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Press Releases: Research Funded by Agencies Participating in the National Nanotechnology Initiative

(Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation)

Physicists at MIT have observed signs of a rare type of superconductivity in a material called magic-angle twisted trilayer graphene. The researchers report that the material exhibits superconductivity at surprisingly high magnetic fields of up to 10 Tesla, which is three times higher than what the material is predicted to endure if it were a conventional superconductor. The results strongly imply that magic-angle trilayer graphene is a very rare type of superconductor that is impervious to high magnetic fields. Such exotic superconductors could vastly improve technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI machines are currently limited to magnet fields of 1 to 3 Tesla. 

(Funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy)

Materials scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory have shuffled layered compounds together, much like combining two different decks of cards. The technique can generate thermally stable three-dimensional heterostructures from layered transition metal dichalcogenides. These are van der Waals materials composed of metal nanolayers sandwiched between two other layers of chalcogens—sulfur, selenium, or tellurium. Similar to graphite, these compounds can be exfoliated into 2D layers, which display unique electron transport properties and quantum phenomena.

(Funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy)

The magnetic component of today's memory devices is typically made of magnetic thin films. But at the atomic level, these magnetic films are still three-dimensional – hundreds or thousands of atoms thick. For decades, researchers have searched for ways to make thinner and smaller 2D magnets and thus enable data to be stored at a much higher density. Now, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, and the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have developed an ultrathin 2D magnet that operates at room temperature and could lead to new applications in computing and electronics – such as high-density, compact spintronic memory devices – and new tools for the study of quantum physics.

(Funded by the National Science Foundation)

For decades, researchers have searched for ways to use solar power to generate the key reaction for producing hydrogen as a clean energy source—splitting water molecules to form hydrogen and oxygen. But such efforts have mostly failed because doing it well was too costly, and trying to do it at a low cost led to poor performance. Now, researchers from The University of Texas at Austin have found a low-cost way to solve one half of the equation, using sunlight to efficiently split off oxygen molecules from water. The key to this breakthrough came through a method of creating electrically conductive paths through a thick silicon dioxide layer that involves arrays of nanoscale "spikes" of aluminum and that can be performed at low cost and scaled to high manufacturing volumes.

(Funded by the National Institutes of Health)

Most of the tests that doctors use to diagnose cancer are based on imaging. Cancer can also be found with molecular diagnostics, which can detect specific cancer-associated molecules that circulate in bodily fluids, such as blood and urine. Now, engineers at MIT have created a new diagnostic nanoparticle that combines both of these features: It can reveal the presence of cancerous proteins through a urine test, and it functions as an imaging agent, pinpointing the tumor location.

(Funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation)

Current biological treatments for autoimmune diseases consist of monoclonal antibodies that search out and destroy factors in the immune system, such as the tumor necrosis factor, that mistakenly mount immune attacks against the body. But these treatments often have side effects and can have varying degrees of effectiveness in different individuals. Now, engineers at Duke University have built nanostructures which chemically tether protein subunits that can stimulate the type of biological response necessary to sequester the disease-causing excess of tumor necrosis factor.

(Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the National Science Foundation)

Using a pioneering imaging technique, researchers at Cornell University have obtained a high-resolution snapshot of how ligands – molecules that bind to other molecules or metals – interact with the surface of nanoparticles. In doing so, the researchers made an unexpected discovery: They determined that by varying the concentration of an individual ligand, they could control the shape of the particle to which it is attached. This approach could result in chemical sensors that are sensitive at a very low level to a specific chemical in the environment.

(Funded by the U.S. Department of Defense)

One of the main drivers of antimicrobial resistance is the misuse and overuse of antimicrobial agents, which includes silver nanoparticles, an advanced material with well-documented antimicrobial properties. Now, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have used laboratory strains of E. coli to better understand bacterial resistance to silver nanoparticles. The researchers sequenced the genome of the E. coli that had been exposed to silver nanoparticles and found a mutation in a gene that corresponds to an efflux pump that pushes heavy metal ions out of the cell.

(Funded in part by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Defense)

Optical singularities typically occur when the phase of light with a specific wavelength is undefined. These regions appear completely dark. Today, some optical singularities, including optical vortices, are being explored for use in optical communications and particle manipulation, but scientists are just beginning to understand the potential of these systems. Now, researchers from Harvard University have developed a new technique to control and shape optical singularities. To demonstrate their technique, the researchers created a singularity sheet in the shape of a heart by using flat metasurfaces with precisely shaped nanopillars to shape the singularities.

(Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation)

A “boiling crisis” is the rapid formation of a vapor film between the heating source and the liquid when the heat supply exceeds a critical value. New research by engineers at MIT offers insight into the phenomenon by using high-speed infrared cameras and machine learning. The goal was to estimate how close the water was to a boiling crisis. To collect data, the engineers boiled water on a surface of indium tin oxide, by itself or with one of three coatings: copper oxide nanoleaves, zinc oxide nanowires, or layers of silicon dioxide nanoparticles. The team found that 17 factors contributed significantly to prediction accuracy.