Tag Archives: National Natural Science Foundation of China

Manipulating light at the nanoscale with kiragami-inspired technique

At left, different patterns of slices through a thin metal foil, are made by a focused ion beam. These patterns cause the metal to fold up into predetermined shapes, which can be used for such purposes as modifying a beam of light. Courtesy of the researchers

Nanokiragami (or nano-kiragami) is a fully fledged field of research? That was news to me as was much else in a July 6, 2018 news item on ScienceDaily,

Nanokirigami has taken off as a field of research in the last few years; the approach is based on the ancient arts of origami (making 3-D shapes by folding paper) and kirigami (which allows cutting as well as folding) but applied to flat materials at the nanoscale, measured in billionths of a meter.

Now, researchers at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] and in China have for the first time applied this approach to the creation of nanodevices to manipulate light, potentially opening up new possibilities for research and, ultimately, the creation of new light-based communications, detection, or computational devices.

A July 6, 2018 MIT news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, adds detail,

The findings are described today [July 6, 2018] in the journal Science Advances, in a paper by MIT professor of mechanical engineering Nicholas X Fang and five others. Using methods based on standard microchip manufacturing technology, Fang and his team used a focused ion beam to make a precise pattern of slits in a metal foil just a few tens of nanometers thick. The process causes the foil to bend and twist itself into a complex three-dimensional shape capable of selectively filtering out light with a particular polarization.

Previous attempts to create functional kirigami devices have used more complicated fabrication methods that require a series of folding steps and have been primarily aimed at mechanical rather than optical functions, Fang says. The new nanodevices, by contrast, can be formed in a single folding step and could be used to perform a number of different optical functions.

For these initial proof-of-concept devices, the team produced a nanomechanical equivalent of specialized dichroic filters that can filter out circularly polarized light that is either “right-handed” or “left-handed.” To do so, they created a pattern just a few hundred nanometers across in the thin metal foil; the result resembles pinwheel blades, with a twist in one direction that selects the corresponding twist of light.

The twisting and bending of the foil happens because of stresses introduced by the same ion beam that slices through the metal. When using ion beams with low dosages, many vacancies are created, and some of the ions end up lodged in the crystal lattice of the metal, pushing the lattice out of shape and creating strong stresses that induce the bending.

“We cut the material with an ion beam instead of scissors, by writing the focused ion beam across this metal sheet with a prescribed pattern,” Fang says. “So you end up with this metal ribbon that is wrinkling up” in the precisely planned pattern.

“It’s a very nice connection of the two fields, mechanics and optics,” Fang says. The team used helical patterns to separate out the clockwise and counterclockwise polarized portions of a light beam, which may represent “a brand new direction” for nanokirigami research, he says.

The technique is straightforward enough that, with the equations the team developed, researchers should now be able to calculate backward from a desired set of optical characteristics and produce the needed pattern of slits and folds to produce just that effect, Fang says.

“It allows a prediction based on optical functionalities” to create patterns that achieve the desired result, he adds. “Previously, people were always trying to cut by intuition” to create kirigami patterns for a particular desired outcome.

The research is still at an early stage, Fang points out, so more research will be needed on possible applications. But these devices are orders of magnitude smaller than conventional counterparts that perform the same optical functions, so these advances could lead to more complex optical chips for sensing, computation, or communications systems or biomedical devices, the team says.

For example, Fang says, devices to measure glucose levels often use measurements of light polarity, because glucose molecules exist in both right- and left-handed forms which interact differently with light. “When you pass light through the solution, you can see the concentration of one version of the molecule, as opposed to the mixture of both,” Fang explains, and this method could allow for much smaller, more efficient detectors.

Circular polarization is also a method used to allow multiple laser beams to travel through a fiber-optic cable without interfering with each other. “People have been looking for such a system for laser optical communications systems” to separate the beams in devices called optical isolaters, Fang says. “We have shown that it’s possible to make them in nanometer sizes.”

The team also included MIT graduate student Huifeng Du; Zhiguang Liu, Jiafang Li (project supervisor), and Ling Lu at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing; and Zhi-Yuan Li at the South China University of Technology. The work was supported by the National Key R&D Program of China, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, and the U.S Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

The researchers have also provided some GIFs,


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

Nano-kirigami with giant optical chirality by Zhiguang Liu, Huifeng Du, Jiafang Li, Ling Lu, Zhi-Yuan Li, and Nicholas X. Fang. Science Advances 06 Jul 2018: Vol. 4, no. 7, eaat4436 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aat4436

This paper is open access.

3-D underwater acoustic carpet cloak

Who can resist a ‘Black Panther’ reference (Wikipedia Black Panther film entry)? Certainly not me. Scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences made this June 4, 2018 announcement (also on EurekAlert),

Cloaking is one of the most eye-catching technologies in sci-fi movies. In two 2018 Marvel films, Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther conceals his country Wakanda, a technologically advanced African nation, from the outside world using the metal vibranium.

However, in the real world, if you want to hide something, you need to deceive not only the eyes, but also the ears, especially in the underwater environment.

Recently, a research team led by Prof. YANG Jun from the Institute of Acoustics (IOA) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences designed and fabricated a 3D underwater acoustic carpet cloak (UACC) using transformation acoustics.

The research was published online in Applied Physics Letters on June 1 [2018].

Like a shield, the carpet cloak is a material shell that can reflect waves as if the waves were reflecting off a planar surface. Hence, the cloaked target becomes undetectable to underwater detection instruments like sonar.

Using transformation acoustics, the research team first finished the 2D underwater acoustic carpet cloak with metamaterial last year (Scientific Reports, April 6, 2017). However, this structure works only in two dimensions, and becomes immediately detectable when a third dimension is introduced.

To solve this problem, YANG Jun and his IOA team combined transformation acoustics with a reasonable scaling factor, worked out the parameters, and redesigned the unit cell of the 2D cloak. They designed the 3D underwater acoustic carpet cloak and then proposed a fabrication and assembly method to manufacture it. The 3D cloak can hide an object from top to bottom and deal with complex situations, such as acoustic detection in all directions.

The 3D underwater acoustic carpet cloak is a pyramid comprising eight triangular pyramids; each triangular pyramid is composed of 92 steel strips using a rectangle lattice, similar to a wafer biscuit. More vividly, if we remove the core from a big solid pyramid, we can hide something safely in the hollow space left.

“To make a 3D underwater acoustic carpet cloak, researchers needed to construct the structure with 2D period, survey the influence of the unit cell’s resonance, examine the camouflage effect at the ridge of the sample, and other problems. In addition, the fabrication and assembly of the 3D device required more elaborate design. The extension of the UACC from 2D to 3D represents important progress in applied physics,” said YANG.

In experimental tests, a short Gaussian pulse propagated towards the target covered with the carpet cloak, and the waves backscattered toward their origin. The cloaked object successfully mimicked the reflecting surface and was undetectable by sound detection. Meanwhile, the measured acoustic pressure fields from the vertical view demonstrated the effectiveness of the designed 3D structure in every direction.

“As the next step, we will try to make the 3D underwater acoustic carpet cloak smaller and lighter,” said YANG.

Funding for this research came from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No.11304351, 1177021304), the Youth Innovation Promotion Association of CAS (Grant No. 2017029), and the IACAS Young Elite Researcher Project (Grant No. QNYC201719).

Prof. YANG Jun and Dr. JIA Han led the research team from the Institute of Acoustics (IOA) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Prof. YANG Jun engages in research on sound, vibration and signal processing, and especially sound field control and array signal processing. They also work on other devices based on metamaterial in order to manipulate the propagation of sound waves.

A model of the device,

Caption: This is a model and photograph of the 3D underwater acoustic carpet cloak composed of over 700 steel strips. Credit: IOA

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

Experimental demonstration of three-dimensional broadband underwater acoustic carpet cloak by Yafeng Bi, Han Jia, Zhaoyong Sun, Yuzhen Yang, Han Zhao, and Jun Yang.
Appl. Phys. Lett. 112, 223502 (2018); https://doi.org/10.1063/1.5026199 Published Online: June 2018

This paper is open access.

The new knitting: electronics and batteries

Researchers from China have developed a new type of yarn for flexible electronics. A March 28, 2018 news item on Nanowerk announces the work, (Note: A link has been removed),

When someone thinks about knitting, they usually don’t conjure up an image of sweaters and scarves made of yarn that can power watches and lights. But that’s just what one group is reporting in ACS Nano (“Waterproof and Tailorable Elastic Rechargeable Yarn Zinc Ion Batteries by a Cross-Linked Polyacrylamide Electrolyte”). They have developed a rechargeable yarn battery that is waterproof and flexible. It also can be cut into pieces and still work.

A March 28, 2018 2018 American Chemical Society (ACS) news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, expands on the theme (Note: Links have been removed),

Most people are familiar with smartwatches, but for wearable electronics to progress, scientists will need to overcome the challenge of creating a device that is deformable, durable, versatile and wearable while still holding and maintaining a charge. One dimensional fiber or yarn has shown promise, since it is tiny, flexible and lightweight. Previous studies have had some success combining one-dimensional fibers with flexible Zn-MnO2 batteries, but many of these lose charge capacity and are not rechargeable. So, Chunyi Zhi and colleagues wanted to develop a rechargeable yarn zinc-ion battery that would maintain its charge capacity, while being waterproof and flexible.

The group twisted carbon nanotube fibers into a yarn, then coated one piece of yarn with zinc to form an anode, and another with magnesium oxide to form a cathode. These two pieces were then twisted like a double helix and coated with a polyacrylamide electrolyte and encased in silicone. Upon testing, the yarn zinc-ion battery was stable, had a high charge capacity and was rechargeable and waterproof. In addition, the material could be knitted and stretched. It also could be cut into several pieces, each of which could power a watch. In a proof-of-concept demonstration, eight pieces of the cut yarn battery were woven into a long piece that could power a belt containing 100 light emitting diodes (known as LEDs) and an electroluminescent panel.

The authors acknowledge funding from the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong Joint Research Scheme, City University of Hong Kong and the Sichuan Provincial Department of Science & Technology.

Here’s an image the researchers have used to illustrate their work,


Courtesy: American Chemical Society

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

Waterproof and Tailorable Elastic Rechargeable Yarn Zinc Ion Batteries by a Cross-Linked Polyacrylamide Electrolyte by Hongfei Li, Zhuoxin Liu, Guojin Liang, Yang Huang, Yan Huang, Minshen Zhu, Zengxia Pe, Qi Xue, Zijie Tang, Yukun Wang, Baohua Li, and Chunyi Zhi. ACS Nano, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.7b09003 Publication Date (Web): March 28, 2018

Copyright © 2018 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

A gripping problem: tree frogs lead the way

Courtesy: University of Glasgow

At least once a year, there must be a frog posting here (ETA: July 31, 2018 at 1640 hours: unusually, this is my second ‘frog’ posting in one week; my July 26, 2018 posting concerns a very desperate frog, Romeo). Prior to Romeo, this March 15, 2018 news item on phys.org tickled my fancy,

Scientists researching how tree frogs climb have discovered that a unique combination of adhesion and grip gives them perfect technique.

The new research, led by the University of Glasgow and published today [March 15, 2018] in the Journal of Experimental Biology, could have implications for areas of science such as robotics, as well as the production of climbing equipment and even tyre manufacture.

A March 15, 2018 University of Glasgow press release, which originated the news item, provides a little more detail,

Researchers found that, using their fluid-filled adhesive toe pads, tree frogs are able to grip to surfaces to climb. When surfaces aren’t smooth enough to allow adhesion, researchers found that the frogs relied on their long limbs to grip around objects.

University of Glasgow scientists Iain Hill and Jon Barnes gave the tree frogs a series of narrow and wide cylinders to climb. The research team found that on the narrow cylinders the frogs used their grip and adhesion pads, allowing them to climb the obstacle at speed. Wider cylinders were too large for the frogs to grip, so they could only climb more slowly using their suction adhesive pads.

When the cylinders were coated in sandpaper, preventing adhesion, the frogs could only climb the narrow ones slowly, using their grip. They were not able to climb the wider cylinders covered in sandpaper as they couldn’t use their grip or adhesion.

Dr Barnes said: “I have worked on tree frog research for many years and I find them fascinating. Work on tree frogs has been of interest to industry and other areas of science in the past, since their climbing abilities can offer us insights into the most efficient way to climb and stick to surfaces.

“Climbing robots, for instance, need ways to stick, they could be based either on gecko climbing or tree frog climbing.  This research demonstrates how a good climbing robot would need to combine gripping and adhesion to climb more efficiently.”

The study, “The biomechanics of tree frogs climbing curved surfaces: a gripping problem” is published in the Journal ofExperimental Biology. The work was funded by the Royal Society, London and by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the Natural Science Foundation of Jiangsu Province.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper (I love the pun in the title),

The biomechanics of tree frogs climbing curved surfaces: a gripping problem by Iain D. C. Hill, Benzheng Dong, W. Jon. P. Barnes, Aihong Ji, Thomas Endlein. Journal of Experimental Biology 2018 : jeb.168179 doi: 10.1242/jeb.168179 Published 19 January 2018

This paper is behind a paywall.

Nano with green tea for sensitive teeth

The future will be beautiful if scientists are successful with a new DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) sunscreen (my Aug. 3, 2017 posting) and a new dental material for people with sensitive teeth. From an Aug. 2, 2017 news item on phys.org,

An ice cold drink is refreshing in the summer, but for people with sensitive teeth, it can cause a painful jolt in the mouth. This condition can be treated, but many current approaches don’t last long. Now researchers report in the journal ACS [American Chemical Society] Applied Materials & Interfaces the development of a new material with an extract from green tea that could fix this problem—and help prevent cavities in these susceptible patients.

An Aug. 2, 2017 ACS news release, which originated the news item, describes the problem and the work in more detail,

Tooth sensitivity commonly occurs when the protective layers of teeth are worn away, revealing a bony tissue called dentin. This tissue contains microscopic hollow tubes that, when exposed, allow hot and cold liquids and food to contact the underlying nerve endings in the teeth, causing pain. Unprotected dentin is also vulnerable to cavity formation. Plugging these tubes with a mineral called nanohydroxyapatite is a long-standing approach to treating sensitivity. But the material doesn’t stand up well to regular brushing, grinding, erosion or acid produced by cavity-causing bacteria. Cui Huang and colleagues wanted to tackle sensitivity and beat the bacteria at the same time.

The researchers encapsulated nanohydroxyapatite and a green tea polyphenol — epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG — in silica nanoparticles, which can stand up to acid and wear and tear. EGCG has been shown in previous studies to fight Streptococcus mutans, which forms biofilms that cause cavities. Testing on extracted wisdom teeth showed that the material plugged the dentin tubules, released EGCG for at least 96 hours, stood up to tooth erosion and brushing and prevented biofilm formation. It also showed low toxicity. Based on these findings, the researchers say the material could indeed be a good candidate for combating tooth sensitivity and cavities.

The authors acknowledge funding from the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Natural Science Foundation of Hubei Province of China and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities.

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

Development of Epigallocatechin-3-gallate-Encapsulated Nanohydroxyapatite/Mesoporous Silica for Therapeutic Management of Dentin Surface by Jian Yu, Hongye Yang, Kang Li, Hongyu Ren, Jinmei Lei, and Cui Huang. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/acsami.7b06597 Publication Date (Web): July 13, 2017

Copyright © 2017 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Powering up your graphene implants so you don’t get fried in the process

A Sept. 23, 2016 news item on phys.org describes a way of making graphene-based medical implants safer,

In the future, our health may be monitored and maintained by tiny sensors and drug dispensers, deployed within the body and made from graphene—one of the strongest, lightest materials in the world. Graphene is composed of a single sheet of carbon atoms, linked together like razor-thin chicken wire, and its properties may be tuned in countless ways, making it a versatile material for tiny, next-generation implants.

But graphene is incredibly stiff, whereas biological tissue is soft. Because of this, any power applied to operate a graphene implant could precipitously heat up and fry surrounding cells.

Now, engineers from MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] and Tsinghua University in Beijing have precisely simulated how electrical power may generate heat between a single layer of graphene and a simple cell membrane. While direct contact between the two layers inevitably overheats and kills the cell, the researchers found they could prevent this effect with a very thin, in-between layer of water.

A Sept. 23, 2016 MIT news release by Emily Chu, which originated the news item, provides more technical details,

By tuning the thickness of this intermediate water layer, the researchers could carefully control the amount of heat transferred between graphene and biological tissue. They also identified the critical power to apply to the graphene layer, without frying the cell membrane. …

Co-author Zhao Qin, a research scientist in MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), says the team’s simulations may help guide the development of graphene implants and their optimal power requirements.

“We’ve provided a lot of insight, like what’s the critical power we can accept that will not fry the cell,” Qin says. “But sometimes we might want to intentionally increase the temperature, because for some biomedical applications, we want to kill cells like cancer cells. This work can also be used as guidance [for those efforts.]”

Sandwich model

Typically, heat travels between two materials via vibrations in each material’s atoms. These atoms are always vibrating, at frequencies that depend on the properties of their materials. As a surface heats up, its atoms vibrate even more, causing collisions with other atoms and transferring heat in the process.

The researchers sought to accurately characterize the way heat travels, at the level of individual atoms, between graphene and biological tissue. To do this, they considered the simplest interface, comprising a small, 500-nanometer-square sheet of graphene and a simple cell membrane, separated by a thin layer of water.

“In the body, water is everywhere, and the outer surface of membranes will always like to interact with water, so you cannot totally remove it,” Qin says. “So we came up with a sandwich model for graphene, water, and membrane, that is a crystal clear system for seeing the thermal conductance between these two materials.”

Qin’s colleagues at Tsinghua University had previously developed a model to precisely simulate the interactions between atoms in graphene and water, using density functional theory — a computational modeling technique that considers the structure of an atom’s electrons in determining how that atom will interact with other atoms.

However, to apply this modeling technique to the group’s sandwich model, which comprised about half a million atoms, would have required an incredible amount of computational power. Instead, Qin and his colleagues used classical molecular dynamics — a mathematical technique based on a “force field” potential function, or a simplified version of the interactions between atoms — that enabled them to efficiently calculate interactions within larger atomic systems.

The researchers then built an atom-level sandwich model of graphene, water, and a cell membrane, based on the group’s simplified force field. They carried out molecular dynamics simulations in which they changed the amount of power applied to the graphene, as well as the thickness of the intermediate water layer, and observed the amount of heat that carried over from the graphene to the cell membrane.

Watery crystals

Because the stiffness of graphene and biological tissue is so different, Qin and his colleagues expected that heat would conduct rather poorly between the two materials, building up steeply in the graphene before flooding and overheating the cell membrane. However, the intermediate water layer helped dissipate this heat, easing its conduction and preventing a temperature spike in the cell membrane.

Looking more closely at the interactions within this interface, the researchers made a surprising discovery: Within the sandwich model, the water, pressed against graphene’s chicken-wire pattern, morphed into a similar crystal-like structure.

“Graphene’s lattice acts like a template to guide the water to form network structures,” Qin explains. “The water acts more like a solid material and makes the stiffness transition from graphene and membrane less abrupt. We think this helps heat to conduct from graphene to the membrane side.”

The group varied the thickness of the intermediate water layer in simulations, and found that a 1-nanometer-wide layer of water helped to dissipate heat very effectively. In terms of the power applied to the system, they calculated that about a megawatt of power per meter squared, applied in tiny, microsecond bursts, was the most power that could be applied to the interface without overheating the cell membrane.

Qin says going forward, implant designers can use the group’s model and simulations to determine the critical power requirements for graphene devices of different dimensions. As for how they might practically control the thickness of the intermediate water layer, he says graphene’s surface may be modified to attract a particular number of water molecules.

“I think graphene provides a very promising candidate for implantable devices,” Qin says. “Our calculations can provide knowledge for designing these devices in the future, for specific applications, like sensors, monitors, and other biomedical applications.”

This research was supported in part by the MIT International Science and Technology Initiative (MISTI): MIT-China Seed Fund, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, DARPA [US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency], the Department of Defense (DoD) Office of Naval Research, the DoD Multidisciplinary Research Initiatives program, the MIT Energy Initiative, and the National Science Foundation.

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

Intercalated water layers promote thermal dissipation at bio–nano interfaces by Yanlei Wang, Zhao Qin, Markus J. Buehler, & Zhiping Xu. Nature Communications 7, Article number: 12854 doi:10.1038/ncomms12854 Published 23 September 2016

This paper is open access.

Dual purpose: loofah and battery?

Sadly, the proposed batteries are not dual purpose although they are based on loofah material. From a June 15, 2016 news item on phys.org,

Today’s mobile lifestyle depends on rechargeable lithium batteries. But to take these storage devices to the next level—to shore up the electric grid or for widespread use in vehicles, for example—they need a big boost in capacity. To get lithium batteries up to snuff for more ambitious applications, researchers report in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces a new solution that involves low-cost, renewable loofah sponges.

A June 15, 2016 American Chemical Society press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

The lithium-ion batteries that power most of our devices still have some room for improvement. But some experts predict that even when these batteries are fully optimized, they still will not be able to meet the power needs for larger-scale applications, such as taking a car 500 miles on one charge. Scientists looking to go beyond lithium-ion have turned to lithium-sulfur and other options. But a major challenge to commercializing these technologies remains: The cathodes crumble over time, leading to progressively lower capacity. Shanqing Zhang, Yanglong Hou, Li-Min Liu and colleagues wanted to find a way to stabilize these alternatives.

The researchers developed a “blocking” layer of highly conductive, porous carbon derived from a loofah sponge. The loofah-derived membrane helped prevent the cathode from dissolving in lithium-sulfur, lithium-selenium and lithium-iodine batteries — and all three types performed well consistently over 500 to 5,000 cycles. The loofah sponge carbon could be the advance needed to move these batteries forward in a low-cost, sustainable way, the researchers say.

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

Multifunctional Nitrogen-Doped Loofah Sponge Carbon Blocking Layer for High-Performance Rechargeable Lithium Batteries by Xingxing Gui, Chuan-Jia Tong, Sarish Rehman, Li-Min Liu, Yanglong Hou, and Shanqing Zhang. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/acsami.6b02378 Publication Date (Web): June 02, 2016

Copyright © 2016 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

The researchers have made an image illustrating the work available,

Courtesy American Chemical Society

Courtesy American Chemical Society

Here’s one final bit from the press release,

The authors acknowledge funding from the Australian Research Council, the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the Ministry of Education of China.

Funding sources can be very interesting and this adds confirmation of China’s focus on the environment and sustainability.