Towards healthier photovoltaics.

Science is always teaching us how to do new things. But it is also important how it teach us how to do old stuff in a much better way. And with better we mean, in a faster, cleaner, healthier, more sustainable way. And that is kind of what Vincenzo Pecunia et al. do in their last paper.

They’ve developed a technique to study the impact of defects in lead-free-perovskites inspired materials. These materials are gathering a lot of interest since they can be key to the development of green, high-performance photovoltaics. And the efficiency of these materials is closely related to their defect tolerance.

This new technique is not only highly sensitive but it is also facile and widely applicable. We did this picture together with Vincenzo Pecunia and it has been featured in the cover of Advanced Energy Materials.

 

 

Smart AFMs

Machine learning is already a thing and it is slowly percolating into the most unexpected places. AFM is its most recent victim and Juan F. Gonzalez-Martinez et al. (Biofilms-Research Center for Biointerfaces at Malmö Univerity) have put them together.

Although deep learning techniques had already been used for AFM related analysis, for the first time (to my knowledge) it’s been used to drive the microscope to locate particularities of the samples. They have used Plasmid DNA from E. coli with assubject, and the challenge was to teach the microscope to identify and distinguish single molecules and take images of them with different lateral resolutions.

Although this type of studies is not technically challenging, doing them is extremely time consuming because it needs the close supervision of the researcher. Thus, this breakthrough could open the door not only to a full autonomous AFM but to the analisys of large amounts of samples and statistically significant studies.

We did this picture (featured in the inside cover of Nanoscale) together with Javier Sotres, first author of the paper.

 

Superconductors work (on paper)

Castellano’s Lab (ICMM-CSIC) research is not only top-notch scientific work: more important, at least to me, it is funny and inspiring. They’ve also worry about the social, economic and environmental impact of technology. And we can see all that in their last paper.

Together with the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience (TuDelft) they’ve proved that it is possible to have a working van der Waals superconductor deposited on regular paper as opposed to crystalline silicon. In particular, they’ve reported the observation of  Meissner effect and resistance drop to zero-resistance state at low temperatures. As they point out, regular paper is 10.000 times cheaper that crystalline silicon. And being this technique scalable, it could have a major effect on the production of magnetic field shielding or superconducting high frequency filters.

We collaborated with them in the production of this picture that has been featured in the cover of Materials Advances.

Superconducting graphene

Graphene’s business card is running out of space. We’ve already seen it doing nearly every possible thing in condensed matter physics. And superconductivity was to be there. It was a matter of time.

Magnetism and superconductivity don’t get along… to put it politely. So when you add magnetic atoms into a superconductor, the superconducting order is locally broken and spectral features (called Yu-Shiba-Rusinov states) appear inside the superconducting gap. And this features are important because they might be useful for quantum computing. 

Ivan Bruhuega, has lead an important research collaboration involving several countries (Finland, France, Portugal and Spain), that has for the first time observed these Yu-Shiba-Rusinov states in graphene. The complexity of this experiment is hard to grasp. To begin with, you have to induce superconductivity in graphene. They’ve done this by growing nanometer scale superconducting Pb islands over it. And then, using scanning tunneling microscopy and spectroscopy they’ve visualized Yu-Shiba-Rusinov states in the graphene grain boundaries. Quite a challenge.

We made this picture to illustrate the experience and it’s been featured in the cover of Advanced Materials.

Atomic dialogues

Here I bring you another scientific milestone performed in TUDelft and published in Science. This time is about single atoms exchanging quantum information and in the way, unveiling quantum mechanics at a fundamental level. Veldman et al. have been spying single magnetic atoms and they’ve observed their reaction when one of their neighbours received an electric pulse. And this is not an easy task.

First, Sander Otte’s team has to built this “neighbourhood” of atoms by placing them close to each other at a distance at which they’re able to “feel” each other’s magnetic moments. And then the fun part starts: they send a pulse at one of the atoms and observe its neighbour’s reaction. This starts a sort of a conversation between the two atoms, an interchange of quantum information. A kind of a dance in which the two atoms swap their magnetic moment back and forth.

This observation has some interesting implications: first, it means another step in the understanding of qbits. But the inherent violence of the process (this aggressive non-coherent electric pulse) could mean that we might not need to be so careful at initializing quantum states.

To illustrate this conversation we made this picture under the close supervision of Prof. Sander Otte.

Anti-metastatic treatment for breast cancer

Nanosized drug delivery systems based strategies are slowly changing our view of medical treatment. They can be applied to a wide variety of diseases and Dr. María J. Vicent (Polymer Therapeutics Lab) and Dr. Marcelo Calderón (POLYMAT) are designing new approaches expand their usage and improve their efficiency.

 

In their last work, they deal with triple negative breast cancer and its associated metastasis, for which we lack effective treatments. In their recent paper in Journal of Controlled Release, they propose “injectable poly-amino acid-based nanogels as a versatile hydrophilic drug delivery platform for the treatment of triple negative breast cancer lung metastasis”. These nanogels deliver the chemotherapeutic agents in more restricted, specific areas increasing their efficiency thus reducing their aggressiveness.

We designed this representation of the drug delivery process under the supervision of  María J. Vicent and Marcelo Calderón. Their work has been featured at the cover of JCR.

On pandemics, flexible spikes and mechanical stability

The SARS-CoV-2 is covered by a layer of “spikes” whose mobility (yet to be determined) has been proposed to be related to the infection process. Miklós S. Z. Kellermayer et al. (Semmelweis University, Budapest) “by imaging and mechanically manipulating individual, native SARS-CoV-2 virions with AFM” have proved that this layer is in fact dynamic. The virions show also a remarkable resistance to deformation and they’re able to recover from extreme mechanical deformations. You can read the details in their paper published in Nanoletters.

As a side note, the AFM experimental images they’ve published are just beautiful.

To illustrate the experiments we made this picture, under the close supervision of first author, Bálint Kiss, which has been featured in the cover of Nanoletters.

 

Good Vibrations

Today we want to talk about light and molecular vibrations coupling. It is known that infrared light can interact with matter through the molecules natural vibrations. What it was not so well known is that this coupling between light and matter can be so strong that it can change the material properties. But this strong-coupling-landscape has yet to be explored.

Researchers from CIC nanoGUNE BRTA (San Sebastian, Spain), the Donostia International Physics Center (San Sebastián, Spain) and the University of Oviedo (Spain) have employed a spectroscopic nanoimaging technique to achieve this strong coupling. By using “a particularly strong compression of infrared light” and a “thin layer of hexagonal boron nitride” they’ve explored in real space “how the phonon polaritons couple with the molecular vibrations” of organic molecules.

Their findings, published in Nature Photonics could have an impact in molecules detection technologies but more importantly, it opens a door to the study of quantum aspects of strong vibrational coupling.

This picture we did under the supervision of Andrei Bylinkin (first author) has been featured in the cover of Nature Photonics.

Boosting our batteries

Up to this point we’ve all recognized graphene’s omnipotence. This time we bring it to the website in its role of “energy storage enhancer”. At CIC energiGUNE, Daniel Carriazo et al., have just shown how functionalizing  graphene with phosphate groups in lithium-ion capacitors, highly improves both their power but more interestingly, they cyclability.

This picture, made under the supervision of Daniel Carriazo, has appeared as the cover feature at Batteries and Supercaps.

A sustainable Internet of Things ecosystem

A future of wireless self‐powered devices is upon us. The number of sensors and devices in our close environment is growing fast. And so does its energy demand.

 

In his last paper, Vincenzo Pecunia proposes the use of indoor photovoltaics: a clean sustainable way to fulfill this demand with lead‐free (and thus, non toxic) perovskite‐inspired materials. In particular Pecunia and co-workers, have studied two materials, BiOI and Cs3Sb2ClxI9‐x which happen to be really bad at harvesting sun light but present high efficiencies under indoor light conditions.

This research opens a door to the study of more efficient, non-toxic perovskite‐inspired materials and a sustainable future.

Under close supervision of Dr. Pecunia we made this picture that has been featured as the cover of Advanced Energy Materials.