materials science (8)

Colloidal Quantum Dots...


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

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...


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...


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...


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...


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...


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

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...


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...


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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