Tag Archives: RMIT University

Making nanoscale transistor chips out of thin air—sort of

Caption: The nano-gap transistors operating in air. As gaps become smaller than the mean-free path of electrons in air, there is ballistic electron transport. Credit: RMIT University

A November 19, 2018 news item on Nanowerk describes the ‘airy’ work ( Note: A link has been removed),

Researchers at RMIT University [Ausralia] have engineered a new type of transistor, the building block for all electronics. Instead of sending electrical currents through silicon, these transistors send electrons through narrow air gaps, where they can travel unimpeded as if in space.

The device unveiled in material sciences journal Nano Letters (“Metal–Air Transistors: Semiconductor-free field-emission air-channel nanoelectronics”), eliminates the use of any semiconductor at all, making it faster and less prone to heating up.

A November 19, 2018 RMIT University news release on EurkeAlert, which originated the news item, describes the work and possibilities in more detail,

Lead author and PhD candidate in RMIT’s Functional Materials and Microsystems Research Group, Ms Shruti Nirantar, said this promising proof-of-concept design for nanochips as a combination of metal and air gaps could revolutionise electronics.

“Every computer and phone has millions to billions of electronic transistors made from silicon, but this technology is reaching its physical limits where the silicon atoms get in the way of the current flow, limiting speed and causing heat,” Nirantar said.

“Our air channel transistor technology has the current flowing through air, so there are no collisions to slow it down and no resistance in the material to produce heat.”

The power of computer chips – or number of transistors squeezed onto a silicon chip – has increased on a predictable path for decades, roughly doubling every two years. But this rate of progress, known as Moore’s Law, has slowed in recent years as engineers struggle to make transistor parts, which are already smaller than the tiniest viruses, smaller still.

Nirantar says their research is a promising way forward for nano electronics in response to the limitation of silicon-based electronics.

“This technology simply takes a different pathway to the miniaturisation of a transistor in an effort to uphold Moore’s Law for several more decades,” Shruti said.

Research team leader Associate Professor Sharath Sriram said the design solved a major flaw in traditional solid channel transistors – they are packed with atoms – which meant electrons passing through them collided, slowed down and wasted energy as heat.

“Imagine walking on a densely crowded street in an effort to get from point A to B. The crowd slows your progress and drains your energy,” Sriram said.

“Travelling in a vacuum on the other hand is like an empty highway where you can drive faster with higher energy efficiency.”

But while this concept is obvious, vacuum packaging solutions around transistors to make them faster would also make them much bigger, so are not viable.

“We address this by creating a nanoscale gap between two metal points. The gap is only a few tens of nanometers, or 50,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, but it’s enough to fool electrons into thinking that they are travelling through a vacuum and re-create a virtual outer-space for electrons within the nanoscale air gap,” he said.

The nanoscale device is designed to be compatible with modern industry fabrication and development processes. It also has applications in space – both as electronics resistant to radiation and to use electron emission for steering and positioning ‘nano-satellites’.

“This is a step towards an exciting technology which aims to create something out of nothing to significantly increase speed of electronics and maintain pace of rapid technological progress,” Sriram said.

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

Metal–Air Transistors: Semiconductor-free field-emission air-channel nanoelectronics by
Shruti Nirantar, Taimur Ahmed, Guanghui Ren, Philipp Gutruf, Chenglong Xu, Madhu Bhaskaran, Sumeet Walia, and Sharath Sriram. Nano Lett., DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.8b02849 Publication Date (Web): November 16, 2018

Copyright © 2018 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Real-time tracking of UV (ultraviolet light) exposure for all skin types (light to dark)

It’s nice to find this research after my August 21, 2018 posting where I highlighted (scroll down to ‘Final comments’) the issues around databases and skin cancer data which is usually derived from fair-skinned people while people with darker hues tend not to be included. This is partly due to the fact that fair-skinned people have a higher risk and also partly due to myths about how more melanin in your skin somehow protects you from skin cancer.

This October 4, 2018 news item on ScienceDaily announces research into a way to track UV exposure for all skin types,

Researchers from the University of Granada [Spain] and RMIT University in Melbourne [Australia] have developed personalised and low-cost wearable ultraviolet (UV) sensors that warn users when their exposure to the sun has become dangerous.

The paper-based sensor, which can be worn as a wristband, features happy and sad emoticon faces — drawn in an invisible UV-sensitive ink — that successively light up as you reach 25%, 50%, 75% and finally 100% of your daily recommended UV exposure.

The research team have also created six versions of the colour-changing wristbands, each of which is personalised for a specific skin tone  [emphasis mine]– an important characteristic given that darker people need more sun exposure to produce vitamin D, which is essential for healthy bones, teeth and muscles.

An October 2, 2018 University of Granada press release (also on EurekAlert) delves further,

Four of the wristbands, each of which indicates a different stage of exposure to UV radiation (25%, 50%, 75% and 100%)

The emoticon faces on the wristband successively “light up” as exposure to UV radiation increases

Skin cancer, one of the most common types of cancer throughout the world, is primarily caused by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR). In Spain, over 74,000 people are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer every year, while a further 4,000 are diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer. In regions such as Australia, where the ozone layer has been substantially depleted, it is estimated that approximately 2 in 3 people will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they reach the age of 70.

“UVB and UVC radiation is retained by the ozone layer. This sensor is especially important in the current context, given that the hole in the ozone layer is exposing us to such dangerous radiation”, explains José Manuel Domínguez Vera, a researcher at the University of Granada’s Department of Inorganic Chemistry and the main author of the paper.

Domínguez Vera also highlights that other sensors currently available on the market only measure overall UV radiation, without distinguishing between UVA, UVB and UVC, each of which has a significantly different impact on human health.  In contrast, the new paper-based sensor can differentiate between UVA, UVB and UVC radiation. Prolonged exposure to UVA radiation is associated with skin ageing and wrinkling, while excessive exposure to UVB causes sunburn and increases the likelihood of skin cancer and eye damage.

Drawbacks of the traditional UV index

Ultraviolet radiation is determined by aspects such as location, time of day, pollution levels, astronomical factors, weather conditions such as clouds, and can be heightened by reflective surfaces like bodies of water, sand and snow. But UV rays are not visible to the human eye (even if it is cloudy UV radiation can be high) and until now the only way of monitoring UV intensity has been to use the UV index, which is standardly given in weather reports and indicates 5 degrees of radiation;  low, moderate, high, very high or extreme.

Despite its usefulness, the UV index is a relatively limited tool. For instance, it does not clearly indicate what time of the day or for how long you should be outside to get your essential vitamin D dose, or when to cover up to avoid sunburn and a heightened risk of skin cancer.

Moreover, the UV index is normally based on calculations for fair skin, making it unsuitable for ethnically diverse populations.  While individuals with fairer skin are more susceptible to UV damage, those with darker skin require much longer periods in the sun in order to absorb healthy amounts of vitamin D. In this regard, the UV index is not an accurate tool for gauging and monitoring an individual’s recommended daily exposure.

UV-sensitive ink

The research team set out to tackle the drawbacks of the traditional UV index by developing an inexpensive, disposable and personalised sensor that allows the wearer to track their UV exposure in real-time. The sensor paper they created features a special ink, containing phosphomolybdic acid (PMA), which turns from colourless to blue when exposed to UV radiation. They can use the initially-invisible ink to draw faces—or any other design—on paper and other surfaces. Depending on the type and intensity of the UV radiation to which the ink is exposed, the paper begins to turn blue; the greater the exposure to UV radiation, the faster the paper turns blue.

Additionally, by tweaking the ink composition and the sensor design, the team were able to make the ink change colour faster or slower, allowing them to produce different sensors that are tailored to the six different types of skin colour. [emphasis mine]

Applications beyond health

This low-cost, paper-based sensor technology will not only help people of all colours to strike an optimum balance between absorbing enough vitamin D and avoiding sun damage — it also has significant applications for the agricultural and industrial sectors. UV rays affect the growth of crops and the shelf life of a range of consumer products. As the UV sensors can detect even the slightest doses of UV radiation, as well as the most extreme, this new technology could have vast potential for industries and companies seeking to evaluate the prolonged impact of UV exposure on products that are cultivated or kept outdoors.

The research project is the result of fruitful collaborations between two members of the UGR BIONanoMet (FQM368) research group; Ana González and José Manuel Domínguez-Vera, and the research group led by Dr. Vipul Bansal at RMIT University in Melbourne (Australia).

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

Skin color-specific and spectrally-selective naked-eye dosimetry of UVA, B and C radiations by Wenyue Zou, Ana González, Deshetti Jampaiah, Rajesh Ramanathan, Mohammad Taha, Sumeet Walia, Sharath Sriram, Madhu Bhaskaran, José M. Dominguez-Vera, & Vipul Bansal. Nature Communicationsvolume 9, Article number: 3743 (2018) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-06273-3 Published 25 September 2018

This paper is open access.

Students! Need help with your memory? Try Sans Forgetica

Sans forgetica is a new, scientifically and aesthetically designed font to help students remember what they read.

An October 4, 2018 news article by Mark Wycislik-Wilson for Beta News announces the new font,

Researchers from Australia’s RMIT University have created a font which they say could help you to retain more data.

Sans Forgetica is the result of work involving typographic design specialists and psychologists, and it has been designed specifically to make it easier to remember written information. The font has purposefully been made slightly difficult to read, using a reverse slant and gaps in letters to exploit the “desirable difficulty” as a memory aid.

An October 3, 2018 RMIT University press release, which originated the news item, provides more details,

Sans Forgetica could help people remember more of what they read.

Researchers and academics from different disciplines came together to develop, design and test the font called Sans Forgetica.

The font is the world’s first typeface specifically designed to help people retain more information and remember more of typed study notes and it’s available for free.

It was developed in a collaboration between typographic design specialist and psychologists, combining psychological theory and design principles to improve retention of written information.

Stephen Banham, RMIT lecturer in typography and industry leader, said it was great working on a project that combined research from typography and psychology and the experts from RMIT’s Behavioural Business Lab.

“This cross pollination of thinking has led to the creation of a new font that is fundamentally different from all other font. It is also a clear application of theory into practice, something we strive for at RMIT,” he said.

Chair of the RMIT Behavioural Business Lab and behavioural economist, Dr Jo Peryman, said it was a terrific tool for students studying for exams.

“We believe this is the first time that specific principles of design theory have been combined with specific principles of psychology theory in order to create a font.”

Stephen Banham, RMIT lecturer in typography and industry leader, was part of the Sans Forgetica team.

The font was developed using a learning principle called ‘desirable difficulty’, where an obstruction is added to the learning process that requires us to put in just enough effort, leading to better memory retention to promote deeper cognitive processing.

Senior Marketing Lecturer (Experimental Methods and Design Thinking) and founding member of the RMIT Behavioural Business Lab Dr Janneke Blijlevens said typical fonts were very familiar.

“Readers often glance over them and no memory trace is created,” Blijlevens said.

However, if a font is too different, the brain can’t process it and the information is not retained.

“Sans Forgetica lies at a sweet spot where just enough obstruction has been added to create that memory retention.”

Sans Forgetica has varying degrees of ‘distinctiveness’ built in that subvert many of the design principles normally associated with conventional typography.

These degrees of distinctiveness cause readers to dwell longer on each word, giving the brain more time to engage in deeper cognitive processing, to enhance information retention.

Roughly 400 Australian university students participated in a laboratory and an online experiment conducted by RMIT, where fonts with a range of obstructions were tested to determine which led to the best memory retention. Sans Forgetica broke just enough design principles without becoming too illegible and aided memory retention.

Dr Jo Peryman and Dr Janneke Blijlevens from the RMIT Behavioural Business Lab provided psychological theory and insights to help inform the development, design and testing of Sans Forgetica.

RMIT worked with strategy and creative agency Naked Communications to create the Sans Forgetica concept and font.

Sans Forgetica is available free to download as a font and Chrome browser extension at sansforgetica.rmit.

Thank you Australian typographic designers and psychologists!

Australian scientists say that sunscreens with zinc oxide nanoparticles aren’t toxic to you

The Australians have had quite the struggle over whether or not to use nanotechnology-enabled sunscreens (see my Feb. 9, 2012 posting about an Australian nanosunscreen debacle and I believe the reverberations continue even ’til today). This latest research will hopefully help calm the waters. From a Dec. 4, 2018 news item on ScienceDaily,

Zinc oxide (ZnO) has long been recognized as an effective sunscreen agent. However, there have been calls for sunscreens containing ZnO nanoparticles to be banned because of potential toxicity and the need for caution in the absence of safety data in humans. An important new study provides the first direct evidence that intact ZnO nanoparticles neither penetrate the human skin barrier nor cause cellular toxicity after repeated application to human volunteers under in-use conditions. This confirms that the known benefits of using ZnO nanoparticles in sunscreens clearly outweigh the perceived risks, reports the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

A December 4, 2018 Elsevier (Publishing) press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides international context for the safety discussion while providing more details about this latest research,

The safety of nanoparticles used in sunscreens has been a highly controversial international issue in recent years, as previous animal exposure studies found much higher skin absorption of zinc from application of ZnO sunscreens to the skin than in human studies. Some public advocacy groups have voiced concern that penetration of the upper layer of the skin by sunscreens containing ZnO nanoparticles could gain access to the living cells in the viable epidermis with toxic consequences, including DNA damage. A potential danger, therefore, is that this concern may also result in an undesirable downturn in sunscreen use. A 2017 National Sun Protection Survey by the Cancer Council Australia found only 55 percent of Australians believed it was safe to use sunscreen every day, down from 61 per cent in 2014.

Investigators in Australia studied the safety of repeated application of agglomerated ZnO nanoparticles applied to five human volunteers (aged 20 to 30 years) over five days. This mimics normal product use by consumers. They applied ZnO nanoparticles suspended in a commercial sunscreen base to the skin of volunteers hourly for six hours and daily for five days. Using multiphoton tomography with fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy, they showed that the nanoparticles remained within the superficial layers of the stratum corneum and in the skin furrows. The fate of ZnO nanoparticles was also characterized in excised human skin in vitro. They did not penetrate the viable epidermis and no cellular toxicity was seen, even after repeated hourly or daily applications typically used for sunscreens.

“The terrible consequences of skin cancer and photoaging are much greater than any toxicity risk posed by approved sunscreens,” stated lead investigator Michael S. Roberts, PhD, of the Therapeutics Research Centre, The University of Queensland Diamantina Institute, Translational Research Institute, Brisbane, and School of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences, University of South Australia, Sansom Institute, Adelaide, QLD, Australia.

“This study has shown that sunscreens containing nano ZnO can be repeatedly applied to the skin with minimal risk of any toxicity. We hope that these findings will help improve consumer confidence in these products, and in turn lead to better sun protection and reduction in ultraviolet-induced skin aging and cancer cases,” he concluded.

“This study reinforces the important public health message that the known benefits of using ZnO nano sunscreens clearly outweigh the perceived risks of using nano sunscreens that are not supported by the scientific evidence,” commented Paul F.A. Wright, PhD, School of Health and Biomedical Sciences, RMIT University, Bundoora, VIC, Australia, in an accompanying editorial. “Of great significance is the investigators’ finding that the slight increase in zinc ion concentrations in viable epidermis was not associated with cellular toxicity under conditions of realistic ZnO nano sunscreen use.

A November 21, 2018 University of South Australia press release (also on EurekAlert) provides some additional insight into the Australian situation,, Note: Links have been removed,

It’s safe to slap on the sunscreen this summer – in repeated doses – despite what you have read about the potential toxicity of sunscreens.

A new study led by the University of Queensland (UQ) and University of South Australia (UniSA) provides the first direct evidence that zinc oxide nanoparticles used in sunscreen neither penetrate the skin nor cause cellular toxicity after repeated applications.

The research, published this week in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, refutes widespread claims among some public advocacy groups – and a growing belief among consumers – about the safety of nanoparticulate-based sunscreens.

UQ and UniSA lead investigator, Professor Michael Roberts, says the myth about sunscreen toxicity took hold after previous animal studies found much higher skin absorption of zinc-containing sunscreens than in human studies.

“There were concerns that these zinc oxide nanoparticles could be absorbed into the epidermis, with toxic consequences, including DNA damage,” Professor Roberts says.

The toxicity link was picked up by consumers, sparking fears that Australians could reduce their sunscreen use, echoed by a Cancer Council 2017 National Sun Protection Survey showing a drop in the number of people who believed it was safe to use sunscreens every day.

Professor Roberts and his co-researchers in Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Germany studied the safety of repeated applications of zinc oxide nanoparticles applied to five volunteers aged 20-30 years.

Volunteers applied the ZnO nanoparticles every hour for six hours on five consecutive days.

“Using superior imaging methods, we established that the nanoparticles remained within the superficial layers of the skin and did not cause any cellular damage,” Professor Roberts says.

“We hope that these findings help improve consumer confidence in these products and in turn lead to better sun protection. The terrible consequences of skin cancer and skin damage caused by prolonged sun exposure are much greater than any toxicity posed by approved sunscreens.”

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

Support for the Safe Use of Zinc Oxide Nanoparticle Sunscreens: Lack of Skin Penetration or Cellular Toxicity after Repeated Application in Volunteers by Yousuf H. Mohammed, Amy Holmes, Isha N. Haridass, Washington Y. Sanchez, Hauke Studier, Jeffrey E. Grice, Heather A.E. Benson, Michael S. Roberts. Jurnal of Investigative Dermatology. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jid.2018.08.024 Article in Press Published online (Dec. 4, 2018?)

As of Dec. 11, 2018, this article is open access.

An artificial enzyme uses light to kill bacteria

An April 4, 2018 news item on ScienceDaily announces a light-based approach to killing bacteria,

Researchers from RMIT University [Australia] have developed a new artificial enzyme that uses light to kill bacteria.

The artificial enzymes could one day be used in the fight against infections, and to keep high-risk public spaces like hospitals free of bacteria like E. coli and Golden Staph.

E. coli can cause dysentery and gastroenteritis, while Golden Staph is the major cause of hospital-acquired secondary infections and chronic wound infections.

Made from tiny nanorods — 1000 times smaller than the thickness of the human hair — the “NanoZymes” use visible light to create highly reactive oxygen species that rapidly break down and kill bacteria.

Lead researcher, Professor Vipul Bansal who is an Australian Future Fellow and Director of RMIT’s Sir Ian Potter NanoBioSensing Facility, said the new NanoZymes offer a major cutting edge over nature’s ability to kill bacteria.

Dead bacteria made beautiful,

Caption: A 3-D rendering of dead bacteria after it has come into contact with the NanoZymes.
Credit: Dr. Chaitali Dekiwadia/ RMIT Microscopy and Microanalysis Facility

An April 5, 2018 RMIT University press release (also on EurekAlert but dated April 4, 2018), which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

“For a number of years we have been attempting to develop artificial enzymes that can fight bacteria, while also offering opportunities to control bacterial infections using external ‘triggers’ and ‘stimuli’,” Bansal said. “Now we have finally cracked it.

“Our NanoZymes are artificial enzymes that combine light with moisture to cause a biochemical reaction that produces OH radicals and breaks down bacteria. Nature’s antibacterial activity does not respond to external triggers such as light.

“We have shown that when shined upon with a flash of white light, the activity of our NanoZymes increases by over 20 times, forming holes in bacterial cells and killing them efficiently.

“This next generation of nanomaterials are likely to offer new opportunities in bacteria free surfaces and controlling spread of infections in public hospitals.”

The NanoZymes work in a solution that mimics the fluid in a wound. This solution could be sprayed onto surfaces.

The NanoZymes are also produced as powders to mix with paints, ceramics and other consumer products. This could mean bacteria-free walls and surfaces in hospitals.

Public toilets — places with high levels of bacteria, and in particular E. coli — are also a prime location for the NanoZymes, and the researchers believe their new technology may even have the potential to create self-cleaning toilet bowls.

While the NanoZymes currently use visible light from torches or similar light sources, in the future they could be activated by sunlight.

The researchers have shown that the NanoZymes work in a lab environment. The team is now evaluating the long-term performance of the NanoZymes in consumer products.

“The next step will be to validate the bacteria killing and wound healing ability of these NanoZymes outside of the lab,” Bansal said.

“This NanoZyme technology has huge potential, and we are seeking interest from appropriate industries for joint product development.”

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

Visible-Light-Triggered Reactive-Oxygen-Species-Mediated Antibacterial Activity of Peroxidase-Mimic CuO Nanorods by Md. Nurul Karim, Mandeep Singh, Pabudi Weerathunge, Pengju Bian, Rongkun Zheng, Chaitali Dekiwadia, Taimur Ahmed, Sumeet Walia, Enrico Della Gaspera, Sanjay Singh, Rajesh Ramanathan, and Vipul Bansal. ACS Appl. Nano Mater., Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/acsanm.8b00153 Publication Date (Web): March 6, 2018

Copyright © 2018 American Chemical Society

This paper is open access.

‘Smart’ windows from Australia

My obsession with smart windows has been lying dormant until now. This February 25, 2018 RMIT University (Australia) press release on EurekAlert has reawkened it,

Researchers from RMIT University in Melbourne Australia have developed a new ultra-thin coating that responds to heat and cold, opening the door to “smart windows”.

The self-modifying coating, which is a thousand times thinner than a human hair, works by automatically letting in more heat when it’s cold and blocking the sun’s rays when it’s hot.

Smart windows have the ability to naturally regulate temperatures inside a building, leading to major environmental benefits and significant financial savings.

Lead investigator Associate Professor Madhu Bhaskaran said the breakthrough will help meet future energy needs and create temperature-responsive buildings.

“We are making it possible to manufacture smart windows that block heat during summer and retain heat inside when the weather cools,” Bhaskaran said.

“We lose most of our energy in buildings through windows. This makes maintaining buildings at a certain temperature a very wasteful and unavoidable process.

“Our technology will potentially cut the rising costs of air-conditioning and heating, as well as dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of buildings of all sizes.

“Solutions to our energy crisis do not come only from using renewables; smarter technology that eliminates energy waste is absolutely vital.”

Smart glass windows are about 70 per cent more energy efficient during summer and 45 per cent more efficient in the winter compared to standard dual-pane glass.

New York’s Empire State Building reported energy savings of US$2.4 million and cut carbon emissions by 4,000 metric tonnes after installing smart glass windows. This was using a less effective form of technology.

“The Empire State Building used glass that still required some energy to operate,” Bhaskaran said. “Our coating doesn’t require energy and responds directly to changes in temperature.”

Co-researcher and PhD student Mohammad Taha said that while the coating reacts to temperature it can also be overridden with a simple switch.

“This switch is similar to a dimmer and can be used to control the level of transparency on the window and therefore the intensity of lighting in a room,” Taha said. “This means users have total freedom to operate the smart windows on-demand.”

Windows aren’t the only clear winners when it comes to the new coating. The technology can also be used to control non-harmful radiation that can penetrate plastics and fabrics. This could be applied to medical imaging and security scans.

Bhaskaran said that the team was looking to roll the technology out as soon as possible.

“The materials and technology are readily scalable to large area surfaces, with the underlying technology filed as a patent in Australia and the US,” she said.

The research has been carried out at RMIT University’s state-of-the-art Micro Nano Research Facility with colleagues at the University of Adelaide and supported by the Australian Research Council.

How the coating works

The self-regulating coating is created using a material called vanadium dioxide. The coating is 50-150 nanometres in thickness.

At 67 degrees Celsius, vanadium dioxide transforms from being an insulator into a metal, allowing the coating to turn into a versatile optoelectronic material controlled by and sensitive to light.

The coating stays transparent and clear to the human eye but goes opaque to infra-red solar radiation, which humans cannot see and is what causes sun-induced heating.

Until now, it has been impossible to use vanadium dioxide on surfaces of various sizes because the placement of the coating requires the creation of specialised layers, or platforms.

The RMIT researchers have developed a way to create and deposit the ultra-thin coating without the need for these special platforms – meaning it can be directly applied to surfaces like glass windows.

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

Insulator–metal transition in substrate-independent VO2 thin film for phase-change device by Mohammad Taha, Sumeet Walia, Taimur Ahmed, Daniel Headland, Withawat Withayachumnankul, Sharath Sriram, & Madhu Bhaskaran. Scientific Reportsvolume 7, Article number: 17899 (2017) doi:10.1038/s41598-017-17937-3 Published online: 20 December 2017

This paper is open access.

For anyone interested in more ‘smart’ windows, you can try that search term or ‘electrochromic’, ‘photochromic’, and ‘thermochromic’ , as well.

Energy storage inspired by a fern’s fractal patterns

Australian researchers have come up with a bio-inspired approach to making solar energy storage more viable according to a March 31, 2017 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Inspired by an American fern, researchers have developed a groundbreaking prototype that could be the answer to the storage challenge still holding solar back as a total energy solution (Science Express, “Bioinspired fractal electrodes for solar energy storages”).

The breakthrough electrode prototype (right) can be combined with a solar cell (left) for on-chip energy harvesting and storage. (Image: RMIT University)

A March 31, 2017 RMIT University press release, which originated the news item on Nanowerk, provides more detail (Note: A link has been removed),

The new type of electrode created by RMIT University researchers could boost the capacity of existing integrable storage technologies by 3000 per cent.

But the graphene-based prototype also opens a new path to the development of flexible thin film all-in-one solar capture and storage, bringing us one step closer to self-powering smart phones, laptops, cars and buildings.

The new electrode is designed to work with supercapacitors, which can charge and discharge power much faster than conventional batteries. Supercapacitors have been combined with solar, but their wider use as a storage solution is restricted because of their limited capacity.

RMIT’s Professor Min Gu said the new design drew on nature’s own genius solution to the challenge of filling a space in the most efficient way possible – through intricate self-repeating patterns known as “fractals”.

“The leaves of the western swordfern are densely crammed with veins, making them extremely efficient for storing energy and transporting water around the plant,” said Gu, Leader of the Laboratory of Artificial Intelligence Nanophotonics and Associate Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research Innovation and Entrepreneurship at RMIT.

“Our electrode is based on these fractal shapes – which are self-replicating, like the mini structures within snowflakes – and we’ve used this naturally-efficient design to improve solar energy storage at a nano level.

“The immediate application is combining this electrode with supercapacitors, as our experiments have shown our prototype can radically increase their storage capacity – 30 times more than current capacity limits.

“Capacity-boosted supercapacitors would offer both long-term reliability and quick-burst energy release – for when someone wants to use solar energy on a cloudy day for example – making them ideal alternatives for solar power storage.”

Combined with supercapacitors, the fractal-enabled laser-reduced graphene electrodes can hold the stored charge for longer, with minimal leakage.

The fractal design reflected the self-repeating shape of the veins of the western swordfern, Polystichum munitum, native to western North America.

Lead author, PhD researcher Litty Thekkekara, said because the prototype was based on flexible thin film technology, its potential applications were countless.

“The most exciting possibility is using this electrode with a solar cell, to provide a total on-chip energy harvesting and storage solution,” Thekkekara said.

“We can do that now with existing solar cells but these are bulky and rigid. The real future lies in integrating the prototype with flexible thin film solar – technology that is still in its infancy.

“Flexible thin film solar could be used almost anywhere you can imagine, from building windows to car panels, smart phones to smart watches. We would no longer need batteries to charge our phones or charging stations for our hybrid cars.

“With this flexible electrode prototype we’ve solved the storage part of the challenge, as well as shown how they can work with solar cells without affecting performance. Now the focus needs to be on flexible solar energy, so we can work towards achieving our vision of fully solar-reliant, self-powering electronics.”

The repeating pattern of veins in the leaves of the western swordfern, as seen here magnified 400 times, served as the inspiration for the new high-density electrode(Credit: RMIT University)

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

Bioinspired fractal electrodes for solar energy storages by Litty V. Thekkekara & Min Gu. Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 45585 (2017) doi:10.1038/srep45585 Published online: 31 March 2017

This is an open access paper.

Revolutionizing electronics with liquid metal technology?

I’m not sure I’d call it the next big advance in electronics, there are too many advances jockeying for that position but this work from Australia and the US is fascinating. From a Feb. 17, 2017 news item on ScienceDaily,

A new technique using liquid metals to create integrated circuits that are just atoms thick could lead to the next big advance for electronics.

The process opens the way for the production of large wafers around 1.5 nanometres in depth (a sheet of paper, by comparison, is 100,000nm thick).

Other techniques have proven unreliable in terms of quality, difficult to scale up and function only at very high temperatures — 550 degrees or more.

A Feb. 17, 2017 RMIT University press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, expands on the theme (Note: A link has been removed),

Distinguished Professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh, from RMIT’s School of Engineering, led the project, which also included colleagues from RMIT and researchers from CSIRO, Monash University, North Carolina State University and the University of California.

He said the electronics industry had hit a barrier.

“The fundamental technology of car engines has not progressed since 1920 and now the same is happening to electronics. Mobile phones and computers are no more powerful than five years ago.

“That is why this new 2D printing technique is so important – creating many layers of incredibly thin electronic chips on the same surface dramatically increases processing power and reduces costs.

“It will allow for the next revolution in electronics.”

Benjamin Carey, a researcher with RMIT and the CSIRO, said creating electronic wafers just atoms thick could overcome the limitations of current chip production.

It could also produce materials that were extremely bendable, paving the way for flexible electronics.

“However, none of the current technologies are able to create homogenous surfaces of atomically thin semiconductors on large surface areas that are useful for the industrial scale fabrication of chips.

“Our solution is to use the metals gallium and indium, which have a low melting point.

“These metals produce an atomically thin layer of oxide on their surface that naturally protects them. It is this thin oxide which we use in our fabrication method.

“By rolling the liquid metal, the oxide layer can be transferred on to an electronic wafer, which is then sulphurised. The surface of the wafer can be pre-treated to form individual transistors.

“We have used this novel method to create transistors and photo-detectors of very high gain and very high fabrication reliability in large scale.”

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

Wafer-scale two-dimensional semiconductors from printed oxide skin of liquid metals by Benjamin J. Carey, Jian Zhen Ou, Rhiannon M. Clark, Kyle J. Berean, Ali Zavabeti, Anthony S. R. Chesman, Salvy P. Russo, Desmond W. M. Lau, Zai-Quan Xu, Qiaoliang Bao, Omid Kevehei, Brant C. Gibson, Michael D. Dickey, Richard B. Kaner, Torben Daeneke, & Kourosh Kalantar-Zadeh. Nature Communications 8, Article number: 14482 (2017) doi:10.1038/ncomms14482
Published online: 17 February 2017

This paper is open access.

Self-cleaning textiles and waterless toilets in our nanotechnology-enabled future

Whoever wrote the headline for an Aug. 1, 2016 article about our nanotechnology-enabled future by Jason Lam (headlines are not always written by the author) for South China Morning Post had some fun with words, “Scientists are flushed with success: sunshine to replace the need to wash clothes, while toilets will no longer need water,” (Note: A link has been removed)

Self-cleaning textiles are being explored at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. In this pioneering technology, researchers have been growing nanostructures on cotton fabric which, when exposed to light, release a burst of energy that then degrades organic matter. So a little ray or sunshine – or even a light bulb – could, in effect, clean your clothes for you.

As the scientists explain it, the nanostructure is metal-based, so it can absorb visible light. This creates energy, which is able to degrade organic matter on which it is present [the textile], “so that’s how it’ll get rid of stains”.

Tests on stains have proven promising, say the scientists, with results achieved within between six and 30 minutes of light exposure, depending on the material. The research is now moving on to sweat testing.

Stain-free fabrics have been around for a while, but they haven’t felt as comfortable as traditional textiles. Dropel Fabrics, a creator of hydrophobic natural textiles, is working to overcome that. It has developed a patented nanotechnology process infuses cotton fibres with water, stain, and odour repellent properties, while maintaining, the company says, the textile’s softness and breathability.

Apparently, it involves a “simple process” which encapsulates polymers within the textile fibres, and creates a protective layer. Invisible to the hand and eye, this protective layer does not affect the fabric’s texture, so its softness and construction is maintained. The company says it is exploring partnerships with high-end fashion brands.

Two Mexican industrial designers are working on their own solution for a waterless toilet, this time designed for urban areas. Reasoning that even some apartment dwellers have no access to sewage, their concept turns human waste into greywater which can safely be disposed of down the household drain.

I’m glad to have found Lam’s article as getting the perspective from Asia helps to balance this US-, Canada-, Euro-, and UK-centric science blog.

Clothes washers and dryers begone! Nano-enhanced textiles can self-clean

It will be a while yet even it this technique proves to be viable commercially, still, the possibilities tantalize: self-cleaning textiles. A March 22, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily announced research in Australia that may, one day, change your life,

A spot of sunshine is all it could take to get your washing done, thanks to pioneering nano research into self-cleaning textiles.

Researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, have developed a cheap and efficient new way to grow special nanostructures — which can degrade organic matter when exposed to light — directly onto textiles.

The work paves the way towards nano-enhanced textiles that can spontaneously clean themselves of stains and grime simply by being put under a light bulb or worn out in the sun.

A March 22, 2016 RMIT media release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

Dr Rajesh Ramanathan said the process developed by the team had a variety of applications for catalysis-based industries such as agrochemicals, pharmaceuticals and natural products, and could be easily scaled up to industrial levels.

“The advantage of textiles is they already have a 3D structure so they are great at absorbing light, which in turn speeds up the process of degrading organic matter,” he said.

“There’s more work to do to before we can start throwing out our washing machines, but this advance lays a strong foundation for the future development of fully self-cleaning textiles.”

The researchers from the Ian Potter NanoBioSensing Facility and NanoBiotechnology Research Lab at RMIT worked with copper and silver-based nanostructures, which are known for their ability to absorb visible light.

When the nanostructures are exposed to light, they receive an energy boost that creates “hot electrons”. These “hot electrons” release a burst of energy [emphasis mine] that enables the nanostructures to degrade organic matter.

The challenge for researchers has been to bring the concept out of the lab by working out how to build these nanostructures on an industrial scale and permanently attach them to textiles.

The RMIT team’s novel approach was to grow the nanostructures directly onto the textiles by dipping them into a few solutions, resulting in the development of stable nanostructures within 30 minutes.

When exposed to light, it took less than six minutes for some of the nano-enhanced textiles to spontaneously clean themselves.

“Our next step will be to test our nano-enhanced textiles with organic compounds that could be more relevant to consumers, to see how quickly they can handle common stains like tomato sauce or wine,” Ramanathan said.

I wonder if these “hot electrons” mean that when they release “a burst of energy” your clothing will heat up when exposed to light? This image supplied by the researchers does not help to answer the question but it is intriguing,

Caption: Close-up of the nanostructures grown on cotton textiles by RMIT University researchers. Image magnified 150,000 times. Credit: RMIT University

Caption: Close-up of the nanostructures grown on cotton textiles by RMIT University researchers. Image magnified 150,000 times. Credit: RMIT University

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

Robust Nanostructured Silver and Copper Fabrics with Localized Surface Plasmon Resonance Property for Effective Visible Light Induced Reductive Catalysis by Samuel R. Anderson, Mahsa Mohammadtaheri, Dipesh Kumar, Anthony P. O’Mullane, Matthew R. Field, Rajesh Ramanathan, and Vipul Bansal. Advanced Materials Interfaces DOI: 10.1002/admi.201500632 Article first published online: 7 JAN 2016

© 2016 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This paper is behind a paywall.