Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Novel method for making electrical cellulose fibers

By using liquid salts during formation instead of harsh chemicals, fibers that conduct electricity can be strengthened, according to new research.



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Nitrogen fingerprint in biomolecules could be from early sun

The pattern of nitrogen in biomolecules like proteins, which differ greatly from that seen in other parts of the solar system, could have been generated by the interactions of light from the early sun with nitrogen gas in the nebula, long before Earth formed.



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New material steals oxygen from the air: One spoonful absorbs all the oxygen in a room

Researchers have synthesized crystalline materials that can bind and store oxygen in high concentrations. Just one spoon of the substance is enough to absorb all the oxygen in a room. The stored oxygen can be released again when and where it is needed.



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Unexpected new mechanism reveals how molecules become trapped in ice

Expanding our knowledge of the way molecules interact with ice surfaces is a key goal not only for climate change but also a much wider range of other environmental, scientific and defense-related issues. Now, a team of researchers has discovered a new mechanism they call “stable energetic embedding” of atoms and molecules within ice.



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Monday, September 29, 2014

New transparent nanoscintillators for radiation detection developed

Tadiation detection properties have been identified in a light-emitting nanostructure made in a new way from two of the least expensive rare earth elements. The new material is made from two of the least expensive rare earth elements, so it is cost-effective, estimated at a little over $7 per cm3.



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Smart, eco-friendly new battery made of seeds and pine resin

Present-day lithium batteries are efficient but involve a range of resource and environmental problems. Using materials from alfalfa (lucerne seed) and pine resin and a clever recycling strategy, researchers have now come up with a highly interesting alternative.



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Scientists make droplets move on their own

Droplets are simple spheres of fluid, not normally considered capable of doing anything on their own. But now researchers have made droplets of alcohol move through water. In the future, such moving droplets may deliver medicines.



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Mimicking brain cells to boost computer memory power

Researchers have brought ultra-fast, nano-scale data storage within striking reach, using technology that mimics the human brain. The researchers have built a novel nano-structure that offers a new platform for the development of highly stable and reliable nanoscale memory devices.



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High-throughput cell-sorting method can separate 10 billion bacterial cells in 30 minutes

A new, high-throughput method for sorting cells has been developed, capable of separating 10 billion bacterial cells in 30 minutes. The finding has already proven useful for studying bacterial cells and microalgae, and could one day have direct applications for biomedical research and environmental science -- basically any field in which a large quantity of microbial samples need to be processed.



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Skin pigment renders sun's UV radiation harmless using projectiles

The pigment of the skin protects the body from the sun’s dangerous UV rays, but researchers have not until recently known how this works. Now they report that skin pigment converts the UV radiation into heat through a rapid chemical reaction that shoots protons from the molecules of the pigment.



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Solar cells cheap enough to quickly cover for their cost: Could double as semi-transparent blinds for windows

One of the most common complaints about solar power is solar panels are still too expensive to be worth the investment. Many researchers have responded by making solar cells, the tile-like components of solar panels that absorb and transfer energy, more efficient and longer lasting. But even the longest living solar cells that most effectively convert sunlight to energy will not become common if they are prohibitively expensive.



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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Smelly discovery challenges effectiveness of antimicrobial textiles

Anti-odor clothing may not be living up to its promise, and a researcher is saying it could all be a matter of how the product was tested.



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Friday, September 26, 2014

Key reaction for producing 'atmosphere's detergent' observed

A rapid atmospheric reaction critical to breaking down pollution in the lab has been observed by chemists. They identify an important intermediate molecule and track its transformation to hydroxyl radicals, also demonstrating the amount of energy necessary for the reaction to take place.



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Studying nanocrystals by passing them through tiny pores

Researchers have now applied a cutting-edge technique for rapid gene sequencing toward measuring other nanoscopic structures. By passing nanoscale spheres and rods through a tiny hole in a membrane, the team was able to measure the electrical properties of those structures' surfaces. Their findings suggest new ways of using this technique, known as 'nanopore translocation,' to analyze objects at the smallest scale.



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'Multi-spectra glasses' for scanning electron microscopy

Reflection zone plates enable lighter elements in material samples will be efficiently and precisely detected using scanning electron microscopy by providing high resolution in the range of 50-1120 eV.



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Fertilizer and fuel: Nitrogen-fixing enzyme also produces hydrocarbons

Plants need nitrogen and carbon to grow. Photosynthesis allows them to take in the latter directly from the air, but they have to procure nitrogen through their roots in the form of organic molecules like ammonia or urea. Even though nitrogen gas makes up approximately 80 percent of Earth's atmosphere, the plant can only access it in a bound - or 'fixed' - form. Farmers thus use fertilizers to provide their crops with nitrogen. The only living beings that can convert nitrogen from the air into usable molecules are microorganisms - for example nodule bacteria.



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Thursday, September 25, 2014

On the road to artificial photosynthesis

The excessive atmospheric carbon dioxide that is driving global climate change could be harnessed into a renewable energy technology that would be a win for both the environment and the economy. That is the lure of artificial photosynthesis in which the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide is used to produce clean, green and sustainable fuels. However, finding a catalyst for reducing carbon dioxide that is highly selective and efficient has proven to be a huge scientific challenge. New experimental results have revealed the critical influence of the electronic and geometric effects in the carbon dioxide reduction reaction and might help make the problem easier to tackle.



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Longstanding bottleneck in crystal structure prediction solved

The various patterns that atoms of a solid material can adopt, called crystal structures, can have a huge impact on its properties. Being able to accurately predict the most stable crystal structure for a material has been a longstanding challenge for scientists. Researchers calculated the lattice energy of benzene, a simple yet important molecule in pharmaceutical and energy research, to sub-kilojoule per mole accuracy -- a level of certainty that allows polymorphism to be resolved.



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Amino acids? Interstellar molecules are branching out

Scientists have for the first time detected a carbon-bearing molecule with a 'branched' structure in interstellar space. The discovery of iso-propyl cyanide opens a new frontier in the complexity of molecules found in regions of star formation, and bodes well for the presence of amino acids, for which this branched structure is a key characteristic.



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World's smallest reference material is big plus for nanotechnology

The National Institute of Standards and Technology recently issued Reference Material 8027, the smallest known reference material ever created for validating measurements of these human-made, ultrafine particles between 1 and 100 nanometers -- billionths of a meter -- in size.



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Structure of enzyme that makes plant cellulose uncovered

The structure of the enzyme that makes cellulose has been uncovered by researchers, a finding that could lead to easier ways of breaking down plant materials to make biofuels and other products and materials. The research also provides the most detailed glimpse to date of the complicated process by which cellulose -- the foundation of the plant cell wall and the most abundant organic compound on the planet -- is produced.



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New organic semiconductor material: Organic tin in polymers increases their light absorption

Researchers have integrated organic tin into semiconducting polymers (plastics) for the first time. Semiconducting polymers can be used, for example, for the absorption of sun light in solar cells. By incorporating organic tin into the plastic, light can be absorbed over a wide range of the solar spectrum.



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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Nanotechnology leads to better, cheaper LEDs for phones and lighting

Using a new nanoscale structure, electrical engineers have increased the brightness and efficiency of LEDs made of organic materials -- flexible carbon-based sheets -- by 57 percent. The researchers also report their method should yield similar improvements in LEDs made in inorganic, silicon-based materials used most commonly today.



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Natural gas usage will have little effect on carbon dioxide emissions, researchers find

Abundant supplies of natural gas will do little to reduce harmful U.S. emissions causing climate change, according to researchers. They found that inexpensive gas boosts electricity consumption and hinders expansion of cleaner energy sources, such as wind and solar.



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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

First Friday: Ask a Scientist

Soon after moving to Tallahassee my wife (Debbie) and I were encouraged to check out First Friday, an eclectic, once-a-month gathering of local musicians, artists, food trucks, and performers. Located in a lumber yard-turned-art park known as Railroad Square, First Friday is a wonderful opportunity to see locals celebrating their hobbies and personal interests. Following this spirit, Debbie and I decided to contribute as well – and our Ask a Scientist (AaS) booth was born. We gather 4-5 scientists–predominantly FSU faculty—from across disciplines like chemistry, physics, engineering, psychology, medicine and biology and stand by a tent with a sign proclaiming Ask a Scientist. What follows is ~3 hours each month spent drinking beer and talking science with people passing by.


Below is a time-lapse of our August AaS event. The evening featured the following scientists: David Meckes (virology and biomedical sciences), Brian Miller (biochemistry), Tom Albrecht-Schmitt (nuclear chemistry), and myself (Ken Hanson, energy/material chemistry). We try to rotate a new batch of scientists every month.



There are four types of common interactions/questions:


1) Most people are genuinely excited to ask questions, many which are prompted by current events. Our virologist was asked about Ebola in August and our paleontologist was asked about the colossal dinosaur in September. Other examples of general questions include: How are memories formed? How accurate is the chemistry in Breaking Bad? And my personal favorite as a photophysical chemist: Why is the sky blue?


2) Some people interpret our “Ask a Scientist” prompt as, “Stump a Scientist.” At best these questions come from fellow scientists who good-naturedly know what is difficult to answer (like how do you cure x?). At worst, these questions come with sarcasm or a prepared (dare I say egotistical) lecture on what our answer missed.


3) The third type of question is political: How do you feel about fracking? Is global warming real? These questions usually lead to long conversations.


4) The final type of question seeks to understand who we are and why we created the booth: Who is coordinating this event?” Who is sponsoring this? When we share that we’re unsponsored and just having fun the response is usually something along the lines of, “This is very cool” or “Keep up the good work.”


So, if you happen to be in Tallahassee during the first Friday of any month, please stop by Railroad Square and our AaS booth. We’re always happy to say ‘hello’ and talk science. We also try to post ‘example questions’ each month to help prompt participation. So I welcome any accessible, general science questions you’ve heard as well.






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Interface surprises may motivate novel oxide electronic devices

Complex oxides have long tantalized the materials science community for their promise in next-generation energy and information technologies. Complex oxide crystals combine oxygen atoms with assorted metals to produce unusual and very desirable properties.



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Properties in nanocomposite oxide ceramics for reactor fuel

The relationship between the termination chemistry and the dislocation structure of the interface offers potential avenues for tailoring transport properties and radiation damage resistance of oxide nanocomposites.



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Future flexible electronics based on carbon nanotubes

Researchers have demonstrated a new method to improve the reliability and performance of transistors and circuits based on carbon nanotubes, a semiconductor material that has long been considered by scientists as one of the most promising successors to silicon for smaller, faster and cheaper electronic devices.



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'Bendy' LEDs: Displays and solar cells with inorganic compound semiconductor micro-rods one step closer

"Bendy" light-emitting diode (LED) displays and solar cells crafted with inorganic compound semiconductor micro-rods are moving one step closer to reality, thanks to graphene. Currently, most flexible electronics and optoelectronics devices are fabricated using organic materials. But inorganic compound semiconductors such as gallium nitride (GaN) can provide plenty of advantages over organic materials for use in these devices -- including superior optical, electrical and mechanical properties.



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Scientists grow a new challenger to graphene

Scientists have developed a new way to fabricate a potential challenger to graphene. Graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms in a honeycomb lattice, is increasingly being used in new electronic and mechanical applications, such as transistors, switches and light sources, thanks to the unprecedented properties it offers: very low electrical resistance, high thermal conductivity and mechanically stretchable yet harder than diamond. Now researchers have developed molybdenum di-sulphide.



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Monday, September 22, 2014

Lego-like modular components make building 3-D 'labs-on-a-chip' a snap

Thanks to new Lego-like components, it is now possible to build a 3-D microfluidic system (or 'lab-on-a-chip') quickly and cheaply by simply snapping together small modules by hand.



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Engineers show light can play seesaw at the nanoscale: Step toward faster and more energy-efficient optical devices

Electrical engineering researchers have developed a unique nanoscale device that for the first time demonstrates mechanical transportation of light. The discovery could have major implications for creating faster and more efficient optical devices for computation and communication.



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Graphene imperfections key to creating hypersensitive 'electronic nose'

Researchers have discovered a way to create a highly sensitive chemical sensor based on the crystalline flaws in graphene sheets. The imperfections have unique electronic properties that the researchers were able to exploit to increase sensitivity to absorbed gas molecules by 300 times.



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Uncovering the forbidden side of molecules: Infrared spectrum of charged molecule seen for first time

Researchers have succeeded in observing the “forbidden” infrared spectrum of a charged molecule for the first time. These extremely weak spectra offer perspectives for extremely precise measurements of molecular properties and may also contribute to the development of molecular clocks and quantum technology.



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Fracking's environmental impacts scrutinized

Greenhouse gas emissions from the production and use of shale gas would be comparable to conventional natural gas, but the controversial energy source actually fared better than renewables on some environmental impacts, according to new research.



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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Smallest possible diamonds form ultra-thin nanothreads

For the first time, scientists have discovered how to produce ultra-thin 'diamond nanothreads' that promise extraordinary properties, including strength and stiffness greater than that of today's strongest nanotubes and polymers. The threads have a structure that has never been seen before.



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Engineered proteins stick like glue -- even in water

Researchers have found new adhesives based on mussel proteins could be useful for naval or medical applications. To create their new waterproof adhesives, researchers engineered bacteria to produce a hybrid material that incorporates naturally sticky mussel proteins as well as a bacterial protein found in biofilms -- slimy layers formed by bacteria growing on a surface. When combined, these proteins form even stronger underwater adhesives than those secreted by mussels.



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A nanosized hydrogen generator

Researchers have created a small scale “hydrogen generator” that uses light and a two-dimensional graphene platform to boost production of the hard-to-make element. The research also unveiled a previously unknown property of graphene. The two-dimensional chain of carbon atoms not only gives and receives electrons, but can also transfer them into another substance.



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Friday, September 19, 2014

Solar-cell efficiency improved with new polymer devices

New light has been shed on solar power generation using devices made with polymers. Researchers identified a new polymer -- a type of large molecule that forms plastics and other familiar materials -- which improved the efficiency of solar cells. The group also determined the method by which the polymer improved the cells' efficiency. The polymer allowed electrical charges to move more easily throughout the cell, boosting the production of electricity -- a mechanism never before demonstrated in such devices.



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Milestone in chemical studies of superheavy elements: Superheavy element and carbon atom bonded for first time

A chemical bond between a superheavy element and a carbon atom has been established for the first time. This research opens new vistas for studying the effects of Einstein's relativity on the structure of the periodic table.



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Smartgels, like gelatin, are thicker than water

Transforming substances from liquids into gels plays an important role across many industries, including cosmetics, medicine, and energy. But the transformation process, called gelation, where manufacturers add chemical thickeners and either heat or cool the fluids to make them more viscous or elastic, is expensive and energy demanding. Take shampoo, for example. Without gelation, the contents of the shampoo bottle would be thin and watery. Instead of squirting a gooey dollop into the palm of your hand, the shampoo would rush between your fingers and escape down the drain before you could slather it on your head.



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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Protein courtship revealed through chemist's lens

Staying clear of diseases requires the proteins in our cells to cooperate with one another. But, it has been a well-guarded secret how tens of thousands of different proteins find the correct dancing partners as they degrade and build up the human body, brain and nervous system. A recent breakthrough has busted down the door and provided a look at the once obscure behavior on the protein dance floor.



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How do neutron bells toll on the skin of the atomic nucleus? Vibrations of the surface of a heavy nucleus observed

Physicists have observed -- for the first time with such precision -- vibrations of the surface of a heavy nucleus, lead 208Pb. Through their extremely accurate measurements this team has unraveled the details of neutron oscillations in the atomic nucleus and determined how many neutrons on the surface, or ‘skin’, of the nucleus participate in unique vibrations known as pygmy resonances. If an accelerated ion of high energy impacts on the nucleus of a heavy element, it makes the nucleus vibrate in a very special manner: all of its neutrons begin to oscillate collectively with respect to all of its protons.



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Unforeseen dioxin formation in waste incineration

Dioxins forms faster, at lower temperatures and under other conditions than previously thought. This may affect how we in the future construct sampling equipment, flue gas filtering systems for waste incineration and how to treat waste incineration fly ash.



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Oxides could advance memory devices

The quest for the ultimate memory device for computing may have just taken an encouraging step forward. Researchers have discovered new complex oxides that exhibit both magnetic and ferroelectric properties.



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Rooting out horse-meat fraud in the wake of a recent food scandal

As the United Kingdom forms a new crime unit designed to fight food fraud -- in response to an uproar last year over horse meat being passed off as beef -- scientists are reporting a technique for detecting meat adulteration.



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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sharks' skin has teeth in the fight against hospital superbugs

Transmission of bacterial infections, including Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and Methicillin-sensitive Staphylococcus aureus could be curbed by coating hospital surfaces with microscopic bumps that mimic the scaly surface of shark skin, according to research.



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Recruiting bacteria as technology innovation partners: New self-healing materials and bioprocessing technologies

For most people biofilms conjure up images of slippery stones in a streambed and dirty drains. While there are plenty of 'bad' biofilms around, a team of scientists see biofilms as a robust new platform for designer nanomaterials that could clean up polluted rivers, manufacture pharmaceutical products, fabricate new textiles, and more.



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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Nanoribbon film keeps glass ice-free

Scientists who created a deicing film for radar domes have now refined the technology to work as a transparent coating for glass. The new work could keep glass surfaces from windshields to skyscrapers free of ice and fog while retaining their transparency to radio frequencies (RF).



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First water-based nuclear battery can be used to generate electrical energy

For the first time using a water-based solution, researchers have created a long-lasting and more efficient nuclear battery that could be used for many applications such as a reliable energy source in automobiles and also in complicated applications such as space flight.



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