SemiconductorScientists have figured out how to make tiny individual films—each just a few atoms high—and stack them for use in new kinds of electronics.

Over the past half-century, scientists have shaved silicon films down to just a wisp of atoms in pursuit of smaller, faster electronics. For the next set of breakthroughs, though, they’ll need new ways to build even tinier and more powerful devices.

In a study that appears in Nature, researchers describe an innovative method to make stacks of thin, uniform layers of semiconductors just a few atoms thick which could expand capabilities for devices like solar cells and cell phones.

Stacking thin layers of materials offers a range of possibilities for making electronic devices with unique properties. But manufacturing them is a delicate process, with little room for error, researchers say.

“The scale of the problem we’re looking at is, imagine trying to lay down a flat sheet of plastic wrap the size of Chicago without getting any air bubbles in it,” says Jiwoong Park, a professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago and at the Institute for Molecular Engineering and the James Franck Institute. “When the material itself is just atoms thick, every little stray atom is a problem.”

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ECS shows its vision for the future of academic publishing

Open Access WeekECS is celebrating International Open Access Week by giving the world a preview of what complete open access to peer-reviewed scientific research will look like. ECS is taking down the paywall October 23-29 to the entire ECS Digital Library, making over 132,000 scientific articles and abstracts free and accessible to everyone.

This is the third consecutive year ECS will take down its paywalls during Open Access Week, an annual event organized by SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition. Eliminating the paywall during Open Access Week allows ECS to give the world a preview of the potential of its Free the Science initiative.

Free the Science is ECS’s move toward a future that embraces open science to further advance research in our field. This is a long-term vision for transformative change in the traditional models of communicating scholarly research. ECS last opened its digital library in April 2017 for the first ever Free the Science Week.

“ECS is working to disseminate scientific research to the broadest possible audience without barriers,” says Mary Yess, ECS chief content officer/publisher. “Through Open Access Week, we’re able to once again highlight a new scholarly publishing model that promotes authors and the science they do.”

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RocketA team of engineers from Monash University have successfully test-fired the world’s first 3D printed rocket engine. By utilizing a unique aerospike design, the team, led by ECS fellow Nick Birbilis, was able to increase efficiency levels over that of traditional bell-shaped rockets.

This from The Standard:

Its design works by firing the gases along a spike and using atmospheric pressure to create a virtual bell.

The shape of the spike allows the engine to maintain high efficiency over a wider range of altitude and air pressures. It’s a much more complex design but is difficult to build using traditional technology.

Read the full article.

“We were able to focus on the features that boost the engine’s performance, including the nozzle geometry and the embedded cooling network,” Birbilis says. “These are normally balanced against the need to consider how on earth someone is going to manufacture such a complex piece of equipment. Not so with additive manufacturing. Going from concept to testing in just four months is an amazing achievement.”

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By: John C. Besley, Michigan State University; Anthony Dudo, University of Texas at Austin, and Shupei Yuan, Northern Illinois University

Communication

Most scientists say they got into science to make the world a better place and recognize this means sharing what they learn with a range of other people. But deciding to engage also means deciding what to communicate, and it’s at this stage that things get complicated.

Scientists’ most important communication decision may be figuring out their goals. Do they want to help shape local, state or national policy discussions? Do they want to influence individual behavior, such as diet choices, medical decisions or career paths?

Big-picture goal choice is, however, relatively simple, as it likely originates from scientists’ research, resources and personal preferences.

As public engagement researchers, we suggest the quality of science communication actually hinges on a second set of decisions. Scientists need to figure out what specific, immediate objectives they want to achieve through their communication efforts.

In our view, objectives are a bit tricky because they’re often left unstated and defy easy metaphors. In planning a dinner, they’re not the specific dishes you choose (we’d call those “tactics” or “activities”) and they’re not the goal of a satisfying meal. Instead, you set objectives in the planning phase when decisions are made to start with something savory and light, move on to something satisfying, and finish with something sweet and fun.

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IdeaBig ideas are getting harder and harder to find, and innovations have become increasingly massive and costly endeavors, according to new research.

As a result, tremendous continual increases in research and development will be needed to sustain even today’s low rate of economic growth.

This means modern-day inventors—even those in the league of Steve Jobs—will have a tough time measuring up to the productivity of the Thomas Edisons of the past.

Nicholas Bloom, senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research and coauthor of a paper released this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, contends that so many game-changing inventions have appeared since World War II that it’s become increasingly difficult to come up with the next big idea.

“The thought now of somebody inventing something as revolutionary as the locomotive on their own is inconceivable,” Bloom says.

“It’s certainly true if you go back one or two hundred years, like when Edison invented the light bulb,” he says. “It’s a massive piece of technology and one guy basically invented it. But while we think of Steve Jobs and the iPhone, it was a team of dozens of people who created the iPhone.”

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Alan Alda on Communicating Science

Our guest on this episode of the ECS Podcast is Alan Alda. You might know him from the 1970s and 80s because of the TV show MASH or in the last few years from appearing on The Blacklist, The Big C, or as Uncle Pete on the show Horace and Pete.

He hosted the PBS show Scientific American Frontiers for 13 years. Alda is a film and TV director, screenwriter, and author; as well as a six-time Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award winner.

He is also the founder of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, the goal of which is to help scientists learn to communicate more effectively with the public. His latest book is: If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating.

Alan Alda talked to Rob Gerth, ECS’s director of marketing and communications.

Listen to the podcast and download this episode and others for free on Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, Podbean, or our RSS Feed. You can also find us on Stitcher and Acast.

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BatteryA novel compound called 3Q conducts electricity and retains energy better than other organic materials currently used in batteries, researchers report.

“Our study provides evidence that 3Q, and organic molecules of similar structures, in combination with graphene, are promising candidates for the development of eco-friendly, high capacity rechargeable batteries with long life cycles,” says Loh Kian Ping, professor in the chemistry department at NUS Faculty of Science.

Rechargeable batteries are the key energy storage component in many large-scale battery systems like electric vehicles and smart renewable energy grids. With the growing demand of these battery systems, researchers are turning to more sustainable, environmentally friendly methods of producing them. One option is to use organic materials as an electrode in the rechargeable battery.

Organic electrodes leave lower environment footprints during production and disposal which offers a more eco-friendly alternative to inorganic metal oxide electrodes commonly used in rechargeable batteries.

The structures of organic electrodes can also be engineered to support high energy storage capabilities. The challenge, however, is the poor electrical conductivity and stability of organic compounds when used in batteries. Organic materials currently used as electrodes in rechargeable batteries—such as conductive polymers and organosulfer compounds—also face rapid loss in energy after multiple charges.

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ECS Ride-and-Learn

Want to see Electrochemistry in Action and ride in one of the world’s first commercial fuel cell cars while at the 232nd ECS Meeting? Join us for a Ride-and Learn on Monday, October 2 from 12:00 pm to 2:00 pm in front of the main entrance of the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. This Ride-and-Learn is open to all ECS meeting attendees. First come, first serve.

Fuel cell cars run on hydrogen fuel, use a fuel cell that converts hydrogen into the electricity that powers the car’s electric motor and emit only water from the tailpipe. For the first time ever, they are commercially available, have started hitting the streets and the hydrogen stations to fuel them are up and running in select U.S. regions.

This Ride-and-Learn is organized by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fuel Cell Technologies Office (FCTO) in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. FCTO has funded early-stage hydrogen and fuel cells research and development enabling a 60 percent reduction in fuel cell cost, a fourfold increase in fuel cell durability and an 80 percent cut in the cost of electrolyzers over the past decade. You can learn more about this exciting technology and the work FCTO funds to enable hydrogen and fuel cell technological breakthroughs at energy.gov/fuelcells.

Following the 232nd ECS Meeting, the third annual National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day will take place on October 8, 2017, aimed at raising awareness and celebrating advances in fuel cell and hydrogen technologies. The U.S. Department of Energy, Fuel Cell and Hydrogen and Energy Association , its members, industry organizations, and state and federal governments will be commemorating National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell day with a variety of activities and events across the country.

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A new device that runs on almost zero power can transmit data across distances of up to 2.8 kilometers—breaking a long-held barrier—and could lead to a vast array of interconnected devices.

For example, flexible electronics—such as knee patches that capture range of motion in arthritic patients or patches that use sweat to detect fatigue in athletes and soldiers—hold great promise for collecting medically relevant data.

But today’s flexible electronics and other sensors that can’t employ bulky batteries and need to operate with very low power typically can’t communicate with other devices more than a few feet or meters away. This limits their practical use in applications for medical monitoring, home sensing to smart cities, and precision agriculture.

By contrast, the new long-range backscatter system, which uses reflected radio signals to transmit data at extremely low power and low cost, achieve reliable coverage throughout a 4,800-square-foot house, an office area covering 41 rooms, and a one-acre vegetable farm.

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By: Joshua M. Pearce, Michigan Technology University

SolarAs the U.S. military increases its use of drones in surveillance and combat overseas, the danger posed by a threat back at home grows. Many drone flights are piloted by soldiers located in the U.S., even when the drones are flying over Yemen or Iraq or Syria. Those pilots and their control systems depend on the American electricity grid – large, complex, interconnected and very vulnerable to attack.

Without electricity from civilian power plants, the most advanced military in world history could be crippled. The U.S. Department of Energy has begged for new authority to defend against weaknesses in the grid in a nearly 500-page comprehensive study issued in January 2017 warning that it’s only a matter of time before the grid fails, due to disaster or attack. A new study by a team I led reveals the three ways American military bases’ electrical power sources are threatened, and shows how the U.S. military could take advantage of solar power to significantly improve national security.

A triple threat

The first threat to the electricity grid comes from nature. Severe weather disasters resulting in power outages cause between US$25 billion and $70 billion in the U.S. each year – and that’s average years, not those including increasingly frequent major storms, like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

The second type of threat is from traditional acts of crime or terrorism, such as bombing or sabotage. For example, a 2013 sniper attack on a Pacific Gas and Electric substation in California disabled 17 transformers supplying power to Silicon Valley. In what the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission called “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred,” the attacker – who may have been an insider – fired about 100 rounds of .30-caliber rifle ammunition into the radiators of 17 electricity transformers over the course of 19 minutes. The electronics overheated and shut down. Fortunately, power company engineers managed to keep the lights on in Silicon Valley by routing power from other sources.

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