Category Archives: electronics

Tissue-like bioelectronic mesh system capable of growing with cardiac tissues

Graphene, heralded for its biocompatibility, features in a March 22, 2024 news item on ScienceDaily about research about biosensing and a mesh system that can grow,

A team of engineers has recently built a tissue-like bioelectronic mesh system integrated with an array of atom-thin graphene sensors that can simultaneously measure both the electrical signal and the physical movement of cells in lab-grown human cardiac tissue. This tissue-like mesh can grow along with the cardiac cells, allowing researchers to observe how the heart’s mechanical and electrical functions change during the developmental process. The new device is a boon for those studying cardiac disease as well as those studying the potentially toxic side-effects of many common drug therapies.

Caption: A bioelectronic mesh, studded with graphene sensors (red), can measure the electrical signal and movement of cardiac tissue (purple and green) at the same time. Credit: Gao et al., 10.1038/s41467-024-46636-7

A March 21, 2024 University of Massachusetts at Amherst news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, delves further into the topics of heart disease and biosensor implants, Note: Links have been removed,

Cardiac disease is the leading cause of human morbidity and mortality across the world. The heart is also very sensitive to therapeutic drugs, and the pharmaceutical industry spends millions of dollars in testing to make sure that its products are safe. However, ways to effectively monitor living cardiac tissue are extremely limited.

In part, this is because it is very risky to implant sensors in a living heart, but also because the heart is a complex kind of muscle with more than one thing that needs monitoring. “Cardiac tissue is very special,” says Jun Yao, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering in UMass Amherst’s College of Engineering and the paper’s senior author. “It has a mechanical activity—the contractions and relaxations that pump blood through our body—coupled to an electrical signal that controls that activity.”

But today’s sensors can typically only measure one characteristic at a time, and a two-sensor device that could measure both charge and movement would be so bulky as to impede the cardiac tissue’s function. Until now, there was no single sensor capable of measuring the heart’s dual properties without interfering with its functioning.

The new device is built of two critical components, explains lead author Hongyan Gao, who is pursuing his Ph.D. in electrical engineering at UMass Amherst. The first is a three-dimensional cardiac microtissue (CMT), grown in a lab from human stem cells under the guidance of co-author Yubing Sun, associate professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at UMass Amherst. CMT has become the preferred model for in vitro testing because it is the closest analog yet to a full-size, living human heart. However, because CMT is grown in a test tube, it has to mature, a process that takes time and can be easily disrupted by a clumsy sensor.

The second critical component involves graphene—a pure-carbon substance only one atom thick. Graphene has a few surprising quirks to its nature that make it perfect for a cardiac sensor. Graphene is electrically conductive, and so it can sense the electrical charges shooting through cardiac tissue. It is also piezoresistive, which means that as it is stretched—say, by the beating of a heart—its electrical resistance increases. And because graphene is impossibly thin, it can register even the tiniest flutter of muscle contraction or relaxation and can do so without impeding the heart’s function, all through the maturation process. Co-author Jing Kong, professor of electrical engineering at MIT, and her group supplied this critical graphene material.

“Although there have already been many applications for graphene, it is wonderful to see that it can be used in this critical need, which takes advantage of graphene’s different characteristics,” says Kong.

Gao, Yao and their colleagues then embedded a series of graphene sensors in a soft, stretchable porous mesh scaffold they developed that has close structural and mechanical properties to human tissue and which can be applied non-invasively to cardiac tissue.

“No one has ever done this before,” says Gao. “Graphene can survive in a biological environment without degrading for a very long time and not lose its conductivity, so we can monitor the CMT across its entire maturation process.”

“This is crucial for a number of reasons,” adds Yao. “Our sensor can give real-time feedback to scientists and drug researchers, and it can do so in a cost-effective way. We take pride in using the insights of electrical engineering to help build tools that can be useful to a wide range of researchers.”

In the future, Gao says, he hopes to be able to adapt his sensor to grander scales, even to in vivo monitoring, which would provide the best-possible data to help solve cardiac disease.

This research was supported by the Army Research Office, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Semiconductor Research Corporation, and the Link Foundation, as well as the Institute for Applied Life Sciences at UMass Amherst.

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

Graphene-integrated mesh electronics with converged multifunctionality for tracking multimodal excitation-contraction dynamics in cardiac microtissues by Hongyan Gao, Zhien Wang, Feiyu Yang, Xiaoyu Wang, Siqi Wang, Quan Zhang, Xiaomeng Liu, Yubing Sun, Jing Kong & Jun Yao. Nature Communications volume 15, Article number: 2321 (2024) DOI: Published: 14 March 2024

This paper is open access.

Graphene-like materials for first smart contact lenses with AR (augmented reality) vision, health monitoring, & content surfing?

A March 6, 2024 XPANCEO news release on EurekAlert (also posted March 11, 2024 on the Graphene Council blog) and distributed by Mindset Consulting announced smart contact lenses devised with graphene-like materials,

XPANCEO, a deep tech company developing the first smart contact lenses with XR vision, health monitoring, and content surfing features, in collaboration with the Nobel laureate Konstantin S. Novoselov (National University of Singapore, University of Manchester) and professor Luis Martin-Moreno (Instituto de Nanociencia y Materiales de Aragon), has announced in Nature Communications a groundbreaking discovery of new properties of rhenium diselenide and rhenium disulfide, enabling novel mode of light-matter interaction with huge potential for integrated photonics, healthcare, and AR. Rhenium disulfide and rhenium diselenide are layered materials belonging to the family of graphene-like materials. Absorption and refraction in these materials have different principal directions, implying six degrees of freedom instead of a maximum of three in classical materials. As a result, rhenium disulfide and rhenium diselenide by themselves allow controlling the light propagation direction without any technological steps required for traditional materials like silicon and titanium dioxide.

The origin of such surprising light-matter interaction of ReS2 and ReSe2 with light is due to the specific symmetry breaking observed in these materials. Symmetry plays a huge role in nature, human life, and material science. For example, almost all living things are built symmetrically. Therefore, in ancient times symmetry was also called harmony, as it was associated with beauty. Physical laws are also closely related to symmetry, such as the laws of conservation of energy and momentum. Violation of symmetry leads to the appearance of new physical effects and radical changes in the properties of materials. In particular, the water-ice phase transition is a consequence of a decrease in the degree of symmetry. In the case of ReS2 and ReSe2, the crystal lattice has the lowest possible degree of symmetry, which leads to the rotation of optical axes – directions of symmetry of optical properties of the material, which was previously observed only for organic materials. As a result, these materials make possible to control the direction of light by changing the wavelength, which opens a unique way for light manipulation in next-generation devices and applications. 

“The discovery of unique properties in anisotropic materials is revolutionizing the fields of nanophotonics and optoelectronics, presenting exciting possibilities. These materials serve as a versatile platform for the advancement of optical devices, such as wavelength-switchable metamaterials, metasurfaces, and waveguides. Among the promising applications is the development of highly efficient biochemical sensors. These sensors have the potential to outperform existing analogs in terms of both sensitivity and cost efficiency. For example, they are anticipated to significantly reduce the expenses associated with hospital blood testing equipment, which is currently quite costly, potentially by several orders of magnitude. This will also allow the detection of dangerous diseases and viruses, such as cancer or COVID, at earlier stages,” says Dr. Valentyn S. Volkov, co-founder and scientific partner at XPANCEO, a scientist with an h-Index of 38 and over 8000 citations in leading international publications.

Beyond the healthcare industry, these novel properties of graphene-like materials can find applications in artificial intelligence and machine learning, facilitating the development of photonic circuits to create a fast and powerful computer suitable for machine learning tasks. A computer based on photonic circuits is a superior solution, transmitting more information per unit of time, and unlike electric currents, photons (light beams) flow across one another without interacting. Furthermore, the new material properties can be utilized in producing smart optics, such as contact lenses or glasses, specifically for advancing AR [augmented reality] features. Leveraging these properties will enhance image coloration and adapt images for individuals with impaired color perception, enabling them to see the full spectrum of colors.

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

Wandering principal optical axes in van der Waals triclinic materials by Georgy A. Ermolaev, Kirill V. Voronin, Adilet N. Toksumakov, Dmitriy V. Grudinin, Ilia M. Fradkin, Arslan Mazitov, Aleksandr S. Slavich, Mikhail K. Tatmyshevskiy, Dmitry I. Yakubovsky, Valentin R. Solovey, Roman V. Kirtaev, Sergey M. Novikov, Elena S. Zhukova, Ivan Kruglov, Andrey A. Vyshnevyy, Denis G. Baranov, Davit A. Ghazaryan, Aleksey V. Arsenin, Luis Martin-Moreno, Valentyn S. Volkov & Kostya S. Novoselov. Nature Communications volume 15, Article number: 1552 (2024) DOI: Published: 06 March 2024

This paper is open access.

Deriving gold from electronic waste

Caption: The gold nugget obtained from computer motherboards in three parts. The largest of these parts is around five millimetres wide. Credit: (Photograph: ETH Zurich / Alan Kovacevic)

A March 1, 2024 ETH Zurich press release (also on EurekAlert but published February 29, 2024) by Fabio Bergamin describes research into reclaiming gold from electronic waste, Note: A link has been removed.

In brief

  • Protein fibril sponges made by ETH Zurich researchers are hugely effective at recovering gold from electronic waste.
  • From 20 old computer motherboards, the researchers retrieved a 22-​carat gold nugget weighing 450 milligrams.
  • Because the method utilises various waste and industry byproducts, it is not only sustainable but cost effective as well.

Transforming base materials into gold was one of the elusive goals of the alchemists of yore. Now Professor Raffaele Mezzenga from the Department of Health Sciences and Technology at ETH Zurich has accomplished something in that vein. He has not of course transformed another chemical element into gold, as the alchemists sought to do. But he has managed to recover gold from electronic waste using a byproduct of the cheesemaking process.

Electronic waste contains a variety of valuable metals, including copper, cobalt, and even significant amounts of gold. Recovering this gold from disused smartphones and computers is an attractive proposition in view of the rising demand for the precious metal. However, the recovery methods devised to date are energy-​intensive and often require the use of highly toxic chemicals. Now, a group led by ETH Professor Mezzenga has come up with a very efficient, cost-​effective, and above all far more sustainable method: with a sponge made from a protein matrix, the researchers have successfully extracted gold from electronic waste.

Selective gold adsorption

To manufacture the sponge, Mohammad Peydayesh, a senior scientist in Mezzenga’s Group, and his colleagues denatured whey proteins under acidic conditions and high temperatures, so that they aggregated into protein nanofibrils in a gel. The scientists then dried the gel, creating a sponge out of these protein fibrils.

To recover gold in the laboratory experiment, the team salvaged the electronic motherboards from 20 old computer motherboards and extracted the metal parts. They dissolved these parts in an acid bath so as to ionise the metals.

When they placed the protein fibre sponge in the metal ion solution, the gold ions adhered to the protein fibres. Other metal ions can also adhere to the fibres, but gold ions do so much more efficiently. The researchers demonstrated this in their paper, which they have published in the journal Advanced Materials.

As the next step, the researchers heated the sponge. This reduced the gold ions into flakes, which the scientists subsequently melted down into a gold nugget. In this way, they obtained a nugget of around 450 milligrams out of the 20 computer motherboards. The nugget was 91 percent gold (the remainder being copper), which corresponds to 22 carats.

Economically viable

The new technology is commercially viable, as Mezzenga’s calculations show: procurement costs for the source materials added to the energy costs for the entire process are 50 times lower than the value of the gold that can be recovered.

Next, the researchers want to develop the technology to ready it for the market. Although electronic waste is the most promising starting product from which they want to extract gold, there are other possible sources. These include industrial waste from microchip manufacturing or from gold-​plating processes. In addition, the scientists plan to investigate whether they can manufacture the protein fibril sponges out of other protein-​rich byproducts or waste products from the food industry.

“The fact I love the most is that we’re using a food industry byproduct to obtain gold from electronic waste,” Mezzenga says. In a very real sense, he observes, the method transforms two waste products into gold. “You can’t get much more sustainable than that!”

If you have a problem accessing either of the two previously provided links to the press release, you can try this February 29, 2024 news item on ScienceDaily.

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

Gold Recovery from E-Waste by Food-Waste Amyloid Aerogels by Mohammad Peydayesh, Enrico Boschi, Felix Donat, Raffaele Mezzenga. DOI: First published online: 23 January 2024

This paper is open access.

Proof-of-concept for implantable batteries that run on body’s own oxygen

Bioenergy harvesting may be here. Well maybe not yet but we are one step closer according to a March 27, 2024 news item on ScienceDaily,

From pacemakers to neurostimulators, implantable medical devices rely on batteries to keep the heart on beat and dampen pain. But batteries eventually run low and require invasive surgeries to replace. To address these challenges, researchers have devised an implantable battery that runs on oxygen in the body. The study shows in rats that the proof-of-concept design can deliver stable power and is compatible with the biological system.

This is a dynamic image illustrating the device in action,

Caption: Implantable and bio-compatible Na-O2 battery. Credit: Chem/Lv et al.

A March 27, 2024 Cell Press news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, provides more detail about the -proof-of-concept device,

“When you think about it, oxygen is the source of our life,” says corresponding author Xizheng Liu, who specializes in energy materials and devices at Tianjin University of Technology. “If we can leverage the continuous supply of oxygen in the body, battery life won’t be limited by the finite materials within conventional batteries.”

To build a safe and efficient battery, the researchers made its electrodes out of a sodium-based alloy and nanoporous gold, a material with pores thousands of times smaller than a hair’s width. Gold has been known for its compatibility with living systems, and sodium is an essential and ubiquitous element in the human body. The electrodes undergo chemical reactions with oxygen in the body to produce electricity. To protect the battery, the researchers encased it within a porous polymer film that is soft and flexible.

The researchers then implanted the battery under the skin on the backs of rats and measured its electricity output. Two weeks later, they found that the battery can produce stable voltages between 1.3 V and 1.4 V, with a maximum power density of 2.6 µW/cm2. Although the output is insufficient to power medical devices, the design shows that harnessing oxygen in the body for energy is possible.

The team also evaluated inflammatory reactions, metabolic changes, and tissue regeneration around the battery. The rats showed no apparent inflammation. Byproducts from the battery’s chemical reactions, including sodium ions, hydroxide ions, and low levels of hydrogen peroxide, were easily metabolized by the body and did not affect the kidneys and liver. The rats healed well after implantation, with the hair on their back completely regrown after four weeks. To the researchers’ surprise, blood vessels also regenerated around the battery.

“We were puzzled by the unstable electricity output right after implantation,” says Liu. “It turned out we had to give the wound time to heal, for blood vessels to regenerate around the battery and supply oxygen, before the battery could provide stable electricity. This is a surprising and interesting finding because it means that the battery can help monitor wound healing.”

Next, the team plans to up the battery’s energy delivery by exploring more efficient materials for the electrodes and optimizing the battery structure and design. Liu also noted that the battery is easy to scale up in production and choosing cost-effective materials can further lower the price. The team’s battery may also find other purposes beyond powering medical devices.

“Because tumor cells are sensitive to oxygen levels, implanting this oxygen-consuming battery around it may help starve cancers. It’s also possible to convert the battery energy to heat to kill cancer cells,” says Liu. “From a new energy source to potential biotherapies, the prospects for this battery are exciting.”

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

Implantable and bio-compatible Na-O2 battery by Yang Lv, Xizheng Liu, Jiucong Liu, Pingli Wu, Yonggang Wang, Yi Ding. Chem DOI: In press, corrected proof Published online: March 27, 2024 Copyright © 2024 Elsevier Inc.

The paper appears to be open access.

University of Waterloo researchers get one step closer to secure quantum communication on a global scale

A March 25, 2024 news item on announcds Canadian research into quantum communication, Note: Links have been removed,

Researchers at the University of Waterloo’s Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) have brought together two Nobel prize-winning research concepts to advance the field of quantum communication.

Scientists can now efficiently produce nearly perfect entangled photon pairs from quantum dot sources. The research, “Oscillating photonic Bell state from a semiconductor quantum dot for quantum key distribution,” was published in Communications Physics

A March 25, 2024 University of Waterloo news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, delves further into the topic of quantum physics and communication,

Entangled photons are particles of light that remain connected, even across large distances, and the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics recognized experiments on this topic. Combining entanglement with quantum dots, a technology recognized with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2023, the IQC research team aimed to optimize the process for creating entangled photons, which have a wide variety of applications, including secure communications.

“The combination of a high degree of entanglement and high efficiency is needed for exciting applications such as quantum key distribution or quantum repeaters, which are envisioned to extend the distance of secure quantum communication to a global scale or link remote quantum computers,” said Dr. Michael Reimer, professor at IQC and Waterloo’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “Previous experiments only measured either near-perfect entanglement or high efficiency, but we’re the first to achieve both requirements with a quantum dot.”

By embedding semiconductor quantum dots into a nanowire, the researchers created a source that creates near-perfect entangled photons 65 times more efficiently than previous work. This new source, developed in collaboration with the National Research Council of Canada in Ottawa, can be excited with lasers to generate entangled pairs on command. The researchers then used high-resolution single photon detectors provided by Single Quantum in The Netherlands to boost the degree of entanglement.

“Historically, quantum dot systems were plagued with a problem called fine structure splitting, which causes an entangled state to oscillate over time. This meant that measurements taken with a slow detection system would prevent the entanglement from being measured,” said Matteo Pennacchietti, a PhD student at IQC and Waterloo’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “We overcame this by combining our quantum dots with a very fast and precise detection system. We can basically take a timestamp of what the entangled state looks like at each point during the oscillations, and that’s where we have the perfect entanglement.”

To showcase future communications applications, Reimer and Pennacchietti worked with Dr. Norbert Lütkenhaus and Dr. Thomas Jennewein, both IQC faculty members and professors in Waterloo’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, and their teams. Using their new quantum dot entanglement source, the researchers simulated a secure communications method known as quantum key distribution, proving that the quantum dot source holds significant promise in the future of secure quantum communications.

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

Oscillating photonic Bell state from a semiconductor quantum dot for quantum key distribution by Matteo Pennacchietti, Brady Cunard, Shlok Nahar, Mohd Zeeshan, Sayan Gangopadhyay, Philip J. Poole, Dan Dalacu, Andreas Fognini, Klaus D. Jöns, Val Zwiller, Thomas Jennewein, Norbert Lütkenhaus & Michael E. Reimer. Communications Physics volume 7, Article number: 62 (2024)
DOI: Published: 24 February 2024

This paper is open access.

A graphene joke (of sorts): What did the electron ‘say’ to the phonon in the graphene sandwich?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a punch line but I appreciate the effort to inject a little lightness into the description of a fairly technical achievement, from a February 12, 2024 news item on Nanowerk, Note: A link has been removed,

Electrons carry electrical energy, while vibrational energy is carried by phonons. Understanding how they interact with each other in certain materials, like in a sandwich of two graphene layers, will have implications for future optoelectronic devices.

Key Takeaways

Twisted graphene layers exhibit unique electrical properties.

Electron-phonon interactions crucial for energy loss in graphene.

Discovery of a new physical process involving electron-phonon Umklapp scattering.

Potential implications for ultrafast optoelectronics and quantum applications.

A February 9, 2024 Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e; Netherlands) press release, which originated the news item, is reproduced here in its entirety, Note: Links have been removed,

Electrons carry electrical energy, while vibrational energy is carried by phonons. Understanding how they interact with each other in certain materials, like in a sandwich of two graphene layers, will have implications for future optoelectronic devices. Recent work has revealed that graphene layers twisted relative to each other by a small ‘magic angle’ can act as perfect insulator or superconductor. But the physics of the electron-phonon interactions are a mystery. As part of a worldwide international collaboration, TU/e researcher Klaas-Jan Tielrooij has led a study on electron-phonon interactions in graphene layers. And they have made a startling discovery.

What did the electron say to the phonon between two layers of graphene?

This might sound like the start of a physics meme with a hilarious punchline to follow. But that’s not the case according to Klaas-Jan Tielrooij. He’s an associate professor at the Department of Applied Physics and Science Education at TU/e and the research lead of the new work published in Science Advances.

“We sought to understand how electrons and phonons ‘talk’ to each other within two twisted graphene layers,” says Tielrooij.

Electrons are the well-known charge and energy carriers associated with electricity, while a phonon is linked to the emergence of vibrations between atoms in an atomic crystal.

“Phonons aren’t particles like electrons though, they’re a quasiparticle. Yet, their interaction with electrons in certain materials and how they affect energy loss in electrons has been a mystery for some time,” notes Tielrooij.

But why would it be interesting to learn more about electron-phonon interactions? “These interactions can have a major effect on the electronic and optoelectronic properties of devices, made from materials like graphene, which we are going to see more of in the future.”

Twistronics: Breakthrough of the Year 2018

Tielrooij and his collaborators, who are based around the world in Spain, Germany, Japan, and the US, decided to study electron-phonon interactions in a very particular case – within two layers of graphene where the layers are ever-so-slightly misaligned.

Graphene is a two-dimensional layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb lattice that has several impressive properties such as high electrical conductivity, high flexibility, and high thermal conductivity, and it is also nearly transparent.

Back in 2018, the Physics World Breakthrough of the Year award went to Pablo Jarillo-Herrero and colleagues at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] for their pioneering work on twistronics, where adjacent layers of graphene are rotated very slightly relative to each other to change the electronic properties of the graphene.

Twist and astound!

“Depending on how the layers of graphene are rotated and doped with electrons, contrasting outcomes are possible. For certain dopings, the layers act as an insulator, which prevents the movement of electrons. For other doping, the material behaves as a superconductor – a material with zero resistance that allows the dissipation-less movement of electrons,” says Tielrooij.

Better known as twisted bilayer graphene, these outcomes occur at the so-called magic angle of misalignment, which is just over one degree of rotation. “The misalignment between the layers is tiny, but the possibility for a superconductor or an insulator is an astounding result.”

How electrons lose energy

For their study, Tielrooij and the team wanted to learn more about how electrons lose energy in magic-angle twisted bilayer graphene, or MATBG for short.

To achieve this, they used a material consisting of two sheets of monolayer graphene (each 0.3 nanometers thick), placed on top of each other, and misaligned relative to each other by about one degree.

Then using two optoelectronic measurement techniques, the researchers were able to probe the electron-phonon interactions in detail, and they made some staggering discoveries.

“We observed that the energy vanishes very quickly in the MATBG – it occurs on the picosecond timescale, which is one-millionth of one-millionth of a second!” says Tielrooij.

This observation is much faster than for the case of a single layer of graphene, especially at ultracold temperatures (specifically below -73 degrees Celsius). “At these temperatures, it’s very difficult for electrons to lose energy to phonons, yet it happens in the MATBG.”

Why electrons lose energy

So, why are the electrons losing the energy so quickly through interaction with the phonons? Well, it turns out the researchers have uncovered a whole new physical process.

“The strong electron-phonon interaction is a completely new physical process and involves so-called electron-phonon Umklapp scattering,” adds Hiroaki Ishizuka from Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan, who developed the theoretical understanding of this process together with Leonid Levitov from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US.

Umklapp scattering between phonons is a process that often affects heat transfer in materials, because it enables relatively large amounts of momentum to be transferred between phonons.

“We see the effects of phonon-phonon Umklapp scattering all the time as it affects the ability for (non-metallic) materials at room temperature to conduct heat. Just think of an insulating material on the handle of a pot for example,” says Ishizuka. “However, electron-phonon Umklapp scattering is rare. Here though we have observed for the first time how electrons and phonons interact via Umklapp scattering to dissipate electron energy.”

Challenges solved together

Tielrooij and collaborators may have completed most of the work while he was based in Spain at the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2), but as Tielrooij notes. “The international collaboration proved pivotal to making this discovery.”

So, how did all the collaborators contribute to the research? Tielrooij: “First, we needed advanced fabrication techniques to make the MATBG samples. But we also needed a deep theoretical understanding of what’s happening in the samples. Added to that, ultrafast optoelectronic measurement setups were required to measure what’s happening in the samples too.”

Tielrooij and the team received the magic-angle twisted samples from Dmitri Efetov’s group at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, who were the first group in Europe able to make such samples and who also performed photomixing measurements, while theoretical work at MIT in the US and at Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan proved crucial to the success of the research.

At ICN2, Tielrooij and his team members Jake Mehew and Alexander Block used cutting-edge equipment particularly time-resolved photovoltage microscopy to perform their measurements of electron-phonon dynamics in the samples.

The future

So, what does the future look like for these materials then? According to Tielrooij, don’t expect anything too soon.

“As the material is only being studied for a few years, we’re still some way from seeing magic-angle twisted bilayer graphene having an impact on society.”

But there is a great deal to be explored about energy loss in the material.

“Future discoveries could have implications for charge transport dynamics, which could have implications for future ultrafast optoelectronics devices,” says Tielrooij. “In particular, they would be very useful at low temperatures, so that makes the material suitable for space and quantum applications.”

The research from Tielrooij and the international team is a real breakthrough when it comes to how electrons and phonons interact with each other.

But we’ll have to wait a little longer to fully understand the consequences of what the electron said to the phonon in the graphene sandwich.

Illustration showing the control of energy relaxation with twist angle. Image: Authors

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

Ultrafast Umklapp-assisted electron-phonon cooling in magic-angle twisted bilayer graphene by Jake Dudley Mehew, Rafael Luque Merino, Hiroaki Ishizuka, Alexander Block, Jaime Díez Mérida, Andrés Díez Carlón, Kenji Watanabe, Takashi Taniguchi, Leonid S. Levitov, Dmitri K. Efetov, and Klaas-Jan Tielrooij. Science Advances 9 Feb 2024 Vol 10, Issue 6 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adj1361

This paper is open access.

Apply for 2024 summer school at Canada’s Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Nanotechnology (deadline: April 28, 2024)

This call is for Canadian undergraduate students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), from the University of Waterloo’s 2024 WIN Summer School on Sustainable Nanotechnology webpage,

WIN is pleased to host a Summer School on Sustainable Nanotechnology at UWaterloo on June 19 – 21, 2024.

This Summer School is open to Undergraduate Students in STEM across Canada .

The WIN Summer School will offer lab and facilities tours in the QNC, and in-class lectures by WIN members, senior PhD students and post-doctoral fellows.

Open to undergraduate students across Canada in STEM!

Topic areas:

* Smart & Functional Materials
* Connected Devices
* Next Generation Energy Systems
* Therapeutics & Theranostics

The WIN Summer School curriculum will be aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

To learn more about last year’s summer school:

Summer School Details

DatesJune 19 – 21, 2024
Application Due DateApril 28, 2024
LocationMike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre (QNC) University of Waterloo
200 University Avenue West,
Waterloo, ON N2L 3G1
Notification of AcceptanceApril 2024
Application requirementsCanadian Ungeraduate Student in STEM Completed their first year of undergraduate studies
Application DetailsPlease fill out the Application form and include:  CV 1-page Research Statement Broad research interest in nanoscience and nanotechnology Alignment of your research interest with UN Sustainable Development Goals Your career goals to accomplish your research interests
Other DetailsSuccessful candidates will be provided: On-campus housing free of cost All meals  An honorarium of $500 to cover full/partial travel costs

Apply Now!

Check out the University of Waterloo’s 2024 WIN Summer School on Sustainable Nanotechnology webpage for a detailed daily agenda and more.

Finally, good luck!

‘Frozen smoke’ sensors can detect toxic formaldehyde in homes and offices

I love the fact that ‘frozen smoke’ is another term for aerogel (which has multiple alternative terms) and the latest work on this interesting material is from the University of Cambridge (UK) according to a February 9, 2023 news item on ScienceDaily,

Researchers have developed a sensor made from ‘frozen smoke’ that uses artificial intelligence techniques to detect formaldehyde in real time at concentrations as low as eight parts per billion, far beyond the sensitivity of most indoor air quality sensors.

The researchers, from the University of Cambridge, developed sensors made from highly porous materials known as aerogels. By precisely engineering the shape of the holes in the aerogels, the sensors were able to detect the fingerprint of formaldehyde, a common indoor air pollutant, at room temperature.

The proof-of-concept sensors, which require minimal power, could be adapted to detect a wide range of hazardous gases, and could also be miniaturised for wearable and healthcare applications. The results are reported in the journal Science Advances.

A February 9, 2024 University of Cambridge press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the problem and the proposed solution in more detail, Note: Links have been removed,

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a major source of indoor air pollution, causing watery eyes, burning in the eyes and throat, and difficulty breathing at elevated levels. High concentrations can trigger attacks in people with asthma, and prolonged exposure may cause certain cancers.

Formaldehyde is a common VOC and is emitted by household items including pressed wood products (such as MDF), wallpapers and paints, and some synthetic fabrics. For the most part, the levels of formaldehyde emitted by these items are low, but levels can build up over time, especially in garages where paints and other formaldehyde-emitting products are more likely to be stored.

According to a 2019 report from the campaign group Clean Air Day, a fifth of households in the UK showed notable concentrations of formaldehyde, with 13% of residences surpassing the recommended limit set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“VOCs such as formaldehyde can lead to serious health problems with prolonged exposure even at low concentrations, but current sensors don’t have the sensitivity or selectivity to distinguish between VOCs that have different impacts on health,” said Professor Tawfique Hasan from the Cambridge Graphene Centre, who led the research.

“We wanted to develop a sensor that is small and doesn’t use much power, but can selectively detect formaldehyde at low concentrations,” said Zhuo Chen, the paper’s first author.

The researchers based their sensors on aerogels: ultra-light materials sometimes referred to as ‘liquid smoke’, since they are more than 99% air by volume. The open structure of aerogels allows gases to easily move in and out. By precisely engineering the shape, or morphology, of the holes, the aerogels can act as highly effective sensors.

Working with colleagues at Warwick University, the Cambridge researchers optimised the composition and structure of the aerogels to increase their sensitivity to formaldehyde, making them into filaments about three times the width of a human hair. The researchers 3D printed lines of a paste made from graphene, a two-dimensional form of carbon, and then freeze-dried the graphene paste to form the holes in the final aerogel structure. The aerogels also incorporate tiny semiconductors known as quantum dots.

The sensors they developed were able to detect formaldehyde at concentrations as low as eight parts per billion, which is 0.4 percent of the level deemed safe in UK workplaces. The sensors also work at room temperature, consuming very low power.

“Traditional gas sensors need to be heated up, but because of the way we’ve engineered the materials, our sensors work incredibly well at room temperature, so they use between 10 and 100 times less power than other sensors,” said Chen.

To improve selectivity, the researchers then incorporated machine learning algorithms into the sensors. The algorithms were trained to detect the ‘fingerprint’ of different gases, so that the sensor was able to distinguish the fingerprint of formaldehyde from other VOCs.

“Existing VOC detectors are blunt instruments – you only get one number for the overall concentration in the air,” said Hasan. “By building a sensor that is able to detect specific VOCs at very low concentrations in real time, it can give home and business owners a more accurate picture of air quality and any potential health risks.”

The researchers say that the same technique could be used to develop sensors to detect other VOCs. In theory, a device the size of a standard household carbon monoxide detector could incorporate multiple different sensors within it, providing real-time information about a range of different hazardous gases. The team at Warwick are developing a low-cost multi-sensor platform that will incorporate these new aerogel materials and, coupled with AI algorithms, detect different VOCs.

“By using highly porous materials as the sensing element, we’re opening up whole new ways of detecting hazardous materials in our environment,” said Chen.

The research was supported in part by the Henry Royce Institute, and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Tawfique Hasan is a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge.

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

Real-time, noise and drift resilient formaldehyde sensing at room temperature with aerogel filaments by Zhuo Chen, Binghan Zhou, Mingfei Xiao, Tynee Bhowmick, Padmanathan Karthick Kannan, Luigi G. Occhipinti, Julian William Gardner, and Tawfique Hasan. Science Advances 9 Feb 2024 Vol 10, Issue 6 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adk6856

This paper is open access.

Butterfly mating inspires neuromorphic (brainlike) computing

Michael Berger writes about a multisensory approach to neuromorphic computing inspired by butterflies in his February 2, 2024 Nanowerk Spotlight article, Note: Links have been removed,

Artificial intelligence systems have historically struggled to integrate and interpret information from multiple senses the way animals intuitively do. Humans and other species rely on combining sight, sound, touch, taste and smell to better understand their surroundings and make decisions. However, the field of neuromorphic computing has largely focused on processing data from individual senses separately.

This unisensory approach stems in part from the lack of miniaturized hardware able to co-locate different sensing modules and enable in-sensor and near-sensor processing. Recent efforts have targeted fusing visual and tactile data. However, visuochemical integration, which merges visual and chemical information to emulate complex sensory processing such as that seen in nature—for instance, butterflies integrating visual signals with chemical cues for mating decisions—remains relatively unexplored. Smell can potentially alter visual perception, yet current AI leans heavily on visual inputs alone, missing a key aspect of biological cognition.

Now, researchers at Penn State University have developed bio-inspired hardware that embraces heterogeneous integration of nanomaterials to allow the co-location of chemical and visual sensors along with computing elements. This facilitates efficient visuochemical information processing and decision-making, taking cues from the courtship behaviors of a species of tropical butterfly.

In the paper published in Advanced Materials (“A Butterfly-Inspired Multisensory Neuromorphic Platform for Integration of Visual and Chemical Cues”), the researchers describe creating their visuochemical integration platform inspired by Heliconius butterflies. During mating, female butterflies rely on integrating visual signals like wing color from males along with chemical pheromones to select partners. Specialized neurons combine these visual and chemical cues to enable informed mate choice.

To emulate this capability, the team constructed hardware encompassing monolayer molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) memtransistors serving as visual capture and processing components. Meanwhile, graphene chemitransistors functioned as artificial olfactory receptors. Together, these nanomaterials provided the sensing, memory and computing elements necessary for visuochemical integration in a compact architecture.

While mating butterflies served as inspiration, the developed technology has much wider relevance. It represents a significant step toward overcoming the reliance of artificial intelligence on single data modalities. Enabling integration of multiple senses can greatly improve situational understanding and decision-making for autonomous robots, vehicles, monitoring devices and other systems interacting with complex environments.

The work also helps progress neuromorphic computing approaches seeking to emulate biological brains for next-generation ML acceleration, edge deployment and reduced power consumption. In nature, cross-modal learning underpins animals’ adaptable behavior and intelligence emerging from brains organizing sensory inputs into unified percepts. This research provides a blueprint for hardware co-locating sensors and processors to more closely replicate such capabilities

It’s fascinating to me how many times butterflies inspire science,

Butterfly-inspired visuo-chemical integration. a) A simplified abstraction of visual and chemical stimuli from male butterflies and visuo-chemical integration pathway in female butterflies. b) Butterfly-inspired neuromorphic hardware comprising of monolayer MoS2 memtransistor-based visual afferent neuron, graphene-based chemoreceptor neuron, and MoS2 memtransistor-based neuro-mimetic mating circuits. Courtesy: Wiley/Penn State University Researchers

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

A Butterfly-Inspired Multisensory Neuromorphic Platform for Integration of Visual and Chemical Cues by Yikai Zheng, Subir Ghosh, Saptarshi Das. Advanced Materials SOI: First published: 09 December 2023

This paper is open access.

Brainlike transistor and human intelligence

This brainlike transistor (not a memristor) is important because it functions at room temperature as opposed to others, which require cryogenic temperatures.

A December 20, 2023 Northwestern University news release (received via email; also on EurekAlert) fills in the details,

  • Researchers develop transistor that simultaneously processes and stores information like the human brain
  • Transistor goes beyond categorization tasks to perform associative learning
  • Transistor identified similar patterns, even when given imperfect input
  • Previous similar devices could only operate at cryogenic temperatures; new transistor operates at room temperature, making it more practical

EVANSTON, Ill. — Taking inspiration from the human brain, researchers have developed a new synaptic transistor capable of higher-level thinking.

Designed by researchers at Northwestern University, Boston College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the device simultaneously processes and stores information just like the human brain. In new experiments, the researchers demonstrated that the transistor goes beyond simple machine-learning tasks to categorize data and is capable of performing associative learning.

Although previous studies have leveraged similar strategies to develop brain-like computing devices, those transistors cannot function outside cryogenic temperatures. The new device, by contrast, is stable at room temperatures. It also operates at fast speeds, consumes very little energy and retains stored information even when power is removed, making it ideal for real-world applications.

The study was published today (Dec. 20 [2023]) in the journal Nature.

“The brain has a fundamentally different architecture than a digital computer,” said Northwestern’s Mark C. Hersam, who co-led the research. “In a digital computer, data move back and forth between a microprocessor and memory, which consumes a lot of energy and creates a bottleneck when attempting to perform multiple tasks at the same time. On the other hand, in the brain, memory and information processing are co-located and fully integrated, resulting in orders of magnitude higher energy efficiency. Our synaptic transistor similarly achieves concurrent memory and information processing functionality to more faithfully mimic the brain.”

Hersam is the Walter P. Murphy Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering. He also is chair of the department of materials science and engineering, director of the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center and member of the International Institute for Nanotechnology. Hersam co-led the research with Qiong Ma of Boston College and Pablo Jarillo-Herrero of MIT.

Recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI) have motivated researchers to develop computers that operate more like the human brain. Conventional, digital computing systems have separate processing and storage units, causing data-intensive tasks to devour large amounts of energy. With smart devices continuously collecting vast quantities of data, researchers are scrambling to uncover new ways to process it all without consuming an increasing amount of power. Currently, the memory resistor, or “memristor,” is the most well-developed technology that can perform combined processing and memory function. But memristors still suffer from energy costly switching.

“For several decades, the paradigm in electronics has been to build everything out of transistors and use the same silicon architecture,” Hersam said. “Significant progress has been made by simply packing more and more transistors into integrated circuits. You cannot deny the success of that strategy, but it comes at the cost of high power consumption, especially in the current era of big data where digital computing is on track to overwhelm the grid. We have to rethink computing hardware, especially for AI and machine-learning tasks.”

To rethink this paradigm, Hersam and his team explored new advances in the physics of moiré patterns, a type of geometrical design that arises when two patterns are layered on top of one another. When two-dimensional materials are stacked, new properties emerge that do not exist in one layer alone. And when those layers are twisted to form a moiré pattern, unprecedented tunability of electronic properties becomes possible.

For the new device, the researchers combined two different types of atomically thin materials: bilayer graphene and hexagonal boron nitride. When stacked and purposefully twisted, the materials formed a moiré pattern. By rotating one layer relative to the other, the researchers could achieve different electronic properties in each graphene layer even though they are separated by only atomic-scale dimensions. With the right choice of twist, researchers harnessed moiré physics for neuromorphic functionality at room temperature.

“With twist as a new design parameter, the number of permutations is vast,” Hersam said. “Graphene and hexagonal boron nitride are very similar structurally but just different enough that you get exceptionally strong moiré effects.”

To test the transistor, Hersam and his team trained it to recognize similar — but not identical — patterns. Just earlier this month, Hersam introduced a new nanoelectronic device capable of analyzing and categorizing data in an energy-efficient manner, but his new synaptic transistor takes machine learning and AI one leap further.

“If AI is meant to mimic human thought, one of the lowest-level tasks would be to classify data, which is simply sorting into bins,” Hersam said. “Our goal is to advance AI technology in the direction of higher-level thinking. Real-world conditions are often more complicated than current AI algorithms can handle, so we tested our new devices under more complicated conditions to verify their advanced capabilities.”

First the researchers showed the device one pattern: 000 (three zeros in a row). Then, they asked the AI to identify similar patterns, such as 111 or 101. “If we trained it to detect 000 and then gave it 111 and 101, it knows 111 is more similar to 000 than 101,” Hersam explained. “000 and 111 are not exactly the same, but both are three digits in a row. Recognizing that similarity is a higher-level form of cognition known as associative learning.”

In experiments, the new synaptic transistor successfully recognized similar patterns, displaying its associative memory. Even when the researchers threw curveballs — like giving it incomplete patterns — it still successfully demonstrated associative learning.

“Current AI can be easy to confuse, which can cause major problems in certain contexts,” Hersam said. “Imagine if you are using a self-driving vehicle, and the weather conditions deteriorate. The vehicle might not be able to interpret the more complicated sensor data as well as a human driver could. But even when we gave our transistor imperfect input, it could still identify the correct response.”

The study, “Moiré synaptic transistor with room-temperature neuromorphic functionality,” was primarily supported by the National Science Foundation.

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

Moiré synaptic transistor with room-temperature neuromorphic functionality by Xiaodong Yan, Zhiren Zheng, Vinod K. Sangwan, Justin H. Qian, Xueqiao Wang, Stephanie E. Liu, Kenji Watanabe, Takashi Taniguchi, Su-Yang Xu, Pablo Jarillo-Herrero, Qiong Ma & Mark C. Hersam. Nature volume 624, pages 551–556 (2023) DOI: Published online: 20 December 2023 Issue Date: 21 December 2023

This paper is behind a paywall.