Science method – Scientific Library Fri, 20 May 2022 16:51:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Science method – Scientific Library 32 32 Scientists discover revolutionary method of making advanced electronics with H20 Fri, 20 May 2022 16:51:25 +0000 Water is the secret ingredient in a simple way to create key components for solar cells, X-ray detectors and other optoelectronic devices.

The next generation of photovoltaics, semiconductors and LEDs could be made using perovskites, an exciting and versatile nanomaterial with a crystalline structure.

Perovskites have already shown similar efficiency to silicon, are cheaper to manufacture, and feature an adjustable bandgap, which means the energy they are able to absorb, reflect, or conduct can be changed to meet different objectives.

Usually water is kept as far away as possible during the process of creating perovskites. The presence of moisture can lead to defects in the materials, causing them to fall apart more quickly when used in a device.

This is why perovskites for scientific research are often made by spin coating in the sealed environment of a nitrogen glove box.

Now, however, members of the ARC Center of Excellence in Excitation Science have found a simple way to control the growth of phase-pure perovskite crystals by harnessing water as a positive factor. This liquid-based mechanism operates at room temperature, so the approach remains cost effective.

Led by researchers at Monash University, the team found that by changing the water-to-solvent ratio during the early stages of the process, they could choose to grow different types of perovskite crystals, with structures suited to various purposes.

“By carefully adjusting the water concentration in the precursor solution, we achieved the precise control of particular perovskite phases,” said corresponding author Dr. Wenxin Mao of Monash University.

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Computational and thermodynamic analysis conducted by colleagues at the University of Sydney identified that the coordination of lead and bromide ions in the precursor solution was an important factor in determining the types of crystals formed.

“We now understand the internal mechanics and function of the water inside the precursor solution. By doing this, we can make more use of water to control the crystallization process,” said lead author Qingdong Lin, a PhD student at Monash University.

To demonstrate the quality of the final product, the crystals produced via this approach were coupled to back contact electrodes by nanofabrication to create X-ray detection devices.

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This test sample performed at a similar level to commercial X-ray detectors currently used in real-world settings, such as medical imaging and Geiger counters, and outperformed prototype perovskite X-ray detectors developed using slower and more complicated manufacturing methods.

Wenxin said, “We compared them with commercial X-ray detectors as well as other types of perovskites and we have very good X-ray responsiveness and sensitivity. Overall, this project shows that we have found a clever way to control inorganic perovskite single crystals.

“The methodology is flexible and achievable and does not require a very unique environment or technique to apply it.”

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In addition to solar cells, X-ray detectors and LEDs, perovskites created with this method could also be useful in UV light detection, lasers and solar concentrators.

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Scientists design method to prevent deadly hospital infections without antibiotics Thu, 19 May 2022 21:10:56 +0000 A hospital or medical clinic might be the last place you’d expect to pick up a nasty infection, but around 1.7 million Americans do so each year, leading to nearly 100,000 deaths from complications related to the virus. infection and approximately $30 billion in direct medical costs.

The biggest culprits, experts say – accounting for two-thirds of these infections – are medical devices such as catheters, stents, heart valves and pacemakers, the surfaces of which are often coated with harmful bacterial films. But a new surface treatment developed by a UCLA-led team of scientists could help improve the safety of these devices and ease the economic burden on the healthcare system.

The new approach, tested in the laboratory and in clinical settings, involves depositing a thin layer of what is called a zwitterionic material on the surface of a device and permanently bonding this layer to the substrate underlying the device. using ultraviolet light irradiation. The resulting barrier prevents bacteria and other potentially harmful organic matter from adhering to the surface and causing infection.

The team’s findings are published May 19 in the journal Advanced materials.

In the lab, the researchers applied the surface treatment to several commonly used medical device materials, then tested the modified materials for resistance to various types of bacteria, fungi, and proteins. They found that the treatment reduced biofilm growth by more than 80% – and in some cases up to 93%, depending on the microbial strain.

“The modified surfaces showed robust resistance against microorganisms and proteins, which is precisely what we were looking to achieve,” said Richard Kaner, Professor of Materials Innovation Dr. Myung Ki Hong at UCLA and lead author of the research. “The surfaces strongly reduced or even prevented the formation of biofilm.

“And our early clinical results have been outstanding,” Kaner added.

The clinical research involved 16 long-term urinary catheter users who switched to silicone catheters with the new zwitterionic surface treatment. This modified catheter is the first product made by a company founded by Kaner from his lab, called SILQ Technologies Corp., and has been cleared for use in patients by the Food and Drug Administration.

Ten of the patients described their urinary tract condition using the surface-treated catheter as “much better” or “very much better” and 13 elected to continue using the new catheter over the conventional latex and silicone options after the end of the study period.

“A patient came to UCLA a few weeks ago to thank us for changing her life — something that, as a materials scientist, I never thought possible,” Kaner said. “Her previous catheters became blocked after about four days. She was in pain and needed repeated medical procedures to replace them. Thanks to our surface treatment, she now comes every three weeks and her catheters are working perfectly with no encrustation or occlusion — a common phenomenon with its precedents.”

Such catheter-related urinary tract issues exemplify issues plaguing other medical devices, which, once inserted or implanted, can become breeding grounds for bacteria and the growth of harmful biofilms, said California member Kaner. NanoSystems Institute at UCLA who is also a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and materials science and engineering. The pathogenic cells pumped by these highly resistant biofilms then cause recurrent infections in the body.

In response, medical staff routinely administer strong antibiotics to patients using these devices, a short-term solution that poses a longer-term risk of creating life-threatening, antibiotic-resistant “superbug” infections. The more widely and frequently antibiotics are prescribed, Kaner said, the more likely bacteria are to develop resistance to them. A landmark 2014 report from the World Health Organization recognized this overuse of antibiotics as an imminent threat to public health, with officials calling for an aggressive response to prevent “a post-antibiotic era in which common infections and minor wounds that have been treated for decades can once again kill.”

“The beauty of this technology,” Kaner said, “is that it can prevent or minimize biofilm growth without the use of antibiotics. It protects patients using medical devices — and therefore protects us all — from microbial resistance and the proliferation of superbugs.

The surface treatment’s zwitterion polymers are known to be extremely biocompatible and they absorb water very tightly, forming a thin moisture barrier that prevents bacteria, fungi and other organic materials from adhering to surfaces, said Kaner. And, he noted, the technology is highly effective, non-toxic and relatively inexpensive compared to other current surface treatments for medical devices, such as antibiotic-infused or silver-infused coatings.

Beyond its use in medical devices, the surface treatment technique could have non-medical applications, Kaner said, potentially extending the life of water treatment devices and improving the performance of lithium-ion batteries. ion.

Funding sources for the study included the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, SILQ Technologies Corp. and the UCLA Sustainability Grand Challenge.

The study’s co-lead authors are Brian McVerry, Alex Polasko and Ethan Rao. McVerry helped develop this and other surface treatments during his doctoral research at UCLA with Kaner and co-founded SILQ Technologies Corp., where he is now Chief Technology Officer. Rao, director of research and development at SILQ, and study co-author Na He, a process engineer at SILQ, conducted research at UCLA in Kaner’s lab.

Other co-authors are Shaily Mahendra of the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Dino Di Carlo, professor of bioengineering and mechanical and aerospace engineering; Amir Sheikhi, assistant professor of chemical and biomedical engineering at Penn State University; and Ali Khademhosseini, CEO of the Terasaki Institute for Biomedical Innovation and former professor of bioengineering, chemical and biomolecular engineering, and radiological sciences at UCLA.

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New CRISPR method makes gene editing in insects child’s play Tue, 17 May 2022 21:11:54 +0000

Insects have complex anatomical features due to which the process of gene editing in many insect species like cockroaches has always been tricky for scientists. But a study recently published in the journal Cell press reveals a promising solution to this problem.

Conceptual image of CRISPR in cockroaches. Image credits: Shirai et al./Cell Reports Methods

A team of researchers from Kyoto University in Japan has developed a technique called direct-parental CRISPR (DIPA). According to their study, this CRISPR method (the already famous “genetic scissor” can be used for gene editing in more than 90% of insect species. Such a method could help scientists around the world to overcome the various limitations and complications they face every time they try to edit an insect’s genome.

Discussing the research, the study’s lead author and professor of agriculture at Kyoto University, Takaaki Daimon, said:

“In a sense, insect researchers have been freed from the hassle of egg injections. We can now edit insect genomes more freely and at will. In principle, this method should work for more than 90% of insect species.

Why Bother Editing Bugs

A Smithsonian Institution report reveals that there are 900,000 species of insects (some other reports suggest the number could be as high as 1.5 million) and in terms of population they are the largest group on Earth. The total number of insects at any given time is thought to be 10 quintillion (1019). Insects are closely related to agriculture, disease, and various ecosystem services such as decomposition, pollination, and pest control that directly affect humans. Simply put, they shape the nature we see around us.

Moreover, we derive endless commercial benefits from insects in the form of medicines, textiles, edibles, and more. Genome editing practices in insects allow scientists to experiment with their genetic makeup and gain more information about their impact on nature and humanity, but so far it has been a very difficult.

First, current methods of genetic modification are very expensive because they require high-end setup and equipment. Second, they can only be used for a limited number of insect species such as mosquitoes and butterflies, since they require the introduction of mutations in the early embryonic stages. Since many insects (like cockroaches) have complex reproductive systems and hard early embryonic shells, injecting the desired material into their embryonic cells either becomes impossible or requires special tools and skills.

Therefore, different gene editing approaches are often required in the case of different insect species depending on their anatomical and reproductive characteristics.

“These problems with conventional methods have plagued researchers who want to perform genome editing on a wide variety of insect species,” adds Daimon.

The benefits of direct-parental CRISPR in insects

DIPA or direct-parental CRISPR is a method of regularly spaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)-Cas9. It is a very efficient and less time-consuming gene-editing technique that involves the use of a piece of guided RNA (gRNA) and the Cas9 enzyme. The gRna detects the part of the DNA genome that scientists want to modify in an organism and the Cas9 enzyme cuts the DNA strands containing the targeted genome.

Image credits: Virvoreanu-Laurentiu/Pixabay

When DNA is damaged, cells in the organism’s body initiate a repair mechanism and ultimately the original strand is replaced with the desired modified DNA. Professor Daimon and colleagues from Kyoto University performed an experiment with adult female cockroaches using the DIPA CRISPR-Ca9 method. Instead of inserting the desired genetic material at the early embryonic stage, they modified the genes of female cockroaches by injecting Cas9 ribonucleoproteins (RNPs) into their body segment containing developing eggs.

After making changes to cockroach genomes, the researchers found that the percentage of successful mutations was around 22%. When they used the same technique on red flour beetles, the effectiveness increased to 50%. Interestingly, cockroaches and red flour beetles are not closely related to each other, suggesting that the successful implementation of DIPA-CRISPR indices could be used for gene editing in different species of insects. ‘insects.

Another advantage of the DIPA CRISPR technique is that it requires no expensive equipment and can be easily performed with a piece of gRNA and the Cas9 enzyme using a basic experimental setup. However, the technique is not yet fully developed and further research is needed before it can be applied for genetic modification in all insect species.

“By improving the DIPA-CRISPR method and making it even more efficient and versatile, we may be able to enable genome editing in nearly all of the more than 1.5 million insect species, opening up a future in which we can fully utilize the incredible biological functions of insects,” Daimon said.

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Scientists create a simple and cheaper method for insect genome editing Tue, 17 May 2022 08:07:00 +0000

Scientists have developed a simple and cheaper genome-editing method that can be used on many insects, raising hopes of applying the technology to produce more edible insects.

A group of researchers from Kyoto University and the Institute of Evolutionary Biology developed the new method of injecting genome-editing tools into adult insects to make them give birth to genetically modified insects.

However, it also creates the risk of abuse of the method and release of genetically modified insects into the wild.

Takaaki Daimon, a professor at Kyoto University and a member of the research team, acknowledged that the new method may pose such risks because it is so simple that even “members of an undergraduate biology club in the secondary can use it”.

He urged scientists to “follow the rules and experiment in a closed setting to prevent (genetically modified) insects from escaping.”

Genome editing is used in the development of gene therapy for humans and the production of meatier red sea bream, highly nutritious tomatoes and other food products.

As part of existing insect genome editing methods, scientists inject genome editing tools, such as CRISPR/Cas9, which includes a ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecule that serves as a guide, and the Cas9 enzyme, which acts like scissors, in eggs immediately after they are fertilized.

But such methods require expensive equipment and technical skills and cannot be injected into the eggs of cockroaches and other insects, which are covered with a hard case.

When researchers used the new method to inject a genome-editing tool that creates white eyes into an area near the ovary of female German cockroaches about to lay eggs, around 20% of their hatchling had white eyes.

The editing tool was likely introduced into cells that turn into eggs, which then modified the targeted gene, according to the team.

The researchers said the new method can be used on most insects, as well as shrimp and crabs.

The new method is simpler, requires less expensive equipment and is more convenient than conventional methods because it allows scientists to use existing genome editing tools offered specifically for them.

The team expects the new method to be used in developing countries and applied to creating more edible insects.

The results were published on May 17 in the online version of the American scientific journal Cell Reports Methods: (

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Opinion: This Gen Z way of learning is superior to the old ways Mon, 16 May 2022 16:06:00 +0000

I recently had to install a new printer and my first thought was to read the manual. My teenage son, of a generation born with phones in their hands, turned to YouTube instead. Guess who ended up installing this printer?

There is a name for this concept: microlearning. We have known for a long time that our mind can only absorb so much. According to German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, we forget 90% of the information we consume in seven days. Yet by breaking our intake into bursts of five to 20 minutes — and using more immersive means like podcasts or videos — our retention is higher.

Gen Z has taught us that such learning is more in line with our busy lives. This younger generation has a much higher rate of cellphone ownership: about 96% of 18- to 29-year-olds own one, compared to 61% of people over 65, according to the Pew Research Center. And when Gen Z is on their phones, they are a lot, with one in four people spending more than five hours a day on their device, according to research by IBM and the National Retail Federation. They often use the phone for self-education, with 36% using devices to do homework and 28% to learn new things.

Microlearning can be used with virtually any subject. If you want to change the oil in your car, dozens of videos are waiting for you to show you how to do it. If you want to learn French, Duolingo will have you converse with a digital clerk to order a baguette from a Parisian bakery. If you want to talk about a specific subject, TED Talks are at your service.

This kind of learning can be amplified by memory apps like Anki. Say you are studying for an exam. You want to remember the critical points of the materials. You simply create digital flashcards, and the algorithm will quiz you in the days leading up to the exam, using spaced repetition to reinforce your knowledge.

Think of it as building a hiking trail in the forest. In traditional learning, you would walk the path so infrequently that you would have to reconstruct it each time you returned. Instead, through microlearning, you walk the path steadily, the repetition preventing vegetation from growing there and etching the route in your memory.

The beauty is that it’s easy, wastes little time, and is often free. You can dip your toe anywhere, knowing you can bail out if it’s not for you.

Start with what you want to learn and what your goal is. Suppose you need to learn some basic organic chemistry in order to work with a new client to whom you have been assigned. You can find a YouTuber who offers tutorials, such as the Organic Chemistry Tutor, to get you up to speed.

An onslaught of Excel instructions isn’t the easiest to digest, especially if you’re not proficient in Microsoft Office. To help you, you can pay for nano-courses taught by an expert like Miss Excel.

Perhaps your job requires a range of practical knowledge, rather than specific expertise. Maybe you need to know a little more about marketing, product management, and cybersecurity so you don’t get stunned in meetings. You can spend 20 minutes on LinkedIn Learning once a day to understand the key elements of these disciplines.

Micro-learning goes beyond simply acquiring professional skills; it is also essential for lifelong learning. If you want to be healthier, for example, you can follow social media influencers who model and give tips for living a healthier life. A good example is the Instagram account @eatinghealthytoday, which shows you how to prepare healthy meals in less than a minute.

As the metaverse expands in the coming years, this mode of learning is likely to become more experiential. Consider using virtual reality (VR) to visit ancient Greece and listen to Socrates. A full body and mind experience, targeting all the senses, will help you remember what it says.

It’s not science fiction. Some companies are already using virtual reality, for example, when it is difficult to train employees from a manual. Suppose a retailer wants his sales force to learn how to deal with angry customers. Using virtual reality to have them practice placating a seemingly real customer with specific issues opens the door to learning that simple text cannot. It’s also more effective and efficient than conducting long role-playing sessions in a conference room, allowing entire departments to learn at once, even from their office or home.

The older we get, the more reluctant we tend to be about changing our habits. Maybe apps and social media seem outside of your field and you think microlearning isn’t for you. But don’t be scared of the technology; this is just one aspect of microlearning. In fact, you’ve been using microlearning your whole life.

When you first learned to ride a bike, you didn’t turn to a manual. You learned by experience through repeated attempts to get off the pavement. Today’s microlearning is not much different. You’re just using technology to get there faster, the same way you’ve used this bike before to get to the playground faster.

Barbara Petitt is the Executive Director of Professional Learning at CFA Institute.

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This method of cosmic timing proposes to synchronize all clocks on Earth Sat, 14 May 2022 06:03:11 +0000

Modern technology beats with a heart rate measured in microseconds. From global positioning systems to communications networks, it’s critical that every component falls into near perfect synchronization.

Based on standards determined by a specialist working group, signals sent over fiber optics or down from an orbiting satellite tend to ensure that time-sensitive technology corresponds to moments down to the nanosecond.

However, this will not always be the case. Dependent on fallible electronics, separated by vast distances, hidden under waves and stone, it is easy for the vital elements of a network to lose rhythm.

According to Hiroyuki Tanaka, a geophysicist from the University of Tokyo, it might be high time to look elsewhere for a more reliable and accessible stopwatch. As towards the sky, and above.

“It’s relatively easy to keep accurate time these days. For example, atomic clocks have been doing this for decades now,” says Tanaka.

“However, they are large and expensive devices that are very easy to disrupt. That’s one of the reasons I worked on a better way to keep time.”

Called cosmic time synchronization (CTS), Tanaka proposes that we use the subatomic fireworks that rain down from collisions between high-energy cosmic rays and our atmosphere.

These collisions generate a variety of particles, one of which is the electron’s heavy cousin, the muon.

These beefy chunks of matter shoot toward the planet’s surface at nearly the speed of light, respecting its path with little respect. Hold out your hand and you can expect a muon to pierce your palm once every second.

Even the rock beneath your feet struggles to block its path, a feature that makes them perfect for illuminating the interior of dense structures like the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Basically, each muon shower rains down in a slightly unique way, providing a characteristic explosion that can be detected independently by sensors spread over several square kilometers.

By sharing the details of each event and working backwards, a network can use a series of cosmic muon fireworks to synchronize its watches with split-second precision.

(Hiroyuki KM Tanaka)

“The principle is robust and the technology, detectors and timing electronics already exist, so we could implement this idea quite quickly,” Tanaka said.

It’s easy to imagine a network of muon sensors at the bottom of the ocean or scattered in remote areas, dutifully synchronized to align observations that could help locate earthquakes or prevent tsunamis.

Tanaka says the technology could also have the added benefit of providing the basis for a new type of global positioning system by mapping muons back to their source.

It remains to be seen whether such a technology could complement current methods, serve as an alternative in certain situations or replace them completely.

“Thomas Edison illuminated Manhattan starting with a single light bulb,” says Tanaka.

“Maybe we should take this approach, starting with a city block, then a neighborhood, and eventually syncing all of Tokyo and beyond.”

This research was published in Scientific reports.

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The Reverse Creaming Method, Explained Fri, 13 May 2022 23:55:00 +0000

Rose Levy Beranbaum told Epicurious that she first discovered the reverse creaming technique in cookbooks designed for production bakers using high-volume recipes using large amounts of ingredients that don’t translate well in the home baker’s kitchen. A self-proclaimed rule breaker, Beranbaum began experimenting with the method to see if she could make it work on her own terms.

Instead of using shortening masses like many commercial kitchens do, Beranbaum worked to find the best way to replace butter in his version of the upside-down cake technique. She found that softening the butter between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit was ideal. If you can’t take the temperature of your stick of butter, let it come to room temperature in a cool place where it will soften instead of melt into a puddle of butter. If you’re in a hurry, the Food Network suggests a few methods like cutting cold butter into small pieces, rolling it, or using indirect heat to soften it quickly.

Start the reverse creaming method by disregarding your old baking knowledge and blending all the dry ingredients in your blender first. As Beranbaum writes in “The Cake Bible”: “The creaming still takes place but in a different way: All the dry ingredients are first combined with the butter and a minimum of liquid, which coats the flour before add remaining liquid ingredients” in three steps (via Baking Outside the Box).

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Revolutionary method uses solar energy to produce green hydrogen from water Fri, 13 May 2022 08:26:17 +0000

A team of researchers from the University of Strathclyde has claimed that solar energy can be used for large-scale hydrogen power generation. Although hydrogen is one of the cleanest energy sources, even today most of the hydrogen we produce still comes from fossil fuels. A shocking report from the US Department of Energy reveals that natural gas power plants are sources of 95 percent of hydrogen produced in the country.

Due to these methods of producing hydrogen from fossil fuels, large amounts of greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere. These gases are aggravating the climate change crisis that our planet is currently going through. However, this can be avoided if we find a green and sustainable way to produce hydrogen.

Scientists from the University of Strathclyde have proposed such a method in their recent study Posted in Angewandte Chemie, a scientific journal run by the German Chemical Society.

The practical approach to green hydrogen production

Fractionation of a water molecule in the presence of Iridium. Source: Angewandte Chemie International Edition

Producing green hydrogen from water requires a material that could trigger the breakdown of water into hydrogen and oxygen using light. Such a material is called a photocatalyst. Scientists have used sacrificial electron donors for hydrogen production in many previous experiments.

Although these agents can increase hydrogen yield by decreasing the tendency for electrons and holes to recombine, they cannot be used for large-scale hydrogen production. The University of Strathclyde researcher claims that storable hydrogen can be produced in large quantities by photocatalyzing water in the presence of sunlight using a particulate conjugated polymer containing a metal catalyst such as iridium.

Asked about the importance of the conjugated polymer, lead researcher Sebastian Sprick said Interesting engineering, “Conjugated polymers (loaded with materials like Iridium) have great potential due to their tunability by chemical synthesis allowing for better material design in the future.” However, because iridium is a rare material, adds Sprick, “research will now focus on replacing these rare metal catalysts to enable material scale-up to effectively combat hydrogen production at large scale”.

Some previous studies have confirmed that the biggest challenge in the production of green hydrogen is to ensure the availability of a vast source of renewable energy. As solar energy is both an easily accessible and renewable source of energy, it is available in abundant quantities on Earth. Sprick and his team of researchers reveal that photocatalytic separation of water under the influence of sunlight may prove to be the most efficient and cleanest way to produce green hydrogen on a large scale.

For example, the amount of solar energy that reaches the Earth in one hour is more than enough to meet the world’s energy needs for an entire year. A research article published last year in Nature also points out that photocatalysis supported by solar energy is a very efficient and economical hydrogen production technique.

According to Sprick, “The reported photocatalyst can access solar energy through energetically unfavorable processes to generate a storable energy carrier in the form of hydrogen from water. The hydrogen can then be cleanly converted into electricity. in a fuel cell, water being the only by-product.

Is green hydrogen the future?

Hydrogen produced by solar photocatalysis using conjugated polymers does not lead to carbon emissions. In addition, no greenhouse gases are released when this hydrogen is transformed into a hydrogen fuel cell. Therefore, almost clean and green hydrogen production can be achieved using this method.

According to a report by the International Energy Agency, green hydrogen has great potential as it can significantly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and reduce the global carbon footprint. Industries such as shipping, oil refining, transportation, and aerospace that currently create a lot of pollution due to traditional fuels can become nearly pollution-free by using green hydrogen.

Last year the The British government has announced that by 2030 they aim to produce enough hydrogen to meet the energy demands of three million homes. The country’s national network is also growing a hydrogen-based network to generate clean electricity. The French government is making huge investments to increase its production of green hydrogen. A market study reveals that France invest 7.28 billion dollars (7 billion euros) by the end of this decade to achieve its green hydrogen goals.

Many countries and companies have realized that green hydrogen is the fuel of the future. It’s green, efficient and can help us accelerate our efforts to fight climate change. However, researchers at the University of Strathclyde suggest that there are still many challenges on the path to sustainable green hydrogen production, and they are working on these challenges.

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Grinding method could produce ‘greener’ fertilizer Thu, 12 May 2022 08:43:00 +0000

A purely mechanical method can produce a new, more sustainable fertilizer in a less polluting way. This is the result of a method optimized with DESY’s PETRA III light source. An international team used PETRA III to optimize the production method which is an adaptation of an old technique: by grinding two common ingredients, urea and gypsum, scientists produce a new solid compound that slowly releases two essential chemical elements to soil fertilization, nitrogen, and calcium. The grinding method is fast, efficient and clean, as is the fertilizer product, which has the potential to reduce nitrogen pollution that clogs water systems and contributes to climate change. Scientists have also discovered that their process is evolutionary; therefore, it could potentially be implemented industrially. The results of DESY scientists; the Ruđer Bošković Institute (IRB) in Zagreb, Croatia; and Lehigh University in the United States were published in the journal Green chemistry. The new fertilizer still needs to be tested in the field.

For several years, DESY and IRB scientists have been collaborating to explore the fundamentals of mechanical methods for initiating chemical reactions. This processing method, called mechanochemistry, uses various mechanical inputs, such as compression, vibration or, in this case, grinding, to achieve the chemical transformation. “Mechanochemistry is a fairly old technique,” says Martin Etter, beamline scientist P02.1 at PETRA III. “For thousands of years we have been grinding things, for example grain to make bread. Only now are we beginning to examine these mechanochemical processes more intensively using X-rays and to see how we can use these processes to initiate chemical reactions.

The Etter beamline is one of the few in the world where mechanochemistry can be routinely performed and analyzed using synchrotron X-rays. Etter has spent years developing the beamline and working with users to refine methods for analyzing and optimizing mechanochemical reactions. The result was a world-renowned experimental setup that has been used in the study of many types of reactions important to materials science, industrial catalysis, and green chemistry.

“In fact, the mechanochemical configuration of DESY is probably the best in the world,” says Krunoslav Užarević from IRB in Zagreb. “In few places can you follow the progress of mechanochemical reactions as well as here at DESY. It would have been practically impossible to achieve this result without the expertise of Martin Etter and this PETRA III configuration.

For this result, the mechanochemistry collaboration partnered with Jonas Baltrusaitis, professor of chemical engineering at Lehigh University. The team used the P02.1 configuration to better understand the parameters governing the grinding process, in order to optimize the reaction conditions for the preparation of the target fertilizer. The configuration of PETRA III allows direct insight into the evolution of the reaction mixture by applying synchrotron radiation to the grinding vessel. This means that the reaction can be observed without stopping the procedure. This allowed researchers to determine the exact reaction pathways and analyze product yield and purity, which helped them fine-tune the mechanical procedure on the fly. They found a procedure for 100% conversion of raw materials into target fertilizer.

This end product is known as a “cocrystal”, a solid with a crystal structure comprising two different chemicals that is stabilized by weaker intermolecular interactions in repeating patterns. “Co-crystals can be seen as LEGO structures,” Etter explains. “You have sets of two types of two bricks, and with those two bricks you create a repeating pattern.” In this case, the “bricks” are calcium sulphate derived from gypsum and urea. During the grinding process, urea and calcium sulfate bind together.

“On its own, urea forms a very loosely bound crystal that breaks down easily and releases its nitrogen too easily,” says Baltrusaitis. “But with calcium sulfate through this mechanochemical process, you get a much more robust cocrystal with a slow release.” The advantage of this co-crystal is that its chemical bonds are weak enough to release nitrogen and calcium but strong enough to prevent the two elements from going wild at the same time.

This method of release is the great advantage of the fertilizer. For one thing, they avoided one of the major drawbacks of nitrogen fertilizers that have been used since the 1960s. “The status quo in fertilizers, for food safety reasons, is to dump as much nitrogen and phosphorus as possible on crops,” says Baltrusaitis. More than 200 million tons of fertilizer are produced through the more than a century-old Haber-Bosch process, which traps atmospheric nitrogen in urea crystals. Of this volume, only about 47% is actually absorbed by the ground, with the rest being washed away and causing potentially massive disruptions in water supply systems. In the North Sea and Gulf of Mexico, massive “dead zones” develop, in which algal blooms fueled by excess fertilizers suck up all available oxygen in the water and thereby kill marine life. .

In addition, the production of common fertilizers is energy-intensive, consuming 4% of the world’s natural gas supply each year via the Haber-Bosch process. The new method offers the possibility of reducing this dependency. “If you increase the efficiency of these urea-based materials by 50%, you have to produce less urea through Haber-Bosch, with all the associated energy consumption issues such as natural gas demand,” says Baltrusaitis. The grinding procedure is fast and very efficient, resulting in pure fertilizer with no residual by-products except water. “Not only are we providing a better performing fertilizer,” says Baltrusaitis, “we are also demonstrating a method of green synthesis.”

While the PETRA III analysis involved milligrams of fertilizer, the research team led by Baltrusaitis and Užarević succeeded in extending their procedures using data collected at PETRA. So far they can, with the same procedure and efficiency, produce hundreds of grams of fertilizer. As a next step, the team plans to continue scaling up, to create a true industrial proof-of-principle version of the process. Baltrusaitis is already working on such scale-up and co-crystalline fertilizer testing for application under real-world conditions.

“Beyond the product, the mechanochemical process generates virtually no unwanted by-products or wastes,” says IRB’s Užarević. “We are optimistic about its strong potential for worldwide application. »

The Ruđer Bošković Institute in Zagreb, Croatia, Lehigh University in Bethlehem (Pennsylvania) in the United States, the chemical company ICL Group, the University of Zagreb and DESY participated in this research.

Reference: Brekalo I, Martinez V, Karadeniz B, et al. Scaling up the agrochemical synthesis of urea-gypsum cocrystals by thermally controlled mechanochemistry. ACS Sustain Chem Eng. 2022. doi: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.2c00914

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Algorithms enhance images and immediately evaluate them for accuracy

RESTON, Va., May 11, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — Noblis, Inc., a leading provider of science, technology, and strategic services to the federal government, today announced the grant of U.S. Patent 11,275,973 for a method to improve images to improve the ability of pre-trained algorithms to classify them.

“Computers have proven to be good learners when it comes to classifying images. But even a powerful system can struggle with a poor quality image,” said Charles Otto, research team leader de Noblis and inventor of the method. “This technology provides a way for a system to transform these images, with high precision, into something it can recognize and classify.”

“This technology could help our customers increase the usability of drone images, where distance and motion blur can compromise image quality,” said Chris Barnett, Chief Technology Officer of Noblis. “We are excited about the benefits this could bring to our defense and homeland security customers.”

Learn more about Noblis capabilities, our in-house sponsored research and development program and other patents.


For more than 25 years, Noblis has been an innovator in the federal government, committed to enriching lives and making our nation safer while investing in the missions of tomorrow. As a non-profit organization, Noblis works for the public good, providing independent and objective scientific, technological and engineering solutions. Together with our affiliates, we tackle the country’s toughest problems and apply advanced solutions to our clients’ most critical missions.

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