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In this podcast episode, MRS Bulletin’s Sophia Chen interviews Kenjiro Fukuda from RIKEN in Japan and Masahito Takakuwa of Waseda University about a technique to connect integrated electronics while maintaining their flexibility. They demonstrated the method on two gold electrodes. To make the two pieces of gold bond, the researchers treated the gold with water vapor plasma. The researchers used this technique to electrically connect the gold electrodes of an organic photovoltaic to an organic light-emitting diode without adding significant thickness, thereby ensuring the flexibility of the device. This study is published in Science Advances (doi:10.1126/sciadv.abl6228). 
In this podcast episode, MRS Bulletin’s Stephen Riffle interviews Samuel Herberg from SUNY upstate medical university in Syracuse, New York about a new tool to study cell behavior. According to Herberg, culturing cells in an environment that reflects the materials properties of the human body can help reveal new insights into cell biology and mechanisms of disease. To do that, his research team has created a hydrogel using natural polymers. Through UV and chemically induced crosslinking, Herberg’s team is able to finely tune their hydrogel’s stiffness, which enables them to study diseases like primary open angle glaucoma, the world’s leading cause of vision loss. Their study is published in Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology (doi: 10.3389/fcell.2022.844342). 
In this podcast episode, MRS Bulletin’s Laura Leay interviews PhD candidate Laura Albero Blanquer and her professor, Jean-Marie Tarascon, from the Collège de France in Paris about their study on what occurs inside the cells of both liquid and solid-state batteries. They embedded the optical Fiber Bragg grating sensor that reflects monochromatic light, revealing a shift in the peak wavelength when there is a change in temperature, pressure, or stress. The sensors were calibrated so that only changes in stress could be detected. This research will lead to new opportunities to look at commercial liquid cells, and to greater insight into the chemo-mechanical processes in electrodes and in all solid-state batteries, which could lead to enhanced performance. Their study is published in Nature Communications (https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-28792-w).
In this podcast episode, MRS Bulletin’s Laura Leay interviews Nate Hohman from The University of Connecticut about the structure of two chalcogenolates his group uncovered. By combining serial femtosecond crystallography —usually used to characterize large molecules—and a clique algorithm, Hohman’s group was able to analyze the structure of small molecules. With serial femtosecond crystallography, large molecules like proteins produce thousands of spots on the detector; in contrast, small molecule crystals only a produce a few spots. The algorithm uses the pattern that the spots make on the detector to determine the orientation of as many crystals in the liquid jet as possible. The data from each crystal can then be merged together to find the structure. 
In this podcast episode, MRS Bulletin’s Sophia Chen interviews Carla Gomes, Michael Thompson, and Max Amsler of Cornell University about their robot, SARA—Scientific Autonomous Reasoning Agent. Unlike commonly known artificial intelligence (AI) applications such as the neural networks that enable image recognition, SARA performs within a closed loop system through a type of AI known as active learning, which allows the system to reason without a lot of training data. Within 30 minutes, SARA figured out how to make delta phase bismuth oxide and cool it to room temperature, saving the research team two full days of experiments. 
In this podcast episode, MRS Bulletin's Prachi Patel interviews Liangbing Hu of the University of Maryland on research to mold and shape wood — a low-cost, sustainable material. Beginning with basswood, Hu's laboratory removed some of the lignin and fully dried this hardwood. As the wood dries, the cell walls contract. Wood also has hollow fibers and open channels, called vessels, all of which close up as the material dries. The wood is then shocked with water, leaving it with partially open vessels and closely packed fibers. The cells walls expand rapidly and take on an accordion-like wrinkled structure. These wrinkles, and the space created by the partially open vessels, allow the wood to be compressed and stretched, and the closely packed fibers give it enough strength to bend.     
In this podcast episode, MRS Bulletin's Sophia Chen interviews Zahra Fakhraai of the University of Pennsylvania on her group's research to better understand how a substance condenses into glass. They studied the liquid–liquid phase transition in vapor-deposited thin films of N,N0-bis(3-methylphenyl)-N,N0-diphenylbenzidine (TPD). They discovered a new high-density supercooled liquid phase in glasses deposited in the thickness range of 25-55 nm. Their findings could lead to more precise theoretical descriptions of glasses.  
In this podcast episode, MRS Bulletin's Sophia Chen interviews Nima Rahbar of Worcester Polytechnic Institute on the use of an enzyme, carbonic anhydrase, that initiates self-healing in concrete. The enzyme catalyzes calcium in the cement to react with carbon dioxide from the air to form crystals of calcite, which repairs cracks. Rahbar's research group has demonstrated how the material can heal millimeter-wide cracks. Ubiquitous concrete is responsible for 8% of human-made greenhouse gases, including that used in the repair of existing structures. Rahbar's work is expected to help reduce concrete's carbon footprint, while also speeding up the self-healing compared to the previously used bacteria-based methods. 
Omar Fabian: It’s summer and film director James Cameron has just dropped another scorching hit. In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, we find mother-son duo Sarah and John Connor running for their lives, and for the lives of all humankind, with the help of a bad cyborg turned good played by none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger. There are so many undoubtedly cool visual features to take away from this iconic film. Little known fact: it actually won four Academy awards for its sound and visual effects. But if you ask around, more than likely, you’ll find that the coolest has to be the T-1000: the liquid-metal robot sent from the future to destroy John Connor and ensure victory for our machine overlords.   Alireza Dolatshahi-Pirouz:  You have this robot that, it’s not electronic but it’s still a robot and it’s because somehow that material that made it is self-healing and it’s animated in some ways that we couldn’t understand back then.[OF]:  That’s Alireza Dolatshahi-Pirouz, a professor in the Department of Micro- and Nanotechnology at the Technical University of Denmark. You might remember him from a previous episode of our podcast, where he described how his group is developing stretchy, eco-friendly electronics they describe as “fleco”—[ADP]:   “So flexible and eco, fleco”.[OF]:  Now, they’re back with a new material that stretches, conducts electricity, and perhaps most astoundingly, heals itself—not unlike the T-1000 from Terminator 2, which Dolatshahi-Pirouz admits was the inspiration for his lab-work.  The team calls their new wonder material CareGum. 
Markus Buehler of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and editor of the Impact section of MRS Bulletin interviews Desirée Plata, the Gilbert W. Winslow Career Development Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at MIT about her group’s development of new methods toward functionalization of carbon nanotubes with heteroatoms, which enables covalent attachment, opening up a world of potential materials structures. This research is relevant because common functionalization techniques for carbon nanotube materials (and other, similar nanostructures) are often hazardous, and have adverse environmental impacts, and lack precision. The research group evaluated an in situ functionalization technique utilizing oxygen-containing alkyne precursors, which offers a novel, more sustainable pathway for bottom-up engineering. Through a detailed assessment of the mechanisms by which nanotubes form, the researchers were able to direct new pathways toward bottom-up design of materials while considering sustainability, and especially environmental health, as a parameter during optimization and design. Their work is published in MRS Bulletin (https://doi.org/10.1557/s43577-020-00019-7) 
MRS Bulletin’s Impact editor Markus Buehler interviews Huajian Gao of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and Bo Ni of Brown University on their development of a deep learning method to predict the elastic modulus field based on strain data that may be the result of an experiment. The method is highly efficient and offers real-time solutions to problems that usually require complex numerical methods that rely on variational methods to solve elasticity problems, like finite element analysis. This type of approach may change the way researchers interpret experimental data. See the article “A deep learning approach to the inverse problem of modulus identification in elasticity” (doi:10.1557/mrs.2020.231).
In an interview with Gopal Rao from MRS Bulletin, Cherie Kagan, the 2021 President of the Materials Research Society, discusses changes in the MRS Governance structure that provides greater engagement and empowerment of both volunteers and staff in alignment with the MRS mission. Changes include fewer committees but more “time bound” task forces and an independent nominating committee where MRS looks at the opportunity in this structure to create greater diversity in the leadership of the Society to serve the MRS membership. 
As part of the MRS Communications 10th Anniversary event, Gopal Rao, Chief Editor for Technical Content at MRS, interviews David Morse, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Corning, about research, development, and innovations at Corning. They discuss Corning’s contributions to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, the company’s latest version of Gorilla glass, and Corning’s R&D efforts in ceramics as well as the role of industrial R&D labs in the research enterprise. 
Markus Buehler of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and editor of the Impact section of MRS Bulletin interviews Julia Greer, director of the Kavli Nanoscience Institute at the California Institute of Technology about her research on the formation and nanomechanical behavior of electrodeposited lithium for Li-ion batteries. Greer’s group developed an in situ experimental methodology that allows them to electrochemically charge small-scale battery cells and to observe, in real-time, the formation of Li dendrites and to probe their mechanical response. Their work is published in MRS Bulletin (doi:10.1557/mrs.2020.148)
Gopal Rao, chief editor for technical content, interviews Markus Buehler of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and editor of the Impact section of MRS Bulletin about his research on designing new proteins. Buehler’s group trains a deep learning model whose architecture is composed of several long short-term memory units from data consisting of musical representations of proteins classified by certain features. Their work is published in APL Bioengineering (doi:10.1063/1.5133026). Markus Buehler is also the editor of the new Impact section of MRS Bulletin, that publishes new research: www.mrs.org/impact.
Materials science and engineering has an important role to play in overcoming the current COVID-19 pandemic. Listen to Science Writer Philip Ball talk with three materials researchers, Catherine Fromen (University of Delaware), Thomas Webster (Northeastern University), and George Stylios (Heriott-Watt University, Edinburgh) about their work in different aspects of materials science to mitigate the pandemic. They cover various aspects, including drug delivery for immune engineering for COVID-19, the use of nanoparticles to directly target the virus, vaccines and materials connections, and how materials play a critical role in face mask technologies. For more on this subject, see MRS Bulletin, "The quest for materials solutions to the coronavirus pandemic," by Philip Ball.
Rigoberto C. Advincula of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Editor in Chief of MRS Communications, discusses the role of materials and additive manufacturing on the personal protective equipment (PPE) supply chain during the new coronavirus pandemic. For more information, see “Additive Manufacturing for COVID-19: Devices, Materials, Prospects and Challenges,” MRS Communications. 
Sophia Chen of MRS Bulletin interviews Jennifer Dionne from Stanford University about the origin of photonic emissions in the quantum material hexagonal boron nitride (hBN). Read the article in Nature Materials. TranscriptSOPHIA CHEN: Many researchers are hotly anticipating quantum technology, a new paradigm that exploits the mathematics of quantum mechanics. But researchers are still developing the so-called quantum materials to build these devices and connect them in a future quantum internet. Jennifer Dionne, a materials scientist at Stanford University, is investigating one such material called hBN, or hexagonal boron nitride. hBN could be useful for quantum machines because it can be made to emit single photons of light to compute and transmit information. When you illuminate hBN with light the material will emit a spectrum of colors ranging from the red to the green. Dionne’s team wanted to understand what microscopic property or defect in the material was responsible for the different colors. JD: What we wanted to do was address where those different colors were coming from, because in a future quantum optical network, ideally you’d be able to control what color is coming out where and be able to use that wavelength multiplexing of photonic communications.SC: To identify which light came from what defect, they used a combination of two different techniques. JD: By interrogating with an optical microscope, we can see broadly where there were different defects and use the electron microscope to zoom into those defects and map them out with much higher resolution and to also look at their atomic scale structure.SC: They were able to identify that the colors arise from four classes of defects in the hexagonal boron nitride.JD: So we now know with certainty there are at least four different types of atomic defects that are responsible in the main spectral windows. If you want light predominantly in the green, you would use one type of atomic defect. If you want light in the red, you use a different type of atomic defect.SC: Combining their experimental studies with theory, Dionne’s team was able to deduce more details about the defects themselves.JD: We found that it seems like most of the defects that are emitting are not simple atomic defects, but rather complexes. So hexagonal boron nitride, like I said, is this layered material. You need to think not only about a missing atom in one layer but perhaps a missing atom or a substitutional atom in a neighboring layer, and basically a series of missing atoms between one layer and a next form something like its own independent molecule in the material.SC: By understanding the specific defects in a material, eventually, researchers should be able to implant specific impurities that can be independently controlled to emit light in a quantum device.JD: We’re excited to get higher spatial imaging resolution and start positioning those emitters and see how we might be able to modulate the emission, to be able to turn the emission on off, which would be the same in a transistor. You want to be able to turn the electrical current on and off and be able to get gain. Trying to create a suite of quantum optical devices based on these emitters would be very exciting and next step.SC: But this technique, where they combine optical and electron microscopy to study quantum materials, is useful beyond just hexagonal boron nitride.JD: More so than learning about hexagonal boron nitride, I think the significance of our paper is that it provides a technique to be able to do this correlation of the atomic scale structure of quantum materials with their optical properties.
Sophia Chen of MRS Bulletin interviews Stephen Balmert of the University of PIttsburgh about a patch delivery method of a vaccine to counter COVID-19. Read the article in EBioMedicine.TranscriptCHEN: To prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the long term, we will almost certainly need a vaccine against the disease. Stephen Balmert, a biomedical engineer from the University of Pittsburgh, is part of an international collaboration that has made such a candidate vaccine for Covid-19. They’ve tested their vaccine in mice and gotten promising results. BALMERT: I think everybody really wants to know, when is this going to be in humans? We’re putting together [a form] to get approval from the FDA to begin a clinical trial. SC: Under the microscope, the pathogen resembles a sphere adorned with spikes, known as spike proteins. Balmert’s vaccine is made of these spike proteins. To produce the spike, they introduce the genetic instructions for making the proteins into human embryonic kidney cell lines. These cells make the proteins. Then, the idea is to introduce the spike proteins into the human body, which teaches the immune system to recognize these proteins and produce antibodies that neutralize the virus. Their Covid-19 vaccine piggybacks off previous research on a similar coronavirus. Balmert’s colleague, Andrea Gambotto, had previously studied the MERS virus in his lab. SB: They had already identified at that point there’s a particular part of the virus, which is called the S protein or the spike protein, they’d identified that was a good target for vaccines. SC: Targeting the spike protein is a popular approach. But Balmert’s team uses a distinctive delivery method. Instead of injecting the vaccine via the traditional needle, they package their vaccine as a small, fingertip-sized patch covered in very small, short needles. The needles are made of a material called carboxymethyl cellulose, a hydrogel that dissolves in the skin. Each one is 225 µm in width, 750 µm in length, with a pointy tip shaped like a tiny Washington monument.  SB: Each of those needles has the vaccine in the tips, so in the pyramidal part at top, and there’s a flat backing underneath that you use for the application. We say the application of the microneedle feels a little bit like Velcro, the hook part of the Velcro. So you can feel the pressure, but it’s not painful in the sense of a traditional injection is.SC: In addition, the patch deposits the spike proteins into the skin, as opposed to muscle like many traditional vaccines. This offers potential benefits as well. The skin contains a high concentration of immune cells because it protects the body from foreign particles.  SB: So you have potentially somewhat of a dose sparing effect, where you get a stronger immune response with the same dose. Or you can use less dose for the same immune response than a regular injection. In that sense, it requires potentially less vaccine. SC: They could also be easier and cheaper to store compared to other vaccines. SB: With these microneedle arrays, the carboxymethyl cellulose in the hydrogel material around the vaccine itself kind of maintains the structure of the vaccine. It maintains its bioactivity so you don’t have to keep them refrigerated. You don’t have to have refrigerated shipping or store them in a refrigerator necessarily, so that’s another potential advantage. SC: They’ve published peer-reviewed results indicating the vaccine produces antibodies in mice. Now, they’re running tests to confirm that their results are reproducible and are working to gain approval from the Food and Drug Administration to begin clinical trials in humans. 
Sophia Chen of MRS Bulletin interviews Pelayo Garcia de Arquer of the University of Toronto in Canada about a catalyst-ionomer architecture his group designed to quickly convert CO2 into useful hydrocarbons. Read the abstract in Science. TranscriptSOPHIA CHEN: The challenge for the world to reduce carbon emissions is steep. To reduce these emissions in the long run, some scientists believe it will be necessary to extract carbon dioxide from the air. But once you extract all that carbon dioxide, what do you do with it? Pelayo Garcia de Arquer, a materials scientist at the University of Toronto in Canada, has a potential answer. He’s working on technology for converting carbon dioxide into useful hydrocarbons, such as plastics, fabrics and fuels that are now produced by the petrochemical industry. In other words, he’s trying to turn lemons into lemonade. PELAYO GARCIA DE ARQUER: Our approach is to decarbonize this process by taking existing CO2 in the atmosphere, in the exhaust of an industry for example, and using electricity, which could come from renewables, and using water, and upgrade the CO2 into other molecules that can be used in these production systems, for example upgrading CO2 into ethylene, which is the precursor to a lot of polymers. SC: To convert carbon dioxide into ethylene, they pump CO2 gas to a spongelike catalyst interface, where the CO2 breaks down and ultimately reacts with water and an electrolyte. But it’s difficult to orchestrate this reaction quickly and efficiently, at the rates needed to make this technology economically viable. On their own, the individual reactants don’t tend to move to the right location very quickly. PGDA: You need to have all the ingredients of your cake in the right place and in the right time. SC: The difficulty is that CO2 does not like to dissolve in water. It also tends to undergo undesired reactions with the electrolyte to produce hydrogen molecules, for example. This makes the reactions proceed slowly. So their lab’s innovation was to include an extra ingredient on the surface of the catalyst known as an ionomer, a polymer that conducts ions. The ionomer had both hydrophobic and hydrophilic parts, which in effect created distinct channels for carbon dioxide, water, and the other ingredients to travel through separately to reach the catalyst. Monitoring the electric activity in their system, which is an indication of how quickly the chemical reaction is proceeding, they measured an electric current density of more than one ampere per square centimeter, which Garcia de Arquer says is about 10x improvement compared to the state-of-the-art just 2 years ago. PGDA: This is enabled, we believe, because of this phenomenon, like CO2 can travel faster through these more dry channels that do not have water.SC: They also achieved an efficiency of 45%, meaning that 45% of the energy they put in created the ethylene. It’s not clear yet what metrics will make this system commercially viable, as the economics depend on many outside factors, such as the cost of electricity. But Garcia de Arquer says that the field is moving closer to a deployable technology.PGDA: Achieving current densities in the realm of amperes per square centimeter, together with energy efficiencies above 60%, that’s the threshold we predict with the numbers we have right now, where we think things will become more and more interesting.  
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