Tag Archives: Los Alamos National Laboratory

Nanostructured materials and radiation

If you’re planning on using nanostructured materials in a nuclear facility, you might want to check out this work (from a June 8, 2018 Purdue University (Indiana, US) news release by Brian L. Huchel,

A professor in the Purdue College of Engineering examined the potential use of various materials in nuclear reactors in an extensive review article in the journal Progress in Materials Science.

The article, titled “Radiation Damage in Nanostructured Materials,” was led by Xinghang Zhang, a professor of materials engineering. It will be published in the July issue of the journal.

Zhang said there is a significant demand for advanced materials that can survive high temperature and high doses of radiation. These materials contain significant amount of internal changes, called defect sinks, which are too small to be seen with the naked eye, but may form the next generation of materials used in nuclear reactors.

“Nanostructured materials with abundant internal defect sinks are promising as these materials have shown significantly improved radiation tolerance,” he said. “However, there are many challenges and fundamental science questions that remain to be solved before these materials can have applications in advanced nuclear reactors.”

The 100-page article, which took two years to write, focuses on metallic materials and metal-ceramic compounds and reviews types of internal material defects on the reduction of radiation damage in nanostructured materials.

Under the extreme radiation conditions, a large number of defects and their clusters are generated inside materials, and such significant microstructure damage often leads to degradation of the mechanical and physical properties of the materials

The article discusses the usage of a combination of defect sink networks to collaboratively improve the radiation tolerance of nanomaterials, while pointing out the need to improve the thermal and radiation stabilities of the defect sinks.

“The field of radiation damage in nanostructured materials is an exciting and rapidly evolving arena, enriched with challenges and opportunities,” Zhang said. “The integration of extensive research effort, resources and expertise in various fields may eventually lead to the design of advanced nanomaterials with unprecedented radiation tolerance.”

Jin Li, co-author of the review article and a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Materials Engineering, said researchers with different expertise worked collaboratively on the article, which contains more than 100 pages, 100 figures and 700 references.

The team involved in the research article included researchers from Purdue, Texas A&M University, Drexel University, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and China University of Petroleum-Beijing, as well as Sandia National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory.

Here’s an image illustrating the work,

Various imperfections in nanostructures, call defect sinks, can enhance the material’s tolerance to radiation. (Photo/Xinghang Zhang)

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

Radiation damage in nanostructured materials by Xinghang Zhang, Khalid Hattar, Youxing Chen, Lin Shao, Jin Li, Cheng Sun, Kaiyuan Yu, Nan Li, Mitra L.Taheri, Haiyan Wang, Jian Wang, Michael Nastasi. Progress in Materials Science Volume 96, July 2018, Pages 217-321 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmatsci.2018.03.002

This paper is behind a paywall.

ht/ to June 8, 2018 Nanowerk news item.

D-Wave and the first large-scale quantum simulation of topological state of matter

This is all about a local (Burnaby is one of the metro Vancouver municipalities) quantum computing companies, D-Wave Systems. The company has been featured here from time to time. It’s usually about about their quantum technology (they are considered a technology star in local and [I think] other circles) but my March 9, 2018 posting about the SXSW (South by Southwest) festival noted that Bo Ewald, President, D-Wave Systems US, was a member of the ‘Quantum Computing: Science Fiction to Science Fact’ panel.

Now, they’re back making technology announcements like this August 22, 2018 news item on phys.org (Note: Links have been removed),

D-Wave Systems today [August 22, 2018] published a milestone study demonstrating a topological phase transition using its 2048-qubit annealing quantum computer. This complex quantum simulation of materials is a major step toward reducing the need for time-consuming and expensive physical research and development.

The paper, entitled “Observation of topological phenomena in a programmable lattice of 1,800 qubits”, was published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature. This work marks an important advancement in the field and demonstrates again that the fully programmable D-Wave quantum computer can be used as an accurate simulator of quantum systems at a large scale. The methods used in this work could have broad implications in the development of novel materials, realizing Richard Feynman’s original vision of a quantum simulator. This new research comes on the heels of D-Wave’s recent Science paper demonstrating a different type of phase transition in a quantum spin-glass simulation. The two papers together signify the flexibility and versatility of the D-Wave quantum computer in quantum simulation of materials, in addition to other tasks such as optimization and machine learning.

An August 22, 2108 D-Wave Systems news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, delves further (Note: A link has been removed),

In the early 1970s, theoretical physicists Vadim Berezinskii, J. Michael Kosterlitz and David Thouless predicted a new state of matter characterized by nontrivial topological properties. The work was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2016. D-Wave researchers demonstrated this phenomenon by programming the D-Wave 2000Q™ system to form a two-dimensional frustrated lattice of artificial spins. The observed topological properties in the simulated system cannot exist without quantum effects and closely agree with theoretical predictions.

“This paper represents a breakthrough in the simulation of physical systems which are otherwise essentially impossible,” said 2016 Nobel laureate Dr. J. Michael Kosterlitz. “The test reproduces most of the expected results, which is a remarkable achievement. This gives hope that future quantum simulators will be able to explore more complex and poorly understood systems so that one can trust the simulation results in quantitative detail as a model of a physical system. I look forward to seeing future applications of this simulation method.”

“The work described in the Nature paper represents a landmark in the field of quantum computation: for the first time, a theoretically predicted state of matter was realized in quantum simulation before being demonstrated in a real magnetic material,” said Dr. Mohammad Amin, chief scientist at D-Wave. “This is a significant step toward reaching the goal of quantum simulation, enabling the study of material properties before making them in the lab, a process that today can be very costly and time consuming.”

“Successfully demonstrating physics of Nobel Prize-winning importance on a D-Wave quantum computer is a significant achievement in and of itself. But in combination with D-Wave’s recent quantum simulation work published in Science, this new research demonstrates the flexibility and programmability of our system to tackle recognized, difficult problems in a variety of areas,” said Vern Brownell, D-Wave CEO.

“D-Wave’s quantum simulation of the Kosterlitz-Thouless transition is an exciting and impactful result. It not only contributes to our understanding of important problems in quantum magnetism, but also demonstrates solving a computationally hard problem with a novel and efficient mapping of the spin system, requiring only a limited number of qubits and opening new possibilities for solving a broader range of applications,” said Dr. John Sarrao, principal associate director for science, technology, and engineering at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“The ability to demonstrate two very different quantum simulations, as we reported in Science and Nature, using the same quantum processor, illustrates the programmability and flexibility of D-Wave’s quantum computer,” said Dr. Andrew King, principal investigator for this work at D-Wave. “This programmability and flexibility were two key ingredients in Richard Feynman’s original vision of a quantum simulator and open up the possibility of predicting the behavior of more complex engineered quantum systems in the future.”

The achievements presented in Nature and Science join D-Wave’s continued work with world-class customers and partners on real-world prototype applications (“proto-apps”) across a variety of fields. The 70+ proto-apps developed by customers span optimization, machine learning, quantum material science, cybersecurity, and more. Many of the proto-apps’ results show that D-Wave systems are approaching, and sometimes surpassing, conventional computing in terms of performance or solution quality on real problems, at pre-commercial scale. As the power of D-Wave systems and software expands, these proto-apps point to the potential for scaled customer application advantage on quantum computers.

The company has prepared a video describing Richard Feynman’s proposal about quantum computing and celebrating their latest achievement,

Here’s the company’s Youtube video description,

In 1982, Richard Feynman proposed the idea of simulating the quantum physics of complex systems with a programmable quantum computer. In August 2018, his vision was realized when researchers from D-Wave Systems and the Vector Institute demonstrated the simulation of a topological phase transition—the subject of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics—in a fully programmable D-Wave 2000Q™ annealing quantum computer. This complex quantum simulation of materials is a major step toward reducing the need for time-consuming and expensive physical research and development.

You may want to check out the comments in response to the video.

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

Observation of topological phenomena in a programmable lattice of 1,800 qubits by Andrew D. King, Juan Carrasquilla, Jack Raymond, Isil Ozfidan, Evgeny Andriyash, Andrew Berkley, Mauricio Reis, Trevor Lanting, Richard Harris, Fabio Altomare, Kelly Boothby, Paul I. Bunyk, Colin Enderud, Alexandre Fréchette, Emile Hoskinson, Nicolas Ladizinsky, Travis Oh, Gabriel Poulin-Lamarre, Christopher Rich, Yuki Sato, Anatoly Yu. Smirnov, Loren J. Swenson, Mark H. Volkmann, Jed Whittaker, Jason Yao, Eric Ladizinsky, Mark W. Johnson, Jeremy Hilton, & Mohammad H. Amin. Nature volume 560, pages456–460 (2018) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0410-x Published 22 August 2018

This paper is behind a paywall but, for those who don’t have access, there is a synopsis here.

For anyone curious about the earlier paper published in July 2018, here’s a link and a citation,

Phase transitions in a programmable quantum spin glass simulator by R. Harris, Y. Sato, A. J. Berkley, M. Reis, F. Altomare, M. H. Amin, K. Boothby, P. Bunyk, C. Deng, C. Enderud, S. Huang, E. Hoskinson, M. W. Johnson, E. Ladizinsky, N. Ladizinsky, T. Lanting, R. Li, T. Medina, R. Molavi, R. Neufeld, T. Oh, I. Pavlov, I. Perminov, G. Poulin-Lamarre, C. Rich, A. Smirnov, L. Swenson, N. Tsai, M. Volkmann, J. Whittaker, J. Yao. Science 13 Jul 2018: Vol. 361, Issue 6398, pp. 162-165 DOI: 10.1126/science.aat2025

This paper too is behind a paywall.

You can find out more about D-Wave here.

My name is Steve and I’m a sub auroral ion drift

Photo: The Aurora Named STEVE Couresty: NASA Goddard

That stunning image is one of a series, many of which were taken by amateur photographers as noted in a March 14, 2018 US National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA)/Goddard Space Flight Center news release (also on EurekAlert) by Kasha Patel about how STEVE was discovered,

Notanee Bourassa knew that what he was seeing in the night sky was not normal. Bourassa, an IT technician in Regina, Canada, trekked outside of his home on July 25, 2016, around midnight with his two younger children to show them a beautiful moving light display in the sky — an aurora borealis. He often sky gazes until the early hours of the morning to photograph the aurora with his Nikon camera, but this was his first expedition with his children. When a thin purple ribbon of light appeared and starting glowing, Bourassa immediately snapped pictures until the light particles disappeared 20 minutes later. Having watched the northern lights for almost 30 years since he was a teenager, he knew this wasn’t an aurora. It was something else.

From 2015 to 2016, citizen scientists — people like Bourassa who are excited about a science field but don’t necessarily have a formal educational background — shared 30 reports of these mysterious lights in online forums and with a team of scientists that run a project called Aurorasaurus. The citizen science project, funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation, tracks the aurora borealis through user-submitted reports and tweets.

The Aurorasaurus team, led by Liz MacDonald, a space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, conferred to determine the identity of this mysterious phenomenon. MacDonald and her colleague Eric Donovan at the University of Calgary in Canada talked with the main contributors of these images, amateur photographers in a Facebook group called Alberta Aurora Chasers, which included Bourassa and lead administrator Chris Ratzlaff. Ratzlaff gave the phenomenon a fun, new name, Steve, and it stuck.

But people still didn’t know what it was.

Scientists’ understanding of Steve changed that night Bourassa snapped his pictures. Bourassa wasn’t the only one observing Steve. Ground-based cameras called all-sky cameras, run by the University of Calgary and University of California, Berkeley, took pictures of large areas of the sky and captured Steve and the auroral display far to the north. From space, ESA’s (the European Space Agency) Swarm satellite just happened to be passing over the exact area at the same time and documented Steve.

For the first time, scientists had ground and satellite views of Steve. Scientists have now learned, despite its ordinary name, that Steve may be an extraordinary puzzle piece in painting a better picture of how Earth’s magnetic fields function and interact with charged particles in space. The findings are published in a study released today in Science Advances.

“This is a light display that we can observe over thousands of kilometers from the ground,” said MacDonald. “It corresponds to something happening way out in space. Gathering more data points on STEVE will help us understand more about its behavior and its influence on space weather.”

The study highlights one key quality of Steve: Steve is not a normal aurora. Auroras occur globally in an oval shape, last hours and appear primarily in greens, blues and reds. Citizen science reports showed Steve is purple with a green picket fence structure that waves. It is a line with a beginning and end. People have observed Steve for 20 minutes to 1 hour before it disappears.

If anything, auroras and Steve are different flavors of an ice cream, said MacDonald. They are both created in generally the same way: Charged particles from the Sun interact with Earth’s magnetic field lines.

The uniqueness of Steve is in the details. While Steve goes through the same large-scale creation process as an aurora, it travels along different magnetic field lines than the aurora. All-sky cameras showed that Steve appears at much lower latitudes. That means the charged particles that create Steve connect to magnetic field lines that are closer to Earth’s equator, hence why Steve is often seen in southern Canada.

Perhaps the biggest surprise about Steve appeared in the satellite data. The data showed that Steve comprises a fast moving stream of extremely hot particles called a sub auroral ion drift, or SAID. Scientists have studied SAIDs since the 1970s but never knew there was an accompanying visual effect. The Swarm satellite recorded information on the charged particles’ speeds and temperatures, but does not have an imager aboard.

“People have studied a lot of SAIDs, but we never knew it had a visible light. Now our cameras are sensitive enough to pick it up and people’s eyes and intellect were critical in noticing its importance,” said Donovan, a co-author of the study. Donovan led the all-sky camera network and his Calgary colleagues lead the electric field instruments on the Swarm satellite.

Steve is an important discovery because of its location in the sub auroral zone, an area of lower latitude than where most auroras appear that is not well researched. For one, with this discovery, scientists now know there are unknown chemical processes taking place in the sub auroral zone that can lead to this light emission.

Second, Steve consistently appears in the presence of auroras, which usually occur at a higher latitude area called the auroral zone. That means there is something happening in near-Earth space that leads to both an aurora and Steve. Steve might be the only visual clue that exists to show a chemical or physical connection between the higher latitude auroral zone and lower latitude sub auroral zone, said MacDonald.

“Steve can help us understand how the chemical and physical processes in Earth’s upper atmosphere can sometimes have local noticeable effects in lower parts of Earth’s atmosphere,” said MacDonald. “This provides good insight on how Earth’s system works as a whole.”

The team can learn a lot about Steve with additional ground and satellite reports, but recording Steve from the ground and space simultaneously is a rare occurrence. Each Swarm satellite orbits Earth every 90 minutes and Steve only lasts up to an hour in a specific area. If the satellite misses Steve as it circles Earth, Steve will probably be gone by the time that same satellite crosses the spot again.

In the end, capturing Steve becomes a game of perseverance and probability.

“It is my hope that with our timely reporting of sightings, researchers can study the data so we can together unravel the mystery of Steve’s origin, creation, physics and sporadic nature,” said Bourassa. “This is exciting because the more I learn about it, the more questions I have.”

As for the name “Steve” given by the citizen scientists? The team is keeping it as an homage to its initial name and discoverers. But now it is STEVE, short for Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement.

Other collaborators on this work are: the University of Calgary, New Mexico Consortium, Boston University, Lancaster University, Athabasca University, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Alberta Aurora Chasers Facebook group.

If you live in an area where you may see STEVE or an aurora, submit your pictures and reports to Aurorasaurus through aurorasaurus.org or the free iOS and Android mobile apps. To learn how to spot STEVE, click here.

There is a video with MacDonald describing the work and featuring more images,

Katherine Kornei’s March 14, 2018 article for sciencemag.org adds more detail about the work,

Citizen scientists first began posting about Steve on social media several years ago. Across New Zealand, Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom, they reported an unusual sight in the night sky: a purplish line that arced across the heavens for about an hour at a time, visible at lower latitudes than classical aurorae, mostly in the spring and fall. … “It’s similar to a contrail but doesn’t disperse,” says Notanee Bourassa, an aurora photographer in Saskatchewan province in Canada [Regina as mentioned in the news release is the capital of the province of Saskatchewan].

Traditional aurorae are often green, because oxygen atoms present in Earth’s atmosphere emit that color light when they’re bombarded by charged particles trapped in Earth’s magnetic field. They also appear as a diffuse glow—rather than a distinct line—on the northern or southern horizon. Without a scientific theory to explain the new sight, a group of citizen scientists led by aurora enthusiast Chris Ratzlaff of Canada’s Alberta province [usually referred to as Canada’s province of Alberta or simply, the province of Alberta] playfully dubbed it Steve, after a line in the 2006 children’s movie Over the Hedge.

Aurorae have been studied for decades, but people may have missed Steve because their cameras weren’t sensitive enough, says Elizabeth MacDonald, a space physicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and leader of the new research. MacDonald and her team have used data from a European satellite called Swarm-A to study Steve in its native environment, about 200 kilometers up in the atmosphere. Swarm-A’s instruments revealed that the charged particles in Steve had a temperature of about 6000°C, “impressively hot” compared with the nearby atmosphere, MacDonald says. And those ions were flowing from east to west at nearly 6 kilometers per second, …

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

New science in plain sight: Citizen scientists lead to the discovery of optical structure in the upper atmosphere by Elizabeth A. MacDonald, Eric Donovan, Yukitoshi Nishimura, Nathan A. Case, D. Megan Gillies, Bea Gallardo-Lacourt, William E. Archer, Emma L. Spanswick, Notanee Bourassa, Martin Connors, Matthew Heavner, Brian Jackel, Burcu Kosar, David J. Knudsen, Chris Ratzlaff, and Ian Schofield. Science Advances 14 Mar 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 3, eaaq0030 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaq0030

This paper is open access. You’ll note that Notanee Bourassa is listed as an author. For more about Bourassa, there’s his Twitter feed (@DJHardwired) and his YouTube Channel. BTW, his Twitter bio notes that he’s “Recently heartbroken,” as well as, “Seasoned human male. Expert storm chaser, aurora photographer, drone flyer and on-air FM radio DJ.” Make of that what you will.

Nanoparticles and strange forces

An April 10, 2017 news item on Nanowerk announces work from the University of New Mexico (UNM), Note: A link has been removed,

A new scientific paper published, in part, by a University of New Mexico physicist is shedding light on a strange force impacting particles at the smallest level of the material world.

The discovery, published in Physical Review Letters (“Lateral Casimir Force on a Rotating Particle near a Planar Surface”), was made by an international team of researchers lead by UNM Assistant Professor Alejandro Manjavacas in the Department of Physics & Astronomy. Collaborators on the project include Francisco Rodríguez-Fortuño (King’s College London, U.K.), F. Javier García de Abajo (The Institute of Photonic Sciences, Spain) and Anatoly Zayats (King’s College London, U.K.).

An April 7,2017 UNM news release by Aaron Hill, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

The findings relate to an area of theoretical nanophotonics and quantum theory known as the Casimir Effect, a measurable force that exists between objects inside a vacuum caused by the fluctuations of electromagnetic waves. When studied using classical physics, the vacuum would not produce any force on the objects. However, when looked at using quantum field theory, the vacuum is filled with photons, creating a small but potentially significant force on the objects.

“These studies are important because we are developing nanotechnologies where we’re getting into distances and sizes that are so small that these types of forces can dominate everything else,” said Manjavacas. “We know these Casimir forces exist, so, what we’re trying to do is figure out the overall impact they have very small particles.”

Manjavacas’ research expands on the Casimir effect by developing an analytical expression for the lateral Casimir force experienced by nanoparticles rotating near a flat surface.

Imagine a tiny sphere (nanoparticle) rotating over a surface. While the sphere slows down due to photons colliding with it, that rotation also causes the sphere to move in a lateral direction. In our physical world, friction between the sphere and the surface would be needed to achieve lateral movement. However, the nano-world does not follow the same set of rules, eliminating the need for contact between the sphere and the surface for movement to occur.

“The nanoparticle experiences a lateral force as if it were in contact with the surface, even though is actually separated from it,” said Manjavacas. “It’s a strange reaction but one that may prove to have significant impact for engineers.”

While the discovery may seem somewhat obscure, it is also extremely useful for researchers working in the always evolving nanotechnology industry. As part of their work, Manjavacas says they’ve also learned the direction of the force can be controlled by changing the distance between the particle and surface, an understanding that may help nanotech engineers develop better nanoscale objects for healthcare, computing or a variety of other areas.

For Manjavacas, the project and this latest publication are just another step forward in his research into these Casimir forces, which he has been studying throughout his scientific career. After receiving his Ph.D. from Complutense University of Madrid (UCM) in 2013, Manjavacas worked as a postdoctoral research fellow at Rice University before coming to UNM in 2015.

Currently, Manjavacas heads UNM’s Theoretical Nanophotonics research group, collaborating with scientists around the world and locally in New Mexico. In fact, Manjavacas credits Los Alamos National Laboratory Researcher Diego Dalvit, a leading expert on Casimir forces, for helping much of his work progress.

“If I had to name the person who knows the most about Casimir forces, I’d say it was him,” said Manjavacas. “He published a book that’s considered one of the big references on the topic. So, having him nearby and being able to collaborate with other UNM faculty is a big advantage for our research.”

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

Lateral Casimir Force on a Rotating Particle near a Planar Surface by Alejandro Manjavacas, Francisco J. Rodríguez-Fortuño, F. Javier García de Abajo, and Anatoly V. Zayats. Phys. Rev. Lett. (Vol. 118, Iss. 13 — 31 March 2017) 118, 133605 DOI:https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevLett.118.133605 Published 31 March 2017

This paper is behind a paywall.

Seaweed supercapacitors

I like munching on seaweed from time to time but it seems that seaweed may be more than just a foodstuff according to an April 5, 2017 news item on Nanowerk,

Seaweed, the edible algae with a long history in some Asian cuisines, and which has also become part of the Western foodie culture, could turn out to be an essential ingredient in another trend: the development of more sustainable ways to power our devices. Researchers have made a seaweed-derived material to help boost the performance of superconductors, lithium-ion batteries and fuel cells.

The team will present the work today [April 5, 2017] at the 253rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS, the world’s largest scientific society, is holding the meeting here through Thursday. It features more than 14,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics.

An April 5, 2017 American Chemical Society news release on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, gives more details about the presentation,

“Carbon-based materials are the most versatile materials used in the field of energy storage and conversion,” Dongjiang Yang, Ph.D., says. “We wanted to produce carbon-based materials via a really ‘green’ pathway. Given the renewability of seaweed, we chose seaweed extract as a precursor and template to synthesize hierarchical porous carbon materials.” He explains that the project opens a new way to use earth-abundant materials to develop future high-performance, multifunctional carbon nanomaterials for energy storage and catalysis on a large scale.

Traditional carbon materials, such as graphite, have been essential to creating the current energy landscape. But to make the leap to the next generation of lithium-ion batteries and other storage devices, an even better material is needed, preferably one that can be sustainably sourced, Yang says.

With these factors in mind, Yang, who is currently at Qingdao University (China), turned to the ocean. Seaweed is an abundant algae that grows easily in salt water. While Yang was at Griffith University in Australia, he worked with colleagues at Qingdao University and at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the U.S. to make porous carbon nanofibers from seaweed extract. Chelating, or binding, metal ions such as cobalt to the alginate molecules resulted in nanofibers with an “egg-box” structure, with alginate units enveloping the metal ions. This architecture is key to the material’s stability and controllable synthesis, Yang says.

Testing showed that the seaweed-derived material had a large reversible capacity of 625 milliampere hours per gram (mAhg-1), which is considerably more than the 372 mAhg-1 capacity of traditional graphite anodes for lithium-ion batteries. This could help double the range of electric cars if the cathode material is of equal quality. The egg-box fibers also performed as well as commercial platinum-based catalysts used in fuel-cell technologies and with much better long-term stability. They also showed high capacitance as a superconductor material at 197 Farads per gram, which could be applied in zinc-air batteries and supercapacitors. The researchers published their initial results in ACS Central Science in 2015 and have since developed the materials further.

For example, building on the same egg-box structure, the researchers say they have suppressed defects in seaweed-based, lithium-ion battery cathodes that can block the movement of lithium ions and hinder battery performance. And recently, they have developed an approach using red algae-derived carrageenan and iron to make a porous sulfur-doped carbon aerogel with an ultra-high surface area. The structure could be a good candidate to use in lithium-sulfur batteries and supercapacitors.

More work is needed to commercialize the seaweed-based materials, however. Yang says currently more than 20,000 tons of alginate precursor can be extracted from seaweed per year for industrial use. But much more will be required to scale up production.

Here’s an image representing the research,

Scientists have created porous ‘egg-box’ structured nanofibers using seaweed extract. Credit: American Chemical Society

I’m not sure that looks like an egg-box but I’ll take their word for it.

Aliens wreak havoc on our personal electronics

The aliens in question are subatomic particles and the havoc they wreak is low-grade according to the scientist who was presenting on the topic at the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) 2017 Annual Meeting (Feb. 16 – 20, 2017) in Boston, Massachusetts. From a Feb. 17, 2017 news item on ScienceDaily,

You may not realize it but alien subatomic particles raining down from outer space are wreaking low-grade havoc on your smartphones, computers and other personal electronic devices.

When your computer crashes and you get the dreaded blue screen or your smartphone freezes and you have to go through the time-consuming process of a reset, most likely you blame the manufacturer: Microsoft or Apple or Samsung. In many instances, however, these operational failures may be caused by the impact of electrically charged particles generated by cosmic rays that originate outside the solar system.

“This is a really big problem, but it is mostly invisible to the public,” said Bharat Bhuva, professor of electrical engineering at Vanderbilt University, in a presentation on Friday, Feb. 17 at a session titled “Cloudy with a Chance of Solar Flares: Quantifying the Risk of Space Weather” at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston.

A Feb. 17, 2017 Vanderbilt University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, expands on  the theme,

When cosmic rays traveling at fractions of the speed of light strike the Earth’s atmosphere they create cascades of secondary particles including energetic neutrons, muons, pions and alpha particles. Millions of these particles strike your body each second. Despite their numbers, this subatomic torrent is imperceptible and has no known harmful effects on living organisms. However, a fraction of these particles carry enough energy to interfere with the operation of microelectronic circuitry. When they interact with integrated circuits, they may alter individual bits of data stored in memory. This is called a single-event upset or SEU.

Since it is difficult to know when and where these particles will strike and they do not do any physical damage, the malfunctions they cause are very difficult to characterize. As a result, determining the prevalence of SEUs is not easy or straightforward. “When you have a single bit flip, it could have any number of causes. It could be a software bug or a hardware flaw, for example. The only way you can determine that it is a single-event upset is by eliminating all the other possible causes,” Bhuva explained.

There have been a number of incidents that illustrate how serious the problem can be, Bhuva reported. For example, in 2003 in the town of Schaerbeek, Belgium a bit flip in an electronic voting machine added 4,096 extra votes to one candidate. The error was only detected because it gave the candidate more votes than were possible and it was traced to a single bit flip in the machine’s register. In 2008, the avionics system of a Qantus passenger jet flying from Singapore to Perth appeared to suffer from a single-event upset that caused the autopilot to disengage. As a result, the aircraft dove 690 feet in only 23 seconds, injuring about a third of the passengers seriously enough to cause the aircraft to divert to the nearest airstrip. In addition, there have been a number of unexplained glitches in airline computers – some of which experts feel must have been caused by SEUs – that have resulted in cancellation of hundreds of flights resulting in significant economic losses.

An analysis of SEU failure rates for consumer electronic devices performed by Ritesh Mastipuram and Edwin Wee at Cypress Semiconductor on a previous generation of technology shows how prevalent the problem may be. Their results were published in 2004 in Electronic Design News and provided the following estimates:

  • A simple cell phone with 500 kilobytes of memory should only have one potential error every 28 years.
  • A router farm like those used by Internet providers with only 25 gigabytes of memory may experience one potential networking error that interrupts their operation every 17 hours.
  • A person flying in an airplane at 35,000 feet (where radiation levels are considerably higher than they are at sea level) who is working on a laptop with 500 kilobytes of memory may experience one potential error every five hours.

Bhuva is a member of Vanderbilt’s Radiation Effects Research Group, which was established in 1987 and is the largest academic program in the United States that studies the effects of radiation on electronic systems. The group’s primary focus was on military and space applications. Since 2001, the group has also been analyzing radiation effects on consumer electronics in the terrestrial environment. They have studied this phenomenon in the last eight generations of computer chip technology, including the current generation that uses 3D transistors (known as FinFET) that are only 16 nanometers in size. The 16-nanometer study was funded by a group of top microelectronics companies, including Altera, ARM, AMD, Broadcom, Cisco Systems, Marvell, MediaTek, Renesas, Qualcomm, Synopsys, and TSMC

“The semiconductor manufacturers are very concerned about this problem because it is getting more serious as the size of the transistors in computer chips shrink and the power and capacity of our digital systems increase,” Bhuva said. “In addition, microelectronic circuits are everywhere and our society is becoming increasingly dependent on them.”

To determine the rate of SEUs in 16-nanometer chips, the Vanderbilt researchers took samples of the integrated circuits to the Irradiation of Chips and Electronics (ICE) House at Los Alamos National Laboratory. There they exposed them to a neutron beam and analyzed how many SEUs the chips experienced. Experts measure the failure rate of microelectronic circuits in a unit called a FIT, which stands for failure in time. One FIT is one failure per transistor in one billion hours of operation. That may seem infinitesimal but it adds up extremely quickly with billions of transistors in many of our devices and billions of electronic systems in use today (the number of smartphones alone is in the billions). Most electronic components have failure rates measured in 100’s and 1,000’s of FITs.

chart

Trends in single event upset failure rates at the individual transistor, integrated circuit and system or device level for the three most recent manufacturing technologies. (Bharat Bhuva, Radiation Effects Research Group, Vanderbilt University)

“Our study confirms that this is a serious and growing problem,” said Bhuva.“This did not come as a surprise. Through our research on radiation effects on electronic circuits developed for military and space applications, we have been anticipating such effects on electronic systems operating in the terrestrial environment.”

Although the details of the Vanderbilt studies are proprietary, Bhuva described the general trend that they have found in the last three generations of integrated circuit technology: 28-nanometer, 20-nanometer and 16-nanometer.

As transistor sizes have shrunk, they have required less and less electrical charge to represent a logical bit. So the likelihood that one bit will “flip” from 0 to 1 (or 1 to 0) when struck by an energetic particle has been increasing. This has been partially offset by the fact that as the transistors have gotten smaller they have become smaller targets so the rate at which they are struck has decreased.

More significantly, the current generation of 16-nanometer circuits have a 3D architecture that replaced the previous 2D architecture and has proven to be significantly less susceptible to SEUs. Although this improvement has been offset by the increase in the number of transistors in each chip, the failure rate at the chip level has also dropped slightly. However, the increase in the total number of transistors being used in new electronic systems has meant that the SEU failure rate at the device level has continued to rise.

Unfortunately, it is not practical to simply shield microelectronics from these energetic particles. For example, it would take more than 10 feet of concrete to keep a circuit from being zapped by energetic neutrons. However, there are ways to design computer chips to dramatically reduce their vulnerability.

For cases where reliability is absolutely critical, you can simply design the processors in triplicate and have them vote. Bhuva pointed out: “The probability that SEUs will occur in two of the circuits at the same time is vanishingly small. So if two circuits produce the same result it should be correct.” This is the approach that NASA used to maximize the reliability of spacecraft computer systems.

The good news, Bhuva said, is that the aviation, medical equipment, IT, transportation, communications, financial and power industries are all aware of the problem and are taking steps to address it. “It is only the consumer electronics sector that has been lagging behind in addressing this problem.”

The engineer’s bottom line: “This is a major problem for industry and engineers, but it isn’t something that members of the general public need to worry much about.”

That’s fascinating and I hope the consumer electronics industry catches up with this ‘alien invasion’ issue. Finally, the ‘bit flips’ made me think of the 1956 movie ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers‘.

Scaling up quantum dot, solar-powered windows

An Oct. 12, 2016 news item on phys.org announces that Los Alamos National Laboratory (US) may have taken a step towards scaling up quantum dot, solar-powered windows for industrial production (Note: A link has been removed),

In a paper this week for the journal Nature Energy, a Los Alamos National Laboratory research team demonstrates an important step in taking quantum dot, solar-powered windows from the laboratory to the construction site by proving that the technology can be scaled up from palm-sized demonstration models to windows large enough to put in and power a building.

“We are developing solar concentrators that will harvest sunlight from building windows and turn it into electricity, using quantum-dot based luminescent solar concentrators,” said lead scientist Victor Klimov. Klimov leads the Los Alamos Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics (CASP).

Los Alamos Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics researchers hold a large prototype solar window. From left to right: Jaehoon Lim, Kaifeng Wu, Victor Klimov, Hongbo Li.

Los Alamos Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics researchers hold a large prototype solar window. From left to right: Jaehoon Lim, Kaifeng Wu, Victor Klimov, Hongbo Li.

An Oct. 11, 2016 Los Alamos National Laboratory news release, which originated the news item, describes the work in more detail,

Luminescent solar concentrators (LSCs) are light-management devices that can serve as large-area sunlight collectors for photovoltaic cells. An LSC consists of a slab of transparent glass or plastic impregnated or coated with highly emissive fluorophores. After absorbing solar light shining onto a larger-area face of the slab, LSC fluorophores re-emit photons at a lower energy and these photons are guided by total internal reflection to the device edges where they are collected by photovoltaic cells.

At Los Alamos, researchers expand the options for energy production while minimizing the impact on the environment, supporting the Laboratory mission to strengthen energy security for the nation.

In the Nature Energy paper, the team reports on large LSC windows created using the “doctor-blade” technique for depositing thin layers of a dot/polymer composite on top of commercial large-area glass slabs. The “doctor-blade” technique comes from the world of printing and uses a blade to wipe excess liquid material such as ink from a surface, leaving a thin, highly uniform film behind. “The quantum dots used in LSC devices have been specially designed for the optimal performance as LSC fluorophores and to exhibit good compatibility with the polymer material that holds them on the surface of the window,” Klimov noted.

LSCs use colloidal quantum dots to collect light because they have properties such as widely tunable absorption and emission spectra, nearly 100 percent emission efficiencies, and high photostability (they don’t break down in sunlight).

If the cost of an LSC is much lower than that of a photovoltaic cell of comparable surface area and the LSC efficiency is sufficiently high, then it is possible to considerably reduce the cost of producing solar electricity, Klimov said. “Semitransparent LSCs can also enable new types of devices such as solar or photovoltaic windows that could turn presently passive building facades into power generation units.”

The quantum dots used in this study are semiconductor spheres with a core of one material and a shell of another. Their absorption and emission spectra can be tuned almost independently by varying the size and/or composition of the core and the shell. This allows the emission spectrum to be tuned by the parameters of the dot’s core to below the onset of strong optical absorption, which is itself tuned by the parameters of the dot’s shell. As a result, loss of light due to self-absorption is greatly reduced. “This tunability is the key property of these specially designed quantum dots that allows for record-size, high-performance LSC devices,” Klimov said.

The “LSC quantum dots” were synthesized by Jaehoon Lim (a postdoctoral research associate). Hongbo Li (postdoctoral research associate), and Kaifeng Wu (postdoctoral Director’s Fellow) developed the procedures for encapsulating quantum dots into polymer matrices and their deposition onto glass slabs by doctor-blading. Hyung-Jun Song (postdoctoral research associate) fabricated prototypes of complete LSC-solar-cell devices and characterized them.

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

Doctor-blade deposition of quantum dots onto standard window glass for low-loss large-area luminescent solar concentrators by Hongbo Li, Kaifeng Wu, Jaehoon Lim, Hyung-Jun Song, & Victor I. Klimov. Nature Energy 1, Article number: 16157 (2016) doi:10.1038/nenergy.2016.157 Published online: 10 October 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

arXiv which helped kickoff the open access movement contemplates its future

arXiv is hosted by Cornell University and lodges over a million scientific papers that are open to access by anyone. Here’s more from a July 22, 2016 news item on phys.org,

As the arXiv repository of scientific papers celebrates its 25th year as one of the scientific community’s most important means of communication, the site’s leadership is looking ahead to ensure it remains indispensable, robust and financially sustainable.

A July 21, 2016 Cornell University news release by Bill Steele, which originated the news item, provides more information about future plans and a brief history of the repository (Note: Links have been removed),

Changes and improvements are in store, many in response to suggestions received in a survey of nearly 37,000 users whose primary requests were for a more robust search engine and better facilities to share supplementary material, such as slides or code, that often accompanies scientific papers.

But even more important is to upgrade the underlying architecture of the system, much of it based on “old code,” said Oya Rieger, associate university librarian for digital scholarship and preservation services, who serves as arXiv’s program director. “We have to create a work plan to ensure that arXiv will serve for another 25 years,” she said. That will require recruiting additional programmers and finding additional sources of funding, she added.

The improvements will not change the site’s essential format or its core mission of free and open dissemination of the latest scientific research, Rieger said.

arXiv was created in 1991 by Paul Ginsparg, professor of physics and information science, when he was working at Los Alamos National Laboratory. It was then common practice for researchers to circulate “pre-prints” of their papers so that colleagues could have the advantage of knowing about their research in advance of publication in scientific journals. Ginsparg launched a service (originally running from a computer under his desk) to make the papers instantly available online.

Ginsparg brought the arXiv with him from Los Alamos when he joined the Cornell faculty in 2001. Since then, it has been managed by Cornell University Library, with Ginsparg as a member of its scientific advisory board.

In 2015, arXiv celebrated its millionth submission and saw 139 million downloads in that year alone.

Nearly 95 percent of respondents to the survey said they were satisfied with arXiv, many saying that rapid access to research results had made a difference in their careers, and applauding it as an advance in open access.

“We were amazed and heartened by the outpouring of responses representing users from a variety of countries, age groups and career stages. Their insight will help us as we refine a compelling and coherent vision for arXiv’s future,” Rieger said. “We’re continuing to explore current and emerging user needs and priorities. We hope to secure funding to revamp the service’s infrastructure and ensure that it will continue to serve as an important scientific venue for facilitating rapid dissemination of papers, which is arXiv’s core goal.”

Though some users suggested new or additional features, a majority of respondents emphasized that the clean, unencumbered nature of the site makes its use easy and efficient. “I sincerely wish academic journals could try to emulate the cleanness, convenience and user-friendly nature of the arXiv, and I hope the future of academic publishing looks more like what we’ve been able to enjoy in the arXiv,” one user wrote.

arXiv is supported by a global collective of nearly 200 libraries in 24 countries, and an ongoing grant from the Simons Foundation. In 2012, the site adopted a new funding model, in which it is collaboratively governed and supported by the research communities and institutions that benefit from it most directly.

Having a bee in my bonnet about overproduced websites (MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], I’m looking at you), I can’t help but applaud this user and, of course, arXiv, “I sincerely wish academic journals could try to emulate the cleanness, convenience and user-friendly nature of the arXiv, and I hope the future of academic publishing looks more like what we’ve been able to enjoy in the arXiv, …”

For anyone interested in arXiv plans, there’s the arXiv Review Strategy here on Cornell University’s Confluence website.

Enzymatic fuel cells with ultrasmall gold nanocluster

Scientists at the US Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory have developed a DNA-templated gold nanocluster (AuNC) for more efficient biofuel cell design (Note: A link has been removed). From a Sept. 24, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily,

With fossil-fuel sources dwindling, better biofuel cell design is a strong candidate in the energy field. In research published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (“A Hybrid DNA-Templated Gold Nanocluster For Enhanced Enzymatic Reduction of Oxygen”), Los Alamos researchers and external collaborators synthesized and characterized a new DNA-templated gold nanocluster (AuNC) that could resolve a critical methodological barrier for efficient biofuel cell design.

Here’s an image illustrating the DNA-templated gold nanoclusters,

Caption: Gold nanoclusters (~1 nm) are efficient mediators of electron transfer between co-self-assembled enzymes and carbon nanotubes in an enzyme fuel cell. The efficient electron transfer from this quantized nano material minimizes the energy waste and improves the kinetics of the oxygen reduction reaction, toward a more efficient fuel cell cycle. Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory

Caption: Gold nanoclusters (~1 nm) are efficient mediators of electron transfer between co-self-assembled enzymes and carbon nanotubes in an enzyme fuel cell. The efficient electron transfer from this quantized nano material minimizes the energy waste and improves the kinetics of the oxygen reduction reaction, toward a more efficient fuel cell cycle.
Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory

A Sept. 24, 2015 Los Alamos National Laboratory news release, which originated the news item, provides more details,

“Enzymatic fuel cells and nanomaterials show great promise and as they can operate under environmentally benign neutral pH conditions, they are a greener alternative to existing alkaline or acidic fuel cells, making them the subject of worldwide research endeavors,” said Saumen Chakraborty, a scientist on the project. “Our work seeks to boost electron transfer efficiency, creating a potential candidate for the development of cathodes in enzymatic fuel cells.”

Ligands, molecules that bind to a central metal atom, are necessary to form stable nanoclusters. For this study, the researchers chose single-stranded DNA as the ligand, as DNA is a natural nanoscale material having high affinity for metal cations and can be used to assembly the cluster to other nanoscale material such as carbon nanotubes.

In enzymatic fuel cells, fuel is oxidized on the anode, while oxygen reduction reactions take place on the cathode, often using multi copper oxidases. Enzymatic fuel cell performance depends critically on how effectively the enzyme active sites can accept and donate electrons from the electrode by direct electron transfer (ET). However, the lack of effective ET between the enzyme active sites, which are usually buried ~10Å from their surface, and the electrode is a major barrier to their development. Therefore, effective mediators of this electron transfer are needed.

The team developed a new DNA-templated gold nanocluster (AuNC) that enhanced electron transfer. This novel role of the AuNC as enhancer of electron transfer at the enzyme-electrode interface could be effective for cathodes in enzymatic fuel cells, thus removing a critical methodological barrier for efficient biofuel cell design.

Possessing many unique properties due to their discrete electron state distributions, metal nanoclusters (<1.5 nm diameter; ~2-144 atoms of gold, silver, platinum, or copper) show application in many fields.

Hypothesizing that due to the ultra-small size (the clusters are ~7 atoms, ~0.9 nm in diameter), and unique electrochemical properties, the AuNC can facilitate electron transfer to an oxygen-reduction reaction enzyme-active site and therefore, lower the overpotential of the oxygen reaction. Overpotential is the extra amount of energy required to drive an electrochemical reaction.

Ideally, it is desirable that all electrochemical reactions have minimal to no overpotential, but in reality they all have some. Therefore, to design an efficient electrocatalyst (for reduction or oxidation) we want to design it so that the reaction can proceed with a minimal amount of extra, applied energy.

When self assembled with bilirubin oxidase and carbon nanotubes, the AuNC acts to enhance the electron transfer, and it lowers the overpotential of oxygen reduction by a significant ~15 mV (as opposed to ~1-2 mV observed using other types of mediators) compared to the enzyme alone. The AuNC also causes significant enhancement of electrocatalytic current densities. Proteins are electronically insulating (they are complex, greasy and large), so the use of carbon nanotubes helps the enzyme stick to the electrode as well as to facilitate electron transfer.

Although gold nanoclusters have been used in chemical catalysis, this is the first time that we demonstrate they can also act as electron relaying agents to enzymatic oxygen reduction reaction monitored by electrochemistry.

Finally, the presence of AuNC does not perturb the mechanism of enzymatic O2 reduction. Such unique application of AuNC as facilitator of ET by improving thermodynamics and kinetics of O2 reduction is unprecedented.

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

A Hybrid DNA-Templated Gold Nanocluster For Enhanced Enzymatic Reduction of Oxygen by Saumen Chakraborty, Sofia Babanova, Reginaldo C. Rocha, Anil Desireddy, Kateryna Artyushkova, Amy E. Boncella, Plamen Atanassov, and Jennifer S. Martinez. J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2015, 137 (36), pp 11678–11687 DOI: 10.1021/jacs.5b05338 Publication Date (Web): August 19, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.