New Phase of Carbon Shows Unique Properties

q-carbonA new form of carbon that has unprecedented strength and magnetism properties is making its mark in the world of materials science.

Researchers from North Carolina State University have recently developed a new phase of carbon called Q-carbon—an extraordinarily strong material that differs from carbon’s other two solid forms.

The first solid phase of carbon is graphite. Graphite is composed by lining up carbon atoms to form thin sheets, which results in a thin and flaky material. The other phase of carbon, diamond, occurs when carbon atoms form a rigid crystal lattice.

Third Phase of Carbon

“We’ve now created a third solid phase of carbon,” says Jay Narayan, lead author of the research. “The only place it may be found in the natural world would be possibly in the core of some planets.”

Q-carbon differs from both existing phases of carbon, with unique characteristics that researchers did not even think were possible prior to its development, such as its magnetic and glowing qualities. To fully understand its novel qualities, it’s essential to understand how Q-carbon was developed.

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Nanoporous Materials and Global Warming

In a practical effort to address climate change, researchers are looking at the possibility to capture harmful greenhouse gasses and transforming them into something useful for society. Recently, researchers from the University of South Carolina started exploring this topic, opening the door for more research in green fuels produced by carbon. Now, a team from the University of South Australia is taking that concept and applying nanoporous carbon nitride to help solve global warming.

With carbon dioxide levels at their highest in 650,000 years, scientists are developing innovative ways to help contain the greenhouse gas. The team at the University of South Australia, led by Ajayan Vinu, is working to capture and convert carbon dioxide molecules with the help of nanoporous materials.

“Their interesting properties—a semiconducting framework structure and ordered pores—make them exciting candidates for the capture and conversion of [carbon dioxide] molecules into methanol which can then be used as a source of green energy with the help of sunlight and water,” Vinu said.

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Powering Batteries in Harsh Environments

Researchers across the globe have been investing more and more effort into developing new materials to power the next generation of devices. With the population growing and energy demands rising, the need for smaller, faster, and more efficient batteries is more prevalent than ever.

While some researchers are attempting to develop complex material combinations to tackle this issue, researchers from Rice University are going back to basics by developing a clay-based electrolyte.

Utilizing clay as a primary material in a lithium ion battery could address current issues that the battery has with high temperature performance. With clay, the researchers were able to supply stable electrical power in environments with temperatures up 120°C. The addition of clay to the electrode could allow lithium ion batteries to function in harsh environments including space, defense, and oil and gas applications.

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New Approach to Materials Design

jz-2015-016605_0003A novel development from Virginia Tech aims to “significantly accelerate materials discovery,” all while combating the pressing global warming issue.

The new approach allows for efficient chemical conversions through a model that can predict novel alloy materials in a fast and accurate manner.

“This is the first example of learning from data in catalysis. We anticipate that this new research approach will have a huge impact in the future of materials design,” said Honglian Xin, lead author of the study.

Catalysts are hugely important in industry, with up to 90 percent of industrial chemicals being made from catalysts. These catalysts range from acids to nanoparticles, and even make up some enzymes in the human body.

Scientists have previously worked to improve catalysts through mixing metals with very precise atomic structures. While the results of these studies have led to metals with promising physical and chemical properties, the process has been costly and time consuming.

This from Virginia Tech:

That is why [the researchers] decided to use existing data to train computer algorithms to make predictions of new materials, a field called machine learning. The approach captures complex, nonlinear interactions of molecules on metal surfaces through artificial neural networks, thus allowing, “large scale exploration alloy materials space,” according to their article.

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The new hybrid sol-gel material provides an electrical energy storage capacity rivaling some batteries.Image: John Toon/Georgia Tech

The new hybrid sol-gel material provides an electrical energy storage capacity rivaling some batteries.
Image: John Toon/Georgia Tech

The future of electric vehicle and defibrillator technologies depend largely on new, innovative energy storage research and improving device power densities. With the high demand for more powerful, efficient energy devices, the researchers from Georgia Tech believe they may have developed what could be the answer to powering large-scale devices.

The team has developed a new capacitor dielectric material. This capacitor—developed from a hybrid silica sol-gel material and self-assembled monolayers of common fatty acid—has the potential to surpass some of today’s conventional batteries in the field of energy and power density.

If the researchers can scale up their current laboratory sample, the new capacitors will be able to provide large amounts of current quickly to large-scale applications.

This from Georgia Tech:

The new material is composed of a silica sol-gel thin film containing polar groups linked to the silicon atoms and a nanoscale self-assembled monolayer of an octylphosphonic acid, which provides insulating properties. The bilayer structure blocks the injection of electrons into the sol-gel material, providing low leakage current, high breakdown strength and high energy extraction efficiency.

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The new polymer is able to store energy at higher temperatures.Image: Qi Li/Nature

The new polymer is able to store energy at higher temperatures.
Image: Qi Li/Nature

Polymer dielectric materials have many beneficial properties when it comes to energy storage for advanced electronics and power systems. While the materials are highly flexible and have good chemical stability, their main drawback is their limitation of functionality in primarily low working temperatures. In turn, this limits the wider use of polymer dielectric materials for applications such as electric vehicles and underground oil exploration.

However, researchers from Pennsylvania State University have developed a flexible, high-temperature dielectric material from polymer nanocomposites that looks promising for the application of high-temperature electronics.

The researchers, including current ECS member Lei Chen, were able to stabilize dielectric properties by crosslinking polymer nanocomposites that contain boron nitride nanosheets. In testing, the energy density was increased by 400 percent while remaining stable at temperatures as high as 300° C.

With the nanocomposites having huge energy storage capabilities at high temperatures, a much broader application of organic materials in high temperatures electronics and energy storage can be explored.

PS: Interested in polymer research? Make sure to attend the 228th ECS Meeting and get the latest polymer science at our polymers symposia.

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Mario Hofmann of National Cheng Kung University shows the example set up of electrochemical synthesis.
Image: Mario Hofmann/IOP Publishing

Graphene has been affectionately coined the “wonder material” due to its strength, flexibility, and conductive properties. The theoretical applications for graphene have included the five-second phone charge, chemical sensors, a way to soak up environmentally harmful radioactive waste, and even the potential to improve your tennis game. While everyone has big expectations for the wonder material, it’s still struggling to find its place in the world of materials science.

However, a team of researchers may have found a way to expand graphene’s potential and make it more applicable to tangible devices and applications. Through a simple electrochemical approach, researchers have been able to alter graphene’s electrical and mechanical properties.

Technically, the researchers have created a defect in graphene that can make the material more useful in a variety of applications. Through electrochemical synthesis, the team was able to break graphite flakes into graphene layers of various size depending on the level of voltage used.

The different levels of voltage not only changed the material’s thickness, it also altered the flake area and number of defects. With the alternation of these three properties, the researchers were able to change how the material acts in different functions.

“Whilst electrochemistry has been around for a long time it is a powerful tool for nanotechnology because it’s so finely tuneable.” said Mario Hofmann, a researcher at National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan, in a press release. “In graphene production we can really take advantage of this control to produce defects.”

The defected graphene shows promising potential for polymer fillers and battery electrodes. Researchers also believe that by revealing and utilizing the natural defects in graphene, strides could be made in biomedical technology such as drug delivery systems.

Using this National Geographic image, Dr. Chanda is able to demonstrate the color-changing abilities of the nanostructured reflective display.Image: University of Central Florida

Using this National Geographic image, Dr. Chanda is able to demonstrate the color-changing abilities of the nanostructured reflective display.
Image: University of Central Florida

The development to the first colorful, flexible, skin-like display is taking wearable electronics to a whole new level.

Researchers from the University of Central Florida’s NanoScience Technology Centre have created a digital “skin” that can cloak wearers in realistic images. This new technology could be applied to concepts as simple as outfit changes, or more serious matters like replacing camouflage for members of the military.

The research was led by Professor Debashis Chanda, who took inspiration for this development from nature.

“All manmade displays – LCD, LED, CRT – are rigid, brittle and bulky. But you look at an octopus, they can create color on the skin itself covering a complex body contour, and it’s stretchable and flexible,” Chanda said. “That was the motivation: Can we take some inspiration from biology and create a skin-like display?”

This from Wired:

The result is described as an ultra-thin nanostructure, which can change color when different voltage is applied. The method uses ambient light rather than its own light source, meaning no bulky backlighting is needed, and the structure is relatively simple; a thin liquid crystal layer above and metallic “egg carton” like nanomaterial that reflects wavelengths selectively.

Read the full article here.

In the end, the researchers developed something that is 25 times thinner than human hair for easy application to fabrics and plastics.

Head over to the Digital Library to read about some of the latest research and innovations in nanomaterials.

Analyzing Thin Film Break-Up

The open-source code, WulffMaker, is available as a Wolfram computable document format file or a Mathematica notebook.Image: MIT/Rachel Zucker

The open-source code, WulffMaker, is available as a Wolfram computable document format file or a Mathematica notebook.
Image: MIT/Rachel Zucker

Recent PhD recipient and past ECS student member, Rachel Zucker, examined one of the most complex issues in materials science and has developed a range of mathematical solutions to explain the phenomena known as “dewetting” in solid films. In defense of her thesis, Zucker modeled dewetting in microscale and nanoscale thin films.

Dewetting can be boiled down to the general break-up of material due to excess surface energy. Zucker’s development provides us with not only a new understanding of this phenomenon, but also a way to simulate it. When analyzing solid state dewetting, issues becomes very prominent as engineers attempt to make products with smaller and smaller features.

“The big takeaway is: One, we can write down formulation of this problem; two, we can implement a numerical method to construct the solutions; three, we can make a direct comparison to experiments; and that strikes me as what a thesis should be — the complete thing — formulation, solution, comparison, conclusion,” said W. Craig Carter, MIT professor and Zucker’s co-adviser.

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Join the ECS Montreal Student Chapter for the 5th ECS Montreal Student Symposium.

Montreal Student Chapter Symposium 2015

This is an annual meeting for electrochemistry and materials science students in Montreal, Canada.

Abstract submission is now open until May 27, 2015. Submissions may be emailed here.

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