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New “T-ray” tech converts light to sound for weapons detection, medical imaging

May 19, 2014 1:17 pm | News | Comments

Terahertz, or T-ray, range of the electromagnetic has rich promise for scientific applications, but instrumentation that can take advantage of these rays for imaging are still in progress. Univ. of Michigan researchers have recently made a breakthrough by converting terahertz light into sound using a compact, sensitive detector that operates at room temperature and is fabricated in an unusual manner.

IBM research discovers new class of industrial polymers

May 16, 2014 2:03 pm | News | Comments

Scientists at IBM Research have used a new “computational chemistry” hybrid approach to accelerate the materials discovery process that couples laboratory experimentation with the use of high-performance computing. The new polymers are the first to demonstrate resistance to cracking, strength higher than bone, the ability to reform to their original shape (self-heal), and the ability to be completely recycled back to the starting material.

In the wake of high-profile battery fires, a safer approach emerges

May 14, 2014 9:36 am | News | Comments

As news reports of lithium-ion battery (LIB) fires in Boeing Dreamliner planes and Tesla electric cars remind us, these batteries, which are in everyday portable devices, like tablets and smartphones, have their downsides. Now, scientists have designed a safer kind of lithium battery component that is far less likely to catch fire and still promises effective performance.

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Using nature as a model for low-friction bearings

May 14, 2014 9:30 am | News | Comments

The mechanical properties of natural joints are considered unrivalled. Cartilage is coated with a special polymer layer allowing joints to move virtually friction-free, even under high pressure. Using simulations, scientists in Europe have developed a new process that technologically imitates biological lubrication and even improves it using two different types of polymers.

Regenerating plastic grows back after damage

May 9, 2014 8:08 am | by Liz Ahlberg, Physical Sciences Editor, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign | News | Comments

Looking at a smooth sheet of plastic in one Univ. of Illinois laboratory, no one would guess that an impact had recently blasted a hole through it. Illinois researchers have developed materials that not only heal, but regenerate. Until now, self-repairing materials could only bond tiny microscopic cracks. The new regenerating materials fill in large cracks and holes by regrowing material.

Detecting trace amounts of explosives with light

May 8, 2014 11:12 am | News | Comments

Research in Australia may help in the fight against terrorism with the creation of a sensor that can detect tiny quantities of explosives with the use of light and special glass fibers. The researchers have created a new optical fiber sensor which can detect explosives in concentrations as low as 6.3 ppm (parts per million). It requires an analysis time of only a few minutes.

Engineers develop basis for electronics that stretch at the molecular level

May 5, 2014 11:37 am | News | Comments

Current approaches to flexible electronics, in which very thin semiconductor materials are applied to a thin, flexible substrate in wavy patterns and then applied to a deformable surface such as skin or fabric, are still built around hard composite materials that limit their elasticity. Researchers in California have made several discoveries, however, that could lead to electronics that are "molecularly stretchable."

Innovative imaging technique clarifies molecular self-assembly

May 5, 2014 9:50 am | News | Comments

Super-resolution microscopy has allowed optical imaging of objects with dimensions smaller than the diffraction limit. Researchers studying a type of material called supramolecular polymers have used this type of imaging to develop a new technique that allows them study molecular self-assembly at an unprecedented level of detail.

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Gecko-like adhesives now useful for real world surfaces

April 21, 2014 3:12 pm | News | Comments

The ability to stick objects to a wide range of surfaces such as drywall, wood, metal and glass with a single adhesive has been the elusive goal of many research teams across the world, but now a team of Univ. of Massachusetts Amherst inventors describe a new, more versatile version of their invention, Geckskin, that can adhere strongly to a wider range of surfaces, yet releases easily, like a gecko's feet.

Nanoreporters tell ‘sour’ oil from ‘sweet’

April 21, 2014 8:38 am | by Mike Williams, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

Scientists at Rice Univ. have created a nanoscale detector that checks for and reports on the presence of hydrogen sulfide in crude oil and natural gas while they’re still in the ground. The nanoreporter is based on nanometer-sized carbon material developed by a consortium of Rice labs led by chemist James Tour, R&D’s 2013 Scientist of the Year.  

Electrically controlled polymer changes its optical properties

April 18, 2014 8:28 am | News | Comments

An international team of chemists from Italy, Germany and Poland have developed a polymer with unique optical and electrical properties. Components of this polymer change their spatial configuration depending on the electric potential applied. In turn, the polarization of transmitted light is affected. The new material could be used in a windows, polarization filters or chemical sensors.

Information storage for the next generation of plastic computers

April 17, 2014 9:41 am | by Gary Galluzzo, Univ. of Iowa | News | Comments

Although it is relatively cheap and easy to encode information in light for fiber optic transmission, storing information is most efficiently done using magnetism, which ensures information will survive for years without any additional power. But a new proposal by researchers would replace silicon used in these devices with plastic. Their solution converts magnetic information to light in a flexible plastic device.

Promising agents burst through superbug defenses to fight antibiotic resistance

April 10, 2014 9:02 am | News | Comments

In the fight against “superbugs,” scientists have discovered a class of agents that can make some of the most notorious strains vulnerable to the same antibiotics that they once handily shrugged off. Recently discovered metallopolymers, when paired with the same antibiotics MRSA normally dispatches with ease, helped evade the bacteria’s defensive enzymes and destroyed its protective walls, causing the bacteria to burst.

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Noses, made in Britain: UK touts lab-grown organs

April 9, 2014 3:12 pm | by Maria Cheng, AP Medical Writer | News | Comments

In a north London hospital, scientists are growing noses, ears and blood vessels in a bold attempt to make body parts in the laboratory. It's far from the only laboratory in the world that is growing organs for potential transplant. But the London work was showcased this week hints at the availability of more types of body parts, including what would be the world's first nose made partly from stem cells.

New micro-environment could be major advance for stem cell growth strategies

April 1, 2014 8:18 am | News | Comments

Stem cells have the potential to repair human tissue and maintain organ function in chronic disease, but a major problem has been how to mass-produce such a complex living material. Scientists in the U.K. have now developed a new substance which could simplify the manufacture of therapeutic cells by allowing both self-renewal of cells and evolution into cardiomyocyte cells.

Heat-conducting polymer cools hot electronic devices at 200 C

March 31, 2014 7:27 am | by John Toon, Georgia Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Polymer materials are usually thermal insulators. But by harnessing an electropolymerization process to produce aligned arrays of polymer nanofibers, researchers have developed a thermal interface material able to conduct heat 20 times better than the original polymer. The modified material can reliably operate at temperatures of up to 200 C.

Research on 3-D scaffolds sets new bar in lung regeneration

March 9, 2014 11:44 pm | by Jennifer Nachbur, Univ. of Vermont | News | Comments

In end-stage lung disease, transplantation is sometimes the only viable therapeutic option, but organ availability is limited and rejection presents an additional challenge. New methods and techniques in the field of tissue regeneration hold promise for this population, which includes an estimated 12.7 million people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD).

Manufacturing a solution to planet-clogging plastics

March 7, 2014 9:06 am | by Kristen Kusek, Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, Harvard Univ. | News | Comments

Researchers at Harvard Univ.'s Wyss Institute have developed a method to carry out large-scale manufacturing of everyday objects using a fully degradable bioplastic isolated from shrimp shells. The objects exhibit many of the same properties as those created with synthetic plastics, but without the environmental threat. It also trumps most bioplastics on the market today in posing absolutely no threat to trees.

Team discovers unexpected effect of heavy hydrogen in organic solar cells

March 6, 2014 10:55 am | by Morgan McCorkle, Oak Ridge National Laboratory | News | Comments

Photovoltaic spray paint could coat the windows and walls of the future if scientists are successful in developing low-cost, flexible solar cells based on organic polymers. Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory recently discovered an unanticipated factor in the performance of polymer-based solar devices that gives new insight on how these materials form and function.

Physicists solve 20-year-old debate surrounding glassy surfaces

February 28, 2014 4:20 pm | News | Comments

U.K. scientists have succeeded in measuring how the surfaces of glassy materials flow like a liquid, even when they should be solid. A series of simple and elegant experiments were the solution to a problem that has been plaguing condensed matter physicists for the past 20 years. The finding has implications for thin-film coating designs.

Nanoparticle networks' design enhanced by theory

February 26, 2014 5:22 pm | by Anne Ju, Cornell Univ. | News | Comments

Cornell Univ. researchers have recently led what is probably the most comprehensive study to date of block copolymer nanoparticle self-assembly processes. The work is important, because using polymers to self-assemble inorganic nanoparticles into porous structures could revolutionize electronics.

New chemistry could make it easier to design materials to order

February 21, 2014 10:59 am | News | Comments

Researchers in the U.K. have developed a method of controlling the composition of a range of polymers, the large molecules that are commonly used as plastics and fibers. They have demonstrated how the chemical reactions can be manipulated, especially in fixing the composition of a polymer using a mixture of up to three different monomers. The secret lies in understanding and switching “on” and “off” the catalyst used to make the polymers.

A stretchable highway for light

February 20, 2014 2:53 am | News | Comments

A team of Belgian researchers have made what may be the first optical circuit that uses interconnections that are not only bendable, but also stretchable. These new interconnections, made of a rubbery transparent material called PDMS, guide light along their path even when stretched up to 30% and when bent around an object the diameter of a human finger.

Study suggests ways to improve common furniture fire test

February 11, 2014 8:19 am | News | Comments

NIST and American Univ. researchers report in a new study that the bench-scale test widely used to evaluate whether a burning cigarette will ignite upholstered furniture may underestimate the tendency of component materials to smolder when these materials are used in sofas and chairs supported by springs or cloth. The study comes as regulations and methods for evaluating ignition in furniture are undergoing scrutiny.

Off-the-shelf materials lead to self-healing polymers

February 4, 2014 2:06 pm | News | Comments

Look out, super glue and paint thinner. Thanks to new dynamic materials developed at the Univ. of Illinois, removable paint and self-healing plastics soon could be household products. Other self-healing material systems have focused on solid, strong materials, but this new study uses softer elastic materials made of polyurea, one of the most widely used classes of polymers in consumer goods such as paints, coatings, elastics and plastics.

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