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[Image above] Credit: NIST

Detecting thin film defects at the nanoscale

Research at the University of Huddersfield will lead to major efficiency gains and cost savings in the manufacture of flexible solar panels. The project, named NanoMend, is developing new technologies for the detection, cleaning, and repair of micro and nanoscale defects in thin films that are vital in products such as printed electronics and solar panels. The team has been working on a new metrology system that can detect tiny defects and will therefore aid the manufacture of roll-to-roll barrier film in large volumes.

New nanowire structure absorbs light efficiently

Researchers at Aalto University have developed a new method to implement different types of nanowires side-by-side into a single array on a single substrate. The new technique makes it possible to use different semiconductor materials for the different types of nanowires. “We have succeeded in combining nanowires grown by the vapor–liquid–solid and selective-area epitaxy techniques onto the same platform. The difference compared with studies conducted previously on the same topic is that in the dual-type array the different materials do not grow in the same nanowire, but rather as separate wires on the same substrate,” says Docent Teppo Huhtio.

These superconductors are just getting warmed up

A superconductor that works at room temperature was long thought impossible, but scientists at University of Southern California may have discovered a family of materials that could make it reality. A team of scientists found that aluminum “superatoms”—homogenous clusters of atoms—appear to form Cooper pairs of electrons (one of the key elements of superconductivity) at temperatures around 100 Kelvin. Though 100 Kelvin is still pretty chilly, this is an enormous increase compared to bulk aluminum metal, which turns superconductive only near 1 Kelvin.

Lithium from coal in China

Scientists from Hebei University of Engineering (China) recognize that coal is a highly polluting energy source that is still widely used for electricity generation and other applications. They suggest that the recovery of valuable rare metals from coals or coal-processing byproducts could be a promising way to make the inevitable long-term use of this fossil fuel resource more economic, efficient, and cleaner. The team explains that lithium has been found dispersed and even anomalously enriched in coal deposits and is potentially extractable.

Electrochemical ‘fingers’ unlock battery’s inner potential

Scientists at the U.S. DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory and collaborating institutes have mapped atomic-scale reaction pathways in lithium-ion batteries and linked them to the battery’s rate of discharge. Contrary to expectations, a slow discharge rate allows for electrochemical “fingers” to penetrate the electrode material and pry free its stored energy through a process called lithiation. During high-rate discharges, however, these lithiation fingers slowly penetrate layer-by-layer in a much more inefficient fashion.