If future generations were to live and work on the moon or on a distant asteroid, they would probably want a broadband connection to communicate with home bases back on Earth. They may even want to watch their favorite Earth-based TV show. That may now be possible thanks to a team of researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology who, working with NASA last fall, demonstrated for the first time that a data communication technology exists that can provide space dwellers with the connectivity we all enjoy here on Earth, enabling large data transfers and even high-definition video streaming.
Researchers around the world are trying to develop solar-driven generators that can split water, yielding hydrogen gas that could be used as clean fuel. Such a device requires efficient light-absorbing materials that attract and hold sunlight to drive the chemical reactions involved in water splitting. Semiconductors like silicon and gallium arsenide are excellent light absorbers—as is clear from their widespread use in solar panels. However, these materials rust when submerged in the type of water solutions found in such systems. Now Caltech researchers have devised a method for protecting these common semiconductors from corrosion even as the materials continue to absorb light efficiently.
The electronics world has been dreaming for half a century of the day you can roll a TV up in a tube. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory recently reported the creation of the world’s thinnest flexible, see-through 2D thin film transistors. These transistors are just 10 atomic layers thick—that’s about how much your fingernails grow per second. To build the transistors, the team started with a trick that earned its original University of Manchester inventors the Nobel Prize: using a strip of scotch tape to peel off a sheet of tungsten diselenide just atoms thick.
Nanoscale magnetic swirls known as skyrmions can form in certain materials such as thin magnetic films. These tiny vortices pack into dense lattices that are more stable than conventional magnetic domains and can be transported and manipulated with minimal electrical power—features that hold great promise for future information storage applications. A RIKEN-led team has pioneered techniques to view skyrmions in 2D. However, the magnetic structure of skyrmions—defined by the orientation of electron spins—is not flat and instead involves a 3D distribution of spin orientations to form a true vortex.
The lithium ions that power portable electronics cause lingering structural damage with each cycle of charge and discharge. To stop or slow this steady degradation, scientists must track and tweak the imperfect chemistry of lithium-ion batteries with nanoscale precision. Scientists from several U.S. Department of Energy national laboratories recently collaborated to map these crucial billionths-of-a-meter dynamics and lay the foundation for better batteries. They used electron tomography techniques to create 3D animations of nickel-oxide nanosheet transformations during the lithium-ion battery charging process. The collaborations separately explored a nickel-oxide anode and a lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt-oxide cathode—both notable for high capacity and cyclability—by placing samples inside common coin-cell batteries running under different voltages.
One of the major challenges for using graphene in electronics applications is the absence of a band gap, which basically means that graphene’s electrical conductivity cannot be switched off completely. A new direction that has recently emerged in graphene research is to try to modify graphene’s electronic properties by combining it with other similar materials in multilayered stacks. Researchers show that the electronic properties of graphene change dramatically if graphene is placed on top of boron nitride, also known as ‘white graphite.’ The researchers found a wealth of unexpected physics in this new system.
Less than a year after patenting a process that could improve stripping greenhouse gasses from industrial emissions, a University of Alabama engineering professor was recently granted another patent that uses a different solvent to accomplish the same goal. The newest method uses a form of liquid salt that could be swapped with chemicals currently used to scrub harmful emissions, such as carbon dioxide from industrial emissions. Nearly all commercially-available efforts at scrubbing greenhouse gasses use a liquid solution derived from ammonia, but the new system would replace much of the water in the aqueous amine solutions with imido-acid salts, a negatively-charged group of organic solvents with almost no vapor pressure or boiling point.
Feature images credit: NIST