The Future of Superconductors

This emerging technology may lead to a theory to guide future engineers.Image: Futurity/Christian Benke

This emerging technology may lead to a theory to guide future engineers.
Image: Futurity/Christian Benke

Researchers from Cornell University are focusing their efforts on developing superconductors that can carry large energy currents, thereby expanding the possible benefits that can be produced by high-temperature superconductors.

In order to coax the superconductors to carry these large currents, researchers have previously bombarded materials with high-energy ion beams. This approach increased the current density carried, but still left the question of what is actually happening in this reaction.

Thanks to the technology of the scanning tunneling microscope (STM), the researchers can now understand what is happening at the atomic level. (German physicist, Gerd Binnig, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1986 for the invention of the scanning tunneling microscope He gave the ECS Lecture at the 203rd ECS Meeting in Paris, France.)

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Catalysts Move Away from Platinum

The new catalyst combines platinum and palladium, resulting in high efficiency levels and lower cost.Image: Mavrikakis group, UW-Madison

The new catalyst combines platinum and palladium, resulting in high efficiency levels and lower cost.
Image: Mavrikakis group, UW-Madison

In recent years, platinum has been the leading material in the energy industry. However, platinum is both expensive and scarce.

In order to boost alternative energy solutions, researchers have been searching for a substitute for platinum that will allow for cheaper and equally efficient energy technology.

In order to do this, a team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Georgia Institute of Technology are focusing on a new catalyst that combines the more expensive platinum with the less expensive palladium.

This from University of Wisconsin-Madison:

This not only reduces the need for platinum but actually proves significantly more catalytically active than pure platinum in the oxygen reduction reaction, a chemical process key to fuel cell energy applications. The palladium-platinum combination also proves more durable, compounding the advantage of getting more reactivity with less material. Just as importantly, the paper offers a way forward for chemical engineers to design still more new catalysts for a broad range of applications by fine-tuning materials on the atomic scale.

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Electrochemistry Tackles Air Quality

Researchers from Cambridge University have developed low-cost pollution detectors to help combat the world’s largest environmental health risk.

“To work out the factors we should be worried about, and how we can intervene, we need to rethink how we measure what’s going on,” said atmospheric scientists Professor Rod Jones.

While pollution detectors do exist, their network is currently limited due to the high cost of the devices. Jones and his team have set out to develop a small, low-cost pollution detector that is sensitive enough to track air changes and quality on a street-by-street basis.

The team based their work on an electrochemical sensor that is industrially safe and can detect toxins at the parts-per-billion level.

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One Step Closer to Bionic Brain

New research shows that we’re one step closer to being able to replicate the human brain outside of the body, which could lead to life-altering research into common conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Project leader and ECS published author Sharath Sriram and his group have successfully engineered an electronic long-term memory cell, which mimics the way the human brain processes information.

“This is the closest we have come to creating a brain-like system with memory that learns and stores analog information and is quick at retrieving this stored information,” Sharath said.

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Nanoporous gold features high effective surface area, tunable pore size, and high electrical conductivity and compatibility with traditional fabrication techniques.Image: Ryan Chen/LLNL

Nanoporous gold features high effective surface area, tunable pore size, and high electrical conductivity and compatibility with traditional fabrication techniques.
Image: Ryan Chen/LLNL

Researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the University of California, Davis have recently published a paper showing that covering an implantable neural electrode with nanoporus gold could potentially eliminate the risk of scar tissue forming over the electrode’s surface.

Two former ECS member, Erkin Seker and Juergen Biener, were among the researchers involved with this development.

This from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory:

The team demonstrated that the nanostructure of nanoporous gold achieves close physical coupling of neurons by maintaining a high neuron-to-astrocyte surface coverage ratio. Close physical coupling between neurons and the electrode plays a crucial role in recording fidelity of neural electrical activity.

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While CNT alignment is still not perfect, it will now be able to be scaled up for large-scale production.Source: North Carolina State University

While CNT alignment is still not perfect, it will now be able to be scaled up for large-scale production.
Source: North Carolina State University

A new process called “microcombing” has been developed to created ultra-strong and highly conductive carbon nanotubes (CNTs).

The films produced from the microcombing technique could have practical applications in improving electronics and aerospace technology.

“It’s a simple process and can create a lightweight CNT film, or ‘bucky paper,’ that is a meter wide and twice as strong as previous such films—it’s even stronger than CNT fibers,” said Yuntian Zhu, Distinguished Professor of Material Science and Engineering at NC State.

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Engineering a Better Solar Cell

This new development will lead to accelerated improvements in the materials' uniformity, stability, and efficiency.Source: University of Washington

This new development will lead to accelerated improvements in the materials’ uniformity, stability, and efficiency.
Source: University of Washington

In light of the growth in solar energy research, scientists have been directing a lot of attention toward perovskites. The materials’ wide range of use and potential to outpace silicon-based semiconductors in the field of solar cells makes perovskites an interesting area of research with great potential.

Researchers from the University of Washington, in conjunction with the University of Oxford, have discovered a new quality to perovskites that could help engineer a better solar cell.

The researchers have shown in their research that, contrast to popular belief, the perovskites are uniform in composition. The materials actually contain flaws that can be engineered to improve solar devices even further.

“In that short amount of time, the ability of these materials to convert sunlight directly into electricity is approaching that of today’s silicon-based solar cells, rivaling technology that took 50 years to develop,” said Dane deQuilettes, a University of Washington doctoral student. “But we also suspect there is room for improvement.”

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Engineers developed this one-material battery by sprinkling carbon (red) into each side of a new material (blue) that forms the electrolyte and both electrodes at the ends of the battery.Source: Maryland NanoCenter

Engineers developed this one-material battery by sprinkling carbon (red) into each side of a new material (blue) that forms the electrolyte and both electrodes at the ends of the battery.
Source: Maryland NanoCenter

ECS student member Fudong Han and former member Chunsheng Wang have developed a novel solid state battery comprised of just one material that can both move and store electricity.

This new battery could prove to be revolutionary in the area of solid state batteries due to its incorporation of electrodes and electrolytes into a single material.

“Our battery is 600 microns thick, about the size of a dime, whereas conventional solid state batteries are thin films — forty times thinner. This means that more energy can be stored in our battery,” said Han, the first author of the paper and a graduate student in Wang’s group.

This from the University of Maryland:

The new material consists of a mix of sulfur, germanium, phosphorus and lithium. This compound is used as the ion-moving electrolyte. At each end, the scientists added carbon to this electrolyte to form electrodes that push the ions back and forth through the electrolyte as the battery charges and discharges. Like a little bit more sugar added at each end of a cookie-cream mixture, the carbon merely helps draw the electricity from side to side through the material.

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Three Atom Thick Transistor

A new study by two ECS published authors, David Muller and Jiwoong Park, has led to an electronic piece that is just three atoms thick.

The researchers have unveiled a process to develop ultra-thin transistors made from TMD, otherwise known as transition metal dichalcogenide. This material is novel in the fact that it possesses properties that make it a perfect fit for solar cells, light detectors, or semiconductors.

Researchers have been examining TMDs for some time now, but have been finding it difficult to get them to work consistently. This new study has discovered the best process yet to manufacture the materials, which could lead to a breakthrough in the future of electronics and possibly bring about an end to Moore’s law.

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First Ever Liquid Nanoscale Laser

The laser also has the potential to be used in optical data storage and lithography.Image: Nature Communications

The laser also has the potential to be used in optical data storage and lithography.
Image: Nature Communications

Former ECS member Teri Odom has assisted in the development of the first ever liquid nanoscale laser. This development could lead to some very practical applications, as well as guiding researchers one step closer to developing a “lab on a chip” for medical diagnostics.

The laser is relatively simple to create, cheap to produce, and has the ability to operate at room temperature. Because the device works in real time, users can quickly and simply produce different colors.

This from Science World Report:

The laser’s cavity itself is made up of an array of reflective gold nanoparticles where the light is concentrated around each nanoparticle and then amplified. In contrast to conventional laser cavities, no mirrors are required for the light to bounce back and forth. As the laser color is tuned the nanoparticle cavity stays fixed and does not change.

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