MIT: Device makes power conversion more efficient New design could dramatically cut energy waste in electric vehicles, data centers, and the power grid

MIT-Power-Converters-01_0MIT postdoc Yuhao Zhang, handles a wafer with hundreds of vertical gallium nitride power devices fabricated from the Microsystems Technology Laboratories production line. Courtesy of Yuhao Zhang


Power electronics, which do things like modify voltages or convert between direct and alternating current, are everywhere. They’re in the power bricks we use to charge our portable devices; they’re in the battery packs of electric cars; and they’re in the power grid itself, where they mediate between high-voltage transmission lines and the lower voltages of household electrical sockets.

Power conversion is intrinsically inefficient: A power converter will never output quite as much power as it takes in. But recently, power converters made from gallium nitride have begun to reach the market, boasting higher efficiencies and smaller sizes than conventional, silicon-based power converters.

Commercial gallium nitride power devices can’t handle voltages above about 600 volts, however, which limits their use to household electronics.

At the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ International Electron Devices Meeting this week, researchers from MIT, semiconductor company IQE, Columbia University, IBM, and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, presented a new design that, in tests, enabled gallium nitride power devices to handle voltages of 1,200 volts.

That’s already enough capacity for use in electric vehicles, but the researchers emphasize that their device is a first prototype manufactured in an academic lab. They believe that further work can boost its capacity to the 3,300-to-5,000-volt range, to bring the efficiencies of gallium nitride to the power electronics in the electrical grid itself.

That’s because the new device uses a fundamentally different design from existing gallium nitride power electronics.

“All the devices that are commercially available are what are called lateral devices,” says Tomás Palacios, who is an MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science, a member of the Microsystems Technology Laboratories, and senior author on the new paper. “So the entire device is fabricated on the top surface of the gallium nitride wafer, which is good for low-power applications like the laptop charger. But for medium- and high-power applications, vertical devices are much better. These are devices where the current, instead of flowing through the surface of the semiconductor, flows through the wafer, across the semiconductor. Vertical devices are much better in terms of how much voltage they can manage and how much current they control.”

For one thing, Palacios explains, current flows into one surface of a vertical device and out the other. That means that there’s simply more space in which to attach input and output wires, which enables higher current loads.

For another, Palacios says, “when you have lateral devices, all the current flows through a very narrow slab of material close to the surface. We are talking about a slab of material that could be just 50 nanometers in thickness. So all the current goes through there, and all the heat is being generated in that very narrow region, so it gets really, really, really hot. In a vertical device, the current flows through the entire wafer, so the heat dissipation is much more uniform.”

Narrowing the field

Although their advantages are well-known, vertical devices have been difficult to fabricate in gallium nitride. Power electronics depend on transistors, devices in which a charge applied to a “gate” switches a semiconductor material — such as silicon or gallium nitride — between a conductive and a nonconductive state.

For that switching to be efficient, the current flowing through the semiconductor needs to be confined to a relatively small area, where the gate’s electric field can exert an influence on it. In the past, researchers had attempted to build vertical transistors by embedding physical barriers in the gallium nitride to direct current into a channel beneath the gate.

But the barriers are built from a temperamental material that’s costly and difficult to produce, and integrating it with the surrounding gallium nitride in a way that doesn’t disrupt the transistor’s electronic properties has also proven challenging.

Palacios and his collaborators adopt a simple but effective alternative. The team includes first authors Yuhao Zhang, a postdoc in Palacios’s lab, and Min Sun, who received his MIT PhD in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) last spring; Daniel Piedra and Yuxuan Lin, MIT graduate students in EECS; Jie Hu, a postdoc in Palacios’s group; Zhihong Liu of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology; Xiang Gao of IQE; and Columbia’s Ken Shepard.

Rather than using an internal barrier to route current into a narrow region of a larger device, they simply use a narrower device. Their vertical gallium nitride transistors have bladelike protrusions on top, known as “fins.” On both sides of each fin are electrical contacts that together act as a gate. Current enters the transistor through another contact, on top of the fin, and exits through the bottom of the device. The narrowness of the fin ensures that the gate electrode will be able to switch the transistor on and off.

“Yuhao and Min’s brilliant idea, I think, was to say, ‘Instead of confining the current by having multiple materials in the same wafer, let’s confine it geometrically by removing the material from those regions where we don’t want the current to flow,’” Palacios says. “Instead of doing the complicated zigzag path for the current in conventional vertical transistors, let’s change the geometry of the transistor completely.”


MIT: Making renewable power more viable for the grid

Making renewable power more viable for the grid

“Air-breathing” battery can store electricity for months, for about a fifth the cost of current technologies.

Wind and solar power are increasingly popular sources for renewable energy. But intermittency issues keep them from connecting widely to the U.S. grid: They require energy-storage systems that, at the cheapest, run about $100 per kilowatt hour and function only in certain locations.

Now MIT researchers have developed an “air-breathing” battery that could store electricity for very long durations for about one-fifth the cost of current technologies, with minimal location restraints and zero emissions. The battery could be used to make sporadic renewable power a more reliable source of electricity for the grid.

For its anode, the rechargeable flow battery uses cheap, abundant sulfur dissolved in water. An aerated liquid salt solution in the cathode continuously takes in and releases oxygen that balances charge as ions shuttle between the electrodes. Oxygen flowing into the cathode causes the anode to discharge electrons to an external circuit. Oxygen flowing out sends electrons back to the anode, recharging the battery.

“This battery literally inhales and exhales air, but it doesn’t exhale carbon dioxide, like humans — it exhales oxygen,” says Yet-Ming Chiang, the Kyocera Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT and co-author of a paper describing the battery.

The research appears today in the journal Joule.

The battery’s total chemical cost — the combined price of the cathode, anode, and electrolyte materials — is about 1/30th the cost of competing batteries, such as lithium-ion batteries. Scaled-up systems could be used to store electricity from wind or solar power, for multiple days to entire seasons, for about $20 to $30 per kilowatt hour.

Co-authors with Chiang on the paper are: first author Zheng Li, who was a postdoc at MIT during the research and is now a professor at Virginia Tech; Fikile R. Brushett, the Raymond A. and Helen E. St. Laurent Career Development Professor of Chemical Engineering; research scientist Liang Su; graduate students Menghsuan Pan and Kai Xiang; and undergraduate students Andres Badel, Joseph M. Valle, and Stephanie L. Eiler.

Finding the right balance

Development of the battery began in 2012, when Chiang joined the Department of Energy’s Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, a five-year project that brought together about 180 researchers to collaborate on energy-saving technologies. Chiang, for his part, focused on developing an efficient battery that could reduce the cost of grid-scale energy storage.

A major issue with batteries over the past several decades, Chiang says, has been a focus on synthesizing materials that offer greater energy density but are very expensive. The most widely used materials in lithium-ion batteries for cellphones, for instance, have a cost of about $100 for each kilowatt hour of energy stored.

“This meant maybe we weren’t focusing on the right thing, with an ever-increasing chemical cost in pursuit of high energy-density,” Chiang says. He brought the issue to other MIT researchers. “We said, ‘If we want energy storage at the terawatt scale, we have to use truly abundant materials.’”

The researchers first decided the anode needed to be sulfur, a widely available byproduct of natural gas and petroleum refining that’s very energy dense, having the lowest cost per stored charge next to water and air. The challenge then was finding an inexpensive liquid cathode material that remained stable while producing a meaningful charge.

That seemed improbable — until a serendipitous discovery in the lab.

On a short list of candidates was a compound called potassium permanganate. If used as a cathode material, that compound is “reduced” — a reaction that draws ions from the anode to the cathode, discharging electricity. However, the reduction of the permanganate is normally impossible to reverse, meaning the battery wouldn’t be rechargeable.

Still, Li tried. As expected, the reversal failed. However, the battery was, in fact, recharging, due to an unexpected oxygen reaction in the cathode, which was running entirely on air. “I said, ‘Wait, you figured out a rechargeable chemistry using sulfur that does not require a cathode compound?’ That was the ah-ha moment,” Chiang says.

Using that concept, the team of researchers created a type of flow battery, where electrolytes are continuously pumped through electrodes and travel through a reaction cell to create charge or discharge.

The battery consists of a liquid anode (anolyte) of polysulfide that contains lithium or sodium ions, and a liquid cathode (catholyte) that consists of an oxygenated dissolved salt, separated by a membrane.

Upon discharging, the anolyte releases electrons into an external circuit and the lithium or sodium ions travel to the cathode.

At the same time, to maintain electroneutrality, the catholyte draws in oxygen, creating negatively charged hydroxide ions. When charging, the process is simply reversed. Oxygen is expelled from the catholyte, increasing hydrogen ions, which donate electrons back to the anolyte through the external circuit.

“What this does is create a charge balance by taking oxygen in and out of the system,” Chiang says.

Because the battery uses ultra-low-cost materials, its chemical cost is one of the lowest — if not the lowest — of any rechargeable battery to enable cost-effective long-duration discharge. Its energy density is slightly lower than today’s lithium-ion batteries.

“It’s a creative and interesting new concept that could potentially be an ultra-low-cost solution for grid storage,” says Venkat Viswanathan, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University who studies energy-storage systems.

Lithium-sulfur and lithium-air batteries — where sulfur or oxygen are used in the cathode — exist today. But the key innovation of the MIT research, Viswanathan says, is combining the two concepts to create a lower-cost battery with comparable efficiency and energy density. The design could inspire new work in the field, he adds: “It’s something that immediately captures your imagination.”

Making renewables more reliable

The prototype is currently about the size of a coffee cup. But flow batteries are highly scalable, Chiang says, and cells can be combined into larger systems.

As the battery can discharge over months, the best use may be for storing electricity from notoriously unpredictable wind and solar power sources. “The intermittency for solar is daily, but for wind it’s longer-scale intermittency and not so predictable.

When it’s not so predictable you need more reserve — the capability to discharge a battery over a longer period of time — because you don’t know when the wind is going to come back next,” Chiang says. Seasonal storage is important too, he adds, especially with increasing distance north of the equator, where the amount of sunlight varies more widely from summer to winter.

Chiang says this could be the first technology to compete, in cost and energy density, with pumped hydroelectric storage systems, which provide most of the energy storage for renewables around the world but are very restricted by location.

“The energy density of a flow battery like this is more than 500 times higher than pumped hydroelectric storage. It’s also so much more compact, so that you can imagine putting it anywhere you have renewable generation,” Chiang says.

The research was supported by the Department of Energy.

MIT: Researchers Develop Nanoparticles that Deliver the CRISPR genome-editing system – Big Step Forward for Cancer Research

In a new study, MIT researchers have developed nanoparticles that can deliver the CRISPR genome-editing system and specifically modify genes in mice.

The team used nanoparticles to carry the CRISPR components, eliminating the need to use viruses for delivery.

Using the new delivery technique, the researchers were able to cut out certain genes in about 80 percent of liver cells, the best success rate ever achieved with CRISPR in adult animals.

“What’s really exciting here is that we’ve shown you can make a nanoparticle that can be used to permanently and specifically edit the DNA in the liver of an adult animal,” says Daniel Anderson, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering and a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES).

One of the genes targeted in this study, known as Pcsk9, regulates cholesterol levels. Mutations in the human version of the gene are associated with a rare disorder called dominant familial hypercholesterolemia, and the FDA recently approved two antibody drugs that inhibit Pcsk9.

However these antibodies need to be taken regularly, and for the rest of the patient’s life, to provide therapy. The new nanoparticles permanently edit the gene following a single treatment, and the technique also offers promise for treating other liver disorders, according to the MIT team.

Anderson is the senior author of the study, which appears in the Nov. 13 issue of Nature Biotechnology. The paper’s lead author is Koch Institute research scientist Hao Yin.

Other authors include David H. Koch Institute Professor Robert Langer of MIT, professors Victor Koteliansky and Timofei Zatsepin of the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, and Professor Wen Xue of the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Targeting Disease

Many scientists are trying to develop safe and efficient ways to deliver the components needed for CRISPR, which consists of a DNA-cutting enzyme called Cas9 and a short RNA that guides the enzyme to a specific area of the genome, directing Cas9 where to make its cut.

In most cases, researchers rely on viruses to carry the gene for Cas9, as well as the RNA guide strand. In 2014, Anderson, Yin, and their colleagues developed a nonviral delivery system in the first-ever demonstration of curing a disease (the liver disorder tyrosinemia) with CRISPR in an adult animal. However, this type of delivery requires a high-pressure injection, a method that can also cause some damage to the liver.

Later, the researchers showed they could deliver the components without the high-pressure injection by packaging messenger RNA (mRNA) encoding Cas9 into a nanoparticle instead of a virus. Using this approach, in which the guide RNA was still delivered by a virus, the researchers were able to edit the target gene in about 6 percent of hepatocytes, which is enough to treat tyrosinemia.

While that delivery technique holds promise, in some situations it would be better to have a completely nonviral delivery system, Anderson says.

One consideration is that once a particular virus is used, the patient will develop antibodies to it, so it couldn’t be used again.

Also, some patients have pre-existing antibodies to the viruses being tested as CRISPR delivery vehicles.

In the new Nature Biotechnology paper, the researchers came up with a system that delivers both Cas9 and the RNA guide using nanoparticles, with no need for viruses.

To deliver the guide RNAs, they first had to chemically modify the RNA to protect it from enzymes in the body that would normally break it down before it could reach its destination.

The researchers analyzed the structure of the complex formed by Cas9 and the RNA guide, or sgRNA, to figure out which sections of the guide RNA strand could be chemically modified without interfering with the binding of the two molecules. Based on this analysis, they created and tested many possible combinations of modifications.

“We used the structure of the Cas9 and sgRNA complex as a guide and did tests to figure out we can modify as much as 70 percent of the guide RNA,” Yin says. “We could heavily modify it and not affect the binding of sgRNA and Cas9, and this enhanced modification really enhances activity.”

Reprogramming the Liver

The researchers packaged these modified RNA guides (which they call enhanced sgRNA) into lipid nanoparticles, which they had previously used to deliver other types of RNA to the liver, and injected them into mice along with nanoparticles containing mRNA that encodes Cas9.

They experimented with knocking out a few different genes expressed by hepatocytes, but focused most of their attention on the cholesterol-regulating Pcsk9 gene. The researchers were able to eliminate this gene in more than 80 percent of liver cells, and the Pcsk9 protein was undetectable in these mice. They also found a 35 percent drop in the total cholesterol levels of the treated mice.

The researchers are now working on identifying other liver diseases that might benefit from this approach, and advancing these approaches toward use in patients.

“I think having a fully synthetic nanoparticle that can specifically turn genes off could be a powerful tool not just for Pcsk9 but for other diseases as well,” Anderson says.

“The liver is a really important organ and also is a source of disease for many people. If you can reprogram the DNA of your liver while you’re still using it, we think there are many diseases that could be addressed.”

“We are very excited to see this new application of nanotechnology open new avenues for gene editing,” Langer adds.

Materials provided by MIT News.Note: Content may be edited for style and length. 

Strong current of energy runs through MIT: Robust community focused on fueling the world’s future +Video

MIT-Energy-Past-Future-borders-01 small_0Top row (l-r): Tata Center spinoff Khethworks develops affordable irrigation for the developing world; students discuss utility research in Washington; thin, lightweight solar cell developed by Professor Vladimir Bulović and team. Bottom row (l-r): MIT’s record-setting Alcator tokamak fusion research reactor; a researcher in the MIT Energy Laboratory’s Combustion Research Facility; Professor Kripa Varanasi, whose research on slippery surfaces has led to a spinoff co-founded with Associate Provost Karen Gleason.

Photos: Tata Center for Technology and Design, MITEI, Joel Jean and Anna Osherov, Bob Mumgaard/PSFC, Energy Laboratory Archives, Bryce Vickmark

Research, education, and student activities help create a robust community focused on fueling the world’s future.

On any given day at MIT, undergraduates design hydro-powered desalination systems, graduate students test alternative fuels, and professors work to tap the huge energy-generating potential of nuclear fusion, biomaterials, and more. While some MIT researchers are modeling the impacts of policy on energy markets, others are experimenting with electrochemical forms of energy storage.

This is the robust energy community at MIT. Developed over the past 10 years with the guidance and support of the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) — and with roots extending back into the early days of the Institute — it has engaged more than 300 faculty members and spans more than 900 research projects across all five schools.

In addition, MIT offers a multidisciplinary energy minor and myriad energy-related events and activities throughout the year. Together, these efforts ensure that students who arrive on campus with an interest in energy have free rein to pursue their ambitions.

Opportunities for students

“The MIT energy ecosystem is an incredible system, and it’s built from the ground up,” says Robert C. Armstrong, a professor of chemical engineering and the director of MITEI, which is overseen at the Institute level by Vice President for Research Maria Zuber. “It begins with extensive student involvement in energy.” MITnano_ 042216 InfCorrTerraceView_label (1)

Opportunities begin the moment undergraduates arrive on campus, with a freshman pre-orientation program offered through MITEI that includes such hands-on activities as building motors and visiting the Institute’s nuclear research reactor.

“I got accepted into the pre-orientation program and from there, I was just hooked. I learned about solar technology, wind technology, different types of alternative fuels, bio fuels, even wave power,” says graduate student Priyanka Chatterjee ’15, who minored in energy studies and majored in mechanical and ocean engineering.

Those who choose the minor take a core set of subjects encompassing energy science, technology, and social science. Those interested in a deep dive into research can participate in the Energy Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), which provides full-time summer positions. UROP students are mentored by graduate students and postdocs, many of them members of the Society of Energy Fellows, who are also conducting their own energy research at MIT.

For extracurricular activities, students can join the MIT Energy Club, which is among the largest student-run organizations at MIT with more than 5,000 members. They can also compete for the MIT Clean Energy Prize, a student competition that awards more than $200,000 each year for energy innovation. And there are many other opportunities.

The Tata Center for Technology and Design, now in its sixth year, extends MIT’s reach abroad. It supports 65 graduate students every year who conduct research central to improving life in developing countries — including lowering costs of rural electrification and using solar energy in novel ways.

Students have other opportunities to conduct and share energy research internationally as well.

“Over the years, MITEI has made it possible for several of the students I’ve advised to engage more directly in global energy and climate policy negotiations,” says Valerie Karplus, an assistant professor of global economics and management. “In 2015, I joined them at the Paris climate conference, which was a tremendous educational and outreach experience for all of us.”

Holistic problem-solving

“What is important is to provide our students a holistic understanding of the energy challenges,” says MIT Associate Dean for Innovation Vladimir Bulović.

Adds Karplus: “There’s been an evolution in thinking from ‘How do we build a better mousetrap?’ to ‘How do we bring about change in society at a system level?’”

This kind of thinking is at the root of MIT’s multidisciplinary approach to addressing the global energy challenge — and it has been since MITEI was conceived and launched by then-MIT President Susan Hockfield, a professor of neuroscience. While energy research has been part of the Institute since its founding (MIT’s first president, William Barton Rogers, famously collapsed and died after uttering the words “bituminous coal” at the 1882 commencement), the concerted effort to connect researchers across the five schools for collaborative projects is a more recent development.

“The objective of MITEI was really to solve the big energy problems, which we feel needs all of the schools’ and departments’ contributions,” says Ernest J. Moniz, a professor emeritus of physics and special advisor to MIT’s president. Moniz was the founding director of MITEI before serving as U.S. Secretary of Energy during President Obama’s administration.

Hockfield says great technology by itself “can’t go anywhere without great policy.”

“It’s the economics, it’s the sociology, it’s the science and the engineering, it’s the architecture — it’s all of the pieces of MIT that had to come together if we were going to develop really impactful sustainable energy solutions,” she says.

This multidisciplinary approach is evident in much of MIT’s energy research — notably the series of comprehensive studies MITEI has conducted on such topics as the future of solar energy, natural gas, the electric grid, and more.

“To make a better world, it’s essential that we figure out how to take what we’ve learned at MIT in energy and get that out into the world,” Armstrong says.

Fostering collaborations

MITEI’s eight low-carbon energy research centers — focused on a range of topics from materials design to solar generation to carbon capture and storage — similarly address challenges on multiple technology and policy fronts. These centers are a core component of MIT’s five-year Plan for Action on Climate Change, announced by President L. Rafael Reif in October 2015. The centers employ a strategy that has been fundamental to MIT’s energy work since the founding of MITEI: broad, sustained collaboration with stakeholders from industry, government, and the philanthropic and non-governmental organization communities.

“It’s one thing to do research that’s interesting in a laboratory. It’s something very different to take that laboratory discovery into the world and deliver practical applications,” Hockfield says. “Our collaboration with industry allowed us to do that with a kind of alacrity that we could never have done on our own.”

For example, MITEI’s members have supported more than 160 energy-focused research projects, representing $21.4 million in funding over the past nine years, through the Seed Fund Program. Projects have led to follow-on federal and industry funding, startup companies, and pilot plants for solar desalinization systems in India and Gaza, among other outcomes.

What has MIT’s energy community as a whole accomplished over the past decade? Hockfield says it’s raised the visibility of the world’s energy problems, contributed solutions — both technical and sociopolitical — and provided “an army of young people” to lead the way to a sustainable energy future.

“I couldn’t be prouder of what MIT has contributed,” she says. “We are in the midst of a reinvention of how we make energy and how we use energy. And we will develop sustainable energy practices for a larger population, a wealthier population, and a healthier planet.”


MIT: Material (molybdenum ditelluride) could bring optical communication onto silicon chips


Researchers have designed a light-emitter and detector that can be integrated into silicon CMOS chips. This illustration shows a molybdenum ditelluride light source for silicon photonics. Image: Sampson Wilcox

Ultrathin films of a semiconductor that emits and detects light can be stacked on top of silicon wafers.

The huge increase in computing performance in recent decades has been achieved by squeezing ever more transistors into a tighter space on microchips.

However, this downsizing has also meant packing the wiring within microprocessors ever more tightly together, leading to effects such as signal leakage between components, which can slow down communication between different parts of the chip. This delay, known as the “interconnect bottleneck,” is becoming an increasing problem in high-speed computing systems.

One way to tackle the interconnect bottleneck is to use light rather than wires to communicate between different parts of a microchip. This is no easy task, however, as silicon, the material used to build chips, does not emit light easily, according to Pablo Jarillo-Herrero, an associate professor of physics at MIT.

Now, in a paper published today in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, researchers describe a light emitter and detector that can be integrated into silicon CMOS chips. The paper’s first author is MIT postdoc Ya-Qing Bie, who is joined by Jarillo-Herrero and an interdisciplinary team including Dirk Englund, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT.

The device is built from a semiconductor material called molybdenum ditelluride. This ultrathin semiconductor belongs to an emerging group of materials known as two-dimensional transition-metal dichalcogenides.

Unlike conventional semiconductors, the material can be stacked on top of silicon wafers, Jarillo-Herrero says.

“Researchers have been trying to find materials that are compatible with silicon, in order to bring optoelectronics and optical communication on-chip, but so far this has proven very difficult,” Jarillo-Herrero says. “For example, gallium arsenide is very good for optics, but it cannot be grown on silicon very easily because the two semiconductors are incompatible.”

In contrast, the 2-D molybdenum ditelluride can be mechanically attached to any material, Jarillo-Herrero says.

Another difficulty with integrating other semiconductors with silicon is that the materials typically emit light in the visible range, but light at these wavelengths is simply absorbed by silicon.

Molybdenum ditelluride emits light in the infrared range, which is not absorbed by silicon, meaning it can be used for on-chip communication.

To use the material as a light emitter, the researchers first had to convert it into a P-N junction diode, a device in which one side, the P side, is positively charged, while the other, N side, is negatively charged.

In conventional semiconductors, this is typically done by introducing chemical impurities into the material. With the new class of 2-D materials, however, it can be done by simply applying a voltage across metallic gate electrodes placed side-by-side on top of the material.

“That is a significant breakthrough, because it means we do not need to introduce chemical impurities into the material [to create the diode]. We can do it electrically,” Jarillo-Herrero says.

Once the diode is produced, the researchers run a current through the device, causing it to emit light.

“So by using diodes made of molybdenum ditelluride, we are able to fabricate light-emitting diodes (LEDs) compatible with silicon chips,” Jarillo-Herrero says.

The device can also be switched to operate as a photodetector, by reversing the polarity of the voltage applied to the device. This causes it to stop conducting electricity until a light shines on it, when the current restarts.

In this way, the devices are able to both transmit and receive optical signals.

The device is a proof of concept, and a great deal of work still needs to be done before the technology can be developed into a commercial product, Jarillo-Herrero says.

This paper fills an important gap in integrated photonics, by realizing a high-performance silicon-CMOS-compatible light source, says Frank Koppens, a professor of quantum nano-optoelectronics at the Institute of Photonic Sciences in Barcelona, Spain, who was not involved in the research.

“This work shows that 2-D materials and Si-CMOS and silicon photonics are a natural match, and we will surely see many more applications coming out of this [area] in the years to come,” Koppens says.

The researchers are now investigating other materials that could be used for on-chip optical communication.

Most telecommunication systems, for example, operate using light with a wavelength of 1.3 or 1.5 micrometers, Jarillo-Herrero says.

However, molybdenum ditelluride emits light at 1.1 micrometers. This makes it suitable for use in the silicon chips found in computers, but unsuitable for telecommunications systems.

“It would be highly desirable if we could develop a similar material, which could emit and detect light at 1.3 or 1.5 micrometers in wavelength, where telecommunication through optical fiber operates,” he says.

To this end, the researchers are exploring another ultrathin material called black phosphorus, which can be tuned to emit light at different wavelengths by altering the number of layers used. They hope to develop devices with the necessary number of layers to allow them to emit light at the two wavelengths while remaining compatible with silicon.

“The hope is that if we are able to communicate on-chip via optical signals instead of electronic signals, we will be able to do so more quickly, and while consuming less power,” Jarillo-Herrero says.

The research was supported by Center for Excitonics, an EFRC funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

MIT and Lamborghini to develop graphene-enhanced supercar – Powered Only by Supercapacitors

 November 10, 2017

Lamborghini and MIT have announced a collaboration on a 3-year project to develop a graphene-enhanced supercapacitor electric vehicle. 

The Lamborghini-MIT partnership could, however, end up being extended as there is no target date for the car’s completion.

MIT and Lamborghini develop graphene-enhanced supercar image

The planned graphene-enhanced Terzo Millennio (“third millennium”) supercar may be a real gamechanger. 

This concept car is to be a fully electric, supercapacitor-powered automobile that can be charged in minutes – with no bulky battery. 

It will reportedly be “covered in a sheet of graphene”, but this description does not sound extremely accurate… We will have to wait for further information on this project.

According to reports, the bodywork of the car will utilize Lamborghini’s expertise in carbon fibre, which results in significant weight reduction. 

However, the joint plan is apparently for the carbon panels to also act as an accumulator for energy storage. 

But Lamborghini and MIT also want the car to self-heal. Cracks and minor damage will be automatically detected in the carbon structure and then repaired using “microchannels” in the bodywork filled with “healing chemistries”…. stay tuned … !

Source:  wired

MIT: Researchers clarify mystery about proposed battery material – More “Energy Per Pound”- EV’s and Lithium-Air Batteries

MIT-Lithium-i-1_0Study explains conflicting results from other experiments, may lead to batteries with more energy per pound.

Battery researchers agree that one of the most promising possibilities for future battery technology is the lithium-air (or lithium-oxygen) battery, which could provide three times as much power for a given weight as today’s leading technology, lithium-ion batteries. But tests of various approaches to creating such batteries have produced conflicting and confusing results, as well as controversies over how to explain them.

Now, a team at MIT has carried out detailed tests that seem to resolve the questions surrounding one promising material for such batteries: a compound called lithium iodide (LiI). The compound was seen as a possible solution to some of the lithium-air battery’s problems, including an inability to sustain many charging-discharging cycles, but conflicting findings had raised questions about the material’s usefulness for this task. The new study explains these discrepancies, and although it suggests that the material might not be suitable after all, the work provides guidance for efforts to overcome LiI’s drawbacks or find alternative materials.battery-5001

The new results appear in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, in a paper by Yang Shao-Horn, MIT’s W.M. Keck Professor of Energy; Paula Hammond, the David H. Koch Professor in Engineering and head of the Department of Chemical Engineering; Michal Tulodziecki, a recent MIT postdoc at the Research Laboratory of Electronics; Graham Leverick, an MIT graduate student; Yu Katayama, a visiting student; and three others.

The promise of the lithium-air battery comes from the fact one of the two electrodes, which are usually made of metal or metal oxides, is replaced with air that flows in and out of the battery; a weightless substance is thus substituted for one of the heavy components. The other electrode in such batteries would be pure metallic lithium, a lightweight element.

But that theoretical promise has been limited in practice because of three issues: the need for high voltages for charging, a low efficiency with regard to getting back the amount of energy put in, and low cycle lifetimes, which result from instability in the battery’s oxygen electrode. Researchers have proposed adding lithium iodide in the electrolyte as a way of addressing these problems. But published results have been contradictory, with some studies finding the LiI does improve the cycling life, “while others show that the presence of LiI leads to irreversible reactions and poor battery cycling,” Shao-Horn says.

Previously, “most of the research was focused on organics” to make lithium-air batteries feasible, says Michal Tulodziecki, the paper’s lead author. But most of these organic compounds are not stable, he says, “and that’s why there’s been a great focus on lithium iodide [an inorganic material], which some papers said helps the batteries achieve thousands of cycles. But others say no, it will damage the battery.” In this new study, he says, “we explored in detail how lithium iodide affects the process, with and without water,” a comparison which turned out to be significant.

lithium-air-battery (1)

The team looked at the role of LiI on lithium-air battery discharge, using a different approach from most other studies. One set of studies was conducted with the components outside of the battery, which allowed the researchers to zero in on one part of the reaction, while the other study was done in the battery, to help explain the overall process.

They then used ultraviolet and visible-light spectroscopy and other techniques to study the reactions that took place. Both of these processes foster the production of different lithium compound such as LiOH (lithium hydroxide) in the presence of both LiI and water, instead of Li2O(lithium peroxide).  LiI can enhance water’s reactivity and make it lose protons more easily, which promotes the formation of LiOH in these batteries and interferes with the charging process. These observations show that finding ways to suppress these reactions could make compounds such as LiI work better.

This study could point the way toward selecting a different compound instead of LiI to perform its intended function of suppressing unwanted chemical reactions at the electrode surface, Leverick says, adding that this work demonstrates the importance of “looking at the detailed mechanism carefully.”

Shao-Horn says that the new findings “help get to the bottom of this existing controversy on the role of LiI on discharge. We believe this clarifies and brings together all these different points of view.”

But this work is just one step in a long process of trying to make lithium-air technology practical, the researchers say. “There’s so much to understand,” says Leverick, “so there’s not one paper that’s going to solve it. But we will make consistent progress.”

“Lithium-oxygen batteries that run on oxygen and lithium ions are of great interest because they could enable electric vehicles of much greater range. However, one of the problems is that they are not very efficient yet,” says Larry Curtiss, a distinguished fellow at Argonne National Laboratory, who was not involved in this work. In this study, he says, “it is shown how adding a simple salt, lithium iodide, can potentially be used to make these batteries run much more efficiently. They have provided new insight into how the lithium iodide acts to help break up the solid discharge product, which will help to enable the development of these advanced battery systems.”Nissan-Leaf

Curtiss adds that “there are still significant barriers remaining to be overcome before these batteries become a reality, such as getting long enough cycle life, but this is an important contribution to the field.”

The team also included recent MIT graduates Chibueze Amanchukwu PhD ’17 and David Kwabi PhD ’16, and Fanny Bardé of Toyota Motor Europe. The work was supported by Toyota Motor Europe and the Skoltech Center for Electrochemical Energy Storage, and used facilities supported by the National Science Foundation.

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

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

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