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The Lead

Measuring the smallest magnets

July 28, 2014 11:05 am | News | Comments

A wildly bouncing tennis ball that travels a millions times the distance of its own size would be difficult to measure. But attaching the same ball to a measuring device would eliminate the “noise”. Researchers in Israel recently used a similar trick to measure the interaction between the smallest possible magnets (two electrons) after neutralizing magnetic noise that was a million times stronger than the signal they needed to detect.

Study reveals new characteristics of complex oxide surfaces

July 25, 2014 8:25 am | by Morgan McCorkle, Oak Ridge National Laboratory | News | Comments

A novel combination of microscopy and data processing has given researchers at Oak Ridge...

Chemist develops x-ray vision for quality assurance

July 25, 2014 6:57 am | by Iben Julie Schmidt, Technical Univ. of Denmark | News | Comments

A new method that uses x-rays for the rapid...

Quenching the world's water and energy crises, one tiny droplet at a time

July 24, 2014 8:40 am | by Sarah Bates, National Science Foundation | Videos | Comments

More than a decade ago, news of a Namibian desert...

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Building up bamboo

July 23, 2014 7:46 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

Bamboo construction has traditionally been rather straightforward: Entire stalks are used to create latticed edifices, or woven in strips to form wall-sized screens. The effect can be stunning, and also practical in parts of the world where bamboo thrives. But there are limitations to building with bamboo.

The stability of gold clusters: Every ligand counts

July 22, 2014 8:37 am | News | Comments

By colliding ultra-small gold particles with a surface and analyzing the resulting fragments, a trio of scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory discovered how and why the particles break. This information is important for controlling the synthesis of these tiny building blocks that are of interest to catalysis, energy conversion and storage, and chemical sensing.

Understanding graphene’s electrical properties on an atomic level

July 22, 2014 7:38 am | by Evan Lerner, Univ. of Pennsylvania | Videos | Comments

Graphene, a material that consists of a lattice of carbon atoms, one atom thick, is widely touted as being the most electrically conductive material ever studied. However, not all graphene is the same. With so few atoms comprising the entirety of the material, the arrangement of each one has an impact on its overall function.

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New method for extracting radioactive elements from air, water

July 21, 2014 8:21 am | by Univ. of Liverpool Univ. News | News | Comments

Scientists have successfully tested a material that can extract atoms of rare or dangerous elements such as radon from the air. Gases such as radon, xenon and krypton all occur naturally in the air but in minute quantities—typically less than one part per million. As a result they are expensive to extract for use in industries such as lighting or medicine and, in the case of radon, the gas can accumulate in buildings.

Water molecules favor negative charges

July 17, 2014 7:52 am | News | Comments

Recent research shows that, in the presence of charged substances, water molecules favor associating with elements with a negative electrical charge rather than a positive electric charge. A study on the subject that employed advanced optical spectroscopy techniques could provide new insights on the processes of cell formation.

Labs characterize carbon for batteries

July 15, 2014 8:04 am | by Mike Williams, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

Lithium-ion batteries could benefit from a theoretical model created at Rice Univ. and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory that predicts how carbon components will perform as electrodes. The model is based on intrinsic electronic characteristics of materials used as battery anodes. These include the material’s quantum capacitance and the material’s absolute Fermi level.

Even geckos can lose their grip

July 9, 2014 2:17 pm | News | Comments

Geckos and spiders seem to be able to sit still forever upside down. But sooner or later the grip is lost, no matter how little force is acting on it. Engineers, using scanning electron microscopy, have recently demonstrated why this is so by showing how heat, and the subsequent movement of molecules at the nanoscale, eventually force loss of adhesion.

New research shows that friction and fracture are interrelated

July 8, 2014 12:51 pm | News | Comments

Overturning conventional wisdom stretching all the way to Leonardo da Vinci, new research from Israel shows that how things break and how things slide are closely interrelated. The breakthrough study marks an important advance in understanding friction and fracture, with implications for describing the mechanics that drive earthquakes.

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Japanese gold leaf artists worked on the nanoscale

July 2, 2014 3:10 pm | News | Comments

Ancient Japanese gold leaf artists were truly masters of their craft. An analysis of six of these Japanese paper screens show that these artifacts are gilded with gold leaf that was hand-beaten to the nanometer scale. The study was able to prove this without any damage to the screens through the use of x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy.

Nature of solids and liquids explored through new pitch drop experiment

July 2, 2014 12:47 pm | News | Comments

Known as the “world's longest experiment”, an experiment at the University of Queensland in Australia was famous for taking ten years for a drop of pitch, a black, sticky material, to fall from a funnel. A new test in the U.K. is using a different bitumen, or pitch, which is 30 times less viscous than the Queensland experiment, so that the flow can be seen at a faster rate and hopefully provide more insights.

Scientists discover how plastic solar panels work

July 1, 2014 11:52 am | News | Comments

Experts don't fully understand how “plastic” solar panels work, which complicates the improvement of their cost efficiency and hinders wider use of the technology. However, an international team has now determined how light beams excite the chemicals in solar panels, enabling them to produce charge. Their findings were made possible with the use of femtosecond Raman spectroscopy.

A smashing new look at nanoribbons

July 1, 2014 9:56 am | News | Comments

Recent research at the Rice Univ. lab of materials scientist Pulickel Ajayan has discovered that nanotubes that hit a target end first turn into mostly ragged clumps of atoms. But nanotubes that happen to broadside the target unzip into handy ribbons that can be used in composite materials for strength and applications that take advantage of their desirable electrical properties.

Interlayer distance in graphite oxide gradually changes when water is added

June 30, 2014 2:21 pm | News | Comments

Physicists in Europe have solved a mystery that has puzzled scientists for half a century. it has long been known that the distance between the graphene oxide layers depends on the humidity, not the actual amount of water added. But now, with the help of powerful microscopes, it can be seen how distance between graphite oxide layers gradually increases when water molecules are added, and why this phenomenon occurs.

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Scientists develop force sensor from carbon nanotubes

June 30, 2014 2:05 pm | News | Comments

A group of researchers from Russia, Belarus and Spain, including MIPT professor Yury Lozovik, have developed a microscopic force sensor based on carbon nanotubes. The device consists of two nanotubes placed so that their open ends are opposite to each other. Voltage of just 10 nA is then applied to the nanocircuit and force is measured by the change in position of the nanotubes.

Physicists explain counterintuitive phenomenon in superconductivity

June 30, 2014 8:54 am | by Julie Cohen, UC Santa Barbara | News | Comments

For his doctoral dissertation, Yu Chen developed a novel way to fabricate superconducting nanocircuitry. However, the extremely small zinc nanowires he designed did some unexpected things, including demonstrating dissipation characteristics though only to be present in normal states. After long and careful work, which involved both experimental and theoretical efforts, researchers have found an explanation that fits.

Silver in the washing machine

June 30, 2014 8:35 am | News | Comments

The antibacterial properties of silver-coated textiles are popular in the fields of sport and medicine. A team in Switzerland has now investigated how different silver coatings behave in the washing machine, and they have discovered something important: textiles with nano-coatings release fewer nano-particles into the washing water than those with normal coatings.

Measuring the mass of “massless” electrons

June 23, 2014 2:57 pm | News | Comments

The electrons in graphene behave as “massless” particles, yet these electrons also seem to have dual personalities. Phenomena observed in the field of graphene plasmonics suggest that when the electrons move collectively, they must exhibit mass. After two years of effort, researchers at Harvard Univ. have successfully measured the collective mass of “massless” electrons in motion in graphene.

Energy-level alignment at metal/organic interfaces: Tying up the loose ends

June 19, 2014 8:33 am | News | Comments

Organic semiconductors have tremendous potential for complementing conventional, inorganic semiconductors, but energy losses or barriers at the connection interfaces have blocked development efforts. Physicists have now implemented a detailed electrostatic model which is capable of covering the full phenomenological range of interfacial energy-level alignment regimes within a single, consistent framework.

New method to identify inks could help preserve historical documents

June 18, 2014 4:16 pm | News | Comments

The inks on historical documents can hold many secrets about the past. And knowing how the ink breaks down can help scientists preserve valuable treasures. In a recent study, researchers report how a analysis method called tip-enhanced Raman spectroscopy has been developed to help identify many types of inks on various papers and other surfaces.

Researchers “cage” water to see it change form

June 17, 2014 12:14 pm | News | Comments

Scientists are using a pioneering method of “caging” and cooling water molecules to study the change in orientation of the magnetic nuclei at the center of each hydrogen atom in the molecule. This process transforms the molecule from one form of water to another. The results of this work may one day help to enhance the diagnostic power of magnetic resonance imaging scans.

NIST: The clumping density of many things seems to be a standard

June 11, 2014 7:37 am | News | Comments

Particles of soot floating through the air and comets hurtling through space have at least one thing in common: 0.36. That, reports a research group at NIST, is the measure of how dense they will get under normal conditions, and it’s a value that seems to be constant for similar aggregates across an impressively wide size range from nanometers to tens of meters. NIST hopes the results will aid climate researchers.

Optimizing Graphene Characterization

June 4, 2014 12:41 pm | by Lishan Weng, Applications Engineer, Keithley Instruments Inc. | Articles | Comments

Before 2004, when Geim and Novoselov demonstrated the existence of graphene, a single-atomic-layer-thick crystal of carbon, physicists didn’t believe such a substance could exist. Since then, graphene has attracted tremendous research interest because of its exceptional physical and electrical properties.

Researchers predict the electrical response of metals to extreme pressures

June 3, 2014 8:32 am | by Mary Martialay, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute | News | Comments

Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences makes it possible to predict how subjecting metals to severe pressure can lower their electrical resistance, a finding that could have applications in computer chips and other materials that could benefit from specific electrical resistance.

Surprising nanotubes: Some slippery, some sticky

June 2, 2014 7:39 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Nanotubes have been the subject of intensive research, with potential uses ranging from solar cells to chemical sensors to reinforced composite materials. Most of the research has centered on carbon nanotubes, but other nanotubes’ properties appear to be similar. However, appearances can be deceiving, as researchers have found when examining one variant of nanotube made from boron nitride.

Zeroing in on the proton's magnetic moment

May 30, 2014 8:32 am | News | Comments

As part of a series of experiments designed to resolve one of the deepest mysteries of physics today, researchers have made the most precise ever direct measurement of the magnetic moment of a proton. The measurement, based on spectroscopy of a single particle in a Penning trap, was completed at a fractional precision of 3 parts per billion, improving the 42-year-old "fundamental constant" by a factor of three.

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