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Credit: Courtesy of the Tour Group

Rice University scientists have created a rechargeable lithium metal battery with three times the capacity of commercial lithium-ion batteries by resolving something that has long stumped researchers: the dendrite problem.

The Rice battery stores lithium in a unique anode, a seamless hybrid of graphene and carbon nanotubes. The material first created at Rice in 2012 is essentially a three-dimensional carbon surface that provides abundant area for lithium to inhabit. The anode itself approaches the theoretical maximum for storage of lithium metal while resisting the formation of damaging dendrites or “mossy” deposits. Dendrites have bedeviled attempts to replace lithium-ion with advanced lithium metal batteries that last longer and charge faster. Dendrites are lithium deposits that grow into the battery’s electrolyte. If they bridge the anode and cathode and create a short circuit, the battery may fail... more read more

Credit: L. Brian Stauffer

A small, thin square of an organic plastic that can detect disease markers in breath or toxins in a building’s air could soon be the basis of portable, disposable sensor devices.

By riddling the thin plastic films with pores, University of Illinois researchers made the devices sensitive enough to detect at levels that are far too low to smell, yet are important to human health. In a new study in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, professor Ying Diao’s research group demonstrated a device that monitors ammonia in breath, a sign of kidney failure. “In the clinical setting, physicians use bulky instruments, basically the size of a big table, to detect and analyze these compounds. We want to hand out a cheap sensor chip to patients so they can use it and throw it away,” said Diao, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Illinois. Other... more read more

Credit: American Chemical Society

Roll-up computer screens and other flexible electronics are getting closer to reality as scientists improve upon a growing number of components that can bend and stretch. One team now reports in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces another development that can contribute to this evolution: a low-cost conductive paper that would be easy to manufacture on a large scale. Current flexible electronic prototypes are commonly built using polymer thin films. But the cost of these films becomes a factor when they are scaled up. To address this issue, scientists have turned to paper, which is renewable, biodegradable and a fraction of the cost of polymer thin films. The downside of paper... more read more

Credit: Yuran Huang and Ying Jones, UC San Diego

Chemists, materials scientists and nanoengineers at UC San Diego have created what may be the ultimate natural sunscreen.

In a paper published in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Central Science, they report the development of nanoparticles that mimic the behavior of natural melanosomes, melanin-producing cell structures that protect our skin, eyes and other tissues from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation. “Basically, we succeeded in making a synthetic version of the nanoparticles that our skin uses to produce and store melanin and demonstrated in experiments in skin cells that they mimic the behavior of natural melanosomes,” said Nathan Gianneschi, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry, materials science and engineering and nanoengineering at UC San Diego, who headed the team of... more read more

Credit: UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering / David Baillot

Engineers at the University of California San Diego have developed the first soft robot that is capable of walking on rough surfaces, such as sand and pebbles. The 3D-printed, four-legged robot can climb over obstacles and walk on different terrains.

Researchers led by Michael Tolley, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of California San Diego, will present the robot at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation from May 29 to June 3 in Singapore. The robot could be used to capture sensor readings in dangerous environments or for search and rescue. The breakthrough was possible thanks to a high-end printer that allowed researchers to print soft and rigid materials together within the same components. This made it possible for researchers to design more complex shapes for the robot’s legs. Bringing together soft and rigid materials will help create a new generation of fast, agile robots that are... more read more

Credit: TU Eindhoven

When building with molecules, it is important to understand how they stick together when, amongst others, designing capsules for transportation of medication in the body. After all, how can you construct a car if you don’t know how the components work?

Researchers of the TU Eindhoven enable us to measure how long it takes for small molecules (monomers) to break free from a larger molecular complex (polymer), without influencing the movement of the polymers. Today, biomedical engineer René Lafleur, dr. Xianwen Lou, professor Bert Meijer and colleagues published a paper about this research in Nature Communications. The movements of molecules is often measured by connecting a coloring to the molecule. However, the coloring is large in size in relation to the molecule, therefore influencing the movement. PhD candidate Lafleur now proved, together with colleague Xianwen Lou, that the technique used for studying the folding of proteins (also... more read more

Credit: G.L. Kohuth

A paper-thin, flexible device created at Michigan State University not only can generate energy from human motion, it can act as a loudspeaker and microphone as well, nanotechnology researchers report today in Nature Communications.

The audio breakthrough could eventually lead to such consumer products as a foldable loudspeaker, a voice-activated security patch for computers and even a talking newspaper. “Every technology starts with a breakthrough and this is a breakthrough for this particular technology,” said Nelson Sepulveda, MSU associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and primary investigator of the federally funded project. “This is the first transducer that is ultrathin, flexible, scalable and bidirectional, meaning it can convert mechanical energy to electrical energy and electrical energy to mechanical energy.” In late 2016, Sepulveda and his team successfully demonstrated their... more read more

Credit: Berkeley Lab

Berkeley Lab and aBeam Technologies bring mass fabrication to nano-optical devices

Combining speed with incredible precision, a team of researchers has developed a way to print a nanoscale imaging probe onto the tip of a glass fiber as thin as a human hair, accelerating the production of the promising new device from several per month to several per day. The high-throughput fabrication technique opens the door for the widespread adoption of this and other nano-optical structures, which squeeze and manipulate light in ways that are unachievable by conventional optics. Nano-optics have the potential to be used for imaging, sensing, and spectroscopy, and could help scientists improve solar cells, design better drugs, and make faster semiconductors. A big obstacle to the technology’s... more read more

Engineering researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed a revolutionary process for 3D printing stretchable electronic sensory devices that could give robots the ability to feel their environment.

The discovery is also a major step forward in printing electronics on real human skin. The research will be published in the next issue of Advanced Materials and is currently online. “This stretchable electronic fabric we developed has many practical uses,” said Michael McAlpine, a University of Minnesota mechanical engineering associate professor and lead researcher on the study. “Putting this type of ‘bionic skin’ on surgical robots would give surgeons the ability to actually feel during minimally invasive surgeries, which would make surgery easier instead of just using cameras like they do now. These sensors could also make it easier for other robots to walk and interact with... more read more

Mechanical actuators developed by MIT team expand and contract as they let oxygen in and out

Carrying out maintenance tasks inside a nuclear plant puts severe strains on equipment, due to extreme temperatures that are hard for components to endure without degrading. Now, researchers at MIT and elsewhere have come up with a radically new way to make actuators that could be used in such extremely hot environments. The system relies on oxide materials similar to those used in many of today's rechargeable batteries, in that ions move in and out of the material during charging and discharging cycles. Whether the ions are lithium ions, in the case of lithium ion batteries, or oxygen ions, in the case of the oxide materials, their reversible motion causes the material to expand and... more read more

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