Materials & Innovations

Video: Battery-free computing restores retro gaming device

By Lisa McDonald / September 16, 2020

When restoring old technology, sometimes substituting modern alternatives for original parts can improve the classic design. Researchers at Northwestern University and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands created a clone of the 8-bit Nintendo Game Boy using an energy-aware gaming platform.

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A hu‘gel’y promising method: Support bath simplifies additive manufacturing of polymer-derived ceramics

By Lisa McDonald / September 15, 2020

Polymer-derived ceramic structures are difficult to manufacture using additive manufacturing processes because of low viscosity of the polymer state. Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas successfully demonstrated the use of gel-like viscoplastic fluid to support preceramic polymers during the printing process.

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Engineered to perfection: The science of chocolate and designing a better chocolate chip

By April Gocha / September 4, 2020

Although chocolate is a simple pleasure for many people around the world, the science behind chocolate as a food and as a material is deliciously complex. Now an industrial designer has re-engineered the chocolate chip to maximize taste and texture, giving it optimal surface area with angular features.

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Video: Brew coffee sustainably using ceramic and glass filters

By Lisa McDonald / September 2, 2020

Coffee is one of the most consumed beverages in the world, yet the environmental impacts of the drink can be significant. Metal and cloth are the main alternatives to paper for creating reusable filters—could ceramic and glass materials play a role in sustainability as well?

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Bio-inspired ceramic–metal composite stands its ground against cutting tools

By April Gocha / September 1, 2020

A team of researchers in the U.K. and Germany developed a ceramic–metal composite that, despite being just 15% as dense as steel, is nearly uncuttable. The material harnesses the power of vibration to direct cutting tools’ destructive energy back upon themselves, wearing the tools down before they can inflict serious damage on the material.

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Video: Tracking the moon with laser beams

By Lisa McDonald / August 19, 2020

For more than 50 years, the Apollo-era Laser Ranging Retroreflector experiment helped scientists track the moon’s orbit and distance from Earth. The efficiency of the moon-based reflectors decreased over time, though, so NASA scientists looked to reflect light from a spacecraft-based reflector instead—a feat they recently achieved for the first time.

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A real power brick—polymer-coated bricks store energy

By Lisa McDonald / August 14, 2020

Construction and refractory applications are main uses of bricks, but unusual applications show up in academic journals as well. In a recent paper, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis explain how they made ordinary bricks capable of storing energy like a battery.

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Video: I “Spot” a new application—novel uses of robots during the COVID-19 pandemic

By Lisa McDonald / August 5, 2020

When Boston Dynamics premiered their dog-like robot Spot in September 2019, they imagined the robot being used in hazardous environments, such as construction and electric utility. Now in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Spot has stepped into some unusual roles that previously were not considered primary applications.

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Video: Forever eliminate ‘forever’ chemicals—boron nitride destroys PFOA, GenX

By Lisa McDonald / July 15, 2020

PFAS chemicals are notoriously difficult to destroy, giving them the moniker “forever” chemicals. But researchers at Rice University were recently surprised to discover that boron nitride serves as an efficient photocatalyst for degrading PFAS chemicals.

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Isolating a better option—ceramic Faraday rotators improve optical isolator performance

By Lisa McDonald / July 14, 2020

Optical isolators traditionally use single crystals to polarize light—could transparent ceramics be used instead? Researchers in Japan created high-performing transparent ceramics using lanthanide rare-earth oxides, materials previously believed to not be suited for optical applications.

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