Category Archives: electronics

Clothing which turns you into a billboard

This work from a Belgian-Dutch initiative has the potential to turn us into billboards. From a Sept. 2, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

Researchers from Holst Centre (set up by TNO and imec), imec and CMST, imec’s associated lab at Ghent University [Belgium], have demonstrated the world’s first stretchable and conformable thin-film transistor (TFT) driven LED display laminated into textiles. This paves the way to wearable displays in clothing providing users with feedback.

Here’s what it looks like,

A Sept. 2, 2015 Holst Centre press release, which originated the news item, provides more details,

“Wearable devices allow people to monitor their fitness and health so they can live full and active lives for longer. But to maximize the benefits wearables can offer, they need to be able to provide feedback on what users are doing as well as measuring it. By combining imec’s patented stretch technology with our expertise in active-matrix backplanes and integrating electronics into fabrics, we’ve taken a giant step towards that possibility,” says Edsger Smits, Senior research scientist at Holst Centre.

The conformable display is very thin and mechanically stretchable. A fine-grain version of the proven meander interconnect technology was developed by the CMST lab at Ghent University and Holst Centre to link standard (rigid) LEDs into a flexible and stretchable display. The LED displays are fabricated on a polyimide substrate and encapsulated in rubber, allowing the displays to be laminated in to textiles that can be washed. Importantly, the technology uses fabrication steps that are known to the manufacturing industry, enabling rapid industrialization.

Following an initial demonstration at the Society for Information Display’s Display Week in San Jose, USA earlier this year, Holst Centre has presented the next generation of the display at the International Meeting on Information Display (IMID) in Daegu, Korea, 18-21 August 2015. Smaller LEDs are now mounted on an amorphous indium-gallium-zinc oxide (a-IGZO) TFT backplane that employs a two-transistor and one capacitor (2T-1C) pixel engine to drive the LEDs. These second-generation displays offer higher pitch and increased, average brightness. The presentation will feature a 32×32 pixel demonstrator with a resolution of 13 pixels per inch (ppi) and average brightness above 200 candelas per square meter (cd/m2). Work is ongoing to further industrialize this technology.

There are some references for the work offered at the end of the press release but I believe they are citing their conference presentations,

9.4: Stretchable 45 × 80 RGB LED Display Using Meander Wiring Technology, Ohmae et al. SID 2015, June 2015

1.2: Rollable, Foldable and Stretchable Displays, Gelinck et al. IMID, Aug. 2015.

13.4 A conformable Active Matrix LED Display, Tripathi et al. IMID, Aug. 2015

For anyone interested in imec formerly the Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre, there’s this Wikipedia entry, and in TNO (Nederlandse Organisatie voor Toegepast Natuurwetenschappelijk Onderzoek in Dutch), there’s this Wikipedia entry.

Self-assembling copper and physiology

An Aug. 24, 2015 news item on Nanowerk highlights work at Louisiana Tech University (US) on self-assembling copper nanocomposites in liquid form,

Faculty at Louisiana Tech University have discovered, for the first time, a new nanocomposite formed by the self-assembly of copper and a biological component that occurs under physiological conditions, which are similar those found in the human body and could be used in targeted drug delivery for fighting diseases such as cancer.

The team, led by Dr. Mark DeCoster, the James E. Wyche III Endowed Associate Professor in Biomedical Engineering at Louisiana Tech, has also discovered a way for this synthesis to be carried out in liquid form. This would allow for controlling the scale of the synthesis up or down, and to grow structures with larger features, so they can be observed.

An Aug. 24, 2015 Louisiana Tech University news release by Dave Guerin, which originated the news item, describes possible future  applications and the lead researcher’s startup company,

“We are currently investigating how this new material interacts with cells,” said DeCoster. “It may be used, for example for drug delivery, which could be used in theory for fighting diseases such as cancer. Also, as a result of the copper component that we used, there could be some interesting electronics, energy, or optics applications that could impact consumer products. In addition, copper has some interesting and useful antimicrobial features.

“Finally, as the recent environmental spill of mining waste into river systems showed us, metals, including copper, can sometimes make their way into freshwater systems, so our newly discovered metal-composite methods could provide a way to “bind up” unwanted copper into a useful or more stable form.”

DeCoster said there were two aspects of this discovery that surprised him and his research team. First, they found that once formed, these copper nanocomposites were incredibly stable both in liquid or dried form, and remained stable for years. “We have been carrying out this research for at least four years and have a number of samples that are at least two years old and still stable,” DeCoster said.

Second, DeCoster’s group was very surprised that these composites are resistant to agglomeration, which is the process by which material clumps or sticks together.

“This is of benefit because it allows us to work with individual structures in order to separate or modify them chemically,” explains DeCoster. “When materials stick together and clump, as many do, it is much harder to work with them in a logical way. Both of these aspects, however, fit with our hypothesis that the self-assembly that we have discovered is putting positively charged copper together with negatively charged sulfur-containing cystine.”

The research discovery was a team effort that included DeCoster and Louisiana Tech students at the bachelor, master and doctoral level. “The quality of my team in putting together a sustained effort to figure out what was needed to reproducibly carry out the new self-assembly methods and to simplify them really speaks well as to what can be accomplished at Louisiana Tech University,” DeCoster said. “Furthermore, the work is very multi-disciplinary, meaning that it required nanotechnology as well as biological and biochemical insights to make it all work, as well as some essential core instrumentation that we have at Louisiana Tech.”

DeCoster says the future of this research has some potentially high impacts. He and his team are speaking with colleagues and collaborators about how to test these new nanocomposites for applications in bioengineering and larger composites such as materials that would be large enough to be hand-held.

“Our recent publication of the work could generate some interest and new ideas,” said DeCoster. “We are working on new proposals to fund the research and to keep it moving forward. We are currently making these materials on an ‘as needed’ basis, knowing that they can be stored once generated, and if we discover new uses for the nanocomposites, then applications for the materials could lead to income generation through a start-up company that I have formed.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

MediumGeneration of Scalable, Metallic High-Aspect Ratio Nanocomposites in a Biological Liquid Medium by Kinsey Cotton Kelly, Jessica R. Wasserman, Sneha Deodhar, Justin Huckaby, and Mark A. DeCoster. J. Vis. Exp. [Journal of Visual Experimentation; JoVE] (101), e52901, doi:10.3791/52901 (2015).

This paper/video is behind a paywall.

Foldable glass (well, there’s some plastic too)

Michael Berger has written a fascinating Aug. 11, 2015 Nanowerk Spotlight article on folding glass,

Have you ever heard about foldable glass?


Glass is notorious for its brittleness. Although industry has developed ultra-thin (∼0.1 mm), flexible glass (like Corning’s Willow® Glass) that can be bent for applications liked curved TV and smartphone displays, fully foldable glass had not been demonstrated. Until now.

Khang [Dahl-Young Khang, an Associate Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Yonsei University] and his group have now demonstrated substrate platforms of glass and plastics, which can be reversibly and repeatedly foldable at pre designed location(s) without any mechanical failure or deterioration in device performances.

“We have engineered the substrates to have thinned parts on which the folding deformation should occur,” Moon Jong Han, first author of the paper a graduate student in Khang’s lab, says. “This localizes the deformation strain on those thinned parts only.”

He adds that this approach to engineering substrates has another advantage regarding device materials: “There is no need to adopt any novel materials such as nanowires, carbon nanotubes, graphene, etc. Rather, all the conventional materials that have been used for high-performance devices can be directly applied on our engineered substrates.”

Intriguingly, even ITO (indium tin oxide), a very brittle transparent conducting oxide, can be used as electrode on this novel foldable glass platform.

What makes the approach especially intriguing is the ability to reverse the fold and that it doesn’t require special nanomaterials, such as carbon nanotubes, etc. From Berger’s Aug. 11, 2015 article,

The width of the thinned parts, the gap width, plays the key role in implementing dual foldability. The other key element is the asymmetric design of the gap width for the second folding.

The researchers achieved foldability, in part, by copying a technique used for folding mats and oriental hinge-less screens which have thinned areas to allow folding.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Glass and Plastics Platforms for Foldable Electronics and Displays by Moon Jung Han and Dahl-Young Khang. Advanced Materials DOI: 10.1002/adma.201501060 First published: 21 July 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.

Berger’s article is not only fascinating, it is also illustrated with some images provided by the researchers.

Carbon capture with ‘diamonds from the sky’

Before launching into the latest on a new technique for carbon capture, it might be useful to provide some context. Arthur Neslen’s March 23, 2015 opinion piece outlines the issues and notes that one Norwegian Prime Minister resigned when coalition government partners attempted to build gas power plants without carbon capture and storage facilities (CCS), Note : A link has been removed,

At least 10 European power plants were supposed to begin piping their carbon emissions into underground tombs this year, rather than letting them twirl into the sky. None has done so.

Missed deadlines, squandered opportunities, spiralling costs and green protests have plagued the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology since Statoil proposed the concept more than two decades ago.

But in the face of desperate global warming projections the CCS dream still unites Canadian tar sands rollers with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and Shell with some environmentalists.

With 2bn people in the developing world expected to hook up to the world’s dirty energy system by 2050, CCS holds out the tantalising prospect of fossil-led growth that does not fry the planet.

“With CCS in the mix, we can decarbonise in a cost-effective manner and still continue to produce, to some extent, our fossil fuels,” Tim Bertels, Shell’s Glocal CCS portfolio manager told the Guardian. “You don’t need to divest in fossil fuels, you need to decarbonise them.”

The technology has been gifted “a very significant fraction” of the billions of dollars earmarked by Shell for clean energy research, he added. But the firm is also a vocal supporter of public funding for CCS from carbon markets, as are almost all players in the industry.

Enthusiasm for this plan is not universal (from Neslen’s opinion piece),

Many environmentalists see the idea as a non-starter because it locks high emitting power plants into future energy systems, and obstructs funding for the cheaper renewables revolution already underway. “CCS is is completely irrelevant,” said Jeremy Rifkin, a noted author and climate adviser to several governments. “I don’t even think about it. It’s not going to happen. It’s not commercially available and it won’t be commercially viable.”

I recommend reading Neslen’s piece for anyone who’s not already well versed on the issues. He uses Norway as a case study and sums up the overall CCS political situation this way,

In many ways, the debate over carbon capture and storage is a struggle between two competing visions of the societal transformation needed to avert climate disaster. One vision represents the enlightened self-interest of a contributor to the problem. The other cannot succeed without eliminating its highly entrenched opponent. The battle is keenly fought by technological optimists on both sides. But if Norway’s fractious CCS experience is any indicator, it will be decided on the ground by the grimmest of realities.

On that note of urgency, here’s some research on carbon dioxide (CO2) or, more specifically, carbon capture and utilization technology, from an Aug. 19, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,,

Finding a technology to shift carbon dioxide (CO2), the most abundant anthropogenic greenhouse gas, from a climate change problem to a valuable commodity has long been a dream of many scientists and government officials. Now, a team of chemists says they have developed a technology to economically convert atmospheric CO2    directly into highly valued carbon nanofibers for industrial and consumer products.

An Aug. 19, 2015 American Chemical Society (ACS) news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news time, expands on the theme,

The team will present brand-new research on this new CO2 capture and utilization technology at the 250th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS is the world’s largest scientific society. The national meeting, which takes place here through Thursday, features more than 9,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics.

“We have found a way to use atmospheric CO2 to produce high-yield carbon nanofibers,” says Stuart Licht, Ph.D., who leads a research team at George Washington University. “Such nanofibers are used to make strong carbon composites, such as those used in the Boeing Dreamliner, as well as in high-end sports equipment, wind turbine blades and a host of other products.”

Previously, the researchers had made fertilizer and cement without emitting CO2, which they reported. Now, the team, which includes postdoctoral fellow Jiawen Ren, Ph.D., and graduate student Jessica Stuart, says their research could shift CO2 from a global-warming problem to a feed stock for the manufacture of in-demand carbon nanofibers.

Licht calls his approach “diamonds from the sky.” That refers to carbon being the material that diamonds are made of, and also hints at the high value of the products, such as the carbon nanofibers that can be made from atmospheric carbon and oxygen.

Because of its efficiency, this low-energy process can be run using only a few volts of electricity, sunlight and a whole lot of carbon dioxide. At its root, the system uses electrolytic syntheses to make the nanofibers. CO2 is broken down in a high-temperature electrolytic bath of molten carbonates at 1,380 degrees F (750 degrees C). Atmospheric air is added to an electrolytic cell. Once there, the CO2 dissolves when subjected to the heat and direct current through electrodes of nickel and steel. The carbon nanofibers build up on the steel electrode, where they can be removed, Licht says.

To power the syntheses, heat and electricity are produced through a hybrid and extremely efficient concentrating solar-energy system. The system focuses the sun’s rays on a photovoltaic solar cell to generate electricity and on a second system to generate heat and thermal energy, which raises the temperature of the electrolytic cell.

Licht estimates electrical energy costs of this “solar thermal electrochemical process” to be around $1,000 per ton of carbon nanofiber product, which means the cost of running the system is hundreds of times less than the value of product output.

“We calculate that with a physical area less than 10 percent the size of the Sahara Desert, our process could remove enough CO2 to decrease atmospheric levels to those of the pre-industrial revolution within 10 years,” he says. [emphasis mine]

At this time, the system is experimental, and Licht’s biggest challenge will be to ramp up the process and gain experience to make consistently sized nanofibers. “We are scaling up quickly,” he adds, “and soon should be in range of making tens of grams of nanofibers an hour.”

Licht explains that one advance the group has recently achieved is the ability to synthesize carbon fibers using even less energy than when the process was initially developed. “Carbon nanofiber growth can occur at less than 1 volt at 750 degrees C, which for example is much less than the 3-5 volts used in the 1,000 degree C industrial formation of aluminum,” he says.

A low energy approach that cleans up the air by converting greenhouse gases into useful materials and does it quickly is incredibly exciting. Of course, there are a few questions to be asked. Are the research outcomes reproducible by other teams? Licht notes the team is scaling the technology up but how soon can we scale up to industrial strength?

First year Danish students achieve breakthrough with self-assembling molecular eletronics

This is in fact two stories. One features the students and an educational approach which is achieving some exciting results and the other features self-assembling electronics and the possibility of a step forward in the field. From an Aug. 17, 2015 University of Copenhagen press release on EurekAlert,

When researchers dream about electronics of the future, they more or less dream of pouring liquids into a beaker, stirring them together and decanting a computer out onto the table. This field of research is known as self-assembling molecular electronics. But, getting chemical substances to self-assemble into electronic components is just as complicated as it sounds. Now, a group of researchers has published their breakthrough within the field. The group consists of first-year nanoscience students from the University of Copenhagen.

Thomas Just Sørensen, an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen, spearheaded the research project. … Sørensen believes that the result will spawn new breakthroughs: “This is a clear step forward towards self-assembling electronics. By mixing solutions of the right substances, we automatically built structures that in principle could have been solar cells or transistors. What is more, is that they were built in the same way that nature builds such things as cell membranes,” says Sørensen.

Sørensen’s co-authors are the entire first-year of University of Copenhagen nanoscience students. This impressive feat is the result of a restructuring of the nanoscience programme in 2010, from a programme structured upon research-based instruction, to one that uses teaching-based research. For their first assignment, the students were simply asked to design, conduct and analyse a range of experiments. The new instructional type has shed research results every year since. However, it wasn’t until 2013 that a result was ready to be published.

“For us as a university, the big news is obviously that first year students conducted the research. But, we achieved a very significant result in molecular electronics as well,” states Thomas Just Sørensen.

The press release offers a description of bottom-up (self-assembling) vs. top-down engineering (standard practice) along with a few more details about the self-assembling ‘electronics’,

Electronics are normally produced in such a way that one “draws” components onto a silicon wafer and then removes all the bits that are not part of the electronic component. This is called “Top-down” production. Molecular electronics enables the production of transistors, resistors, LED screens, solar cells and so on, using chemistry-based methods. In principle, this means that electronics can become smaller, cheaper and more flexible, as well as environmentally sustainable. But whereas one can draw an integrated circuit on silicon, molecular components must self-organise into the correct structures. This is a major obstacle in the development of methods where molecules must join and self-organise in such a way that they can be found again, according to Sørensen.

“It doesn’t help to have a pile of transistors, if you don’t know which way they are turned. These cannot be combined in a way to make them work, and one won’t know which end to connect to electric current.”

The secret behind the breakthrough is… Soap. The molecular components that make self-assembling electronics possible are antifungal agents used in various disinfectants, creams and cosmetics. These cleansers kill fungi by disrupting the structures of their cell membranes. This same ability can be used to create order among molecular components. Sørensen and his students experimented by pouring a flood of various soaps, dish-soaps and washing powders together with component-like chemical substances. The mixtures were then poured out onto glass plates in order to investigate whether or not the “components” were organised by the various cleansing agents. And now they have been, says Sørensen.

“Our self-assembling electronics are a bit like putting cake layers, custard and frosting in a blender and having it all pop out of the blender as a perfectly formed layer cake,” says Thomas Just Sørensen.

In the long term, these new discoveries open the door to developing powerful and economical solar energy facilities, as well as improved screen technologies. That being said, the molecules used in the nanoscience programme had no electronic functionality. “If they did, we would have been on the cover of Science instead of in a ChemNanoMat article,” says Just Sørensen. Regardless, he remains confident.

“We were able to obtain a structure simply by mixing the right substances. Even random substances were able to organise well and layer, so that we now have complete control over where the molecules are, and in which direction they are oriented. The next step is to incorporate functionality within the layers,” says Associate Professor Sørensen. He is convinced that the next batch of challenges will make for perfect assignments for the many years of nanoscience students to come, and that like their current peers, these students will also have the opportunity to publish while in their first year of study.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Template-Guided Ionic Self-Assembled Molecular Materials and Thin Films with Nanoscopic Order by Marco Santella, Fatima Amini, Kristian B. Andreasen, Dunya S. Aswad, Helene Ausar, Lillian Marie Austin, Ilkay Bora, Ida M. I. Boye, Nikolaj K. Brinkenfeldt, Magnus F. Bøe, Emine Cakmak, Alen Catovic, Jonas M. Christensen, Jonas H. Dalgaard, Helena Maria D. Danielsen, Abdel H. El Bouyahyaoui, Sarah E. H. El Dib, Btihal El Khaiyat, Iqra Farooq, Freja K. Fjellerup, Gregers W. Frederiksen, Henriette R. S. Frederiksen, David Gleerup, Mikkel Gold, Morten F. Gruber, Mie Gylling, Vita Heidari, Mikkel Herzberg, U. Laurens D. Holgaard, Adam C. Hundahl, Rune Hviid, Julian S. Høhling, Fatima Z. Abd Issa, Nicklas R. Jakobsen, Rasmus K. Jakobsen, Benjamin L. Jensen, Phillip W. K. Jensen, Mikkel Juelsholt, Zhiyu Liao, Chung L. Le, Ivan F. Mayanja, Hadeel Moustafa, Charlie B. B. Møller, Cecilie L. Nielsen, Marius R. J. E. H. Nielsen, Søren S.-R. Nielsen, Markus J. Olsen, Bandula D. Paludan, Idunn Prestholm, Iliriana Qoqaj, Christina B. Riel, Tobias V. Rostgaard, Nora Saleh, Hannibal M. Schultz, Mark Standland, Jens S. Svenningsen, Rasmus Truels Sørensen, Jesper Visby, Emilie L. Wolff-Sneedorff, Malte Hee Zachariassen, Edmond A. Ziari, Henning O. Sørensen, and Thomas Just Sørensen. ChemNanoMat Volume 1, Issue 4, pages 253–258, August 2015 DOI: 10.1002/cnma.201500064 Article first published online: 2 JUL 2015

© 2015 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This is an open access paper.

Saving silver; a new kind of electrode

An Aug. 1, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now highlights work from Germany’s Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie (Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin),

The electrodes for connections on the “sunny side” of a solar cell need to be not just electrically conductive, but transparent as well. As a result, electrodes are currently made either by using thin strips of silver in the form of a coarse-meshed grid squeegeed onto a surface, or by applying a transparent layer of electrically conductive indium tin oxide (ITO) compound. Neither of these are ideal solutions, however. This is because silver is a precious metal and relatively expensive, and silver particles with nanoscale dimensions oxidise particularly rapidly; meanwhile, indium is one of the rarest elements on earth crust and probably will only continue to be available for a few more years.

Manuela Göbelt on the team of Prof. Silke Christiansen has now developed an elegant new solution using only a fraction of the silver and entirely devoid of indium to produce a technologically intriguing electrode. The doctoral student initially made a suspension of silver nanowires in ethanol using wet-chemistry techniques. She then transferred this suspension with a pipette onto a substrate, in this case a silicon solar cell. As the solvent is evaporated, the silver nanowires organise themselves into a loose mesh that remains transparent, yet dense enough to form uninterrupted current paths.

A July 31, 2015 Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the work in more detail,

Subsequently, Göbelt used an atomic layer deposition technique to gradually apply a coating of a highly doped wide bandgap semiconductor known as AZO. AZO consists of zinc oxide that is doped with aluminium. It is much less expensive than ITO and just as transparent, but not quite as electrically conductive. This process caused tiny AZO crystals to form on the silver nanowires, enveloped them completely, and finally filled in the interstices. The silver nanowires, measuring about 120 nanometres in diameter, were covered with a layer of about 100 nanometres of AZO and encapsulated by this process.

Quality map calculated

Measurements of the electrical conductivity showed that the newly developed composite electrode is comparable to a conventional silver grid electrode. However, its performance depends on how well the nanowires are interconnected, which is a function of the wire lengths and the concentration of silver nanowires in the suspension. The scientists were able to specify the degree of networking in advance with computers. Using specially developed image analysis algorithms, they could evaluate images taken with a scanning electron microscope and predict the electrical conductivity of the electrodes from them.

“We are investigating where a given continuous conductive path of nanowires is interrupted to see where the network is not yet optimum”, explains Ralf Keding. Even with high-performance computers, it still initially took nearly five days to calculate a good “quality map” of the electrode. The software is now being optimised to reduce the computation time. “The image analysis has given us valuable clues about where we need to concentrate our efforts to increase the performance of the electrode, such as increased networking to improve areas of poor coverage by changing the wire lengths or the wire concentration in solution”, says Göbelt.

Practical aternative to conventional electrodes

“We have developed a practical, cost-effective alternative to conventional screen-printed grid electrodes and to the common ITO type that is threatened however by material bottlenecks”, says Christiansen, who heads the Institute of Nanoarchitectures for Energy Conversion at HZB and additionally directs a project team at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light (MPL).

Only a fraction of silver, nearly no shadow effects

The new electrodes can actually be made using only 0.3 grams of silver per square metre, while conventional silver grid electrodes require closer to between 15 and 20 grams of silver. In addition, the new electrode casts a considerably smaller shadow on the solar cell. “The network of silver nanowires is so fine that almost no light for solar energy conversion is lost in the cell due to the shadow”, explains Göbelt. On the contrary, she hopes “it might even be possible for the silver nanowires to scatter light into the solar cell absorbers in a controlled fashion through what are known as plasmonic effects.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Encapsulation of silver nanowire networks by atomic layer deposition for indium-free transparent electrodes by Manuela Göbelt, Ralf Keding, Sebastian W. Schmitt, Björn Hoffmann, Sara Jäckle, Michael Latzel, Vuk V. Radmilović, Velimir R. Radmilović,  Erdmann Spiecker, and Silke Christiansen. Nano Energy Volume 16, September 2015, Pages 196–206 doi:10.1016/j.nanoen.2015.06.027

This paper is behind a paywall.

Hopes for Malaysia’s electrical and electronics industry and the opening of the Nano Semiconductor Technology Centre

A July 31, 2015 article for The Sun Daily by Ee Ann Nee announces four memorandums of understanding (MOU) featuring nanotechnology and signed by Malaysia’s Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry deputy secretary-general Dr Zulkifli Mohamed Hashim,

The export for Malaysia’s electrical and electronics (E&E) products is expected to increase by 20-30% by 2020 with nanotechnology and the rise of Internet of Things (IoT).

Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry deputy secretary-general Dr Zulkifli Mohamed Hashim said in 2014, the total export for E&E products was RM256 billion [Malaysian Ringgit], driven by strong global demand for new semiconductor applications and the rapid emergence of IoT.

The first MoU signed yesterday was for a technology partnership between nanotechnology commercialisation agency NanoMalaysia Bhd and Mimos will see the two agencies jointly undertake R&D and commercialisation of technology products.

The second MoU was a tripartite collaboration between NanoMalaysia, Mimos and Penchem Technologies Sdn Bhd for R&D and commercialisation of smart sensors and advanced material applications for electronic products.

The third and fourth MoU were signed between Mimos and the University of Malaya and Multimedia University respectively for research, design and development of grapheme, a carbon-based nanomaterial with superlative properties.

Good luck to them!

The most recent posting here featuring Malaysia was a Jan. 26, 2015 piece about a Malaysian nanotechnology scientist’s award from an Islamic organization (Islamic Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization [ISESCO])  that parallels UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)

Carbon nanotubes, acoustics, and heat

I have a longstanding interest in carbon nanotubes and acoustics, which I first encountered in 2008. This latest work comes from the Michigan Technological University according to a July 28, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

Troy Bouman reaches over, presses play, and the loudspeaker sitting on the desk starts playing the university fight song. But this is no ordinary loudspeaker. This is a carbon nanotube transducer—and it makes sound with heat.

Bouman and Mahsa Asgarisabet, both graduate students at Michigan Technological University, recently won a Best of Show Award at SAE International’s Noise and Vibration Conference and Exhibition 2015 for their acoustic research on carbon nanotube speakers. They work with Andrew Barnard, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Michigan Tech, to tease out the fundamental physics of these unusual loudspeakers.

While still a fledgling technology, the potential applications are nearly endless. Everything from de-icing helicopter blades to making lighter loudspeakers to doubling as a car speaker and heating filament for back windshield defrosters.

Here’s a few sound sound files featuring the students and their carbon nanotube speakers,

A July 28, 2015 Michigan Technological University news release, which originated the news item, goes on to describe how these carbon nanotubes are making sound,

The freestanding speaker itself is rather humble. In fact, it’s a bit flimsy. A teflon base props up two copper rods, and what seems like a see-through black cloth stretches between them.

“A little wind gust across them, and they would just blow away,” Barnard says. “But you could shake them as much as you want—since they have such low mass, there is virtually no inertia.”

The material is strong side to side, because what the naked eye can’t see is the collection of black nanotubes that make up that thin film.

The nanotubes are straw-like structures with walls only one carbon atom-thick and they can heat up and cool down up to 100,000 times each second. By comparison, a platinum sheet about 700 nanometers thick can only heat up and cool down about 16 times each second. The heating and cooling of the carbon nanotubes causes the adjacent air to expand and contract. That pushes air molecules around and creates sound waves.

“Traditional speakers use a moving coil, and that’s how they create sound waves,” Bouman says. “There are completely different physics behind carbon nanotube speakers.”

And because of these differences, the nearly weightless carbon nanotube speakers produce sound in a way that isn’t initially understood by our ears. Bouman’s research focuses on processing the sound waves to make them more intelligible. Take a listen.


To date, most research on carbon nanotubes has been on the materials side. Carbon nanotube speakers were discovered accidently in 2008, showing that the idea was viable. As mechanical engineers studying acoustics, Barnard, Bouman and Asgarisabet are refining the technology.

“They are very light weight and have no moving parts,” Asgarisabet says, which is ideal for her work in active noise control, where the carbon nanotube films could cancel out engine noise in airplanes or road noise in cars. But first, she says, “I want to focus first on getting a good thermal model of the speakers.”

Having an accurate model, Bouman adds, is a reflection of understanding the carbon nanotube loudspeakers themselves. The modeling work he and Asgarisabet are doing lays down the foundation to build up new applications for the technology.

While a lot of research remains on sorting out the underlying physics of carbon nanotube speakers, being able to use both the heat and sound properties makes them versatile. The thinness and weightlessness is also appealing.

“They’re basically conformable speakers,” Barnard says. The thin film could be draped over dashboards, windows, walls, seats and maybe even clothing. To get the speakers to that point, Barnard and his students will continue refining the technology’s efficiency and ruggedness, one carbon nanotube thin-film at a time.

As I mentioned earlier I’m quite interested in carbon nanotubes speakers and, for that matter, all other nanomaterial speakers. For example, there was a November 18, 2013 posting titled: World’s* smallest FM radio transmitter made out of graphene which also featured the Zettl Group’s (University of California at Berkeley) carbon nanotube radio (unfortunately those sound files are no longer accessible).

Dexter Johnson in a July 30, 2015 posting (on his Nanoclast blog on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers [IEEE] website) provides some additional insights (Note: Links have been removed),

It’s been some time since we covered the use of nanomaterials in audio speakers. While not a hotly pursued research field, there is some tradition for it dating back to the first development of carbon nanotube-based speakers in 2008. While nanomaterial-based speakers are not going to win any audiophile prize anytime soon, they do offer some unusual characteristics that mainly stem from their magnet-less design.

Wearable technologies, electric vehicles and conundrums at Wollongong University (Australia)

A July 25, 2015 news item on Nanowerk announces research at the University of Wollongong designed to address a conundrum (Note: A link has been removed),

UOW’s Institute for Superconducting and Electronic Materials (ISEM) has successfully pioneered a way to construct a flexible, foldable and lightweight energy storage device that provides the building blocks for next-generation batteries needed to power wearable electronics and implantable medical devices (ACS Central Science, “Self-Assembled Multifunctional Hybrids: Toward Developing High-Performance Graphene-Based Architectures for Energy Storage Devices”).

The conundrum researchers have faced in developing miniature energy storage devices, such as batteries and supercapacitors, has been figuring out how to increase the surface area of the device, to store more charge, without making it larger.

A July 27, 2015 University of Wollongong news release by Grant Reynolds, which originated the news item, describes the research in more detail,

To solve this problem, a team of PhD students, led by Dr Konstantin Konstantinov under the patronage of ISEM Director Professor Shi Xue Dou and with the support of Professor Hua Kun Liu, the head of ISEM Energy Storage Division, have developed a three-dimensional structure using a flat-pack self-assembly of three components: graphene, a conductive polymer and carbon nanotubes, which are atom-thick lattice-like networks of carbon formed into cylinders.

Graphene, made from single atom-thick layers of graphite, was a suitable candidate due its electronic performance and mechanical strength.

“We knew in theory that if you can make a sort of carbon skeleton you have a greater surface area and greater surface area means more charge,” Dr Konstantinov said. “If we could efficiently separate the layers of carbon we could then use both surfaces of each layer for charge accumulation. The problem we faced was that fabricating these 3D shapes in practice, not just theory, is a challenging, if not impossible task.”

The solution was to flat-pack the components by building the 3D shape layer-by-layer, much like a miniature exercise in cake decoration. The graphene in liquid form was mixed with the conductive polymer and reduced to solid and the carbon nanotubes carefully inserted between the graphene layers to form a self-assembled flat-packed, wafer-thin supercapacitor material.

“The real challenge was how to assemble these three components into a single structure with the best use of the space available,” PhD student Monirul Islam said. “Getting the proportions or ratios of the components appropriately in order to obtain a composite material with maximum energy storage performance was another challenge.”

Wrong proportions of either ingredient result in a lumpy mess, or a 3D shape that isn’t strong enough to retain the needed flexibility as well as the charge storage ability. There’s also elegance in the simplicity of the team’s design: the researchers dispersed the components in liquid crystalline, which enabled natural chemical interactions to prevent the graphene layers clumping together.

The result was a 3D shape with, thanks to the carbon nanotubes, a massive surface area, excellent charge capacity that is also foldable. It can also be cheaply and easily fabricated without the need for expensive vacuum chambers or sophisticated equipment.

“Our graphene-based flexible composite is highly conductive, lightweight, is able to fold like a roll or stack like a paper in electronic devices to store a huge amount of charge,” Monirul said. “This material can store charge in a second and deliver the charge in superfast speed and will be more lightweight than traditional batteries used in present day’s electronics.”

The ISEM study has been financially supported by the Automotive Australia 2020 CRC as part of its research into electric vehicles. ISEM is the program leader for electrification and plays crucial role for design of next generation electric vehicles A key to unlocking the electric vehicle’s capability is a lightweight and powerful battery pack.

“Our simple fabrication method of eco-friendly materials with increased performance has great potential to be scaled up for use supercapacitor and battery technology. Our next step is to use this material to fabricate flexible wearable supercapacitors with high power density and energy density as well as large scale supercapacitors for electric vehicles.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Self-Assembled Multifunctional Hybrids: Toward Developing High-Performance Graphene-Based Architectures for Energy Storage Devices by Md. Monirul Islam, Seyed Hamed Aboutalebi, Dean Cardillo, Hua Kun Liu, Konstantin Konstantinov, and Shi Xue Dou. ACS Cent. Sci., 2015, 1 (4), pp 206–216 DOI: 10.1021/acscentsci.5b00189 Publication Date (Web): July 2, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This appears to be an open access paper.

US Navy invests in graphene

More usually, I feature research from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Progects Agency) which I think belongs to the US Army and the US Air Force Research Office. The US Navy has featured here only once before (a Nov. 1, 2011 posting) and even then it was tangentially. I think it’s long past time that the US Navy gets some attention.

A July 22, 2015 news item on Nanowerk explains the Navy’s interest in electricity and graphene,

The U.S. Navy distributes electricity aboard most of its ships like a power company. It relies on conductors, transformers and other bulky infrastructure.

The setup works, but with powerful next generation weapons on the horizon and the omnipresent goal of energy efficiency, the Navy is seeking alternatives to conventional power control systems.

One option involves using graphene, which, since its discovery in 2004, has become the material of choice for researchers working to improve everything from solar cells to smartphone batteries.

Accordingly, the Office of Naval Research has awarded University at Buffalo engineers an $800,000 grant to develop narrow strips of graphene called nanoribbons that may someday revolutionize how power is controlled in ships, smartphones and other electronic devices.

A July 20, 2015 University of Buffalo news release by Cory Nealon, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

“We need to develop new nanomaterials capable of handling greater amounts of energy densities in much smaller devices. Graphene nanoribbons show remarkable promise in this endeavor,” says Cemal Basaran, PhD, a professor in UB’s Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the grant’s principal investigator.

Graphene is a single layer of carbon atoms packed together like a honeycomb. It is extremely thin, light and strong. It’s also the best known conductor of heat and electricity.

“The beauty of graphene is that it can be grown like biological organisms as opposed to manufacturing materials with traditional techniques,” says Basaran, director of UB’s Electronic Packaging Laboratory and a researcher in UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics. “These bio-inspired materials allow us to control their atomic organizations like controlling genetic DNA makeup of a lab-grown cell.”

While promising, researchers are just beginning to understand graphene and its potential uses. One area of interest is power control systems.

Like overhead power lines, most ships rely on copper or other metals to move electricity. Unfortunately, this process is relatively inefficient; electrons bash into each other and create heat in a process called Joule heating.

“You lose a great deal of energy that way,” Basaran says. “With graphene, you avoid those collisions because it conducts electricity in a different process, known as semi-ballistic conduction. It’s like a high-speed bullet train versus bumper cars.”

Another limitation of metal-based power distribution is the bulky infrastructure – transistors, copper wires, transformers, etc. – needed to move electricity. Whether in a ship or tablet computer, the components take up space and add weight.

Graphene nanoribbons offer a potential solution because they can act as both a conductor (instead of copper) and semiconductor (instead of silicon). Moreover, their ability to withstand failure under extreme energy loads is roughly 1,000 times greater than copper.

That bodes well for the Navy, which, like segments of the automotive industry, is pivoting toward electric vehicles.

It recently launched an all-electric destroyer; the ship’s propellers and drive shafts are turned by electric motors, as opposed to being connected to combustion engines. The integrated power-generation and distribution system may also be used to fire next generation weapons, such as railguns and powerful lasers. And the automation has allowed the Navy to reduce the ship’s crew, which places fewer sailors in potentially dangerous situations.

Graphene nanoribbons could improve these systems by making them more robust and energy-efficient, Basaran said. He and a team of researchers will:

·         Design complex simulations that examine how graphene nanoribbons can be used as a power switch.

·         Explore how adding hydrogen and other elements, a process known as “doping,” to graphene nanoribbons could improve their performance.

·         Investigate graphene nanoribbons’ failure limit under high power loads and try to find ways to improve it.

The research will be performed over the next four years.

I was particularly intrigued by the caption for this image included with the news release,

The technology may lead to more powerful weapons, energy savings and reduced crew numbers [Downloaded from]

The technology may lead to more powerful weapons, energy savings and reduced crew numbers [Downloaded from]

Presumably “reduced crew numbers’ means fewer jobs. I wonder if they’ll figure out that people without jobs are without money to pay taxes to fund these projects.