Rare Coupling of Magnetic and Electric Properties in a Single Material

New multiferroic mechanism could lead to next-generation memory and sensing devices

UPTON, NY — Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have observed a new way that magnetic and electric properties — which have a long history of ignoring and counteracting each other — can coexist in a special class of metals. These materials, known as multiferroics, could serve as the basis for the next generation of faster and energy-efficient logic, memory, and sensing technology.

The researchers, who worked with colleagues at the Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research in Germany, published their findings online in Physical Review Letters on July 25, 2011.

Ferromagnets are materials that display a permanent magnetic moment, or magnetic direction, similar to how a compass needle always points north. They assist in a variety of daily tasks, from sticking a reminder to the fridge door to storing information on a computer’s hard drive. Ferroelectrics are materials that display a permanent electric polarization — a set direction of charge — and respond to the application of an electric field by switching this direction. They are commonly used in applications like sonar, medical imaging, and sensors.

“In principle, the coupling of an ordered magnetic material with an ordered electric material could lead to very useful devices,” said Brookhaven physicist Stuart Wilkins, one of the paper’s authors. “For instance, one could imagine a device in which information is written by application of an electric field and read by detecting its magnetic state. This would make a faster and much more energy-efficient data storage device than is available today.”

But multiferroics — magnetic materials with north and south poles that can be reversed with an electric field — are rare in nature. Ferroelectricity and magnetism tend to be mutually exclusive and interact weakly with each other when they coexist.

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Shine Medical raises $11 million in venture funding

By Kathleen Gallagher of the Journal Sentinel

Middleton-based Shine Medical Technologies said Tuesday morning it has raised $11 million of venture capital funding.

Knox LLC -- the investment vehicle for Frederick J. Mancheski, former chairman and chief executive of automotive parts supplier Echlin - led the round and contributed $10 million of the funding.

Fourteen other individual investors participated, Greg Piefer, Shine's chief executive, said in a news release.

Shine, formerly known as Phoenix Nuclear, is using its unique nuclear fusion technology to make molybdenum-99. The substance produces an isotope that's critical for certain medical imaging tests that diagnose, monitor and treat some cancers, as well as heart and brain diseases.

Two nuclear reactors in Canada and the Netherlands that are operating well past their design life provide the majority of the isotope used by Shine. Frequent shut-downs have created a worldwide shortage of the material.

Shine's nuclear fusion technology offers a possible alternative.

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Virent focusing on bottle technology

By Thomas Content of the Journal Sentinel

Madison biofuels firm Virent Energy Systems Inc. said Monday it has developed a process to help make plastic bottles from plant sugars instead of petroleum.

The company said its chemical engineers have been able to produce a molecule that mimics a petroleum molecule that's key to making PET recyclable bottles.

The molecule paraxylene, also known as PX, is made from 100% plant sugars. When combined with existing technology, this can allow manufacturers to offer 100% natural plant-based plastic bottles and packaging.

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Berkeley Scientists Discover Inexpensive Metal Catalyst for Generating Hydrogen from Water

Hydrogen would command a key role in future renewable energy technologies, experts agree, if a relatively cheap, efficient and carbon-neutral means of producing it can be developed. An important step towards this elusive goal has been taken by a team of researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California, Berkeley. The team has discovered an inexpensive metal catalyst that can effectively generate hydrogen gas from water.

“Our new proton reduction catalyst is based on a molybdenum-oxo metal complex that is about 70 times cheaper than platinum, today’s most widely used metal catalyst for splitting the water molecule,” said Hemamala Karunadasa, one of the co-discoverers of this complex. “In addition, our catalyst does not require organic additives, and can operate in neutral water, even if it is dirty, and can operate in sea water, the most abundant source of hydrogen on earth and a natural electrolyte. These qualities make our catalyst ideal for renewable energy and sustainable chemistry.”

Karunadasa holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab’s Chemical Sciences Division and UC Berkeley’s Chemistry Department. She is the lead author of a paper describing this work that appears in the April 29, 2010 issue of the journal Nature, titled “A molecular molybdenum-oxo catalyst for generating hydrogen from water.” Co-authors of this paper were Christopher Chang and Jeffrey Long, who also hold joint appointments with Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley. Chang, in addition, is also an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

Hydrogen gas, whether combusted or used in fuel cells to generate electricity, emits only water vapor as an exhaust product, which is why this nation would already be rolling towards a hydrogen economy if only there were hydrogen wells to tap. However, hydrogen gas does not occur naturally and has to be produced. Most of the hydrogen gas in the United States today comes from natural gas, a fossil fuel. While inexpensive, this technique adds huge volumes of carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Hydrogen can also be produced through the electrolysis of water – using electricity to split molecules of water into molecules of hydrogen and oxygen. This is an environmentally clean and sustainable method of production – especially if the electricity is generated via a renewable technology such as solar or wind – but requires a water-splitting catalyst.

Nature has developed extremely efficient water-splitting enzymes – called hydrogenases – for use by plants during photosynthesis, however, these enzymes are highly unstable and easily deactivated when removed from their native environment. Human activities demand a stable metal catalyst that can operate under non-biological settings.

Metal catalysts are commercially available, but they are low valence precious metals whose high costs make their widespread use prohibitive. For example, platinum, the best of them, costs some $2,000 an ounce.

“The basic scientific challenge has been to create earth-abundant molecular systems that produce hydrogen from water with high catalytic activity and stability,” Chang says. “We believe our discovery of a molecular molybdenum-oxo catalyst for generating hydrogen from water without the use of additional acids or organic co-solvents establishes a new chemical paradigm for creating reduction catalysts that are highly active and robust in aqueous media.”

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Ultra-powerful Laser Makes Silicon Pump Liquid Uphill with No Added Energy

Researchers at the University of Rochester's Institute of Optics have discovered a way to make liquid flow vertically upward along a silicon surface, overcoming the pull of gravity, without pumps or other mechanical devices.

In a paper in the journal Optics Express, professor Chunlei Guo and his assistant Anatoliy Vorobyev demonstrate that by carving intricate patterns in silicon with extremely short, high-powered laser bursts, they can get liquid to climb to the top of a silicon chip like it was being sucked through a straw.

Unlike a straw, though, there is no outside pressure pushing the liquid up; it rises on its own accord. By creating nanometer-scale structures in silicon, Guo greatly increases the attraction that water molecules feel toward it. The attraction, or hydrophile, of the silicon becomes so great, in fact, that it overcomes the strong bond that water molecules feel for other water molecules.

Thus, instead of sticking to each other, the water molecules climb over one another for a chance to be next to the silicon. (This might seem like getting energy for free, but even though the water rises, thus gaining potential energy, the chemical bonds holding the water to the silicon require a lower energy than the ones holding the water molecules to other water molecules.) The water rushes up the surface at speeds of 3.5 cm per second.

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Researcher Creates Strongest Metal Foam Ever

by Bridgette Meinhold, 02/01/10

Spongy metal sounds like a bit of an oxymoron, but it’s actually a real material that is capable of absorbing large impacts without damage. Metal foams have been around for some time, but new research by Dr. Afsaneh Rabiei of North Carolina State University, has revealed the strongest metal foam ever. It can compress up to 80% of its original size under loading and still retain its original shape. The applications for this type of material are too numerous to fathom, but one of the most anticipated uses for the spongy metal is in automobiles to lessen the impact of crashes and protect the driver and passengers.

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QUANTUM COMPUTER CHIPS NOW ONE STEP CLOSER TO REALITY

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- In the quest for smaller, faster computer chips, researchers are increasingly turning to quantum mechanics -- the exotic physics of the small.

The problem: the manufacturing techniques required to make quantum devices have been equally exotic.

That is, until now.

Researchers at Ohio State University have discovered a way to make quantum devices using technology common to the chip-making industry today.

This work might one day enable faster, low-power computer chips. It could also lead to high-resolution cameras for security and public safety, and cameras that provide clear vision through bad weather.

Paul Berger, professor of electrical and computer engineering and professor of physics at Ohio State University, and his colleagues report their findings in an upcoming issue of IEEE Electron Device Letters.

The team fabricated a device called a tunneling diode using the most common chip-making technique, called chemical vapor deposition.

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Component of asphalt eyed as new fuel source

The pavement material that cars drive on may wind up in their fuel tanks as scientists seek ways of transforming asphaltenes -- the main component of asphalt -- into an abundant new source of fuel, according to the cover story in the current issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS' weekly newsmagazine.

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Organic electronics a two-way street, thanks to new plastic semiconductor

Plastic that conducts electricity holds promise for cheaper, thinner and more flexible electronics. This technology is already available in some gadgets -- the new Sony walkman that was introduced earlier this summer and the Microsoft Zune HD music player released last week both incorporate organic light-emitting electronic displays.

Until now, however, circuits built with organic materials have allowed only one type of charge to move through them. New research from the University of Washington makes charges flow both ways. The cover article in an upcoming issue of the journal Advanced Materials describes an approach to organic electronics that allows transport of both positive and negative charges.

"The organic semiconductors developed over the past 20 years have one important drawback. It's very difficult to get electrons to move through," said lead author Samson Jenekhe, a UW professor of chemical engineering. "By now having polymer semiconductors that can transmit both positive and negative charges, it broadens the available approaches. This would certainly change the way we do things."

Co-authors are Felix Kim, a doctoral student working with Jenekhe, and graduate student Xugang Guo and assistant professor Mark Watson at the University of Kentucky. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the Ford Foundation.

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Printable batteries

Research News July 2009 

For a long time, batteries were bulky and heavy. Now, a new cutting-edge battery is revolutionizing the field. It is thinner than a millimeter, lighter than a gram, and can be produced cost-effectively through a printing process.

In the past, it was necessary to race to the bank for every money transfer and every bank statement. Today, bank transactions can be easily carried out at home. Now where is that piece of paper again with the TAN numbers? In the future you can spare yourself the search for the number. Simply touch your EC card and a small integrated display shows the TAN number to be used. Just type in the number and off you go. This is made possible by a printable battery that can be produced cost-effectively on a large scale. It was developed by a research team led by Prof. Dr. Reinhard Baumann of the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Electronic Nano Systems ENAS in Chemnitz together with colleagues from TU Chemnitz and Menippos GmbH. “Our goal is to be able to mass produce the batteries at a price of single digit cent range each,” states Dr. Andreas Willert, group manager at ENAS.

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