This column presents technologies that have applications in commercial areas, possibly creating the products of tomorrow. To learn more about each technology, see the contact information provided for that innovation.
Scientists in New Zealand and Australia working at the level of atoms have created something unexpected: tiny metallic snowflakes. That’s significant because coaxing individual atoms to cooperate in desired ways is leading to a revolution in engineering and technology via nanomaterials. To create metallic nanocrystals, the researchers have been experimenting with gallium, a soft, silvery metal which is used in semiconductors and, unusually, liquifies at just above room temperature. Metals were dissolved in gallium at high temperatures. Once cooled, the metallic crystals emerged while the gallium remained liquid. Such nanoscale structures can aid electronic manufacturing, make materials stronger yet lighter, or aid environmental clean-ups by binding to toxins.
Contact: Paul Panckhurst
A multidisciplinary team led by Northwestern University has made an electric motor you can’t see with the naked eye: an electric motor on the molecular scale. Only 2-nm wide, the molecular motor is the first to be produced in abundance. The electric molecular motor specifically is based on a catenane whose components, a loop interlocked with two identical rings, are redox active, i.e., they undergo unidirectional motion in response to changes in voltage potential. The motor is easy to make, operates quickly, and does not produce any waste products. This early work — a motor that can convert electrical energy into unidirectional motion at the molecular level — has implications for materials science and particularly medicine, where the electric molecular motor could team up with biomolecular motors in the human body.
Contact: Megan Fellman
The glittering, serpentine structures that power wearable electronics can be created with the same technology used to print rock concert t-shirts. The study, led by Washington State University researchers, demonstrates that electrodes can be made using just screen printing, creating a stretchable, durable circuit pattern that can be transferred to fabric and worn directly on human skin. The researchers used a multi-step process to layer polymer and metal inks to create snake-like structures of the electrode. The study showed the electrodes could be stretched by 30 percent and bend to 180 degrees. While this study focused on ECG monitoring, the screen-printing process can be used to create electrodes for a range of uses, including those that serve similar functions to smart watches or fitness trackers. Such wearable electronics can be used for health monitoring in hospitals or at home.