Tag Archives: MIT

A treasure trove of molecule and battery data released to the public

Scientists working on The Materials Project have taken the notion of open science to their hearts and opened up access to their data according to a June 9, 2016 news item on Nanowerk,

The Materials Project, a Google-like database of material properties aimed at accelerating innovation, has released an enormous trove of data to the public, giving scientists working on fuel cells, photovoltaics, thermoelectrics, and a host of other advanced materials a powerful tool to explore new research avenues. But it has become a particularly important resource for researchers working on batteries. Co-founded and directed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) scientist Kristin Persson, the Materials Project uses supercomputers to calculate the properties of materials based on first-principles quantum-mechanical frameworks. It was launched in 2011 by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science.

A June 8, 2016 Berkeley Lab news release, which originated the news item, provides more explanation about The Materials Project,

The idea behind the Materials Project is that it can save researchers time by predicting material properties without needing to synthesize the materials first in the lab. It can also suggest new candidate materials that experimentalists had not previously dreamed up. With a user-friendly web interface, users can look up the calculated properties, such as voltage, capacity, band gap, and density, for tens of thousands of materials.

Two sets of data were released last month: nearly 1,500 compounds investigated for multivalent intercalation electrodes and more than 21,000 organic molecules relevant for liquid electrolytes as well as a host of other research applications. Batteries with multivalent cathodes (which have multiple electrons per mobile ion available for charge transfer) are promising candidates for reducing cost and achieving higher energy density than that available with current lithium-ion technology.

The sheer volume and scope of the data is unprecedented, said Persson, who is also a professor in UC Berkeley’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering. “As far as the multivalent cathodes, there’s nothing similar in the world that exists,” she said. “To give you an idea, experimentalists are usually able to focus on one of these materials at a time. Using calculations, we’ve added data on 1,500 different compositions.”

While other research groups have made their data publicly available, what makes the Materials Project so useful are the online tools to search all that data. The recent release includes two new web apps—the Molecules Explorer and the Redox Flow Battery Dashboard—plus an add-on to the Battery Explorer web app enabling researchers to work with other ions in addition to lithium.

“Not only do we give the data freely, we also give algorithms and software to interpret or search over the data,” Persson said.

The Redox Flow Battery app gives scientific parameters as well as techno-economic ones, so battery designers can quickly rule out a molecule that might work well but be prohibitively expensive. The Molecules Explorer app will be useful to researchers far beyond the battery community.

“For multivalent batteries it’s so hard to get good experimental data,” Persson said. “The calculations provide rich and robust benchmarks to assess whether the experiments are actually measuring a valid intercalation process or a side reaction, which is particularly difficult for multivalent energy technology because there are so many problems with testing these batteries.”

Here’s a screen capture from the Battery Explorer app,

The Materials Project’s Battery Explorer app now allows researchers to work with other ions in addition to lithium.

The Materials Project’s Battery Explorer app now allows researchers to work with other ions in addition to lithium. Courtesy: The Materials Project

The news release goes on to describe a new discovery made possible by The Materials Project (Note: A link has been removed),

Together with Persson, Berkeley Lab scientist Gerbrand Ceder, postdoctoral associate Miao Liu, and MIT graduate student Ziqin Rong, the Materials Project team investigated some of the more promising materials in detail for high multivalent ion mobility, which is the most difficult property to achieve in these cathodes. This led the team to materials known as thiospinels. One of these thiospinels has double the capacity of the currently known multivalent cathodes and was recently synthesized and tested in the lab by JCESR researcher Linda Nazar of the University of Waterloo, Canada.

“These materials may not work well the first time you make them,” Persson said. “You have to be persistent; for example you may have to make the material very phase pure or smaller than a particular particle size and you have to test them under very controlled conditions. There are people who have actually tried this material before and discarded it because they thought it didn’t work particularly well. The power of the computations and the design metrics we have uncovered with their help is that it gives us the confidence to keep trying.”

The researchers were able to double the energy capacity of what had previously been achieved for this kind of multivalent battery. The study has been published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science in an article titled, “A High Capacity Thiospinel Cathode for Mg Batteries.”

“The new multivalent battery works really well,” Persson said. “It’s a significant advance and an excellent proof-of-concept for computational predictions as a valuable new tool for battery research.”

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

A high capacity thiospinel cathode for Mg batteries by Xiaoqi Sun, Patrick Bonnick, Victor Duffort, Miao Liu, Ziqin Rong, Kristin A. Persson, Gerbrand Ceder and  Linda F. Nazar. Energy Environ. Sci., 2016, Advance Article DOI: 10.1039/C6EE00724D First published online 24 May 2016

This paper seems to be behind a paywall.

Getting back to the news release, there’s more about The Materials Project in relationship to its membership,

The Materials Project has attracted more than 20,000 users since launching five years ago. Every day about 20 new users register and 300 to 400 people log in to do research.

One of those users is Dane Morgan, a professor of engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who develops new materials for a wide range of applications, including highly active catalysts for fuel cells, stable low-work function electron emitter cathodes for high-powered microwave devices, and efficient, inexpensive, and environmentally safe solar materials.

“The Materials Project has enabled some of the most exciting research in my group,” said Morgan, who also serves on the Materials Project’s advisory board. “By providing easy access to a huge database, as well as tools to process that data for thermodynamic predictions, the Materials Project has enabled my group to rapidly take on materials design projects that would have been prohibitive just a few years ago.”

More materials are being calculated and added to the database every day. In two years, Persson expects another trove of data to be released to the public.

“This is the way to reach a significant part of the research community, to reach students while they’re still learning material science,” she said. “It’s a teaching tool. It’s a science tool. It’s unprecedented.”

Supercomputing clusters at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), a DOE Office of Science User Facility hosted at Berkeley Lab, provide the infrastructure for the Materials Project.

Funding for the Materials Project is provided by the Office of Science (US Department of Energy], including support through JCESR [Joint Center for Energy Storage Research].

Happy researching!

Next Horizons: Electronic Literature Organization (ELO) 2016
 conference in Victoria, BC

The Electronic Literature Organization (ELO; based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT]) is holding its annual conference themed Next Horizons (from an Oct. 12, 2015 post on the ELO blog) at the University of Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia from June 10 – June 12, 2016.

You can get a better sense of what it’s all about by looking at the conference schedule/programme,

Friday, June 10, 2016

8:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.: Registration
MacLaurin Lobby A100

8:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m: Breakfast
Sponsored by Bloomsbury Academic

10:00 a.m.-10:30: Welcome
MacLaurin David Lam Auditorium A 144
Speakers: Dene Grigar & Ray Siemens

10:30-12 noon: Featured Papers
MacLaurin David Lam Auditorium A 144
Chair: Alexandra Saum-Pascual, UC Berkeley

  • Stuart Moulthrop, “Intimate Mechanics: Play and Meaning in the Middle of Electronic Literature”
  • Anastasia Salter, “Code before Content? Brogrammer Culture in Games and Electronic Literature”

12 Noon-1:45 p.m.  Gallery Opening & Lunch Reception
MacLaurin Lobby A 100
Kick off event in celebration of e-lit works
A complete list of artists featured in the Exhibit

1:45-3:00: Keynote Session
MacLaurin David Lam Auditorium A 144
“Prototyping Resistance: Wargame Narrative and Inclusive Feminist Discourse”

  • Jon Saklofske, Acadia University
  • Anastasia Salter, University of Central Florida
  • Liz Losh, College of William and Mary
  • Diane Jakacki, Bucknell University
  • Stephanie Boluk, UC Davis

3:00-3:15: Break

3:15-4:45: Concurrent Session 1

Session 1.1: Best Practices for Archiving E-Lit
MacLaurin D010
Chair: Dene Grigar, Washington State University Vancouver

  • Dene Grigar, Washington State University Vancouver
  • Stuart Moulthrop, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee
  • Matthew Kirschenbaum, University of Maryland College Park
  • Judy Malloy, Independent Artist

Session 1.2: Medium & Meaning
MacLaurin D110
Chair: Rui Torres, University Fernando Pessoa

  • “From eLit to pLit,” Heiko Zimmerman, University of Trier
  • “Generations of Meaning,” Hannah Ackermans, Utrecht University
  • “Co-Designing DUST,” Kari Kraus, University of Maryland College Park

Session 1.3: A Critical Look at E-Lit
MacLaurin D105
Chair: Philippe Brand, Lewis & Clark College

  • “Methods of Interrogation,” John Murray, University of California Santa Cruz
  • “Peering through the Window,” Philippe Brand, Lewis & Clark College
  • “(E-)re-writing Well-Known Works,” Agnieszka Przybyszewska, University of Lodz

Session 1.4: Literary Games
MacLaurin D109
Chair: Alex Mitchell, National University of Singapore

  • “Twine Games,” Alanna Bartolini, UC Santa Barbara
  • “Whose Game Is It Anyway?,” Ryan House, Washington State University Vancouver
  • “Micronarratives Dynamics in the Structure of an Open-World Action-Adventure Game,” Natalie Funk, Simon Fraser University

Session 1.5: eLit and the (Next) Future of Cinema
MacLaurin D107
Chair: Steven Wingate, South Dakota State University

  • Steve Wingate, South Dakota State University
  • Kate Armstrong, Emily Carr University
  • Samantha Gorman, USC

Session 1.6: Authors & Texts
MacLaurin D101
Chair: Robert Glick, Rochester Institute of Technology

  • “Generative Poems by Maria Mencia,” Angelica Huizar, Old Dominion University
  • “Inhabitation: Johanna Drucker: “no file is ever self-identical,” Joel Kateinikoff, University of Alberta
  • “The Great Monster: Ulises Carrión as E-Lit Theorist,” Élika Ortega, University of Kansas
  • “Pedagogic Strategies for Electronic Literature,” Mia Zamora, Kean University

3:15-4:45: Action Session Day 1
MacLaurin D111

  • Digital Preservation, by Nicholas Schiller, Washington State University Vancouver; Zach Coble, NYU
  • ELMCIP, Scott Rettberg and Álvaro Seiça, University of Bergen; Hannah Ackermans, Utrecht University
  • Wikipedia-A-Thon, Liz Losh, College of William and Mary

5:00-6:00: Reception and Poster Session
University of Victoria Faculty Club
For ELO, DHSI, & INKE Participants, featuring these artists and scholars from the ELO:

  • “Social Media for E-Lit Authors,” Michael Rabby, Washington State University Vancouver
  • “– O True Apothecary!, by Kyle Booten,” UC Berkeley, Center for New Media
  • “Life Experience through Digital Simulation Narratives,” David Núñez Ruiz, Neotipo
  • “Building Stories,” Kate Palermini, Washington State University Vancouver
  • “Help Wanted and Skills Offered,” by Deena Larsen, Independent Artist; Julianne Chatelain, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
  • “Beyond Original E-Lit: Deconstructing Austen Cybertexts,” Meredith Dabek, Maynooth University
  • Arabic E-Lit. (AEL) Project, Riham Hosny, Rochester Institute of Technology/Minia University
  • “Poetic Machines,” Sidse Rubens LeFevre, University of Copenhagen
  • “Meta for Meta’s Sake,” Melinda White


7:30-11:00: Readings & Performances at Felicita’s
A complete list of artists featured in the event

Saturday, June 11, 2016


8:30-10:00: Lightning Round
MacLaurin David Lam Auditorium A 144
Chair: James O’Sullivan, University of Sheffield

  • “Different Tools but Similar Wits,” Guangxu Zhao, University of Ottawa
  • “Digital Aesthetics,” Bertrand Gervais, Université du Québec à Montréal
  • “Hatsune Miku,” Roman Kalinovski, Independent Scholar
  • “Meta for Meta’s Sake,” Melinda White, University of New Hampshire
  • “Narrative Texture,” Luciane Maria Fadel, Simon Fraser University
  • “Natural Language Generation,” by Stefan Muller Arisona
  • “Poetic Machines,” Sidse Rubens LeFevre, University of Copenhagen
  • “Really Really Long Works,” Aden Evens, Dartmouth University
  • “UnWrapping the E-Reader,” David Roh, University of Utah
  • “Social Media for E-Lit Artists,” Michael Rabby

10:00: Gallery exhibit opens
MacLaurin A100
A complete list of artists featured in the Exhibit

10:30-12 noon: Concurrent Session 2

Session 2.1: Literary Interventions
MacLaurin D101
Brian Ganter, Capilano College

  • “Glitching the Poem,” Aaron Angello, University of Colorado Boulder
  • “WALLPAPER,” Alice Bell, Sheffield Hallam University; Astrid Ensslin, University of Alberta
  • “Unprintable Books,” Kate Pullinger [emphasis mine], Bath Spa University

Session 2.2: Theoretical Underpinnings
MacLaurin D105
Chair: Mia Zamora, Kean University

  • “Transmediation,” Kedrick James, University of British Columbia; Ernesto Pena, University of British Columbia
  • “The Closed World, Databased Narrative, and Network Effect,” Mark Sample, Davidson College
  • “The Cyborg of the House,” Maria Goicoechea, Universidad Complutense de Madrid

Session 2.3: E-Lit in Time and Space
MacLaurin D107
Chair: Andrew Klobucar, New Jersey Institute of Technology

  • “Electronic Literary Artifacts,” John Barber, Washington State University Vancouver; Alcina Cortez, INET-MD, Instituto de Etnomusicologia, Música e Dança
  • “The Old in the Arms of the New,” Gary Barwin, Independent Scholar
  • “Space as a Meaningful Dimension,” Luciane Maria Fadel, Simon Fraser University

Session 2.4: Understanding Bots
MacLaurin D110
Chair: Leonardo Flores, University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez

  • Allison Parrish, Fordham University
  • Matt Schneider, University of Toronto
  • Tobi Hahn, Paisley Games
  • Zach Whalen, University of Mary Washington

10:30-12 noon: Action Session Day 2
MacLaurin D111

  • Digital Preservation, by Nicholas Schiller, Washington State University Vancouver; Zach Coble, NYU
  • ELMCIP, Allison Parrish, Fordham University; Scott Rettberg, University of Bergen; David Nunez Ruiz, Neotipo; Hannah Ackermans, Utrecht University
  • Wikipedia-A-Thon, Liz Losh, College of William and Mary

12:15-1:15: Artists Talks & Lunch
David Lam Auditorium MacLaurin A144

  • “The Listeners,” by John Cayley
  • “The ChessBard and 3D Poetry Project as Translational Ecosystems,” Aaron Tucker, Ryerson University
  • “News Wheel,” Jody Zellen, Independent Artist
  • “x-o-x-o-x.com,” Erik Zepka, Independent Artist

1:30-3:00: Concurrent Session 3

Session 3.1: E-Lit Pedagogy in Global Setting
MacLaurin D111
Co-Chairs: Philippe Bootz, Université Paris 8; Riham Hosny, Rochester Institute of Technology/Minia University

  • Sandy Baldwin, Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Maria Goicoechea, Universidad Complutense de Madrid
  • Odile Farge, UNESCO Chair ITEN, Foundation MSH/University of Paris8.

Session 3.2: The Art of Computational Media
MacLaurin D109
Chair: Rui Torres, University Fernando Pessoa

  • “Creative GREP Works,” Kristopher Purzycki, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee
  • “Using Theme to Author Hypertext Fiction,” Alex Mitchell, National University at Singapore

Session 3.3: Present Future Past
MacLaurin D110
Chair: David Roh, University of Utah

  • “Exploring Potentiality,” Daniela Côrtes Maduro, Universität Bremen
  • “Programming the Kafkaesque Mechanism,” by Kristof Anetta, Slovak Academy of Sciences
  • “Reapprasing Word Processing,” Matthew Kirschenbaum, University of Maryland College Park

Session 3.4: Beyond Collaborative Horizons
MacLaurin D010
Chair: Jeremy Douglass, UC Santa Barbara

  • Jeremy Douglass, UC Santa Barbara
  • Mark Marino, USC
  • Jessica Pressman, San Diego State University

Session 3.5: E-Loops: Reshuffling Reading & Writing In Electronic Literature Works
MacLaurin D105
Chair: Gwen Le Cor, Université Paris 8

  • “The Plastic Space of E-loops and Loopholes: the Figural Dynamics of Reading,” Gwen Le Cor, Université Paris 8
  • “Beyond the Cybernetic Loop: Redrawing the Boundaries of E-Lit Translation,” Arnaud Regnauld, Université Paris 8
  • “E-Loops: The Possible and Variable Figure of a Contemporary Aesthetic,” Ariane Savoie, Université du Québec à Montréal and Université Catholique de Louvain
  • “Relocating the Digital,” Stéphane Vanderhaeghe, Université Paris 8

Session 3.6: Metaphorical Perspectives
MacLaurin D107
Chair: Alexandra Saum-Pascual, UC Berkeley

  • “Street Ghosts,” Ali Rachel Pearl, USC
  • “The (Wo)men’s Social Club,” Amber Strother, Washington State University Vancouver
Session 3.7: Embracing Bots
MacLaurin D101

Zach Whalen, Chair

  • Leonardo Flores, University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez Campus
  • Chris Rodley, University of Sydney
  • Élika Ortega, University of Kansas
  • Katie Rose Pipkin, Carnegie Mellon

1:30-3:30: Workshops
MacLaurin D115

  • “Bots,” Zach Whalen, University of Mary Washington
  • “Twine”
  • “AR/VR,” John Murray, UC Santa Cruz
  • “Unity 3D,” Stefan Muller Arisona, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern; Simon Schubiger, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern
  • “Exploratory Programming,” Nick Montfort, MIT
  • “Scalar,” Hannah Ackermans, University of Utrecht
  • The Electronic Poet’s Workbench: Build a Generative Writing Practice, Andrew Koblucar, New Jersey Institute of Technology; David Ayre, Programmer and Independent Artist

3:30-5:00: Keynote

Christine Wilks [emphasis mine], “Interactive Narrative and the Art of Steering Through Possible Worlds”
MacLaurin David Lam Auditorium A144

Wilks is British digital writer, artist and developer of playable stories. Her digital fiction, Underbelly, won the New Media Writing Prize 2010 and the MaMSIE Digital Media Competition 2011. Her work is published in online journals and anthologies, including the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 2 and the ELMCIP Anthology of European Electronic Literature, and has been presented at international festivals, exhibitions and conferences. She is currently doing a practice-based PhD in Digital Writing at Bath Spa University and is also Creative Director of e-learning specialists, Make It Happen.

5:15-6:45: Screenings at Cinecenta
A complete list of artists featured in the Screenings

7:00-9:00: Banquet (a dance follows)
University of Victoria Faculty Club

Sunday, June 12, 2016


8:30-10:00: Town Hall
MacLaurin David Lam Auditorium D144

10:00: Gallery exhibit opens
MacLaurin A100
A complete list of artists featured in the Exhibit

10:30-12 p.m.: Concurrent Session 4

Session 4.1: Narratives & Narrativity
MacLaurin D110
Chair: Kendrick James, University of British Columbia

  • “Narrativity in Virtual Reality,” Illya Szilak, Independent Scholar
  • “Simulation Studies,” David Ciccoricco, University of Otago
  • “Future Fiction Storytelling Machines,” Caitlin Fisher, York University

Session 4.2: Historical & Critical Perspectives
MacLaurin D101
Chair: Robert Glick, Rochester Institute of Technology

  • “The Evolution of E-Lit,” James O’Sullivan, University of Sheffield
  • “The Logic of Selection,” by Matti Kangaskoski, Helsinki University

Session 4.3: Emergent Media
MacLaurin D107
Alexandra Saum-Pascual, UC Berkeley

  • Seasons II:  a case study in Ambient Video, Generative Art, and Audiovisual Experience,” Jim Bizzocchi, Simon Fraser University; Arne Eigenfeldt, Simon Fraser University; Philippe Pasquier, Simon Fraser University; Miles Thorogood, Simon Fraser University
  • “Cinematic Turns,” Liz Losh, College of William and Mary
  • “Mario Mods and Ludic Seriality,” Shane Denson, Duke University

Session 4.4: The E-Literary Object
MacLaurin D109
Chair: Deena Larsen, Independent Artist

  • “How E-Literary Is My E-Literature?,” by Leonardo Flores, University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez Campus
  • “Overcoming the Locative Interface Fallacy,” by Lauren Burr, University of Waterloo
  • “Interactive Narratives on the Block,” Aynur Kadir, Simon Fraser University

Session 4.5: Next Narrative
MacLaurin D010
Chair: Marjorie Luesebrink

  • Marjorie Luesebrink, Independent Artist
  • Daniel Punday, Independent Artist
  • Will Luers, Washington State University Vancouver

10:30-12 p.m.: Action Session Day 3
MacLaurin D111

  • Digital Preservation, by Nicholas Schiller, Washington State University Vancouver; Zach Coble, NYU
  • ELMCIP, Allison Parrish, Fordham University; Scott Rettberg, University of Bergen; David Nunez Ruiz, Neotipo; Hannah Ackermans, Utrecht University
  • Wikipedia-A-Thon, Liz Losh, College of William and Mary

12:15-1:30: Artists Talks & Lunch
David Lam Auditorium A144

  • “Just for the Cameras,” Flourish Klink, Independent Artist
  • “Lulu Sweet,” Deanne Achong and Faith Moosang, Independent Artists
  • “Drone Pilot,” Ian Hatcher, Independent Artist
  • “AVATAR/MOCAP,” Alan Sondheim, Independent Artist

1:30-3:00 : Concurrent Session 5

Session 5.1: Subversive Texts
MacLaurin D101
Chair: Michael Rabby, Washington State University Vancouver

  • “E-Lit Jazz,” Sandy Baldwin, Rochester Institute of Technology; Rui Torres, University Fernando Pessoa
  • “Pop Subversion in Electronic Literature,” Davin Heckman, Winona State University
  • “E-Lit in Arabic Universities,” Riham Hosny, Rochester Institute of Technology/Minia University

Session 5.2: Experiments in #NetProv & Participatory Narratives
MacLaurin D109
Chair: Mia Zamora, Kean University

  • Mark Marino, USC
  • Rob Wittig, Meanwhile… Netprov Studio
  • Mia Zamora, Kean University

Session 5.3: Emergent Media
MacLaurin D105
Chair: Andrew Klobucar, New Jersey Institute of Technology

  • “Migrating Electronic Literature to the Kinect System,” Monika Gorska-Olesinka, University of Opole
  • “Mobile and Tactile Screens as Venues for the Performing Arts?,” Serge Bouchardon, Sorbonne Universités, Université de Technologie de Compiègne
  • “The Unquantified Self: Imagining Ethopoiesis in the Cognitive Era,” Andrew Klobucar, New Jersey Institute of Technology

Session 5.4: E-Lit Labs
MacLaurin D010
Chair: Jim Brown, Rutgers University Camden

  • Jim Brown, Rutgers University Camden
  • Robert Emmons, Rutgers University Camden
  • Brian Greenspan, Carleton University
  • Stephanie Boluk, UC Davis
  • Patrick LeMieux, UC Davis

Session 5.5: Transmedia Publishing
MacLaurin D107
Chair: Philippe Bootz

  • Philippe Bootz, Université Paris 8
  • Lucile Haute, Université Paris 8
  • Nolwenn Trehondart, Université Paris 8
  • Steve Wingate, South Dakota State University

Session 5.6: Feminist Horizons
MacLaurin D110
Moderator: Anastasia Salter, University of Central Florida

  • Kathi Inman Berens, Portland State University
  • Jessica Pressman, San Diego State University
  • Caitlin Fisher, York University

3:30-5:00: Closing Session
David Lam Auditorium MacLaurin A144
Chairs: John Cayley, Brown University; Dene Grigar, President, ELO

  • “Platforms and Genres of Electronic Literature,” Scott Rettberg, University of Bergen
  • “Emergent Story Structures,” David Meurer. York University
  • “We Must Go Deeper,” Samantha Gorman, USC; Milan Koerner-Safrata, Recon Instruments

I’ve bolded two names: Christine Wilks, one of two conference keynote speakers, who completed her MA in the same cohort as mine in De Montfort University’s Creative Writing and New Media master’s program. Congratulations on being a keynote speaker, Christine! The other name belongs to Kate Pullinger who was one of two readers for that same MA programme. Since those days, Pullinger has won a Governor General’s award for her fiction, “The Mistress of Nothing,” and become a professor at the University of Bath Spa (UK).

Registration appears to be open.

Making better concrete by looking to nature for inspiration

Researchers from the Masssachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are working on a new formula for concrete based on bones, shells, and other such natural materials. From a May 25, 2016 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Researchers at MIT are seeking to redesign concrete — the most widely used human-made material in the world — by following nature’s blueprints.

In a paper published online in the journal Construction and Building Materials (“Roadmap across the mesoscale for durable and sustainable cement paste – A bioinspired approach”), the team contrasts cement paste — concrete’s binding ingredient — with the structure and properties of natural materials such as bones, shells, and deep-sea sponges. As the researchers observed, these biological materials are exceptionally strong and durable, thanks in part to their precise assembly of structures at multiple length scales, from the molecular to the macro, or visible, level.

A May 26, 2016 MIT news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail,

From their observations, the team, led by Oral Buyukozturk, a professor in MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), proposed a new bioinspired, “bottom-up” approach for designing cement paste.

“These materials are assembled in a fascinating fashion, with simple constituents arranging in complex geometric configurations that are beautiful to observe,” Buyukozturk says. “We want to see what kinds of micromechanisms exist within them that provide such superior properties, and how we can adopt a similar building-block-based approach for concrete.”

Ultimately, the team hopes to identify materials in nature that may be used as sustainable and longer-lasting alternatives to Portland cement, which requires a huge amount of energy to manufacture.

“If we can replace cement, partially or totally, with some other materials that may be readily and amply available in nature, we can meet our objectives for sustainability,” Buyukozturk says.

“The merger of theory, computation, new synthesis, and characterization methods have enabled a paradigm shift that will likely change the way we produce this ubiquitous material, forever,” Buehler says. “It could lead to more durable roads, bridges, structures, reduce the carbon and energy footprint, and even enable us to sequester carbon dioxide as the material is made. Implementing nanotechnology in concrete is one powerful example [of how] to scale up the power of nanoscience to solve grand engineering challenges.”

From molecules to bridges

Today’s concrete is a random assemblage of crushed rocks and stones, bound together by a cement paste. Concrete’s strength and durability depends partly on its internal structure and configuration of pores. For example, the more porous the material, the more vulnerable it is to cracking. However, there are no techniques available to precisely control concrete’s internal structure and overall properties.

“It’s mostly guesswork,” Buyukozturk says. “We want to change the culture and start controlling the material at the mesoscale.”

As Buyukozturk describes it, the “mesoscale” represents the connection between microscale structures and macroscale properties. For instance, how does cement’s microscopic arrangement affect the overall strength and durability of a tall building or a long bridge? Understanding this connection would help engineers identify features at various length scales that would improve concrete’s overall performance.

“We’re dealing with molecules on the one hand, and building a structure that’s on the order of kilometers in length on the other,” Buyukozturk says. “How do we connect the information we develop at the very small scale, to the information at the large scale? This is the riddle.”

Building from the bottom, up

To start to understand this connection, he and his colleagues looked to biological materials such as bone, deep sea sponges, and nacre (an inner shell layer of mollusks), which have all been studied extensively for their mechanical and microscopic properties. They looked through the scientific literature for information on each biomaterial, and compared their structures and behavior, at the nano-, micro-, and macroscales, with that of cement paste.

They looked for connections between a material’s structure and its mechanical properties. For instance, the researchers found that a deep sea sponge’s onion-like structure of silica layers provides a mechanism for preventing cracks. Nacre has a “brick-and-mortar” arrangement of minerals that generates a strong bond between the mineral layers, making the material extremely tough.

“In this context, there is a wide range of multiscale characterization and computational modeling techniques that are well established for studying the complexities of biological and biomimetic materials, which can be easily translated into the cement community,” says Masic.

Applying the information they learned from investigating biological materials, as well as knowledge they gathered on existing cement paste design tools, the team developed a general, bioinspired framework, or methodology, for engineers to design cement, “from the bottom up.”

The framework is essentially a set of guidelines that engineers can follow, in order to determine how certain additives or ingredients of interest will impact cement’s overall strength and durability. For instance, in a related line of research, Buyukozturk is looking into volcanic ash [emphasis mine] as a cement additive or substitute. To see whether volcanic ash would improve cement paste’s properties, engineers, following the group’s framework, would first use existing experimental techniques, such as nuclear magnetic resonance, scanning electron microscopy, and X-ray diffraction to characterize volcanic ash’s solid and pore configurations over time.

Researchers could then plug these measurements into models that simulate concrete’s long-term evolution, to identify mesoscale relationships between, say, the properties of volcanic ash and the material’s contribution to the strength and durability of an ash-containing concrete bridge. These simulations can then be validated with conventional compression and nanoindentation experiments, to test actual samples of volcanic ash-based concrete.

Ultimately, the researchers hope the framework will help engineers identify ingredients that are structured and evolve in a way, similar to biomaterials, that may improve concrete’s performance and longevity.

“Hopefully this will lead us to some sort of recipe for more sustainable concrete,” Buyukozturk says. “Typically, buildings and bridges are given a certain design life. Can we extend that design life maybe twice or three times? That’s what we aim for. Our framework puts it all on paper, in a very concrete way, for engineers to use.”

This is not the only team looking at new methods for producing the material, my Dec. 24, 2012 posting features a number of ‘concrete’ research projects.

Also, I highlighted the reference to ‘volcanic ash’ as it reminded me of Roman concrete which has lasted for over 2000 years and includes volcanic sand and volcanic rock.  You can read more about it in a Dec. 18, 2014 article by Mark Miller for Ancient Origins where he describes the wonders of the material and what was then a recent discovery of the Romans’ recipe.

I have two links and citations, first, the MIT paper, then the paper on Roman concrete.

Roadmap across the mesoscale for durable and sustainable cement paste – A bioinspired approach by Steven D. Palkovic, Dieter B. Brommer, Kunal Kupwade-Patil, Admir Masic, Markus J. Buehler, Oral Büyüköztürk.Construction and Building Materials Volume 115, 15 July 2016, Pages 13–31.  doi:10.1016/j.conbuildmat.2016.04.020

Mechanical resilience and cementitious processes in Imperial Roman architectural mortar by Marie D. Jackson, Eric N. Landis, Philip F. Brune, Massimo Vitti, Heng Chen, Qinfei Li, Martin Kunz, Hans-Rudolf Wenk, Paulo J. M. Monteiro, and Anthony R. Ingraffea. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences  vol. 111 no. 52 18484–18489, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1417456111

The first paper is behind a paywall but the second one appears to be open access.

Congratulations to Markus Buehler on his Foresight Institute Feynman Prize for advances in nanotechnology

A May 24, 2016 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) news release celebrates Markus Buehler’s latest award,

On May 21 [2016], Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering head and McAfee Professor of Engineering Markus J. Buehler received the 2015 Foresight Institute Feynman Prize in Theoretical Molecular Nanotechnology. Buehler’s award was one of three prizes presented by the Foresight Institute, a leading think tank and public interest organization, at its annual conference in Palo Alto, California. …

The Foresight Institute recognized Buehler for his important contributions to making nanotechnology scalable for large-scale materials applications, enabled by bottom-up multiscale computational methods, and linking new manufacturing and characterization methods.

Focusing on mechanical properties — especially deformation and failure — and translation from biological materials and structures to bio-inspired synthetic materials, his work has led to the development and application of new modeling, design, and manufacturing approaches for advanced materials that offer greater resilience and a wide range of controllable properties from the nano- to the macroscale.

Buehler’s signature achievement, according to the Institute, is the application of molecular and chemical principles in the analysis of mechanical systems, with the aim to design devices and materials that provide a defined set of functions.

“It’s an incredible honor to receive such an esteemed award. I owe this to the outstanding students and postdocs whom I had a pleasure to work with over the years, my colleagues, as well my own mentors,” Buehler said. “Richard Feynman was a revolutionary scientist of his generation. It’s a privilege to share his goals of researching molecular technology at very small scale to create new, more efficient, and better lasting materials at much larger scale that will help transform lives and industries.”

The two other award winners are Professor Michelle Y. Simmons of the University of New South Wales [Australia], who won the Feynman Prize for Experimental Molecular Nanotechnology, and Northwestern University graduate student Chuyang Cheng, who won the Distinguished Student Award.

I have featured Buehler’s work here a number of times. The most recent appearance was in  a May 29, 2015 posting about synthesizing spider’s silk.

The origins of gold and other precious metals

The link between this research and my side project on gold nanoparticles is a bit tenuous but this work on the origins for gold and other precious metals being found in the stars is so fascinating and I’m determined to find a connection.

An artist's impression of two neutron stars colliding. (Credit: Dana Berry / Skyworks Digital, Inc.) Courtesy: Kavli Foundation

An artist’s impression of two neutron stars colliding. (Credit: Dana Berry / Skyworks Digital, Inc.) Courtesy: Kavli Foundation

From a May 19, 2016 news item on phys.org,

The origin of many of the most precious elements on the periodic table, such as gold, silver and platinum, has perplexed scientists for more than six decades. Now a recent study has an answer, evocatively conveyed in the faint starlight from a distant dwarf galaxy.

In a roundtable discussion, published today [May 19, 2016?], The Kavli Foundation spoke to two of the researchers behind the discovery about why the source of these heavy elements, collectively called “r-process” elements, has been so hard to crack.

From the Spring 2016 Kavli Foundation webpage hosting the  “Galactic ‘Gold Mine’ Explains the Origin of Nature’s Heaviest Elements” Roundtable ,

RESEARCHERS HAVE SOLVED a 60-year-old mystery regarding the origin of the heaviest elements in nature, conveyed in the faint starlight from a distant dwarf galaxy.

Most of the chemical elements, composing everything from planets to paramecia, are forged by the nuclear furnaces in stars like the Sun. But the cosmic wellspring for a certain set of heavy, often valuable elements like gold, silver, lead and uranium, has long evaded scientists.

Astronomers studying a galaxy called Reticulum II have just discovered that its stars contain whopping amounts of these metals—collectively known as “r-process” elements (See “What is the R-Process?”). Of the 10 dwarf galaxies that have been similarly studied so far, only Reticulum II bears such strong chemical signatures. The finding suggests some unusual event took place billions of years ago that created ample amounts of heavy elements and then strew them throughout the galaxy’s reservoir of gas and dust. This r-process-enriched material then went on to form Reticulum II’s standout stars.

Based on the new study, from a team of researchers at the Kavli Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the unusual event in Reticulum II was likely the collision of two, ultra-dense objects called neutron stars. Scientists have hypothesized for decades that these collisions could serve as a primary source for r-process elements, yet the idea had lacked solid observational evidence. Now armed with this information, scientists can further hope to retrace the histories of galaxies based on the contents of their stars, in effect conducting “stellar archeology.”

The Kavli Foundation recently spoke with three astrophysicists about how this discovery can unlock clues about galactic evolution as well as the abundances of certain elements on Earth we use for everything from jewelry-making to nuclear power generation. The participants were:

  • Alexander Ji – is a graduate student in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a member of the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research (MKI). He is lead author of a paper in Nature describing this discovery.
  • Anna Frebel – is the Silverman Family Career Development Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics at MIT and also a member of MKI. Frebel is Ji’s advisor and coauthored the Nature paper. Her work delves into the chemical and physical conditions of the early universe as conveyed by the oldest stars.
  • Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz – is a Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His research explores violent events in the universe, including the mergers of neutron stars and their role in generating r-process elements.

Here’s a link to and citation for Ji’s and Frebel’s paper about r-process elements in the stars,

R-process enrichment from a single event in an ancient dwarf galaxy by Alexander P. Ji, Anna Frebel, Anirudh Chiti, & Joshua D. Simon. Nature 531, 610–613 (31 March 2016) doi:10.1038/nature17425 Published online 21 March 2016

This paper is behind a paywall but you can read an edited transcript of the roundtable discussion on the Galactic ‘Gold Mine’ Explains the Origin of Nature’s Heaviest Elements webpage (keep scrolling past the introductory text).

As for my side project, Steep (2) on gold nanoparticles, that’s still in the planning stages but if there’s a way to include this information, I’ll do it.

Ingestible origami robot gets one step closer

Fiction, more or less seriously, has been exploring the idea of ingestible, tiny robots that can enter the human body for decades (Fantastic Voyage and Innerspace are two movie examples). The concept is coming closer to being realized as per a May 12, 2016 news item on phys.org,

In experiments involving a simulation of the human esophagus and stomach, researchers at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], the University of Sheffield, and the Tokyo Institute of Technology have demonstrated a tiny origami robot that can unfold itself from a swallowed capsule and, steered by external magnetic fields, crawl across the stomach wall to remove a swallowed button battery or patch a wound.

A May 12, 2016 MIT news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides some fascinating depth to this story (Note: Links have been removed),

The new work, which the researchers are presenting this week at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation, builds on a long sequence of papers on origami robots from the research group of Daniela Rus, the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

“It’s really exciting to see our small origami robots doing something with potential important applications to health care,” says Rus, who also directs MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). “For applications inside the body, we need a small, controllable, untethered robot system. It’s really difficult to control and place a robot inside the body if the robot is attached to a tether.”

Although the new robot is a successor to one reported at the same conference last year, the design of its body is significantly different. Like its predecessor, it can propel itself using what’s called a “stick-slip” motion, in which its appendages stick to a surface through friction when it executes a move, but slip free again when its body flexes to change its weight distribution.

Also like its predecessor — and like several other origami robots from the Rus group — the new robot consists of two layers of structural material sandwiching a material that shrinks when heated. A pattern of slits in the outer layers determines how the robot will fold when the middle layer contracts.

Material difference

The robot’s envisioned use also dictated a host of structural modifications. “Stick-slip only works when, one, the robot is small enough and, two, the robot is stiff enough,” says Guitron [Steven Guitron, a graduate student in mechanical engineering]. “With the original Mylar design, it was much stiffer than the new design, which is based on a biocompatible material.”

To compensate for the biocompatible material’s relative malleability, the researchers had to come up with a design that required fewer slits. At the same time, the robot’s folds increase its stiffness along certain axes.

But because the stomach is filled with fluids, the robot doesn’t rely entirely on stick-slip motion. “In our calculation, 20 percent of forward motion is by propelling water — thrust — and 80 percent is by stick-slip motion,” says Miyashita [Shuhei Miyashita, who was a postdoc at CSAIL when the work was done and is now a lecturer in electronics at the University of York, England]. “In this regard, we actively introduced and applied the concept and characteristics of the fin to the body design, which you can see in the relatively flat design.”

It also had to be possible to compress the robot enough that it could fit inside a capsule for swallowing; similarly, when the capsule dissolved, the forces acting on the robot had to be strong enough to cause it to fully unfold. Through a design process that Guitron describes as “mostly trial and error,” the researchers arrived at a rectangular robot with accordion folds perpendicular to its long axis and pinched corners that act as points of traction.

In the center of one of the forward accordion folds is a permanent magnet that responds to changing magnetic fields outside the body, which control the robot’s motion. The forces applied to the robot are principally rotational. A quick rotation will make it spin in place, but a slower rotation will cause it to pivot around one of its fixed feet. In the researchers’ experiments, the robot uses the same magnet to pick up the button battery.

Porcine precedents

The researchers tested about a dozen different possibilities for the structural material before settling on the type of dried pig intestine used in sausage casings. “We spent a lot of time at Asian markets and the Chinatown market looking for materials,” Li [Shuguang Li, a CSAIL postdoc] says. The shrinking layer is a biodegradable shrink wrap called Biolefin.

To design their synthetic stomach, the researchers bought a pig stomach and tested its mechanical properties. Their model is an open cross-section of the stomach and esophagus, molded from a silicone rubber with the same mechanical profile. A mixture of water and lemon juice simulates the acidic fluids in the stomach.

Every year, 3,500 swallowed button batteries are reported in the U.S. alone. Frequently, the batteries are digested normally, but if they come into prolonged contact with the tissue of the esophagus or stomach, they can cause an electric current that produces hydroxide, which burns the tissue. Miyashita employed a clever strategy to convince Rus that the removal of swallowed button batteries and the treatment of consequent wounds was a compelling application of their origami robot.

“Shuhei bought a piece of ham, and he put the battery on the ham,” Rus says. [emphasis mine] “Within half an hour, the battery was fully submerged in the ham. So that made me realize that, yes, this is important. If you have a battery in your body, you really want it out as soon as possible.”

“This concept is both highly creative and highly practical, and it addresses a clinical need in an elegant way,” says Bradley Nelson, a professor of robotics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich. “It is one of the most convincing applications of origami robots that I have seen.”

I wonder if they ate the ham afterwards.

Happily, MIT has produced a video featuring this ingestible, origami robot,

Finally, this team has a couple more members than the previously mentioned Rus, Miyashita, and Li,

…  Kazuhiro Yoshida of Tokyo Institute of Technology, who was visiting MIT on sabbatical when the work was done; and Dana Damian of the University of Sheffield, in England.

As Rus notes in the video, the next step will be in vivo (animal) studies.

Tightening the skin (and protecting it and removing wrinkles, temporarily)

“It’s an invisible layer that can provide a barrier, provide cosmetic improvement, and potentially deliver a drug locally to the area that’s being treated. Those three things together could really make it ideal for use in humans,” Daniel Anderson says. Photo: Melanie Gonick/MIT

“It’s an invisible layer that can provide a barrier, provide cosmetic improvement, and potentially deliver a drug locally to the area that’s being treated. Those three things together could really make it ideal for use in humans,” Daniel Anderson says. Photo: Melanie Gonick/MIT

It almost looks like he’s peeling off his own skin and I imagine that’s the secret to this polymer’s success. A May 9, 2016 news item on phys.org describes the work being done at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and elsewhere with collaborators,

Scientists at MIT, Massachusetts General Hospital, Living Proof, and Olivo Labs have developed a new material that can temporarily protect and tighten skin, and smooth wrinkles. With further development, it could also be used to deliver drugs to help treat skin conditions such as eczema and other types of dermatitis.

A May 9, 2016 MIT news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail,

The material, a silicone-based polymer that could be applied on the skin as a thin, imperceptible coating, mimics the mechanical and elastic properties of healthy, youthful skin. In tests with human subjects, the researchers found that the material was able to reshape “eye bags” under the lower eyelids and also enhance skin hydration. This type of “second skin” could also be adapted to provide long-lasting ultraviolet protection, the researchers say.

“It’s an invisible layer that can provide a barrier, provide cosmetic improvement, and potentially deliver a drug locally to the area that’s being treated. Those three things together could really make it ideal for use in humans,” says Daniel Anderson, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering and a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES).

Anderson is one of the authors of a paper describing the polymer in the May 9 online issue of Nature Materials. Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT and a member of the Koch Institute, is the paper’s senior author, and the paper’s lead author is Betty Yu SM ’98, ScD ’02, former vice president at Living Proof. Langer and Anderson are co-founders of Living Proof and Olivo Labs, and Yu earned her master’s and doctorate at MIT.

Mimicking skin

As skin ages, it becomes less firm and less elastic — problems that can be exacerbated by sun exposure. This impairs skin’s ability to protect against extreme temperatures, toxins, microorganisms, radiation, and injury. About 10 years ago, the research team set out to develop a protective coating that could restore the properties of healthy skin, for both medical and cosmetic applications.

“We started thinking about how we might be able to control the properties of skin by coating it with polymers that would impart beneficial effects,” Anderson says. “We also wanted it to be invisible and comfortable.”

The researchers created a library of more than 100 possible polymers, all of which contained a chemical structure known as siloxane — a chain of alternating atoms of silicon and oxygen. These polymers can be assembled into a network arrangement known as a cross-linked polymer layer (XPL). The researchers then tested the materials in search of one that would best mimic the appearance, strength, and elasticity of healthy skin.

“It has to have the right optical properties, otherwise it won’t look good, and it has to have the right mechanical properties, otherwise it won’t have the right strength and it won’t perform correctly,” Langer says.

The best-performing material has elastic properties very similar to those of skin. In laboratory tests, it easily returned to its original state after being stretched more than 250 percent (natural skin can be elongated about 180 percent). In laboratory tests, the novel XPL’s elasticity was much better than that of two other types of wound dressings now used on skin — silicone gel sheets and polyurethane films.

“Creating a material that behaves like skin is very difficult,” says Barbara Gilchrest, a dermatologist at MGH and an author of the paper. “Many people have tried to do this, and the materials that have been available up until this have not had the properties of being flexible, comfortable, nonirritating, and able to conform to the movement of the skin and return to its original shape.”

The XPL is currently delivered in a two-step process. First, polysiloxane components are applied to the skin, followed by a platinum catalyst that induces the polymer to form a strong cross-linked film that remains on the skin for up to 24 hours. This catalyst has to be added after the polymer is applied because after this step the material becomes too stiff to spread. Both layers are applied as creams or ointments, and once spread onto the skin, XPL becomes essentially invisible.

High performance

The researchers performed several studies in humans to test the material’s safety and effectiveness. In one study, the XPL was applied to the under-eye area where “eye bags” often form as skin ages. These eye bags are caused by protrusion of the fat pad underlying the skin of the lower lid. When the material was applied, it applied a steady compressive force that tightened the skin, an effect that lasted for about 24 hours.

In another study, the XPL was applied to forearm skin to test its elasticity. When the XPL-treated skin was distended with a suction cup, it returned to its original position faster than untreated skin.

The researchers also tested the material’s ability to prevent water loss from dry skin. Two hours after application, skin treated with the novel XPL suffered much less water loss than skin treated with a high-end commercial moisturizer. Skin coated with petrolatum was as effective as XPL in tests done two hours after treatment, but after 24 hours, skin treated with XPL had retained much more water. None of the study participants reported any irritation from wearing XPL.

“I think it has great potential for both cosmetic and noncosmetic applications, especially if you could incorporate antimicrobial agents or medications,” says Thahn Nga Tran, a dermatologist and instructor at Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the research.

Living Proof has spun out the XPL technology to Olivo Laboratories, LLC, a new startup formed to focus on the further development of the XPL technology. Initially, Olivo’s team will focus on medical applications of the technology for treating skin conditions such as dermatitis.


This video supplied by MIT shows how to apply the polymer and offers a description and demonstration of its properties once applied,

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

An elastic second skin by Betty Yu, Soo-Young Kang, Ariya Akthakul, Nithin Ramadurai, Morgan Pilkenton, Alpesh Patel, Amir Nashat, Daniel G. Anderson, Fernanda H. Sakamoto, Barbara A. Gilchrest, R. Rox Anderson & Robert Langer. Nature Materials (2016) doi:10.1038/nmat4635 Published online 09 May 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

One final comment, I wonder who’s lining up to invest in this product.

MIT.nano building update

A few years ago I featured a story (my May 6, 2014 posting) about a new building, the MIT.nano, being constructed on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus. Now at about 1/2 way through the construction (the building is due to open in 2018) MIT has issued an update in an April 20, 2016 news release by Leda Zimmerman,

A spectacular show has been going on outside the windows of central-campus buildings all spring. An enormous steel structure has been growing — piece by piece, and bolt by bolt — out of a giant hole in the ground formerly occupied by Building 12. At a March 24 [2016] “tool talk” information session for the MIT community on the construction of MIT.nano, representatives from MIT Facilities and the contractors who are building the new 200,000 square foot nanoscale characterization and fabrication facility gave an overview not only of where things stand with the project, but how they got stood up.

“In our structural-steel erection progress log, we’ve been averaging around 23 tons per day,” said Peter Johnson of Turner Construction. “We’re putting up 2,101 tons total, and we’re 22 percent complete.”

There is a Canadian connection,

Working with Ontario-based steel fabricator, Canatal, Johnson and his colleagues at Turner developed a four-dimensional plan for steel engineering, delivery, and installation. “We went through a painstaking process to maximize efficiency of this sequence,” says Johnson. “This allows us to avoid times when a crane is down because it’s waiting” for a delivery of steel.

There are some very interesting details in the news release but if you don’t have the time, there is this picture,

MIT.nano steel structure, looking northwest. Photo: Lillie Paquette/School of Engineering

MIT.nano steel structure, looking northwest. Photo: Lillie Paquette/School of Engineering

The colours are quite striking (I suspect they have been enhanced).

New kind of long-range particle interactions found by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) team

A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found unexpected long-range interactions amongst particles in a liquid medium according to an April 12, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily,

Moving bodies can be attracted to each other, even when they’re quite far apart and separated by many other objects: That, in a nutshell, is the somewhat unexpected finding by a team of researchers at MIT.

Scientists have known for a long time that small particles of matter, from the size of dust to sand grains, can exert influences on each other through electrical, magnetic, or chemical effects. Now, this team has found a new kind of long-range interaction between particles, in a liquid medium, that is based entirely on their motions. And these interactions should apply to any kind of particles that move, whether they be living cells or metal particles whirled by magnetic fields.

An April 11, 2016 MIT news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the work in more detail,

The discovery, which holds for both living and nonliving particles, is described in a paper by Alfredo Alexander-Katz, the Walter Henry Gale Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT, and his co-researchers, in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.

Alexander-Katz describes the kind of interactions his team found as being related to the research field of active matter. Example of active systems are the flocking behavior of birds or the schooling of fish. Each individual member of the system may be responding just to others in its vicinity, but the result is a coherent overall pattern of movement that can span a large region. Cells in a fluid medium, or even tiny structures moving within a cell, exhibit similar kinds of motion, he says.

The researchers studied magnetic particles a few micrometers (millionths of a meter) across, comparable to the size of some cells. A small number of these magnetic metal microparticles were interspersed with a much larger quantity of inert particles of comparable size, all suspended in water. When a rotating magnetic field was applied, the metal particles would begin to spin, simulating the movements of living cells in the midst of nonliving or relatively inert objects — such as when cells migrate through tissues or move in a crowded environment.

They found that the spinning particles, even when separated by distances tens of times their size, would ultimately migrate toward each other. Though that attraction progressed through a slow and apparently random series of motions, the particles would in the end almost always come together.

While there has been a lot of research on interactions among active particles, Alexander-Katz says, this is one of the few studies that has looked at the way such particles interact when they are surrounded by inactive particles. “In the absence of the inactive particles there are essentially no interactions,” he says.

The unexpected finding might ultimately lead to a better understanding of the behavior of some natural biological systems or new methods for creating synthetic active materials which could be useful for selectively delivering drugs into certain parts of the body, Alexander-Katz suggests. It could also end up finding applications in electronics or energy-harvesting systems, for example providing a way to flip a crystal structure between two different configurations.

“What we’re addressing is collective excitations of the system, or coherent excitations,” he explains. “What we’re looking at is, what are the interactions as a function of activity” of the individual particles.

The faster the particles spin, the greater the attraction between them, the team found. Below a certain speed the effect stops altogether. But the amount of inert matter also makes a difference, they found.

With no inert particles — if the moving particles are suspended in clear water — there is no motion-based attraction. But when the nonspinning particles are added and their concentration reaches a certain point, “there is attraction!” Alexander-Katz says.

One unexpected aspect of the findings was how far the effect extended. “What was really surprising was that the range of the interactions is gigantic,” he says. By way of comparison, he says, imagine you’re in a crowd, and you start to move a bit, and someone else also starts to move, while everyone else tries to stand still. “I would be able to sense, even 20 people away or more, that that person is also active — assuming that the other folks around us are not active.”

The attraction, he says, “is not chemical, it is not magnetic, it is not electrostatic, it’s just based on activity.” And because the range is so long, these interactions could not be modeled in simulations but required physical experiments to be uncovered. The tests by Alexander-Katz and his team used two-dimensional films, similar to particle sediments that form on a rock surface, he says.

He speculates that some biological organisms may use this phenomenon as a way of sensing parts of their environment, though this has not yet been tested.

There is an MIT video illustrating the work,

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

Emergent ultra–long-range interactions between active particles in hybrid active–inactive systems by Joshua P. Steimel, Juan L. Aragones, Helen Hu, Naser Qureshi, and Alfredo Alexander-Katz. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,  2016; 201520481 doi: 10.1073/pnas.1520481113

This paper is behind a paywall.

Solar cells and soap bubbles

The MIT team has achieved the thinnest and lightest complete solar cells ever made, they say. To demonstrate just how thin and lightweight the cells are, the researchers draped a working cell on top of a soap bubble, without popping the bubble. Photo: Joel Jean and Anna Osherov

The MIT team has achieved the thinnest and lightest complete solar cells ever made, they say. To demonstrate just how thin and lightweight the cells are, the researchers draped a working cell on top of a soap bubble, without popping the bubble. Photo: Joel Jean and Anna Osherov

That’s quite a compelling image and it comes to us courtesy of researchers at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). From a Feb. 25, 2016 MIT news release (also on EurekAlert),

Imagine solar cells so thin, flexible, and lightweight that they could be placed on almost any material or surface, including your hat, shirt, or smartphone, or even on a sheet of paper or a helium balloon.

Researchers at MIT have now demonstrated just such a technology: the thinnest, lightest solar cells ever produced. Though it may take years to develop into a commercial product, the laboratory proof-of-concept shows a new approach to making solar cells that could help power the next generation of portable electronic devices.

Bulović [Vladimir Bulović ], MIT’s associate dean for innovation and the Fariborz Maseeh (1990) Professor of Emerging Technology, says the key to the new approach is to make the solar cell, the substrate that supports it, and a protective overcoating to shield it from the environment, all in one process. The substrate is made in place and never needs to be handled, cleaned, or removed from the vacuum during fabrication, thus minimizing exposure to dust or other contaminants that could degrade the cell’s performance.

“The innovative step is the realization that you can grow the substrate at the same time as you grow the device,” Bulović says.

In this initial proof-of-concept experiment, the team used a common flexible polymer called parylene as both the substrate and the overcoating, and an organic material called DBP as the primary light-absorbing layer. Parylene is a commercially available plastic coating used widely to protect implanted biomedical devices and printed circuit boards from environmental damage. The entire process takes place in a vacuum chamber at room temperature and without the use of any solvents, unlike conventional solar-cell manufacturing, which requires high temperatures and harsh chemicals. In this case, both the substrate and the solar cell are “grown” using established vapor deposition techniques.

One process, many materials

The team emphasizes that these particular choices of materials were just examples, and that it is the in-line substrate manufacturing process that is the key innovation. Different materials could be used for the substrate and encapsulation layers, and different types of thin-film solar cell materials, including quantum dots or perovskites, could be substituted for the organic layers used in initial tests.

But already, the team has achieved the thinnest and lightest complete solar cells ever made, they say. To demonstrate just how thin and lightweight the cells are, the researchers draped a working cell on top of a soap bubble, without popping the bubble. The researchers acknowledge that this cell may be too thin to be practical — “If you breathe too hard, you might blow it away,” says Jean [Joel Jean, doctoral student] — but parylene films of thicknesses of up to 80 microns can be deposited easily using commercial equipment, without losing the other benefits of in-line substrate formation.

A flexible parylene film, similar to kitchen cling-wrap but only one-tenth as thick, is first deposited on a sturdier carrier material – in this case, glass. Figuring out how to cleanly separate the thin material from the glass was a key challenge, explains Wang [Annie Wang, research scientist], who has spent many years working with parylene.

The researchers lift the entire parylene/solar cell/parylene stack off the carrier after the fabrication process is complete, using a frame made of flexible film. The final ultra-thin, flexible solar cells, including substrate and overcoating, are just one-fiftieth of the thickness of a human hair and one-thousandth of the thickness of equivalent cells on glass substrates — about two micrometers thick — yet they convert sunlight into electricity just as efficiently as their glass-based counterparts.

No miracles needed

“We put our carrier in a vacuum system, then we deposit everything else on top of it, and then peel the whole thing off,” explains Wang. Bulović says that like most new inventions, it all sounds very simple — once it’s been done. But actually developing the techniques to make the process work required years of effort.

While they used a glass carrier for their solar cells, Jean says “it could be something else. You could use almost any material,” since the processing takes place under such benign conditions. The substrate and solar cell could be deposited directly on fabric or paper, for example.

While the solar cell in this demonstration device is not especially efficient, because of its low weight, its power-to-weight ratio is among the highest ever achieved. That’s important for applications where weight is important, such as on spacecraft or on high-altitude helium balloons used for research. Whereas a typical silicon-based solar module, whose weight is dominated by a glass cover, may produce about 15 watts of power per kilogram of weight, the new cells have already demonstrated an output of 6 watts per gram — about 400 times higher.

“It could be so light that you don’t even know it’s there, on your shirt or on your notebook,” Bulović says. “These cells could simply be an add-on to existing structures.”

Still, this is early, laboratory-scale work, and developing it into a manufacturable product will take time, the team says. Yet while commercial success in the short term may be uncertain, this work could open up new applications for solar power in the long term. “We have a proof-of-concept that works,” Bulović says. The next question is, “How many miracles does it take to make it scalable? We think it’s a lot of hard work ahead, but likely no miracles needed.”

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

In situ vapor-deposited parylene substrates for ultra-thin, lightweight organic solar cells by Joel Jean, Annie Wang, Vladimir Bulović. Organic Electronics Volume 31, April 2016, Pages 120–126 doi:10.1016/j.orgel.2016.01.022

This paper is behind a paywall.