JellyfishNew materials can change their appearance and quickly revert to their original state, taking inspiration from squid and jellyfish.

Researchers believe the materials could have applications in smart windows (allowing users to block light with the push of a button), display optics, and encryption technology.

“There are several marine animals that can very smartly and actively alter their skin’s structure and color,” says Luyi Sun, co-author of the study. “In this work, we follow two examples, squid and jellyfish respectively, to create different mechanical responsive devices.”

This from the University of Connecticut:

They began with a thin, rigid film, and then attached a thicker layer of soft, stretchable elastomer. When the layers are joined and stretched, the rigid layer develops cracks and folds. As this layer is stretched, the cracks and folds grow in size in proportion to the force exerted. As a result, the surface becomes rough and scatters the light that passes through, thereby changing the material’s transparency.

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62237228_thumbnailECS member and director of the Princeton Institute for Science and Technology of Materials (PRISM), Craig Arnold, recently sat down with Princeton University to discuss the current and future potential of materials science.

Arnold and his research group at Princeton focus on materials processing and fabrication, with applications in energy, optoelectronics, sensing, and nanotechnology. Applications of this research touches the frontiers of technology, pushing boundaries on optimizing grid level storage for alternative energy and cutting-edge optical devices.

In the interview, Arnold discusses core components of materials science, his favorite materials, and explains how materials science has become the bass player in the band.

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As far back as 1839, the English scientist William Grove had the idea that the reactants of a battery could be gases fed into it from external tanks. For most of their history, fuel cells existed only as laboratory curiosities. But fuel cells have gained much more attention in recent years, with many considering these power sources for applications in vehicles and alternative grid technology.

New research from Harvard University shows just how promising fuel cell technology could be. According to the study, the researchers were able to develop more efficient fuel cells that get more robust as they age instead of degrading.

“The elegance of this process is that it happens naturally when exposed to the electrons in fuel,” says Shriram Ramananthan, lead author of the study and past ECS member. “This technique can be applied to other electrochemical devices to make it more robust. It’s like chess—before we could only play with pawns and bishops, tools that could move in limited directions. Now, we’re playing with the queen.”

Making the New Silicon

Shown here is the smallest laptop power adapter ever, made using GaN transistors.
Image: Cambridge Electronics

Recent discussions in the electronics industry have revolved around the future of technology in light of the perceived end of Moore’s law. But what if the iconic law doesn’t have to end? Researchers from MIT believe they have exactly what it takes to keep up with the constantly accelerating pace of Moore’s law.

More efficient materials

For the scientists, the trick is in the utilization of a material other than silicon in semiconductors for power electronics. With extremely high efficiency levels that could potentially reduce worldwide energy consumption, some believe that material could be gallium nitride (GaN).

MIT spin-out Cambridge Electronics Inc. (CEI) has recently produced a line of GaN transistors and power electronic circuits. The goal is to cut energy usage in data centers, electric cars, and consumer devices by 10 to 20 percent worldwide by 2025.

Semiconductors shaping society

Since its discovery in 1947, the transistor has helped make possible many wonders of modern life – including smartphones, solar cells, and even airplanes.

Over time, as predicted by Moore’s law, transistors became smaller and more efficient at an accelerated pace – opening doors to even more technological advancements.

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Researchers around the world have been talking about the potential of “wonder material” graphene since it first entered the field of materials science. However, for all its promising theoretical potential and applications, we’ve yet to see the material make its way to the market. Now, after an announcement by Chinese-based Guangzhous OED Technologies, graphene may make its first appearance in the marketplace within the next year.

The company just announced that they have developed what they are claiming is the “world’s first graphene electronic paper.” The e-paper, which is a display device that mimics the appearance of ordinary ink on paper, is expected to be taken to further heights with this development.

This from Phys:

The group at OED claims to have developed a graphene material that is suitable for use in making e-paper. Doing so, they also claim, allows for creating screens that are more bendable and that are also brighter because they will be able to display light with more intensity. They also suggest that because the end product will be carbon based, it should be cheaper to manufacture than current e-paper products which are based on metal indium.

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Carbyne

Image: Lei Shi/Faculty of Physics, University of Vienna

The material Carbyne hit the benchtop years ago. Scientists were able to calculate the properties of this exotic material, but not able to stabilize it. Carbyne promised to be stronger and stiffer than any other material known to man, but the question of how to synthesize it remained.

Now, researchers from the University of Vienna in Austria were able to do just that. The researchers took the highly reactive, one-dimensional chain of carbon atoms and synthesized it by wrapping it in a double-walled tube of graphene that provided a protective casing, allowing the material to remain intact.

This from Gizmodo:

The record for stringing together carbon atoms like this in the past had been 100 in a row; now, the team can put 6,400 atoms together, and have them remain in a chain for as long as they want. That is, of course, as long as they sit inside the carbon Thermos. It remains to be seen how useful Carbyne will be whilst wrapped up, but for now it’s the best that researchers can achieve.

Read the full article.

While not much is known about Carbyne, the material is believed to be stronger than both graphene and diamonds, and twice the stiffness of any known material. Maybe (just maybe) this could bring us one step closer to space elevators.

Graphene’s potential seems limitless. From to patches that monitor glucose and inject treatment to water-splitting capabilities, the popularly proclaimed “wonder material” is finding a home in a host of applications. However, graphene has yet to make it wide-spread, commercial applications.

To help take graphene from the lab to society, the Graphene Flagship has been formed as a European initiative promoting collaborative research on the up-and-coming material. Recently, the initiative published a paper detailing the possibility of creating light-responsive graphene-based devices that could be applied to anything from photo-sensors to optically controllable memories.

(MORE: Listen to our podcast with nanocarbons expert Bruce Weiseman, where we talk graphene, fullerenes, and all things nano.)

This from Graphene Flagship:

The work shows how, by combining molecules capable of changing their conformation as a result of light irradiation with graphite powder, one can produce concentrated graphene inks by liquid phase exfoliation. These graphene inks can then be used to make devices which, when exposed to UV and visible light, are capable of photo-switching current in a reversible fashion.

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Bruce Weisman, chemistry and materials science professor at Rice University, is internationally recognized for his contributions to the spectroscopy and photophysics of carbon nanostructures. He is a pioneer in the field of spectroscopy, leading the discovery and interpretation of near-infrared fluorescence for semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Aside from his work at Rice University, Weisman is also the founder and president of Applied NanoFluorescence.

Weisman is currently the Division Chair of the ECS Nanocarbons Division, which will be celebrating 25 years of nanocarbons symposia at the upcoming 229th ECS Meeting in San Diego, CA, May 2016. Since starting in 1991, the symposia has totaled 5,853 abstracts at ECS biannual meetings, with Nobel Laureate Richard Smalley delivering the inaugural talk.

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.

Glucose monitoring has had a long history with electrochemical science and technology. While ECS Honorary Member Adam Heller’s continuous glucose monitoring system for diabetes management may be the first innovation that comes to mind, there is a new electrochemical bio-sensing tool on the horizon.

(WATCH: ECS Masters – Adam Heller)

Researchers have combined graphene with a tiny amount of gold to enhance the wonder material’s properties and develop a flexible skin patch to monitor blood glucose and automatically administer drugs as needed.

This from Extreme Tech:

[As] cool as a non-invasive blood-glucose monitor is, it’s nearly as revolutionary as what comes next: treatment. The patch is studded with “microneedles” that automatically cap themselves with a plug of tridecanoic acid. When high blood-glucose levels are detected, the patch heats a small heater on the needles which deforms the plug and allows the release of metformin, a common drug for treatment of type 2 diabetes. Cooling naturally restores the plug and stops drug release.

Read the full article.

This development is a huge stepping stone in the transformation of graphene as a laboratory curiosity to a real product. While it has taken a while due to the questions of the new material’s intrinsic properties, researchers believe that graphene-based products could soon be hitting the market.

Wrinkles and crumples, introduced by placing graphene on shrinky polymers, can enhance graphene's properties.Image: Brown University

Wrinkles and crumples, introduced by placing graphene on shrinky polymers, can enhance graphene’s properties.
Image: Brown University

By now we’ve heard about the seemingly endless possibilities for the wonder material graphene. The engineers at Brown University are looking to make those possibilities even more appealing through a process that could make the nanomaterial both water repellant and enhance its electrochemical properties.

The research team is looking to improve upon the already impressive graphene by wrinkling and crumpling sheets of the material by placing it on shrink polymers to enhance its properties, potentially leading to new breakthroughs in batteries and fuel cells.

This from Brown University:

This new research builds on previous work done by Robert Hurt and Ian Wong, from Brown’s School of Engineering. The team had previously showed that by introducing wrinkles into graphene, they could make substrates for culturing cells that were more similar to the complex environments in which cells grow in the body. For this latest work, the researchers led by Po-Yen Chen, a Hibbit postdoctoral fellow, wanted to build more complex architectures incorporating both wrinkles and crumples.

Read the full article.

Crumpling the graphene makes it superhydrophobic, a property that could be used to develop self-cleaning surfaces. Additionally, the enhanced electrochemical properties could be used in next-generation energy storage and production.

“You don’t need a new material to do it,” said Po-Yen Chen, co-author of the study. “You just need to crumple the graphene.”

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