Google’s Parent Company Will Soon Compete With Tesla for Energy Storage Solutions: Project Malta at ‘Alphabet X’



Maximizing Renewables



Given the dramatic impact human-made carbon emissions are having on our planet, cleaner energy sources have become increasingly popular alternatives to their fossil fuel counterparts. Currently, solar and wind are the most widely used renewable energy sources, but both are dependent on certain conditions.

The former can capture energy only during daylight hours, while the latter is more unpredictable, but often peaks at night.
As such, there’s a mismatch between when solar and wind energy are available and when energy is needed.

The world needs a way to maximize renewable energy usage, and that’s what Malta, a project currently brewing at Alphabet X, the “moonshot” factory by Google’s parent company, is hoping to provide.

The goal of Alphabet X is to develop technologies that could “someday make the world a radically better place.” The organization follows a three-part blueprint for their moonshot projects that starts with identifying a “huge problem” and then providing a “radical solution” that could be implemented using a “breakthrough technology.”

For Malta, the idea was to find a way to maximize the use of energy generated from renewables. Their radical solution is bridging the gap between renewable energy and grid-scale energy storage technologies using a breakthrough technology developed by Stanford physicist and Nobel laureate Robert Laughlin.

According to the project’s website, this technology is still theoretical and involves storing electricity as either heat within molten salt or cold within a liquid similar to the antifreeze used in cars. They claim this energy could remain stored for up to weeks at a time.

Storing Energy


Essentially, Malta is hoping to develop clean and cost-effective energy storage devices, which is similar to the concept behind Tesla’s Powerpack. The difference between the Malta project’s tech and the Powerpack is mostly what’s inside. While Tesla’s energy storage device uses 16 individual battery pods, Malta’s relies on molten salt or the antifreeze-like liquid.

Additionally, the tanks used to store the salt used by Malta’s system could potentially last for up to 40 years, which the project claims is three or more times longer than other current storage options. That extended lifespan would make Malta a cheaper alternative to other renewable energy storage devices.
alphabet x malta renewable energy.

Image credit: Malta/X

After two years of developing and designing their system, the Malta team is now gearing up to test the commercial viability of their technology. “The next step is to build a megawatt-scale prototype plant which would be large enough to prove the technology at commercial scale,” according to their website.
We now have multiple ways to generate energy from renewables, but if we ever hope to fully transition away from traditional energy solutions, we need better storage devices.

Though they are clearly better for the environment, renewables aren’t as consistent as fossil fuels, and that unreliability is a huge barrier to widespread adoption.

Storage systems like those proposed by Malta could collect the energy generated by renewables and ensure it is available to power grids whenever needed, putting us one step closer to a future completely free of fossil fuels.

Watch Our Video on a New Energy Storage Company for Nano-Enabled Batteries and Super Capacitors

Update: Super Capacitor Assisted Silicon Nanowire Batteries for EV and Small Form Factor Markets. A New Class of Battery /Energy Storage Materials is being developed to support the High Energy – High Capacity – High Performance High Cycle Battery Markets.

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Novel Bendable Batteries Powered by Cellular Fluids


This is an artistic rendering of fiber-shaped implantable batteries using biocompatible electrolytes. Credit: Guo et al.



The next generation of safer batteries could be powered by an unconventional source.

Researchers in China designed alternatives to lithium-ion batteries that are more flexible than their traditional counterparts and can run on body inspired liquids like normal IV saline solutions and cell-culture mediums.

The idea for these prototypes occurred when the researchers focused on the mechanical-stress demands of wearable electronics, like smartwatches, and the safety requirements of implantable electronics.

One challenge regarding lithium-ion batteries is that they need strong structural reinforcement to ensure hazardous chemical don’t leak out from the container. This requires an abundance of protective materials, which make them bulky and unbendable.

First, the team resolved the leakage issue by replacing the flammable liquids found in these batteries for inexpensive, environmentally conscious sodium-ion solutions like the IV solutions and cell-culture mediums. Both liquids are safe, since the IV solution is the same one used to help patients in the hospital while the cell-culture medium is infused with amino acids, sugars, vitamins, and other elements that mimic the fluid surrounding human cells.

To avoid hazards linked to possible leakage, the scientists then created two batteries.

One was a 1D fiber-shaped battery embedded with nanoparticles of electrode material encompassing a carbon nanotube backbone. The other one was a 2D “belt” shaped-battery, which the engineers adhered thin electrode films to a net of steel strands.

Experiments indicated both batteries were able to outperform most of the wearable lithium ion batteries on factors like charge holding capacity and power output. The performance held up even when the study authors folded and bent the batteries to simulate the impact of wrapping a sensor, watch, or similar device around an arm.

“We can implant these fiber-shaped electrodes into the human body to consume essential oxygen, especially for areas that are difficult for injectable drugs to reach,” said co-senior author Yonggan Wang, a chemistry professor at Fudan University and the Collaborative Innovation Center of Chemistry for Energy Materials, in a statement.

Some defects did emerge during the experiments. The carbon nanotubes that comprise the skeleton of the 1D battery can also accelerate the transformation of dissolved oxygen into hydroxide ions, which would initiate a process that hampers battery performance if left uncontrolled.

However, this process could yield therapeutic potential for cancer and bacterial infections.

“Deoxygenation might even wipe out cancerous cells or pathogenic bacteria since they are very sensitive to changes in living environment pH. Of course, this is hypothetical right now, but we hope to investigate further with biologists and medical scientists,” continued Wang.

The study was published in the journal Cell Press.

Metal-free nanoparticle could expand MRI use, tumor detection



What might sound like the set-up to a joke actually has a clinical answer: Both groups can face health risks when injected with metal-containing agents sometimes needed to enhance the color contrast — and diagnostic value — of MRIs.

But a new metal-free nanoparticle developed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and MIT could help circumvent these health- and age-related barriers to the powerful diagnostic tool, which physicians use to investigate or confirm a broad range of medical issues.

The team’s nanoparticle contains a non-metallic molecule that enhances MRI contrast to help distinguish among bodily tissue, a task typically performed by contrast agents containing gadolinium or other metals (ACS Central Science, “Nitroxide-Based Macromolecular Contrast Agents with Unprecedented Transverse Relaxivity and Stability for Magnetic Resonance Imaging of Tumors”).

It also survived long enough to congregate around tumors in mice, suggesting the nanoparticle could help detect cancers as well as its metallic counterparts while eliminating concerns about the long-term accumulation of metal in the body.


MRIs of a mouse before (first and third rows) and 20 hours after being injected with a low dose (second row) and high dose (fourth row) of a new metal-free contrast agent developed by Nebraska and MIT. The yellow arrow indicates the location of a tumor. (click on image to enlarge)

Contrast in styles

The molecules residing in the team’s nanoparticle belong to a family known as the nitroxides, which are among the most promising alternatives to the metallic agents often injected into patients prior to undergoing MRIs.

But antioxidants in the body typically begin breaking down nitroxides within minutes, limiting how long they can enhance the contrast of an MRI. And the team’s molecule of interest — a so-called organic radical — has just a single electron, a fact that normally inhibits how much contrast it can produce.

Gadolinium and other metals possess multiple electrons that help them influence how the magnetic waves produced by an MRI interact with water molecules in tissue. This magnetic influence, or relaxivity, ultimately dictates the strength of contrast signals that get converted into the familiar multicolored MRIs.

So Nebraska chemist Andrzej Rajca began collaborating with colleagues at MIT to design a metal-free nanoparticle that would exhibit stability and relaxivity comparable to gadolinium’s. Rajca previously designed a nitroxide that, when embedded within relatively small nanoparticles, displayed a relaxivity several times greater than its predecessors.

This time around, MIT researchers incorporated Rajca’s nitroxide into a large nanoparticle known as a brush-arm star polymer. The process involved assembling polymers into a spherical structure with a water-attracting core and water-repelling shell, then squeezing multitudes of nitroxide molecules between that core and shell.

The team found that packing so many nitroxides into such tight quarters effectively multiplied their individual relaxivity values, resulting in a nanoparticle with a relaxivity about 40 times higher than a typical nitroxide.

“You don’t need much of the (new) contrast agent to see a good image,” said Rajca, Charles Bessey Professor of chemistry.

The nanoparticle’s polymer shell also helped slow the advance of the disruptive antioxidants enough to prolong the nitroxides’ lifespan from roughly two hours to 20. By injecting mice with their agent, the researchers showed that the nanoparticle’s longevity and large size allow it to reach tumors and differentiate them from normal tissue. Even in doses larger than those typically needed for MRIs, the team’s contrast agent showed no signs of toxicity in human cells or mice.

Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Harnessing the Functionality and ‘Power’ of Perovskites for Better Solar and LED’s



Originally a mineral, the perovskite used in today’s technology is quite different from the rock found in the Earth mantle. 

A “perovskite structure” uses a different combination of atoms but keep the general 3-dimensional structure originally observed in the mineral, which possesses superb optoelectronic properties such as strong light absorption and facilitated charge transport. These advantages qualify the perovskite structure as particularly suited for the design of electronic devices, from solar cells to lights.

The accelerating progress in perovskite technology over the past few years suggest new perovskite-based devices will soon outperform current technology in the energy sector. 

The Energy Materials and Surface Sciences Unit at OIST led by Prof. Yabing Qi is at the forefront of this development, with now two new scientific publications focusing on the improvement of perovskite solar cells and a cheaper and smarter way to produce emerging perovskite-based LED lights.

An extra layer in a solar cell “sandwich”

Perovskite-based solar cells is a rising technology forecast to replace the classic photovoltaic cells currently dominating the industry. 




In just seven years of development, the efficiency of perovskite solar cells increased to almost rival – and is expected to soon overtake – commercial photovoltaic cells, but the perovskite structure still plagued by a short lifespan due to stability issues. 


OIST
scientists have made constant baby steps in improving the cells stability, identifying the degradations factors and providing solutions towards better solar cell architecture.

The new finding, reported in the Journal of Physical Chemistry B (“Engineering Interface Structure to Improve Efficiency and Stability of Organometal Halide Perovskite Solar Cells”), suggests interactions between components of the solar cell itself are responsible for the rapid degradation of the device. 

More precisely, the titanium oxide layer extracting electrons made available through solar energy – effectively creating an electric current – causes unwanted deterioration of the neighboring perovskite layer. 

Imagine the solar cell as a multi-layered club sandwich: if not properly assembled, fresh and juicy vegetables in contact with the bread slices will make the bread very soggy in a matter of hours. 

But if you add a layer of ham or turkey between the vegetables and the bread, then your sandwich stays crisp all day in the lunchroom refrigerator.


A perovskite-based layer includes many layers, including for example the electrodes on both sides, and the perovskite in the middle. The addition of a polystyrene layer in-between prevents the titanium oxide layer to deteriorate the perovskite, but does not affect the overall power conversion efficiency. (© American Chemical Society)

This is exactly what the OIST researchers achieved: they inserted in the solar cell an additional layer made from a polymer to prevent direct contact between the titanium oxide and the perovskite layers. 
This polymer layer is insulating but very thin, which means it lets the electron current tunnel through yet does not diminish the overall efficiency of the solar cell, while efficiently protecting the perovskite structure.

“We added a very thin sheet, only a few nanometers wide, of polystyrene between the perovskite layer and the titanium oxide layer,” explained Dr. Longbin Qiu. 

“Electrons can still tunnel cross this new layer and it does not affect the light absorption of the cell. This way, we were able to extend the lifetime of the cell four-fold without loss in energy conversion efficiency”.

The lifespan of the new perovskite device was extended to over 250 hours – still not enough to compete with commercial photovoltaic cells regarding stability, but an important step forward toward fully functional perovskite solar cells.

Manufacturing LED lights from gasses

The bipolar electronic properties of the perovskite structure not only confer them the ability to generate electricity from solar energy but also can convert electricity into vivid light. Light-Emitting Diode – LED – technology, omnipresent in our daily life from laptop and smartphone screens to car lights and ceiling tubes, currently relies on semi-conductors that are difficult and expensive to manufacture. Perovskite LEDs are envisaged to become the new industry standard in the near future due to the lower cost and their efficiency to convert power into light. Moreover, by changing the atomic composition in the perovskite structure, perovskite LED can be easily tuned to emit specific colors.

The manufacturing of these perovskite LEDs is currently based on dipping or covering the targeted surface with liquid chemicals, a process which is difficult to setup, limited to small areas and with low consistency between samples. To overcome this issue, OIST researchers reported in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters (“Methylammonium Lead Bromide Perovskite Light-Emitting Diodes by Chemical Vapor Deposition”) the first perovskite LED assembled with gasses, a process called chemical vapor deposition or CVD.

“Chemical vapor deposition is already compatible with the industry, so in principle it would be easy to use this technology to produce LEDs,” commented Prof. Yabing Qi. “The second advantage in using CVD is a much lower variation from batch to batch compared to liquid-based techniques. Finally, the last point is scalability: CVD can achieve a uniform surface over very large areas”.

Like the solar cell, the perovskite LED also comprises many layers working in synergy. First, an indium tin oxide glass sheet and a polymer layer allow electrons into the LED. The chemicals required for the perovskite layer – lead bromide and methylammonium bromide – are then successively bound to the sample using CVD, in which the sample is exposed to gasses in order to convert to perovskite instead of typically solution-coating processes with liquid. In this process, the perovskite layer is composed of nanometer-small grains, whose sizes play a critical role in the efficiency of the device. Finally, the last step involves the deposition of two additional layers and a gold electrode, forming a complete LED structure. The LED can even form specific patterns using lithography during the manufacturing process.

Perovskite LED fabrication


Top: the perovskite LED sits in a furnace, where the Methylammonium Bromide (MABr) in gaseous form will be introduced into the system and deposit on the LED surface. Bottom left: a glass-based LED, glowing green when electricity is applied. Bottom right: size and shapes of the perovskite grains on the surface of the LED. (© American Chemical Society)

“With large grains, the surface of the LED is rough and less efficient in emitting light. The smaller the grain size, the higher the efficiency and the brighter the light,” explained Dr. Lingqiang Meng. “By changing the assembly temperature, we can now control the growth process and the size of the grains for the best efficiency”.

Controlling the grain size is not the only challenge for this first-of-its-kind assembling technique of LED lights.

“Perovskite is great, but the choice in the adjacent layers is really important too,” added Dr. Luis K. Ono. “To achieve high electricity-to-light conversion rates, every layer should be working in harmony with the others.”

The result is a flexible, thick film-like LED with a customizable pattern. The luminance, or brightness, currently reaches 560 cd/m2, while a typical computer screen emits 100 to 1000 cd/m2 and a ceiling fluorescent tube around 12,000 cd/m2.

Perovskite-LED


This large perovskite-LED was produced using chemical vapor deposition and connect to a 5V current, illuminating through an OIST pattern etched on the surface. (© American Chemical Society)

“Our next step is to improve the luminance a thousand-fold or more,” concluded Dr. Meng. “In addition, we have achieved a CVD-based LED emitting green light but we are now trying to repeat the process with different combinations of perovskite to obtain a vivid blue or red light”.

Source: By Wilko Duprez, Okinawa Institute of Technology

MIT team creates flexible, transparent solar cells with graphene electrodes



Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed flexible and transparent graphene-based solar cells, which can be mounted on various surfaces ranging from glass to plastic to paper and tape. The graphene devices exhibited optical transmittance of 61% across the whole visible regime and up to 69% at 550 nanometers. The power conversion efficiency of the graphene solar cells ranged from 2.8% to 4.1%.

MIT team’s flexible, transparent solar cell with graphene electrodes image

A common challenge in making transparent solar cells with graphene is getting the two electrodes to stick together and to the substrate, as well as ensuring that electrons only flow out of one of the graphene layers. Using heat or glue can damage the material and reduce its conductivity, so the MIT team developed a new technique to tackle this issue. Rather than applying an adhesive between the graphene and the substrate, they sprayed a thin layer of ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) over the top, sticking them together like tape instead of glue.

The MIT team compared their graphene electrode solar cells against others made from standard materials like aluminum and indium tin oxide (ITO), built on rigid glass and flexible substrates. The power conversion efficiency (PCE) of the graphene solar cells was far lower than regular solar panels, but much better than previous transparent solar cells. This is a positive advancement, obviously.
Samples of solar cells using electrodes of different materials for testing image


Efficiency is often a trade-off from the graphene solar cells being flexible and transparent. In that regard the cells performed well, transmitting almost 70% of the light in the middle of the human range of vision. Hopefully the numbers will continue to improve. According to the researchers’ calculations, the efficiency of these graphene solar cells could be pushed as high as 10% without losing any transparency, and doing just that is the next step in the project. The researchers are also working on ways to scale up the system to cover windows and walls.
Source:  newatlas

Rice U: Two sides to this Energy Story ~ Dual Surface Graphene Electrode to Split H2O into Hydrogen and Oxygen


Rice University lab develops dual-surface graphene electrode to split water into hydrogen and oxygen



IMAGE: A TWO-SIDED ELECTROCATALYST DEVELOPED AT RICE UNIVERSITY SPLITS WATER INTO HYDROGEN ON ONE SIDE AND OXYGEN ON THE OTHER. THE HYDROGEN SIDE SEEN IN ELECTRON MICROSCOPE IMAGES FEATURES PLATINUM PARTICLES… view more  CREDIT: TOUR GROUP/RICE UNIVERSITY

 Rice University
chemists have produced a catalyst based on laser-induced graphene that splits water into hydrogen on one side and oxygen on the other side. They said the inexpensive material may be a practical component in generating the hydrogen for use in future fuel cells.


The easily fabricated material developed by the Rice lab of chemist James Tour offers a robust and efficient way to store chemical energy. Tests showed the thin catalyst producing large bubbles of oxygen and hydrogen on either side simultaneously.

The process is the subject of a paper in the American Chemical Society’s Applied Materials and Interfaces.
“Hydrogen is currently made by converting natural gas to a mixture of carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas,” Tour said. “So for every two hydrogen molecules, a molecule of carbon dioxide is formed, making this traditional process a greenhouse-gas emitter.

“But if one splits water into hydrogen and oxygen, using a catalytic system and electricity generated from wind or solar energy, then the hydrogen afforded is entirely renewable,” he said. “Once used in a fuel cell, it reverts back to water with no other emissions. And fuel cells are often twice as efficient as internal combustion engines, further saving energy.”

The catalyst is another use for versatile laser-induced graphene (LIG), which Rice introduced in 2014. LIG is produced by treating the surface of a sheet of polyimide, an inexpensive plastic, with a laser. Rather than a flat sheet of hexagonal carbon atoms, LIG is a foam of graphene sheets with one edge attached to the underlying surface and chemically active edges exposed to the air.

LIG itself is inert, so turning it into a water splitter involves a few more steps. First, the lab impregnated the side of the plastic destined to pull hydrogen from water with platinum particles; then the lab used a laser to heat the surface and make LIG. The Rice material uses only a quarter of the platinum found in commercial catalysts, said Jibo Zhang, a Rice graduate student and lead author of the paper.

The other side, for oxygen evolution, was first turned into LIG and then enhanced with nickel and iron through electrochemical deposition. Both sides showed low onset potentials (the voltage needed to start a reaction) and strong performance over 1,000 cycles.

The lab came up with another variation: making the polyimide into an LIG catalyst with cobalt and phosphorus that could replace either the platinum or nickel-iron sides to produce hydrogen or oxygen. While the low-cost material benefits by eliminating expensive noble metals, it sacrifices some efficiency in hydrogen generation, Tour said.

When configured with cobalt-phosphorus for hydrogen evolution and nickel-iron for oxygen, the catalyst delivered a current density of 10 milliamps per square centimeter at 1.66 volts. It could be increased to 400 milliamps per square centimeter at 1.9 volts without degrading the material. The current density governs the rate of the chemical reaction.

Tour said enhanced LIG offers water-splitting performance that’s comparable and often better than many current systems, with an advantage in its inherent separator between oxygen and hydrogen products. He noted it may find great value as a way to chemically store energy from remote solar or wind power plants that would otherwise be lost in transmission.

The material might also serve as the basis for efficient electrocatalysis platforms for carbon dioxide or oxygen reduction, he said.

###
Co-authors are graduate students Chenhao Zhang, Huilong Fei, Yilun Li and Junwei Sha. Sha is also a student at Tianjin University and the Collaborative Innovation Center of Chemical Science and Engineering, Tianjin, China. 
Tour is the T.T. and W.F. Chao Chair in Chemistry as well as a professor of computer science and of materials science and nanoengineering at Rice.

The research was supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and its Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative, the National Science Foundation-funded and Rice-based Nanotechnology-Enabled Water Treatment Engineering Research Center and the Chinese Scholarship Council.



Read the abstract at:

http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acsami.7b06727

New model for bimolecular reactions in nanoreactors



Reactants A and B diffuse through the shell and react to product C at the catalytically active nanoparticle (yellow) inside. (Image: HZB)

Nanoreactors are tiny systems which facilitate specific chemical reactions, as a catalyst does. Many are found in biological systems, such as certain proteins. But chemists are also able to synthesise artificial nanoreactors to control chemical reactions.

An important class of these nanoreactors has a “yolk & shell” architecture like an egg: a catalytically active metallic nanoparticle is surrounded by a shell consisting of a polymeric network. These kinds of nanoreactors can create isolated environments for specific reactions and restrict them to the tiny space inside the shell.


Sketch of a Yolk-Shell-Type Nanoreactor

Mathematical description delivers new insights

“We have now mathematically described for the first time how two different molecules are transported to react within nanoreactors. The new model shows clearly what factors favour a given reaction”, says Dr. Rafael Roa.

Roa is first author of the publication in ACS Catalysis (“Catalyzed Bimolecular Reactions in Responsive Nanoreactors”) and a postdoc in the group headed by Prof. Joe Dzubiella at the HZB Institute for Soft Matter and Functional Materials.

What matters most?

Some of the results come as a surprise: contrary to expectations, the reaction rate is not so much limited by the concentration of the molecules in solution, but decisively by the permeability of the nanoreactor’s shell.

“This is extremely interesting since chemists today can often fine tune or even switch the permeability of these shells to specific molecules via variations in temperature or other parameters”, explains co-author Dr. Won Kyu Kim.

Photo-activation taken into account

The new model is a big step forward from the older theory done many decades earlier that could handle only one molecule. “Our model is applicable to research on energy materials, and it can even take into account photo-activation of one of the molecules at the shell by sunlight”, Dzubiella states. He has achieved with this work one of the goals of his European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant (2015-2020).

Predictions will be put to test

Dzubiella’s Soft Matter Theory group collaborates with HZB chemist Prof. Yan Lu, an acknowledged expert in synthetic nanoreactors. They are eager to test their theoretical predictions on real systems. “We’re now able to better understand what happens, and we expect to predict how the catalytic effects of these types of nanoreactors can be controlled – through feedback loops, for instance, which will stop or start the reaction at will.”

Source: Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie

Rapid 3-D printing in water using novel hybrid Nanoparticles ~ Could Provide Exciting opportunities in the Biomedical Arena & Additive Manufacturing


rapid3dprintHybrid nanoparticles as photoinitiators. a. Electron microscope image of hybrid nanocrystal. The inset shows a schematic of semiconductor nanorod with a metal tip. b. Bucky ball structure produced by rapid 3D printing in water using HNPs as …more

Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology have developed a new type of photoinitiator for three-dimensional (3-D) printing in water. These novel nanoparticles could allow for the creation of bio-friendly 3-D printed structures, further the development of biomedical accessories and drive progress in traditional industries such as plastics.

3-D  has become an important tool for fabricating different organic based materials for a variety of industries. However, printing structures in water has always been challenging due to a lack of water soluble molecules known as photoinitiators—the molecules that induce chemical reactions necessary to form solid printed material by light.

Now, writing in Nano Letters, Prof. Uri Banin and Prof. Shlomo Magdassi at the Hebrew University’s Institute of Chemistry describe an efficient means of 3-D printing in water using semiconductor-metal hybrid nanoparticles (HNPs) as the photoinitiators.

3-D printing in water opens exciting opportunities in the biomedical arena for tailored fabrication of medical devices and for printing scaffolds for tissue engineering. For example, the researchers envision personalized fabrication of joint replacements, bone plates, heart valves, artificial tendons and ligaments, and other artificial organ replacements.

3-D printing in  also offers an environmentally friendly approach to additive manufacturing, which could replace the current technology of printing in organic based inks.

Unlike regular photoinitiators, the novel hybrid  developed by Prof. Banin and Prof. Magdassi present tunable properties, wide excitation window in the UV and visible range, high light sensitivity, and function by a unique photocatalytic mechanism that increases printing efficiency while reducing the amount of materials required to create the final product. The whole process can also be used in advanced polymerization modalities, such as two photon printers, which allows it to produce high resolution features

 Explore further: Printed 3-D structures based on cellulose nanocrystals

More information: Amol Ashok Pawar et al. Rapid Three-Dimensional Printing in Water Using Semiconductor–Metal Hybrid Nanoparticles as Photoinitiators, Nano Letters (2017). DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.7b01870

 

Converging on Cancer at the Nanoscale


MIT-KI-Marble-Center-Faculty-00_0The Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine’s faculty is made up of Koch Institute members who are committed to fighting cancer with nanomedicine through research, education, and collaboration. Top row (l-r) Sangeeta Bhatia, director; Daniel Anderson; and Angela Belcher. Bottom row: Paula Hammond; Darrell Irvine; and Robert Langer. Photo: Koch Institute Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine

 Koch Institute – July 2017

Marking its first anniversary, the Koch Institute’s Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine goes full steam ahead.

This summer, the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT marks the first anniversary of the launch of the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, established through a generous gift from Kathy and Curt Marble ’63.

Bringing together leading Koch Institute faculty members and their teams, the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine focuses on grand challenges in cancer detection, treatment, and monitoring that can benefit from the emerging biology and physics of the nanoscale.

These challenges include detecting cancer earlier than existing methods allow, harnessing the immune system to fight cancer even as it evolves, using therapeutic insights from cancer biology to design therapies for previously undruggable targets, combining existing drugs for synergistic action, and creating tools for more accurate diagnosis and better surgical intervention. cancer-shapeshiftin

Koch Institute member Sangeeta N. Bhatia, the John J. and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Health Sciences and Technology and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, serves as the inaugural director for the center.

”A major goal for research at the Marble Center is to leverage the collaborative culture at the Koch Institute to use nanotechnology to improve cancer diagnosis and care in patients around the world,” Bhatia says.

Transforming nanomedicine

The Marble Center joins MIT’s broader efforts at the forefront of discovery and innovation to solve the urgent global challenge that is cancer. The concept of “convergence” — the blending of the life and physical sciences with engineering — is a hallmark of MIT, the founding principle of the Koch Institute, and at the heart of the Marble Center’s mission.

“The center galvanizes the MIT cancer research community in efforts to use nanomedicine as a translational platform for cancer care,” says Tyler Jacks, director of the Koch Institute and a David H. Koch Professor of Biology. “It’s transformative by applying these emerging technologies to push the boundaries of cancer detection, treatment, and monitoring — and translational by promoting their development and application in the clinic.”

The center’s faculty — six prominent MIT professors and Koch Institute members — are committed to fighting cancer with nanomedicine through research, education, and collaboration. They are:

Sangeeta Bhatia (director), the John J. and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Health Sciences and Technology and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science;

Daniel G. Anderson, the Samuel A. Goldblith Professor of Applied Biology in the Department of Chemical Engineering and the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science;

Angela M. Belcher, the James Mason Crafts Professor in the departments of Biological Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering;

Paula T. Hammond, the David H. Koch Professor of Engineering and head of the Department of Chemical Engineering;

Darrell J. Irvine, professor in the departments of Biological Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering; and

Robert S. Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor.

Extending their collaboration within the walls of the Institute, Marble Center members benefit greatly from the support of the Peterson (1957) Nanotechnology Materials Core Facility in the Koch Institute’s Robert A. Swanson (1969) Biotechnology Center. The Peterson Facility’s array of technological resources and expertise is unmatched in the United States, and gives members of the center, and of the Koch Institute, a distinct advantage in the development and application of nanoscale materials and technologies.

Looking ahead

Figure-1-11-Nanocarriers-for-cancer-theranostics-Nanoparticles-based-strategies-can-beThe Marble Center has wasted no time getting up to speed in its first year, and has provided support for innovative research projects including theranostic nanoparticles that can both detect and treat cancers, real-time imaging of interactions between cancer and immune cells to better understand response to cancer immunotherapies, and delivery technologies for several powerful RNA-based therapeutics able to engage specific cancer targets with precision.

As part of its efforts to help foster a multifaceted science and engineering research force, the center has provided fellowship support for trainees — as well as valuable opportunities for mentorship, scientific exchange, and professional development.

Promoting broader engagement, the Marble Center serves as a bridge to a wide network of nanomedicine resources, connecting its members to MIT.nano, other nanotechnology researchers, and clinical collaborators across Boston and beyond. The center has also convened a scientific advisory board, whose members hail from leading academic and clinical centers around the country, and will help shape the center’s future programs and continued expansion.

As the Marble Center begins another year of collaborations and innovation, there is a new milestone in sight for 2018. Nanomedicine has been selected as the central theme for the Koch Institute’s 17th Annual Cancer Research Symposium. Scheduled for June 15, 2018, the event will bring together national leaders in the field, providing an ideal forum for Marble Center members to share the discoveries and advancements made during its sophomore year.

“Having next year’s KI Annual Symposium dedicated to nanomedicine will be a wonderful way to further expose the cancer research community to the power of doing science at the nanoscale,” Bhatia says. “The interdisciplinary approach has the power to accelerate new ideas at this exciting interface of nanotechnology and medicine.”

To learn more about the people and projects of the Koch Institute Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, visit nanomedicine.mit.edu.

MIT: Antibiotic Nanoparticles Fight Drug-Resistant Bacteria


MIT-Nano-Anti_0Researchers are hoping to use nanotechnology to develop more targeted treatments for drug-resistant bacteria. In this illustration, an antimicrobial peptide is packaged in a silicon nanoparticle to target bacteria in the lung. Image: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

Targeted treatment could be used for pneumonia and other bacterial infections.

Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem, especially among a type of bacteria that are classified as “Gram-negative.” These bacteria have two cell membranes, making it more difficult for drugs to penetrate and kill the cells.

Researchers from MIT and other institutions are hoping to use nanotechnology to develop more targeted treatments for these drug-resistant bugs. In a new study, they report that an antimicrobial peptide packaged in a silicon nanoparticle dramatically reduced the number of bacteria in the lungs of mice infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a disease causing Gram-negative bacterium that can lead to pneumonia.

This approach, which could also be adapted to target other difficult-to-treat bacterial infections such as tuberculosis, is modeled on a strategy that the researchers have previously used to deliver targeted cancer drugs.

“There are a lot of similarities in the delivery challenges. In infection, as in cancer, the name of the game is selectively killing something, using a drug that has potential side effects,” says Sangeeta Bhatia, the John and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Health Sciences and Technology and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science.

Bhatia is the senior author of the study, which appears in the journal Advanced Materials. The lead author is Ester Kwon, a research scientist at the Koch Institute. Other authors are Matthew Skalak, an MIT graduate and former Koch Institute research technician; Alessandro Bertucci, a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California at San Diego; Gary Braun, a postdoc at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute; Francesco Ricci, an associate professor at the University of Rome Tor Vergata; Erkki Ruoslahti, a professor at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute; and Michael Sailor, a professor at UCSD.

Synergistic peptides

As bacteria grow increasingly resistant to traditional antibiotics, one alternative that some researchers are exploring is antimicrobial peptides — naturally occurring defensive proteins that can kill many types of bacteria by disrupting cellular targets such as membranes and proteins or cellular processes such as protein synthesis.

A few years ago, Bhatia and her colleagues began investigating the possibility of delivering antimicrobial peptides in a targeted fashion using nanoparticles. They also decided to try combining an antimicrobial peptide with another peptide that would help the drug cross bacterial membranes. This concept was built on previous work suggesting that these “tandem peptides” could kill cancer cells effectively.

For the antimicrobial peptide, the researchers chose a synthetic bacterial toxin called KLAKAK. They attached this toxin to a variety of “trafficking peptides,” which interact with bacterial membranes. Of 25 tandem peptides tested, the best one turned out to be a combination of KLAKAK and a peptide called lactoferrin, which was 30 times more effective at killing Pseudomonas aeruginosa than the individual peptides were on their own. It also had minimal toxic effects on human cells.

To further minimize potential side effects, the researchers packaged the peptides into silicon nanoparticles, which prevent the peptides from being released too soon and damaging tissue while en route to their targets. For this study, the researchers delivered the particles directly into the trachea, but for human use, they plan to design a version that could be inhaled.

After the nanoparticles were delivered to mice with an aggressive bacterial infection, those mice had about one-millionth the number of bacteria in their lungs as untreated mice, and they survived longer. The researchers also found that the peptides could kill strains of drug-resistant Pseudomonas taken from patients and grown in the lab.

Adapting concepts

Infectious disease is a fairly new area of research for Bhatia’s lab, which has spent most of the past 17 years developing nanomaterials to treat cancer. A few years ago, she began working on a project funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop targeted treatments for infections of the brain, which led to the new lung infection project.

“We’ve adapted a lot of the same concepts from our cancer work, including boosting local concentration of the cargo and then making the cargo selectively interact with the target, which is now bacteria instead of a tumor,” Bhatia says.

She is now working on incorporating another peptide that would help to target antimicrobial peptides to the correct location in the body. A related project involves using trafficking peptides to help existing antibiotics that kill Gram-positive bacteria to cross the double membrane of Gram-negative bacteria, enabling them to kill those bacteria as well.

The research was funded by the Koch Institute Support Grant from the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and DARPA.

Anne Trafton | MIT News Office