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[Images above] Credit: NIST


Researchers turn coal powder into nanographite in microwave oven

University of Wyoming researchers created an environment in a microwave oven to successfully convert raw coal powder into nanographite. While the experiment included microwave durations ranging from 3 to 45 minutes, the optimal duration was 15 minutes.

A better pen-and-ink system for drawing flexible circuits

Researchers developed inexpensive conductive inks for clog-free ballpoint pens that can allow users to “write” circuits almost anywhere. The water-based ink contains conductive carbon particles composed of graphene nanosheets, multiwalled carbon nanotubes, and carbon black.

‘Flashing’ new 2D materials

Rice University scientists extended their technique to produce graphene in a flash to tailor the properties of 2D dichalcogenides, quickly turning them into metastable metallics for electronic and optical applications.


On the road to invisible solar panels: How tomorrow’s windows may generate electricity

Incheon National University researchers demonstrated a transparent solar cell made from titanium dioxide and nickel oxide. It transmitted more than 57% of visible light, thus giving the cell its transparent aspect, and it had a power conversion efficiency of 2.1%.

JinkoSolar pushes N-type TOPCon solar cell to record 24.90% conversion efficiency

JinkoSolar set a new record conversion efficiency of 24.90% for its N-type TOPCon monocrystalline silicon solar cell that has been independently verified by the Institute for Solar Energy Research in Hamelin, Germany. JinkoSolar had previously achieved a record solar cell conversion efficiency of 24.79% for its N-type TOPCon cell in June 2020.

Tweaking one layer of atoms on a catalyst’s surface can make it work better

When lanthanum nickel oxide catalysts carry out water-splitting reactions, the surface atoms rearrange from a cubic to a hexagonal pattern and efficiency doubles. Researchers led by Stanford University and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory deliberately engineered the surface to take advantage of this phenomenon.

New catalyst can make natural gas burn cleaner

Researchers at University of Illinois at Chicago developed a catalyst made up of 10 different elements that can bring the combustion temperature of methane down by about half—from above 1,400 degrees Kelvin down to 600 to 700 degrees Kelvin.


Spin-enhanced nanodiamonds could improve disease diagnosis

University College London researchers found if they replaced gold nanoparticles with spin-enhanced nanodiamonds, they could make paper-based lateral flow diagnostic tests many thousand times more sensitive.

Nanocrystals that eradicate bacteria biofilm

A joint research team from Pohang University of Science & Technology and Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology introduced mixed-FeCo-oxide-based surface-textured nanostructures as highly efficient magneto-catalytic platforms. The unique surface texture catalyzed a chemical reaction that produced reactive oxygen species that kill bacteria.

Computational model offers help for new hips

Rice University engineers designed a computational model to predict how long a hip implant can last for a specific patient. The model incorporates fluid dynamics and the physics of implant wear, and it aims to streamline trial-and-error in the design of future implants.


Using solar energy and agriculture to limit climate change, assist rural communities

Researchers at Oregon State University proposed that an area about the size of Maryland would be needed for agrivoltaics to meet 20% of U.S. electricity generation. The cost of the agrivoltaic arrays would be $1.12 trillion over a 35-year project life, but they say electricity from the arrays would pay back that cost in 17 years.

Researchers developing glass fiber drinking water monitor with EPA grant

A novel sensor network using glass fibers to safeguard drinking water supplies is being developed under a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant in a cross-campus collaboration at University of Alabama in Huntsville, a part of the University of Alabama System.

Room temperature conversion of CO2 to CO: A new way to synthesize hydrocarbons

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and their colleagues demonstrated a room-temperature method to reduce carbon dioxide levels. They deposited aluminum nanoparticles on a layer of graphite, and then the graphite served plucked individual oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide, reducing it to carbon monoxide.

Advancements in rare earth elements extraction

Researchers at West Virginia University used the on-campus Rare Earth Extraction Facility to demonstrate that acid mine drainage precipitates from mining sites could be transformed into valuable revenue streams for local communities and businesses using the method of acid leaching solvent extraction.


Refined process enables high-strength thin glass

A materials scientist at Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Germany, was awarded a prestigious “ERC Proof of Concept Grant” from the European Research Council to further develop and refine a process that enables thermal toughening of very thin glass.


Liquid glass: Neither liquid nor solid

Using a model system involving suspensions of tailor-made ellipsoidal colloids, researchers at University of Konstanz uncovered liquid glass, a new state of matter in which individual particles are able to move yet unable to rotate.

Advanced materials in a snap

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories used machine learning to complete cumbersome materials science calculations more than 40,000 times faster than normal. The new algorithm arrived at an answer that was 5% different from the standard simulation’s result.

Cracking the hidden strengthening mechanism in biological ceramics

Researchers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University made insights into building stronger and tougher ceramics by studying the shells of bivalve mollusks. They are now experimenting with possible fabrication processing techniques, such as 3D printing, to develop ceramic composites with enhanced mechanical properties for structural applications.

Light-carrying chips advance machine learning

Working together with an international team, researchers at the University of Münster found that so-called photonic processors, in which data is processed by means of light, can process information more rapidly and in parallel compared to electronic chips. They created the processors by combining the photonic structures with phase-change materials.

Meet Au-Spot, the AI robot dog that is training to explore caves on Mars

In a presentation on December 14 at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, held online this year, researchers with NASA/JPL-Caltech introduced their “Mars Dogs,” a modified version of the robot dog Spot that can maneuver in ways the iconic wheeled rovers such as Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity, and the recently launched Perseverance never could.

STEM educators try ‘ungrading’ techniques to help students learn

A recent C&EN article looks at how some STEM educators are using “ungrading” techniques to relieve stress for students, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.