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.”

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.

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Controlling Car Pollution at the Quantum Level

Toyota Central R&D Labs in Japan have reviewed research that might be leading the way towards a new generation of automotive catalytic converters.Image: Bertel Schmitt/CC

Toyota Central R&D Labs in Japan have reviewed research that might be leading the way towards a new generation of automotive catalytic converters.
Image: Bertel Schmitt/CC

Soon we may be able to better control pollution created by cars at the quantum level.

Researchers from the Toyota Central R&D Labs are conducting research that may lead toward a new generation of automotive catalytic converters.

The new catalytic converters differ from the typical toxic fuel filtering systems due to the new catalyst’s focus on metal clusters, which allows it to be controlled at the quantum-level.

“We can expect an extreme reduction of precious metal using in automotive exhaust catalysts and/or fuel cells,” says Dr. Yoshihide Wantanabe, chief researcher at the Toyota Central R&D Labs in Japan.

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Helping Medicine with Graphene Quantum Dots

Researchers from the University of Sydney have recently published their findings that quantum dots made of graphene can improve bio-imaging and LEDs.

The study was published in the journal Nanoscale, where the scientists detailed how activating graphene quantum dots produced a dot that would shine nearly five times bright than the conventional equivalent.

Essentially, the dots are nano-sized semiconductors, which are fluorescent due to their surface properties. However, this study introduces the utilization of graphene in the quantum dot, which produces an extra-bright dot that has the potential to help medicine.

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