SolarScientists have created a nanoscale light detector that can convert light to energy, combining both a unique fabrication method and light-trapping structures.

In today’s increasingly powerful electronics, tiny materials are a must as manufacturers seek to increase performance without adding bulk. Smaller is also better for optoelectronic devices—like camera sensors or solar cells—which collect light and convert it to electrical energy.

Think, for example, about reducing the size and weight of a series of solar panels, producing a higher-quality photo in low lighting conditions, or even transmitting data more quickly.

However, two major challenges have stood in the way: First, shrinking the size of conventionally used “amorphous” thin-film materials also reduces their quality. And second, when ultrathin materials become too thin, they are almost transparent—and actually lose some ability to gather or absorb light.

The new nanoscale light detector, a single-crystalline germanium nanomembrane photodetector on a nanocavity substrate, could overcome both of these obstacles.

“We’ve created an exceptionally small and extraordinarily powerful device that converts light into energy,” says Qiaoqiang Gan, associate professor of electrical engineering in the University at Buffalo’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and one of the paper’s lead authors. “The potential applications are exciting because it could be used to produce everything from more efficient solar panels to more powerful optical fibers.”


A Stanford University-led team recently published research detailing how particles charge and discharge at the nanoscale, giving new insight into the fundamental functioning of batteries and opening doors for the development of better rechargeables.

This new insight into the electrochemical action that powers Li-ion batteries provides powerful knowledge into the building blocks of batteries.

“It gives us fundamental insights into how batteries work,” says Jongwoo Lim, a co-author of the study. “Previously, most studies investigated the average behavior of the whole battery. Now, we can see and understand how individual battery particles charge and discharge.”

At the heart of every Li-ion battery lies the charge/discharge process. In theory, the ions in the process insert uniformly across the surface of the particles. However, that never happens in practice. Instead, the ions get unevenly distributed, leaving inconsistencies that lead to mechanical stresses and eventually shortened battery life. One way to develop batteries with longer life spans is to understand why these phenomena happens and how to prevent it at the nanoscale.

The recently published research uses x-rays and cutting-edge microscopes to look at this process in real time.

“The phenomenon revealed by this technique, I thought would never be visualized in my lifetime. It’s quite game-changing in the battery field,” says Martin Bazant, co-author of the study.


New research from the University of Washington is opening another avenue in the quest for better batteries and fuel cells. But this research is not a breakthrough in efficiency or longevity, rather a tool to more closely analyze how batteries work.

While we’ve come a long way from the voltaic pile of the 1800s, there is still much work to be done in the field of energy storage to meet modern day needs. In a society that is looking for ways to power electric vehicles and implement large scale grid energy storage for renewables, batteries and fuel cells have never been more important.

A research team from the University of Washington – including ECS members Stuart B. Adler and Timothy C. Geary – believes that these improvements will likely have to happen at the nanoscale. But in order to improve batteries and fuel cells at that microscopic level, we must first understand and see how they function.

[MORE: Read the full journal article.]

The newly developed probe offers a window for researchers to understand how batteries and fuel cells really work.


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.


Engineers have developed a way to visualize the optical properties of objects that are thousands of times small than a grain of sand.Source: YouTube/Stanford University

Engineers have developed a way to visualize the optical properties of objects that are thousands of times small than a grain of sand.
Source: YouTube/Stanford University

In order to develop high efficiency solar cells and LEDs, researchers need to see how light interacts with objects on the nanoscale. Unfortunately, light is tricky to visualize in relation to small-scale objects.

Engineers from Stanford University, in collaboration with FOM Institute AMOLF, have developed a next-gen optical method to produce high-resolution, 3D images of nanoscale objects. This allows researchers to visualize the optical properties of objects that are several thousandths the size of a grain of sand.

The teams achieved this by combining two technologies: cathodluminescence and tomography.


Predicting Structure Strength

Researchers from Rice University have developed a novel theory that combines strength, stiffness and toughness of composites into a single design map. The dimensionless computer-drawn maps can be applied to anything from nanoscale to buildings.

“That’s the beauty of this approach: It can scale to something very large or very small,” said Rouzbeh Shahsavari, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and of materials science and engineering.


The Nano Electromechanical “Squitch”

A MIT graduate student is changing the landscape of electromechanical switches.

Farnaz Niroui, an electrical engineering graduate student at MIT, has developed a squeezable nano electrochemical switch with quantum tunneling functions. Her development combats the longstanding problem of the switch locking in an “on” position due to metal-to-metal contacts sticking together.

The challenge of this permanent adhesion is called stiction, which often results in device failure. Niroui looks to solve this issue by creating electrodes with nanometer-thin separators.

She has effectively turned stiction from a problem into a solution.


Nanoscale Microscopy

The microscope they developed produces x-ray images by scanning a sample while collecting various x-ray signals emerging from the sample.Image: Brookhaven National Laboratory

The microscope they developed produces x-ray images by scanning a sample while collecting various x-ray signals emerging from the sample.
Image: Brookhaven National Laboratory

Researchers have developed a new x-ray microscope that will provide scientists with the opportunity to image nanostructures and chemical reactions down to the nanometer.

The new class of x-ray microscope allows for nanoscale imagining like never before. This development brings researchers one step closer to the ultimate goal of nanometer resolution.

This from Brookhaven National Laboratory:

The microscope manipulates novel nanofocusing optics called multilayer Laue lenses (MLL) — incredibly precise lenses grown one atomic layer at a time — which produce a tiny x-ray beam that is currently about 10 nanometers in size. Focusing an x-ray beam to that level means being able to see the structures on that length scale, whether they are proteins in a biological sample, or the inner workings of a fuel cell catalyst.


Layers of Logic Produce Skyscraper Chips

Stanford engineers have created a four-layer prototype high-rise chip. The bottom and top layers are transistors, which are sandwiched between two layers of memory.
Credit: Max Shulaker, Stanford

Cheaper, smaller, and faster – those are the three words we’re constantly hearing when it comes to innovation and development in electronics. Now, Stanford University engineers are adding a fourth word to that mantra – taller.

The Stanford team is about to reveal how to build a high-rise chip that could vault the performance of the single-story logic and memory chips on today’s circuit cards – thereby preventing the wires connecting logic and memory from jamming.

This from Stanford University:

The Stanford approach would end these jams by building layers of logic atop layers of memory to create a tightly interconnected high-rise chip. Many thousands of nanoscale electronic “elevators” would move data between the layers much faster, using less electricity, than the bottleneck-prone wires connecting single-story logic and memory chips today.


New Sensor Can Improve the Taste of Your Wine

PhD student Joana Guerreiro has taken part in developing a sensor, which has been dubbed the 'mini-mouth'.Credit: Lars Kruse, Aarhus University

PhD student Joana Guerreiro has taken part in developing a sensor, which has been dubbed the ‘mini-mouth’.
Credit: Lars Kruse, Aarhus University

The ‘mini-mouth’ – that’s what scientists have dubbed the new nanosensor that can mimic the sensation that wine creates in a person’s mouth, which then determines how a specific alcohol tastes.

This technology was created by PhD student Joana Guerreiro from Aarhus University in Denmark, and sets out to detect the level of astringency associated with a particular wine. A wine’s astringency is characterized by the dry sensation drinkers get in their mouth when they drink wine.

This from Aarhus University:

Quite specifically, the sensor is a small plate coated with nanoscale gold particles. On this plate, the researchers simulate what happens in your mouth by first adding some of the proteins contained in your saliva. After this they add the wine. The gold particles on the plate act as nano-optics and make it possible to focus a beam of light below the diffraction limit so as to precisely measure something that is very small – right down to 20 nanometres. This makes it possible to study and follow the proteins, and to see what effect the wine has. It is thereby possible to see the extent to which the small molecules have to bind together for the clumping effect on the protein to be set off.

Read the full article here.

While the technique itself is not new, the ingenuity lies in using it to create a sensor that can measure an effect rather than just the number of molecules.

This technology seems as though it would threaten the livelihood of sommeliers, but researchers say that is not what the sensor is intended for. Instead, the team at Aarhus University hopes that this will produce a tool that is useful in wine production.

Want to see what else sensors can do? Head over to our Digital Library to see the newest cutting-edge sensor research.

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