nanotechnology (66)

Steve Austin's Beads...


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...


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...


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...


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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Stop-Motion Efficiency...


A team of researchers created a new method to capture ultrafast atomic motions inside the tiny switches that control the flow of current in electronic circuits. Pictured here are Aditya Sood (left) and Aaron Lindenberg (right). Courtesy: Greg Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Topics: Applied Physics, Electrical Engineering, Nanotechnology, Semiconductor Technology

A new ultrafast imaging technique that captures the motion of atoms in nanoscale electronic devices has revealed the existence of a short-lived electronic state that could make it possible to develop faster and more energy-efficient computers. The imaging technique, which involves switching the devices on and off while taking snapshots of them with an electron diffraction camera, could also help researchers probe the limits of electronic switching.

“In general, we know very little about the intermediate phases materials pass through during electronic switching operations,” explains Aditya Sood, a postdoctoral researcher at the US Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and lead author of a paper in Science about the new method. “Our technique allows for a new way to visualize this process and therefore address what is arguably one of the most important questions at the heart of computing – that is, what are the fundamental limits of electronic switches in terms of speed and energy consumption?”

Ultrafast electron diffraction camera

Sood and colleagues at SLACStanford UniversityHewlett Packard LabsPennsylvania State University, and Purdue University chose to study devices made from vanadium dioxide (VO2) because the material is known to transition between insulating and electrically conducting states near room temperature. It thus shows promise as a switch, but the exact pathway underlying electric field-induced switching in VOhas long been a mystery, Sood tells Physics World.

To take snapshots of VO2’s atomic structure, the team used periodic voltage pulses to switch an electronic device made from the material on and off. The researchers synchronized the timing of these voltage pulses with the high-energy electron pulses produced by SLAC’s ultrafast electron diffraction (UED) camera. “Each time a voltage pulse excited the sample, it was followed by an electron pulse with a delay that we could tune,” Sood explains. “By repeating this process many times and changing the delay each time, we created a stop-motion movie of the atoms moving in response to the voltage pulse.”

This is the first time that anyone has used UED, which detects tiny atomic movements in a material by scattering a high-energy beam of electrons off a sample, to observe an electronic device during operation. “We started thinking about this subject three years ago and soon realized that existing techniques were simply not fast enough,” says Aaron Lindenberg, a professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford and the study’s senior author. “So we decided to construct our own.”

‘Stop-motion movie of atoms’ reveals short-lived state in nanoscale switch, Isabelle Dumé, Physics World

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Gold Anniversary...


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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Nano Laser...


In their experiments, the researchers used ultrathin crystals consisting of a single layer of atoms. These sheets were sandwiched between two layers of mirror-like materials. The whole structure acts as a cage for light and is called a microcavity.

Topics: Applied Physics, Bose-Einstein Condensate, Lasers, Nanotechnology, Optics

Physicists have taken a step towards realizing the smallest-ever solid-state laser by generating an exotic quantum state known as a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) in quasiparticles consisting of both matter and light. Although the effect has so far only been observed at ultracold temperatures in atomically thin crystals of molybdenum diselenide (MoSe2), it might also be produced at room temperature in other materials.

When particles are cooled down to temperatures just above absolute zero, they form a BEC – a state of matter in which all the particles occupy the same quantum state and act in unison, like a superfluid. A BEC made up of tens of thousands of particles behaves as if it were just one giant quantum particle.

An international team of researchers led by Carlos Anton-Solanas and Christian Schneider from the University of Oldenburg, GermanySven Höfling of the University of Würzburg, GermanySefaattin Tongay at Arizona State University, US; and Alexey Kavokin of Westlake University in China, has now generated a BEC from quasiparticles known as exciton-polaritons in atomically thin crystals. These quasiparticles form when excited electrons in solids couple strongly with photons.

“Devices that can control these novel light-matter states hold the promise of a technological leap in comparison with current electronic circuits,” explains Anton-Solanas, who is in the quantum materials group at Oldenburg’s Institute of Physics. “Such optoelectronic circuits, which operate using light instead of electric current, could be better and faster at processing information than today’s processors.”

Anton-Solanas, Schneider, and colleagues studied crystals of MoSe2 that were just a single atomic layer thick. MoSe2belongs to a family of materials known as transition-metal dichalcogenides (TMDCs). In their bulk form, these materials act as indirect band-gap semiconductors. Still, when scaled down to a monolayer thickness, they behave as direct band-gap semiconductors, capable of efficiently absorbing and emitting light.

In their experiments, the researchers assembled sheets of MoSe2 less than a nanometer thick and sandwiched them between alternating layers of silicon dioxide and titanium dioxide (SiO2/TiO2), which reflect light like a mirror. The resulting structure is known as a microcavity and acts as a cage for light. “It’s like trapping the light-emitting material in a room filled with mirrors and mirrors only,” Tongay tells Physics World. “The light gets reflected these mirrors and is absorbed by the material back and forth.”

Exotic quantum state could make smallest-ever laser, Isabelle Dumé, Physics World

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Graphene Beam Splitter...


Splitting up: schematic of the electron beam splitter with the n side on the right and the p side on the left. (Courtesy: M Jo et al/Phys. Rev. Lett.)

Topics: Graphene, Interferometry, Nanotechnology, Quantum Computer

A graphene-based “beam splitter” for electronic currents has been built by researchers in France, South Korea, and Japan. Created by Preden Roulleau at the University of Paris and colleagues, the tunable device’s operation is directly comparable to that of an optical interferometer. The technology could soon enable allow electron interferometry to be used in nanotechnology and quantum computing.

An optical interferometer splits a beam of light in two, sending each beam along a different path before recombining the beams at a detector. The measured interference of the beams at the detector can be used to detect tiny differences in the lengths of the two paths. Recently, physicists have become interested in doing a similar thing with currents of electrons in solid-state devices, taking advantage of the fact that electrons behave like waves in the quantum world.

Graphene is a sheet of carbon just one atom thick and is widely considered to be the best material for realizing such “electron quantum optics”. Indeed, researchers have already used the material to make simple electron interferometers. Now, Roulleau’s team has created a fully adjustable electron beam splitter that could be used to build more sophisticated devices. It exploits the quantum Hall effect, whereby the application of a strong magnetic field perpendicular to a sheet of graphene will cause an electron current to flow around the edge of the sheet.

Graphene beam splitter gives electron quantum optics a boost, Sam Jarman, Physics World

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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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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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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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Quasiparticles, and Graphene...


Telltale traces In this doping vs magnetic field conductance map, the magnetic field is varied along the vertical axis. Horizontal yellow streaks show Brown-Zak fermions propagating along straight trajectories with high mobility (low resistance), whereas slanted indigo lines show the cyclotron motion around Brown-Zak fermions. The slope of these lines enabled the researchers to obtain the degeneracy (and find an additional quantum number) of these new quasiparticles. (Courtesy: J Barrier)

Topics: Fermions, Graphene, Nanotechnology, Quantum Mechanics

Researchers at the University of Manchester in the UK have identified a new family of quasiparticles in superlattices made from graphene sandwiched between two slabs of boron nitride. The work is important for fundamental studies of condensed-matter physics and could also lead to the development of improved transistors capable of operating at higher frequencies.

In recent years, physicists and materials scientists have been studying ways to use the weak (van der Waals) coupling between atomically thin layers of different crystals to create new materials in which electronic properties can be manipulated without chemical doping. The most famous example is graphene (a sheet of carbon just one atom thick) encapsulated between another 2D material, hexagonal boron nitride (hBN), which has a similar lattice constant. Since both materials also have similar hexagonal structures, regular moiré patterns (or “superlattices”) form when the two lattices are overlaid.

If the stacked layers of graphene-hBN are then twisted, and the angle between the two materials’ lattices decreases, the size of the superlattice increases. This causes electronic band gaps to develop through the formation of additional Bloch bands in the superlattice’s Brillouin zone (a mathematical construct that describes the fundamental ideas of electronic energy bands). In these Bloch bands, electrons move in a periodic electric potential that matches the lattice and does not interact with one another.

New family of quasiparticles appears in graphene, Isabelle Dumé, Physics World

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Integrated Nanodiamonds...


Nanophotonic integration for simultaneously controlling a large number of quantum mechanical spins in nanodiamonds. (Image: P. Schrinner/AG Schuck)

Topics: Nanotechnology, Quantum Computer, Quantum Mechanics, Semiconductor Technology

(Nanowerk News) Physicists at Münster University have succeeded in fully integrating nanodiamonds into nanophotonic circuits and at the same time addressing several of these nanodiamonds optically. The study creates the basis for future applications in the field of quantum sensing schemes or quantum information processors.

The results have been published in the journal Nano Letters ("Integration of Diamond-Based Quantum Emitters with Nanophotonic Circuits").

Using modern nanotechnology, it is possible nowadays to produce structures that have feature sizes of just a few nanometers.

This world of the most minute particles – also known as quantum systems – makes possible a wide range of technological applications, in fields which include magnetic field sensing, information processing, secure communication, or ultra-precise timekeeping. The production of these microscopically small structures has progressed so far that they reach dimensions below the wavelength of light.

In this way, it is possible to break down hitherto existent boundaries in optics and utilize the quantum properties of light. In other words, nanophotonics represents a novel approach to quantum technologies.

Controlling fully integrated nanodiamonds, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster

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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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The Power of ASM...



Topics: Alternate Energy, Applied Physics, Atomic-Scale Microscopy, Nanotechnology




When Ondrej Krivanek first considered building a device to boost the resolution of electron microscopes, he asked about funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. “The response was not positive,” he says, laughing. He heard through the grapevine that the administrator who held the purse strings declared that the project would be funded “over his dead body.”     


“People just felt it was too complicated, and that nobody would ever make it work,” says Krivanek. But he tried anyway.  After all, he says, “If everyone expects you to fail, you can only exceed expectations.”


The correctors that Krivanek, Niklas Dellby, and other colleagues subsequently designed for the scanning transmission electron microscope did exceed expectations. They focus the microscope’s electron beam, which scans back and forth across the sample like a spotlight and make it possible to distinguish individual atoms and to conduct chemical analysis within a sample. For his pioneering efforts, Krivanek shared The Kavli Prize in nanoscience with the German scientists Harald Rose, Maximilian Haider, and Knut Urban, who independently developed correctors for conventional transmission electron microscopes, in which a broad stationary beam illuminates the entire sample at once.


Electron microscopes, invented in 1931, long-promised unprecedented clarity, and in theory could resolve objects a hundredth the size of an atom. But in practice, they rarely get close because the electromagnetic lenses they use to focus electrons deflected them in ways that distorted and blurred the resulting images.


The aberration correctors designed by both Krivanek’s team and the German scientists deploy a series of electromagnetic fields, applied in multiple planes and different directions, to redirect and focus wayward electrons. “Modern correctors contain more than 100 optical elements and have software that automatically quantifies and fixes 25 different types of aberrations,” says Krivanek, who co-founded a company called Nion to develop and commercialize the technology.


That level of fine-tuning allows microscopists to fix their sights on some important pursuits, such as producing smaller and more energy-efficient computers, analyzing biological samples without incinerating them, and being able to detect hydrogen, the lightest element, and a potential clean-burning fuel.


The Vast Potential of Atomic-Scale Microscopy, Ondrej Krivanek, Scientific American



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Black Phosphorus...


The black phosphorus composite material connected by carbon-phosphorus covalent bonds has a more stable structure and a higher lithium-ion storage capacity. Credit: DONG Yihan, SHI Qianhui, and LIANG Yan

Topics: Alternative Energy, Applied Physics, Battery, Nanotechnology, Research

A new electrode material could make it possible to construct lithium-ion batteries with a high charging rate and storage capacity. If scaled up, the anode material developed by researchers at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) and colleagues in the US might be used to manufacture batteries with an energy density of more than 350 watt-hours per kilogram – enough for a typical electric vehicle (EV) to travel 600 miles on a single charge.

Lithium ions are the workhorse in many common battery applications, including electric vehicles. During operation, these ions move back and forth between the anode and cathode through an electrolyte as part of the battery’s charge-discharge cycle. A battery’s performance thus depends largely on the materials used in the electrodes and electrolyte, which need to be able to store and transfer many lithium ions in a short period – all while remaining electrochemically stable – so they can be recharged hundreds of times. Maximizing the performance of all these materials at the same time is a longstanding goal of battery research, yet in practice, improvements in one usually come at the expense of the others.

“A typical trade-off lies in the storage capacity and rate capability of the electrode material,” co-team leader Hengxing Ji tells Physics World. “For example, anode materials with high lithium storage capacity, such as silicon, are usually reported as having low lithium-ion conductivity, which hinders fast battery [charging]. As a result, the increase in battery capacity usually leads to a long charging time, which represents a critical roadblock for more widespread adoption of EVs.”

Black phosphorus composite makes a better battery, Isabelle Dumé, Physics World

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NEMS Photothermal Microscopy...


Topics: Microscopy, Nanotechnology, NEMS, Physics, Research

Single-molecule microscopy has become an indispensable tool for biochemical analysis. The capability of characterizing distinct properties of individual molecules without averaging has provided us with a different perspective for the existing scientific issues and phenomena. Recently, super-resolution fluorescence microscopy techniques have overcome the optical diffraction limit by the localization of molecule positions. However, the labeling process can potentially modify the intermolecular dynamics. Based on the highly sensitive nanomechanical photothermal microscopy reported previously, we propose optimizations on this label-free microscopy technique toward localization microscopy. A localization precision of 3 Å is achieved with gold nanoparticles, and the detection of polarization-dependent absorption is demonstrated, which opens the door for further improvement with polarization modulation imaging.


FIG. 2. (a) Schematic of the measurement setup. BE: beam expander. M: mirror. WP: waveplate. LP: linear polarizer. BS: beam splitter. PD: photodetector/power meter. DM: dichroic mirror. ID: iris diaphragm. CCD: charge-coupled device camera. APD: avalanche photodiode detector. (b) The transduction scheme of the trampoline resonator. (c) SEM image of the trampoline resonator.

J. Appl. Phys. 128, 134501 (2020);

Nanoelectromechanical photothermal polarization microscopy with 3 Å localization precision, Miao-Hsuan Chien and Silvan Schmid, Journal of Applied Physics

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Gentle breeze: illustration of the B-TENG triboelectric nanogenerator, which harvests electricity that is generated by fluttering polymer strips. (Courtesy: Xin Chen/Xiaojing Mu/Ya Yang)

Topics: Applied Physics, Nanotechnology, Polymers, Research

A new low-cost nanogenerator that can efficiently harvest electrical energy from ambient wind has been created by Ya Yang at the Beijing Institute of Nanoenergy and Nanosystems of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and colleagues. The team reports that the device achieves high electrical conversion efficiencies for breezes of 4–8 m/s (14–28 km/h) and says that it could be used to generate electricity in everyday situations, where conventional wind turbines are not practical.

As the drive to develop renewable sources of energy intensifies, there is growing interest in harvesting ambient energy in everyday environments. From breezes along city streets to the airflows created as we walk, the mechanical energy contained in ambient wind is abundant. The challenge is to harvest this every in an efficient and practical way. This has proven difficult using existing technologies such as piezoelectric films, which operate at very low power outputs.

Yang’s team based their new design around two well-known phenomena in physics. The first is the Bernoulli effect, which causes the fluttering of two adjacent flags to couple. If separated by a very small gap, the flags will flutter in-phase, while at slightly larger separations, they flap out-of-phase, and symmetrically about a central plane. The second is the triboelectric effect – the familiar phenomenon behind the “static electricity” that is created when different objects are rubbed together and then separated – resulting in opposite electrical charges on the objects and a voltage between the two.

Fluttering polymer ribbons harvest electrical energy, Physics World

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Credit: Johannes Zirkelbach/Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light


Topics: Applied Physics, Nanotechnology, Optics


At the focus of a laser, a 100-nm-wide gold nanoparticle can block more than half the light. If additional particles are added, the amount of blocked light increases exponentially, as modeled by the Beer-Lambert law. But theorists predict that in the right set of circumstances, the addition of a molecule would, counterintuitively, decrease the light blocked—that is, make the nanoparticle partially transparent.


Vahid Sandoghdar of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light and his colleagues have now shown that predicted partial transparency for a near-field coupled dye molecule (red in image) and a plasmonic nanoparticle (gold). The phenomenon is a result of the interference between the light scattered from the two.


To achieve the required coupling, the dye molecule must be in a particular orientation and less than a wavelength away from the gold nanoparticle. Controlling those parameters is tricky, so Sandoghdar and his colleagues left them to chance. The researchers started with an array of nanoparticles and then coated it with a molten crystal doped with dibenzoterrylene (DBT) dye molecules. After the colorless crystal solidified, the result was a stochastic distribution of DBT molecules.


Their strong, distinctive fluorescence made the dye molecules easy to find optically. But the team members needed to verify that the molecule was near-field coupled to a nanoparticle. They identified a particle with two nearby DBT molecules and shined [a] tunable titanium: sapphire laser on it. The nanoparticle acts as an antenna, which enhances the molecules’ fluorescence. Relative to the other, one DBT molecule had telltale signatures of near-field interactions: enhanced and spectrally broadened fluorescence and a shorter excited-state lifetime—1.4 ns compared with the usual 8.1 ns.


Nanoparticle turns partially transparent, Heather Hill, Physics Today


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