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Scientists Astonished by Strange Material That Can Be Made Like Plastic but Conducts Like Metal

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A group of scientists at the University of Chicago has discovered a way to create a material in which the molecular fragments are jumbled and disordered, but can still conduct electricity extremely well. This goes against all of the rules we know about conductivity. Above is an artist’s conception of the lattice. Credit: Illustration by Frank Wegloski

 

‘Like conductive Play-Doh’: breakthrough could point way to a new class of materials for electronic devices.

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University of Chicago
Founded in 1890, the University of Chicago (UChicago, U of C, or Chicago) is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois. Located on a 217-acre campus in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, near Lake Michigan, the school holds top-ten positions in various national and international rankings. UChicago is also well known for its professional schools: Pritzker School of Medicine, Booth School of Business, Law School, School of Social Service Administration, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, Divinity School and the Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies, and Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”]”>University of Chicago scientists have discovered a way to create a material that can be made like a plastic, but conducts electricity more like a metal.

 

The research shows how to make a kind of material in which the molecular fragments are jumbled and disordered, but can still conduct electricity extremely well. It was published on October 26 in the journal Nature.

This goes against all of the rules we know about conductivity—to a scientist, it’s kind of like seeing a car driving on water and still going 70 mph. But the finding could also prove to be extraordinarily useful. Often, on the way to inventing something revolutionary, the process first starts with discovering a completely new material.

“In principle, this opens up the design of a whole new class of materials that conduct electricity, are easy to shape, and are very robust in everyday conditions,” said John Anderson, an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago and the senior author on the study. “Essentially, it suggests new possibilities for an extremely important technological group of materials,” said Jiaze Xie (PhD’22, now at Princeton), the first author on the paper.

 

‘There isn’t a solid theory to explain this’

If you’re making any kind of electronic device, whether it be an iPhone, a solar panel, or a television, conductive materials are absolutely essential. Metals, such as copper, gold, and aluminum, are by far the oldest and largest group of conductors. Then, about 50 years ago, scientists were able to create conductors made out of organic materials, using a chemical treatment known as “doping,” which sprinkles in different atoms or “impurities” throughout the material. The fact that these materials are more flexible and easier to work with than conventional metals makes them attractive, but the problem is that they aren’t particularly stable and may lose their conductivity if exposed to moisture or if the temperature rises too high.

However, fundamentally, both organic and traditional metallic conductors share a common characteristic. They are made up of straight, closely packed rows of atoms or molecules. This means that electrons can easily flow through the material, much like cars on a highway. In fact, scientists thought a material had to have these straight, orderly rows in order to conduct electricity efficiently.

Illustration of the structure of the material. Nickel atoms are shown in green, carbon atoms in gray, and sulfur atoms in yellow. Credit: Illustration by Xie et al

Then Xie began experimenting with some materials that were discovered years ago, but largely ignored since. He strung nickel atoms like pearls into a string of molecular beads made of carbon and sulfur, and began testing.

 

To the scientists’ astonishment, the material easily and strongly conducted electricity. What’s more, it was very stable. “We heated it, chilled it, exposed it to air and humidity, and even dripped <span class=”glossaryLink” aria-describedby=”tt” data-cmtooltip=”

acid
Any substance that when dissolved in water, gives a pH less than 7.0, or donates a hydrogen ion.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”]”>acid and base on it, and nothing happened,” said Xie. That is enormously helpful for a device that has to function in the real world.

But the most striking thing to the scientists was that the molecular structure of the material was disordered. “From a fundamental picture, that should not be able to be a metal,” said Anderson. “There isn’t a solid theory to explain this.”

Xie, Anderson, and their lab worked with other scientists around the university to try to understand how the material can conduct electricity. After tests, simulations, and theoretical work, they think that the material forms layers, like sheets in a lasagna. Even if the sheets rotate sideways, no longer forming a neat lasagna stack, electrons can still move horizontally or vertically—as long as the pieces touch.

The end result is unprecedented for a conductive material. “It’s almost like conductive Play-Doh—you can smush it into place and it conducts electricity,” Anderson said.

 

To the scientists’ astonishment, the material easily and strongly conducted electricity.

The scientists are excited because the discovery suggests a fundamentally new design principle for electronics technology. Conductors are so important that virtually any new development opens up new lines for technology, they explained.

One of the material’s attractive characteristics is new options for processing. For example, metals usually have to be melted in order to be made into the right shape for a chip or device, which limits what you can make with them, since other components of the device have to be able to withstand the heat needed to process these materials.

Anderson Lab at University of Chicago

A group of scientists from the University of Chicago has discovered a way to create a material that can be made like a plastic, but conducts electricity more like a metal. Above, members of the Anderson lab at work. Credit: Photo by John Zich/University of Chicago

The new material has no such restriction because it can be made at room temperature. It can also be used where the need for a device or pieces of the device to withstand heat, acid or alkalinity, or humidity has previously limited engineers’ options to develop new technology.

 

The team is also exploring the different forms and functions the material might make. “We think we can make it 2D or 3D, make it porous, or even introduce other functions by adding different linkers or nodes,” said Xie.

Reference: “Intrinsic glassy-metallic transport in an amorphous coordination polymer” by Jiaze Xie, Simon Ewing, Jan-Niklas Boyn, Alexander S. Filatov, Baorui Cheng, Tengzhou Ma, Garrett L. Grocke, Norman Zhao, Ram Itani, Xiaotong Sun, Himchan Cho, Zhihengyu Chen, Karena W. Chapman, Shrayesh N. Patel, Dmitri V. Talapin, Jiwoong Park, David A. Mazziotti and John S. Anderson, 26 October 2022, Nature.
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-05261-4

Other authors on the paper include University of Chicago graduate students Norman Zhao, Garrett Grocke, Ram Itani, Baorui Cheng, Tengzhou Ma (PhD’21, now at Applied Materials), Simon Ewing (PhD’22, now at Intel) and Jan-Niklas Boyn (PhD’22, now at Princeton); postdoctoral researcher Xiaotong Sun; UChicago Director of X-ray Research Facilities Alexander S. Filatov; Himchan Cho (formerly a postdoctoral researcher at UChicago, now at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology); UChicago Profs. Shrayesh N. Patel, Dmitri V. Talapin, Jiwoong Park, and David A. Mazziotti; and Zhihengyu Chen and Prof. Karena Chapman of Stonybrook University.

Funding: Army Research Office, a directorate of U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory; U.S. Department of Energy; National Science Foundation.

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In a B.C. first, UVic mini-satellite launched into space after four years of work

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A University of Victoria satellite the size of a two-litre milk carton, designed to calibrate light, was fired into space Saturday, after four years of work by dozens of students, faculty and researchers.

ORCASat started its journey to space at 11:20 a.m. Saturday as part of NASA’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Early this morning, about 4 a.m., the satellite is scheduled to be taken on board the International Space Station where it will wait for a few weeks before being fired into space to orbit the Earth for as long as it can survive.

Saturday’s successful launch was extra-sweet because a planned Tuesday launch was postponed due to poor weather. Watchers from UVic returned home after the delayed launch.

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A nervous Alex Doknjas, ORCASat project manager, went into his family’s living room at 10:30 a.m. Saturday where he waited with loved ones and about 20 others on a video chat, including a UVic group, to watch the event together. Cheers and claps erupted when the rocket launched on time. “It’s great. It’s fantastic,” he said.

There was a little wind picking up on the launch site shortly before liftoff was scheduled and Doknjas said he was worried it was about to get scrubbed again, but that didn’t happen.

The excitement has been years in the making thanks to about 140 people who have been part of a team at the University of Victoria Centre for Aerospace Research.

Full-time researchers, co-op and volunteer students from UVic Satellite Design, UBC Orbit, and Simon Fraser University Satellite Design have all contributed.

The ORCASat (for Optical Reference Calibration Satellite) measures 10 centimetres by 10 centimetres by 23 centimetres and weighs 2.5 kilograms.

Doknjas said as far as he knows this is the first “Cubesat” designed and built in this province. “That’s a pretty big milestone.”

The estimated date to launch ORCASat is between Dec. 29 and the first week in January.

ORCASat will be doing a 400-kilometre orbit around Earth and travelling at 7.5 kilometres a second. “It’s pretty fast.”

It is not known exactly how long it will last but it could be six to eight months, up to 18 months, Doknjas said. Factors such as sun flares, solar radiation, pressure and more can all impact the life of the satellite.

ORCASat is basically an artificial star, a reference light source in orbit that can be viewed by telescopes on Earth.

Astronomers can measure how bright ORCASat appears, just as they would an astronomical object.

At the same time, the satellite, using two laser light sources, will measure the amount of light that an astronomical object is emitting.

This will allow ground-based telescopes to be calibrated to measure the absolute brightness of an astronomical object, not how they appear after passing through the atmosphere and the optics of a telescope.

This is the first satellite ever to carry a light source capable of performing this experiment to this level of accuracy.

It is a proof-of-concept technology which in the future could be developed to be applicable in such areas as climate change, Earth observation and methane gas research, Doknjas said.

parrais@timescolonist.com

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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NASA’s Orion spacecraft breaks Apollo 13 flight record

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The Artemis 1 Orion crew vehicle has set a new record for a NASA flight. At approximately 8:40AM ET on Saturday, Orion flew farther than any spacecraft designed to carry human astronauts had ever before, surpassing the previous record set by Apollo 13 back in 1970. As of 10:17AM ET, Orion was approximately 249,666 miles ( from 401,798 kilometers) from Earth.

“Artemis I was designed to stress the systems of Orion and we settled on the distant retrograde orbit as a really good way to do that,” said Jim Geffre, Orion spacecraft integration manager. “It just so happened that with that really large orbit, high altitude above the moon, we were able to pass the Apollo 13 record. But what was more important though, was pushing the boundaries of exploration and sending spacecraft farther than we had ever done before.”

Of all the missions that could have broken the record, it’s fitting that Artemis 1 was the one to do it. As Space.com points out, Apollo 13’s original flight plan didn’t call for a record-setting flight. It was only after a mid-mission explosion forced NASA to plot a new return course that Apollo 13’s Odyssey command module set the previous record at 248,655 miles (400,171 kilometers) from Earth.

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With a limited oxygen supply on the Aquarius Lunar Module, NASA needed to get Apollo 13 back to Earth as quickly as possible. The agency eventually settled on a flight path that used the Moon’s gravity to slingshot Apollo 13 back to Earth. One of the NASA personnel who was critical to the safe return of astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise was Arturo Campos. He wrote the emergency plan that gave the Command and Service Module enough power to make it back to Earth. Artemis 1 is carrying a “Moonikin” test dummy named after the late Arturo.

Earlier this week, Orion completed a flyby of the Moon. After the spacecraft completes half an orbit around the satellite, it will slingshot itself toward the Earth. NASA expects Orion to splash down off the coast of San Diego on December 11th.

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Shocking! This asteroid CRASHED into Earth, says NASA; Check asteroid impact site – HT Tech

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NASA has revealed that an asteroid crashed into the Earth on Saturday, November 19. Here’s where this asteroid hit Earth.

In the midst of all the terrifyingly close asteroid flybys, NASA has now revealed that an asteroid actually crashed into the Earth just days ago! NASA keeps a watch on these asteroids by studying data collected by various space and ground-based telescopes and observatories such as the Pan-STARRS, the Catalina Sky Survey and the NEOWISE telescope. However, this asteroid was seemingly missed by all of them and was discovered just hours before impact!

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NASA has revealed that the asteroid lit up the sky as it flew over Southern Ontario, Canada on Saturday, November 19. What’s shocking is that this 3-foot asteroid was detected just 3.5 hours before impact! However, such small-sized asteroids do not pose a risk to the planet.

The tech that tracked the asteroid

The asteroid was first spotted by NASA’s Catalina Sky Survey and the observations were then reported to the Minor Planet Center. NASA’s Scout impact hazard assessment system calculated the asteroid’s trajectory and possible impact sites by analyzing the data. Just minutes after getting the data, a 25 percent probability of hitting Earth’s atmosphere was calculated.

Shantanu Naidu, navigation engineer and Scout operator at JPL said in a NASA JPL blog, “Small objects such as this one can only be detected when they are very close to Earth, so if they are headed for an impact, time is of the essence to collect as many observations as possible.”

“This object was discovered early enough that the planetary defense community could provide more observations, which Scout then used to confirm the impact and predict where and when the asteroid was going to hit,” he added further.

Asteroid impact site

The possible impact sites ranged from the Atlantic Ocean off the East Coast of North America to Mexico. According to NASA, the asteroid is likely to have burned up upon entering the planet’s atmosphere and scattered small meteorites over the southern coastline of Lake Ontario.

Calculating the asteroid’s trajectory and impact site was a community effort with added inputs from amateur astronomers from the Farpoint Observatory in Eskridge, Kansas, who tracked the asteroid for more than an hour and provided the critical data required to accurately calculate the asteroid’s path and impact site.


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