While flexible gadgets such as “electronic skin” and roll-up touch screens are moving ever closer to reality, their would-be power sources are either too wimpy or too stiff. But that’s changing fast. Scientists have developed a new device that’s far thinner than paper, can flex and bend, and store enough energy to provide critical back-up power for portable electronics.
Sandia National Laboratories is working to fill gaps in the fundamental understanding of materials science through an ambitious long-term, multidisciplinary project called Predicting Performance Margins (PPM). Since 2010, PPM has been helping to identify how material variability affects performance margins for engineering components. The goal, says Sandia experts, is a science-based foundation for materials design and analysis.
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.
Of all the electricity generated in the U.S., more than quarter is consumed by lighting. In 2010, North Carolina’s RTI International launched a new product, NLite, intended to help alleviate this burden by improving the reflectance performance of power-intensive lighting devices such as luminaires and liquid crystal displays. The technology, based on nanofiber reflectance polymers, won a 2011 R&D 100 Award.
Transparent conductive (TCO) films, present in tablets, laptops, flat screens and solar cells, are now an integral part of our lives. Yet they are expensive and complex to manufacture. Researchers in Europe have recently succeeded in developing a method of producing TCO films that relies on molecular self-organization. The technique is cheaper, simpler and more environmentally friendly than the traditional sputtering approach.
WinSun, a private company located in eastern China, has printed 10 full-size houses using a 3-D printer in the space of a day. The process utilizes quick-drying cement and construction water to build the walls layer-by-layer. The company used a system of four 10-m-by-6.6-m-high printers with multi-directional sprays to create the houses.
IBM scientists have developed a new tool inspired by hieroglyphics. The core of the technology is a tiny, heatable silicon tip with a sharp apex 100,000 times smaller than a sharpened pencil. Working like a 3-D printer it “chisels” away material by local evaporation. They have used this invention to make a magazine cover for National Geographic that is just 11 by 14 micrometers in size.
Using a mixture of cervical cancer cells and a hydrogel substance that resembles an ointment balm, Drexel Univ.’s Wei Sun can print out a tumor model that can be used for studying their growth and response to treatment. This living model will give cancer researchers a better look at how tumors behave and a more accurate measure of how they respond to treatment.
Solar Frontier and the State Univ. of New York College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering have signed a memorandum of understanding to conduct a technical and economic feasibility study for potential joint R&D and manufacturing of CIS thin-film modules in Buffalo, New York. This move is part of Solar Frontier’s plans to establish production bases for its proprietary technology outside of Japan, the company’s home market.
This month's issue of R&D Magazine focuses on laboratory instrumentation, with our cover story on laboratory utilities for R&D facilities. Our editors also take a look at new spectrometer introductions, simulation software, particle analysis in drug delivery, 3-D printing technology, OEM optics for spectrometers and chromatography systems.
Of late, engineers have been paying more and more attention to nature’s efficiencies, such as the Lotus effect, which describes the way the Lotus plant uses hydrophobic surfaces to survive in muddy swamps. A researcher at Virginia Tech has developed a simpler two-step application process to create a superhydrophobic copper surface that leverages the Lotus effect.
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.
Researchers in Ireland have used a simple method for transforming flakes of graphite into defect-free graphene using commercially available tools, such as high-shear mixers. They demonstrated that the process could be scaled up to produce hundreds of liters or more, and they have partnered with Thomas Swan Ltd. to develop two new graphene-based products for the marketplace.
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.
Researchers in Pennsylvania and Texas have shown the ability to grow high quality, single-layer materials one on top of the other using chemical vapor deposition. This highly scalable technique, often used in the semiconductor industry, can produce materials with unique properties that could be applied to solar cells, ultracapacitors for energy storage, or advanced transistors for energy efficient electronics, among many other applications.
The chemistry of lithium-ion batteries limits how much energy they can store, and one promising solution is the lithium-sulfur battery, which can hold as much as four times more energy per mass. However, problematic polysulfides usually cause lithium-sulfur batteries to fail after a few charges. Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, however, have developed a new powdery nanomaterial that could solve the issue.
Titan Aerospace, a maker of solar-powered drones, has been purchased by Google, which says it could help bring Internet access to remote parts of the world. Titan's atmospheric satellites, which are still in development and not yet commercially available, can stay in the air for as long as five years. Titan's website has cited a wide range of uses for the drones.
Researchers in California have created, for the first time, compounds made from mixtures of calcium hexaboride, strontium and barium hexaboride. They also demonstrated that these ceramic materials could be manufactured using a simple, low-cost manufacturing method known as combustion synthesis.
Nanotechnology has unlocked new pathways for targeted drug delivery, including the use of nanocarriers that can transport cargoes of small-molecule therapeutics to specific locations in the body. Researchers have recently demonstrated that processing can have significant influence on the size of nanocarriers for targeted drug delivery. It was previously assumed that once a nanocarrier is created, it maintains its size and shape anywhere.
Thirty years have passed since 3-D printers first appeared, but only recently have they hinted at a new era of manufacturing. The first working 3-D printer was created in 1984 by Chuck Hull of 3D Systems Corp. This early device, based on stereolithography, gave way to the first truly practical 3-D printing, or “3DP”, technology patented by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1993.
For nearly a century, electrophoretic deposition (EPD) has been used as a method of coating material by depositing particles of various substances onto the surfaces of various manufactured items. Since its earliest use, EPD has been used to deposit a wide range of materials onto surfaces. This process works well, but is limited. EPD can only deposit material across the entire surface and not in specific, predetermined locations, until now.
Traditionally, scientists discover new materials, and then probe them to understand their properties. Theoretical materials physicist Craig Fennie does it in reverse. He creates new materials by employing a "first principles" approach based on quantum mechanics, in which he builds materials atom by atom, starting with mathematical models, in order to gain the needed physical properties.
In steel making, two desirable qualities, strength and ductility, tend to be at odds: Stronger steel is less ductile, and more ductile steel is not as strong. Engineers at Brown Univ., three Chinese universities, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have shown that when cylinders of steel are twisted, their strength is improved without sacrificing ductility.
Nanoengineering researchers at Rice Univ. and Nanyang Technological Univ. in Singapore have unveiled a potentially scalable method for making one-atom-thick layers of molybdenum diselenide—a highly sought semiconductor that is similar to graphene but has better properties for making certain electronic devices like switchable transistors and light-emitting diodes.
Navy researchers have recently demonstrated sustained flight of a radio-controlled P-51 fighter replica fueled by a new gas-to-liquid process that uses seawater as carbon feedstock. The fuel is made using an innovative and proprietary electrolytic cation exchange module that separates gases from water at 92% efficiency. Catalysis converts the gases to liquid hydrocarbons.