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PCAST provides assessment of US Nanotechnology Initiative

Materials Research Society/MRS Bulletin fig1g-220

The US National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) is a crosscutting national vision for nanotechnology research and development (R&D) in the United States. Established in 2001, the NNI is not directly funded and has no centralized budget or management, but is rather an initiative involving 20 federal departments, independent agencies, and independent commissions working together to revolutionize nanotechnology across the range of industries to the benefit of society. The fifth assessment of the NNI characterizes the Initiative as a “truly successful venture” stating that the investment of over $20 billion in nanotechnology research and development (R&D) over the duration of the initiative has led to “great success in creating the building blocks of nanoscience.”

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Bio Focus: Sensors add touch and feel to prosthetic skin

Materials Research Society/MRS Bulletin gordon figure 220

The loss of any limb is devastating, especially the loss of a hand which limits crucial functionalities including eating, handling objects, and texting! While prosthetic hands can mimic biological motion, an artificial “skin” must mimic the mechanoreceptors (sensing touch, pressure, and vibration) and thermoreceptors in human skin to enable real-time feedback as the person performs a task. And ideally, the patient won’t be left with cold hands! A research team based in South Korea has reported a flexible synthetic “skin” that could eventually be used with a hand prosthesis to permit the patient to feel heat, humidity, and pressure.

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Kevlar-based layered nanoscale membrane suppresses dendrite growth in lithium-ion battery

Materials Research Society/MRS Bulletin Dendrite-SEM-220

Dendrites that form in lithium-ion batteries can cause circuits to short, resulting in overheating and sometimes a fire or explosion. Now, a research team from the University of Michigan has built a battery membrane with pores that are just 15–20 nm in diameter—large enough to allow lithium ions to pass, but small enough to prevent dendrites from growing.

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Ion bonding in organic scaffolding promotes biomineralization

Materials Research Society/MRS BulletinNatMtrlDe-220

An international team of materials researchers has demonstrated that organic scaffolds influence the crystallization process by binding most of the positively charged calcium ions, inducing mineral formation in specific locations. The results challenge previous assumptions about the molecular-level mechanisms responsible for biomineralization.

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Perovskite solar cell stacked on top of silicon or CIGS solar cell boosts efficiency

Materials Research Society/MRS Bulletin Prachi-perovskite-220

By stacking a semi-transparent perovskite solar cell on top of a silicon solar cell, researchers have made tandem cells that have 50% higher efficiency than the silicon one alone. Perovskites, inexpensive materials with the crystal structure of calcium titanate, have recently gained prominence for photovoltaic applications. “We’re trying to find a way to make solar cells that are 25% or more efficient at very low cost,” says Michael McGehee, a materials science and engineering professor at Stanford University.

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Low oxygen content eliminates channel segregation in cast steels

Materials Research Society/MRS Bulletin casting anneal heat-220

Keeping the oxygen level low is key to avoiding an important cause of failure in steels, according to a recent article. Research at the Shenyang National Laboratory for Materials Science shows that oxygen content of under one thousandth of a percent reduces or even eliminates a defect known as channel segregation. This is good news for the steel industry with, annually, more than 50 million tons of plates and castings.

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Catalytic alloy used to grow high quality graphene on SiC on Si wafers

Materials Research Society/MRS Bulletin graphene wafer 220

A recent study just published in the Journal of Materials Research demonstrates a way to tighten up one particularly important but tricky step in the fabrication of graphene devices, ensuring the graphene stays in place on a Si substrate once it has been fabricated.

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New hydrogel directs bone regeneration without bioactive factors or cells

Materials Research Society/MRS Bulletin arc gel 220

Large bone defects, also called critical size defects, represent a major clinical problem in orthopedics. These bone losses, typically resulting from physical trauma, infection, or surgery to remove tumors, do not heal on their own, and must instead be fixed with bone grafts, which are often expensive, complex, and not widely available. Now, scientists in Germany have developed multifunctional, three-dimensional (3D) architectured hydrogels that can induce bone regeneration of critical size defects in rats, by virtue of their multiple functionalities.

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Confining LiBH4 in mesoporous silica yields solid electrolyte for Li-ion batteries

Materials Research Society/MRS Bulletin lithium-ions-220

A new study shows promise for a new all-solid lithium ion battery that could potentially cut down the weight of the batteries.

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Ferromagnetic thin film induces magnetism in graphene

Materials Research Society/MRS Bulletin ahe-graphene-220

Over the past decade, graphene has become one of the most intensely investigated materials. Graphene shows high electrical conductivity, and understanding the electrical properties of high-quality graphene under different conditions is a topic of great interest. In an article recently published in Physical Review Letters, researchers at the University of California-Riverside have determined a way to induce ferromagnetism in graphene, opening a new path of investigation especially into its spintronics applications.

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Mystery of graphene oxide membrane’s stability in water solved

Materials Research Society Go-image-220

For several years, strong, lightweight graphene oxide membranes have been extensively investigated. Such membranes are composed of graphene oxide sheets that become negatively charged in water. Because of this, when in water, the sheets should be repelled apart. Instead, the submerged membranes can stay in one piece, even for weeks. Now researchers have discovered why.

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Yucca Mountain, deemed safe, still faces long road ahead

Materials Research Society/MRS Bulletin Prachi-220

Almost four years after the Obama administration shut down the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository project, a new report released in October 2014 by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has put Yucca Mountain in the news again. The report is Volume 3 of the five-volume safety evaluation report required for the NRC’s license application review for the geological repository. This volume, which addresses safety after permanent closure, concludes that the repository will meet regulatory requirements after it is permanently closed.

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Bio Focus: Building synthetic organelles from the gene up

Materials Research Society/MRS Bulletin Image-Luke-220

Membrane-bound compartments, such as lipid micelles, are essential cellular structures that have endured and diversified across millennia following their probable key role in the origin of life. Recently, micelles and related types of micro-compartments (e.g., emulsions) have been gaining attention as platforms that can enable new chemical, biological, and materials technologies. The use of both micro- and nano-compartments has been demonstrated for a wide range of applications, including drug delivery, genetic screening, and nanomaterial synthesis.

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Energy Focus: Insulator triggered charge balance for high-performance QLEDs

Materials Research Society/MRS Bulletin Stender-220

Vacuum deposition is the primary technique currently employed by industry for producing commercial light-emitting diodes (LEDs) as their performance is superior to that of solution-processed LEDs. However, a team of nine scientists from China led by Yizheng Jin and Xiaogang Peng at Zhejiang University have recently taken an important step forward in the development of solution-processed LEDs. The research team achieved this by using nonblinking quantum dots (QDs) with a photoluminescence quantum yield above 90%.

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Circularly Polarized Light Causes Chiral Self-Assembly of Inorganic Nanoparticles

Materials Research Societytwisted nanoribons-220

On the molecular level, life tends to favor one chiral orientation over the other, utilizing just left-oriented amino acids and right-oriented sugars, for example. This tendency, called homochirality, might eventually shed light on life’s origins on Earth, although scientists are still trying to verify the exact nature of that hypothesis. Most investigations of homochirality, however, are confined to organic molecules and their constructs. But research recently published in Nature Materials demonstrates that inorganic nanoparticles can also offer insights into this phenomenon.

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Norway’s materials scientists are cracking the glass ceiling

Materials Research Society/MRS Bulletinnorway glass ceiling 220

Norway, a nation already known for its progressive strides in gender equality, in 2006 enacted a law designed to help women crack one of the most doggedly male-dominated arenas of all: the corporate boards of companies listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange were told to include at least 40% women, or risk being dissolved. Today, eight years on, what has this controversial quota achieved? And how have materials scientists, and the firms they work for, benefited?

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Silica Solution Synthetically Fossilizes Soft Biological Tissue

Materials Research Society Si for mouse 220

One of the major challenges of working with biological materials is their ease of damage. In order to study the interior of tissues such as organs, the original sample must be sliced or otherwise cut. This invasive procedure not only causes damage, but it often requires an experienced researcher to create the samples. A new study shows a unique approach to this problem. By utilizing a silica slurry, both the inside and outside of a tissue can be synthetically fossilized, preserving the sample’s structure for more sustained examination.

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Physicists Begin Cracking the Code of Kirigami

Materials Research Society Pasted graphic 220

In origami, the rules are simple: the paper can only be folded. Kirigami, a more complex art form, adds another dimension to the practice of paper folding, allowing its creators to also cut and paste the material. More than just an art form, physicists think that kirigami could help simplify diverse tasks, ranging from building homes on Mars to creating DNA lattices.

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Wireless Gas Sensors Tap into the Power of Smartphones

Materials Research Society Chemical sensor 220

When it comes to potentially dangerous gases on a job site, having highly responsive sensors is key to maintaining a safe work environment. Many sensors currently in use are good at sniffing out gases, but they can be expensive to produce and maintain. To make sensors that are easier to create and use, new research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) points toward tapping into the omnipresence of wireless devices. Using RF signals, a new line of simple chemical resistors may make testing for gases as easy as sending a text message.

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Color-switching Redox Ink Makes for Rewritable Paper

Materials Research Society Jenna redox 220

Businesses retain up to 90% of all information on paper, many pages of which are read once then discarded. All that printing requires a lot of ink, and with the cheapest printer ink costing a staggering $13 per ounce (over $1600 per gallon), printing is not cheap. In a new report published in this month’s issue of Nature Communications, researchers at the University of California–Riverside have come up with a lower cost solution: rewritable paper.

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