Achieving a More Efficient Catalyst

Nanoporous goldA new study out of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory shows that catalysts derived from nano-structured materials are as good as gold.

According to the study, led by past ECS member Juergen Biener, restructuring nanoporous gold alloys result in more efficient catalysts.

Nano-structured materials have shown promising qualities for improving catalyst activity and selectivity, but little is known about the structural changes that the materials undergo that can create or prevent efficient catalyst function.

This from LLNL:

The team used ozone-activated silver-gold alloys in the form of nanoporous gold (npAu) as a case study to demonstrate the dynamic behavior of bi-metallic systems during activation to produce a functioning catalyst. Nanoporous gold, a porous metal, can be used in electrochemical sensors, catalytic platforms, fundamental structure property studies at the nanoscale and tunable drug release. It also features high effective surface area, tunable pore size, well-defined conjugate chemistry, high electrical conductivity and compatibility with traditional fabrication techniques.


New research out of the University of California, Riverside reveals a transparent, self-healing, highly stretchable material that can be electrically activated to power artificial muscles or improve batteries and electronic devices.

The researchers behind the development believe that this new material could be used to extend the lifetime of lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles, improve medical and environmental biosensors, and even allow robots to self-heal after mechanical failure.

“Creating a material with all these properties has been a puzzle for years,” says Chao Wang, co-author of the recently published research. “We did that and now are just beginning to explore the applications.”

According to the research, the low-cost material can stretch 50 times its original length and can complete heal in 24 hours after being cut.

Silly putty isn’t just for kids anymore.

Researchers in Ireland combined the classic kid’s toy with a special form of carbon to create a new material that has potential applications in medical devices such as heart monitors.

About 70 years ago, scientists came up with the recipe for silly putty as a substitute for rubber. The resulting formula yielded strange properties, but not many applications. However, by taking the strange silly putty formula and mixing it with graphene, the new mixture showed remarkable electrical, bouncy, liquid-like properties.

GrapheneResearchers are shedding new light on cell biology with the development of a graphene sensor to monitor changes in the mitochondria.

The one-atom-thin layer of carbon sensor is giving researchers a new outlook into the process known as programmed cell death in mitochondria. The mitochondrion, which is found in most cells, has been known as the powerhouse of the cell due to its ability to metabolize and create energy for cells. However, the new researcher out of University of California, Irving shows that that convention wisdom on how cells create energy is only half right.

This from UC Irving:

[Peter] Burke and his colleagues tethered about 10,000 purified mitochondria, separated from their cells, to a graphene sensor via antibodies capable of recognizing a protein in their outer membranes. The graphene’s qualities allowed it to function as a dual-mode sensor; its exceptional electrical sensitivity let researchers gauge fluctuations in the acidity levels surrounding the mitochondria, while its optical transparency enabled the use of fluorescent dyes for the staining and visualization of voltage across the inner mitochondrial membranes.


GrapheneOver the past few years, researchers have been exploring graphene’s amazing properties and vast potential applications. Now, a team from Iowa State University is looking to take those properties enabled by graphene and applied them to sensors and other technologies.

Many scientists have had a hard time moving graphene from the lab to the marketplace, but the research team from Iowa State University saw potential in using inkjet printers to create multi-layer graphene circuits and electrodes for the production of flexible, wearable electronics.

“Could we make graphene at scales large enough for glucose sensors?” ECS member and Iowa State University postdoctoral researcher, Suprem Das, wanted to know.

(MORE: Read more of Das’ work in the ECS Digital Library.)

The problem with the printing process is that the graphene would then have to be treated to improve its electrical conductivity, which could degrade the flexibility. Instead of using high temperatures and chemical to do this treatment, Das and other members of the team opted to use lasers.


Invisible wood

Image: University of Maryland

Wood has been a key building block for much of history infrastructure. While we may have witnessed wood fade out in lieu of other materials in more recent times, it’s about to make a comeback in an unexpected way.

Past ECS member Liangbing Hu of the University of Maryland, College Park is developing a stronger, transparent wood that can be used in place of less environmentally friendly materials such as plastic.

But this development’s novelty really lies in the transparency factor. So many structures built today rely on the use of glass and steel. By replacing those building materials with the transparent wood, the world of design could be revolutionized while heating costs and fuel consumption rates are simultaneously reduced.

This from CNN:

Hu describes the process of creating clear wood in two steps: First, the lignin — an organic substance found in vascular plants — is chemically removed. This is the same step used in manufacturing pulp for paper. The lignin is responsible for the “yellow-ish” color of wood. The second step is to inject the channels, or veins of the wood by filling it with an epoxy — which can be thought of as strengthening agent, Hu says.


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.


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.


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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