By: Richard E. Peltier, University of Massachusetts Amherst

DIY Sensor

In an experiment sponsored by Intel, a Portland, Oregon household uses a low-cost sensor to measure air quality and stream real-time data online. Intel Free Press/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

Until recently, measuring air pollution was a task that could be performed only by trained scientists using very sophisticated – and very expensive – equipment. That has changed with the rapid growth of small, inexpensive sensors that can be assembled by almost anyone. But an important question remains: Do these instruments measure what users think they are measuring?

A number of venture capital-backed startup or crowd-funded groups are marketing sensors by configuring a few dollars’ worth of electronics and some intellectual property – mainly software – into aesthetically pleasing packages. The Air Quality Egg, the Tzoa and the Speck sensor are examples of gadgets that are growing in popularity for measuring air pollutants.

These devices make it possible for individuals without specialized training to monitor air quality. As an environmental health researcher, I’m happy to see that people are interested in clean air, especially because air pollution is closely linked with serious health effects. But there are important concerns about how well and how accurately these sensors work.

At their core, these devices rely on inexpensive, and often uncertain, measurement technologies. Someday small sensors costing less than US$100 may replace much more expensive research-grade instruments like those used by government regulators. But that day is likely to be far away.

New territory for a known technology

Pollution sensors that measure air contaminants have been on the market for many years. Passenger cars have sophisticated emission controls that rely on data collected by air sensors inside the vehicles. These inexpensive sensors use well-established chemical and physical methods – typically, electrochemistry or metal oxide resistance – to measure air contaminants in highly polluted conditions, such as inside the exhaust pipe of a passenger vehicle. And this information is used by the vehicle to improve performance.

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PhotosynthesisResearchers from the University of California, Riverside recently combined photosynthesis and physics to make a key discovery that could lead to highly efficient solar cells.

Nathan Gabor, a physicist, began exploring photosynthesis when he asked himself a fundamental question in 2010: Why are plants green? This question probed him to combine his physics training with biology.
Over the past six years, Gabor has been rethinking energy conversion in light of these questions. His goal was to make solar cells that more efficiently absorb intermittent energy from the sun and increase past the current 20 percent efficiency. In this, he was inspired by the plants that had evolved over time to do exactly what he hoped solar cells would be able to do.

This from University of California, Riverside:

[The scientists] addressed the problem by designing a new type of quantum heat engine photocell, which helps manipulate the flow of energy in solar cells. The design incorporates a heat engine photocell that absorbs photons from the sun and converts the photon energy into electricity.

Surprisingly, the researchers found that the quantum heat engine photocell could regulate solar power conversion without requiring active feedback or adaptive control mechanisms. In conventional photovoltaic technology, which is used on rooftops and solar farms today, fluctuations in solar power must be suppressed by voltage converters and feedback controllers, which dramatically reduce the overall efficiency.

Read the full article.

At the core of the research, Gabor and his team are looking to connect quantum mechanical structure to the greenest plants.

BacteriaBy using mild electric current, a team of researchers from Washington State University has demonstrated the ability to beat drug-resistant bacterial infections – a technology with the potential to treat chronic wound infections.

Lead by ECS member Haluk Beyenal, the team combined an antibiotic with electrical current to kill the highly persistent Pseudomonas aeruginosa PAO1 bacteria. That very same bacteria can seen in infections of the lung, cystic fibrosis, and even chronic wounds.

“I didn’t believe it. Killing most of the persister cells was unexpected,” Beyenal says. “Then we replicated it many, many times.”

The 21st century has brought new light to strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In many cases, this bacterial resistance is caused by the widespread use of antibiotics in the 20th century. According to the Centers for Disease Control, at least 23,000 deaths per year are attributed to antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections.

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Editors' ChoiceThree new Editors’ Choice articles have been published recently in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society (JES) and ECS Journal of Solid State Science and Technology (JSS).

An Editors’ Choice article is a special designation applied by the Journals’ Editorial Board to any article type. Editors’ Choice articles are transformative and represent a substantial advance or discovery, either experimental or theoretical. The work must show a new direction, a new concept, a new way of doing something, a new interpretation, or a new field, and not merely preliminary data.

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John Staser, professor of chemical engineering at Ohio UniversityImage: Ohio University

John Staser, professor of chemical engineering at Ohio University
Image: Ohio University

ECS member and Ohio University professor, John Staser, was recently granted $1.5M from the U.S. Department of Energy for biofuels research. Staser and his team will work to develop technology to make biorefineries more efficient and profitable, thereby reducing the cost of environmentally friendly biofuels.

Biofuels are combustible fuels created from biomass. Currently, they are the only viable replacement to petroleum transportation fuels because they can be used in existing combustion engines. Biofuels are typically produced from food crops (sugar cane, corn, soybean, etc.) or materials such as wood, grass, or inedible parts of plants. Ethanol and biodiesel are prominent forms of biofuels that offer an alternative to such transportation fuels as petroleum and jet fuel.

Staser will lead an interdisciplinary team to develop ways to process a class of complex organic polymers known as lignin, which is one of the many waste products produced in the biorefining process.

“It’s not really competitive with gasoline, especially if oil is $40 a barrel,” Staser says. “Before this biofuel becomes feasible, we have to find a way to reduce the manufacturing cost. One way to do this is to come up with a secondary revenue stream for the refinery. So, if biorefineries could waste lignin to do so, biofuel would become a more financially feasible option.”

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Corrosion DivisionThe Corrosion Division is currently accepting nominations for the following two awards:

Corrosion Division Morris Cohen Graduate Student Award: established in 1991 to recognize and reward outstanding graduate research in the field of corrosion science and/or engineering. The award consists of a framed scroll and $1,000 prize. The award, for outstanding Masters or PhD work, is open to graduate students who have successfully completed all the requirements for their degrees as testified to by the student’s advisor, within a period of two years prior to the nomination submission deadline.


Herbert H. UhligHerbert H. Uhlig Award: established in 1972 to recognize excellence in corrosion research and outstanding technical contributions to the field of corrosion science and technology. The Award consists of $1500 and a framed scroll. The recipient is eligible for travel reimbursement in order to attend the Society meeting at which the Award is presented.

About H. H. Uhlig
Professor Herbert H. Uhlig was head of the Corrosion Laboratory, teacher, and graduate advisor at MIT for over thirty years. He authored hundreds of publications on the subjects of passivity, pitting, stress corrosion cracking, corrosion fatigue, and the oxidation of metals. Through the application of basic first principles to his research on corrosion phenomena, he is widely recognized as being one of the leaders responsible for establishing the field of corrosion science on a firm fundamental basis. Uhlig was an active ECS member and served as President from 1955-1956.

Application Deadline: December 15, 2016

A team of researchers from the University of California, San Diego, led by ECS member Joseph Wang, recently developed new magnetic ink that can be used to make self-healing batteries, electrochemical sensors, and wearable, textile-based electrical circuits.

The ink is made up of microparticles set up in a certain configuration by a magnetic field. The particles on each respective side of the tear in a circuit are then attracted towards each other, resulting in the self-healing effect. The devices have the ability to repair tears as wide as 3 millimeters, which is a record in the field of self-healing systems.

“Our work holds considerable promise for widespread practical applications for long-lasting printed electronic devices,” Wang says.

While there are other self-healing materials in the field, they require an external trigger to start the process, which takes anywhere from a few min to days. The new work does not require any outside catalyst and works in 0.05 seconds

ECS Podcast – The Battery Guys

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the commercialization of the lithium-ion battery. To celebrate, we sat down with some of the inventors and pioneers of Li-ion battery technology at the PRiME 2016 meeting.

Speakers John Goodenough (University of Texas at Austin), Stanley Whittingham (Binghamton University), Michael Thackeray (Argonne National Laboratory), Zempachi Ogumi (Kyoto University), and Martin Winter (Univeristy of Muenster) discuss how the Li-ion battery got its start and the impact it has had on society.

Listen to the podcast and download this episode and others for free through the iTunes Store, SoundCloud, or our RSS Feed. You can also find us on Stitcher.

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By: Sudeep Pasricha, Colorado State University

SmartphoneAmerican mining production increased earlier this decade, as industry sought to reduce its reliance on other countries for key minerals such as coal for energy and rare-earth metals for use in consumer electronics. But mining is dangerous – working underground carries risks of explosions, fires, flooding and dangerous concentrations of poisonous gases.

Mine accidents have killed tens of thousands of mine workers worldwide in just the past decade. Most of these accidents occurred in structurally diverse underground mines with extensive labyrinths of interconnected tunnels. As mining progresses, workers move machinery around, which creates a continually changing environment. This makes search and rescue efforts even more complicated than they might otherwise be.

To address these dangers, U.S. federal regulations require mine operators to monitor levels of methane, carbon monoxide, smoke and oxygen – and to warn miners of possible danger due to air poisoning, flood, fire or explosions. In addition, mining companies must have accident-response plans that include systems with two key capabilities: enabling two-way communications between miners trapped underground and rescuers on the surface, and tracking individual miners so responders can know where they need to dig.

So far, efforts to design systems that are both reliable and resilient when disaster strikes have run into significant roadblocks. My research group’s work is aimed at enhancing commercially available smartphones and wireless network equipment with software and hardware innovations to create a system that is straightforward and relatively simple to operate.

Existing connections

The past decade has seen several efforts to develop monitoring and emergency communication systems, which generally can be classified into three types: through-the-wire, through-the-Earth and through-the-air. Each has different flaws that make them less than ideal options.

Wired systems use coaxial cables or optical fibers to connect monitoring and communications equipment throughout the mine and on the surface. But these are costly and vulnerable to damage from fires and tunnel collapses. Imagine, for example, if a wall collapse cut off a room from its connecting tunnels: Chances are the cable in those tunnels would be damaged too.

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ImmigrationNobel laureates are speaking out on immigration policies, highlight their own status as immigrants and the importance of open boarders to advance science. Of the year’s Nobel Prize winners, six affiliated with U.S. universities are immigrants.

Across the globe, many countries have been discussing and legislating new immigration policies that make it more difficult to travel from place to place. These immigration conversations have led to moves such as the UK’s Brexit, Hungary’s attempts to keep “outsiders” from crossing its boarder, and U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall on the U.S./Mexico border.

Research conducted in late 2015 revealed that as immigration policies harden globally, scientists in the developing world are caught in the crosshairs, causing innovation and research to suffer.

“I think the resounding message that should go out all around the world is that science is global,” James Fraser Stoddart, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and a professor at Northwestern University, who was born in Scotland, told The Hill. “It’s particularly pertinent to have these discussions in view of the political climate on both sides of the pond at the moment…. I think the United States is what it is today largely because of open borders.”

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