Random Nanostructure Boosts Thermoelectric Power

Efficiency increase opens the door to many new applications for thermoelectric converters

4 min read

21 March 2008--Engineers and scientists in Massachusetts have managed to greatly boost the efficiency of a common material used for thermoelectric cooling that has not been improved upon in 50 years. The researchers at Boston College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who reformulated the material--bismuth antimony telluride, or BiSbTe--say that not only will the change boost the efficiency of current uses but it will also open the way to operating automobile systems on waste heat from the engine and possibly provide an alternative to solar cells for converting the sun's energy to electricity.

Zhifeng Ren, a physicist at BC, and Gang Chen, a mechanical engineer at MIT, reported on their work in today's Science Express . They say that by breaking the bulk material into tiny chunks--from 5 to 50 nanometers across--they've increased a key measure of thermoelectric conversion, called the ZT of the alloy, from 1 to 1.4.

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This CAD Program Can Design New Organisms

Genetic engineers have a powerful new tool to write and edit DNA code

11 min read
A photo showing machinery in a lab

Foundries such as the Edinburgh Genome Foundry assemble fragments of synthetic DNA and send them to labs for testing in cells.

Edinburgh Genome Foundry, University of Edinburgh

In the next decade, medical science may finally advance cures for some of the most complex diseases that plague humanity. Many diseases are caused by mutations in the human genome, which can either be inherited from our parents (such as in cystic fibrosis), or acquired during life, such as most types of cancer. For some of these conditions, medical researchers have identified the exact mutations that lead to disease; but in many more, they're still seeking answers. And without understanding the cause of a problem, it's pretty tough to find a cure.

We believe that a key enabling technology in this quest is a computer-aided design (CAD) program for genome editing, which our organization is launching this week at the Genome Project-write (GP-write) conference.

With this CAD program, medical researchers will be able to quickly design hundreds of different genomes with any combination of mutations and send the genetic code to a company that manufactures strings of DNA. Those fragments of synthesized DNA can then be sent to a foundry for assembly, and finally to a lab where the designed genomes can be tested in cells. Based on how the cells grow, researchers can use the CAD program to iterate with a new batch of redesigned genomes, sharing data for collaborative efforts. Enabling fast redesign of thousands of variants can only be achieved through automation; at that scale, researchers just might identify the combinations of mutations that are causing genetic diseases. This is the first critical R&D step toward finding cures.

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