Tag Archives: Netherlands

Why Factory publishes book about research on nanotechnology in architecture

The book titled, Barba. Life in the Fully Adaptable Environment, published by nai010 and the Why Factory, a think tank operated by Dutch architectural firm, MVRDV, and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, is a little difficult to describe.  From a Nov. 16, 2015 MVRDV press release,

Is the end of brick and mortar near? How could nanotechnology change buildings and cities in the future? A speculation of The Why Factory on this topic is illustrated in the best tradition of science fiction in the newly published book Barba. Life in the Fully Adaptable Environment. It forms the point of departure for a series of interactive experiments, installations and proposals towards the development of new, body-based and fully adaptive architectures. A beautiful existential story comes alive. A story closer to us then you’d ever have thought. Imagine a new substance that could be steered and altered in real time. Imagine creating a flexible material that could change its shape, that could shrink and expand, that could do almost anything. The Why Factory calls this fictional material Barba. With Barba, we would be able to adapt our environment to every desire and to every need.

The press release delves into the inspiration for the material and the book,

… The first inspiration came from ‘Barbapapa’, an illustrated cartoon character from the 1970s. Invented and drawn by Talus Taylor and Annette Tison, the friendly, blobby protagonist of the eponymous children’s books and television programme could change his shape to resemble different objects. With Barbapapa’s smooth morphosis in mind, The Why Factory wondered how today’s advancements in robotics, material science and computing might allow us to create environments that transform themselves as easily as Barbapapa could. Neither Barbapapa’s inventors nor anybody else from the team behind the cartoon were involved in this project, but The Why Factory owes them absolute gratitude for the inspiration of Barbapapa.

“Barba is a fantastic matter that does whatever we wish for” says Winy Maas, Professor at The Why Factory and MVRDV co-founder. “You can programme your environment like a computer game. You could wake up in a modernist villa that you transform into a Roman Spa after breakfast. Cities can be totally transformed when offices just disappear after office hours.”

The book moves away from pure speculation, however, and makes steps towards real world application, including illustrated vision, programming experiments and applied prototypes. As co-author of the book, Ulf Hackauf, explains, “We started this book with a vision, which we worked out to form a consistent future scenario. This we took as a point of departure for experiments and speculations, including programming, installations and material research. It eventually led us to prototypes, which could form a first step for making Barba real.”

Barba developed through a series of projects organized by The Why Factory and undertaken in collaboration between Delft University of Technology, ETH Zürich and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology. The research was developed over the course of numerous design studios at the Why Factory and elsewhere. Students and collaborators of the Why Factory have all contributed to the book.

The press release goes on to offer some information about Why Factory,

The Why Factory explores possibilities for the development of our cities by focusing on the production of models and visualisations for cities of the future. Education and research of The Why Factory are combined in a research lab and platform that aims to analyse, theorise and construct future cities. It investigates within the given world and produces future scenarios beyond it; from universal to specific and global to local. It proposes, constructs and envisions hypothetical societies and cities; from science to fiction and vice versa. The Why Factory thus acts as a future world scenario making machinery, engaging in a public debate on architecture and urbanism. Their findings are then communicated to the wider public in a variety of ways, including exhibitions, publications, workshops, and panel discussions.

Based on the Why Factory description, I’m surmising that the book is meant to provoke interactivity in some way. However, there doesn’t seem to be a prescribed means to interact with the Why Factory or the authors (Winy Maas, Ulf Hackauf, Adrien Ravon, and Patrick Healy) so perhaps the book is meant to be a piece of fiction/manual for interested educators, architects, and others who want to create ‘think tank’ environments where people speculate about nanotechnology and architecture.

In any event, you can order the book from this nai010 webpage,

How nanotechnology might drastically change cities and architecture

> New, body-based and fully adaptive architecture
How could nanotechnology change buildings and cities in the future? Imagine a new substance, that could be steered and altered in real time. Imagine …

As for The Why Factory, you can find out more here on the think tank’s About page.

One last comment, in checking out MVRDV, the Dutch architectural firm mentioned earlier as one of The Why Factory’s operating organizations, I came across this piece of news generated as a consequence of the Nov. 13, 2015 Paris bombings,

The Why Factory alumna Emilie Meaud died in Friday’s Paris attacks. Our thoughts are with their family, friends and colleagues.

Nov 17, 2015

To our great horror and shock we received the terrible news that The Why Factory alumna Emilie Meaud (29) died in the Paris attacks of last Friday. She finished her master in Architecture at TU-Delft in 2012 and worked at the Agence Chartier-Dalix. She was killed alongside her twin sister Charlotte. Our thoughts are with their family, friends and colleagues.


What do nanocrystals have in common with the earth’s crust?

The deformation properties of nanocrystals resemble those in the earth’s crust according to a Nov. 17, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

Apparently, size doesn’t always matter. An extensive study by an interdisciplinary research group suggests that the deformation properties of nanocrystals are not much different from those of the Earth’s crust.

“When solid materials such as nanocrystals, bulk metallic glasses, rocks, or granular materials are slowly deformed by compression or shear, they slip intermittently with slip-avalanches similar to earthquakes,” explained Karin Dahmen, a professor of physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Typically these systems are studied separately. But we found that the scaling behavior of their slip statistics agree across a surprisingly wide range of different length scales and material structures.”

There’s an illustration accompanying the research,

Courtesy of the University of Illinois

Caption: When solid materials such as nanocrystals, bulk metallic glasses, rocks, or granular materials are slowly deformed by compression or shear, they slip intermittently with slip-avalanches similar to earthquakes. Credit: University of Illinois

A Nov. 17, 2015 University of Illinois news release (also on EurekAlert) by Rick Kubetz, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

“Identifying agreement in aspects of the slip statistics is important, because it enables us to transfer results from one scale to another, from one material to another, from one stress to another, or from one strain rate to another,” stated Shivesh Pathak, a physics undergraduate at Illinois, and a co-author of the paper, “Universal Quake Statistics: From Compressed Nanocrystals to Earthquakes,” appearing in Scientific Reports. “The study shows how to identify and explain commonalities in the deformation mechanisms of different materials on different scales.

“The results provide new tools and methods to use the slip statistics to predict future materials deformation,” added Michael LeBlanc, a physics graduate student and co-author of the paper. “They also clarify which system parameters significantly affect the deformation behavior on long length scales. We expect the results to be useful for applications in materials testing, failure prediction, and hazard prevention.”

Researchers representing a broad a range of disciplines–including physics, geosciences, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, and materials science–from the United States, Germany, and the Netherlands contributed to the study, comparing five different experimental systems, on several different scales, with model predictions.

As a solid is sheared, each weak spot is stuck until the local shear stress exceeds a random failure threshold. It then slips by a random amount until it re-sticks. The released stress is redistributed to all other weak spots. Thus, a slipping weak spot can trigger other spots to fail in a slip avalanche.

Using tools from the theory of phase transitions, such as the renormalization group, one can show that the slip statistics of the model do not depend on the details of the system.

“Although these systems span 13 decades in length scale, they all show the same scaling behavior for their slip size distributions and other statistical properties,” stated Pathak. “Their size distributions follow the same simple (power law) function, multiplied with the same exponential cutoff.”

The cutoff, which is the largest slip or earthquake size, grows with applied force for materials spanning length scales from nanometers to kilometers. The dependence of the size of the largest slip or quake on stress reflects “tuned critical” behavior, rather than so-called self-organized criticality, which would imply stress-independence.

“The agreement of the scaling properties of the slip statistics across scales does not imply the predictability of individual slips or earthquakes,” LeBlanc said. “Rather, it implies that we can predict the scaling behavior of average properties of the slip statistics and the probability of slips of a certain size, including their dependence on stress and strain-rate.”

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

Universal Quake Statistics: From Compressed Nanocrystals to Earthquakes by Jonathan T. Uhl, Shivesh Pathak, Danijel Schorlemmer, Xin Liu, Ryan Swindeman, Braden A. W. Brinkman, Michael LeBlanc, Georgios Tsekenis, Nir Friedman, Robert Behringer, Dmitry Denisov, Peter Schall, Xiaojun Gu, Wendelin J. Wright, Todd Hufnagel, Andrew Jennings, Julia R. Greer, P. K. Liaw, Thorsten Becker, Georg Dresen, & Karin A. Dahmen.  Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 16493 (2015)  doi:10.1038/srep16493 Published online: 17 November 2015

This is an open access paper.

One final comment, this story reminds me of a few other pieces of research featured here, which focus on repeating patterns in nature. The research was mentioned in an Aug. 27, 2015 posting about white dwarf stars and heartbeats and in an April 14, 2015 posting about gold nanoparticles and their resemblance to the Milky Way. You can also find more in the Wikipedia entry titled ‘Patterns in nature‘.

An app for nanomaterial risks (NanoRisk)

It seems past time for someone to have developed an app for nanomaterial risks. A Nov. 12, 2015 news item on Nanowerk makes the announcement (Note: A link has been removed),

The NanoRisk App is a guide to help the researcher in the risk assessment of nanomaterials. This evaluation is determined based on the physicochemical characteristics and the activities to be carried out by staff in research laboratories.

The NanoRisk App was developed at the University of Los Andes or Universidad de los Andes in Colombia (there also seems to be one in Chile). From the Nano Risk App homepage,

The NanoRisk App application was developed at the University of Los Andes by the Department of Chemical Engineering and the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and implemented in cooperation with the Department of Occupational Health at the University of Los Andes. This application focuses on the use of manufactured nanomaterials.


Homero Fernando Pastrana Rendón MD, MsC, PhD Candidate. Alba Graciela Ávila, Associate Professor, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. Felipe Muñoz Giraldo, Professor Associate Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Los Andes.

Acknowledgements to Diego Angulo and Diana Fernandez, from the Imagine group, for all the support in the development of this application.

About the App

The app is a guide to help the researcher in the risk assessment of nanomaterials. This evaluation is determined based on the physicochemical characteristics and the activities to be carried out by staff in research laboratories. This is based on nano risk management strategies from various institutions such as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, U.S. (NIOSH), the New Development Organization of Japan Energy and Industrial Technology (NEDO), the European Commission (Nanosafe Program) and the work developed by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (California, USA) in conjunction with the Safety Science Group at the University of Delft in the Netherlands.


The app will estimates the risk at four levels (low, medium, high and very high) for the hazard of the nanomaterial and the probability to be exposed to the material. Then it will recommend measures to contain the risk by applying engineering measures (controlled ventilation system, biosafety cabinet and glovebox).

They have a copyright notice on the page, as well as, instructions on how to access the App and the information.

Computer chips derived in a Darwinian environment

Courtesy: University of Twente

Courtesy: University of Twente

If that ‘computer chip’ looks a brain to you, good, since that’s what the image is intended to illustrate assuming I’ve correctly understood the Sept. 21, 2015 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Researchers of the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology and the CTIT Institute for ICT Research at the University of Twente in The Netherlands have demonstrated working electronic circuits that have been produced in a radically new way, using methods that resemble Darwinian evolution. The size of these circuits is comparable to the size of their conventional counterparts, but they are much closer to natural networks like the human brain. The findings promise a new generation of powerful, energy-efficient electronics, and have been published in the leading British journal Nature Nanotechnology (“Evolution of a Designless Nanoparticle Network into Reconfigurable Boolean Logic”).

A Sept. 21, 2015 University of Twente press release, which originated the news item, explains why and how they have decided to mimic nature to produce computer chips,

One of the greatest successes of the 20th century has been the development of digital computers. During the last decades these computers have become more and more powerful by integrating ever smaller components on silicon chips. However, it is becoming increasingly hard and extremely expensive to continue this miniaturisation. Current transistors consist of only a handful of atoms. It is a major challenge to produce chips in which the millions of transistors have the same characteristics, and thus to make the chips operate properly. Another drawback is that their energy consumption is reaching unacceptable levels. It is obvious that one has to look for alternative directions, and it is interesting to see what we can learn from nature. Natural evolution has led to powerful ‘computers’ like the human brain, which can solve complex problems in an energy-efficient way. Nature exploits complex networks that can execute many tasks in parallel.

Moving away from designed circuits

The approach of the researchers at the University of Twente is based on methods that resemble those found in Nature. They have used networks of gold nanoparticles for the execution of essential computational tasks. Contrary to conventional electronics, they have moved away from designed circuits. By using ‘designless’ systems, costly design mistakes are avoided. The computational power of their networks is enabled by applying artificial evolution. This evolution takes less than an hour, rather than millions of years. By applying electrical signals, one and the same network can be configured into 16 different logical gates. The evolutionary approach works around – or can even take advantage of – possible material defects that can be fatal in conventional electronics.

Powerful and energy-efficient

It is the first time that scientists have succeeded in this way in realizing robust electronics with dimensions that can compete with commercial technology. According to prof. Wilfred van der Wiel, the realized circuits currently still have limited computing power. “But with this research we have delivered proof of principle: demonstrated that our approach works in practice. By scaling up the system, real added value will be produced in the future. Take for example the efforts to recognize patterns, such as with face recognition. This is very difficult for a regular computer, while humans and possibly also our circuits can do this much better.”  Another important advantage may be that this type of circuitry uses much less energy, both in the production, and during use. The researchers anticipate a wide range of applications, for example in portable electronics and in the medical world.

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

Evolution of a designless nanoparticle network into reconfigurable Boolean logic by S. K. Bose, C. P. Lawrence, Z. Liu, K. S. Makarenko, R. M. J. van Damme, H. J. Broersma, & W. G. van der Wiel. Nature Nanotechnology (2015) doi:10.1038/nnano.2015.207 Published online 21 September 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.

Final comment, this research, especially with the reference to facial recognition, reminds me of memristors and neuromorphic engineering. I have written many times on this topic and you should be able to find most of the material by using ‘memristor’ as your search term in the blog search engine. For the mildly curious, here are links to two recent memristor articles, Knowm (sounds like gnome?) A memristor company with a commercially available product in a Sept. 10, 2015 posting and Memristor, memristor, you are popular in a May 15, 2015 posting.

Structural memory of water and the picosecond timescale

Water is a unique liquid and researchers from Germany and the Netherlands can detail at least part of why that’s so according to a Sept. 18, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

A team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz, Germany and FOM Institute AMOLF in the Netherlands have characterized the local structural dynamics of liquid water, i.e. how quickly water molecules change their binding state. Using innovative ultrafast vibrational spectroscopies, the researchers show why liquid water is so unique compared to other molecular liquids. …

With the help of a novel combination of ultrafast laser experiments, the scientists found that local structures persist in water for longer than a picosecond, a picosecond (ps) being one thousandth of one billionth of a second ((1012 s). This observation changes the general perception of water as a solvent.

A Sept. 18, 2015 Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, details the research,

… “71% of the earth’s surface is covered with water. As most chemical and biological reactions on earth occur in water or at the air water interface in oceans or in clouds, the details of how water behaves at the molecular level are crucial. Our results show that water cannot be treated as a continuum, but that specific local structures exist and are likely very important” says Mischa Bonn, director at the MPI-P.

Water is a very special liquid with extremely fast dynamics. Water molecules wiggle and jiggle on sub-picosecond timescales, which make them undistinguishable on this timescale. While the existence of very short-lived local structures – e.g. two water molecules that are very close to one another, or are very far apart from each other – is known to occur, it was commonly believed that they lose the memory of their local structure within less than 0.1 picoseconds.

The proof for relatively long-lived local structures in liquid water was obtained by measuring the vibrations of the Oxygen-Hydrogen (O-H) bonds in water. For this purpose the team of scientists used ultrafast infrared spectroscopy, particularly focusing on water molecules that are weakly (or strongly) hydrogen-bonded to their neighboring water molecules. The scientists found that the vibrations live much longer (up to about 1 ps) for water molecules with a large separation, than for those that are very close (down to 0.2 ps). In other words, the weakly bound water molecules remain weakly bound for a remarkably long time.

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

Strong frequency dependence of vibrational relaxation in bulk and surface water reveals sub-picosecond structural heterogeneity by Sietse T. van der Post, Cho-Shuen Hsieh, Masanari Okuno, Yuki Nagata, Huib J. Bakker, Mischa Bonn & Johannes Hunger. Nature Communications 6, Article number: 8384 doi:10.1038/ncomms9384 Published 18 September 2015

This is an open access paper,

Clothing which turns you into a billboard

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

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

Here’s what it looks like,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOFs (metal-organic frameworks) to clean up nuclear waste?

There’s a possibility that metal-organic frameworks could be used to clean up nuclear waste according to an Aug. 5, 2015 news item on phys.org,

One of the most versatile and widely applicable classes of materials being studied today are the metal-organic frameworks. These materials, known as MOFs, are characterized by metal ions or metal-ion clusters that are linked together with organic molecules, forming ordered crystal structures that contain tiny cage-like pores with diameters of two nanometers or less.

MOFs can be thought of as highly specialized and customizable sieves. By designing them with pores of a certain size, shape, and chemical composition, researchers can tailor them for specific purposes. A few of the many, many possible applications for MOFs are storing hydrogen in fuel cells, capturing environmental contaminants, or temporarily housing catalytic agents for chemical reactions.

At [US Department of Energy] Brookhaven National Laboratory, physicist Sanjit Ghose and his collaborators have been studying MOFs designed for use in the separation of waste from nuclear reactors, which results from the reprocessing of nuclear fuel rods. He is targeting two waste products in particular: the noble gases xenon (Xe) and krypton (Kr).

An Aug. 4, 2015 Brookhaven National Laboratory news release, which originated the news item, describes not only the research and the reasons for it but also the institutional collaborations necessary to conduct the research,

There are compelling economic and environmental reasons to separate Xe and Kr from the nuclear waste stream. For one, because they have very different half-lives – about 36 days for Xe and nearly 11 years for Kr – pulling out the Xe greatly reduces the amount of waste that needs to be stored long-term before it is safe to handle. Additionally, the extracted Xe can be used for industrial applications, such as in commercial lighting and as an anesthetic. This research may also help scientists determine how to create MOFs that can remove other materials from the nuclear waste stream and expose the remaining unreacted nuclear fuel for further re-use. This could lead to much less overall waste that must be stored long-term and a more efficient system for producing nuclear energy, which is the source of about 20 percent of the electricity in the U.S.

Because Xe and Kr are noble gases, meaning their outer electron orbitals are filled and they don’t tend to bind to other atoms, they are difficult to manipulate. The current method for extracting them from the nuclear waste stream is cryogenic distillation, a process that is energy-intensive and expensive. The MOFs studied here use a very different approach: polarizing the gas atoms dynamically, just enough to draw them in using the van der Waals force. The mechanism works at room temperature, but also at hotter temperatures, which is key if the MOFs are to be used in a nuclear environment.

Recently, Ghose co-authored two papers that describe MOFs capable of adsorbing Xe and Kr, and excel at separating the Xe from the Kr. The papers are published in the May 22 online edition of the Journal of the American Chemical Society and the April 16 online edition of the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters.

“Only a handful of noble-gas-specific MOFs have been studied so far, and we felt there was certainly scope for improvement through the discovery of more selective materials,” said Ghose.

Both MOF studies were carried out by large multi-institution collaborations, using a combination of X-ray diffraction, theoretical modeling, and other methods. The X-ray work was performed at Brookhaven’s former National Synchrotron Light Source (permanently closed and replaced by its successor, NSLS-II) and the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), both DOE Office of Science User Facilities.

The JACS paper was co-authored by researchers from Brookhaven Lab, Stony Brook University (SBU), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), and the University of Amsterdam. Authors on the JPCL paper include scientists from Brookhaven, SBU, PNNL, ANL, the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) in Germany, and DM Strachan, LLC.

Here’s more about the first published paper in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters (JCPL) (from the news release)

A nickel-based MOF

The MOF studied in the JCPL paper consists of nickel (Ni) and the organic compound dioxido-benzene-dicarboxylate (DOBC), and is thus referred to as Ni-DOBDC. Ni-DOBDC can adsorb both Xe and Kr at room temperature but is highly selective toward Xe. In fact, it boasts what may be the highest Xe adsorption capacity of a MOF discovered to date.

The group studied Ni-DOBC using two main techniques: X-ray diffraction and first-principles density functional theory (DFT). The paper is the first published report to detail the adsorption mechanism by which the MOF takes in these noble gases at room temperature and pressure.

“Our results provide a fundamental understanding of the adsorption structure and the interactions between the MOF and the gas by combining direct structural analyses from experimental X-ray diffraction data and DFT calculations,” said Ghose.

The group was also able to discover the existence of a secondary site at the pore center in addition to the six-fold primary site. The seven-atom loading scheme was initially proposed by theorist Yan Li, an co-author of the JCPL paper and formerly on staff at Brookhaven (she is now an editor at Physical Review B), which was confirmed experimentally and theoretically. Data also indicate that Xe are adsorbed more strongly than Kr, due to its higher atomic polarizability. They also discovered a temperature-dependence of the adsorption that furthers this MOF’s selectivity for Xe over Kr. As the temperature was increased above room temperature, the Kr adsorption drops more drastically than for Xe. Over the entire temperature range tested, Xe adsorption always dominates that of Kr.

“The high separation capacity of Ni-DOBDC suggests that it has great potential for removing Xe from Kr in the off-gas streams in nuclear spent fuel reprocessing, as well as filtering Xe at low concentration from other gas mixtures,” said Ghose.

Ghose and Li are now preparing a manuscript that will discuss a more in-depth investigation into the possibility of packing in even more Xe atoms.

“Because of the confinement offered by each pore, we want to see if it’s possible to fit enough Xe in each chamber to form a solid,” said Li.

Ghose and Li hope to experimentally test this idea at NSLS-II in the future, at the facility’s X-ray Powder Diffraction (XPD) beamline, which Ghose has helped develop and build. Additional future studies of these and other MOFs will also take place at XPD. For example, they want to see what happens when other gases are present, such as nitrogen oxides, to mimic what happens in an actual nuclear reactor.

Then, there was the second paper published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS),

Another MOF, Another Promising Result

In the JACS paper, Ghose and researchers from Brookhaven, SBU, PNNL, and the University of Amsterdam describe a second MOF, dubbed Stony Brook MOF-2 (SBMOF-2). It also captures both Xe and Kr at room temperature and pressure, although is about ten times as effective at taking in Xe, with Xe taking up as much as 27 percent of its weight. SBMOF-2 had been theoretically predicted to be an efficient adsorbent for Xe and Kr, but until this research there had been no experimental results to back up the prediction.

“Our study is different than MOF research done by other groups,” said chemist John Parise, a coauthor of the JACS paper who holds a joint position with Brookhaven and SBU. “We did a lot of testing and investigated the capture mechanism very closely to get clues that would help us understand why the MOF worked, and how to tailor the structure to have even better properties.”

SBMOF-2 contains calcium (Ca) ions and an organic compound with the chemical formula C34H22O8. X-ray data show that its structure is unusual among microporous MOFs. It has fewer calcium sites than expected and an excess of oxygen over calcium. The calcium and oxgyen form CaO6, which takes the form of a three-dimensional octahedron. Notably, none of the six oxygen atoms bound to the calcium ion are shared with any other nearby calcium ions. The authors believe that SBMOF-2 is the first microporous MOF with these isolated CaO6 octahedra, which are connected by organic linker molecules.

The group discovered that the preference of SBMOF-2 for Xe over Kr is due to both the geometry and chemistry of its pores. All the pores have diamond-shaped cross sections, but they come in two sizes, designated type-1 and type-2. Both sizes are a better fit for the Xe molecule. The interiors of the pores have walls made of phenyl groups – ring-shaped C6H5 molecules – along with delocalized electron clouds and H atoms pointing into the pore. The type-2 pores also have hydroxyl anions (OH-) available. All of these features provide are potential sites for adsorbed Xe and Kr atoms.

In follow-up studies, Ghose and his colleagues will use these results to guide them as they determine what changes can be made to these MOFs to improve adsorption, as well as to determine what existing MOFs may yield similar or better performance.

Here are links to and citations for both papers,

Understanding the Adsorption Mechanism of Xe and Kr in a Metal–Organic Framework from X-ray Structural Analysis and First-Principles Calculations by Sanjit K. Ghose, Yan Li, Andrey Yakovenko, Eric Dooryhee, Lars Ehm, Lynne E. Ecker, Ann-Christin Dippel, Gregory J. Halder, Denis M. Strachan, and Praveen K. Thallapally. J. Phys. Chem. Lett., 2015, 6 (10), pp 1790–1794 DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpclett.5b00440 Publication Date (Web): April 16, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

Direct Observation of Xe and Kr Adsorption in a Xe-Selective Microporous Metal–Organic Framework by Xianyin Chen, Anna M. Plonka, Debasis Banerjee, Rajamani Krishna, Herbert T. Schaef, Sanjit Ghose, Praveen K. Thallapally, and John B. Parise. J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2015, 137 (22), pp 7007–7010 DOI: 10.1021/jacs.5b02556 Publication Date (Web): May 22, 2015
Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

Both papers are behind a paywall.

Superposition in biological processes

Applying the concept of superposition to photosynthesis and olfaction is not the first thought that would have occurred to me on stumbling across the European Union’s PAPETS project (Phonon-Assisted Processes for Energy Transfer and Sensing). Thankfully, a July 9, 2015 news item on Nanowerk sets the record straight (Note: A link has been removed),

Quantum physics is helping researchers to better understand photosynthesis and olfaction.

Can something be for instance in two different places at the same time? According to quantum physics, it can. More precisely, in line with the principle of ‘superposition’, a particle can be described as being in two different states simultaneously.

While it may sound like voodoo to the non-expert, superposition is based on solid science. Researchers in the PAPETS project are exploring this and other phenomena on the frontier between biology and quantum physics. Their goal is to determine the role of vibrational dynamics in photosynthesis and olfaction.

A July 7, 2015 research news article on the CORDIS website, which originated the news item, further explains (Note: A link has been removed),

Quantum effects in a biological system, namely in a photosynthetic complex, were first observed by Greg Engel and collaborators in 2007, in the USA. These effects were reproduced in different laboratories at a temperature of around -193 degrees Celsius and subsequently at ambient temperature.

‘What’s surprising and exciting is that these quantum effects have been observed in biological complexes, which are large, wet and noisy systems,’ says PAPETS project coordinator, Dr. Yasser Omar, researcher at Instituto de Telecomunicações and professor at Universidade de Lisboa [Portugal]. ‘Superposition is fragile and we would expect it to be destroyed by the environment.’

Superposition contributes to more efficient energy transport. An exciton, a quantum quasi-particle carrying energy, can travel faster along the photosynthetic complex due to the fact that it can exist in two states simultaneously. When it comes to a bifurcation it need not choose left or right. It can proceed down both paths simultaneously.

‘It’s like a maze,’ says Dr. Omar. ‘Only one door leads to the exit but the exciton can probe both left and right at the same time. It’s more efficient.’

Dr. Omar and his colleagues believe that a confluence of factors help superposition to be effected and maintained, namely the dynamics of the vibrating environment, whose role is precisely what the PAPETS project aims to understand and exploit.

Theory and experimentation meet

The theories being explored by PAPETS are also tested in experiments to validate them and gain further insights. To study quantum transport in photosynthesis, for example, researchers shoot fast laser pulses into biological systems. They then observe interference along the transport network, a signature of wavelike phenomena.

‘It’s like dropping stones into a lake,’ explains Dr. Omar. ‘You can then see whether the waves that are generated grow bigger or cancel each other when they meet.’

Applications: more efficient solar cells and odour detection

While PAPETS is essentially an exploratory project, it is generating insights that could have practical applications. PAPETS’ researchers are getting a more fundamental understanding of how photosynthesis works and this could result in the design of much more efficient solar cells.

Olfaction, the capacity to recognise and distinguish different odours, is another promising area. Experiments focus on the behaviour of Drosophila flies. So far, researchers suspect that the tunnelling of electrons associated to the internal vibrations of a molecule may be a signature of odour. Dr. Omar likens this tunnelling to a ping-pong ball resting in a bowl that goes through the side of the bowl to appear outside it.

This work could have applications in the food, water, cosmetics or drugs industries. Better artificial odour sensing could be used to detect impurities or pollution, for example.

‘Unlike seeing, hearing or touching, the sense of smell is difficult to reproduce artificially with high efficacy,’ says Dr. Omar.

The PAPETS project, involving 7 partners, runs from September 2014 to August 2016 and has a budgeted EU contribution funding of EUR 1.8 million.

You can find out more about PAPETS here. In the meantime, I found the other partners in the project (in addition to Portugal), from the PAPETS Partners webpage (Note: Links have been removed),

– Controlled Quantum Dynamics Group, Universität Ulm (UULM), Germany. PI: Martin Plenio and Susana Huelga.
– Biophysics Research Group, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VUA), Netherlands. PI: Rienk van Grondelle and Roberta Croce.
– Department of Chemical Sciences, Università degli Studi di Padova (UNIPD), Italy. PI: Elisabetta Collini.
– Biomedical Sciences Research Centre “Alexander Fleming” (FLEMING), Athens, Greece. PI: Luca Turin and Efthimios M. Skoulakis.
– Biological Physics and Complex Systems Group, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Orléans, France. PI: Francesco Piazza.
– Quantum Physics of Biomolecular Processes, University College London (UCL), UK. PI: Alexandra Olaya-Castro.

Extending catalyst life for oil and gas

A July 6, 2015 news item on Nanowerk describes the progress on determining exactly how catalysis is achieved when using zeolite (Note: A link has been removed),

Despite decades of industrial use, the exact chemical transformations occurring within zeolites, a common material used in the conversion of oil to gasoline, remain poorly understood. Now scientists have found a way to locate—with atomic precision—spots within the material where chemical reactions take place, and how these spots shut down.

Called active sites, the spots help rip apart and rearrange molecules as they pass through nanometer-sized channels, like an assembly line in a factory. A process called steaming causes these active sites to cluster, effectively shutting down the factory, the scientists reported in Nature Communications (“Determining the location and nearest neighbours of aluminium in zeolites with atom probe tomography”). This knowledge could help devise how to keep the factory running longer, so to speak, and improve catalysts that help produce fuel, biofuel and other chemicals.

A July 6, 2015 Pacific Northwest National Laboratories (PNNL) news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the collaboration and the research in more detail (Note: Links have been removed),

The team included scientists from the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, petroleum refining technology company UOP LLC and Utrecht University. To make this discovery, they reconstructed the first 3-D atomic map of an industrially relevant zeolite material to track down its key element, aluminum.

When things get steamy, structure changes

Zeolites are minerals made up of aluminum, silicon and oxygen atoms arranged in a three-dimensional crystalline structure. Though they look like white powder to the naked eye, zeolites have a sponge-like network of molecule-size pores. Aluminum atoms along these pores act like workers on an assembly line-they create active sites that give zeolites their catalytic properties.

Industry uses about a dozen synthetic zeolites as catalysts to process petroleum and chemicals. One major conversion process, called fluid catalytic cracking, depends on zeolites to produce the majority of the world’s gasoline. [emphasis mine]

To awaken active sites within zeolites, industry pretreats the material with heat and water, a process called steaming. But too much steaming somehow switches the sites off. Changing the conditions of steaming could extend the catalyst’s life, thus producing fuel more efficiently.

Scientists have long suspected that steaming causes aluminum to move around within the material, thus changing its properties. But until now aluminum has evaded detailed analysis.

Strip away the atoms

Most studies of zeolite structure rely on electron microscopy, which can’t easily distinguish aluminum from silicon because of their similar masses. Worse, the instrument’s intense electron beam tends to damage the material, changing its inherent structure before it’s seen.

Instead, the team of scientists turned to a characterization technique that had never before been successfully applied to zeolites. Called atom probe tomography, it works by zapping a sample with a pulsing laser, providing just enough energy to knock off one atom at a time. Time-of-flight mass spectrometers analyze each atom-at a rate of about 1,000 atoms per second. Unlike an electron microscope, this technique can distinguish aluminum from silicon.

Though atom probe tomography has been around for 50 years, it was originally designed to look at conductive materials, such as metals. Less conductive zeolites presented a problem.

PNNL materials scientist Danny Perea and his colleagues overcame this hurdle by adapting a Local Electrode Atom Probe at EMSL, the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, a DOE Office of Science User Facility accessible to scientists around the world. Most attempts to image the material ended prematurely, when electromagnetic forces within the instrument vaporized the entire sample. The key to success was to find the right conditions to prepare a sample and then to coat it with a layer of metal to help provide conductivity and strength to withstand analysis.

After hours of blasting tens-of-millions of atoms, the scientists could reconstruct an atomic map of a sample about a thousand times smaller than the width of a human hair. These maps hold clues as to why the catalyst fails.

The news release reveals what the scientists were able to see for the first time,

The images confirmed what scientists have long suspected: Steaming causes aluminum atoms to cluster. Like workers crowded around one spot on the assembly line, this clustering effectively shuts down the catalytic factory.

The scientists even pinpointed the place where aluminum likes to cluster. Zeolite crystals often grow in overlapping sub-units, forming something like a 3-D Venn diagram. Scientists call the edge between two sub-units a grain boundary, and that’s where the aluminum clustered. The scientists suspect that open space along grain boundaries attracted the aluminum.

With the guidance of these atomic maps, industry could one day modify how it steams zeolites to produce a more efficient, longer lasting catalyst. The research team will next examine other industrially important zeolites at different stages of steaming to provide a more detailed map of this transformation.

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

Determining the location and nearest neighbours of aluminium in zeolites with atom probe tomography by Daniel E. Perea, Ilke Arslan, Jia Liu, Zoran Ristanović, Libor Kovarik, Bruce W. Arey, Johannes A. Lercher, Simon R. Bare, & Bert M. Weckhuysen.  Nature Communications 6, Article number: 7589 doi:10.1038/ncomms8589 Published 02 July 2015

This is an open access paper.