from the world's big
Your television may soon get a serious upgrade.
- Researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder confirm that a new liquid phase has been discovered.
- This liquid phase was first speculated about over a century ago by physicists Peter Debye and Max Born.
- Liquid crystals are used in many technologies, including LCD televisions.
Physicist Otto Lehman, 1907
Photo: Wikimedia Commons<p>While in the nematic phase, half of the molecules point in one direction and the other half point in the other. As there is no exact positional order, the arrangement is usually random.</p><p>Though his friend let it go, Lehmann pursued this discovery, publishing his first paper in 1889. In the 1910s, two others physicists, Peter Debye and Max Born, published papers speculating that the random ordering of crystals in the nematic phase could be manipulated to fall into a state of polar order. Solid crystals already exhibited such a property, which is known as ferroelectricity. They were right about the nematic phase, though it took some time to work out the science.</p><p>In 2017, a team of physicists based at the University of York <a href="https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2017/CP/C7CP00456G#!divAbstract" target="_blank">developed a compound</a> known as RM734. When heated to extreme temperatures it behaves like a nematic LC. At lower temperatures, a "splay" arrangement is observed.</p>
The colors in this newly discovered phase of liquid crystal shift as researchers apply a small electric field.
Credit: SMRC<p>Recently, a team at the University of Colorado, Boulder, decided to apply a weak electric field to RM734. Their <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/09/2002290117" target="_blank">research</a>, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), claims that a new liquid phase has finally been discovered after a century of speculation.</p><p>Physicist Noel Clark of UC Boulder <a href="https://phys.org/news/2020-06-century-scientists-liquid-phase.html" target="_blank">discusses</a> the revelation.</p><p>"It was like connecting a light bulb to voltage to test it but finding the socket and hookup wires glowing much more brightly instead. That confirmed that this phase was, indeed, a ferroelectric nematic fluid."</p>
A technician installs a 100-inch LCD TV with ambilight at Dutch electronics giant Philips' stand at Berlin's IFA Consumer Electronics trade fair 30 August 2006.
Photo: John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images<p>This finding even shocked the team, which expected to see more entropy in the configuration.</p><p>The team believes that this new phase could be used in display technologies and computer memory, as well as enhance findings in AI. In fact, they speculate that an entirely new class of materials can be derived from this new liquid phase. That's quite an evolution from one of the original LC phases: soapy water.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
By leveraging the difference between lit and shadowed areas, a new energy source perfect for wearables is invented.
- Mobile devices used both indoors and out may benefit from a new energy collection system that thrives on mixed and changing lighting conditions.
- Inexpensive new collection cells are said to be twice as efficient as commercial solar cells.
- The system's "shadow effect" would also maker it useful as a sensor for tracking traffic.
For all of its promise, solar energy depends on the capture of light, and the more the better. For residents of sunny climes, that's great, with rooftop collection panels, and solar farms built by utilities in wide open, sunny spaces that can provide power to the rest of us. Now, though, a team of scientists at the National University of Singapore (NUS) has announced success at deriving energy from…shadows.
We've got plenty of them everywhere. "Shadows are omnipresent, and we often take them for granted," says research team leader Tan Swee Ching, who notes how shadows are usually anathema for energy collection. "In conventional photovoltaic or optoelectronic applications where a steady source of light is used to power devices, the presence of shadows is undesirable, since it degrades the performance of devices." His team has come up with something quite different, and Tan claims of their shadow-effect energy generator (SEG) that, "This novel concept of harvesting energy in the presence of shadows is unprecedented."
The research is published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science.
How it works
Image source: Royal Society of Chemistry/NUS
The energy produced by the SEG is generated from the differential between shadowed and lit areas. "In this work," says Tan. "We capitalized on the illumination contrast caused by shadows as an indirect source of power. The contrast in illumination induces a voltage difference between the shadow and illuminated sections, resulting in an electric current."
SEG cells are less expensive to produce than solar cells. Each SEG cell is a thin film of gold on a silicon wafer, and an entire system is a set of four of these cells arrayed on a flexible, transparent plastic film. Experiments suggest the system, in use, is twice as efficient as commercial solar cells.
An SEG cell's shadow effect works best when it is half in light and half in shadow, "as this gives enough area for charge generation and collection respectively," says co-team leader Andrew Wee. When the SEG is entirely in shadow or in light, it doesn't produce a charge.
Gold in them that shadows
To be sure, the amount of energy that NUS researchers have thus far extracted is small, but it's enough to power a digital watch. The researchers envision the SEG system harvesting ambient light to power smart phones and AR glasses that are used both outdoors and indoors. While such devices can run on solar batteries, solar is only replenished outdoors, and the SEG could "scavenge energy from both illumination and shadows associated with low light intensities to maximize the efficiency of energy harvesting," says Tan. It seems clear that we're on the cusp of the era of wearables — AR visionwear, smart fabrics, smart watches, and so on — and so Tan considers the arrival of the SEG "exciting and timely."
The researchers also note an additional application for which the SEG seems a natural: It can function as a self-powered sensor for monitoring moving objects. The shadow caused by a passing object would trigger the SEG sensor, which can then record the event.
Next up for the team is investigating constructing cells using other, less costly materials than gold to make them even less expensive to produce.
Device for harnessing terahertz radiation might enable self-powering implants, cellphones, other portable electronics.
A microbial organism pulls electricity from water in the air.
- Hidden in the mud along the banks of Washington D.C.'s Potomac River may be a profound new source of electricity.
- The microbe makes nanowires that produce a charge from water vapor in ordinary air.
- Already capable of powering small electronics, it appears that larger-scale power generation is within reach.
The amazing microbe<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjc4MjM2OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzM5MzIyNX0.LohYGsG6Itbg_e88CHiDfeFTEdABXhw-kG-Hovcu0mU/img.jpg?width=980" id="a3da5" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="05dd79a134454b47e98b9e879a527d61" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Anna Klimes and Ernie Carbone, UMass Amherst/Wikipedia<p>The rod-shaped microbe, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geobacter_sulfurreducens" target="_blank"><em>Geobacter sulfurreducens</em></a> is, as its name implies, a member of the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geobacter" target="_blank"><em>Geobacter</em></a> genus, a group referred to as "electrigens" for their known ability to generate an electrical charge. It was UMass Amherst microbiologist <a href="https://www.micro.umass.edu/faculty-and-research/derek-lovley" target="_blank">Derek Lovley</a> who found and wrote about the microbe in the late 80s.</p><p>It was also Lovlley's lab that discovered the microbe has a talent for producing electrically conductive protein nanowires, and his lab recently developed a new <em>Geobacter</em> strain that could produce them more rapidly and inexpensively. "We turned <em>E. coli</em> into a protein nanowire factory," Lovley <a href="https://www.umass.edu/newsoffice/article/new-green-technology-umass-amherst" target="_blank">says</a>. What this means, he says, is that "With this new scalable process, protein nanowire supply will no longer be a bottleneck to developing these applications."</p><p>Enter electrical engineer <a href="https://ece.umass.edu/faculty/jun-yao" target="_blank">Jun Yao</a>, also of UMass Amherst. His specialty had been engineering electronic devices using silicon nanowires. The two decided to work together to see if they could turn <em>Geobacter's</em> protein nanowires into something useful.</p>
Air-gen<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjc4MjM5Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTQ3OTA2OX0.slPEigWStxfsbq7nT3xxQFFM5MuSEWnooifyB06jUNE/img.jpg?width=980" id="1d22e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ef413c6a05295d4e960c2846442e0c44" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Artisit's conception of the duo's Air-gen, with Geobacter's charge-producing nanowires imagined beneath the device.
Image source: UMass Amherst/Yao and Lovley labs<p>The fruit of their collaboration is a device they call "Air-gen." It employs a thin film of <em>Geobacter</em> nanowires less than 10 microns thick resting on an electrode. Another, smaller electrode sits on top of the film. The film collects, or adsorbs, water vapor, and its surface chemistry and conductivity produce a charge that passes between the two electrodes through the fine gaps between individual nanowires.</p><p>Yao's doctoral student Xiaomeng Liu recalls, "I saw that when the nanowires were contacted with electrodes in a specific way the devices generated a current. I found that that exposure to atmospheric humidity was essential and that protein nanowires adsorbed water, producing a voltage gradient across the device."</p><p>Says Yao, "We are literally making electricity out of thin air." The Air-gen generates clean energy 24/7. "It's the most amazing and exciting application of protein nanowires yet." The two see their new technology as being non-polluting, renewable, and low cost- with distinct advantages over other developing energy sources such as solar and wind for at least one big reason, "it even works indoors" notes Lovley.</p>
Something in the air<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjc4MjQyNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMjM1NjYwOX0._oF_h0t_V2IkDCJWY-TH1Y1OQ7rZQfoM6C_mRNDuE4E/img.jpg?width=980" id="fc98c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7c0b79c24ec6b067d89acf9932b7bd67" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Air-gen producing electrical current
Image source: UMass Amherst/Yao and Lovley labs<p>At this point, Air-gen generates "a sustained voltage of around 0.5 volts across a 7-micrometre-thick film, with a current density of around 17 microamperes per square centimeter," enough power to run small electronics. Chaining together several Air-gen units produces even more voltage. The device marks an obvious advance beyond other existing moisture-based energy-harvesting devices that are capable only of intermittent bursts of electricity that last less than 50 seconds.</p><p>Lovley and Yao plan Air-gen modifications that will allow Air-gen to replace the batteries used in electronic wearables — smart watches and other health and fitness devices — providing self-renewing energy. They also expect it to soon provide power for mobile phones the user will no longer need to recharge.</p><p>"The ultimate goal," says Yao, "is to make large-scale systems. For example, the technology might be incorporated into wall paint that could help power your home. Or, we may develop stand-alone air-powered generators that supply electricity off the grid. Once we get to an industrial scale for wire production, I fully expect that we can make large systems that will make a major contribution to sustainable energy production."</p><p>Clearly excited by the work so far, Yao says, "This is just the beginning of new era of protein-based electronic devices."</p>
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