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New solar cells serve free lunch

September 24, 2014 9:07 am | by Poncie Rutsch, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology | News | Comments

A common complaints about solar power is that solar panels are still too expensive. Efforts at making them more efficient or longer-lasting have been limited. A new method developed in Okinawa could solve the expense problem: A hybrid form of deposition is being used to create perovskite solar cells from a mixture of inexpensive organic and inorganic raw materials, eliminating the need for expensive crystallized silicon.

Nanotubes help healing hearts keep the beat

September 23, 2014 2:58 pm | Videos | Comments

A Rice Univ. team led by bioengineer Jeffrey Jacot and chemical engineer and chemist Matteo Pasquali have created new pediatric heart-defect patches infused with conductive single-walled carbon nanotubes that allow electrical signals to pass unhindered. The nanotubes overcome a limitation of current patches in which pore walls hinder the transfer of electrical signals between cardiomyocytes, the heart muscle’s beating cells.

Nuclear spins control electrical currents

September 23, 2014 2:47 pm | by Katherine Kornei | News | Comments

An international team of physicists has shown that information stored in the nuclear spins of hydrogen isotopes in an organic light-emitting diode (LED) or organic LED can be read out by measuring the electrical current through the device. Unlike previous schemes that only work at ultracold temperatures, this is the first to operate at room temperature, and could be used to create extremely dense and highly energy-efficient memory devices.

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Robotic fabric could bring “active clothing”, wearable robots

September 23, 2014 2:20 pm | by Emil Venere, Purdue Univ. | News | Comments

Researchers are developing a robotic fabric that moves and contracts and is embedded with sensors, an approach that could lead to "active clothing" or a new class of "soft" robots. The robotic fabric, developed at Purdue Univ.,  is a cotton material containing sensors made of a flexible polymer and threadlike strands of a shape-memory alloy that return to a coiled shape when heated, causing the fabric to move.

New properties found in promising oxide ceramics for reactor fuels

September 23, 2014 2:14 pm | News | Comments

Nanocomposite oxide ceramics have potential uses as ferroelectrics, fast ion conductors, and nuclear fuels and for storing nuclear waste, generating a great deal of scientific interest on the structure, properties, and applications of these blended materials. Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers have made the first observations of the relationship between the chemistry and dislocation structures of the nanoscale interfaces.

New formulation leads to improved liquid battery

September 23, 2014 2:07 pm | by David L. Chandler, MIT | News | Comments

Donald Sadoway and his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have already started a company to produce electrical-grid-scale liquid batteries, whose layers of molten material automatically separate due to their differing densities. But a newly developed formula substitutes different metals for the molten layers. The new formula allows the battery to work at a much lower temperature.

Plant-based building materials may boost energy savings

September 23, 2014 2:04 pm | by Leslie Minton, Univ. of North Texas | News | Comments

Over a three-year period, Univ. of North Texas researchers developed and tested structured insulated panel building materials made from kenaf, a plant in the hibiscus family that is similar to bamboo. Kenaf fibers are an attractive prospect because they offer the same strength to weight ratio as glass fibers. The researchers found that the kenaf materials, including composite panels, provide up to 20% energy savings.

Graphene flaws key to creating hypersensitive “electronic nose”

September 23, 2014 9:45 am | by Jeanne Galatzer-Levy, Univ. of Illinois Chicago | News | Comments

Researchers have discovered a way to create a highly sensitive chemical sensor based on the crystalline flaws in graphene sheets. The imperfections have unique electronic properties that the researchers were able to exploit to increase sensitivity to absorbed gas molecules by 300 times.

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Engineers show light can play seesaw at the nanoscale

September 23, 2014 9:41 am | News | Comments

Univ. of Minnesota electrical engineering researchers have developed a unique nanoscale device that for the first time demonstrates mechanical transportation of light. The tiny device is just .7 micrometers by 50 micrometers and works almost like a seesaw. On each side of the “seesaw benches,” researchers etched an array of holes, called photonic crystal cavities. These cavities capture photons that streamed from a nearby source.

A molecule in an optical whispering gallery

September 23, 2014 9:19 am | News | Comments

Using an optical microstructure and gold nanoparticles, scientists have amplified the interaction of light with DNA to the extent that they can now track interactions between individual DNA molecule segments. In doing so, they have approached the limits of what is physically possible. This optical biosensor for single unlabelled molecules could also be a breakthrough in the development of biochips:

Smallest possible “diamonds” help form ultra-thin nanothreads

September 22, 2014 2:52 pm | Videos | Comments

For the first time, scientists led by John V. Badding, a professor of chemistry at Penn State Univ., have discovered how to produce ultra-thin "diamond nanothreads" that promise extraordinary properties, including strength and stiffness greater than that of today's strongest nanotubes and polymers. The core of the nanothreads is a long, thin strand of carbon atoms arranged just like the fundamental unit of a diamond's structure.

Engineered proteins stick like glue, even in water

September 22, 2014 1:46 pm | by Anne Trafton, MIT | News | Comments

Shellfish such as mussels and barnacles secrete very sticky proteins that help them cling to rocks or ship hulls, even underwater. Inspired by these natural adhesives, a team of Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineers has designed new materials that could be used to repair ships or help heal wounds and surgical incisions.

Uncovering the forbidden side of molecules

September 22, 2014 1:45 pm | News | Comments

Researchers in Switzerland have succeeded in observing the “forbidden” infrared spectrum of a charged molecule for the first time. These extremely weak spectra offer perspectives for extremely precise measurements of molecular properties and may also contribute to the development of molecular clocks and quantum technology.

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Team improves solar cell efficiency with new polymer

September 19, 2014 4:49 pm | by Emily Conover, Univ. of Chicago | News | Comments

A collaboration between scientists in the Univ. of Chicago’s chemistry department, the Institute for Molecular Engineering and Argonne National Laboratory has produced the highest-ever recorded efficiency for solar cells made of two types of polymers and fulllerene. Researchers identified a new polymer that improved the efficiency of solar cells and also determined the method by which the polymer improved the cells’ efficiency.

Graphene sensor tracks down cancer biomarkers

September 19, 2014 4:33 pm | News | Comments

A new, ultrasensitive biosensor made from graphene has been used to detect molecules that indicate an increased risk of developing cancer. The biosensor has been shown to be more than five times more sensitive than bioassay tests currently in use, and was able to provide results in a matter of minutes, opening up the possibility of a rapid, point-of-care diagnostic tool for patients.

Quick-change materials break the silicon speed limit for computers

September 19, 2014 4:28 pm | by Stephen Elliott , Univ. of Cambridge | News | Comments

Faster, smaller, greener computers, capable of processing information up to 1,000 times faster than currently available models, could be made possible by replacing silicon with materials that can switch back and forth between different electrical states. Recent research in the U.K. show that these phase-change materials have promise in new processors made with chalcogenide glass.

A nanosized hydrogen generator

September 19, 2014 1:54 pm | by Justin Breaux, Argonne National Laboratory | News | Comments

Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory have created a small scale “hydrogen generator” that uses light and a 2-D graphene platform to boost production of the hard-to-make element. The research also unveiled a previously unknown property of graphene. The 2-D chain of carbon atoms not only gives and receives electrons, but can also transfer them into another substance.

Startup scales up graphene production, develops biosensors and supercapacitors

September 19, 2014 10:59 am | Videos | Comments

Glenn Johnson, CEO of BlueVine Graphene Industries Inc., said many of the methodologies being utilized to produce graphene today are not easily scalable and require numerous post-processing steps to use it in functional applications. He said his company has developed a way to scale graphene production using a roll-to-roll chemical vapor deposition process.

Smartgels are thicker than water

September 19, 2014 10:08 am | by Poncie Rutsch, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology | News | Comments

Transforming substances from liquids into gels plays an important role across many industries, but the transformation process, called gelation, is expensive and energy demanding. Instead of adding chemical thickeners and heating or cooling the fluids, as is traditional, researchers in Okinawa are experimenting with microfluidic platforms, adding nanoparticles and biomolecules with used pH, chemical and temperature sensing properties.

Breaking “electrode barrier” creates a better low-cost organic solar cell

September 19, 2014 9:02 am | News | Comments

For decades, the power conversion efficiency of organic solar cells was hampered by the drawbacks of commonly used metal electrodes, including their instability and susceptibility to oxidation. Now for the first time, researchers at the Univ. of Massachusetts Amherst have developed a more efficient, easily processable and lightweight solar cell that can use virtually any metal for the electrode, effectively breaking the “electrode barrier.”

Nanoscience makes your wine better

September 18, 2014 1:13 pm | by Anne-Mette Siem, Aarhus Univ. | News | Comments

One sip of a perfectly poured glass of wine leads to an explosion of flavors in your mouth. Researchers in Denmark have now developed a nanosensor that can mimic what happens in your mouth when you drink wine. The sensor, which uses gold nanoparticles to act as a “mini-mouth”, measures how you experience the sensation of dryness in the wine.

Advanced molecular “sieves” could be used for carbon capture

September 18, 2014 12:33 pm | News | Comments

Researchers from the Univ. of Cambridge have developed advanced molecular synthetic membranes, or “sieves”, which could be used to filter carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. The sieves were made by heating microporous polymers using low levels of oxygen which, produces a tougher and far more selective membrane that is still relatively flexible.

Physicists heat freestanding graphene to control curvature of ripples

September 18, 2014 8:52 am | News | Comments

While freestanding graphene offers promise as a replacement for silicon and other materials in microprocessors and next-generation energy devices, much remains unknown about its mechanical and thermal properties. An international team of physicists, led by a research group at the Univ. of Arkansas, has recently discovered that heating can be used to control the curvature of ripples in freestanding graphene.

Team aims to improve plant-based battery with neutrons, simulation

September 18, 2014 8:02 am | by Morgan McCorkle, Oak Ridge National Laboratory | News | Comments

When Orlando Rios first started analyzing samples of carbon fibers made from a woody plant polymer known as lignin, he noticed something unusual. The material’s microstructure—a mixture of perfectly spherical nanoscale crystallites distributed within a fibrous matrix—looked almost too good to be true.

Shrink-wrapping spacesuits

September 18, 2014 7:32 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

For future astronauts, the process of suiting up may go something like this: Instead of climbing into a conventional, bulky, gas-pressurized suit, an astronaut may don a lightweight, stretchy garment, lined with tiny, muscle-like coils. She would then plug in to a spacecraft’s power supply, triggering the coils to contract and essentially shrink-wrap the garment around her body.

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