemical properties of the minerals within them.