Popeye would approve: Spinach could hold key to renewable fuel cell catalysts

Popeye reaches for a can of spinach in a still from an unidentified <em>Popeye</em> film, c. 1945. Scientists at American University believe the leafy green has the potential to help power future fuel cells.

Enlarge / Popeye reaches for a can of spinach in a still from an unidentified Popeye film, c. 1945. Scientists at American University believe the leafy green has the potential to help power future fuel cells. (credit: Paramount Pictures/Courtesy of Getty Image)

When it comes to making efficient fuel cells, it’s all about the catalyst. A good catalyst will result in faster, more efficient chemical reactions and, thus, increased energy output. Today’s fuel cells typically rely on platinum-based catalysts. But scientists at American University believe that spinach—considered a “superfood” because it is so packed with nutrients—would make an excellent renewable carbon-rich catalyst, based on their proof-of-principle experiments described in a recent paper published in the journal ACS Omega. Popeye would definitely approve.

The notion of exploiting the photosynthetic properties of spinach has been around for about 40 years now. Spinach is plentiful, cheap, easy to grow, and rich in iron and nitrogen. Many (many!) years ago, as a budding young science writer, I attended a conference talk by physicist Elias Greenbaum (then with Oak Ridge National Labs) about his spinach-related research. Specifically, he was interested in the protein-based “reaction centers” in spinach leaves that are the basic mechanism for photosynthesis—the chemical process by which plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and carbohydrates.

There are two types of reaction centers. One type, known as photosystem 1 (PS1), converts carbon dioxide into sugar; the other, photosystem 2 (PS2), splits water to produce oxygen. Most of the scientific interest is in PS1, which acts like a tiny photosensitive battery, absorbing energy from sunlight and emitting electrons with nearly 100-percent efficiency. In essence, energy from sunlight converts water into an oxygen molecule, a positively charged hydrogen ion, and a free electron. These three molecules then combine to form a sugar molecule. PS1s are capable of generating a light-induced flow of electricity in fractions of a second.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#catalysts, #chemistry, #electrochemistry, #fuel-cells, #nanotechnology, #physics, #renewable-energy, #science, #tech

0

America Is Going to Decapitate Huawei

The United States’ technological dominance gives it an immense power. But how long will that last?

#5g-wireless-communications, #cadence-design-systems-inc, #china, #computer-chips, #huawei-technologies-co-ltd, #nanotechnology, #regulation-and-deregulation-of-industry, #taiwan, #united-states-international-relations

0

This tiny reproduction of Girl With a Pearl Earring is “painted” with light

An illustration of how millions of nanopillars were used to control both the color and intensity of incident light, projecting a faithful reproduction of Johannes Vermeer's <em>Girl With a Pearl Earring</em>.

Enlarge / An illustration of how millions of nanopillars were used to control both the color and intensity of incident light, projecting a faithful reproduction of Johannes Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring. (credit: T. Xu/Nanjing University)

Scientists have fabricated tiny “nanopillars” capable of transmitting specific colors of light, at specific intensities, which hold promise for improved optical communication and anti-counterfeit measures for currency. For proof of concept, they decided to digitally reproduce Dutch master Johannes Vermeer’s famous painting Girl With a Pearl Earring—just painted in light instead of pigment. They discussed their work in a recent paper published in the journal Optica.

“The quality of the reproduction, capturing the subtle color gradations and shadow details, is simply remarkable,” said co-author Amit Agrawal, a researcher with the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST). “This work quite elegantly bridges the fields of art and nanotechnology.”

Nature abounds with examples of structural color. The bright colors in butterfly wings don’t come from any pigment molecules but from how the wings are structured, for instance. The scales of chitin (a polysaccharide common to insects) are arranged like roof tiles. Essentially, they form a diffraction grating, except photonic crystals only produce certain colors, or wavelengths, of light while a diffraction grating will produce the entire spectrum, much like a prism 

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biomimicry, #gaming-culture, #materials-science, #meta-materials, #nanopillars, #nanotechnology, #optics, #painting-with-light, #physics, #science

0

IBM Research develops new macromolecule that could counter antibiotic resistance

There are other persistent, grave health crises brewing besides the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic: Antibiotic resistance is one, and the troubling trend is that it’s on the rise, leading to an increase in so-called ‘superbugs’ that are difficult to treat. IBM Research, working in partnership with Singapore’s Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, has developed a synthetic macromolecule polymer that can potentially be used to significantly increase the effectiveness of existing antibiotics, rendering them able to fight off emerging superbugs.

In a new paper published in academic journal Advanced Science, the IBM researchers detail their work in creating a polymer that can be combined with course of antibiotics that are used to treat non-resistant strains of infections, in does equal or even lower to those that are found to be effective in treating the varieties of the infections that lack the ability to overcome antibiotics.

The macromolecule works by essentially hitching itself to the enzymes that bacteria modify when they are treated using antibiotics, but not completely eliminated. That’s a big reason why you’re always told to take the entire course of an antibiotic when it’s prescribed: If it isn’t completely wiped out, it can rebound and develop resistance to the treatment used when it comes back.

The IBM polymer basically shorts out the protective measures developed by the bacteria when to counter the effects of the antibiotic, returning (or potentially even slightly improving) their efficacy.

This is still relatively early research that’s been done in the highly controlled environment of the lab, and would require a lot more development and testing, including proper clinical trials involving human patients before it actually becomes anything to be used in the real world. But these lab-based results provide a very promising basis upon which to build that work, having shown demonstrated efficacy with real multidrug-resistant bacterial infections.

#antibiotic-resistance, #articles, #bacteria, #biotech, #health, #ibm, #medicine, #nanotechnology, #science, #tc, #veterinary-medicine

0