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Phase-changing material could allow robots to switch between hard and soft states

July 14, 2014 7:35 am | by Helen Knight, MIT News correspondent | Videos | Comments

In the movie “Terminator 2,” the shape-shifting T-1000 robot morphs into a liquid state to squeeze through tight spaces or to repair itself when harmed. Now a phase-changing material built from wax and foam, and capable of switching between hard and soft states, could allow even low-cost robots to perform the same feat.

Oxygen extends graphene’s reach

July 11, 2014 1:05 pm | News | Comments

The addition of elements to the surface of graphene can modify the material’s physical and chemical properties, potentially extending the range of possible applications. Recently performed theoretical calculations at RIKEN in Japan show that the addition of oxygen to graphene on copper substrates results in enhanced functionalization. The resulting structure, known as an enolate, make support applications that require catalytic response.

Peeling back the layers of thin film structure and chemistry

July 11, 2014 12:33 pm | by Erika Gebel Berg, Argonne National Laboratory | News | Comments

Perovskites continue to entice materials scientists with their mix of conductivity, ferroelectricity, ferromagnetism, and catalytic activity. In recent years, scientists realized that they could vastly improve the properties of perovskites by assembling them into thin films, but nobody knew the reason why. But studying the chemistry layer-by-layer, experts working with x-ray beamline at Argonne National Laboratory are getting close.

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2014 R&D 100 Award winners announced

July 11, 2014 9:32 am | by Lindsay Hock, Managing Editor | Award Winners

The editors of R&D Magazine have announced the winners of the 52nd annual R&D 100 Awards, an international competition that recognizes the 100 most technologically significant products introduced into the marketplace over the past year. The R&D 100 Awards recognize excellence across a wide range of industries...

Uncertainty gives scientists new confidence in search for novel materials

July 11, 2014 8:19 am | by Andrew Gordon, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory | News | Comments

Scientists at Stanford Univ. and the Dept. of Energy (DOE)’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have found a way to estimate uncertainties in computer calculations that are widely used to speed the search for new materials for industry, electronics, energy, drug design and a host of other applications. The technique, reported in Science, should quickly be adopted in studies that produce some 30,000 scientific papers per year.

2014 R&D 100 Award Winners

July 11, 2014 7:30 am | Award Winners

Introducing R&D Magazine's 2014 R&D 100 Award winners. The 2014 R&D 100 Award Winners are listed below in alphabetical order by the name of the primary developer company.

New technology offers precise control of molecular self-assembly

July 10, 2014 5:09 pm | News | Comments

A research group based in Japan has developed a new methodology that can easily and precisely control the timing, structure, and functions in the self-assembly of pi-conjugated molecules, which are an important enabling building block in the field of organic electronics. One of the key steps is keeping these molecules in a liquid form at room temperature.

Silicon oxide memories catch manufacturers’ eye

July 10, 2014 5:06 pm | by Jade Boyd, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

First developed five years ago at Rice Univ., silicon oxide memories are a type of two-terminal, “resistive random-access memory” (RRAM) technology that beats flash memory’s data density by a factor of 50. At Rice, the laboratory of chemist and 2013 R&D Magazine Scientist of the Year James Tour has recently developed a new version of RRAM that Tour believes outperforms more than a dozen competing versions.

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“Nanopixels” promise thin, flexible high-res displays

July 10, 2014 9:35 am | News | Comments

A team in the U.K. has found that by sandwiching a 7-nm thick layer of a phase change material between two layers of a transparent electrode they could use a tiny current to “draw” images within the sandwich “stack”. The discovery could make it possible to create pixels just a few hundred nanometers across and pave the way for extremely high-resolution and low-energy thin, flexible displays.

Technology illuminates colder objects in deep space

July 10, 2014 7:42 am | News | Comments

Too cool and faint, many objects in the universe are impossible to detect with visible light. Now a Northwestern Univ. team has refined a new technology that could make these colder objects more visible, paving the way for enhanced exploration of deep space. The new technology uses a type II superlattice material called indium arsenide/indium arsenide antimonide (InAs/InAsSb).

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.

Highway for ultracold atoms in light crystals

July 9, 2014 2:10 pm | News | Comments

When a superconductor is exposed to a magnetic field, a surface current creates a magnetic field that cancels the field inside the superconductor. This phenomenon, known as the Meissner-Ochsenfeld effect, was first observed in 1933. In a research first, scientists have succeeded in measuring an analogue of the Meissner effect in an optical crystal with ultracold atoms. This validates theoretical predictions dating back more than 20 years.

Chemists develop novel catalyst with two functions

July 9, 2014 8:47 am | by Dr. Julia Weiler, Ruhr Univ. Bochum | News | Comments

A new type of catalyst, based on carbon, can facilitate two opposite reactions: electrolysis of water and combustion of hydrogen with oxygen. This bi-functionality, developed by researchers in Germany, is made possible from its construction: manganese-oxide or cobalt-oxide nanoparticles which are embedded in specially modified carbon, then integrated with nitrogen atoms in specific positions.

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Using sand to improve battery performance

July 8, 2014 7:43 pm | by Sean Nealon, Univ. of California, Riverside | News | Comments

Researchers at the Univ. of California, Riverside have used a quartz-rich material to fabricate a lithium-ion battery that outperforms the current industry standard by three times. This key material? Sand. Through a heating process with salt and magnesium, the scientists created a porous nano-silicon sponge that greatly increases active surface area.  

Highly reactive gold carbene complex shines in emerald green

July 8, 2014 1:09 pm | News | Comments

With a chemical “trick”, scientists in Germany have succeeded in isolating a stable gold carbene complex. Experts have been proposing gold carbenes as essential short-lived intermediates in catalytic reactions, but they elude study because of their high reactivity. Chemist Prof. Dr. Bernd F. Straub and his team are the first to have created the basis for directly examining the otherwise unstable gold-carbon double bond.

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.

Silicon sponge improves lithium-ion battery performance

July 8, 2014 10:20 am | News | Comments

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have developed a porous material to replace the graphite traditionally used in a battery's electrodes. Made from silicon, which has more than 10 times the energy storage capacity of graphite, the sponge-like material can help lithium-ion batteries store more energy and run longer on a single charge.

Nanoscale cooling element works in electrical insulators as well

July 8, 2014 8:45 am | News | Comments

An international research collaboration has designed a miniscule cooling element that uses spin waves to transport heat in electrical insulators. Although physicists have used spin for cooling purposes before, this is the first time that they have successfully done this in insulating materials. The cooling element could be used to dissipate heat in the increasingly smaller electrical components of computer chips.

Consider the “anticrystal”

July 7, 2014 3:12 pm | News | Comments

For the last century, the concept of crystals has been a mainstay of solid-state physics. Crystals are paragons of order; crystalline materials are defined by the repeating patterns their constituent atoms and molecules make. Now physicists have evidence that a new concept should undergird our understanding of most materials: the anticrystal, a theoretical solid that is completely disordered.

The new atomic age: Building smaller, greener electronics

July 7, 2014 3:06 pm | by Bryan Alary, Univ. of Alberta | News | Comments

Robert Wolkow and his team at the Univ. of Alberta are working to engineer atomically precise computing technologies that have practical, real-world applications. In recent research, he and his team observed for the first time how an electrical current flows across the skin of a silicon crystal and also measured electrical resistance as the current moved over a single atomic step.

Ironing out details of the carbon cycle

July 7, 2014 10:02 am | by Steven Powell, Univ. of South Carolina | News | Comments

Iron is present in tiny concentrations in seawater, on the order of a few billionths of a gram in a liter. However, its availability in seawater can have a profound effect on phytoplankton growth and, consequently, the Earth's carbon cycle. In recent research, an assessment was made of the various sources of dissolved iron in the north Atlantic Ocean and surprising discoveries were made about their origins.

With "ribbons" of graphene, width matters

July 7, 2014 9:39 am | by Laura L. Hunt, UW-Milwaukee | News | Comments

Using graphene ribbons just several atoms across, a group of researchers at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has found a novel way to “tune” the material, causing the extremely efficient conductor of electricity to act as a semiconductor. By imaging the ribbons with scanning-tunneling microscopy, researchers have confirmed how narrow the ribbon width must be. Achieving less than 10 nm in width is a big challenge.

“Nanojuice” could improve how doctors examine the gut

July 7, 2014 8:05 am | by Cory Nealon, Univ. at Buffalo | News | Comments

Located deep in the human gut, the small intestine is not easy to examine: X-rays, MRIs and ultrasound images each suffer limitations. Univ. at Buffalo researchers are developing a new imaging technique involving nanoparticles suspended in liquid to form “nanojuice” that patients would drink. Upon reaching the small intestine, doctors would strike the nanoparticles with laser light, providing a non-invasive, real-time view of the organ.

New nonlinear metamaterial is a million times better than traditional options

July 2, 2014 3:48 pm | News | Comments

Nonlinear optical materials are widely used in laser systems, but they require high light intensity and long propagation to be effective. A team in Germany and Texas has designed a new 400-nm thick nonlinear mirror that delivers frequency-doubled output using input light intensity as small as that of a laser pointer. Compared to traditional nonlinear materials, the new option offers a million times increase in nonlinear optical response.

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.

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