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In an effort to create a more viable material for drug delivery, a team of researchers has accidentally created an entirely new material thought for more than 100 years to be impossible to make. Upsalite is a new form of non-toxic magnesium carbonate with an extremely porous surface area which allows it to absorb more moisture at low humidities than any other known material. “The total area of the pore walls of one gram of material would cover 800 square meters (8611 sq ft) if you would ‘roll them out'”, Maria Strømme, Professor of Nanotechnology at the Uppsala University, Sweden tells Gizmag. That’s roughly equal to the sail area of a megayacht. Aside from using substantially less energy to create drier environments for producing electronics, batteries and pharmaceuticals, Upsalite could also be used to clean up oil spills, toxic waste and residues.

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Scientists have long puzzled over this particular form of magnesium carbonate since it doesn’t normally occur in nature and has defied synthesis in laboratories. Until now, its properties have remained a mystery. Strømme confesses that they didn’t actually set out to create it. “We were really into making a porous calcium carbonate for drug delivery purposes and wanted to try to make a similarly porous magnesium carbonate since we knew that magnesium carbonate was non-toxic and already approved for drug delivery,” she tells us. “We tried to use the same process as with the calcium carbonate, totally unaware of the fact that researchers had tried to make disordered magnesium carbonates for many decades using this route without succeeding.”

The breakthrough came when they tweaked the process a little and accidentally left the material in the reaction chamber over a weekend. On their return they found a new gel in place. “We realized that the material we had made was one that had been claimed impossible to make,” Strømme adds. A year spent refining the process gave them Upsalite.

While creating a theoretical material sounds like cause for celebration, Strømme says the major scientific breakthrough is to be found in its amazing properties. No other known carbonate has a surface area as large as 800 sq m per gram. Though scientists have created many new high surface area materials with nanotechnology, such as carbon nanotubes and zeolites, what makes Upsalite special is the minuteness of its nanopores.

Each nanopore is less than 10 nanometers in diameter which results in one gram of the material having a whopping 26 trillion nanopores. “If a material has many small pores,” explains Strømme, “it gives the material a very large surface area per gram, which gives the material many reaction sites, i.e. sites that can react with the environment, with specific chemicals, or in the case of Upsalite, with moisture.”

Upsalite’s moisture absorption properties are striking. It was found to absorb 20 times more moisture than fumed silica, a material used for cat box fillers and as an anti-caking agent for moisture control during the transport of moisture sensitive goods. This means that you’d need 20 times less material to do the moisture control job.

Its unique pore structure also opens up new applications in drug delivery. The pores can host drugs that need protection from the environment before being delivered to the human body. It’s also useful in thermal insulation, drying residues from oil and gas industries, and as a dessicant for humidity control. Potential applications are still being discovered as the material undergoes development for industrial use.

The team at Uppsala University is commercializing Upsalite through their spin-off company Disruptive Materials. An article describing the material and its properties can be found at PLOS ONE.

Source: Disruptive Materials


Henry Sapiecha

Chinese scientists have developed a new foam-like ‘super material’ image

Chinese scientists have developed a new foam-like ‘super material’ that is – to use a simile – as light as a balloon yet as strong as metal.

The foam-like material was created when tiny tubes of graphene were formed into a cellular structure which boasted of the same stability as a diamond.

Graphene has attracted great interest among researchers in recent years. And this was what led the researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Shanghai Institute of Ceramics to develop the new material.

About 207 times stronger than steel by weight and able to conduct heat and electricity with very high efficiency, the new foam-like material is been designed to support something 40,000 times its own weight without bending, reports science journal, Advanced Materials.

The researchers contend that one piece of the graphene foam can easily withstand the impact of a blow that has a force of more than 14,500 pounds per square inch – almost as much pressure experienced at the world’s deepest depth in the Pacific ocean known as Challenger Deep of the Mariana Trench.

It is for this reason that the Shanghai research team said their newly created material could withstand more external shocks than other previously reported graphene materials.

It could also be squashed to just 5 per cent of its original size and still return to its original shape, and remained intact after the process was repeated 1,000 times.

Primarily destined for military applications, the properties of the novel material implies that it could be used as a cushion under the surface of bulletproof vests or on the outside of tanks to absorb the shocks from incoming projectiles, the Shanghai study said.


Henry Sapiecha

world communications men image

Telescope lenses someday might come in aerosol cans.

Scientists at Rochester Institute of Technology and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory are exploring a new type of space telescope with an aperture made of swarms of particles released from a canister and controlled by a laser.

These floating lenses would be larger, cheaper and lighter than apertures on conventional space-based imaging systems like NASA’s Hubble and James Webb space telescopes, said Grover Swartzlander, associate professor at RIT’s Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science and Fellow of the Optical Society of America. Swartzlander is a co-investigator on the Jet Propulsion team led by Marco Quadrelli.

NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts Program is funding the second phase of the “orbiting rainbows” project that attempts to combine space optics and “smart dust,” or autonomous robotic system technology. The smart dust is made of a photo-polymer, or a light-sensitive plastic, covered with a metallic coating.

“Our motivation is to make a very large aperture telescope in space and that’s typically very expensive and difficult to do,” Swartzlander said. “You don’t have to have one continuous mass telescope in order to do astronomy–it can be distributed over a wide distance. Our proposed concept could be a very cheap, easy way to achieve large coverage, something you couldn’t do with the James Webb-type of approach.”

An adaptive optical imaging sensor comprised of tiny floating mirrors could support large-scale NASA missions and lead to new technology in astrophysical imaging and remote sensing.

Swarms of smart dust forming single or multiple lenses could grow to reach tens of meters to thousands of kilometers in diameter. According to Swartzlander, the unprecedented resolution and detail might be great enough to spot clouds on exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system.

“This is really next generation,” Swartzlander said. “It’s 20, 30 years out. We’re at the very first step.”

Previous scientists have envisioned orbiting apertures but not the control mechanism. This new concept relies upon Swartzlander’s expertise in the use of light, or photons, to manipulate micro- or nano-particles like smart dust. He developed and patented the techniques known as “optical lift,” in which light from a laser produces radiation pressure that controls the position and orientation of small objects.

In this application, radiation pressure positions the smart dust in a coherent pattern oriented toward an astronomical object. The reflective particles form a lens and channel light to a sensor, or a large array of detectors, on a satellite. Controlling the smart dust to reflect enough light to the sensor to make it work will be a technological hurdle, Swartzlander said.

Two RIT graduate students on Swartzlander’s team are working on different aspects of the project. Alexandra Artusio-Glimpse, a doctoral student in imaging science, is designing experiments in low-gravity environments to explore techniques for controlling swarms of particle and to determine the merits of using a single or multiple beams of light.

Swartzlander expects the telescope will produce speckled and grainy images. Xiaopeng Peng, a doctoral student in imaging science, is developing software algorithms for extracting information from the blurred image the sensor captures. The laser that will shape the smart dust into a lens also will measure the optical distortion caused by the imaging system. Peng will use this information to develop advanced image processing techniques to reverse the distortion and recover detailed images.

“Our goal at this point is to marry advanced computational photography with radiation-pressure control techniques to achieve a rough image,” Swartzlander said. “Then we can establish a roadmap for improving both the algorithms and the control system to achieve ‘out of this world’ images.”

Henry Sapiecha


An international research team led by Professor Takao Someya of the University of Tokyo has manufactured extremely thin (2 μm) and light (3 g/m2) soft organic transistor integrated circuits (ICs) on ultra-thin polymeric films. The research team developed a novel technique to form a high-quality 19-nm-thick insulating layer on the rough surface of the 1.2-μm-thick polymeric film. The electrical properties and mechanical performance of the flexible ICs were practically unchanged (no degradation was seen) even when squeezed to a bending radius of 5 μm, dipped in physiological saline, or stretched to up to twice their original size. A major application of this flexible IC and touch sensor system is medical monitoring. “This can be attached to all sorts of surfaces and does not limit the movement of the person wearing it,” says Someya.

Watch video here >>


Henry Sapiecha




Quantum super computer one step closer

UNSW physicists create a working transistor, consisting of a single atom placed precisely in a silicon crystal. (Vision courtesy UNSW)

SYDNEY scientists have built the world’s tiniest transistor by precisely positioning a single phosphorus atom in a silicon crystal.

The nano device is an important step in the development of quantum computers – super-powerful devices that will use the weird quantum properties of atoms to perform calculations billions of times faster than today’s computers.

Michelle Simmons, of the University of NSW, said single atom devices had only been made before by chance and their margin of error for placement of the atom was about 10 nanometres, which affected performance.

Her team was the first to be able to manipulate individual atoms with “exquisite precision”.

Using a technique involving a scanning tunnelling microscope, they were able to replace one silicon atom from a group of six with one phosphorus atom, achieving a placement accuracy of better than half a nanometre. “This device is perfect,” Professor Simmons, director of the Australian Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology, said.

The single atom sits between two pairs of electrodes, one about 20 nanometres apart, the other about 100 nanometres apart.

When voltages were applied across the electrodes, the nano device worked like a transistor, a device that can amplify and switch electronic signals.

The research is published today in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

First developed in the 1950s, transistors revolutionised the electronics industry.

Since then, miniaturisation has seen the number of transistors squeezed onto a circuit double about every two years – a trend known as Moore’s law.

Professor Simmons said this led to the prediction that transistors would need to reach the single atom level by 2020.

“So we decided 10 years ago to start this program to try and make single atom devices as fast as we could, and try and beat that law.”

This had now been achieved eight to ten years ahead of the industry’s schedule, she said.

Last year, Professor Simmons was named NSW Scientist of the Year for her team’s research.

About 15 to 20 years of research is needed before quantum computers become widely available.

Researchers at Purdue University in the US, the University of Sydney, the University of Melbourne and the Korea Institute of Science and Technology Information in Daejeon were also involved in the research.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Ever since University of Manchester scientists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov first isolated flakes of graphene in 2004 using that most high-tech pieces of equipment – adhesive tape – the one-atom sheet of carbon has continued to astound researchers with its remarkable properties. Now Professor Sir Andre Geim, (he’s now not only a Nobel Prize winner but also a Knight Bachelor), has led a team that has added superpermeability with respect to water to graphene’s ever lengthening list of extraordinary characteristics.

Graphene has already proven to be the thinnest known material in the universe, strongest material ever measured, the best-known conductor of heat and electricity, and the stiffest known material, while also the most ductile. But it seems the two-dimensional lattice of carbon atoms just can’t stop showing off.

Stacking membranes of a chemical derivative of graphene called graphene oxide, which is a graphene sheet randomly covered with other molecules such as hydroxyl groups OH-, scientists at the University of Manchester created laminates that were hundreds of times thinner than a human hair but remained strong, flexible and were easy to handle.

When the team sealed a metal container using this film, they say that even the most sensitive equipment was unable to detect air or any other gas, including helium, leaking through. The team then tried the same thing with water and, to their surprise, found that it evaporated and diffused through the graphene-oxide membranes as if they weren’t even there. The evaporation rate was the same whether the container was sealed or completely open.

“Graphene oxide sheets arrange in such a way that between them there is room for exactly one layer of water molecules. They arrange themselves in one molecule thick sheets of ice which slide along the graphene surface with practically no friction, explains Dr Rahul Nair, who was leading the experimental work. “If another atom or molecule tries the same trick, it finds that graphene capillaries either shrink in low humidity or get clogged with water molecules.”

Professor Geim added, “Helium gas is hard to stop. It slowly leaks even through a millimetre -thick window glass but our ultra-thin films completely block it. At the same time, water evaporates through them unimpeded. Materials cannot behave any stranger. You cannot help wondering what else graphene has in store for us.”

Although graphene’s superpermeability to water makes it suitable for situations where water needs to be removed from a mixture without removing the other ingredients, the researchers don’t offer ideas for any immediate applications that could take advantage of this property. However, they did seal a bottle of vodka with the membranes and found that the distilled solution did indeed become stronger over time. But they don’t foresee graphene being used in distilleries.

However, Professor Geim adds, “the properties are so unusual that it is hard to imagine that they cannot find some use in the design of filtration, separation or barrier membranes and for selective removal of water.”

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Researchers have created a new aerogel that boasts amazing strength and an incredibly large surface area. Nicknamed ‘frozen smoke’ due to its translucent appearance, aerogels are manufactured materials derived from a gel in which the liquid component of the gel has been replaced with a gas, resulting in a material renowned as the world’s lightest solid material. The new so-called “multiwalled carbon nanotube (MCNT) aerogel” could be used in sensors to detect pollutants and toxic substances, chemical reactors, and electronics components.

Although aerogels have been fabricated from silica, metal oxides, polymers, and carbon-based materials and are already used in thermal insulation in windows and buildings, tennis racquets, sponges to clean up oil spills, and other products, few scientists have succeeded in making aerogels from carbon nanotubes.

The researchers were able to succeed where so many before them had failed using a wet gel of well-dispersed pristine MWCNTs. After removing the liquid component from the MWCNT wet gel, they were able to create the lightest ever free-standing MWCNT aerogel monolith with a density of 4 mg/cm3.

MWCNT aerogels infused with a plastic material are flexible, like a spring that can be stretched thousands of times, and if the nanotubes in a one-ounce cube were unraveled and placed side-to-side and end-to-end, they would carpet three football fields. The MWCNT aerogels are also excellent conductors of electricity, which is what makes them ideal for sensing applications and offers great potential for their use in electronics components.

A report describing the process for making MWCNT aerogels and tests to determine their properties appears in ACS Nano.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


People have been using pens to jot down their thoughts for thousands of years but now engineers at the University of Illinois have developed a silver-inked rollerball pen that allows users to jot down electrical circuits and interconnects on paper, wood and other surfaces. Looking just like a regular ballpoint pen, the pen’s ink consists of a solution of real silver that dries to leave electrically conductive silver pathways. These pathways maintain their conductivity through multiple bends and folds of the paper, enabling users to personally fabricate low-cost, flexible and disposable electronic devices.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

New material combines

the strength of steel and

the moldability of plastic

By Darren Quick

00:36 March 1, 2011

Jan Schroers and his team have developed novel metal alloys that can be blow molded into v...

Jan Schroers and his team have developed novel metal alloys that can be blow molded into virtually any shape

Scientists at Yale University have done what materials scientists have been trying to do for decades – create a material that boasts the look, strength and durability of metal that can be molded into complex shapes as simply and cheaply as plastic. The scientists say the development could have the same impact on society as the development of synthetic plastics last century and they have already used the novel metals to create complex shapes, such as metallic bottles, watch cases, miniature resonators and biomedical implants, that are twice as strong as typical steel and can be molded in less than a minute.

Unlike the crystalline structure found in ordinary metals that makes them strong but also results in them requiring three separate steps for processing (shaping, joining and finishing), the metal alloys recently developed by the Yale team are amorphous metals known as bulk metallic glasses (BMGs), whose randomly arranged atoms and low critical cooling rate allows them to be blow-molded into complex shapes like plastics. This allows the researchers to combine the three traditional time- and energy-intensive metal processing steps into one blow molding process that takes less than a minute.

Although the different metals used to make the alloys, such as zirconium, nickel, titanium and copper, cost about the same as high-end steel, they can be processed as cheaply as plastic, according to Jan Schroers, a materials scientist at Yale that led the team.

The BMGs ability to soften and flow as easily as plastic at low temperatures and low pressures, without crystallizing like regular metal is what allows the material to be shaped with unprecedented ease, versatility and precision, Schroers said. To ensure the ideal temperature for blow molding was maintained, the team shaped the BMGs in a vacuum or in fluid.

“The trick is to avoid friction typically present in other forming techniques,” Schroers said. “Blow molding completely eliminates friction, allowing us to create any number of complicated shapes, down to the nanoscale.”

Schroers and his team have already fabricated a wide variety of shapes and devices using the new processing technique, including miniature resonators for microelectromechanical systems (MEMs) and gyroscopes, but they say that is just the beginning.

“This could enable a whole new paradigm for shaping metals,” Schroers said. “The superior properties of BMGs relative to plastics and typical metals, combined with the ease, economy and precision of blow molding, have the potential to impact society just as much as the development of synthetic plastics and their associated processing methods have in the last century.”

The new processing technique developed by the Yale researchers is described online in the current issue of Materials Today.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

VIDEO: A Day Made of Glass…Made Possible by Corning

For 160 years Corning Incorporated has been synonymous with glass. From the formulation of the first glass envelop (think light bulb) for Thomas Edison, to the invention and commercialization of optical fiber which revolutionized global communications networks, to LCD panels enabling a transformation in television viewing, to today’s Corning Gorilla Glass lending a protective cover to smartphones, tablet computers and flat screen televisions, Corning has been the world’s innovation leader in glass technology.
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