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Disorder can improve performance of plastic solar cells

August 7, 2013 7:48 am | by Mark Shwartz, Stanford University | News | Comments

Scientists have spent decades trying to build flexible plastic solar cells efficient enough to compete with conventional cells made of silicon. To boost performance, research groups have tried creating new plastic materials that enhance the flow of electricity through the solar cell. Recently, scientists discovered that disorder at the molecular level actually improves the polymers' performance.

Light that moves and molds gels

August 1, 2013 4:08 pm | News | Comments

Some animals, like the octopus and cuttlefish, transform their shape based on environment. For decades, researchers have worked toward mimicking similar biological responses in non-living organisms, as it would have significant implications in the medical arena. Now, researchers at the Univ. of Pittsburgh have demonstrated such a biomimetic response using hydrogels.

Scientists point to alternative to petroleum for ethylene production

July 31, 2013 5:36 pm | News | Comments

Ethylene, now produced from petroleum, is one of the most important raw materials for everyday products. Researchers in China say they have identified a promising alternative to petroleum. Their proposal, a fluidized bed reactor, works by suspending the chemicals needed to make ethylene inside the walls of a chamber. Newly produced ethylene exits through a pipe, while the rest of the material remains to continue production.


Tetrapod quantum dots light the way to stronger polymers

July 30, 2013 9:23 am | News | Comments

Fluorescent tetrapod nanocrystals could light the way to the future design of stronger polymer nanocomposites. A team of researchers with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has developed an advanced optomechanical sensing technique based on tetrapod quantum dots that allows precise measurement of the tensile strength of polymer fibers with minimal impact on the fiber’s mechanical properties.

Center creates new polymers from safe, renewable resources

July 25, 2013 7:23 pm | by Marlene Cimons, National Science Foundation, Center for Sustainable Polymers | News | Comments

Scientists are working to reduce the nation's reliance on fossil fuels by developing environmentally friendly and cost effective plastics from natural, sustainable and renewable materials, such as vegetable oils, starches, sugars—even recycled grass clippings. The Univ. of Minnesota’s Center for Sustainable Polymers has recruited more than 25 companies to help develop new materials and those already on the market, like polylactide.

Researchers get better metric on laser potential of key material

July 25, 2013 8:34 am | News | Comments

Researchers from North Carolina State Univ. have developed more accurate measurements of how efficiently a polymer called MEH-PPV amplifies light, which should advance efforts to develop a new generation of lasers and photonic devices. MEH-PPV is a low-cost polymer that can be integrated with silicon chips, and researchers have sought to use the material to convert electricity into laser light for use in photonic devices.

Two-in-one: New material could enable low-cost polymer LEDs, solar cells

July 22, 2013 9:26 am | News | Comments

Researchers in South Korea have reported the development of a new plasmonic material that can be applied to both polymer light-emitting diodes (PLEDs) and polymer solar cells (PSCs), resulting in high performance from a low-cost fabrication process. They say the material is easy to synthesize with basic equipment and has low-temperature solution processability.

Scientists create first shape-memory plastics able to reverse deformation

July 17, 2013 8:27 am | News | Comments

Until now, polymers with temperature-controlled shape memory could only change form once. Biomaterial researchers have recently developed plastics that can repeatedly change from one shape to another and then back again when temperatures fluctuate within a selected range. The material is dubbed “polymer actuators” by its creators in Germany.


Superstrong fiber gets helps from carbon nanotubes

July 11, 2013 10:39 am | by Angela Herring, Northeastern Univ. | News | Comments

Today’s options for high-per­for­mance fibers, include Kevlar, Spectra, Dyneema and Zylon. They have been the strongest synthetics in the world. But Mar­ilyn Minus, an asst. pro­f. of engi­neering at North­eastern Univ., has devel­oped a type of fiber that is stronger than the first three com­mer­cial prod­ucts men­tioned above, and in its first generation approaches the strength of Zylon.

Engineers use adhesion to combine experimental advantages of silicones, organic materials

July 10, 2013 10:31 am | News | Comments

Introductory chemistry students learn that oil and water repel each other. So do other hydrophobic substances, which carry no electric charge, and hydrophilic substances, which carry an electric charge that allows them to mix with water. In a recent study, a group of bioengineers have found a way to strongly adhere hydrogels to hydrophobic silicone substrates, an innovation that provides a valuable new tool for microscale biotechnology.

Bringing color to solar façades

July 2, 2013 12:21 pm | News | Comments

Designers of buildings typically have no choice but to use black or bluish-gray colored solar panels. With the help of thin-film technologies, however, researchers in Germany have now added color to solar cells. Optics specialists have changed physical thickness of the transparent conductive oxide layer, modifying its refractive index.

Polymers key to oral protein-based drugs

June 28, 2013 9:55 am | News | Comments

In a new study, a “bioadhesive” coating developed at Brown Univ. significantly improved the intestinal absorption into the bloodstream of nanoparticles that someday could carry protein drugs such as insulin. Such a step is necessary for drugs taken by mouth, rather than injected directly into the blood.

Polymer-coated catalyst protects "artificial leaf"

June 17, 2013 6:42 pm | News | Comments

Electrolysis is often used to produce hydrogen that can be used for a storable fuel. Modified solar cells with highly efficient architecture can use this method to obtain hydrogen from water with the help of catalysts. But these solar cells rapidly corrode in aqueous electrolytes. By embedding the catalysts in an electrically conducting polymer, researchers have prevented this corrosion while maintaining competitive efficiency.


Detecting homemade explosives, not toothpaste

June 13, 2013 7:52 am | News | Comments

Sandia National Laboratories researchers want airports, border checkpoints and others to detect homemade explosives made with hydrogen peroxide without nabbing people whose toothpaste happens to contain peroxide. That’s part of the challenge faced in developing a portable sensor to detect a common homemade explosive called a FOx mixture, made by mixing hydrogen peroxide with fuels.

Moon radiation findings may reduce health risks to astronauts

June 11, 2013 3:55 pm | News | Comments

Space scientists from the Univ. of New Hampshire and the Southwest Research Institute report that data gathered by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter show lighter materials like plastics provide effective shielding against the radiation hazards faced by astronauts during extended space travel. The finding could help reduce health risks to humans on future missions into deep space.

Polymer structures serve as nanoreactors for nanocrystals with uniform sizes, shapes

June 11, 2013 3:26 pm | News | Comments

Using star-shaped block co-polymer structures as tiny reaction vessels, researchers have developed an improved technique for producing nanocrystals with consistent sizes, compositions and architectures—including metallic, ferroelectric, magnetic, semiconductor and luminescent nanocrystals. The technique relies on the length of polymer molecules and the ratio of two solvents to control the size and uniformity of colloidal nanocrystals.

Mismatched materials can be tough enough

June 11, 2013 8:20 am | News | Comments

Rice Univ. researchers have for the first time detailed the molecular mechanism that makes a particular combination of cement and polymer glue so tough. The theoretical research led to a fine picture of how hydrogen bonds control the properties of hybrid organic-inorganic materials. The finding has implications for understanding the interface bonding that is often a roadblock to improved composite properties.

Early exposure to bisphenol A might damage the enamel of teeth

June 10, 2013 12:53 pm | News | Comments

Are teeth the latest victims of bisphenol A (BPA)? Yes, according to the conclusions of a team lead by researchers in France. They have shown that the teeth of rats treated with low daily doses of BPA could be damaged the chemical.

Innovative solar cell structure stores, supplies energy simultaneously

June 7, 2013 7:55 am | News | Comments

The potential energy available via solar power might seem limitless on a sunny summer day, but all that energy has to be stored for it to be truly useful. If you see a solar panel on a rooftop, a bulky battery or supercapacitor is hidden just out of sight, receiving energy from the panel through power lines. However, that's a storage method that doesn't scale well for solar-powered devices with no space for a battery pack.

Ultrasensitive polymer detects explosive devices

June 5, 2013 8:17 am | by Anne Ju, Cornell University | News | Comments

A chemical that’s often the key ingredient in improvised explosive devices can be quickly and safely detected in trace amounts by a new polymer created by a team of Cornell Univ. chemists. The polymer, which potentially could be used in low-cost, handheld explosive detectors and could supplement or replace bomb-sniffing dogs, was invented in the lab of William Dichtel, assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology.

Charred micro-bunny sculpture show promise of 3D shaping material

May 29, 2013 1:37 pm | News | Comments

A rabbit sculpture, the size of a typical bacterium, is one of several whimsical shapes created by a team of Japanese scientists using a new material that can be molded into complex, highly conductive 3D structures with features just a few micrometers across. The new resin holds promise for making customized electrodes for fuel cells or batteries, as well as biosensor interfaces for medical uses.

Human scabs serve as inspiration for new bandage

May 29, 2013 10:34 am | News | Comments

Human scabs have become the model for development of an advanced wound dressing material that shows promise for speeding the healing process, scientists are reporting. The team explains that scabs are a perfect natural dressing material for wounds. In addition to preventing further bleeding, scabs protect against infection and recruit the new cells needed for healing.

Organic polymers show sunny potential

May 29, 2013 8:25 am | News | Comments

A new version of solar cells created by laboratories at Rice and Pennsylvania State universities could open the door to research on a new class of solar energy devices. The photovoltaic devices are based on block copolymers, self-assembling organic materials that arrange themselves into distinct layers. They easily outperform other cells with polymer compounds as active elements.

Research improves dry lubricant used in machinery, biomedical devices

May 17, 2013 10:44 am | News | Comments

Nearly everyone is familiar with the polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), otherwise known as Teflon. Famous for being “non-sticky” and water repellent, PTFE is a dry lubricant used on machine components everywhere. Recently, engineering researchers at the University of Arkansas found a way to make the polymer even less adhesive.

Physicists discover a new kind of friction

May 15, 2013 11:26 am | News | Comments

In a quest to develop low-friction components for ever smaller mechanical systems, a team of physicists in Germany has recently discovered a previously unknown type of friction that they call “desorption stick.” The researchers examined how and why single polymer molecules in various solvents slide over or stick to certain surfaces. They found that an unexpected factor was responsible for the friction they observed.

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