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Breaking Up Comes With Some Unexpected Benefits

In polymer manufacturing, a technique known as cold drawing is used to imbue polyester and nylon fibers with high tensile strength. It involves pulling the fiber so that its diameter is reduced and the polymer chains are aligned. Nobody ever really considered doing this with composite materials because no one imagined that it would lead to anything useful.

But researchers at the University of Central Florida (UCF), in Orlando, believed that seeing what would happen was worth an experiment. In a paper published in the journal Nature, the researchers recall that what they discovered was not at all what they were expecting. And the result could change nanomanufacturing by enabling the production of new kinds of materials.

The unexpected development, said Ayman Abouraddy, an associate professor and co-author of the research, in a press release: 

While we thought [that when they performed the cold drawing on the composite fiber, which consisted of a brittle core and ductile outer coating] the core material would snap into two large pieces, instead it broke into many equal-sized pieces.

Though a surprise to Abouraddy, Robert S. Hoy, a University of South Florida physicist who specializes in the properties of materials like glass and plastic, wasn’t shocked by the UCF professor’s the initial findings. Hoy recognized this behavior as something familiar to those in the polymer business—a phenomenon called “necking,” which occurs when cold drawing causes non-uniform strain in a material.

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Brighter Displays Come From the Wings of a Butterfly

Biomimetics, in which nature serves as a model for devising technologies, has been a key inspiration for scientists working in nanotechnology. For instance, we’ve seen researchers mimic the bioluminescent light of fireflies for improved organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs). But one of the favorite insects for nanotech researchers is the butterfly. By attempting to duplicate the wing structures of butterflies, researchers have come up with an anti-counterfeiting technique and inexpensive infrared detectors.

Now researchers at the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia have again turned to the wings of a butterfly—this time, to help develop nanostructures that could lead to more compact light-based electronics that would yield brighter displays.

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Molecules that alight on a surface used to test nanocars look more like obstacles, according to researchers at Rice University and North Carolina State University testing the mobility of single-molecule cars in open air.

It's a Bumpy Ride for Nanocars in Air

So-called “nanocars” have been a fixture on the nanotechnology landscape for at least the last decade.  And, no, these will not be cars that we humans will be shrunk down to fit into like in the sixties sci-fi movie “Fantastic Voyage.”  Instead nanocars are molecular-scale devices that can be directed to move around with light or other means and ferry around payloads not unlike the way a macroscale vehicle might.

Now researchers at Rice University, who developed the first nanocars, have teamed up with researchers at North Carolina State University to make it possible for nanocars to move around in ambient environments instead of being restricted to vacuums.

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Diamond-based Semiconductors Take a Step Foward

Is the potential of diamond as a semiconductor now being realized? That’s certainly the case if we believe the praise being heaped upon the precious stone by companies such as AKHAN Semiconductor. AKHAN has pronounced that we are now in the “Diamond Age” of semiconductors.

Why? The superior thermal properties of diamonds, compared with those of silicon, are attracting increased attention. Unfortunately, doping diamond-based devices has proven exceptionally difficult, especially when it comes to producing n-type semiconductors. 

Now, in joint research between the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Texas at Arlington, scientists have developed a new method for doping single crystals of diamond; it could help diamond realize its full potential as a semiconductor.

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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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Nanoclast

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

 
Editor
Dexter Johnson
Madrid, Spain
 
Contributor
Rachel Courtland
Associate Editor, IEEE Spectrum
New York, NY
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