I always enjoy a culinary reference (h/t Nanowerk) such as the one in Lynne Yarris’ Dec. 2, 2013 science short for the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (California, US),
Oil and water don’t mix, as any chemist or cook knows. Tom Russell, a polymer scientist from the University of Massachusetts who now holds a Visiting Faculty appointment with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division, is using that chemical and culinary truth to change the natural spherical shape of liquid drops into ellipsoids, tubes and even fibrous structures similar in appearance to glass wool. Through the combination of water, oil and nanoparticle surfactants plus an external field, Russell is able to stabilize water drops into non-equilibrium shapes that could find valuable uses as therapeutic delivery systems, biosensors, microfluidic lab-on-a-chip devices, or possibly as the basis for an all-liquid electrical battery.
More technical details follow,
n a study he carried out at UMass with Mengmeng Cui and Todd Emrick, a drop of water was suspended in silicone oil and carboxylated nanoparticles were added to the water. The nanoparticles self-assembled at the oil/water interface to form a sphere-shaped surfactant drop – like a soap bubble. Applying an electric field to the drop overcame the equilibrium energy that stabilizes its spherical shape and deformed the sphere into an ellipsoid.
Since an ellipsoid has a greater surface area than a sphere of the same volume, a great many more nanoparticles can attach themselves to it. When the electric field was removed, the nanoparticle drop tried to return to the spherical shape of its equilibrium energy. However, the swollen number of nanoparticles jammed together at the oil/water interface, essentially “gridlocking” the drop into a stable ellipsoid shape.
“You can think of it like traffic getting jammed at an exit ramp or particles of sand getting jammed in an hourglass,” Russell says. “We start out by deforming a drop shaped like a basketball into a drop shaped like a football. The jamming effect locks in the football shape. If we continue the deforming and jamming process, we can create a wide assortment of shapes that are stable even though far removed from equilibrium.”
The paper is behind a paywall but there is a transcript of a recent (Oct. 25, 2013) Science podcast interview with Russell. Go here and scroll down for access to the transcript (he’s the 2nd interviewee).
Here’s an Oct. 3, 2013 news item on Azonano about transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and graphene liquid cells enabling researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) to make movies,
Through a combination of transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and their own unique graphene liquid cell, the researchers have recorded the three-dimensional motion of DNA connected to gold nanocrystals. This is the first time TEM has been used for 3D dynamic imaging of so-called soft materials.
The researchers have produced an animation illustrating their work,
In the past, liquid cells featured silicon-based viewing windows whose thickness limited resolution and perturbed the natural state of the soft materials. Zettl [physicist Alex Zettl] and Alivisatos [Paul Alivisatos, Berkeley Lab Director] and their respective research groups overcame these limitations with the development of a liquid cell based on a graphene membrane only a single atom thick. This development was done in close cooperation with researchers at the National Center for Electron Microscopy (NCEM), which is located at Berkeley Lab.
“Our graphene liquid cells pushed the spatial resolution of liquid phase TEM imaging to the atomic scale but still focused on growth trajectories of metallic nanocrystals,” says lead author Qian Chen, a postdoctoral fellow in Alivisatos’s research group. “Now we’ve adopted the technique to imaging the 3D dynamics of soft materials, starting with double-strand (dsDNA) connected to gold nanocrystals and achieved nanometer resolution.”
To create the cell, two opposing graphene sheets are bonded to one another by their van der Waals attraction. This forms a sealed nanoscale chamber and creates within the chamber a stable aqueous solution pocket approximately 100 nanometers in height and one micron in diameter. The single atom thick graphene membrane of the cells is essentially transparent to the TEM electron beam, minimizing the unwanted loss of imaging electrons and providing superior contrast and resolution compared to silicon-based windows. The aqueous pockets allow for up to two minutes of continuous imaging of soft material samples exposed to a 200 kilo Volt imaging electron beam. During this time, soft material samples can freely rotate.
After demonstrating that their graphene liquid cell can seal an aqueous sample solution against a TEM high vacuum, the Berkeley researchers used it to study the types of gold-dsDNA nanoconjugates that have been widely used as dynamic plasmonic probes.
“The presence of double-stranded DNA molecules incorporates the major challenges of studying the dynamics of biological samples with liquid phase TEM,” says Alivisatos. “The high-contrast gold nanocrystals facilitate tracking of our specimens.”
The Alivisatos and Zettl groups were able to observe dimers, pairs of gold nanoparticles, tethered by a single piece of dsDNA, and trimers, three gold nanoparticles, connected into a linear configuration by two single pieces of dsDNA. From a series of 2D projected TEM images captured while the samples were rotating, the researchers were to reconstruct 3D configuration and motions of the samples as they evolved over time.
It seems to me we may have to find a new way to discuss ‘smart’ windows as there’s only one more category after the comparative ‘smarter’ and that’s the superlative ‘smartest’. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), please, let’s stop the madness now! That said, the Berkeley Lab issued an Aug. 14, 2013 news release (also on EurekAlert) about it’s latest work on raising the IQ of smart windows,
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have designed a new material to make smart windows even smarter. The material is a thin coating of nanocrystals embedded in glass that can dynamically modify sunlight as it passes through a window. Unlike existing technologies, the coating provides selective control over visible light and heat-producing near-infrared (NIR) light, so windows can maximize both energy savings and occupant comfort in a wide range of climates.
Milliron’s research group is already well known for their smart-window technology that blocks NIR without blocking visible light. The technology hinges on an electrochromic effect, where a small jolt of electricity switches the material between NIR-transmitting and NIR-blocking states. This new work takes their approach to the next level by providing independent control over both visible and NIR light. The innovation was recently recognized with a 2013 R&D 100 Award and the researchers are in the early stages of commercializing their technology.
Independent control over NIR light means that occupants can have natural lighting indoors without unwanted thermal gain, reducing the need for both air-conditioning and artificial lighting. The same window can also be switched to a dark mode, blocking both light and heat, or to a bright, fully transparent mode.
“We’re very excited about the combination of unique optical function with the low-cost and environmentally friendly processing technique,” said Llordés, a project scientist working with Milliron. “That’s what turns this ‘universal smart window’ concept into a promising competitive technology.”
Here’s the specific technology that’s been developed, from the news release,
At the heart of their technology is a new “designer” electrochromic material, made from nanocrystals of indium tin oxide embedded in a glassy matrix of niobium oxide. The resulting composite material combines two distinct functionalities—one providing control over visible light and the other, control over NIR—but it is more than the sum of its parts. The researchers found a synergistic interaction in the tiny region where glassy matrix meets nanocrystal that increases the potency of the electrochromic effect, which means they can use thinner coatings without compromising performance. The key is that the way atoms connect across the nanocrystal-glass interface causes a structural rearrangement in the glass matrix. The interaction opens up space inside the glass, allowing charge to move in and out more readily. Beyond electrochromic windows, this discovery suggests new opportunities for battery materials where transport of ions through electrodes can be a challenge.
I notice they’re using indium, one of the ‘rare earths’. Last I heard, China, one of the main sources for ‘rare earths’, was limiting its exports so this seems like an odd choice of material. Perhaps now they’ve proved this can be done, they’ll research for easily available substitutes. Here’s a link to and a citation for the published paper,
Finally, the researchers have provided an illustration of indium tin oxide nanocrystals,
Nanocrystals of indium tin oxide (shown here in blue) embedded in a glassy matrix of niobium oxide (green) form a composite material that can switch between NIR-transmitting and NIR-blocking states with a small jolt of electricity. A synergistic interaction in the region where glassy matrix meets nanocrystal increases the potency of the electrochromic effect. Courtesy Berkeley Lab
In the wake of the sobering news that atmospheric carbon dioxide is now at its highest level in at least three million years, an important advance in the race to develop carbon-neutral renewable energy sources has been achieved. Scientists with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have reported the first fully integrated nanosystem for artificial photosynthesis. While “artificial leaf” is the popular term for such a system, the key to this success was an “artificial forest.”
Here’s a more detailed description of the system, from the news release,
“Similar to the chloroplasts in green plants that carry out photosynthesis, our artificial photosynthetic system is composed of two semiconductor light absorbers, an interfacial layer for charge transport, and spatially separated co-catalysts,” says Peidong Yang, a chemist with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division, who led this research. “To facilitate solar water- splitting in our system, we synthesized tree-like nanowire heterostructures, consisting of silicon trunks and titanium oxide branches. Visually, arrays of these nanostructures very much resemble an artificial forest.”
… Artificial photosynthesis, in which solar energy is directly converted into chemical fuels, is regarded as one of the most promising of solar technologies. A major challenge for artificial photosynthesis is to produce hydrogen cheaply enough to compete with fossil fuels. Meeting this challenge requires an integrated system that can efficiently absorb sunlight and produce charge-carriers to drive separate water reduction and oxidation half-reactions.
“In natural photosynthesis the energy of absorbed sunlight produces energized charge-carriers that execute chemical reactions in separate regions of the chloroplast,” Yang says. “We’ve integrated our nanowire nanoscale heterostructure into a functional system that mimics the integration in chloroplasts and provides a conceptual blueprint for better solar-to-fuel conversion efficiencies in the future.”
When sunlight is absorbed by pigment molecules in a chloroplast, an energized electron is generated that moves from molecule to molecule through a transport chain until ultimately it drives the conversion of carbon dioxide into carbohydrate sugars. This electron transport chain is called a “Z-scheme” because the pattern of movement resembles the letter Z on its side. Yang and his colleagues also use a Z-scheme in their system only they deploy two Earth abundant and stable semiconductors – silicon and titanium oxide – loaded with co-catalysts and with an ohmic contact inserted between them. Silicon was used for the hydrogen-generating photocathode and titanium oxide for the oxygen-generating photoanode. The tree-like architecture was used to maximize the system’s performance. Like trees in a real forest, the dense arrays of artificial nanowire trees suppress sunlight reflection and provide more surface area for fuel producing reactions.
“Upon illumination photo-excited electron−hole pairs are generated in silicon and titanium oxide, which absorb different regions of the solar spectrum,” Yang says. “The photo-generated electrons in the silicon nanowires migrate to the surface and reduce protons to generate hydrogen while the photo-generated holes in the titanium oxide nanowires oxidize water to evolve oxygen molecules. The majority charge carriers from both semiconductors recombine at the ohmic contact, completing the relay of the Z-scheme, similar to that of natural photosynthesis.”
Under simulated sunlight, this integrated nanowire-based artificial photosynthesis system achieved a 0.12-percent solar-to-fuel conversion efficiency. Although comparable to some natural photosynthetic conversion efficiencies, this rate will have to be substantially improved for commercial use. [emphasis mine] However, the modular design of this system allows for newly discovered individual components to be readily incorporated to improve its performance. For example, Yang notes that the photocurrent output from the system’s silicon cathodes and titanium oxide anodes do not match, and that the lower photocurrent output from the anodes is limiting the system’s overall performance.
“We have some good ideas to develop stable photoanodes with better performance than titanium oxide,” Yang says. “We’re confident that we will be able to replace titanium oxide anodes in the near future and push the energy conversion efficiency up into single digit percentages.”
Now I can discuss my confusion, which stems from my May 24, 2013 posting about work done at the Argonne National Laboratory,
… Researchers still have a long way to go before they will be able to create devices that match the light harvesting efficiency of a plant.
One reason for this shortcoming, Tiede [Argonne biochemist David Tiede] explained, is that artificial photosynthesis experiments have not been able to replicate the molecular matrix that contains the chromophores. “The level that we are at with artificial photosynthesis is that we can make the pigments and stick them together, but we cannot duplicate any of the external environment,” he said. “The next step is to build in this framework, and then these kinds of quantum effects may become more apparent.”
Because the moment when the quantum effect occurs is so short-lived – less than a trillionth of a second – scientists will have a hard time ascertaining biological and physical rationales for their existence in the first place. [emphasis mine]
It’s not clear to me whether or not the folks at the Berkeley Lab bypassed the ‘problem’ described by Tiede or solved it to achieve solar-to-fuel conversion rates comparable to natural photosynthesis conversions. As I noted, too much information/not enough knowledge.
Two University of California, Berkeley, researchers have now described mathematically the successive stages in the complex evolution and disappearance of foamy bubbles, a feat that could help in modeling industrial processes in which liquids mix or in the formation of solid foams such as those used to cushion bicycle helmets.
Applying these equations, they created mesmerizing computer-generated movies showing the slow and sedate disappearance of wobbly foams one burst bubble at a time.
The applied mathematicians, James A. Sethian and Robert I. Saye, will report their results in the May 10 issue of Science. Sethian, a UC Berkeley professor of mathematics, leads the mathematics group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). Saye will graduate from UC Berkeley this May with a PhD in applied mathematics.
“This work has application in the mixing of foams, in industrial processes for making metal and plastic foams, and in modeling growing cell clusters,” said Sethian. “These techniques, which rely on solving a set of linked partial differential equations, can be used to track the motion of a large number of interfaces connected together, where the physics and chemistry determine the surface dynamics.”
The problem with describing foams mathematically has been that the evolution of a bubble cluster a few inches across depends on what’s happening in the extremely thin walls of each bubble, which are thinner than a human hair.
“Modeling the vastly different scales in a foam is a challenge, since it is computationally impractical to consider only the smallest space and time scales,” Saye said. “Instead, we developed a scale-separated approach that identifies the important physics taking place in each of the distinct scales, which are then coupled together in a consistent manner.”
Saye and Sethian discovered a way to treat different aspects of the foam with different sets of equations that worked for clusters of hundreds of bubbles. One set of equations described the gravitational draining of liquid from the bubble walls, which thin out until they rupture. Another set of equations dealt with the flow of liquid inside the junctions between the bubble membranes. A third set handled the wobbly rearrangement of bubbles after one pops.
Using a fourth set of equations, the mathematicians solved the physics of a sunset reflected in the bubbles, taking account of thin film interference within the bubble membranes, which can create rainbow hues like an oil slick on wet pavement. Solving the full set of equations of motion took five days using supercomputers at the LBNL’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC).
The mathematicians next plan to look at manufacturing processes for small-scale new materials.
Here’s a still image from the video the researchers created to demonstrate their work on soap bubble clusters,
A soap bubble cluster shown with physically accurate thin-film interference, which produces rainbow hues like an oil slick on pavement. A beach at sunset is reflected in the bubbles. Courtesy: UC Berkeley
Titanium dioxide crystals are white, except when they’re black. According to an Apr. 10, 2013 news item on Nanowerk, researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (US) have found a way to change white titanium dioxide crystals to black thereby changing some of their properties,
A unique atomic-scale engineering technique for turning low-efficiency photocatalytic “white” nanoparticles of titanium dioxide into high-efficiency “black” nanoparticles could be the key to clean energy technologies based on hydrogen.
Samuel Mao, a scientist who holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division and the University of California at Berkeley, leads the development of a technique for engineering disorder into the nanocrystalline structure of the semiconductor titanium dioxide. This turns the naturally white crystals black in color, a sign that the crystals are now able to absorb infrared as well as visible and ultraviolet light. The expanded absorption spectrum substantially improves the efficiency with which black titanium dioxide can use sunlight to split water molecules for the production of hydrogen.
The promise of hydrogen in batteries or fuels is a clean and renewable source of energy that does not exacerbate global climate change. The challenge is cost-effectively mass-producing it. Despite being the most abundant element in the universe, pure hydrogen is scarce on Earth because hydrogen combines with just about any other type of atom. Using solar energy to split the water molecule into hydrogen and oxygen is the ideal way to produce pure hydrogen. This, however, requires an efficient photocatalyst that water won’t corrode. Titanium dioxide can stand up to water but until the work of Mao and his group was only able to absorb ultraviolet light, which accounts for barely ten percent of the energy in sunlight.In his ACS [American Chemical Society] talk [at the 245th meeting, Apr. 7 - 11, 2013], titled “Disorder Engineering: Turning Titanium Dioxide Nanoparticles Black,” Mao described how he developed the concept of “disorder engineering,” and how the introduction of hydrogenated disorders creates mid-band gap energy states above the valence band maximum to enhance hydrogen mobility. His studies have not only yielded a promising new photocatalyst for generating hydrogen, but have also helped dispel some widely held scientific beliefs.
“Our tests have shown that a good semiconductor photocatalyst does not have to be a single crystal with minimal defects and energy levels just beneath the bottom of conduction band,” Mao said.
Characterization studies at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source also helped answer the question of how much of the hydrogen detected in their experiments comes from the photocatalytic reaction, and how much comes from hydrogen absorbed in the titanium oxide during the hydrogenation synthesis process.
“Our measurements indicate that only a very small amount of hydrogen is absorbed in black titanium dioxide, about 0.05 milligrams, as compared to the 40 milligrams of hydrogen detected during a 100 hour solar-driven hydrogen production experiment,” Mao said.
I must say, this ‘disorder engineering’ sounds much more appealing than some of the other disorders one hears about (e.g. personality disorders).
In addition to being a news release, this is a really good piece of science writing by Paul Preuss for the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), from the Jan. 3, 2013 Berkeley Lab news release,
Because modern computers have to depict the real world with digital representations of numbers instead of physical analogues, to simulate the continuous passage of time they have to digitize time into small slices. This kind of simulation is essential in disciplines from medical and biological research, to new materials, to fundamental considerations of quantum mechanics, and the fact that it inevitably introduces errors is an ongoing problem for scientists.
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have now identified and characterized the source of tenacious errors and come up with a way to separate the realistic aspects of a simulation from the artifacts of the computer method. …
Here’s more detail about the problem and solution,
How biological molecules move is hardly the only field where computer simulations of molecular-scale motion are essential. The need to use computers to test theories and model experiments that can’t be done on a lab bench is ubiquitous, and the problems that Sivak and his colleagues encountered weren’t new.
“A simulation of a physical process on a computer cannot use the exact, continuous equations of motion; the calculations must use approximations over discrete intervals of time,” says Sivak. “It’s well known that standard algorithms that use discrete time steps don’t conserve energy exactly in these calculations.”
One workhorse method for modeling molecular systems is Langevin dynamics, based on equations first developed by the French physicist Paul Langevin over a century ago to model Brownian motion. Brownian motion is the random movement of particles in a fluid (originally pollen grains on water) as they collide with the fluid’s molecules – particle paths resembling a “drunkard’s walk,” which Albert Einstein had used just a few years earlier to establish the reality of atoms and molecules. Instead of impractical-to-calculate velocity, momentum, and acceleration for every molecule in the fluid, Langevin’s method substituted an effective friction to damp the motion of the particle, plus a series of random jolts.
When Sivak and his colleagues used Langevin dynamics to model the behavior of molecular machines, they saw significant differences between what their exact theories predicted and what their simulations produced. They tried to come up with a physical picture of what it would take to produce these wrong answers.
“It was as if extra work were being done to push our molecules around,” Sivak says. “In the real world, this would be a driven physical process, but it existed only in the simulation, so we called it ‘shadow work.’ It took exactly the form of a nonequilibrium driving force.”
They first tested this insight with “toy” models having only a single degree of freedom, and found that when they ignored the shadow work, the calculations were systematically biased. But when they accounted for the shadow work, accurate calculations could be recovered.
“Next we looked at systems with hundreds or thousands of simple molecules,” says Sivak. Using models of water molecules in a box, they simulated the state of the system over time, starting from a given thermal energy but with no “pushing” from outside. “We wanted to know how far the water simulation would be pushed by the shadow work alone.”
The result confirmed that even in the absence of an explicit driving force, the finite-time-step Langevin dynamics simulation acted by itself as a driving nonequilibrium process. Systematic errors resulted from failing to separate this shadow work from the actual “protocol work” that they explicitly modeled in their simulations. For the first time, Sivak and his colleagues were able to quantify the magnitude of the deviations in various test systems.
Such simulation errors can be reduced in several ways, for example by dividing the evolution of the system into ever-finer time steps, because the shadow work is larger when the discrete time steps are larger. But doing so increases the computational expense.
The better approach is to use a correction factor that isolates the shadow work from the physically meaningful work, says Sivak. “We can apply results from our calculation in a meaningful way to characterize the error and correct for it, separating the physically realistic aspects of the simulation from the artifacts of the computer method.”
You can find out more in the Berkeley Lab news release, or (H/T) in the Jan. 3, 2013 news item on Nanowerk, or you can read the paper,
“Using nonequilibrium fluctuation theorems to understand and correct errors in equilibrium and nonequilibrium discrete Langevin dynamics simulations,” by David A. Sivak, John D. Chodera, and Gavin E. Crooks, will appear in Physical Review X (http://prx.aps.org/) and is now available as an arXiv preprint at http://arxiv.org/abs/1107.2967.
This casts a new light on the SPAUN (Semantic Pointer Architecture Unified Network) project, from Chris Eliasmith’s team at the University of Waterloo, which announced the most successful attempt (my Nov. 29, 2012 posting) yet to simulate a brain using virtual neurons. Given the probability that Eliasmith’s team was not aware of this work from the Berkeley Lab, one imagines that once it has been integrated that SPAUN will be capable of even more extraordinary feats.
Apparently, a space-time crystal could be useful for such things as studying the many-body problem in physics. Since I hadn’t realized the many-body problem existed and have no idea how this might affect me or anyone else, I will have to take the utility of a space-time crystal on trust.As for the possibility of an everlasting clock, how will I ever know the truth since I’m not everlasting?
Imagine a clock that will keep perfect time forever, even after the heat-death of the universe. This is the “wow” factor behind a device known as a “space-time crystal,” a four-dimensional crystal that has periodic structure in time as well as space. However, there are also practical and important scientific reasons for constructing a space-time crystal. With such a 4D crystal, scientists would have a new and more effective means by which to study how complex physical properties and behaviors emerge from the collective interactions of large numbers of individual particles, the so-called many-body problem of physics. A space-time crystal could also be used to study phenomena in the quantum world, such as entanglement, in which an action on one particle impacts another particle even if the two particles are separated by vast distances. [emphasis mine]
While I’m most interested in the possibility of studying entanglement, it seems to me the scientists are guessing since the verb ‘could’ is being used where they used ‘would’ previously for studying the many body problem.
The Sept. 24, 2012 news release by Lynn Yarris for the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), which originated the news item, provides detail on the latest space-time crystal development,
A space-time crystal, however, has only existed as a concept in the minds of theoretical scientists with no serious idea as to how to actually build one – until now. An international team of scientists led by researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has proposed the experimental design of a space-time crystal based on an electric-field ion trap and the Coulomb repulsion of particles that carry the same electrical charge.
“The electric field of the ion trap holds charged particles in place and Coulomb repulsion causes them to spontaneously form a spatial ring crystal,” says Xiang Zhang, a faculty scientist with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division who led this research. “Under the application of a weak static magnetic field, this ring-shaped ion crystal will begin a rotation that will never stop. The persistent rotation of trapped ions produces temporal order, leading to the formation of a space-time crystal at the lowest quantum energy state.”
Because the space-time crystal is already at its lowest quantum energy state, its temporal order – or timekeeping – will theoretically persist even after the rest of our universe reaches entropy, thermodynamic equilibrium or “heat-death.”
This new development builds on some work done earlier this year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), from the Yarris news release,
The concept of a crystal that has discrete order in time was proposed earlier this year by Frank Wilczek, the Nobel-prize winning physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While Wilczek mathematically proved that a time crystal can exist, how to physically realize such a time crystal was unclear. Zhang and his group, who have been working on issues with temporal order in a different system since September 2011, have come up with an experimental design to build a crystal that is discrete both in space and time – a space-time crystal.
Traditional crystals are 3D solid structures made up of atoms or molecules bonded together in an orderly and repeating pattern. Common examples are ice, salt and snowflakes. Crystallization takes place when heat is removed from a molecular system until it reaches its lower energy state. At a certain point of lower energy, continuous spatial symmetry breaks down and the crystal assumes discrete symmetry, meaning that instead of the structure being the same in all directions, it is the same in only a few directions.
“Great progress has been made over the last few decades in exploring the exciting physics of low-dimensional crystalline materials such as two-dimensional graphene, one-dimensional nanotubes, and zero-dimensional buckyballs,” says Tongcang Li, lead author of the PRL paper and a post-doc in Zhang’s research group. “The idea of creating a crystal with dimensions higher than that of conventional 3D crystals is an important conceptual breakthrough in physics and it is very exciting for us to be the first to devise a way to realize a space-time crystal.”
Just as a 3D crystal is configured at the lowest quantum energy state when continuous spatial symmetry is broken into discrete symmetry, so too is symmetry breaking expected to configure the temporal component of the space-time crystal. Under the scheme devised by Zhang and Li and their colleagues, a spatial ring of trapped ions in persistent rotation will periodically reproduce itself in time, forming a temporal analog of an ordinary spatial crystal. With a periodic structure in both space and time, the result is a space-time crystal.
Here’s an image created by team at the Berkeley Lab to represent their work on the space-time crystal,
Imagine a clock that will keep perfect time forever or a device that opens new dimensions into quantum phenomena such as emergence and entanglement. (courtesy of Xiang Zhang group[?] at Berkeley Lab)
For anyone who’s interested in this work, I suggest reading either the news item on Nanowerk or the Berkeley Lab news release in full. I will leave you with Natalie Cole and Everlasting Love,
The Sept. 7, 2012 news item by Lynn Yarris for physorg.com highlights some research on rust being conducted (pun intended) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Labs).
Rust – iron oxide – is a poor conductor of electricity, which is why an electronic device with a rusted battery usually won’t work. Despite this poor conductivity, an electron transferred to a particle of rust will use thermal energy to continually move or “hop” from one atom of iron to the next. Electron mobility in iron oxide can hold huge significance for a broad range of environment- and energy-related reactions, including reactions pertaining to uranium in groundwater and reactions pertaining to low-cost solar energy devices. …
“We believe this work is the starting point for a new area of time-resolved geochemistry that seeks to understand chemical reaction mechanisms by making various kinds of movies that depict in real time how atoms and electrons move during reactions,” says Benjamin Gilbert, a geochemist with Berkeley Lab’s Earth Sciences Division and a co-founder of the Berkeley Nanogeoscience Center who led this research. “Using ultrafast pump-probe X-ray spectroscopy, we were able to measure the rates at which electrons are transported through spontaneous iron-to-iron hops in redox-active iron oxides. Our results showed that the rates depend on the structure of the iron oxide and confirmed that certain aspects of the current model of electron hopping in iron oxides are correct.”
The news item provides a wealth of detail about electron hopping and iron oxide but I was most intrigued by future applications,
Katz [Jordan Katz, the lead author, now with Denison University] is excited about the application of these results to finding ways to use iron oxide for solar energy collection and conversion.
“Iron oxide is a semiconductor that is abundant, stable and environmentally friendly, and its properties are optimal for absorption of sunlight,” he says. “To use iron oxide for solar energy collection and conversion, however, it is critical to understand how electrons are transferred within the material, which when used in a conventional design is not highly conductive. Experiments such as this will help us to design new systems with novel nanostructured architectures that promote desired redox reactions, and suppress deleterious reactions in order to increase the efficiency of our device.”
I find rust quite attractive although, admittedly, very irritating at times. I have never before considered the possibility it might prove useful nor had I realized that it never rests (sleeps).
First, it might be a good idea to define chirality. From the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) July 10, 2012 news release by LynnYarris,
Chirality is the distinct left/right orientation or “handedness” of some types of molecules, meaning the molecule can take one of two mirror image forms. The right-handed and left-handed forms of such molecules, called “enantiomers,” can exhibit strikingly different properties. For example, one enantiomer of the chiral molecule limonene smells of lemon, the other smells of orange. The ability to observe or even switch the chirality of molecules using terahertz (trillion-cycles-per-second) electromagnetic radiation is a much coveted asset in the world of high technology.
As for why anyone would want to flip molecules back and forth between left- and right-handedness (from the news release),
A multi-institutional team of researchers that included scientists with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has created the first artificial molecules whose chirality can be rapidly switched from a right-handed to a left-handed orientation with a beam of light. This holds potentially important possibilities for the application of terahertz technologies across a wide range of fields, including reduced energy use for data-processing, homeland security and ultrahigh-speed communications.
Working with terahertz (THz) metamaterials engineered from nanometer-sized gold strips with air as the dielectric – Zhang [Xiang Zhang, one of the leaders of this research and a principal investigator with Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division] and his colleagues fashioned a delicate artificial chiral molecule which they then incorporated with a photoactive silicon medium. Through photoexcitation of their metamolecules with an external beam of light, the researchers observed handedness flipping in the form of circularly polarized emitted THz light. Furthermore, the photoexcitation enabled this chirality flipping and the circular polarization of THz light to be dynamically controlled.
“In contrast to previous demonstrations where chirality was merely switched on or off in metamaterials using photoelectric stimulation, we used an optical switch to actually reverse the chirality of our THz metamolecules,” Zhang says.
The researchers describe in more detail the potential for this new technique,
“The observed giant switchable chirality we can engineer into our metamaterials provides a viable approach towards creating high performance polarimetric devices that are largely not available at terahertz frequencies,” says corresponding author Antoinette Taylor. “This frequency range is particularly interesting because it uniquely reveals information about physical phenomena such as the interactions between or within biologically relevant molecules, and may enable control of electronic states in novel material systems, such as cyclotron resonances in graphene and topological insulators.”
Taylor and her co-authors say that the general design principle of their optically switchable chiral THz metamolecules is not limited to handedness switching but could also be applied to the dynamic reversing of other electromagnetic properties.
From what I understand metamaterials are very expensive and difficult to produce which means this exciting advance is likely to remain in the laboratory of at least 10 years.