Published on March 5th, 2014 | Edited By: P. Carlo Ratto
Austrian fireproof materials maker RHI is confident it can turn its Norwegian plant, whose troubles cut into the company’s full-year results, to a profitable status within two years. Chief executive Franz Strutzl said recently that the proposal to close the magnesia-fusion plant was now off the table, as major technical problems had been resolved. However, work remains to be done to reduce production costs.
(The Conversation) Sea sapphires are an exception among copepods. Though they are often small, a few millimeters, they are stunningly beautiful. Like their namesake gem, different species of sea sapphire shine in different hues, from bright gold to deep blue. Africa isn’t the only place they can be found. I have since seen them off the coasts of Rhode Island and California in the US. When they are abundant near the water’s surface the sea shimmers like diamonds falling from the sky. Japanese fishermen of old had a name for this kind of water, “tama-mizu”, jewelled water. The reason for their shimmering beauty is both complex and mysterious, relating to their unique social behaviour and strange crystalline skin. A key clue is that these flashes are only seen in males.
Cincinnati Incorporated and the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have signed a partnership agreement to develop a new large-scale additive manufacturing system capable of printing polymer components up to 10 times larger than currently producible, and at speeds 200 to 500 times faster than existing additive machines. The cooperative research and development agreement—signed at ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn.—aims to introduce significant new capabilities to the US machine tool sector, which supplies manufacturing technology to a wide range of industries including automotive, aerospace, appliance and robotics. A prototype of the large-scale additive machine is in development using the chassis and drives of Cincinnati’s gantry-style laser cutting system as the base, with plans to incorporate a high-speed cutting tool, pellet feed mechanism and control software for additional capability.
A big step in the development of next-generation fuel cells and water-alkali electrolyzers has been achieved with the discovery of a new class of bimetallic nanocatalysts that are an order of magnitude higher in activity than the target set by the US Department of Energy for 2017. The new catalysts, hollow polyhedral nanoframes of platinum and nickel, feature a three-dimensional catalytic surface activity that makes them significantly more efficient and far less expensive than the best platinum catalysts used in today’s fuel cells and alkaline electrolyzers. This research was a collaborative effort between DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory.
Nanotechnology has had an established role in industry for many years. For more than a decade, the National Science Foundation has supported cross-disciplinary nanoscale science and engineering research, helping to spawn global growth in nanotechnology research and development. To help quantify that growth, Lux Research (login required) released a new report on global spending for emerging nanotechnology and the next generation of nano-enabled products. These findings help illustrate the long-term impact investments in fundamental science and engineering research under an innovative initiative can have on the global marketplace.
Silver is really good at confining light and grapheme is really good at efficiently moving electrons. Combining these materials, researchers at Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, in collaboration with scientists at Northwestern University, are the first to grow graphene on silver, which, until now, posed a major challenge to many in the field. Part of the issue has to do with the properties of silver; the other involves the process by which graphene is grown. Chemical vapor deposition is currently the industry standard for growing graphene. The technique allows hydrocarbons, like methane or ethylene, to decompose onto a hot platform in order to form carbon atoms that become graphene. However, this technique doesn’t work with a silver platform. To figure out how to grow graphene on silver, the researchers needed to understand the atomic and molecular properties of the material. The first step in growing the graphene layer was making sure the silver substrate was “atomically clean”—a hard standard to meet. To initially clean the platform, researchers used a technique called “sputter annealing.” This is where the platform used to grow the graphene is sprayed with ions that chew up the surface and rids it of any organic or inorganic material. The next step is to anneal the metal, a process“that heals it and allows for atomically clean and flat surfaces. After a series of examinations, the researchers discovered that they had successfully deposited a single layer of graphene on silver.
Published on March 4th, 2014 | Edited By: April Gocha, PhD
University of Connecticut scientists, including graduate student Altug Poyraz (left) and chemistry professor Steven Suib (right), have developed a new method to synthesize monomodal mesoporous materials. Credit: Peter Morenus/UConn Photo.
With large surface areas and a wide range of applications in adsorptive, sensing, optical, magnetic, and energy products, you have to love mesoporous materials (porosity ranging 5–20 nm diameter).
New research from the University of Connecticut may inspire you to love them a little more, because researchers have further widened those applications with the ability to uniformly manufacture these handy and holey materials.
Published in Nature Communications, the study details a novel method for synthesizing mesoporous materials that provides manufacturing flexibility by controlling the synthesis reaction in inverse micelles.
The method is an improvement to the standard, long-used, water-based method developed by Mobil in the 1990s. Materials synthesized with the old method were past due for an overhaul, because, as explained in a University press release,“The size of the pores in the material is difficult to manipulate; the walls of the resulting mesoporous structures are amorphous; and the stability of the underlying system weakens when exposed to high heat, limiting its use. The process also only works best when using silicon or titanium, as opposed to other metals of the periodic table.”
The new method, developed in the lab of chemistry professor Steven Suib, swaps water for a recyclable surfactant and heats things up in the process. According to the press release, the team’s development produced “thermally-controlled, thermally-stable, uniform mesoporous materials with very strong crystalline walls.” The process modifications made mesoporous materials with uniformly-distributed pores (1.2–25 nm) from oxides of manganese, cobalt and iron. Nitric oxide chemistry and heat allowed the scientists to adjust the pore size, providing manufacturing flexibility and control.
It is usually a good sign when the new technology has a corresponding patent application—and this one has four.
The flexibility of the process is key. In the paper, the authors write that their development allows synthesis from various types of elements, including late transition metals (Mn, Co, Fe and Ni), early transition metals (Ti and Zr), lanthanides (Ce), metalloids (Si), and nonmetals (C).
So it’s no surprise that Suib’s team is on a roll. “We developed more than 60 families of materials,” he said in the press release. “For every single material we made, you can make dozens of others like it. You can dope them by adding small amounts of impurities. You can alter their properties. You can make sulfides in addition to oxides. There is a lot more research that needs to be done.”
Of course, being able to synthesize mesoporous materials with uniform and controllable pore sizes means that materials can be tailored for specific applications. As Suib puts it in the press release, “With this process, you can now make a receptacle for specific proteins or enzymes so that they can enter the pores and specifically bind and react. That’s the hope, to be able to make a pore that will allow such materials to fit, to be able to make a pore that a scientist needs.”
Published on March 3rd, 2014 | Edited By: Jessica McMathis
The Canada First Research Excellence Fund is hoping to inspire a new generation of researchers and reinforce Canada’s commitment to innovation. Credit: Sanofi Pasteuron Flickr (Creative Commons License).
Good news for our neighbors to the north: Canada’s new budget includes a $1.5-billion economic shot-in-the-arm for university research funding over the next 10 years.
Starting with a $50-million investment in 2015-2016, the Canadian government hopes the new Canada First Research Excellence Fund will inspire a new generation of researchers—and demonstrate a long-term, ongoing commitment to innovation.
“This is a pivotal moment for research excellence and innovation in Canada,” David Barnard, president of the University of Manitoba and chair of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), said in a press release. “The establishment of an ambitious new research excellence fund, coupled with the commitment of enhanced funding in discovery research through the federal granting councils, represent a catalytic investment.”
Though the plan is, as Barnard says, “ambitious,” it’s a welcome acknowledgement of the contributions of university research to Canada’s economy. (The Globe and Mailreports that the research contributed to Canada’s private sector is nearly $1 billion each year, with an additional $1 billion dedicated to community and nonprofit groups anually.)
According to the AUCC, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research will receive $37 million more for advanced research annually and, on an ongoing basis, $9 million for indirect expenses.
Published on March 3rd, 2014 | Edited By: Jessica McMathis
The development of new high-tech body armor from industry and the military could see the creation of real-life Iron Men. Credit: UWM – Unified Weapons Master, YouTube.
With the development of new high-tech body armor, the iconic Iron Man suit is no longer relegated to comic books and blockbuster films.
Credit: UWM – Unified Weapons Master, YouTube.
Designed by Unified Weapons Master (UWM) and developed by a team of engineers at Chiron Global (both based in Australia), the super suit comes with built-in sensors that not only shield against but also record, in real-time, the impact of every jab, hook, or blow of the wearer with its flexible and “intelligent” protection. (See it in action by checking out the video above.)
The team, which includes an armor developer for films like “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit,” has performed testing with some of the biggest names in martial arts, and, according to a UWM press release, hopes that its technology will “pave the way for a new global sport, Unified Weapons Master, that pits the world’s best weapons martial artists against each other.”
But UWM’s Iron-esque suit isn’t the only one on the body-armor block.
Prototypes for the US military’s own high-tech armor offering could see testing by summer.
The US Army’s Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit would provide “superhuman strength with greater ballistic protection.” Credit: U.S. Army
Engineers at MIT, the US Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, and researchers from business and academia are eager to unveil the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS), which, as reported by Defense Tech, will see three unpowered suits assembled and delivered by June.
With “a powered exoskeleton, full-body armor, and situational-awareness displays,” TALOS is a major technology advance for the US military, which hopes to outfit troops in the gear by August 2018.
Published on March 2nd, 2014 | Edited By: April Gocha, PhD
TEM image of a silicon nanowire (NW) encased in an alumina shell (false-colored in blue), which was synthesized by Harvard scientists to improve biomedical nanoelectronic devices. Credit: Lieber lab; Harvard.
Moore’s law has predicted steadily increased capabilities of silicon electronics over the past 50 years, allowing consequent size reductions that have ushered today’s electronics nanorevolution. Everything is nanoscale today—any news feeds reporting the latest scientific advances will include non-nano amounts of the nano prefix.
Nanomedicine is one big way (pun intended) in which nanotechnology may change our lives. Imagine biocompatible nanoelectronics that can be implanted in your body to monitor the presence or changing levels of biomolecules as they happen. Biosensors like these could change our everyday lives—for example, by monitoring and helping to regulate blood sugar levels of a diabetic, detecting preneoplastic biomarkers in cancer-predisposed individuals, or monitoring blood oxygenation levels in performance athletes, to name a very few.
Silicon nanowire nanoelectronics are promising for a wide host of biomedical sensing applications because of their biocompatibility, but problems with extended stability in physiological environments are a speedbump for long-term applications. Now a group from Harvard University has engineered a new approach by encasing silicon nanowires in alumina shells. Their results, published in Nano Letters, show considerable improvements in nanowire stability in preliminary long-term exposure to physiological environments.
“One of the main goals of this work is to allow us to exploit unique spatial-temporal resolution characteristics of nanowire devices for chronic/long-term in vivo studies, which will be very promising for many biomedical and health care applications,” lead authors Wei Zhou and Xiaochuan Dai said in an email. Zhou is a post-doc and Dai is a graduate student in Charles Lieber’s lab.
Using atomic layer deposition, the scientists layered silicon nanowires with 10 nm-thick alumina shells (pictured above) and then tested whether the shells could protect the wires in buffered solutions, including both phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) and cell culture media to mimic the isotonicity and composition of fluids the wires would encounter in the human body.
While naked silicon nanowires exhibit dissolution after just 10 days in body-temperature PBS, adding a 10 nm alumina shell extended nanowire life more than ten times—shelled nanowires showed little dissolution after 100 days. The team saw similar results when the PBS was exchanged for cell culture media, suggesting such longevity may also be achieved in the body.
The researchers went on to test the shelled nanowires’ applicability in field-effect transistors (modeled below), showing the devices had vastly improved stability in warm PBS for at least 4 months.
Schematic model of a alumina-encased silicon nanowire (NW) field-effect transistor. Credit: Lieber lab; Harvard.
Alumina shells could similarly extend the lives of non-silicon wires, and the authors further speculate that improving and optimizing the alumina shells may further extend nanowire life.
The next step is to see how well the shells hold up within an intact biological system. “We have already started to work on chronic in vivo electrophysiological studies in rodents using these newly developed core-shell nanowire devices that have improved chemical stability,” Zhou and Dai said in the email. While we’ll have to wait for their results, the future of biomedical nanoelectronics looks promising.
One of the benefits of nanoelectronic devices is the ability to measure biomolecules in real time. For the most part, current medical care is limited to waiting for a problem to occur, after symptoms have developed—and often, after damage has already been done. Once symptoms present, a health care professional has to work backwards to try to determine the underlying problem. Nanoelectronics could reverse that process, by instead detecting the presence or levels of biomolecules in real time and preventing a disturbance in the first place. Not only would this improve individual health, but it would also help reduce staggering healthcare costs.
Published on February 28th, 2014 | Edited By: April Gocha, PhD
You know that shiny iridescent layer on the inside of some seashells? Did you ever wonder why it was there, other than to decorate the home of the mollusk that once called the shell home?
Scanning electron micrograph of nacre nanobricks. Credit: F. Heinemann; Wikimedia Creative Commons License.
Turns out that pretty layer is called nacre, and it’s what makes seashells strong and durable. Nacre’s “work of fracture is 3,000 times greater than that of pure ceramic,” mostly because of its ingenious structure. It’s composed of a form of calcium carbonate called aragonite that is arranged in repetitive nanoscale bricks, like a tiny mason was commissioned to build each mollusk’s seashell home, nanobrick by nanobrick (see image to the right). Those bricks provide structure and stability, and they are separated by layers of elastic biopolymer that give the nacre flexibility and durability.
The real secret behind the strength of nacre’s microstructure is its weaknesses. In nature, brittle materials that are nonetheless tough—including nacre and teeth—have stiff architectural building blocks with weak interfaces. The authors write in the paper, “The ability to guide and deflect cracks is fundamental to the performance of these materials, and it is only possible if the interfaces are weaker than the building blocks themselves.”
Nacre has inspired before. But previous attempts to built nacre-inspired materials from tiny building blocks have proven difficult. As senior author of the new study and McGill mechanical engineering professor François Barthelat said in the press release, “Imagine trying to build a Lego wall with microscopic building blocks. It’s not the easiest thing in the world.”
So instead of working from the bottom-up, the scientists built structures from the top-down: They mimicked those building blocks by introducing tiny prescribed cracks into an intact material. For the proof of principle, the authors looked to amorphous glass, “the archetype of a brittle material,” and used 3D laser engraving with a UV laser to inscribe controlled microcracks (i.e., structure) in borosilicate glass slides.
By creating straight microcracks in the glass, the scientists could guide how the glass cracked under stress. They then engineered microcrack designs that would prevent crack propagation by making it more difficult for the glass to break. Instead of straight microcracks, they created sets of squiggly lines that increased the strength of the glass 100 times over that of intact glass. They went even further to increase the strength another two-fold—200 times stronger than intact glass—by infiltrating the glass with polyurethane for cohesive strength during bending.
Undulating microcracks can strengthen glass, similarly to how nacre’s microstructure strengthens seashells. Credit: McGill U.
Although inducing microcrack weaknesses in glass may seem counterintuitive to an effort to strengthen the material, the microcracks allow the glass to deform, preventing propagation of the cracks until a point of failure. As the authors describe in the paper, “The ability of stabilizing cracks is essential for damage and flaw tolerance, reliability and durability.” And although the scientists generated millimeter-sized features in the study, they also discuss the possible use of femtosecond lasers to generate micrometer and nanometer-sized features to tune materials to a desired strength and durability, depending on the application.
“What we know now is that we can toughen glass, or other materials, by using patterns of micro-cracks to guide larger cracks, and in the process absorb the energy from an impact,” Barthelat said in the press release. “We chose to work with glass because we wanted to work with the archetypal brittle material. But we plan to go on to work with ceramics and polymers in future. Observing the natural world can clearly lead to improved man-made designs.”
Barthelat confirmed in an email that his team is “currently experimenting with ceramics,” but we’ll have to wait for those results to learn more. I’ll keep you posted!
CoorsTek, Inc., announced the opening of a new plant in the Coors Technology Center in Golden, Colorado producing premium lightweight ceramic proppants. The new plant uses state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment and has received all regulatory approvals including air permits. Proppants are sand-sized solid materials used to keep induced hydraulic fractures open allowing oil and gas to flow. Many low-performance offerings are treated sand while high-performance options are made from ceramics. CoorsTek CeraProp ceramic proppants exhibit one of the highest crush strengths in the lightweight ceramic proppant market. Initially, CoorsTek offers lightweight proppants in 16-30, 20-40, 30-50 and 40-70 mesh sizes and custom-developed, customer-specific proppants.
PPG Industries’ flat glass business has received $312,000 from the US Department of Energy to develop a dynamically responsive infrared window coating that will block heat in the summer to reduce air-conditioning costs and transmit solar heat in the winter to reduce heating costs. The funding is part of an award of up to $750,000 being shared with project leader Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. PPG and PNNL are designing a coating that can “switch” from a solar IR-reflecting state to a solar IR-transmitting state while maintaining high levels of daylight transmittance in either condition. The development of such a coating would represent a major advance compared to current thermochromic window technology, which involves coatings that darken and block visible light when exposed to high volumes of IR energy, and existing electrochromic window technology, which relies on external power sources such as electricity to balance tinting and light transmittance.
Acacia Research Corporation announced that an Acacia subsidiary has partnered with a leading research institute to monetize the institute’s patents relating to ceramics and associated manufacturing processes for medical devices. The research institute will share in the royalties Acacia generates from licensing the patents. “Acacia continues to increase the number of leading patent portfolios in the medical device and life sciences space,” commented Matt Vella, CEO. “Ceramics are utilized in a wide range of medical devices, including orthopedic, dental and ultrasound applications.”
(Crain’s Cleveland Business) GrafTech International Ltd., which faces the prospect of a proxy fight for control of its board of directors, has reported losses for the fourth quarter and full year compared with year-earlier profits in both periods. The Ohio-based producer of graphite electrodes and other carbon-based products said its net loss in the fourth quarter totaled $28 million, or 21 cents per diluted share. In the fourth quarter of 2012, GrafTech earned $29 million, or 21 cents a share. Sales in the quarter fell 17%, to $309 million from $371 million. For all of 2013, GrafTech lost $27 million, or 20 cents a share, a big decline from earnings of $118 million, or 84 cents a share, in all of 2012. Sales declined 7%, to $1.17 billion from $1.25 billion.
Stratasys Ltd. announced the availability of VeroGlaze (MED620) dental material for use with its Objet EdenV and OrthoDesk 3D printers, which print ultrafine 16 micron layers for exceptional detail and surface finish. VeroGlaze enables the 3D printing of dental models with precise A2 teeth color shade to efficiently produce natural looking dental models with fine details and resolution. The new dental material for digital dentistry can be used in conjunction with all open intra-oral, impression and plaster scanners and is optimized for 3D printing models for crowns, bridge restorations, diagnostic wax-ups, and try-in veneers. Designed especially for use in dental and orthodontic solutions, these materials combine accurate detail visualization with high dimensional stability.
The National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining announced that after a competitive solicitation process it has selected ATK’s Aerospace Structures division, based in Clearfield, Utah, as its partner for phase 2 of a project for the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. NCDMM was awarded the effort to oversee the development of a system to automate an inspection method to detect defects in components for aircraft produced by automated fiber placement. The automated inspection system project is part of a 2012 Defense-Wide Manufacturing Science and Technology program awarded to NCDMM through the AFRL at Wright-Patterson AFB. For phase one of the project, NCDMM has been working with Ingersoll Machine Tools, Inc., based in Rockford, Ill., in the development of an on-tool inspection system for AFP.
(The Buffalo News) Surmet’s products are made of transparent ceramics, which starts out as synthesized powder produced in a nondescript plant at the rear of a North Buffalo plaza. Suri A. Sastri, the founder, chairman and CEO of Massachusetts-based Surmet, says he is determined to make the Hertel Avenue facility a busier and more successful place for manufacturing the company’s products. “The facility is good. It has tremendous potential. As we grow here, we’ll be able to hire more people and do more stuff. It’s an ideal place for specialty manufacturing.” That is the same message economic development officials are trying to spread about advanced manufacturing in the Buffalo Niagara region. They hope to capitalize on the region’s industrial heritage by cultivating more high-tech production.
You surely know that ninjas rock, but ninja rocks are ceramic shards from broken spark plugs. Because they’re readily available, easy to carry and conceal, and break glass quietly (like a ninja!), ninja rocks have become a weapon of choice in “smash and grab” car burglaries.
The hard alumina fragments of broken spark plugs are great at breaking tempered glass (think car windows, but not windshields—those are laminated safety glass). The ninja rocks work better than chunks of brick—the usual readily available “resource” for the bad guys. The reason is that the small, sharp, and hard alumina fragments induce scratches that pierce through the residual stresses. Once the crack gets started, it propagates quickly, following the unavoidable rules of fracture mechanics (pdf). Watch the one-minute video above to see how ninja rocks compare to a brick when up against a car window.
Published on February 27th, 2014 | Edited By: Jessica McMathis
The Obama Administration announced this week the creation of two new manufacturing innovation institutes to advance US manufacturing, strengthen national security, and create high-quality jobs. Credit: Nicole Yeary on Flickr (Creative Commons License).
Manufacturing production is up, and US manufacturers are adding jobs (some 622,000 since early 2010)—but a recent $280-million investment in two new innovation institutes cements a renewed commitment to advanced manufacturing in the States.
The Obama Administration announced this week the creation of manufacturing innovation institutes, headquartered in Detroit and Chicago, that will bring the public and private sectors together to advance US manufacturing, strengthen national security, and create high-quality jobs.
The winning Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing Innovation – or LM3I – Institute team, headquartered in the Detroit area and led by EWI, brings together a 60-member consortium that pairs the world’s leading aluminum, titanium, and high strength steel manufacturers with universities and laboratories pioneering new technology development and research. The long-term goal of the LM3I Institute will be to expand the market for and create new consumers of products and systems that utilize new, lightweight, high‑performing metals and alloys by removing technological barriers to their manufacture. The Institute will achieve this through leadership in pre-competitive advanced research and partnerships across defense, aerospace, automotive, energy, and consumer products industries.
Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation
The winning Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation – or DMDI – Institute team, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois and led by UI Labs, spearheads a consortium of 73 companies, universities, nonprofits, and research labs – creating a novel partnership between world-leading manufacturing experts and cutting-edge software companies to enable interoperability across the supply chain, develop enhanced digital capabilities to design and test new products, and reduce costs in manufacturing processes across multiple industries.
(With the DMDI, it looks like Chicago is well on its way to becoming an established center of research. Just last year, it was announced that the Windy City would receive up to $120 million over five years to build a new Batteries and Energy Storage Hub led by Argonne National Laboratory.)
In heralding the creation of the two hubs, the President also announced a competition to provide $70 million for a Department of Energy-sponsored manufacturing institute devoted to advanced composites and the development of “low-cost, high-speed, and energy-efficient manufacturing and recycling processes.” The administration plans to launch a total of four institutes in 2014.
Whether coincidental or kismet, Obama’s announcement comes at a time when innovation is top of mind for manufacturing and ACerS members alike.
If you’re a ‘C’-level exec, senior manager, or young professional on the path to management from the ceramics, glass, or greater manufacturing communities, you’ll want to be sure to secure your seat soon (early bird registration ends March 7!).
For the full slate of speakers and schedule of events, click here.