Category Archives: electronics

Spinning gold out of nanocellulose

If you’re hoping for a Rumpelstiltskin reference (there is more about the fairy tale at the end of this posting) and despite the press release’s headline, you won’t find it in this August 10, 2020 news item on Nanowerk,

When nanocellulose is combined with various types of metal nanoparticles, materials are formed with many new and exciting properties. They may be antibacterial, change colour under pressure, or convert light to heat.

“To put it simply, we make gold from nanocellulose”, says Daniel Aili, associate professor in the Division of Biophysics and Bioengineering at the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology at Linköping University.

The research group, led by Daniel Aili, has used a biosynthetic nanocellulose produced by bacteria and originally developed for wound care. The scientists have subsequently decorated the cellulose with metal nanoparticles, principally silver and gold. The particles, no larger than a few billionths of a metre, are first tailored to give them the properties desired, and then combined with the nanocellulose.

An August 10, 2020 Linköping University press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item,expands on a few details about the work (sob … without mentioning Rumpelstiltskin),

“Nanocellulose consists of thin threads of cellulose, with a diameter approximately one thousandth of the diameter of a human hair. The threads act as a three-dimensional scaffold for the metal particles. When the particles attach themselves to the cellulose, a material that consists of a network of particles and cellulose forms”, Daniel Aili explains.

The researchers can determine with high precision how many particles will attach, and their identities. They can also mix particles of different metals and with different shapes – spherical, elliptical and triangular.

In the first part of a scientific article published in Advanced Functional Materials, the group describes the process and explains why it works as it does. The second part focusses on several areas of application.

One exciting phenomenon is the way in which the properties of the material change when pressure is applied. Optical phenomena arise when the particles approach each other and interact, and the material changes colour. As the pressure increases, the material eventually appears to be gold.

“We saw that the material changed colour when we picked it up in tweezers, and at first we couldn’t understand why”, says Daniel Aili.

The scientists have named the phenomenon “the mechanoplasmonic effect”, and it has turned out to be very useful. A closely related application is in sensors, since it is possible to read the sensor with the naked eye. An example: If a protein sticks to the material, it no longer changes colour when placed under pressure. If the protein is a marker for a particular disease, the failure to change colour can be used in diagnosis. If the material changes colour, the marker protein is not present.

Another interesting phenomenon is displayed by a variant of the material that absorbs light from a much broader spectrum visible light and generates heat. This property can be used for both energy-based applications and in medicine.

“Our method makes it possible to manufacture composites of nanocellulose and metal nanoparticles that are soft and biocompatible materials for optical, catalytic, electrical and biomedical applications. Since the material is self-assembling, we can produce complex materials with completely new well-defined properties,” Daniel Aili concludes.

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

Self‐Assembly of Mechanoplasmonic Bacterial Cellulose–Metal Nanoparticle Composites by Olof Eskilson, Stefan B. Lindström, Borja Sepulveda, Mohammad M. Shahjamali, Pau Güell‐Grau, Petter Sivlér, Mårten Skog, Christopher Aronsson, Emma M. Björk, Niklas Nyberg, Hazem Khalaf, Torbjörn Bengtsson, Jeemol James, Marica B. Ericson, Erik Martinsson, Robert Selegård, Daniel Aili. Advanced Functional Materials DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/adfm.202004766 First published: 09 August 2020

This paper is open access.

As for Rumpelstiltskin, there’s this abut the story’s origins and its cross-cultural occurrence, from its Wikipedia entry,

“Rumpelstiltskin” (/ˌrʌmpəlˈstɪltskɪn/ RUMP-əl-STILT-skin[1]) is a fairy tale popularly associated with Germany (where it is known as Rumpelstilzchen). The tale was one collected by the Brothers Grimm in the 1812 edition of Children’s and Household Tales. According to researchers at Durham University and the NOVA University Lisbon, the story originated around 4,000 years ago.[2][3] However, many biases led some to take the results of this study with caution.[4]

The same story pattern appears in numerous other cultures: Tom Tit Tot in England (from English Fairy Tales, 1890, by Joseph Jacobs); The Lazy Beauty and her Aunts in Ireland (from The Fireside Stories of Ireland, 1870 by Patrick Kennedy); Whuppity Stoorie in Scotland (from Robert Chambers’s Popular Rhymes of Scotland, 1826); Gilitrutt in Iceland; جعيدان (Joaidane “He who talks too much”) in Arabic; Хламушка (Khlamushka “Junker”) in Russia; Rumplcimprcampr, Rampelník or Martin Zvonek in the Czech Republic; Martinko Klingáč in Slovakia; “Cvilidreta” in Croatia; Ruidoquedito (“Little noise”) in South America; Pancimanci in Hungary (from A Csodafurulya, 1955, by Emil Kolozsvári Grandpierre, based on the 19th century folktale collection by László Arany); Daiku to Oniroku (大工と鬼六 “A carpenter and the ogre”) in Japan and Myrmidon in France.

An earlier literary variant in French was penned by Mme. L’Héritier, titled Ricdin-Ricdon.[5] A version of it exists in the compilation Le Cabinet des Fées, Vol. XII. pp. 125-131.

The Cornish tale of Duffy and the Devil plays out an essentially similar plot featuring a “devil” named Terry-top.

All these tales are Aarne–Thompson type 500, “The Name of the Helper”.[6]

Should you be curious about the story as told by the Brothers Grimm, here’s the beginning to get you started (from the grimmstories.com Rumpelstiltskin webpage),

There was once a miller who was poor, but he had one beautiful daughter. It happened one day that he came to speak with the king, and, to give himself consequence, he told him that he had a daughter who could spin gold out of straw. The king said to the miller: “That is an art that pleases me well; if thy daughter is as clever as you say, bring her to my castle to-morrow, that I may put her to the proof.”

When the girl was brought to him, he led her into a room that was quite full of straw, and gave her a wheel and spindle, and said: “Now set to work, and if by the early morning thou hast not spun this straw to gold thou shalt die.” And he shut the door himself, and left her there alone. And so the poor miller’s daughter was left there sitting, and could not think what to do for her life: she had no notion how to set to work to spin gold from straw, and her distress grew so great that she began to weep. Then all at once the door opened, and in came a little man, who said: “Good evening, miller’s daughter; why are you crying?”

Enjoy! BTW, should you care to, you can find three other postings here tagged with ‘Rumpelstiltskin’. I think turning dross into gold is a popular theme in applied science.

Clothing that reflects your thoughts?

First, there was a dress that reflected your emotions. Now, apparently, there’s a dress that reflects your thoughts. Frankly, I don’t understand why anyone would want clothing that performed either function. However, I’m sure there’s an extrovert out there who’s equally puzzled abut my take on this matter.

Emotion-reading dress

Before getting to this latest piece of wearable technology, the mind-reading dress, you might find this emotional sensing dress not only interesting but eerily similar,

Here’s more from the video’s YouTube webpage,

Philips Design has developed a series of dynamic garments as part of the ongoing SKIN exploration research into the area known as emotional sensing. The garments, which are intended for demonstration purposes only, demonstrate how electronics can be incorporated into fabrics and garments in order to express the emotions and personality of the wearer. The marvelously intricate wearable prototypes include Bubelle, a dress surrounded by a delicate bubble illuminated by patterns that changed dependent on skin contact- and Frison, a body suit that reacts to being blown on by igniting a private constellation of tiny LEDs. Sensitive rather than intelligent These garments were developed as part of the SKIN research project, which challenges the notion that our lives are automatically better because they are more digital. It looks at more analog phenomena like emotional sensing and explores technologies that are sensitive rather than intelligent. SKIN belongs to the ongoing, far-future research program carried out at Philips Design. The aim of this program is to identify emerging trends and likely societal shifts and then carry out probes that explore whether there is potential for Philips in some of the more promising areas. Rethinking our interaction with products and content According to Clive van Heerden, Senior Director of design-led innovation at Philips Design, the SKIN probe has a much wider context than just garments. As our media becomes progressively more virtual, it is quite possible in long term future that we will no longer have objects like DVD players, or music contained on disks, or books that are actually printed. An opportunity is therefore emerging for us to completely rethink our interaction with products and content. More info: http://www.design.philips.com/about/d…

I first heard about the dress at the 2009 International Symposium of Electronic Arts (2009 ISEA held in Belfast, Norther Ireland and Dublin, Ireland). Clive van Heerden who was then working for Philips Design (it’s part of a Dutch multinational originally known widely for its Philips light bulbs and called Royal Philips Electronics) opened vHM Design Futures in 2011 with Jack Mama in London (UK). Should you be curious as to how the project is featured on vHM, check out 2006 SKIN: DRESSES.

Mind-reading dress

Moving on from emotion-sensing clothes to mind-reading clothes,

Mark Wilson’s August 31, 2020 article for Fast Company reflects a sanguine approach to clothing that broadcasts your ‘thoughts’ (Note: Links have been removed),

… what if your clothing were a direct reflection on yourself? What if it could literally visualize what you were thinking? That’s the idea of the Pangolin Scales Project, a new brain-reading dress by Dutch fashion designer Anouk Wipprecht [of Anouk Wipprecht FashionTech], with support from the Institute for Integrated Circuits at JKU [Johannes Kepler University Linz] and G.tec medical engineering.

… A total of 1,024 brain-reading EEG sensors are placed on someone’s head to measure the electrical activity inside their brain. These sensors have a faceted design that resembles the keratin scales of a pangolin.

… It’s not a message that you can understand just by looking at it. You won’t suddenly know if someone is hungry or thinking of their favorite book just because they’re wearing this dress. But it’s still a captivating visualization of the innermost working of someone’s mind, as well as a proof point: Maybe one day, you really will be able to judge a book by its cover, because that cover will say it all.

Whether you consider the projects to be analog or digital, they raise interesting questions about privacy.

D-Wave’s new Advantage quantum computer

Thanks to Bob Yirka’s September 30, 2020 article for phys.org there’s an announcement about D-Wave Systems’ latest quantum computer and an explanation of how D-Wave’s quantum computer differs from other quantum computers. Here’s the explanation (Note: Links have been removed),

Over the past several years, several companies have dedicated resources to the development of a true quantum computer that can tackle problems conventional computers cannot handle. Progress on developing such computers has been slow, however, especially when compared with the early development of the conventional computer. As part of the research effort, companies have taken different approaches. Google and IBM, for example, are working on gate-model quantum computer technology, in which qubits are modified as an algorithm is executed. D-Wave, in sharp contrast, has been focused on developing so-called annealer technology, in which qubits are cooled during execution of an algorithm, which allows for passively changing their value.

Comparing the two is next to impossible because of their functional differences. Thus, using 5,000 qubits in the Advantage system does not necessarily mean that it is any more useful than the 100-qubit systems currently being tested by IBM or Google. Still, the announcement suggests that businesses are ready to start taking advantage of the increased capabilities of quantum systems. D-Wave notes that several customers are already using their system for a wide range of applications. Menten AI, for example, has used the system to design new proteins; grocery chain Save-On-Foods has been using it to optimize business operations; Accenture has been using it to develop business applications; Volkswagen has used the system to develop a more efficient car painting system.

Here’s the company’s Sept. 29, 2020 video announcement,

For those who might like some text, there’s a Sept. 29, 2020 D-Wave Systems press release (Note: Links have been removed; this is long),

D-Wave Systems Inc., the leader in quantum computing systems, software, and services, today [Sept. 29, 2020] announced the general availability of its next-generation quantum computing platform, incorporating new hardware, software, and tools to enable and accelerate the delivery of in-production quantum computing applications. Available today in the Leap™ quantum cloud service, the platform includes the Advantage™ quantum system, with more than 5000 qubits and 15-way qubit connectivity, in addition to an expanded hybrid solver service that can run problems with up to one million variables. The combination of the computing power of Advantage and the scale to address real-world problems with the hybrid solver service in Leap enables businesses to run performant, real-time, hybrid quantum applications for the first time.

As part of its commitment to enabling businesses to build in-production quantum applications, the company announced D-Wave Launch™, a jump-start program for businesses who want to get started building hybrid quantum applications today but may need additional support. Bringing together a team of applications experts and a robust partner community, the D-Wave Launch program provides support to help identify the best applications and to translate businesses’ problems into hybrid quantum applications. The extra support helps customers accelerate designing, building, and running their most important and complex applications, while delivering quantum acceleration and performance.

The company also announced a new hybrid solver. The discrete quadratic model (DQM) solver gives developers and businesses the ability to apply the benefits of hybrid quantum computing to new problem classes. Instead of accepting problems with only binary variables (0 or 1), the DQM solver uses other variable sets (e.g. integers from 1 to 500, or red, yellow, and blue), expanding the types of problems that can run on the quantum computer. The DQM solver will be generally available on October 8 [2020].

With support for new solvers and larger problem sizes backed by the Advantage system, customers and partners like Menten AI, Save-On-Foods, Accenture, and Volkswagen are building and running hybrid quantum applications that create solutions with business value today.

  • Protein design pioneer Menten AI has developed the first process using hybrid quantum programs to determine protein structure for de novo protein design with very encouraging results often outperforming classical solvers. Menten AI’s unique protein designs have been computationally validated, chemically synthesized, and are being advanced to live-virus testing against COVID-19.
  • Western Canadian grocery retailer Save-On-Foods is using hybrid quantum algorithms to bring grocery optimization solutions to their business, with pilot tests underway in-store. The company has been able to reduce the time an important optimization task takes from 25 hours to a mere 2 minutes of calculations each week. Even more important than the reduction in time is the ability to optimize performance across and between a significant number of business parameters in a way that is challenging using traditional methods.
  • Accenture, a leading global professional services company, is exploring quantum, quantum-inspired, and hybrid solutions to develop applications across industries. Accenture recently conducted a series of business experiments with a banking client to pilot quantum applications for currency arbitrage, credit scoring, and trading optimization, successfully mapping computationally challenging business problems to quantum formulations, enabling quantum readiness.
  • Volkswagen, an early adopter of D-Wave’s annealing quantum computer, has expanded its quantum use cases with the hybrid solver service to build a paint shop scheduling application. The algorithm is designed to optimize the order in which cars are being painted. By using the hybrid solver service, the number of color switches will be reduced significantly, leading to performance improvements.

The Advantage quantum computer and the Leap quantum cloud service include:

  • New Topology: The topology in Advantage makes it the most connected of any commercial quantum system in the world. In the D-Wave 2000Q™ system, qubits may connect to 6 other qubits. In the new Advantage system, each qubit may connect to 15 other qubits. With two-and-a-half times more connectivity, Advantage enables the embedding of larger problems with fewer physical qubits compared to using the D-Wave 2000Q system. The D-Wave Ocean™ software development kit (SDK) includes tools for using the new topology. Information on the topology in Advantage can be found in this white paper, and a getting started video on how to use the new topology can be found here.
  • Increased Qubit Count: With more than 5000 qubits, Advantage more than doubles the qubit count of the D-Wave 2000Q system. More qubits and richer connectivity provide quantum programmers access to a larger, denser, and more powerful graph for building commercial quantum applications.
  • Greater Performance & Problem Size: With up to one million variables, the hybrid solver service in Leap allows businesses to run large-scale, business-critical problems. This, coupled with the new topology and more than 5000 qubits in the Advantage system, expands the complexity and more than doubles the size of problems that can run directly on the quantum processing unit (QPU). In fact, the hybrid solver outperformed or matched the best of 27 classical optimization solvers on 87% of 45 application-relevant inputs tested in MQLib. Additionally, greater connectivity of the QPU allows for more compact embeddings of complex problems. Advantage can find optimal solutions 10 to 30 times faster in some cases, and can find better quality solutions up to 64% percent of the time, when compared to the D-Wave 2000Q LN QPU.
  • Expansion of Hybrid Software & Tools in Leap: Further investments in the hybrid solver service, new solver classes, ease-of-use, automation, and new tools provide an even more powerful hybrid rapid development environment in Python for business-scale problems.
  • Flexible Access: Advantage, the expanded hybrid solver service, and the upcoming DQM solver are available in the Leap quantum cloud service. All current Leap customers get immediate access with no additional charge, and new customers will benefit from all the new and existing capabilities in Leap. This means that developers and businesses can get started today building in-production hybrid quantum applications. Flexible purchase plans allow developers and forward-thinking businesses to access the D-Wave quantum system in the way that works for them and their business. 
  • Ongoing Releases: D-Wave continues to bring innovations to market with additional hybrid solvers, QPUs, and software updates through the cloud. Interested users and customers can get started today with Advantage and the hybrid solver service, and will benefit from new components of the platform through Leap as they become available.

“Today’s general availability of Advantage delivers the first quantum system built specifically for business, and marks the expansion into production scale commercial applications and new problem types with our hybrid solver services. In combination with our new jump-start program to get customers started, this launch continues what we’ve known at D-Wave for a long time: it’s not about hype, it’s about scaling, and delivering systems that provide real business value on real business applications,” said Alan Baratz, CEO, D-Wave. “We also continue to invest in the science of building quantum systems. Advantage was completely re-engineered from the ground up. We’ll take what we’ve learned about connectivity and scale and continue to push the limits of innovation for the next generations of our quantum computers. I’m incredibly proud of the team that has brought us here and the customers and partners who have collaborated with us to build hundreds of early applications and who now are putting applications into production.”

“We are using quantum to design proteins today. Using hybrid quantum applications, we’re able to solve astronomical protein design problems that help us create new protein structures,” said Hans Melo, Co-founder and CEO, Menten AI. “We’ve seen extremely encouraging results with hybrid quantum procedures often finding better solutions than competing classical solvers for de novo protein design. This means we can create better proteins and ultimately enable new drug discoveries.”

“At Save-On-Foods, we have been committed to bringing innovation to our customers for more than 105 years. To that end, we are always looking for new and creative ways to solve problems, especially in an environment that has gotten increasingly complex,” said Andrew Donaher, Vice President, Digital & Analytics at Save-On-Foods. “We’re new to quantum computing, and in a short period of time, we have seen excellent early results. In fact, the early results we see with Advantage and the hybrid solver service from D-Wave are encouraging enough that our goal is to turn our pilot into an in-production business application. Quantum is emerging as a potential competitive edge for our business.“

“Accenture is committed to helping our clients prepare for the arrival of mainstream quantum computing by exploring relevant use cases and conducting business experiments now,” said Marc Carrel-Billiard, Senior Managing Director and Technology Innovation Lead at Accenture. “We’ve been collaborating with D-Wave for several years and with early access to the Advantage system and hybrid solver service we’ve seen performance improvements and advancements in the platform that are important steps for helping to make quantum a reality for clients across industries, creating new sources of competitive advantage.”

“Embracing quantum computing is nothing new for Volkswagen. We were the first to run a hybrid quantum application in production in Lisbon last November with our bus routing application,” said Florian Neukart, Director of Advanced Technologies at Volkswagen Group of America. “At Volkswagen, we are focusing on building up a deep understanding of meaningful applications of quantum computing in a corporate context. The D-Wave system gives us the opportunity to address optimization tasks with a large number of variables at an impressive speed. With this we are taking a step further towards quantum applications that will be suitable for everyday business use.”

I found the description of D-Wave’s customers and how they’re using quantum computing to be quite interesting. For anyone curious about D-Wave Systems, you can find out more here. BTW, the company is located in metro Vancouver (Canada).

You mean Fitbit makes mistakes? More accuracy with ‘drawn-on-skin’ electronics

A July 30, 2020 news item on ScienceDaily announces news about more accurate health monitoring with electronics applied directly to your skin,

A team of researchers led by Cunjiang Yu, Bill D. Cook Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Houston, has developed a new form of electronics known as “drawn-on-skin electronics,” allowing multifunctional sensors and circuits to be drawn on the skin with an ink pen.

The advance, the researchers report in Nature Communications, allows for the collection of more precise, motion artifact-free health data, solving the long-standing problem of collecting precise biological data through a wearable device when the subject is in motion.

The imprecision may not be important when your FitBit registers 4,000 steps instead of 4,200, but sensors designed to check heart function, temperature and other physical signals must be accurate if they are to be used for diagnostics and treatment.

A July 30, 2020 University of Houston news release (also on EurekAlert) by Jeannie Kever, which originated the news item, goes on to explain why you might want to have electronics ‘drawn on your skin’,

The drawn-on-skin electronics are able to seamlessly collect data, regardless of the wearer’s movements.  

They also offer other advantages, including simple fabrication techniques that don’t require dedicated equipment.

“It is applied like you would use a pen to write on a piece of paper,” said Yu. “We prepare several electronic materials and then use pens to dispense them. Coming out, it is liquid. But like ink on paper, it dries very quickly.”

Wearable bioelectronics – in the form of soft, flexible patches attached to the skin – have become an important way to monitor, prevent and treat illness and injury by tracking physiological information from the wearer. But even the most flexible wearables are limited by motion artifacts, or the difficulty that arises in collecting data when the sensor doesn’t move precisely with the skin.

The drawn-on-skin electronics can be customized to collect different types of information, and Yu said it is expected to be especially useful in situations where it’s not possible to access sophisticated equipment, including on a battleground.

The electronics are able to track muscle signals, heart rate, temperature and skin hydration, among other physical data, he said. The researchers also reported that the drawn-on-skin electronics have demonstrated the ability to accelerate healing of wounds.

In addition to Yu, researchers involved in the project include Faheem Ershad, Anish Thukral, Phillip Comeaux, Yuntao Lu, Hyunseok Shim, Kyoseung Sim, Nam-In Kim, Zhoulyu Rao, Ross Guevara, Luis Contreras, Fengjiao Pan, Yongcao Zhang, Ying-Shi Guan, Pinyi Yang, Xu Wang and Peng Wang, all from the University of Houston, and Jiping Yue and Xiaoyang Wu from the University of Chicago.

The drawn-on-skin electronics are actually comprised of three inks, serving as a conductor, semiconductor and dielectric.

“Electronic inks, including conductors, semiconductors, and dielectrics, are drawn on-demand in a freeform manner to develop devices, such as transistors, strain sensors, temperature sensors, heaters, skin hydration sensors, and electrophysiological sensors,” the researchers wrote.

This research is supported by the Office of Naval Research and National Institutes of Health.

Caption: A new form of electronics known as “drawn-on-skin electronics” allows multifunctional sensors and circuits to be drawn on the skin with an ink pen. Credit: University of Houston

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

Ultra-conformal drawn-on-skin electronics for multifunctional motion artifact-free sensing and point-of-care treatment by Faheem Ershad, Anish Thukral, Jiping Yue, Phillip Comeaux, Yuntao Lu, Hyunseok Shim, Kyoseung Sim, Nam-In Kim, Zhoulyu Rao, Ross Guevara, Luis Contreras, Fengjiao Pan, Yongcao Zhang, Ying-Shi Guan, Pinyi Yang, Xu Wang, Peng Wang, Xiaoyang Wu & Cunjiang Yu. Nature Communications volume 11, Article number: 3823 (2020) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-17619-1

This paper is open access.

Blue quantum dots and your television screen

Scientists used equipment at the Canadian Light Source (CLS; synchrotron in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada) in the quest for better glowing dots on your television (maybe computers and telephones, too?) screen. From an August 20, 2020 news item on Nanowerk,

There are many things quantum dots could do, but the most obvious place they could change our lives is to make the colours on our TVs and screens more pristine. Research using the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan is helping to bring this technology closer to our living rooms.

An August 19, 2020 CLS news release (also received via email) by Victoria Martinez, which originated the news item, explains what quantum dots are and fills in with technical details about this research,

Quantum dots are nanocrystals that glow, a property that scientists have been working with to develop next-generation LEDs. When a quantum dot glows, it creates very pure light in a precise wavelength of red, blue or green. Conventional LEDs, found in our TV screens today, produce white light that is filtered to achieve desired colours, a process that leads to less bright and muddier colours.

Until now, blue-glowing quantum dots, which are crucial for creating a full range of colour, have proved particularly challenging for researchers to develop. However, University of Toronto (U of T) researcher Dr. Yitong Dong and collaborators have made a huge leap in blue quantum dot fluorescence, results they recently published in Nature Nanotechnology.

“The idea is that if you have a blue LED, you have everything. We can always down convert the light from blue to green and red,” says Dong. “Let’s say you have green, then you cannot use this lower-energy light to make blue.”

The team’s breakthrough has led to quantum dots that produce green light at an external quantum efficiency (EQE) of 22% and blue at 12.3%. The theoretical maximum efficiency is not far off at 25%, and this is the first blue perovskite LED reported as achieving an EQE higher than 10%.

The Science

Dong has been working in the field of quantum dots for two years in Dr. Edward Sargent’s research group at the U of T. This astonishing increase in efficiency took time, an unusual production approach, and overcoming several scientific hurdles to achieve.

CLS techniques, particularly GIWAXS [grazing incidence wide-angle X-ray scattering] on the HXMA beamline [hard X-ray micro-analysis (HXMA)], allowed the researchers to verify the structures achieved in their quantum dot films. This validated their results and helped clarify what the structural changes achieve in terms of LED performance.

“The CLS was very helpful. GIWAXS is a fascinating technique,” says Dong.

The first challenge was uniformity, important to ensuring a clear blue colour and to prevent the LED from moving towards producing green light.

“We used a special synthetic approach to achieve a very uniform assembly, so every single particle has the same size and shape. The overall film is nearly perfect and maintains the blue emission conditions all the way through,” says Dong.

Next, the team needed to tackle the charge injection needed to excite the dots into luminescence. Since the crystals are not very stable, they need stabilizing molecules to act as scaffolding and support them. These are typically long molecule chains, with up to 18 carbon-non-conductive molecules at the surface, making it hard to get the energy to produce light.

“We used a special surface structure to stabilize the quantum dot. Compared to the films made with long chain molecules capped quantum dots, our film has 100 times higher conductivity, sometimes even 1000 times higher.”

This remarkable performance is a key benchmark in bringing these nanocrystal LEDs to market. However, stability remains an issue and quantum dot LEDs suffer from short lifetimes. Dong is excited about the potential for the field and adds, “I like photons, these are interesting materials, and, well, these glowing crystals are just beautiful.”

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

Bipolar-shell resurfacing for blue LEDs based on strongly confined perovskite quantum dots by Yitong Dong, Ya-Kun Wang, Fanglong Yuan, Andrew Johnston, Yuan Liu, Dongxin Ma, Min-Jae Choi, Bin Chen, Mahshid Chekini, Se-Woong Baek, Laxmi Kishore Sagar, James Fan, Yi Hou, Mingjian Wu, Seungjin Lee, Bin Sun, Sjoerd Hoogland, Rafael Quintero-Bermudez, Hinako Ebe, Petar Todorovic, Filip Dinic, Peicheng Li, Hao Ting Kung, Makhsud I. Saidaminov, Eugenia Kumacheva, Erdmann Spiecker, Liang-Sheng Liao, Oleksandr Voznyy, Zheng-Hong Lu, Edward H. Sargent. Nature Nanotechnology volume 15, pages668–674(2020) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41565-020-0714-5 Published: 06 July 2020 Issue Date: August 2020

This paper is behind a paywall.

If you search “Edward Sargent,” he’s the last author listed in the citation, here on this blog, you will find a number of postings that feature work from his laboratory at the University of Toronto.

Neurotransistor for brainlike (neuromorphic) computing

According to researchers at Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf and the rest of the international team collaborating on the work, it’s time to look more closely at plasticity in the neuronal membrane,.

From the abstract for their paper, Intrinsic plasticity of silicon nanowire neurotransistors for dynamic memory and learning functions by Eunhye Baek, Nikhil Ranjan Das, Carlo Vittorio Cannistraci, Taiuk Rim, Gilbert Santiago Cañón Bermúdez, Khrystyna Nych, Hyeonsu Cho, Kihyun Kim, Chang-Ki Baek, Denys Makarov, Ronald Tetzlaff, Leon Chua, Larysa Baraban & Gianaurelio Cuniberti. Nature Electronics volume 3, pages 398–408 (2020) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41928-020-0412-1 Published online: 25 May 2020 Issue Date: July 2020

Neuromorphic architectures merge learning and memory functions within a single unit cell and in a neuron-like fashion. Research in the field has been mainly focused on the plasticity of artificial synapses. However, the intrinsic plasticity of the neuronal membrane is also important in the implementation of neuromorphic information processing. Here we report a neurotransistor made from a silicon nanowire transistor coated by an ion-doped sol–gel silicate film that can emulate the intrinsic plasticity of the neuronal membrane.

Caption: Neurotransistors: from silicon chips to neuromorphic architecture. Credit: TU Dresden / E. Baek Courtesy: Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf

A July 14, 2020 news item on Nanowerk announced the research (Note: A link has been removed),

Especially activities in the field of artificial intelligence, like teaching robots to walk or precise automatic image recognition, demand ever more powerful, yet at the same time more economical computer chips. While the optimization of conventional microelectronics is slowly reaching its physical limits, nature offers us a blueprint how information can be processed and stored quickly and efficiently: our own brain.

For the very first time, scientists at TU Dresden and the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have now successfully imitated the functioning of brain neurons using semiconductor materials. They have published their research results in the journal Nature Electronics (“Intrinsic plasticity of silicon nanowire neurotransistors for dynamic memory and learning functions”).

A July 14, 2020 Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news items delves further into the research,

Today, enhancing the performance of microelectronics is usually achieved by reducing component size, especially of the individual transistors on the silicon computer chips. “But that can’t go on indefinitely – we need new approaches”, Larysa Baraban asserts. The physicist, who has been working at HZDR since the beginning of the year, is one of the three primary authors of the international study, which involved a total of six institutes. One approach is based on the brain, combining data processing with data storage in an artificial neuron.

“Our group has extensive experience with biological and chemical electronic sensors,” Baraban continues. “So, we simulated the properties of neurons using the principles of biosensors and modified a classical field-effect transistor to create an artificial neurotransistor.” The advantage of such an architecture lies in the simultaneous storage and processing of information in a single component. In conventional transistor technology, they are separated, which slows processing time and hence ultimately also limits performance.

Silicon wafer + polymer = chip capable of learning

Modeling computers on the human brain is no new idea. Scientists made attempts to hook up nerve cells to electronics in Petri dishes decades ago. “But a wet computer chip that has to be fed all the time is of no use to anybody,” says Gianaurelio Cuniberti from TU Dresden. The Professor for Materials Science and Nanotechnology is one of the three brains behind the neurotransistor alongside Ronald Tetzlaff, Professor of Fundamentals of Electrical Engineering in Dresden, and Leon Chua [emphasis mine] from the University of California at Berkeley, who had already postulated similar components in the early 1970s.

Now, Cuniberti, Baraban and their team have been able to implement it: “We apply a viscous substance – called solgel – to a conventional silicon wafer with circuits. This polymer hardens and becomes a porous ceramic,” the materials science professor explains. “Ions move between the holes. They are heavier than electrons and slower to return to their position after excitation. This delay, called hysteresis, is what causes the storage effect.” As Cuniberti explains, this is a decisive factor in the functioning of the transistor. “The more an individual transistor is excited, the sooner it will open and let the current flow. This strengthens the connection. The system is learning.”

Cuniberti and his team are not focused on conventional issues, though. “Computers based on our chip would be less precise and tend to estimate mathematical computations rather than calculating them down to the last decimal,” the scientist explains. “But they would be more intelligent. For example, a robot with such processors would learn to walk or grasp; it would possess an optical system and learn to recognize connections. And all this without having to develop any software.” But these are not the only advantages of neuromorphic computers. Thanks to their plasticity, which is similar to that of the human brain, they can adapt to changing tasks during operation and, thus, solve problems for which they were not originally programmed.

I highlighted Dr. Leon Chua’s name as he was one of the first to conceptualize the notion of a memristor (memory resistor), which is what the press release seems to be referencing with the mention of artificial synapses. Dr. Chua very kindly answered a few questions for me about his work which I published in an April 13, 2010 posting (scroll down about 40% of the way).

Transforming electronics with metal-breathing bacteria

‘Metal-breathing’ bacteria, eh? A July 28, 2020 news item on Nanowerk announces the research into new materials for electronics (Note: A link has been removed),

When the Shewanella oneidensis bacterium “breathes” in certain metal and sulfur compounds anaerobically, the way an aerobic organism would process oxygen, it produces materials that could be used to enhance electronics, electrochemical energy storage, and drug-delivery devices.

The ability of this bacterium to produce molybdenum disulfide – a material that is able to transfer electrons easily, like graphene – is the focus of research published in Biointerphases (“Synthesis and characterization of molybdenum disulfide nanoparticles in Shewanella oneidensis MR-1 biofilms”) by a team of engineers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

A July 28, 2020 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) news release (also on EurekAlert) by Torie Wells, which originated the news item, describes the work in more detail,

“This has some serious potential if we can understand this process and control aspects of how the bacteria are making these and other materials,” said Shayla Sawyer, an associate professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering at Rensselaer.

The research was led by James Rees, who is currently a postdoctoral research associate under the Sawyer group in close partnership and with the support of the Jefferson Project at Lake George — a collaboration between Rensselaer, IBM Research, and The FUND for Lake George that is pioneering a new model for environmental monitoring and prediction. This research is an important step toward developing a new generation of nutrient sensors that can be deployed on lakes and other water bodies.

“We find bacteria that are adapted to specific geochemical or biochemical environments can create, in some cases, very interesting and novel materials,” Rees said. “We are trying to bring that into the electrical engineering world.”

Rees conducted this pioneering work as a graduate student, co-advised by Sawyer and Yuri Gorby, the third author on this paper. Compared with other anaerobic bacteria, one thing that makes Shewanella oneidensis particularly unusual and interesting is that it produces nanowires capable of transferring electrons [emphasis mine].

“That lends itself to connecting to electronic devices that have already been made,” Sawyer said. “So, it’s the interface between the living world and the manmade world that is fascinating.”

Sawyer and Rees also found that, because their electronic signatures can be mapped and monitored, bacterial biofilms could also act as an effective nutrient sensor that could provide Jefferson Project researchers with key information about the health of an aquatic ecosystem like Lake George.

“This groundbreaking work using bacterial biofilms represents the potential for an exciting new generation of ‘living sensors,’ which would completely transform our ability to detect excess nutrients in water bodies in real-time. This is critical to understanding and mitigating harmful algal blooms and other important water quality issues around the world,” said Rick Relyea, director of the Jefferson Project.

Sawyer and Rees plan to continue exploring how to optimally develop this bacterium to harness its wide-ranging potential applications.

“We sometimes get the question with the research: Why bacteria? Or, why bring microbiology into materials science?” Rees said. “Biology has had such a long run of inventing materials through trial and error. The composites and novel structures invented by human scientists are almost a drop in the bucket compared to what biology has been able to do.”

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

Synthesis and characterization of molybdenum disulfide nanoparticles in Shewanella oneidensis MR-1 biofilms by James D. Rees, Yuri A. Gorby, and Shayla M. Sawyer. Biointerphases 15, 041006 (2020) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1116/6.0000199 Published Online: 24 July 2020

This paper is behind a paywall.

Optical fibers made from marine algae

Apparently after you’ve finished imaging with your marine algae-based optical fibers, you can eat them. A July 24, 2020 news item on Nanowerk announces the new research,

An optical fiber made of agar has been produced at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP) in the state of São Paulo, Brazil. This device is edible, biocompatible and biodegradable. It can be used in vivo for body structure imaging, localized light delivery in phototherapy or optogenetics (e.g., stimulating neurons with light to study neural circuits in a living brain), and localized drug delivery.

Another possible application is the detection of microorganisms in specific organs, in which case the probe would be completely absorbed by the body after performing its function.

Caption: Edible, biocompatible and biodegradable, these fibers have potential for various medical applications. Credit: Eric Fujiwara

A July 24, 2020 Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa dFundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (FAPESP) do Estado de São Paulo press release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, provides a few more details about the researches and the work,

The research project, which was supported by São Paulo Research Foundation – FAPESP, was led by Eric Fujiwara, a professor in UNICAMP’s School of Mechanical Engineering, and Cristiano Cordeiro, a professor in UNICAMP’s Gleb Wataghin Institute of Physics, in collaboration with Hiromasa Oku, a professor at Gunma University in Japan.

An article on the study is published) in Scientific Reports, an online journal owned by Springer Nature.

Agar, also called agar-agar, is a natural gelatin obtained from marine algae. Its composition consists of a mixture of two polysaccharides, agarose and agaropectin. “Our optical fiber is an agar cylinder with an external diameter of 2.5 millimeters [mm] and a regular inner arrangement of six 0.5 mm cylindrical airholes around a solid core. Light is confined owing to the difference between the refraction indices of the agar core and the airholes,” Fujiwara told.

“To produce the fiber, we poured food-grade agar into a mold with six internal rods placed lengthwise around the main axis,” he continued. “The gel distributes itself to fill the available space. After cooling, the rods are removed to form airholes, and the solidified waveguide is released from the mold. The refraction index and geometry of the fiber can be adapted by varying the composition of the agar solution and mold design, respectively.”

The researchers tested the fiber in different media, from air and water to ethanol and acetone, concluding that it is context-sensitive. “The fact that the gel undergoes structural changes in response to variations in temperature, humidity and pH makes the fiber suitable for optical sensing,” Fujiwara said.

Another promising application is its simultaneous use as an optical sensor and a growth medium for microorganisms. “In this case, the waveguide can be designed as a disposable sample unit containing the necessary nutrients. The immobilized cells in the device would be optically sensed, and the signal would be analyzed using a camera or spectrometer,” he said.

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About São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP)

The São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) is a public institution with the mission of supporting scientific research in all fields of knowledge by awarding scholarships, fellowships and grants to investigators linked with higher education and research institutions in the State of São Paulo, Brazil. FAPESP is aware that the very best research can only be done by working with the best researchers internationally. Therefore, it has established partnerships with funding agencies, higher education, private companies, and research organizations in other countries known for the quality of their research and has been encouraging scientists funded by its grants to further develop their international collaboration. You can learn more about FAPESP at http://www.fapesp.br/en and visit FAPESP news agency at http://www.agencia.fapesp.br/en to keep updated with the latest scientific breakthroughs FAPESP helps achieve through its many programs, awards and research centers. You may also subscribe to FAPESP news agency at http://agencia.fapesp.br/subscribe.

As per my usual practice, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Agarose-based structured optical fibre by Eric Fujiwara, Thiago D. Cabral, Miko Sato, Hiromasa Oku & Cristiano M. B. Cordeiro. Scientific Reports volume 10, Article number: 7035 (2020) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-64103-3 Published: 27 April 2020

This paper is open access.

Should you have a problem accessing the English language version of the FAPESP website, the Portuguese language version of the site seems more accessible (assuming you have the language skills).

Improving neuromorphic devices with ion conducting polymer

A July 1, 2020 news item on ScienceDaily announces work which researchers are hopeful will allow them exert more control over neuromorphic devices’ speed of response,

“Neuromorphic” refers to mimicking the behavior of brain neural cells. When one speaks of neuromorphic computers, they are talking about making computers think and process more like human brains-operating at high-speed with low energy consumption.

Despite a growing interest in polymer-based neuromorphic devices, researchers have yet to establish an effective method for controlling the response speed of devices. Researchers from Tohoku University and the University of Cambridge, however, have overcome this obstacle through mixing the polymers PSS-Na and PEDOT:PSS, discovering that adding an ion conducting polymer enhances neuromorphic device response time.

A June 24, 2020 Tohoku University press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides a few more technical details,

Polymers are materials composed of long molecular chains and play a fundamental aspect in modern life from the rubber in tires, to water bottles, to polystyrene. Mixing polymers together results in the creation of new materials with their own distinct physical properties.

Most studies on neuromorphic devices based on polymer focus exclusively on the application of PEDOT: PSS, a mixed conductor that transports both electrons and ions. PSS-Na, on the other hand, transports ions only. By blending these two polymers, the researchers could enhance the ion diffusivity in the active layer of the device. Their measurements confirmed an increase in device response time, achieving a 5-time shorting at maximum. The results also proved how closely related response time is to the diffusivity of ions in the active layer.

“Our study paves the way for a deeper understanding behind the science of conducting polymers.” explains co-author Shunsuke Yamamoto from the Department of Biomolecular Engineering at Tohoku University’s Graduate School of Engineering. “Moving forward, it may be possible to create artificial neural networks composed of multiple neuromorphic devices,” he adds.

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

Controlling the Neuromorphic Behavior of Organic Electrochemical Transistors by Blending Mixed and Ion Conductors by Shunsuke Yamamoto and George G. Malliaras. ACS [American Chemical Society] Appl. Electron. Mater. 2020, XXXX, XXX, XXX-XXX DOI: https://doi.org/10.1021/acsaelm.0c00203 Publication Date:June 15, 2020 Copyright © 2020 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Wormlike communication at the nanoscale

These days I need a little joy and these two researchers seem happy to share,

Prof. Dirk Grundler and doctoral assistant Sho Watanabe with a broadband spin-wave spectroscopy set up. Credit: EPFL / Alain Herzog

A July 15, 2020 news item on phys.org announces the development that so delights these researchers,

Researchers at EPFL [École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne; Switzerland] have shown that electromagnetic waves coupled to precisely engineered structures known as artificial ferromagnetic quasicrystals allow for more efficient information transmission and processing at the nanoscale. Their research also represents the first practical demonstration of Conway worms, a theoretical concept for the description of quasicrystals.

A July 15, 2020 EPFL press release, which originated the news item, explains further,

High-frequency electromagnetic waves are used to transmit and process information in microelectronic devices such as smartphones. It’s already appreciated that these waves can be compressed using magnetic oscillations known as spin waves or magnons. This compression could pave the way for the design of nanoscale, multifunctional microwave devices with a considerably reduced footprint. But first, scientists need to gain a better understanding of spin waves – or precisely how magnons behave and propagate in different structures.

Learning more about aperiodic structures

In a study conducted by the doctoral assistant Sho Watanabe, postdoctoral researcher Dr. Vinayak Bhat, and further team members, the scientists from EPFL’s Laboratory of Nanoscale Magnetic Materials and Magnonics (LMGN) examined how electromagnetic waves propagate, and how they could be manipulated, in precisely engineered nanostructures known as artificial ferromagnetic quasicrystals. The quasicrystals have a unique property: their structure is aperiodic, meaning that their constituent atoms or tailor-made elements do not follow a regular, repeating pattern but are still arranged deterministically. Although this characteristic makes materials especially useful for the design of everyday and high-tech devices, it remains poorly understood.

Faster, easier transmission of information

The LMGN team found that, under controlled conditions, a single electromagnetic wave coupled to an artificial quasicrystal splits into several spin waves, which then propagate within the structure. Each of these spin waves represents a different phase of the original electromagnetic wave, carrying different information. “It’s a very interesting discovery, because existing information-transmission methods follow the same principle,” says Dirk Grundler, an associate professor at EPFL’s School of Engineering (STI). “Except you need an extra device, a multiplexer, to split the input signal because – unlike in our study – it doesn’t divide on its own.”

Grundler also explains that, in conventional systems, the information contained in each wave can only be read at different frequencies – another inconvenience that the EPFL team overcame in their study. “In our two-dimensional quasicrystals, all the waves can be read at the same frequency,” he adds. The findings have been published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Waves that spread like worms

The researchers also observed that, rather than propagating randomly, the waves often moved like so-called Conway worms, named after a well-known mathematician John Horton Conway who also developed a model to describe the behavior and feeding patterns of prehistoric worms. Conway discovered that, within two-dimensional quasicrystals, constituent elements arrange like meandering worms following a Fibonacci sequence. Thereby they form selected one-dimensional quasicrystals. “Our study represents the first practical demonstration of this theoretical concept, proving that the sequences induce interesting functional properties of waves in a quasicrystal,” says Grundler.

Take a look at that last paragraph. A mathematician develops a model for how prehistoric worms may have moved and applies it, theoretically, to 2D quasicrystals which these researchers believe they’ve observed in the laboratory and they believe this may have an impact on our future electronic devices. Sometimes I sit at home in wonder.

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

Direct Observation of Worm‐Like Nanochannels and Emergent Magnon Motifs in Artificial Ferromagnetic Quasicrystals by Sho Watanabe, Vinayak S. Bhat, Korbinian Baumgaert, Dirk Grundler. Advanced Functional Materials DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/adfm.202001388 First published: 15 July 2020

This is an open access paper.

The mention of quasicrystals reminded me of Daniel Schechtman who received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2011 and who was mentioned in a December 24, 2013 posting here,

“I suggested earlier that this achievement has a fabulous quality and the Daniel Schechtman backstory is the reason. The winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, Schechtman was reviled for years [emphasis mine] within his scientific community as Ian Sample notes in his Oct. 5, 2011 article on the announcement of Schechtman’s Nobel win written for the Guardian newspaper (Note: A link has been removed),

A scientist whose work was so controversial he was ridiculed and asked to leave his research group has won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Daniel Shechtman, 70, a researcher at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, received the award for discovering seemingly impossible crystal structures in frozen gobbets of metal that resembled the beautiful patterns seen in Islamic mosaics.

Images of the metals showed their atoms were arranged in a way that broke well-establised rules of how crystals formed, a finding that fundamentally altered how chemists view solid matter.

You may want to click on the Guardian link to the full story about Schechtman and his quasicrystals. As for my December 24, 2013 posting, that features news of the creation of the first single-element quasicrystal in a laboratory along with an excerpt of the Schechtman story (scroll down about 50% of the way).