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Unusual Alloy Brings Magnesium-ion Batteries Closer

At the beginning of 2014 when a Boeing Dreamliner aircraft caught fire due to the lithium in the rechargeable batteries igniting, we were all reminded that Li-ion batteries have some fundamental safety issues.

One alternative, the magnesium-ion battery, doesn’t present the same safety risks. However, it has been a real struggle to create electrodes for magnesium batteries that don’t fail quickly.

Now researchers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) are looking at an alloy made from tin and antimony that may hold the secret to making the magnesium-ion battery a more viable alternative.  This tin/antimony alloy has been identified as an attractive material for the electrodes of magnesium-ion batteries with a theoretical capacity of 768 milliamperes per hour per gram.

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Bilayer Graphene Could Usher in New Tunnel Transistor

Researchers at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) have proposed a new tunnel transistor based on bilayer graphene that could reduce its power consumption, allowing a significant increase in processors’ clock speeds. In their simulations, the MIPT researchers calculated that the clock speed could be increased by as much as two orders of magnitude.

“The point is not so much about saving electricity—we have plenty of electrical energy,” said Dmitry Svintsov of MIPT in a press release. “At a lower power, electronic components heat up less, and that means that they are able to operate at a higher clock speed—not one gigahertz, but ten for example, or even one hundred.”

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Next Step in Flexible Electronics: Self-Healing Dielectrics

Flexible electronics seem to be a continually expanding area of electronics. However, a half-century of focus on silicon-based electronics has left the shelf set aside for materials that can be used for these new flexible electronics a bit bare.

Of late, there has been a big research push aimed at developing self-repairing, electrically conductive materials that can withstand the damage caused by the twisting and deformation of the materials. But thus far, most of that research has focused on self-repairing electrical conductors.

Now researchers at Penn State University have looked at developing a self-healing dielectric material. Dielectrics are just as important as conductors in that they provide electronic insulation and packaging.

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Nanosilver Ink Written in Midair for 3-D Printing

While the growth of 3-D printing has led us to believe we can produce just about any structure with it, the truth is that it still falls somewhat short.

Researchers at Harvard University are looking to realize a more complete range of capabilities for 3-D printing in fabricating both planar and freestanding 3-D structures and do it relatively quickly and on low-cost plastic substrates.

In research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS),  the researchers extruded a silver-nanoparticle ink and annealed it with a laser so quickly that the system let them easily “write” free-standing 3-D structures.

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Spintronic Devices From Topological Insulators Inch Closer

Topological insulators (TIs) are materials that are insulators on the inside but conductors on the outside. They have been both a great hope and a head scratcher for scientists and engineers in fields such as “spintronics” and quantum computing who have been trying to make practical devices with the materials. The inability to combine TIs with a material that has a controllable magnetic property has proven to be a major roadblock.

Now in joint research, led by a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, researchers have combined several molecular layers of a topological insulator material called bismuth selenide (Bi2Se3) with an ultrathin layer of a magnetic material, europium sulfide (EuS).

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2-D Semiconductor Glows 20,000 Times as Brightly as Ever Before

Researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have developed a way to give a massive boost to the photoluminescent efficiency of tungsten diselenide. In so doing, they may have paved the way for this two-dimensional semiconductor—which belongs to a class of 2-D crystals known as transition metal dichalcogenides—to have a greater impact on optoelectronics and photonics, including applications such as photovoltaics, quantum dots, and LEDs.

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Silicon Nanoparticles Could Be a Boon for Fiber Optic Telecommunications

An international team of researchers from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), ITMO University (St Petersburg), and the Australian National University have demonstrated that silicon nanoparticles can significantly increase the intensity of the Raman effect. The results could be a boon to nanoscale light emitters and nanoscale amplifiers used in fiber optic telecommunications.

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A black and white micrograph show protruding rows of closely spaced needle-like tips.

Single-Atom Sensor Offers New View of the Nanoscale

It was a eureka moment when IBM researchers first realized that they were imaging the surface of an atom with what came to be known as the scanning tunneling microscope (STM). Many believe that invention triggered the field of nanotechnology. Now researchers at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) have created a next-gen microscope that can image phenomena like magnetism on the atomic scale across a huge range of temperatures. The heart of the microscope is a single atom or, perhaps more accurately, the absence of a single atom.

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Shining a Light on Phosphorene's Crystal Structure

Black phosphorus—sometimes referred to as phosphorene in a nod to its 2-D cousin, graphene—has been on a research tidal wave since 10- to 20-atom-thick sheets of the material were first exfoliated back in 2014.

The research community has been excited by a number of its properties, like its tunable band gap, which opens up all sorts of photonic applications. But they have also perceived its intrinsically strong in-plane anisotropy, which means its properties are dependent on the orientation of the crystal, as being at once a strength and a weakness.

Now a joint research project involving scientists from MIT, Tohoku University in Japan, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of Pennsylvania, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, have developed a method for determining the orientation of the crystal that should make it easy to deduce the properties of a given sample of black phosphorous and help pave the way for greater use of phosphorene.

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DNA Creates Tiniest Thermometer Yet

Taking measurements of nanoscale objects is no easy task. Last month, researchers at IBM Zurich reported a breakthrough that leveraged an atomic force microscope (AFM) to measure the temperature of an object at the nanoscale. For the IBM researchers, the advance came when they stopped trying to make a nanoscale thermometer and instead focused on a macroscale thermometer for the nanoscale.

Now, researchers at the University of Montreal have turned that back around and produced the smallest thermometer yet. They had a skilled accomplice in accomplishing this feat: nature. The Canadian researchers have built a thermometer out of DNA that takes advantage of the molecule’s tendency to unfold in response to heat.

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IEEE Spectrum’s nanotechnology blog, featuring news and analysis about the development, applications, and future of science and technology at the nanoscale.

Dexter Johnson
Madrid, Spain
Rachel Courtland
New York City
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