materials science (18)

Steve Austin's Beads...

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Magnetic prosthetic: A magnetic sensing array enables a new tissue tracking strategy that could offer advanced motion control in artificial limbs. (Courtesy: MIT Media Lab/Cameron Taylor/Vessel Studios)

Topics: Biotechnology, Magnetism, Materials Science, Medicine, Nanotechnology, Robotics

Cultural reference: The Six Million Dollar Man, NBC

In recent years, health and fitness wearables have gained popularity as platforms to wirelessly track daily physical activities, by counting steps, for example, or recording heartbeats directly from the wrist. To achieve this, inertial sensors in contact with the skin capture the relevant motion and physiological signals originating from the body.

As wearable technology evolves, researchers strive to understand not just how to track the body’s dynamic signals, but also how to simulate them to control artificial limbs. This new level of motion control requires a detailed understanding of what is happening beneath the skin, specifically, the motion of the muscles.

Skeletal muscles are responsible for almost all movement of the human body. When muscle fibers contract, the exerted forces travel through the tendons, pull the bones, and ultimately produce motion. To track and use these muscle contractions in real-time and with high signal quality, engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) employed low-frequency magnetic fields – which pass undisturbed through body tissues – to provide accurate and real-time transcutaneous sensing of muscle motion. They describe their technique in Science Robotics.

Magnetic beads inside the body could improve control of bionic limbs, Raudel Avila is a student contributor to Physics World

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Exciton Surfing...

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Surfing excitons: Cambridge’s Alexander Sneyd with the transient-absorption microscopy set-up. (Courtesy: Alexander Sneyd)

Topics: Alternate Energy, Applied Physics, Materials Science, Nanotechnology, Solar Power

Organic solar cells (OSCs) are fascinating devices where layers of organic molecules or polymers carry out light absorption and subsequent transport of energy – the tasks that make a solar cell work. Until now, the efficiency of OSCs has been thought to be constrained by the speed at which energy carriers called excitons to move between localized sites in the organic material layer of the device. Now, an international team of scientists led by Akshay Rao at the UK’s University of Cambridge has shown that this is not the case. What is more, they have discovered a new quantum mechanical transport mechanism called transient delocalization, which allows OSCs to reach much higher efficiencies.

When light is absorbed by a solar cell, it creates electron-hole pairs called excitons and the motion of these excitons plays a crucial role in the operation of the device. An example of an organic material layer where light absorption and transport of excitons takes place is in a film of well-ordered poly(3-hexylthiophene) nanofibers. To study exciton transport, the team shone laser pulses at such a nanofiber film and observed its response.

Exciton wave functions were thought to be localized due to strong couplings with lattice vibrations (phonons) and electron-hole interactions. This means the excitons would move slowly from one localized site to the next. However, the team observed that the excitons were diffusing at speeds 1000 times greater than what had been shown for similar samples in previous research. These speeds correspond to a ground-breaking diffusion length of about 300 nm for such crystalline films. This means energy can be transported much faster and more efficiently than previously thought.

Exciton ‘surfing’ could boost the efficiency of organic solar cells, Rikke Plougmann, Physics World

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Biggie's Starship...

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Topics: Materials Science, Nanotechnology, Space Exploration, Spaceflight, Star Trek

China is investigating how to build ultra-large spacecraft that are up to 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) long. But how feasible is the idea, and what would be the use of such a massive spacecraft?

The project is part of a wider call for research proposals from the National Natural Science Foundation of China, a funding agency managed by the country’s Ministry of Science and Technology. A research outline posted on the foundation’s website described such enormous spaceships as “major strategic aerospace equipment for the future use of space resources, exploration of the mysteries of the universe, and long-term living in orbit.”

The foundation wants scientists to conduct research into new, lightweight design methods that could limit the amount of construction material that has to be lofted into orbit, and new techniques for safely assembling such massive structures in space. If funded, the feasibility study would run for five years and have a budget of 15 million yuan ($2.3 million).

The project might sound like science fiction, but former NASA chief technologist Mason Peck said the idea isn’t entirely off the wall, and the challenge is more a question of engineering than fundamental science.

“I think it’s entirely feasible,” Peck, now a professor of aerospace engineering at Cornell University, told Live Science. “I would describe the problems here not as insurmountable impediments, but rather problems of scale.”

By far the biggest challenge would be the price tag, noted Peck, due to the huge cost of launching objects and materials into space. The International Space Station (ISS), which is only 361 feet (110 meters) wide at its widest point according to NASA, cost roughly $100 billion to build, Peck said, so constructing something 10 times larger would strain even the most generous national space budget.

China Wants to Build a Mega Spaceship That’s Nearly a Mile Long, Edd Gent, Scientific American

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Cooling Computer Chips...

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An electron microscopy image of a gallium nitride-boron arsenide heterostructure interface at atomic resolution. Courtesy: The H-Lab/UCLA

Topics: Materials Science, Nanotechnology, Semiconductor Technology

A novel semiconducting material with high thermal conductivity can be integrated into high-power computer chips to cool them down and so improve their performance. The material, boron arsenide, is better at removing heat than the best thermal-management devices available today, according to the US-based researchers who developed it.

The size of computer chips has been shrinking over the years and has now reached the nanoscale, meaning that billions of transistors can be squeezed onto a single computer chip. This increased density of chips has enabled faster, more powerful computers, but it also generates localized hot spots on the chips. If this extra heat is not dealt with properly during operation, computer processors begin to overheat. This slows them down and makes them inefficient.

Defect-free boron arsenide

Researchers led by Yongjie Hu at the University of California, Los Angeles, recently developed a new thermal-management material that is much more efficient at drawing out and dissipating heat than other known metals or semiconducting materials such as diamond and silicon carbide. This new material is known as defect-free boron arsenide (BAs), and Hu and colleagues have now succeeded in interfacing it with computer chips containing wide-bandgap high-electron-mobility gallium nitride (GaN) transistors for the first time.

Using thermal transport measurements, the researchers found that processors interfaced with BAs and running at near maximum capacity had much lower hot-spot temperatures than other heat-management materials at the same transistor power density. During the experiment, the temperature of the BAs-containing devices increased from room temperature to roughly 360 K, compared to around 410 K and 440 K, respectively, for diamond and silicon carbide.

New semiconductor cools computer chips, Isabelle Dumé, Physics World

 

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ARPA-E, and Emission-Free Metal...

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Australian metals mining wastes (top) and the metal hyperaccumulator plants Alyssum murale and Berkheya coddii (bottom). The former plant can take up 1–3% of its weight in nickel. It has demonstrated yields of up to 400 kg of nickel per hectare annually, worth around $7000 at current prices, excluding processing and production costs. (Images adapted from A. van der Ent, A. Parbhakar-Fox, P. D. Erskine, Sci. Total Environ. 758, 143673, 2021, doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.143673.)

 

Topics: Climate Change, Green Tech, Materials Science, Research

 

When it comes to making steel greener, “only the laws of physics limit our imagination,” says Christina Chang of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA–E). Chang, an ARPA–E fellow, is seeking public input on a potential new agency program titled Steel Made via Emissions-Less Technologies. During her two-year tenure, she will guide program creation, agency strategy, and outreach. Steelmaking currently accounts for about 7% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, and demand for steel is expected to double by 2050 as low-income countries’ economies grow, according to the International Energy Agency.

 

Founded in 2009, ARPA–E is a tiny, imaginative office within the Department of Energy. SMELT is one part of a three-pronged thrust by ARPA–E to green up processes involved in producing steel and nonferrous metals, from the mine through to the finished products. Another program seeks ways to make use of the vast volumes of wastes that accumulate from mining operations around the globe—and reduce the amounts generated in the future. The agency is also exploring the feasibility of deploying plants that suck up from soils elements such as cobalt, nickel, and rare earths. Despite being essential ingredients in electric vehicles, batteries, and wind turbines, the US has little or no domestic production of them. (See Physics TodayFebruary 2021, page 20.)

 

Steelmaking

 

The first step in steelmaking is separating iron ore into oxygen and iron metal, which produces CO2 through both the reduction process and the fossil-fuel burning necessary to create high heat. An ARPA–E solicitation for ideas to clean up that process closed on 14 June. The agency is looking to replace the centuries-old blast furnace with greener technology that can work at the scale of 2 gigatons of steel production annually. It may or may not follow up with a request for research proposals to fund.

 

ARPA–E explores paths to emissions-free metal making, Physics Today

 

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Gold Anniversary...

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Images are from the article, link below

Topics: Electrical Engineering, Materials Science, Nanotechnology, Solid-State Physics

It's not exactly a wedding anniversary, but it is significant.

Fifty years ago this month, Intel introduced the first commercial microprocessor, the 4004. Microprocessors are tiny, general-purpose chips that use integrated circuits made up of transistors to process data; they are the core of a modern computer. Intel created the 12 mm2 chip for a printing calculator made by the Japanese company Busicom. The 4004 had 2,300 transistors—a number dwarfed by the billions found in today’s chips. But the 4004 was leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessors, packing the computing power of the room-sized, vacuum tube-based first computers into a chip the size of a fingernail. In the past 50 years, microprocessors have changed our culture and economy in unimaginable ways.

The microprocessor turns 50, Katherine Bourzac, Chemical & Engineering News

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Scrofulous Signaling...

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FIG. 1. Schematics of pulse sequences for spin-locking measurement with (a) two π/2 pulses and (b) two composite pulses. (c) Schematics of a SCROFULOUS composite pulse composed of three pulses. (d) Evolution of the spin state in the Bloch sphere. The spin state is initialized to the |0⟩ state by the first laser pulse. (e) The first π/2 pulse rotates the spin by 90∘ to the (−y)-direction. A y-driving microwave field is applied parallel to the spin in the rotation frame. (f) The second π/2 pulse rotates the spin by 90∘ to the (−z)-direction in the pulse sequence pattern A, or (g) the second −π/2 pulse rotates the spin by −90∘ to the z-direction in the pulse sequence pattern B. Finally, the spin state is read out from the PL by applying the second laser pulse. (h) Schematics of the experimental setup.

Topics: Applied Physics, Electrical Engineering, Materials Science, Optics

We present results of near-field radio-frequency (RF) imaging at micrometer resolution using an ensemble of nitrogen-vacancy (NV) centers in diamond. The spatial resolution of RF imaging is set by the resolution of an optical microscope, which is markedly higher than the existing RF imaging methods. High sensitivity RF field detection is demonstrated through spin locking. SCROFULOUS composite pulse sequence is used for manipulation of the spins in the NV centers for reduced sensitivity to possible microwave pulse amplitude error in the field of view. We present procedures for acquiring an RF field image under spatially inhomogeneous microwave field distribution and demonstrate a near-field RF imaging of an RF field emitted from a photolithographically defined metal wire. The obtained RF field image indicates that the RF field intensity has maxima in the vicinity of the edges of the wire, in accord with a calculated result by a finite-difference time-domain method. Our method is expected to be applied in a broad variety of application areas, such as material characterizations, characterization of RF devices, and medical fields.</em>

Near-field radio-frequency imaging by spin-locking with a nitrogen-vacancy spin sensor, Shintaro Nomura1,a), Koki Kaida1, Hideyuki Watanabe2, and Satoshi Kashiwaya3, Journal of Applied Physics

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Smart Foam...

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A robotic hand with the AiFoam artificially innervated smart foam, which enables it to sense objects in proximity by detecting their electrical fields and also self-heals if it gets cut, is pictured at National University Singapore's Materials Sciences and Engineering lab in Singapore June 30, 2021. REUTERS/Travis Teo

Topics: Biology, Biotechnology, Materials Science, Polymer Science, Robotics

SINGAPORE, July 6 (Reuters) - Singapore researchers have developed a smart foam material that allows robots to sense nearby objects, and repairs itself when damaged, just like human skin.

Artificially innervated foam, or AiFoam, is a highly elastic polymer created by mixing fluoropolymer with a compound that lowers surface tension.

This allows the spongy material to fuse easily into one piece when cut, according to researchers at the National University of Singapore.

"There are many applications for such a material, especially in robotics and prosthetic devices, where robots need to be a lot more intelligent when working around humans," explained lead researcher Benjamin Tee.

To replicate the human sense of touch, the researchers infused the material with microscopic metal particles and added tiny electrodes underneath the surface of the foam.

Smart foam material gives robotic hand the ability to self-repair, Travis Teo, Lee Ying Shan, Reuters Science

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Kagome Metal...

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The normalized resistance under magnetic fields and anisotropic upper critical magnetic fields of the CsV3Sb5 single crystal. Credit: Chinese Physics Letters

Topics: Condensed Matter Physics, Materials Science, Superconductors

Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have found evidence for an unusual superconducting state in CsV3Sb5, a so-called Kagome metal that exhibits exotic electronic properties. The finding could shed new light on how superconductivity emerges in materials where phenomena such as frustrated magnetism and intertwined orders play a major role.

Kagome metals are named after a traditional Japanese basket-weaving technique that produces a lattice of interlaced symmetrical triangles. Physicists are interested in this configuration (known as a Kagome pattern) because when the atoms of metal or other conductors are arranged in this fashion, their electrons behave in unusual ways.

An example is [frustrated] magnetism, which occurs when electrons are “not happy to live together”, observes Ludovic Jaubert, a condensed-matter physicist at the University of Bordeaux in France who was not involved in the present work. In frustrated materials, not all interactions between electron spins can be satisfied at the same time, which prevents the spins from ordering themselves on long-length scales. This failure has significant consequences for the material’s properties: if water behaved like this, for example, it would never freeze.

Unusual superconductivity appears in a Kagome metal, Isabelle Dumé, Physics World

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MIT engineers have developed self-cooling fabrics from polyethylene, commonly used in plastic bags. They estimate that the new fabric may be more sustainable than cotton and other common textiles. (Courtesy: Svetlana Boriskina)

Topics: Ecology, Environment, Green Tech, Materials Science

Polyethylene is one of the most common plastics in the world, but it is seldom found in clothing because it cannot absorb or carry away water. (Imagine wearing a plastic bag – you would feel very uncomfortable very quickly.) Now, however, researchers in the US have developed a new material spun from polyethylene that not only “breathes” better than cotton, nylon, or polyester, but also has a smaller ecological footprint due to the ease with which it can be manufactured, dyed, cleaned and used.

The textile industry produces about 62 million tons of fabric each year. In the process, it consumes huge quantities of water, generates millions of tons of waste, and accounts for 5–10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, making it one of the world’s most polluting industries. Later stages of the textile use cycle also contribute to the industry’s environmental impact. Textiles made from natural fibers such as wool, cotton, silk, or linen require considerable amounts of energy and water to recycle, while textiles that are colored or made of composite materials are hard to recycle at all.

Hydrophilic and wicking

Researchers led by Svetlana Boriskina of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) set out to produce an alternative. They began by melting powdered low-density polyethylene and then extruding it into thin fibers roughly 18.5 μm in diameter (as measured using scanning electron microscopy and micro-computed tomography imaging techniques). This process slightly oxidizes the material’s surface so that it becomes hydrophilic – that is, it attracts water molecules – without the need for a separate chemical treatment.

Recycled plastic bags make sustainable fabrics, Isabelle Dumé, Physics World

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Colloidal Quantum Dots...

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FIG. 1. (a) Schematic of La Mer and Dinegar's model for the synthesis of monodispersed CQDs. (b) Representation of the apparatus employed for CQD synthesis. Reproduced with permission from Murray et al., Annu. Rev. Mater Res. 30(1), 545–610 (2000). Copyright 2000 Annual Reviews.

Topics: Energy, Materials Science, Nanotechnology, Quantum Mechanics, Solar Power

ABSTRACT
Solution-processed colloidal quantum dot (CQD) solar cells are lightweight, flexible, inexpensive, and can be spray-coated on various substrates. However, their power conversion efficiency is still insufficient for commercial applications. To further boost CQD solar cell efficiency, researchers need to better understand and control how charge carriers and excitons transport in CQD thin films, i.e., the CQD solar cell electrical parameters including carrier lifetime, diffusion length, diffusivity, mobility, drift length, trap state density, and doping density. These parameters play key roles in determining CQD thin film thickness and surface passivation ligands in CQD solar cell fabrication processes. To characterize these CQD solar cell parameters, researchers have mostly used transient techniques, such as short-circuit current/open-circuit voltage decay, photoconductance decay, and time-resolved photoluminescence. These transient techniques based on the time-dependent excess carrier density decay generally exhibit an exponential profile, but they differ in the signal collection physics and can only be used in some particular scenarios. Furthermore, photovoltaic characterization techniques are moving from contact to non-contact, from steady-state to dynamic, and from small-spot testing to large-area imaging; what are the challenges, limitations, and prospects? To answer these questions, this Tutorial, in the context of CQD thin film and solar cell characterization, looks at trends in characterization technique development by comparing various conventional techniques in meeting research and/or industrial demands. For a good physical understanding of material properties, the basic physics of CQD materials and devices are reviewed first, followed by a detailed discussion of various characterization techniques and their suitability for CQD photovoltaic devices.

Advanced characterization methods of carrier transport in quantum dot photovoltaic solar cells, Lilei Hu, Andreas Mandelis, Journal of Applied Physics

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Snapping Polymer Discs...

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Thin polymer discs self-propel by repeated "snapping" motions. Credit: Yongjin Kim, UMass Amherst

Topics: Chemistry, Polymer Science, Materials Science, Research

A polymer-based gel made by researchers in the US and inspired by the Venus flytrap plant can snap, jump and “reset” itself autonomously. The new self-propelled material might have applications in micron-sized robots and other devices that operate without batteries or motors.

“Many plants and animals, especially small ones, use special parts that act like springs and latches to help them move really fast, much faster than animals with muscles alone,” explains team leader Alfred Crosby, a professor of polymer science and engineering in the College of Natural Sciences at UMass Amherst. “The Venus flytraps are good examples of this kind of movement, as are grasshoppers and trap-jaw ants in the animal world.”

Snapping instabilities
The Venus flytrap plant works by regulating the way its turgor pressure – that is, the swelling produced as stored water pushes against a plant cell wall – is distributed through its leaves. Beyond a certain point, this swelling leads to a condition known as snapping instability, where the tiny additional pressure of a fly’s footsteps is enough to cause the plant to snap shut. The plant then automatically regenerates its internal structures in readiness for its next meal.

Polymer gels snap and jump on their own, Isabelle Dumé, Physics World

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Einsteinium Chemistry...

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Topics: Chemistry, Einstein, Materials Science, Research

To date, researchers have created more than two dozen synthetic chemical elements that don’t exist naturally on Earth. Neptunium (atomic number Z = 93) and plutonium (Z = 94), the first two artificial elements after naturally occurring uranium, are produced in nuclear reactors by thousands of kilograms. But the accessibility of transuranic elements drops quickly with Z: Einsteinium (Z = 99) can be made only in microgram quantities in specialized laboratories, fermium (Z = 100) is produced by the picogram and has never been purified, and all elements after that are made just one atom at a time.

There are ways to probe the atomic properties of elements produced atom by atom (see, for example, Physics Today, June 2015, page 14). But when it comes to the traditional way of investigating how atoms behave—mixing them with other substances in solution to form chemical compounds—Es is effectively the end of the periodic table.

Now Rebecca Abergel (head of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s heavy element chemistry program) and her colleagues have performed the most complicated and informative Es chemistry experiment to date. They chose to react Es with a so-called octadentate ligand—a single organic molecule, held together by the backbone shown in blue, that wraps around a central metal atom and binds to it from all sides—to create the molecular structure shown in the figure. In their previous work, Abergel and colleagues used the same ligand to study transition metals, lanthanides, and lighter actinides. When they were fortunate enough to acquire a few hundred nanograms of Es from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they used it on that as well.

Einsteinium chemistry captured, Johanna L. Miller, Physics Today

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Kondo Mimic...

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Illustration showing the atomic tip of a scanning tunneling microscope while probing a metal surface with a cobalt atom positioned on top. A characteristic dip in the measurement results is found on surfaces made of copper as well as silver and gold. Courtesy: Forschungszentrum Jülich

Topics: Magnetism, Materials Science, Nanotechnology

A new type of quasiparticle – dubbed the “spinaron” by the scientists who discovered it – could be responsible for a magnetic phenomenon that is usually attributed to the Kondo effect. The research, which was carried out by Samir Lounis and colleagues at Germany’s Forschungszentrum Jülich, casts doubt on current theories of the Kondo effect and could have implications for data storage and processing based on structures such as quantum dots.

The electrical resistance of most metals decreases as the temperature drops. Metals containing magnetic impurities, however, behave differently. Below a certain threshold temperature, their electrical resistance increases rapidly and continues to increase as the temperature drops further. First spotted in the 1930s, this phenomenon became known as the Kondo effect after the Japanese theoretical physicist Jun Kondo published an explanation for it in 1964.

New quasiparticle may mimic Kondo-effect signal, Isabelle Dumé, Physics World

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Nanoscale Knudsen Flow...

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Left: the electron density isosurface from theoretical DFT calculations. S and W atoms are shown in yellow and blue respectively. Right: transmission electron microscopy image. Courtesy: R Boya

 

Topics: Fluid Mechanics, Materials Science, Nanofluidics, Nanotechnology

 

Gases flow through a porous membrane at ultrahigh speeds even when the pores’ diameter approaches the atomic scale. This finding by researchers at the University of Manchester in the UK and the University of Pennsylvania in the US shows that the century-old Knudsen description of gas flow remains valid down to the nanoscale – a discovery that could have applications in water purification, gas separation, and air-quality monitoring.

 

Gas permeation through nano-sized pores is both ubiquitous in nature and technologically important explains Manchester’s Radha Boya, who led the research effort along with Marija Drndić at Pennsylvania. Because the diameter of these narrow pores is much smaller than the mean free diffusion path of gas molecules, the molecules’ flow can be described using a model developed by the Danish physicist Martin Knudsen in the early decades of the 20th century. During so-called Knudsen flow, the diffusing molecules randomly scatter from the pore walls rather than colliding with each other.

 

Until now, however, researchers didn’t know whether Knudsen flow might break down if the pores become small enough. Boya, Drndić, and colleagues have now shown that the model holds even at the ultimate atomic-scale limit.

 

Gas flows follow conventional theory even at the nanoscale, Isabelle Dumé, Physics World

 

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3D Hydrogel Polymers...

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Fig. 1 Multimaterial 3D printing hydrogel with other polymers. (A) Illustration of the DLP-based multimaterial 3D printing apparatus. (B and C) Processes of printing elastomer and hydrogel structures, respectively. (D) Snapshot of a diagonally symmetric Kelvin form made of AP hydrogel and elastomer. (E) Demonstration of the high deformability of the printed diagonally symmetric Kelvin form. (F) Snapshot of a printed Kelvin foam consisting of rigid polymer, AP hydrogel, and elastomer. (G) Demonstration of the high stretchability of the printed multimaterial Kelvin foam. Scale bar, 5 mm. (Photo credit: Zhe Chen, Zhejiang University.)

Topics: Chemistry, Materials Science, Polymer Science

Abstract
Hydrogel-polymer hybrids have been widely used for various applications such as biomedical devices and flexible electronics. However, the current technologies constrain the geometries of hydrogel-polymer hybrid to laminates consisting of hydrogel with silicone rubbers. This greatly limits the functionality and performance of hydrogel-polymer–based devices and machines. Here, we report a simple yet versatile multimaterial 3D printing approach to fabricate complex hybrid 3D structures consisting of highly stretchable and high–water content acrylamide-PEGDA (AP) hydrogels covalently bonded with diverse UV curable polymers. The hybrid structures are printed on a self-built DLP-based multimaterial 3D printer. We realize covalent bonding between AP hydrogel and other polymers through incomplete polymerization of AP hydrogel initiated by the water-soluble photoinitiator TPO nanoparticles. We demonstrate a few applications taking advantage of this approach. The proposed approach paves a new way to realize multifunctional soft devices and machines by bonding hydrogel with other polymers in 3D forms.

3D printing of highly stretchable hydrogel with diverse UV curable polymers, Science Advances

Qi Ge1,*,†, Zhe Chen2,*, Jianxiang Cheng1, Biao Zhang3,†, Yuan-Fang Zhang4, Honggeng Li4,5, Xiangnan He1, Chao Yuan4, Ji Liu1, Shlomo Magdassi6, and Shaoxing Qu2,†

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2020 Nano Highlights...

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Image source: The article link, but it should symbolize how last year felt to the sane among us.

Topics: Biology, Materials Science, Nanotechnology, Research

Snake vision inspires pyroelectric material design

Bioinspiration and biomimicry involve studying how living organisms do something and using that insight to develop new technologies. Pit vipers have two special organs on their heads called loreal pits that allow them to “see” the infrared radiation given off by their warm-blooded prey. Now, Pradeep Sharma and colleagues have worked out that the snakes use cells that act as a soft pyroelectric material to convert infrared radiation into electrical signals that can be processed by their nervous systems. As well as potentially solving a longstanding puzzle in snake biology, the work could also aid the development of thermoelectric transducers based on soft, flexible structures rather than stiff crystals.

Nanotechnology and materials highlights of 2020, Hamish Johnston, Physics World

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Diamond Nanoneedles...

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Credit: Z. Shi et al., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 117, 24634 (2020)

Topics: Materials Science, Modern Physics, Nanotechnology, Semiconductor Technology

If you ever manage to deform a diamond, you’re likely to break it. That’s because the hardest natural material on Earth is also inelastic and brittle. Two years ago, Ming Dao (MIT), Subra Suresh (Nanyang Technological University in Singapore), and their collaborators demonstrated that when bulk diamonds are etched into fine, 300-nm-wide needles, they become nearly defect-free. The transformation allows diamonds to elastically bend under the pressure of an indenter tip, as shown in the figure, and withstand extremely large tensile stresses without breaking.

The achievement prompted the researchers to investigate whether the simple process of bending could controllably and reversibly alter the electronic structure of nanocrystal diamond. Teaming up with Ju Li and graduate student Zhe Shi (both at MIT), Dao and Suresh have now followed their earlier study with numerical simulations of the reversible deformation. The team used advanced deep-learning algorithms that reveal the bandgap distributions in nanosized diamond across a range of loading conditions and crystal geometries. The new work confirms that the elastic strain can alter the material’s carbon-bonding configuration enough to close its bandgap from a normally 5.6 eV width as an electrical insulator to 0 eV as a conducting metal. That metallization occurred on the compression side of a bent diamond nanoneedle.

Diamond nanoneedles turn metallic, R. Mark Wilson, Physics Today

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