Category Archives: coatings

Speaking in Color, an AI-powered paint tool

This June 16, 2022 article by Jeff Beer for Fast Company took me in an unexpected direction but first, there’s this from Beer’s story,

If an architect wanted to create a building that matched the color of a New York City summer sunset, they’d have to pore over potentially hundreds of color cards designed for industry to get anything close, and still it’d be a tall order to find that exact match. But a new AI-powered, voice-controlled tool from Sherwin-Williams aims to change that.

The paint brand recently launched Speaking in Color, a tool that allows users to tell it about certain places, objects, or shades in order to arrive at that perfect color. You start with a broad description like, say, “New York City summer sunset,” and then fine tune from there once it responds with photos and other options with more in-depth preferences like “darker red,” “make it moodier,” or “add a sliver of sun,” until it’s done.

Developed with agency Wunderman Thompson, it’s a React web app that uses natural language to find your preferred color using both third-party and proprietary code. The tool’s custom algorithm allows you to tweak colors in a way that translates statements like “make it dimmer,” “add warmth,” or “more like the 1980s” into mathematical adjustments.

It seems to me Wunderman Thompson needs to rethink its Sherwin Williams Speaking in Color promotional video (it’s embedded with Beer’s June 16, 2022 article or you can find it here; scroll down about 50% of the way). You’ll note, the color prompts are not spoken; they’re in text, e.g., ‘crystal-clear Caribbean ocean’. So much for ‘speaking in color’ but the article aroused my curiosity which is how I found this May 19, 2017 article by Annalee Newitz for Ars Technica highlighting another color/AI project (Note: A link has been removed),

At some point, we’ve all wondered about the incredibly strange names for paint colors. Research scientist and neural network goofball Janelle Shane took the wondering a step further. Shane decided to train a neural network to generate new paint colors, complete with appropriate names. The results are possibly the greatest work of artificial intelligence I’ve seen to date.

Writes Shane on her Tumblr, “For this experiment, I gave the neural network a list of about 7,700 Sherwin-Williams paint colors along with their RGB values. (RGB = red, green, and blue color values.) Could the neural network learn to invent new paint colors and give them attractive names?”

Shane told Ars that she chose a neural network algorithm called char-rnn, which predicts the next character in a sequence. So basically the algorithm was working on two tasks: coming up with sequences of letters to form color names, and coming up with sequences of numbers that map to an RGB value. As she checked in on the algorithm’s progress, she found that it was able to create colors long before it could actually name them reliably.

The longer it processed the dataset, the closer the algorithm got to making legit color names, though they were still mostly surreal: “Soreer Gray” is a kind of greenish color, and “Sane Green” is a purplish blue. When Shane cranked up “creativity” on the algorithm’s output, it gave her a violet color called “Dondarf” and a Kelly green called “Bylfgoam Glosd.” After churning through several more iterations of this process, Shane was able to get the algorithm to recognize some basic colors like red and gray, “though not reliably,” because she also gets a sky blue called “Gray Pubic” and a dark green called “Stoomy Brown.”

Brown has since written a book about artificial intelligence (You Look Like a Thing and I Love You; How Artificial Intelligence Works and Why It’s Making the World a Weirder Place [2019]) and continues her investigations of AI. You can find her website and blog here and her Wikipedia entry here.

Gilding medieaval statues with nanoscale gold sheets

The altar examined is thought to have been made around 1420 in Southern Germany and for a long time stood in a mountain chapel on Alp Leiggern in the Swiss canton of Valais. Today it is on display at the Swiss National Museum (Landesmuseum Zürich). (Photo: Swiss National Museum, Landesmuseum Zürich) [ddownloaded from https://www.psi.ch/en/media/our-research/nanomaterial-from-the-middle-ages]

As amazing as the altar appears, it was hiding some even more amazing secrets. From an October 10, 2022 Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) press release (also on EurekAlert but published October 11, 2022) by Barbara Vonarburg,

To gild sculptures in the late Middle Ages, artists often applied ultra-thin gold foil supported by a silver base layer. For the first time, scientists at the Paul Scherrer Institute [PSI] have managed to produce nanoscale 3D images of this material, known as Zwischgold. The pictures show this was a highly sophisticated mediaeval production technique and demonstrate why restoring such precious gilded artefacts is so difficult.

The samples examined at the Swiss Light Source SLS using one of the most advanced microscopy methods were unusual even for the highly experienced PSI team: minute samples of materials taken from an altar and wooden statues originating from the fifteenth century. The altar is thought to have been made around 1420 in Southern Germany and stood for a long time in a mountain chapel on Alp Leiggern in the Swiss canton of Valais. Today it is on display at the Swiss National Museum (Landesmuseum Zürich). In the middle you can see Mary cradling Baby Jesus. The material sample was taken from a fold in the Virgin Mary’s robe. The tiny samples from the other two mediaeval structures were supplied by Basel Historical Museum.

The material was used to gild the sacred figures. It is not actually gold leaf, but a special double-sided foil of gold and silver where the gold can be ultra-thin because it is supported by the silver base. This material, known as Zwischgold (part-gold) was significantly cheaper than using pure gold leaf. “Although Zwischgold was frequently used in the Middle Ages, very little was known about this material up to now,” says PSI physicist Benjamin Watts: “So we wanted to investigate the samples using 3D technology which can visualise extremely fine details.” Although other microscopy techniques had been used previously to examine Zwischgold, they only provided a 2D cross-section through the material. In other words, it was only possible to view the surface of the cut segment, rather than looking inside the material.  The scientists were also worried that cutting through it may have changed the structure of the sample. The advanced microscopy imaging method used today, ptychographic tomography, provides a 3D image of Zwischgold’s exact composition for the first time.

X-rays generate a diffraction pattern

The PSI scientists conducted their research using X-rays produced by the Swiss Light Source SLS. These produce tomographs displaying details in the nanoscale range – millionths of a millimetre, in other words. “Ptychography is a fairly sophisticated method, as there is no objective lens that forms an image directly on the detector,” Watts explains. Ptychography actually produces a diffraction pattern of the illuminated area, in other words an image with points of differing intensity. By manipulating the sample in a precisely defined manner, it is possible to generate hundreds of overlapping diffraction patterns. “We can then combine these diffraction patterns like a sort of giant Sudoku puzzle and work out what the original image looked like,” says the physicist. A set of ptychographic images taken from different directions can be combined to create a 3D tomogram.

The advantage of this method is its extremely high resolution. “We knew the thickness of the Zwischgold sample taken from Mary was of the order of hundreds of nanometres,” Watts explains. “So we had to be able to reveal even tinier details.” The scientists achieved this using ptychographic tomography, as they report in their latest article in the journal Nanoscale. “The 3D images clearly show how thinly and evenly the gold layer is over the silver base layer,” says Qing Wu, lead author of the publication. The art historian and conservation scientist completed her PhD at the University of Zurich, in collaboration with PSI and the Swiss National Museum. “Many people had assumed that technology in the Middle Ages was not particularly advanced,” Wu comments. “On the contrary: this was not the Dark Ages, but a period when metallurgy and gilding techniques were incredibly well developed.”

Secret recipe revealed

Unfortunately there are no records of how Zwischgold was produced at the time. “We reckon the artisans kept their recipe secret,” says Wu. Based on nanoscale images and documents from later epochs, however, the art historian now knows the method used in the 15th century: first the gold and the silver were hammered separately to produce thin foils, whereby the gold film had to be much thinner than the silver. Then the two metal foils were worked on together. Wu describes the process: “This required special beating tools and pouches with various inserts made of different materials into which the foils were inserted,” Wu explains. This was a fairly complicated procedure that required highly skilled specialists.

“Our investigations of Zwischgold samples showed the average thickness of the gold layer to be around 30 nanometres, while gold leaf produced in the same period and region was approximately 140 nanometres thick,” Wu explains. “This method saved on gold, which was much more expensive”. At the same time, there was also a very strict hierarchy of materials: gold leaf was used to make the halo of one figure, for example, while Zwischgold was used for the robe. Because this material has less of a sheen, the artists often used it to colour the hair or beards of their statues. “It is incredible how someone with only hand tools was able to craft such nanoscale material,” Watts says. Mediaeval artisans also benefited from a unique property of gold and silver crystals when pressed together: their morphology is preserved across the entire metal film. “A lucky coincidence of nature that ensures this technique works,” says the physicist.

Golden surface turns black

The 3D images do bring to light one drawback of using Zwischgold, however: the silver can push through the gold layer and cover it. The silver moves surprisingly quickly – even at room temperature. Within days, a thin silver coating covers the gold completely. At the surface the silver comes into contact with water and sulphur in the air, and corrodes. “This makes the gold surface of the Zwischgold turn black over time,” Watts explains. “The only thing you can do about this is to seal the surface with a varnish so the sulphur does not attack the silver and form silver sulphide.” The artisans using Zwischgold were aware of this problem from the start. They used resin, glue or other organic substances as a varnish. “But over hundreds of years this protective layer has decomposed, allowing corrosion to continue,” Wu explains.

The corrosion also encourages more and more silver to migrate to the surface, creating a gap below the Zwischgold. “We were surprised how clearly this gap under the metal layer could be seen,” says Watts. Especially in the sample taken from Mary’s robe, the Zwischgold had clearly come away from the base layer. “This gap can cause mechanical instability, and we expect that in some cases it is only the protective coating over the Zwischgold that is holding the metal foil in place,” Wu warns. This is a massive problem for the restoration of historical artefacts, as the silver sulphide has become embedded in the varnish layer or even further down. “If we remove the unsightly products of corrosion, the varnish layer will also fall away and we will lose everything,” says Wu. She hopes it will be possible in future to develop a special material that can be used to fill the gap and keep the Zwischgold attached. “Using ptychographic tomography, we could check how well such a consolidation material would perform its task,” says the art historian.

About PSI

The Paul Scherrer Institute PSI develops, builds and operates large, complex research facilities and makes them available to the national and international research community. The institute’s own key research priorities are in the fields of matter and materials, energy and environment and human health. PSI is committed to the training of future generations. Therefore about one quarter of our staff are post-docs, post-graduates or apprentices. Altogether PSI employs 2100 people, thus being the largest research institute in Switzerland. The annual budget amounts to approximately CHF 400 million. PSI is part of the ETH Domain, with the other members being the two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, ETH Zurich and EPFL Lausanne, as well as Eawag (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology), Empa (Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology) and WSL (Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research). Insight into the exciting research of the PSI with changing focal points is provided 3 times a year in the publication 5232 – The Magazine of the Paul Scherrer Institute.

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

A modern look at a medieval bilayer metal leaf: nanotomography of Zwischgold by
Qing Wu, Karolina Soppa, Elisabeth Müller, Julian Müller, Michal Odstrcil, Esther Hsiao Rho Tsai, Andreas Späth, Mirko Holler, Manuel Guizar-Sicairos, Benjamin Butz, Rainer H. Fink, and Benjamin Watts. Nanoscale DOI: https://doi.org/10.1039/D2NR03367D First published: 10 Oct 2022

This paper is open access.

Whimsy and nanoscienists

Mohsen Hosseini and William Ducker’s contest-winning image, titled “Lotus on Anti-SARS-CoV-2 Coating.” [downloaded from https://vtx.vt.edu/articles/2021/12/nnci-image-contest.html]

Not everything is as it seems in this image according to a January 5, 2022 news item on phys.org (Note: Links have been removed),

At extremely small scales, looks can be deceiving. While at first glance you might see lily pads floating on a tranquil pond, this image is actually a clever adaptation of a snapshot taken on a scanning electron microscope.

In reality, the green spots are only a few micrometers across—smaller than width of a human hair. They make up a surface coating that was developed to limit the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The coating is composed of a silver-based material applied to a glass surface. The lotus flower, though, was some added artistic flair courtesy of image-editing software.

A January 4, 2022 Virginia Tech news release, which originated the news item, provides more details about the ‘whimsical’ researchers, the image contest, and the research that led to their entry,

Mohsen Hosseini, Ph.D. candidate in chemical engineering, and William Ducker, professor of chemical engineering, recently won an award in the National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI) image contest with this image. Both Hosseini and Ducker are affiliated with the Macromolecules Innovation Institute (MII).

Their win was in the category “most whimsical.”

“As part of the rigor involved in scientific research, I am always careful to maintain the accuracy of my original results,” said Hosseini. “However, this competition was very freeing. It gave me a chance to take my scanning electron microscopy results and legitimately alter it in any way that I chose. It was liberating and fun to express my artistic style. The result isn’t a Monet, but I am glad people liked it.”

The image contest, titled “Plenty of Beauty at the Bottom,” is hosted annually by NNCI in celebration of National Nano Day, which occurred on Oct. 9, 2021. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the NNCI is a network of 16 sites around the country that are dedicated to supporting nanoscience and nanotechnology research and development. Virginia Tech’s NanoEarth center is part of that network, working to advance earth and environmental nanotechnology infrastructure. This image was captured using a scanning electron microscope (SEM) that is part of the Nanoscale Characterization and Fabrication Laboratory (NCFL) in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center. This SEM is the latest addition to the instrument suite at the NCFL, which is an initiative of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science. The NCFL gives researchers across the University access to advanced instrumentation including state-of-the-art electron microscopes, optical microscopes, and several spectroscopic techniques.

The development of the protective surface coating began more than a year ago, when the coronavirus pandemic was in its early stages. Working on a team that included another doctoral student, Saeed Behzadinasab, the researchers’ goal was to find a way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 via contaminated surfaces. The coating they produced can successfully inactivate the virus (SARS-CoV-2) when it lands on a solid surface, so that when a person later touches the surface, the virus is unable to infect them.

In studying how their surface coating behaves and performs, the researchers captured images of it at the micro scale. Hosseini explained, “The NNCI contest invitation motivated me to select one of the scanning electron microscope images of my coatings, and edit it according to the contest’s criteria. My brain was filled with ideas since I had recently designed a front cover that was awarded to our paper published in ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering. I came up with a lotus idea in minutes and that worked very well.”

Interestingly, the researchers had originally developed a brown coating that showed a great deal of promise. However, after conducting tests with consumers, it became clear that the public would be more likely to use a coating that was clear, instead of brown. Ducker’s research group was inspired to produce another coating, which this time would be transparent. As Hosseini put it, “It’s ironic that the invisible coating ended up being the subject of visual art, and even got an award for it.”

Ducker and Hosseini teamed up with Joseph Falkinham and Myra Williams from the Department of Biological Sciences to test the coating on a variety of other illness-causing microorganisms. It proved particularly effective against several bacteria including MRSA, a troublesome antibiotic-resistant bacterium that plagues hospitals.

With its transparent appearance and its broad antimicrobial effectiveness, the coating is now a strong candidate for commercialization. Indeed, Ducker has founded a company dedicated to pursuing the production of this surface coating on a larger scale.

Hosseini and Ducker are proud to have their image shared with the national nanoscience community. The recognition shows an appreciation for their hard work, in addition to their whimsical perspective. According to NanoEarth assistant director Tonya Pruitt, “Virginia Tech has had some excellent submissions to the NNCI image contest over the years, but this is the first year we’ve had a winner!”

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

Reduction of Infectivity of SARS-CoV-2 by Zinc Oxide Coatings by Mohsen Hosseini, Saeed Behzadinasab, Alex W.H. Chin, Leo L.M. Poon, and William A. Ducker. ACS Biomater. Sci. Eng. 2021, 7, 11, 5022–5027 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1021/acsbiomaterials.1c01076 Publication Date:October 6, 2021 Copyright © 2021 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

You can find the other winners and honorable mentions of the NNCI Image Contest 2021 here. The contest is also known as “Plenty of Beauty at the Bottom” in honour of Richard Feynman and his 1959 lecture, “There’s plenty of room at the bottom.”

The NNCI website can be found here.

Windows and roofs ‘self-adapt’ to heating and cooling conditions

I have two items about thermochromic coatings. It’s a little confusing since the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which publishes the journal featuring both papers has issued a news release that seemingly refers to both papers as a single piece of research.

Onto, the press/new releases from the research institutions to be followed by the AAAS news release.

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) does windows

A December 16, 2021 news item on Nanowerk announced work on energy-saving glass,

An international research team led by scientists from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) has developed a material that, when coated on a glass window panel, can effectively self-adapt to heat or cool rooms across different climate zones in the world, helping to cut energy usage.

Developed by NTU researchers and reported in the journal Science (“Scalable thermochromic smart windows with passive radiative cooling regulation”), the first-of-its-kind glass automatically responds to changing temperatures by switching between heating and cooling.

The self-adaptive glass is developed using layers of vanadium dioxide nanoparticles composite, Poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA), and low-emissivity coating to form a unique structure which could modulate heating and cooling simultaneously.

A December 17, 2021 NTU press release (PDF), also on EurekAlert but published December 16, 2021, which originated the news item, delves further into the research (Note: A link has been removed),

The newly developed glass, which has no electrical components, works by exploiting the spectrums of light responsible for heating and cooling.

During summer, the glass suppresses solar heating (near infrared light), while boosting radiative cooling (long-wave infrared) – a natural phenomenon where heat emits through surfaces towards the cold universe – to cool the room. In the winter, it does the opposite to warm up the room.

In lab tests using an infrared camera to visualise results, the glass allowed a controlled amount of heat to emit in various conditions (room temperature – above 70°C), proving its ability to react dynamically to changing weather conditions.

New glass regulates both heating and cooling

Windows are one of the key components in a building’s design, but they are also the least energy-efficient and most complicated part. In the United States alone, window-associated energy consumption (heating and cooling) in buildings accounts for approximately four per cent of their total primary energy usage each year according to an estimation based on data available from the Department of Energy in US.[1]

While scientists elsewhere have developed sustainable innovations to ease this energy demand – such as using low emissivity coatings to prevent heat transfer and electrochromic glass that regulate solar transmission from entering the room by becoming tinted – none of the solutions have been able to modulate both heating and cooling at the same time, until now.

The principal investigator of the study, Dr Long Yi of the NTU School of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) said, “Most energy-saving windows today tackle the part of solar heat gain caused by visible and near infrared sunlight. However, researchers often overlook the radiative cooling in the long wavelength infrared. While innovations focusing on radiative cooling have been used on walls and roofs, this function becomes undesirable during winter. Our team has demonstrated for the first time a glass that can respond favourably to both wavelengths, meaning that it can continuously self-tune to react to a changing temperature across all seasons.”

As a result of these features, the NTU research team believes their innovation offers a convenient way to conserve energy in buildings since it does not rely on any moving components, electrical mechanisms, or blocking views, to function.

To improve the performance of windows, the simultaneous modulation of both solar transmission and radiative cooling are crucial, said co-authors Professor Gang Tan from The University of Wyoming, USA, and Professor Ronggui Yang from the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China, who led the building energy saving simulation.

“This innovation fills the missing gap between traditional smart windows and radiative cooling by paving a new research direction to minimise energy consumption,” said Prof Gang Tan.

The study is an example of groundbreaking research that supports the NTU 2025 strategic plan, which seeks to address humanity’s grand challenges on sustainability, and accelerate the translation of research discoveries into innovations that mitigate human impact on the environment.

Innovation useful for a wide range of climate types

As a proof of concept, the scientists tested the energy-saving performance of their invention using simulations of climate data covering all populated parts of the globe (seven climate zones).

The team found the glass they developed showed energy savings in both warm and cool seasons, with an overall energy saving performance of up to 9.5%, or ~330,000 kWh per year (estimated energy required to power 60 household in Singapore for a year) less than commercially available low emissivity glass in a simulated medium sized office building.

First author of the study Wang Shancheng, who is Research Fellow and former PhD student of Dr Long Yi, said, “The results prove the viability of applying our glass in all types of climates as it is able to help cut energy use regardless of hot and cold seasonal temperature fluctuations. This sets our invention apart from current energy-saving windows which tend to find limited use in regions with less seasonal variations.”

Moreover, the heating and cooling performance of their glass can be customised to suit the needs of the market and region for which it is intended.

“We can do so by simply adjusting the structure and composition of special nanocomposite coating layered onto the glass panel, allowing our innovation to be potentially used across a wide range of heat regulating applications, and not limited to windows,” Dr Long Yi said.

Providing an independent view, Professor Liangbing Hu, Herbert Rabin Distinguished Professor, Director of the Center for Materials Innovation at the University of Maryland, USA, said, “Long and co-workers made the original development of smart windows that can regulate the near-infrared sunlight and the long-wave infrared heat. The use of this smart window could be highly important for building energy-saving and decarbonization.”  

A Singapore patent has been filed for the innovation. As the next steps, the research team is aiming to achieve even higher energy-saving performance by working on the design of their nanocomposite coating.

The international research team also includes scientists from Nanjing Tech University, China. The study is supported by the Singapore-HUJ Alliance for Research and Enterprise (SHARE), under the Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE) programme, Minster of Education Research Fund Tier 1, and the Sino-Singapore International Joint Research Institute.

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

Scalable thermochromic smart windows with passive radiative cooling regulation by Shancheng Wang, Tengyao Jiang, Yun Meng, Ronggui Yang, Gang Tan, and Yi Long. Science • 16 Dec 2021 • Vol 374, Issue 6574 • pp. 1501-1504 • DOI: 10.1126/science.abg0291

This paper is behind a paywall.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab; LBNL) does roofs

A December 16, 2021 Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory news release (also on EurekAlert) announces an energy-saving coating for roofs (Note: Links have been removed),

Scientists have developed an all-season smart-roof coating that keeps homes warm during the winter and cool during the summer without consuming natural gas or electricity. Research findings reported in the journal Science point to a groundbreaking technology that outperforms commercial cool-roof systems in energy savings.

“Our all-season roof coating automatically switches from keeping you cool to warm, depending on outdoor air temperature. This is energy-free, emission-free air conditioning and heating, all in one device,” said Junqiao Wu, a faculty scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and a UC Berkeley professor of materials science and engineering who led the study.

Today’s cool roof systems, such as reflective coatings, membranes, shingles, or tiles, have light-colored or darker “cool-colored” surfaces that cool homes by reflecting sunlight. These systems also emit some of the absorbed solar heat as thermal-infrared radiation; in this natural process known as radiative cooling, thermal-infrared light is radiated away from the surface.

The problem with many cool-roof systems currently on the market is that they continue to radiate heat in the winter, which drives up heating costs, Wu explained.

“Our new material – called a temperature-adaptive radiative coating or TARC – can enable energy savings by automatically turning off the radiative cooling in the winter, overcoming the problem of overcooling,” he said.

A roof for all seasons

Metals are typically good conductors of electricity and heat. In 2017, Wu and his research team discovered that electrons in vanadium dioxide behave like a metal to electricity but an insulator to heat – in other words, they conduct electricity well without conducting much heat. “This behavior contrasts with most other metals where electrons conduct heat and electricity proportionally,” Wu explained.

Vanadium dioxide below about 67 degrees Celsius (153 degrees Fahrenheit) is also transparent to (and hence not absorptive of) thermal-infrared light. But once vanadium dioxide reaches 67 degrees Celsius, it switches to a metal state, becoming absorptive of thermal-infrared light. This ability to switch from one phase to another – in this case, from an insulator to a metal – is characteristic of what’s known as a phase-change material.

To see how vanadium dioxide would perform in a roof system, Wu and his team engineered a 2-centimeter-by-2-centimeter TARC thin-film device.

TARC “looks like Scotch tape, and can be affixed to a solid surface like a rooftop,” Wu said.

In a key experiment, co-lead author Kechao Tang set up a rooftop experiment at Wu’s East Bay home last summer to demonstrate the technology’s viability in a real-world environment.

A wireless measurement device set up on Wu’s balcony continuously recorded responses to changes in direct sunlight and outdoor temperature from a TARC sample, a commercial dark roof sample, and a commercial white roof sample over multiple days.

How TARC outperforms in energy savings

The researchers then used data from the experiment to simulate how TARC would perform year-round in cities representing 15 different climate zones across the continental U.S.

Wu enlisted Ronnen Levinson, a co-author on the study who is a staff scientist and leader of the Heat Island Group in Berkeley Lab’s Energy Technologies Area, to help them refine their model of roof surface temperature. Levinson developed a method to estimate TARC energy savings from a set of more than 100,000 building energy simulations that the Heat Island Group previously performed to evaluate the benefits of cool roofs and cool walls across the United States.

Finnegan Reichertz, a 12th grade student at the East Bay Innovation Academy in Oakland who worked remotely as a summer intern for Wu last year, helped to simulate how TARC and the other roof materials would perform at specific times and on specific days throughout the year for each of the 15 cities or climate zones the researchers studied for the paper.

The researchers found that TARC outperforms existing roof coatings for energy saving in 12 of the 15 climate zones, particularly in regions with wide temperature variations between day and night, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, or between winter and summer, such as New York City.

“With TARC installed, the average household in the U.S. could save up to 10% electricity,” said Tang, who was a postdoctoral researcher in the Wu lab at the time of the study. He is now an assistant professor at Peking University in Beijing, China.

Standard cool roofs have high solar reflectance and high thermal emittance (the ability to release heat by emitting thermal-infrared radiation) even in cool weather.

According to the researchers’ measurements, TARC reflects around 75% of sunlight year-round, but its thermal emittance is high (about 90%) when the ambient temperature is warm (above 25 degrees Celsius or 77 degrees Fahrenheit), promoting heat loss to the sky. In cooler weather, TARC’s thermal emittance automatically switches to low, helping to retain heat from solar absorption and indoor heating, Levinson said.

Findings from infrared spectroscopy experiments using advanced tools at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry validated the simulations.

“Simple physics predicted TARC would work, but we were surprised it would work so well,” said Wu. “We originally thought the switch from warming to cooling wouldn’t be so dramatic. Our simulations, outdoor experiments, and lab experiments proved otherwise – it’s really exciting.”

The researchers plan to develop TARC prototypes on a larger scale to further test its performance as a practical roof coating. Wu said that TARC may also have potential as a thermally protective coating to prolong battery life in smartphones and laptops, and shield satellites and cars from extremely high or low temperatures. It could also be used to make temperature-regulating fabric for tents, greenhouse coverings, and even hats and jackets.

Co-lead authors on the study were Kaichen Dong and Jiachen Li.

The Molecular Foundry is a nanoscience user facility at Berkeley Lab.

This work was primarily supported by the DOE Office of Science and a Bakar Fellowship.

The technology is available for licensing and collaboration. If interested, please contact Berkeley Lab’s Intellectual Property Office, ipo@lbl.gov.

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

Temperature-adaptive radiative coating for all-season household thermal regulation by Kechao Tang, Kaichen Dong, Jiachen Li, Madeleine P. Gordon, Finnegan G. Reichertz, Hyungjin Kim, Yoonsoo Rho, Qingjun Wang, Chang-Yu Lin, Costas P. Grigoropoulos, Ali Javey, Jeffrey J. Urban, Jie Yao, Ronnen Levinson, Junqiao Wu. Science • 16 Dec 2021 • Vol 374, Issue 6574 • pp. 1504-1509 • DOI: 10.1126/science.abf7136

This paper is behind a paywall.

An interesting news release from the AAAS

While it’s a little confusing as it cites only the ‘window’ research from NTU, the body of this news release offers some additional information about the usefulness of thermochromic materials and seemingly refers to both papers, from a December 16, 2021 AAAS news release,

Temperature-adaptive passive radiative cooling for roofs and windows

When it’s cold out, window glass and roof coatings that use passive radiative cooling to keep buildings cool can be designed to passively turn off radiative cooling to avoid heat loss, two new studies show.  Their proof-of-concept analyses demonstrate that passive radiative cooling can be expanded to warm and cold climate applications and regions, potentially providing all-season energy savings worldwide. Buildings consume roughly 40% of global energy, a large proportion of which is used to keep them cool in warmer climates. However, most temperature regulation systems commonly employed are not very energy efficient and require external power or resources. In contrast, passive radiative cooling technologies, which use outer space as a near-limitless natural heat sink, have been extensively examined as a means of energy-efficient cooling for buildings. This technology uses materials designed to selectively emit narrow-band radiation through the infrared atmospheric window to disperse heat energy into the coldness of space. However, while this approach has proven effective in cooling buildings to below ambient temperatures, it is only helpful during the warmer months or in regions that are perpetually hot. Furthermore, the inability to “turn off” passive cooling in cooler climes or in regions with large seasonal temperature variations means that continuous cooling during colder periods would exacerbate the energy costs of heating. In two different studies, by Shancheng Wang and colleagues and Kechao Tang and colleagues, researchers approach passive radiative cooling from an all-season perspective and present a new, scalable temperature-adaptive radiative technology that passively turns off radiative cooling at lower temperatures. Wang et al. and Tang et al. achieve this using a tungsten-doped vanadium dioxide and show how it can be applied to create both window glass and a flexible roof coating, respectively. Model simulations of the self-adapting materials suggest they could provide year-round energy savings across most climate zones, especially those with substantial seasonal temperature variations. 

I wish them all good luck with getting these materials to market.

Cellulose nanofiber (CNF) coating protects plants against rust disease

A September 8, 2021news item on ScienceDaily describes some new research into rust disease,

A water-absorbent coat to keep rust away? It may seem counterintuitive but when it comes to soybean plants and rust disease, researchers from Japan have discovered that applying a coating that makes leaf surfaces water absorbent helps to protect against infection.

Caption: Researchers from the University of Tsukuba have found that coating soybean plant leaves with cellulose nanofiber (CNF) gives protection against an aggressive fungal disease. The CNF coating changed leaf surfaces from water repellent to water absorbent, and suppressed pathogen gene expression associated with infection mechanisms, offering resistance to the destructive Asian rust disease. This is the first study to examine CNF application for controlling plant diseases, and it offers a sustainable alternative to managing plant disease.. Credit: University of Tsukuba

A September 7, 2021 University of Tsukuba press release (also on EurekAlert but published September 8, 2021), which originated the news item, describes the disease and proposed solution in more detail,

In a study published this month in Frontiers in Plant Science, researchers from the University of Tsukuba have revealed that coating soybean plant leaves with cellulose nanofiber changes the leaf surface from water repellent to water absorbent and offers resistance against Asian soybean rust.

Rusts are plant diseases that get their name from the powdery rust- or brown-colored fungal spores on the surfaces of infected plants. Asian soybean rust (ASR) is an aggressive disease of soybean plants, causing estimated crop yield losses of up to 90%. ASR is caused by Phakopsora pachyrhizi, a fungal pathogen that requires a living plant host to survive. The timely application of fungicide is currently the only way of controlling ASR in the field. But the use of fungicides can be problematic, resulting in negative environmental effects, increased production costs, and fungicide-resistant pathogens.

“We investigated cellulose nanofiber (CNF) as an alternative method of controlling ASR,” says senior author of the study, Professor Yasuhiro Ishiga. “Specifically, we wanted to know whether coating soybean plant leaves with CNF protected plants against P. pachyrhizi.

Of the available methods for isolating CNF, aqueous counter collision (ACC) has been shown to alter the hydrophilic (water absorbent) and hydrophobic (water repellent) properties of surfaces, switching one to the other. Previous research has indicated that CNF obtained via ACC has higher wettability than CNF isolated by other methods.

“We showed that CNF can change the soybean leaf surface from hydrophobic to hydrophilic,” explains senior author, Professor Yuji Yamashita. “This offers resistance against P. pachyrhizi.”

The team found fewer lesions and significantly reduced formation of P. pachyrhizi appressoria, which are specialized pre-infection structures used to break through the outer surface of the host plant, on CNF-treated leaves compared with control (untreated) leaves. The results also revealed suppressed gene expression linked to the formation of pre-infection structures in P. pachyrhizi on treated versus control leaves.

“In particular, chitin synthase gene expression was suppressed, and P. pachyrhizi needs chitin synthases to form pre-infection structures,” says Professor Ishiga.

This study is the first to investigate the application of CNF for controlling plant diseases in the field, and this technique offers new possibilities for sustainable and eco-friendly management of plant diseases.

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

Covering Soybean Leaves With Cellulose Nanofiber Changes Leaf Surface Hydrophobicity and Confers Resistance Against Phakopsora pachyrhizi by
Haruka Saito, Yuji Yamashita, Nanami Sakata, Takako Ishiga, Nanami Shiraishi, Giyu Usuki, Viet Tru Nguyen, Eiji Yamamura and Yasuhiro Ishiga. Front. Plant Sci., 03 September 2021 DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpls.2021.726565

This paper appears to be open access.

Graphene in art preservation and restoration

A July 5, 2021 news item on phys.org announces a new technology for preserving and restoring your paintings,

The exposure of colors used in artworks to ultraviolet (UV) and visible light in the presence of oxidizing agents triggers color degradation, fading and yellowing. These degradation mechanisms can lead to irreversible alteration of artworks. Protective varnishes and coatings currently used to protect art paintings are not acceptable solutions, since their removal requires the use of solvents, which can affect adversely the underlying work surface.

A team of researchers from the Institute of Chemical Engineering Sciences of Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas (FORTH/ ICE-HT), the Department of Chemical Engineering of the University of Patras, and the Center for Colloid and Surface Science (CSGI) of the University of Florence, led by Professor Costas Galiotis, had the innovative ideato use graphene veils for the protection of paintings against environmental degradation.

A July 2, 2021 Foundation for Research and Technology – Hellas (FORTH) press release, which originated the news item, provides more details,

Since its isolation in 2004 by Geim [Andre Geim] and Novoselov [Konstantin Novoselov] from the University of Manchester (Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010), graphene has been termed as a ‘wonder material’ due to its exceptional properties that have already been used in many applications and products. The graphene veil used in this work is a flexible, transparent film, produced by the technique of chemical vapor deposition. It has a monoatomic thickness and, since there are no size limitations in the other dimensions (length and width), it can cover any required large surface areas.

The results from measurements performed in the above mentioned laboratories, showed that this membrane is impermeable to moisture, the oxidizing agents and other harmful pollutants and also can absorb a large amount of harmful ultraviolet radiation. Finally, in contrast to other protective means, it is demonstrated that these graphene coatings are relatively easy to remove without damaging the surface of the artworks.

[downloaded from https://phys.org/news/2021-07-graphene-paving-methods-art.html]

Before getting to the link and citation for the paper, here’s the abstract, which helps fill n a few more details,

Modern and contemporary art materials are generally prone to irreversible colour changes upon exposure to light and oxidizing agents. Graphene can be produced in thin large sheets, blocks ultraviolet light, and is impermeable to oxygen, moisture and corrosive agents; therefore, it has the potential to be used as a transparent layer for the protection of art objects in museums, during storage and transportation. Here we show that a single-layer or multilayer graphene veil, produced by chemical vapour deposition, can be deposited over artworks to protect them efficiently against colour fading, with a protection factor of up to 70%. We also show that this process is reversible since the graphene protective layer can be removed using a soft rubber eraser without causing any damage to the artwork. We have also explored a complementary contactless graphene-based route for colour protection that is based on the deposition of graphene on picture framing glass for use when the directapplication of graphene is not feasible due to surface roughness or artwork fragility. Overall, the present results are a proof of concept of the potential use of graphene as an effective and removable protective advanced material to prevent colour fading in artworks.

And now, a link to and a citation for the paper,

Preventing colour fading in artworks with graphene veils by M. Kotsidi, G. Gorgolis, M. G. Pastore Carbone, G. Anagnostopoulos, G. Paterakis, G. Poggi, A. Manikas, G. Trakakis, P. Baglioni & C. Galiotis. Nature Nanotechnology (2021) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41565-021-00934-z Published 01 July 2021

This paper is behind a paywall.

The coolest paint

It’s the ‘est’ of it all. The coolest, the whitest, the blackest … Scientists and artists are both pursuing the ‘est’. (More about the pursuit later in this posting.)

In this case, scientists have developed the coolest, whitest paint yet. From an April 16, 2021 news item on Nanowerk,

In an effort to curb global warming, Purdue University engineers have created the whitest paint yet. Coating buildings with this paint may one day cool them off enough to reduce the need for air conditioning, the researchers say.

In October [2020], the team created an ultra-white paint that pushed limits on how white paint can be. Now they’ve outdone that. The newer paint not only is whiter but also can keep surfaces cooler than the formulation that the researchers had previously demonstrated.

“If you were to use this paint to cover a roof area of about 1,000 square feet, we estimate that you could get a cooling power of 10 kilowatts. That’s more powerful than the central air conditioners used by most houses,” said Xiulin Ruan, a Purdue professor of mechanical engineering.

Caption: Xiulin Ruan, a Purdue University professor of mechanical engineering, holds up his lab’s sample of the whitest paint on record. Credit: Purdue University/Jared Pike

This is nicely done. Researcher Xiulin Ruan is standing close to a structure that could be said to resemble the sun while in shirtsleeves and sunglasses and holding up a sample of his whitest paint in April (not usually a warm month in Indiana).

An April 15, 2021 Purdue University news release (also on EurkeAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail about the work and hints about its commercial applications both civilian and military,

The researchers believe that this white may be the closest equivalent of the blackest black, “Vantablack,” [emphasis mine; see comments later in this post] which absorbs up to 99.9% of visible light. The new whitest paint formulation reflects up to 98.1% of sunlight – compared with the 95.5% of sunlight reflected by the researchers’ previous ultra-white paint – and sends infrared heat away from a surface at the same time.

Typical commercial white paint gets warmer rather than cooler. Paints on the market that are designed to reject heat reflect only 80%-90% of sunlight and can’t make surfaces cooler than their surroundings.

The team’s research paper showing how the paint works publishes Thursday (April 15 [2021]) as the cover of the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

What makes the whitest paint so white

Two features give the paint its extreme whiteness. One is the paint’s very high concentration of a chemical compound called barium sulfate [emphasis mine] which is also used to make photo paper and cosmetics white.

“We looked at various commercial products, basically anything that’s white,” said Xiangyu Li, a postdoctoral researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who worked on this project as a Purdue Ph.D. student in Ruan’s lab. “We found that using barium sulfate, you can theoretically make things really, really reflective, which means that they’re really, really white.”

The second feature is that the barium sulfate particles are all different sizes in the paint. How much each particle scatters light depends on its size, so a wider range of particle sizes allows the paint to scatter more of the light spectrum from the sun.

“A high concentration of particles that are also different sizes gives the paint the broadest spectral scattering, which contributes to the highest reflectance,” said Joseph Peoples, a Purdue Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering.

There is a little bit of room to make the paint whiter, but not much without compromising the paint.”Although a higher particle concentration is better for making something white, you can’t increase the concentration too much. The higher the concentration, the easier it is for the paint to break or peel off,” Li said.

How the whitest paint is also the coolest

The paint’s whiteness also means that the paint is the coolest on record. Using high-accuracy temperature reading equipment called thermocouples, the researchers demonstrated outdoors that the paint can keep surfaces 19 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than their ambient surroundings at night. It can also cool surfaces 8 degrees Fahrenheit below their surroundings under strong sunlight during noon hours.

The paint’s solar reflectance is so effective, it even worked in the middle of winter. During an outdoor test with an ambient temperature of 43 degrees Fahrenheit, the paint still managed to lower the sample temperature by 18 degrees Fahrenheit.

This white paint is the result of six years of research building on attempts going back to the 1970s to develop radiative cooling paint as a feasible alternative to traditional air conditioners.

Ruan’s lab had considered over 100 different materials, narrowed them down to 10 and tested about 50 different formulations for each material. Their previous whitest paint was a formulation made of calcium carbonate, an earth-abundant compound commonly found in rocks and seashells.

The researchers showed in their study that like commercial paint, their barium sulfate-based paint can potentially handle outdoor conditions. The technique that the researchers used to create the paint also is compatible with the commercial paint fabrication process.

Patent applications for this paint formulation have been filed through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization. This research was supported by the Cooling Technologies Research Center at Purdue University and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research [emphasis mine] through the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (Grant No.427 FA9550-17-1-0368). The research was performed at Purdue’s FLEX Lab and Ray W. Herrick Laboratories and the Birck Nanotechnology Center of Purdue’s Discovery Park.

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

Ultrawhite BaSO4 Paints and Films for Remarkable Daytime Subambient Radiative Cooling by Xiangyu Li, Joseph Peoples, Peiyan Yao, and Xiulin Ruan. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces 2021, XXXX, XXX, XXX-XXX DOI: https://doi.org/10.1021/acsami.1c02368 Publication Date:April 15, 2021 © 2021 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Vantablack and the ongoing ‘est’ of blackest

Vantablack’s 99.9% light absorption no longer qualifies it for the ‘blackest black’. A newer standard for the ‘blackest black’ was set by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology at 99.99% light absorption with its N.I.S.T. ultra-black in 2019, although that too seems to have been bested.

I have three postings covering the Vantablack and blackest black story,

The third posting (December 2019) provides a brief summary of the story along with what was the latest from the US National Institute of Standards and Technology. There’s also a little bit about the ‘The Redemption of Vanity’ an art piece demonstrating the blackest black material from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which they state has 99.995% (at least) absorption of light.

From a science perspective, the blackest black would be useful for space exploration.

I am surprised there doesn’t seem to have been an artistic rush to work with the whitest white. That impression may be due to the fact that the feuds get more attention than quiet work.

Dark side to the whitest white?

Andrew Parnell, research fellow in physics and astronomy at the University of Sheffield (UK), mentions a downside to obtaining the material needed to produce this cooling white paint in a June 10, 2021 essay on The Conversation (h/t Fast Company), Note: Links have been removed,

… this whiter-than-white paint has a darker side. The energy required to dig up raw barite ore to produce and process the barium sulphite that makes up nearly 60% of the paint means it has a huge carbon footprint. And using the paint widely would mean a dramatic increase in the mining of barium.

Parnell ends his essay with this (Note: Links have been removed),

Barium sulphite-based paint is just one way to improve the reflectivity of buildings. I’ve spent the last few years researching the colour white in the natural world, from white surfaces to white animals. Animal hairs, feathers and butterfly wings provide different examples of how nature regulates temperature within a structure. Mimicking these natural techniques could help to keep our cities cooler with less cost to the environment.

The wings of one intensely white beetle species called Lepidiota stigma appear a strikingly bright white thanks to nanostructures in their scales, which are very good at scattering incoming light. This natural light-scattering property can be used to design even better paints: for example, by using recycled plastic to create white paint containing similar nanostructures with a far lower carbon footprint. When it comes to taking inspiration from nature, the sky’s the limit.

Salt ‘creatures’ could help unclog industrial pipes

I love the video (wish the narrator had a more conversational style rather than the ‘read aloud’ style so many of us adopted in school),

Joel Goldberg’s April 28, 2021 news article (short read) in Science magazine online describes the research (Note: A link has been removed),

Behold the salt monsters. These twisted mineral crystals—formed from the buildup of slightly salty water in power plant pipes—come in many shapes and sizes. But the tiny monsters are a big problem: Each year, they cost the world’s power plants at least $100 billion because workers have to purge the pipes and scrub the crystals from filters.

Now, a solution may be at hand. Engineers can reduce the damage by coating the insides of the pipes with textured, water-repellant [hydrophobic] surfaces …

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

Crystal critters: Self-ejection of crystals from heated, superhydrophobic surfaces by Samantha A. McBride, Henri-Louis Girard, and Kripa K. Varanasi. Science Advances 28 Apr 2021: Vol. 7, no. 18, eabe6960 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abe6960

This paper is open access. As research papers go, this is quite readable, from the Introduction (Note: Links have been removed),

Many of the uses for water are intimately familiar to us. Drinking water, wash water, water for agriculture, and even water used for recreation have an omnipresent and essential impact on our lives. However, water’s impact and importance extend far beyond these everyday uses. In many developed countries, thermoelectric power production is one of the largest sources of water consumption (1), where it is used to cool reactors and transport heat. In 2015, 41% of all surface water withdrawals in the United States went toward cooling in thermoelectric power plants (2). Thermoelectric power accounts for 90% of all electricity generated within the United States and encompasses many forms of power production, including nuclear, coal, natural gas, and oil.

There you go.

Detecting COVID-19 in under five minutes with paper-based sensor made of graphene

A Dec. 7, 2020 news item on Nanowerk announced a new technology for rapid COVID-19 testing (Note: A link has been removed),

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the world, testing remains a key strategy for tracking and containing the virus. Bioengineering graduate student, Maha Alafeef, has co-developed a rapid, ultrasensitive test using a paper-based electrochemical sensor that can detect the presence of the virus in less than five minutes.

The team led by professor Dipanjan Pan reported their findings in ACS Nano (“Rapid, Ultrasensitive, and Quantitative Detection of SARS-CoV-2 Using Antisense Oligonucleotides Directed Electrochemical Biosensor Chip”).

“Currently, we are experiencing a once-in-a-century life-changing event,” said Alafeef. “We are responding to this global need from a holistic approach by developing multidisciplinary tools for early detection and diagnosis and treatment for SARS-CoV-2.”

I wonder why they didn’t think to provide a caption for the graphene substrate (the square surface) underlying the gold electrode (the round thing) or provide a caption for the electrode. Maybe they assumed anyone knowledgeable about graphene would be able to identify it?

Caption: COVID-19 electrochemical sensing platform. Credit: University of Illinois

A Dec. 7, 2020 University of Illinois Grainger College of Engineering news release (also on EurekAlert) by Huan Song, which originated the news item, provides more technical detail including a description of the graphene substrate and the gold electrode, which make up the cheaper, faster COVID-19 sensing platform,

There are two broad categories of COVID-19 tests on the market. The first category uses reverse transcriptase real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and nucleic acid hybridization strategies to identify viral RNA. Current FDA [US Food and Drug Administration]-approved diagnostic tests use this technique. Some drawbacks include the amount of time it takes to complete the test, the need for specialized personnel and the availability of equipment and reagents.

The second category of tests focuses on the detection of antibodies. However, there could be a delay of a few days to a few weeks after a person has been exposed to the virus for them to produce detectable antibodies.

In recent years, researchers have had some success with creating point-of-care biosensors using 2D nanomaterials such as graphene to detect diseases. The main advantages of graphene-based biosensors are their sensitivity, low cost of production and rapid detection turnaround. “The discovery of graphene opened up a new era of sensor development due to its properties. Graphene exhibits unique mechanical and electrochemical properties that make it ideal for the development of sensitive electrochemical sensors,” said Alafeef. The team created a graphene-based electrochemical biosensor with an electrical read-out setup to selectively detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material.

There are two components [emphasis mine] to this biosensor: a platform to measure an electrical read-out and probes to detect the presence of viral RNA. To create the platform, researchers first coated filter paper with a layer of graphene nanoplatelets to create a conductive film [emphasis mine]. Then, they placed a gold electrode with a predefined design on top of the graphene [emphasis mine] as a contact pad for electrical readout. Both gold and graphene have high sensitivity and conductivity which makes this platform ultrasensitive to detect changes in electrical signals.

Current RNA-based COVID-19 tests screen for the presence of the N-gene (nucleocapsid phosphoprotein) on the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In this research, the team designed antisense oligonucleotide (ASOs) probes to target two regions of the N-gene. Targeting two regions ensures the reliability of the senor in case one region undergoes gene mutation. Furthermore, gold nanoparticles (AuNP) are capped with these single-stranded nucleic acids (ssDNA), which represents an ultra-sensitive sensing probe for the SARS-CoV-2 RNA.

The researchers previously showed the sensitivity of the developed sensing probes in their earlier work published in ACS Nano. The hybridization of the viral RNA with these probes causes a change in the sensor electrical response. The AuNP caps accelerate the electron transfer and when broadcasted over the sensing platform, results in an increase in the output signal and indicates the presence of the virus.

The team tested the performance of this sensor by using COVID-19 positive and negative samples. The sensor showed a significant increase in the voltage of positive samples compared to the negative ones and confirmed the presence of viral genetic material in less than five minutes. Furthermore, the sensor was able to differentiate viral RNA loads in these samples. Viral load is an important quantitative indicator of the progress of infection and a challenge to measure using existing diagnostic methods.

This platform has far-reaching applications due to its portability and low cost. The sensor, when integrated with microcontrollers and LED screens or with a smartphone via Bluetooth or wifi, could be used at the point-of-care in a doctor’s office or even at home. Beyond COVID-19, the research team also foresees the system to be adaptable for the detection of many different diseases.

“The unlimited potential of bioengineering has always sparked my utmost interest with its innovative translational applications,” Alafeef said. “I am happy to see my research project has an impact on solving a real-world problem. Finally, I would like to thank my Ph.D. advisor professor Dipanjan Pan for his endless support, research scientist Dr. Parikshit Moitra, and research assistant Ketan Dighe for their help and contribution toward the success of this study.”

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

Rapid, Ultrasensitive, and Quantitative Detection of SARS-CoV-2 Using Antisense Oligonucleotides Directed Electrochemical Biosensor Chip by Maha Alafeef, Ketan Dighe, Parikshit Moitra, and Dipanjan Pan. ACS Nano 2020, 14, 12, 17028–17045 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1021/acsnano.0c06392 Publication Date:October 20, 2020 Copyright © 2020 American Chemical Society

I’m not sure where I found this notice but it is most definitely from the American Chemical Society: “This paper is freely accessible, at this time, for unrestricted RESEARCH re-use and analyses in any form or by any means with acknowledgement of the original source. These permissions are granted for the duration of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic.”

Spray-on coatings for cheaper smart windows

An August 6, 2020 RMIT University (Australia) press release (also on EurekAlert but published August 5, 2020) by Gosia Kaszubska announces a coating that makes windows ‘smart’,

A simple method for making clear coatings that can block heat and conduct electricity could radically cut the cost of energy-saving smart windows and heat-repelling glass [electrochromic windows?].

The spray-on coatings developed by researchers at RMIT are ultra-thin, cost-effective and rival the performance of current industry standards for transparent electrodes.

Combining the best properties of glass and metals in a single component, a transparent electrode is a highly conductive clear coating that allows visible light through.

The coatings – key components of technologies including smart windows, touchscreen displays, LED lighting and solar panels – are currently made through time-consuming processes that rely on expensive raw materials.

The new spray-on method is fast, scalable and based on cheaper materials that are readily available.

The method could simplify the fabrication of smart windows, which can be both energy-saving and dimmable, as well as low-emissivity glass, where a conventional glass panel is coated with a special layer to minimise ultraviolet and infrared light.

Lead investigator Dr Enrico Della Gaspera said the pioneering approach could be used to substantially bring down the cost of energy-saving windows and potentially make them a standard part of new builds and retrofits.

“Smart windows and low-E glass can help regulate temperatures inside a building, delivering major environmental benefits and financial savings, but they remain expensive and challenging to manufacture,” said Della Gaspera, a senior lecturer and Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow at RMIT.

“We’re keen to collaborate with industry to further develop this innovative type of coating.

“The ultimate aim is to make smart windows much more widely accessible, cutting energy costs and reducing the carbon footprint of new and retrofitted buildings.”

The new method can also be precisely optimised to produce coatings tailored to the transparency and conductivity requirements of the many different applications of transparent electrodes.

Global demand for smart glazing

The global market size for smart glass and smart windows is expected to reach $6.9 billion by 2022, while the global low-E glass market is set to reach an estimated $39.4 billion by 2024.

New York’s Empire State Building reported energy savings of $US2.4 million and cut carbon emissions by 4,000 metric tonnes after installing smart glass windows.

Eureka Tower in Melbourne features a dramatic use of smart glass in its “Edge” tourist attraction, a glass cube that projects 3m out of the building and suspends visitors 300m over the city. The glass is opaque as the cube moves out over the edge of the building and becomes clear once fully extended.

First author Jaewon Kim, a PhD researcher in Applied Chemistry at RMIT,  said the next steps in the research were developing precursors that will decompose at lower temperatures, allowing the coatings to be deposited on plastics and used in flexible electronics, as well as producing larger prototypes by scaling up the deposition.

“The spray coater we use can be automatically controlled and programmed, so fabricating bigger proof-of-concept panels will be relatively simple,” he said.

Caption: The ultra-thin clear coatings are made with a new spray-on method that is fast, cost-effective and scalable. Credit: RMIT University

That is an impressive level of transparency. As per usual, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper (should you wish to explore further),

Ultrasonic Spray Pyrolysis of Antimony‐Doped Tin Oxide Transparent Conductive Coatings by Jaewon Kim, Billy J. Murdoch, James G. Partridge, Kaijian Xing, Dong‐Chen Qi, Josh Lipton‐Duffin, Christopher F. McConville, Joel van Embden, Enrico Della Gaspera. Advanced Materials Interfaces DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/admi.202000655 First published: 05 August 2020

This paper is behind a paywall.