Digital logic depends on bits. The binary states of “0” or “1” form the basis of computing. In quantum computers, the bit is replaced by something called a quantum bit (or, qubit), which is an atomic particle that can be coerced into being both 0 and 1 simultaneously, at least for a time.
But one of the problems for quantum computing has been how to get restless atomic particles, like electrons, to sit down together in large groups long enough so that they can be used to carry out calculations.
Researchers at MIT and Harvard University have devised a way to capture atomic particles using optical “tweezers” and hold them in place long enough to take a picture of them so that their locations can be determined and lasers can be directed at them based on that information. Optical tweezers—more formally known as “single-beam gradient force traps”—have been a key instrument in manipulating matter in biology and quantum optic applications since Bell Labs first described that instrument in 1986.
Now, a research team at Oregon State University (OSU) has brought together nano-enabled contact lenses and glucose sensors into a single device that may someday do double duty as a blood glucose monitor and a contro mechanism for deciding when to deliver insulin injections. The device, say the researchers, will be a transparent sensor embedded in a contact lens.
Topological insulators (TIs) are materials that behave like conductors near their surfaces but act as insulators throughout the bulk of their interiors. While such materials had long been thought theoretically possible, only recently have research labs around the world begun producing materials with these properties. This has buoyed hopes that they could someday be used in technologies ranging from “spintronics” to quantum computers.
Now an international team of researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), and the Beijing Institute of Technology in China have developed a way that makes it far easier to magnetize TIs, improving the odds that they’ll be applied to computing.
While printed electronics conjure up notions of being able to manufacture electronic devices far more simply and cheaply than traditional electronics, the reality is that the resulting devices are so delicate that they are prone to an early demise that all but snuffs out any savings that might have been gained.
The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation announced the first five of what will eventually be 50 Moore Inventor Fellows. Each fellow will receive a total of US $825,000 over three years to drive their invention forward, including $50,000 per year from their institution. All told, the Moore Foundation plans to invest $34 million.
“We are investing in promising scientist-problem solvers with a passion for inventing—like Gordon Moore himself,” said Harvey V. Fineberg, president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, in a press release. “By providing support to these early-career researchers, we can give them the freedom to try out new ideas that could make a real and positive difference.”
Shane Ardo is an assistant professor of chemistry at University of California, Irvine. According to the Foundation, his materials invention uses sunlight to drive a novel ion-pumping mechanism that could be used to boost the power output and efficiency of electrochemical technologies. His new materials will also enable sustainable, affordable and efficient polymer devices to desalinate water.
Xingjie Ni, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Penn State, is an expert in optical metamaterials. According to the Moore Foundation, Xingjie’s invention is a brighter quantum light source that could ultimately increase the speed, scale, and security of information transmission in quantum communication and computing. But he is perhaps best known for the development in 2015 of an ultrathin invisibility cloak that works in visible light.
Joanna Slusky is an assistant professor of molecular biosciences and computational biology at the University of Kansas. Slusky’s invention is a protein that will re-sensitize bacteria to common antibiotics, thereby overcoming drug-resistant superbugs and re-establishing the efficacy of antibiotics.
Mona Jarrahi is an associate professor of electrical engineering at UCLA and leader of the university’s terahertz electronics lab. The Moore Foundation is backing Jarrahi for her terahertz imaging tool. The instrument should help researchers understand how fundamental biological molecules behave in their natural environment and answer other fundamental questions. Her lab recently reported creating a metamaterial lens that allows terahertz beams to be steered electronically. She’s a senior member of IEEE, and, like Akinwande, has received IEEE’s Early Career Award in Nanotechnology.
“We cannot know in advance that an invention we support will change the world, but giving passionate inventors the resources to develop a good idea can accelerate progress in the areas we care about,” Robert Kirshner, chief program officer for science at the Moore Foundation, said in a press release.
Various nanomaterials have been drafted into the quest to improve the charge capacity of anodes (negative electrodes) in lithium-ion batteries. Their role primarily has been to help silicon—which offers ten times the charge capacity of graphite—last more than just a few charge/discharge cycles. Everything from graphene to nanofibers have been enlisted into help silicon better survive the rigors of the expansion and then contraction that occurs when silicon anodes are charged and discharged.
Of course, this is only a perception based on how companies like Tesla have made the Li-ion battery seem to be the best option. However, the US Department of Energy (DoE) has set benchmarks for what storage materials will need to deliver in order to compete for a place in post-fossil fuel vehicles.
Now researchers at Rice University have developed a nanomaterial for fuel cells that consists of layers of graphene separated by nanotube pillars of boron nitride. The material might tick all the boxes established by the DoE for next-generation vehicles.
One known problem for both the lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries used in today’s mobile phones as well as next-generation lithium metal batteries is that they are susceptible to the growth of finger-like deposits of lithium called dendrites inside the battery. These dendrites grow so long that they pierce the barrier between the two sides of the battery and cause a short circuit, possibly leading to a fire.
Now researchers at the University of Michigan—inspired by the potential of next-generation lithium metal batteries to store 10 times more charge than conventional Li-ion batteries—have peered into lithium metal batteries to observe the growth of dendrites. They leveraged a novel microscopy tool that enables them to watch how the lithium changes inside the battery during cycling to create conditions conducive to dendrite growth.