Published on February 26th, 2014 | Edited By: Jessica McMathis
Two new nuclear reactors—the first to be built in 30 years—will be constructed at the Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant in Georgia, pictured above. Credit: NRC; Wikimedia Creative Commons License.
Thanks to a multibillion-dollar investment from the federal government, the outlook for US nuclear energy development is positively peachy.
According to a Department of Energy (DOE) press release, two new nuclear power facilities—the first to be built in three decades—will be constructed at the Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant in Georgia, where two nuclear reactor units already reside.
In announcing the backing of $6.5 billion in loan guarantees to Oglethorpe Power and Southern Company, US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said, “The construction of new nuclear power facilities like this one—which will provide carbon-free electricity to well over a million American energy consumers—is not only a major milestone in the Administration’s commitment to jumpstart the U.S. nuclear power industry, it is also an important part of our all-of-the-above approach to American energy as we move toward a low-carbon energy future.”
An additional $1.8 billion loan guarantee offered in 2010 to project co-owner Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG) remains outstanding.
The DOE projects that construction of the plant’s two 1,100-megawatt Westinghouse AP1000 advanced nuclear reactors, which are expected to provide power to 1.5 million American homes, is likely to create 3,500 jobs and an additional 800 permanent jobs once complete.
Though four of its 100 reactors closed in 2013, the United States remains the world leader in the supply of commercial nuclear power.
Feature image credit: C.C. Watson Jr; Wikimedia Creative Commons License.
Published on February 25th, 2014 | Edited By: Eileen De Guire
ACerS staffer Greg Geiger explains how ceramics are used for bone repair to some visitors to Westerville Science Night last Thursday. Credit: ACerS.
Megan Bricker, Tricia Freshour, and Greg Geiger from the ACerS staff introduced elementary students from our headquarter’s town to ceramics. Megan brought back this report.
Cherrington Elementary School (Westerville, Ohio) hosted a Westerville Science Night, on Thursday, February 20th. This was a K-12 program where Cherringtom Elementary invited Westerville School students, parents and teachers out for a night of science. ACerS staff Megan Bricker, Greg Geiger, and Tricia Freshour showcased ceramic and glass items and fielded questions from participants. ACerS was among 10 other organizations talking about the importance of science in our society today. Other organizations included NASA, Dawes Arboretum, Scott Courts and Battelle for kids, just to name a few. The Ceramics room was a favorite among students and parents! Participants learned about the importance of ceramics in our world today, and they got to handle cool ceramic items such as a space tile, ceramic armor, and ceramic bones (see the featured image above). They also got to see a multitude of other engineered ceramics, such as, ball bearings, a turbine, and electric automobile oxygen sensors. Participants were invited to try out a ceramic putter and go for a hole in one.
Students, parents, and teachers were fascinated by all the things that we use ceramics for today. A couple parents even remembered touring the The American Ceramic Society when they were kids as part of a science field trip and said that it really opened their eyes to the world of ceramics. Teachers and parents had the opportunity to look at the ACerS PCSA materials science kits and took information away about the kits so that they could continue the materials science discussions with students.
Checking out the ceramic body armor. Credit: ACerS.
These boys watch closely to see whether the ceramic putter improves Dad’s putting game. Credit: ACerS.
Published on February 25th, 2014 | Edited By: P. Carlo Ratto
- Ardagh Glass expects to receive bids for its Budweiser beer bottle-making unit this week in a deal that would allay antitrust concerns about the group’s proposed expansion in the US. Ardagh has been working with Citigroup to sell the majority of its US bottle-to-jam jar division, Anchor Glass, which it bought for $892 million in 2012. The process, which has attracted interest from private equity and strategic suitors, is at an early stage and may not result in a deal. A value for Anchor’s six factories could not be ascertained. The division had earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation of $103 million in the 12 months to September.
- Saint-Gobain Group announced the appointment of Jean-Pierre Floris, senior vice president, to president, packaging sector and chairman and CEO of Verallia. He will also oversee the Innovative Materials Sector.
- The Mordovcement group of companies plans to build of a float glass plant in the Republic of Mordovia, in Russia in 2014. According to the regional government the plant will cost RUS 8.5 billion ($241.2 million) and its capacity will be 250 million square meters of glass per year. Mordovcement is one of Russia’s largest cement producers in Russia and was founded in 1975.
- Mineral sands miner Iluka’s full-year profit for 2013 dropped to A$18-million from A$363.2-million at the end of 2012. The company told shareholders that it had written down A$28-million in assets during the year, while rehabilitation provisions increased to A$13 million.
- According to statistics released by China Iron and Steel Association, 27 blast furnaces were put into production in China in 2013—22 new blast furnaces and five blast furnaces that underwent overhaul and technology upgrading.
Published on February 25th, 2014 | Edited By: Eileen De Guire
Using holograms to improve electronic devices
A team of researchers from the University of California, Riverside Bourns College of Engineering and Russian Academy of Science have demonstrated a new type of holographic memory device that could provide unprecedented data storage capacity and data processing capabilities in electronic devices. The new type of memory device uses spin waves – a collective oscillation of spins in magnetic materials – instead of the optical beams. Spin waves are advantageous because spin wave devices are compatible with the conventional electronic devices and may operate at a much shorter wavelength than optical devices, allowing for smaller electronic devices that have greater storage capacity. Experimental results obtained by the team show it is feasible to apply holographic techniques developed in optics to magnetic structures to create a magnonic holographic memory device. The research combines the advantages of the magnetic data storage with the wave-based information transfer.
Webinar: AFM Imaging and Nanomechanics with blueDrive Photothermal Excitation
Asylum Research announced that Aleks Labuda will present a webinar on March 20th, 2014. The topic will be ‘AFM Imaging and Nanomechanics with blueDrive Photothermal Excitation.’ Two webinar sessions will be conducted and will include a question and answer period afterwards. The webinar will discuss the benefits and challenges of tapping mode, cantilever response and piezo drive theory, the advantages of using blueDrive for cantilever excitation, implementation, and real-world examples for materials and life science applications. The webinar is ideal for all current AFM users, both novice and advanced, and those wanting to learn the physics and science behind this new technique.
Single chip device to provide real-time 3-D images from inside the heart and blood vessels
Georgia Tech researchers have developed the technology for a catheter-based device that would provide forward-looking, real-time, three-dimensional imaging from inside the heart, coronary arteries and peripheral blood vessels. With its volumetric imaging, the new device could better guide surgeons working in the heart, and potentially allow more of patients’ clogged arteries to be cleared without major surgery. The device integrates ultrasound transducers with processing electronics on a single 1.4 millimeter silicon chip. On-chip processing of signals allows data from more than a hundred elements on the device to be transmitted using just 13 tiny cables, permitting it to easily travel through circuitous blood vessels. The forward-looking images produced by the device would provide significantly more information than existing cross-sectional ultrasound.
How Khan Academy is using design to pave the way for the future of education
(Gigaom.com) Since its founding in 2008 by former hedge fund analyst Salman Khan—who was making math videos in his spare time to tutor his cousins—Khan Academy has emerged as a new way to learn; one that is self paced, approachable, conversational and tries to help students master individual subjects before moving onto the next. While millions of users access the site and watch its content, 30,000 classrooms also use the videos for in-school teaching and teachers (they call them coaches) can also use the software to track student progress. All of these moving parts are tied together by an understated design ethos that highlights simplicity, puts the content first, and tries remove frustration and friction from learning.
Nanoscale pillars could radically improve conversion of heat to electricity
University of Colorado Boulder scientists have found a creative way to radically improve thermoelectric materials, a finding that could one day lead to the development of improved solar panels, more energy-efficient cooling equipment, and even the creation of new devices that could turn the vast amounts of heat wasted at power plants into more electricity. The technique—building an array of tiny pillars on top of a sheet of thermoelectric material—represents an entirely new way of attacking a century-old problem, said Mahmoud Hussein, an assistant professor of aerospace engineering sciences who pioneered the discovery.
Published on February 25th, 2014 | Edited By: April Gocha, PhD
Factory-installed cabin air filters allow ultrafine particles to enter through the vents in your vehicle, but a new HECA filter improves the air. Credit: Image adapted from Zuzu; Wikimedia Creative Commons License.
The next time you can’t decide what to order while sitting in the drive-thru at Wendy’s, consider blaming your air filter.
A vehicle’s cabin air filter is designed to filter out harmful small particulates, namely dangerous ultrafine particles (UFPs), but it isn’t very efficient—most OEM filters only block about 50% of particulates. Vehicle emissions are a primary source of urban UFPs, which are consistently elevated around urban highways, so that means you’re breathing in a lot of those particulates each time you ride in your vehicle. And though switching your air vent to recirculation mode can block the entry of around 90% of UFPs, doing so quickly runs up dangerous carbon dioxide levels—which inhibit decision-making. You just can’t win.
Take a deep breath—a couple of scientists at UCLA have devised a solution. “To address this challenge, (the authors) Zhu and Lee decided to develop a method that would simultaneously reduce UFPs inside cars, while also allowing carbon dioxide to escape,” states a press release from the American Chemical Society.
The duo developed a high-efficiency cabin air (HECA) filter that can reduce cabin UFP levels by an average of 93%. Breathe that in. Published in Environmental Science and Technology, the study describes the design of a dual-layered filter composed of upstream synthetic fibers and downstream glass fibers, in comparison to the standard single-layer of OEM filters. The scientists also decreased the diameter of the fibers to increase particulate-nabbing surface area.
Zhu and Lee then put the filter to work, testing it out in 12 different vehicles under stationary, local road, and highway conditions, using condensation particle counters to measure particulate levels inside and outside the vehicles.
The tests showed great results across the board, with the HECA filter able to significantly reduce cabin particulate levels and prevent buildup of carbon dioxide. As the authors conclude in the paper, “Overall, the developed HECA filters achieved 2−3 times greater reduction than the in-use OEM filters.”
UFPs, which are defined as being less than 100 nm in diameter, pose a significant health risk because their small size allows them to easily enter the respiratory system. There, within the aveoli of your lungs, the particles’ small size further allows them to diffuse or transport across cell membranes, entering the intracellular space and gaining access to important cellular stuff, like DNA. Once on the inside, UFPs might induce or catalyze of wide range of cellular changes, including inflammation, oxidative stress, and epigenetic modifications.
UFPs are generated from a variety of sources, which include both natural (think volcanic eruptions and sea spray) and manmade (combustion reactions and friction) processes, but vehicle emissions constitute a large proportion of urban UFPs. Considering the estimated 38 hours per year the average American spends stuck in traffic, reducing vehicular exposure to UFPs could provide great health benefits.
The paper is “Application of a High-Efficiency Cabin Air Filter for Simultaneous Mitigation of Ultrafine Particle and Carbon Dioxide Exposures Inside Passenger Vehicles” (DOI: 10.1021/es404952q).
Feature image credit: Image adapted from Lazy Lightning; Wikimedia Creative Commons License.
Credit: Zuzu; Wikimedia
Honda Credit: Lazy Lightning; Wikimedia
Published on February 25th, 2014 | Edited By: Jessica McMathis
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed a device that could be key to creating self-powered electronics. Credit: Xudong Wang, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
A cellphone battery without juice and no electrical cord in sight—the ultimate “first-world problem,” right?
Perhaps, but a group of scientists may nonetheless have a solution. The team, led by senior author Xudong Wang at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has devised a nanogenerator to power your smartphone battery even when you’re away from your charger.
“We believe this development could be a new solution for creating self-charged personal electronics,” Wang, professor of materials science and engineering, said in the press release.
The mesoporous piezoelectric nanogenerator developed by Wang, along with his Ph.D. student Yanchao Mao and a team from Sun Yat-sen University (China) and the University of Minnesota Duluth, harvests and converts vibration energy from a surface, such as the passenger seat of your car, to power for your iPhone. Wang wrote about piezotronic materials—semiconductors with piezoelectric properties—int he August 2013 issue of the ACerS Bulletin.
According to the press release, “Rather than relying on a strain or an electrical field, the researchers incorporated zinc oxide nanoparticles into a PVDF thin film to trigger formation of the piezoelectric phase that enables it to harvest vibration energy. Then, they etched the nanoparticles off the film; the resulting interconnected pores—called ‘mesopores’ because of their size—cause the otherwise stiff material to behave somewhat like a sponge.”
That sponginess is cardinal, the researchers say, to harnessing vibration energy to power your device.
They were able to apply the soft, flexible, mesoporous polymer film seamlessly to flat, rough, or curvy surfaces, including some of the flattest, roughest, and curviest surfaces known to man—human skin. When applied to a cell phone, however, the film “uses the phone’s own weight to enhance its displacement and amplify its electrical output,” states the press release.
The release also indicates that if the nanogenerator were to be incorporated in an electronic device, it could cull enough energy to power the device on its own. Additionally, because of the simplicity of the device’s design and manufacture, Wang predicts potential applications on a much larger scale.
“We can create tunable mechanical properties in the film,” he said in the release. “And also important is the design of the device. Because we can realize this structure, phone-powering cases or self-powered sensor systems might become possible.”
For a bit of related reading, check out this piezoelectric generator that puts the “power” in power suit.
Feature Image Credit: Xudong Wang, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Published on February 24th, 2014 | Edited By: April Gocha, PhD
French scientists have devised an adhesive from silica nanoparticles that can glue together gel-like materials and resist deformation. Credit: © CNRS Photothèque/ESPCI/MMC – GRACIA Marie.
Polymers make great adhesives, but they just can’t stick it when it comes to gluing together gel-like materials.
French researchers at ESPCI ParisTech and CNRS may have devised a superior adhesive—silica nanoparticles. The researchers recently reported in Nature a simple and inexpensive method of using commercial silica nanoparticles as an adhesive for gels and even biological tissues.
The scientists simply applied a solution containing silica nanoparticles to the surface of poly(dimethylacrylamide) (PDMA) gel, and briefly pressed another piece of PDMA on top—voilà, adhesion!
The glued PDMA could withstand significant deformation without breakage, and the nanoparticle glue was water-resistant and self-repairing. With hopes of biological applications, they showed that it was also possible to glue together two cut pieces of calf liver tissue (pictured below).
French scientists also used silica nanoparticles to glue together calf liver tissue pieces. Credit: © CNRS Photothèque/ESPCI/MMC – KAUFFMANN Mathieu.
The trick, the authors found, was to match the size of the nanoparticles to the gel network mesh size. The polymer chains within the gel pieces adsorb on the surfaces of the nanoparticles, providing a strong bond between two cut pieces. Because so many chains adsorb onto the nanoparticle surface, the material can support deformation through energy dissipation, rather than chain breakage, when the pieces are stretched apart.
Because the size of the nanoparticles and their interaction with the gel network influence adhesion, silica nanoparticles could be tuned to specific applications and materials just by adjusting the particle size and surface chemistry.
The French team’s findings pave new avenues for adhesives. As stated in the press release, “This discovery opens up new applications and areas of research, particularly in the medical and veterinary fields and especially in surgery and regenerative medicine. It may, for example, be possible to use this method to glue together skin or organs having undergone an incision or a deep lesion. This method could moreover be of interest to the food processing and cosmetics industries, as well as to manufacturers of prostheses and medical devices (bandages, patches, hydrogels, etc.).”
The paper is “Nanoparticle solutions as adhesives for gels and biological tissues” (DOI: 10.1038/nature12806).
Also check out the News & Views article on the paper in the latest issue of Nature Materials.
Feature image credit: © CNRS Photothèque/ESPCI/MMC – MARCELLAN Alba.
Published on February 24th, 2014 | Edited By: Jessica McMathis
Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed a new coating the helps solve soiling problems for solar panels. Credit: ORNL.
Pesky particles are no match for the power of a new “self-cleaning” coating for solar cells.
If left to their own devices, the dust and sand that tends to settle on (or soil) the mirror or photovoltaic surfaces of solar reflectors can reduce reflectivity by up to 50 percent in two weeks. But these sun-blocking contaminates are no longer a problem, thanks to a “low-cost superhydrophobic” coating developed by researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).
According to the ORNL website, the lab is producing a more energy- and cost-efficient coating that repels water, viscous liquids, and most solid particles, including the silica, sand, and dust pictured above. Current manual methods use detergents and deionized water to clean solar-cell surfaces, but the new coating lets Mother Nature, by way of wind and rain, do the work.
Unlike other solutions to the soiling problem, ORNL’s coatings—no more than a few hundred nanometers thick—are achieved with typical painting and spraying methods that mix organics and particles. They’re also relatively low-cost, making the superhydrophobic coating all the more super.
The development by ORNL’s Energy and Transportation Science Division, which includes Scott Hunter, Bart Smith, George Polyzos, and Daniel Schaeffer, is sponsored by the Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy SunShot Concentrating Solar Power Program (say that three times fast).
Further exposure and field testing (including utilizing the team’s “superhydrophobicity expertise to develop anti-soiling cool roof coatings, as well as anti-icing and anti-condensation coatings for air conditioning and evaporative cooling applications”) should begin in 2014—so stay tuned for future developments.
Feature Image Credit: ORNL
Published on February 20th, 2014 | Edited By: April Gocha, PhD
I reported on Monday about some really impressive advances for the synthesis of graphene nanoribbons that allow electrons to reach ballistic transport. But when it comes to graphene, there’s so much more than electron conduction—graphene has recently made an appearance in a dizzying array of research fields. What follows is a sampling of graphene’s other talents.
A report in Science last week detailed the use of graphene oxide membranes for molecular sieves. The University of Manchester scientists synthesized thin laminates of stacked hydrophobic graphene oxide layers that, when immersed in water, allow rapid permeation of water molecules and small ions (<0.45 nm) through nanocapillaries that form on the film surface. The membrane blocks larger solutes from passing through.
Rahul Nair holds a thin graphene membrane that functions as an efficient molecular sieve. Credit: University of Manchester.
“The water filtration is as fast and as precise as one could possibly hope for such narrow capillaries,” Rahul Nair (pictured left), senior author of the study, said in a press release. “Now we want to control the graphene mesh size and reduce it below 9 Å to filter out even the smallest salts like in seawater. Our work shows that it is possible.”
The team is now working with a few companies to explore possible uses of graphene oxide membranes in molecular separation, water filtration, and barrier coating for packaging applications, Nair said in an email. The paper is “Precise and Ultrafast Molecular Sieving Through Graphene Oxide Membranes” (DOI: 10.1126/science.1245711).
Another report in Nature Communications details a process that “systematically converts the hexagonal carbon lattice of graphene to boron nitride, making it possible to produce uniform boron nitride and boron carbonitride structures without disrupting the structural integrity of the original grapheme templates,” according to the paper’s abstract. Fabrication of thin integrated circuits is the potential application. The easy transition would allow circuits to be built from graphene, boron nitride, and boron carbonitride, allowing fine-tuning for conductor, semiconductor, and insulator properties within thin integrated circuits. That paper is “Direct Chemical Conversion of Graphene to Boron- and Nitrogen- and Carbon-Containing Atomic Layers” (DOI: 10.1038/ncomms4193).
And digressing from our planetary material desires, graphene is also popping up in astronomy as a means to understand the origins of life. Like I said, graphene is big—now, it’s graduated to origins of life big.
Again in Nature Communications, this recent report highlights how graphene can form on the surface of silicon carbide (SiC) in conditions mimicking those of space. Graphene falls into the group of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are incredibly prevalent in interstellar space, and may be able to explain how organic molecules first appeared. The paper is “Graphene Etching on SiC Grains as a Path to Interstellar Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons Formation” (DOI: 10.1038/ncomms4054).
I wonder if graphene would be next to appear on the TV show PitchMen? But wait, there’s more!…
Another Nature Communications report published this week describes the potential use of graphene films on the surface of biomedical implants to prevent blood clots, which are prone to occur at the interface between an implanted biomedical device and blood. The authors exploited graphene’s surface properties, particularly its vast surface area and biocompatibility, to make graphene support substrates for hemin and glucose oxidase. Both are catalysts for a sequence of reactions that eventually generate nitric oxide, a known antiplatelet agent.
While previous approaches to harness the power of nitric oxide have focused on exogenous applications, this novel approach is more efficient because the enzymes can be used to catalyze endogenous generation of nitric oxide within the patient, at the site where the molecules are needed most. The paper is “Integration of Molecular and Enzymatic Catalysts on Graphene for Biomimetic Generation of Antithrombotic Species” (DOI: 10.1038/ncomms4200).
And finally, a report published last Friday in Physical Review X detailed the generation of nanometer-thick sheets of semiconductor crystals arranged in the familiar honeycomb structure—faux graphene. According to a press release from University of Luxembourg, one of the collaborating institutions on the project, this advance may “cause a technological revolution,” by vastly improving the size, weight, and performance of electronic and optical devices, “including higher performance photovoltaic cells, lasers, or LED lighting.”
Published on February 20th, 2014 | Edited By: April Gocha, PhD
It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for: The March issue of the ACerS Bulletin is up online and should soon find a happy home in the mailboxes of members and subscribers, too.
In the cover story, Thorsten Brandau, et al, from Brace GmbH (Germany) details driving theories and advances in drip-casting of microspheres that may help provide solutions to today’s energy problems. Advanced microspheres are particularly promising for solar and nuclear energy-—open the issue to read how different methods of fabricating silicon microspheres could lead to flexible and inexpensive solar cells. Microspheres also have potential as proppants for natural gas recovery (as we read last month (pdf), too).
Susan Sinnott and Blas Pedro Uberuaga discuss microstructure considerations that are necessary for improving the longevity of ceramic nuclear fuel pellets. They delve into the generation of fission products and how they affect ceramic fuel pellets, using atomistic simulations, to understand requirements for the design of longer-lasting nuclear fuels.
And don’t miss Charles Semler’s discussion of the importance of refractories in today’s world, despite their relative obscurity to the rest of the world. Refractories are the backbone of industry–read his detailed examination of trends and considerations for moving refractories forward, including the need for research programs to train tomorrow’s refractory engineers.
ACerS also bids Pat Janeway a happy retirement, and be sure to read about hot science from Florida from recaps of last month’s EMA 2014 and 38th ICACC meetings.
Don’t forget, past issues of the ACerS Bulletin are free to members—considering joining today!