Bay, fjord, cove, armchair and zigzag—chemists use terms such as these to describe the shapes taken by the edges of nanographene.
Graphene consists of a single-layered carbon structure in which each carbon atom is surrounded by three others. This creates a pattern reminiscent of a honeycomb, with atoms in each of the corners. Nanographene is a promising candidate to bring microelectronics down to the nano-scale and a likely substitute for silicon.
The electronic properties of the material depend greatly on its shape, size and above all, periphery—in other words how the edges are structured. A zigzag periphery is particularly suitable—in this configuration, the electrons, which act as charge carriers, are more mobile than in other edge structures. This means that using pieces of zigzag-shaped graphene in nanoelectronics components may allow higher frequencies for switches.
Materials scientists who want to research only zigzag nanographene confront the problem that this form makes the compounds unstable and difficult to produce in a controlled manner. This is a prerequisite, however, if the electronic properties are to be investigated in detail.
Researchers led by Dr. Konstantin Amsharov from the Chair of Organic Chemistry II have now succeeded in doing just that. Their research has now been published in Nature Communications. Not only have they discovered a straightforward method for synthesising zigzag nanographene, their procedure delivers a yield of close to 100 percent and is suitable for large scale production. They have already produced a technically relevant quantity in the laboratory.
The researchers first produced preliminary molecules, which they then fit together in a honeycomb formation over several cycles in a process known as cyclisation. In the end, graphene fragments are produced from staggered rows of honeycombs or four-limbed stars surrounding a central point of four graphene honeycombs, with the sought-after zigzag pattern at the edges. The product crystallises directly, even during synthesis. In their solid state, the molecules are not in contact with oxygen. In solution, however, oxidation causes the structures to disintegrate quickly.
This approach allows scientists to produce large pieces of graphene, while maintaining control over their shape and periphery. This breakthrough in graphene research means that scientists should soon be able to produce and research a variety of interesting nanographene structures, a crucial step toward using the material in nanoelectronic components.
IMAGE: THESE ARE STRUCTURES OF SILVER INDIUM SULFIDE/GALLIUM SULFIDE CORE/SHELL QUANTUM DOTS AND PICTURES OF THE CORE/SHELL QUANTUM DOTS UNDER ROOM LIGHT. view more
CREDIT: OSAKA UNIVERSITY
Osaka, Japan – Most current displays do not always accurately represent the world’s colors as we perceive them by eye, instead only representing roughly 70% of them. To make better displays with true colors commonly available, researchers have focused their efforts on light-emitting nanoparticles.
Such nanoparticles can also be used in medical research to light up and keep track of drugs when developing and testing new medicines in the body. However, the metal these light-emitting nanoparticles are based on, namely cadmium, is highly toxic, which limits its applications in medical research and in consumer products–many countries may soon introduce bans on toxic nanoparticles.
It is therefore vital to create non-toxic versions of these nanoparticles that have similar properties: they must produce very clean colors and must do so in a very energy-efficient way. So far researchers have succeeded in creating non-toxic nanoparticles that emit light in an efficient manner by creating semiconductors with three types of elements in them, for example, silver, indium, and sulfur (in the form of silver indium disulfide (AgInS2)). However, the colors they emit are not pure enough–and many researchers declared that it would be impossible for such nanoparticles to ever emit pure colors.
Now, researchers from Osaka University have proven that it is possible by fabricating semiconductor nanoparticles containing silver indium disulfide and adding a shell around them consisting of a semiconductor material made of two different elements, gallium and sulfur. The team was able to reproducibly create these shell-covered nanoparticles that are both energy efficient and emit vivid, clean colors. The team have recently published their research in the Nature journal NPG Asia Materials.
“We synthesized non-toxic nanoparticles in the normal way: mix all ingredients together and heat them up. The results were not fantastic, but by tweaking the synthesis conditions and modifying the nanoparticle cores and the shells we enclosed them in, we were able to achieve fantastic efficiencies and very pure colors,” study coauthor Susumu Kuwabata says.
Enclosing nanoparticles in semiconductor shells in nothing new, but the shells that are currently used have rigidly arranged atoms inside them, whereas the new particles are made of a more chaotic material without such a rigid structure.
“The silver indium disulfide particles emitted purer colors after the coating with gallium sulfide. On top of that, the shell parts in microscopic images were totally amorphous. We think the less rigid nature of the shell material played an important part in that–it was more adaptable and therefore able to take on more energetically favorable conformations,” first author Taro Uematsu says.
The team’s results demonstrate that it is possible to create cadmium-free, non-toxic nanoparticles with very good color-emitting properties by using amorphous shells around the nanoparticle cores.
The article, “Narrow band-edge photoluminescence from AgInS2 semiconductor nanoparticles by the formation of amorphous III-VI semiconductor shells” was published in NPG Asia Materials, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41427-018-0067-9.
Through nanotechnology, physicists Dr Raymond McQuaid, Dr Amit Kumar and Professor Marty Gregg from Queen’s University’s School of Mathematics and Physics, have created unique 2-D sheets, called domain walls, which exist within crystalline materials.
The sheets are almost as thin as the wonder-material graphene, at just a few atomic layers. However, they can do something that graphene can’t – they can appear, disappear or move around within the crystal, without permanently altering the crystal itself.
This means that in future, even smaller electronic devices could be created, as electronic circuits could constantly reconfigure themselves to perform a number of tasks, rather than just having a sole function.
Professor Marty Gregg explains: “Almost all aspects of modern life such as communication, healthcare, finance and entertainment rely on microelectronic devices.
The demand for more powerful, smaller technology keeps growing, meaning that the tiniest devices are now composed of just a few atoms – a tiny fraction of the width of human hair.”
Breakthrough in thin electrically conducting sheets paves way for smaller electronic devices Credit: Queen’s University Belfast
“As things currently stand, it will become impossible to make these devices any smaller – we will simply run out of space. This is a huge problem for the computing industry and new, radical, disruptive technologies are needed. One solution is to make electronic circuits more ‘flexible’ so that they can exist at one moment for one purpose, but can be completely reconfigured the next moment for another purpose.”
The team’s findings, which have been published in Nature Communications, pave the way for a completely new way of data processing.
Professor Gregg says: “Our research suggests the possibility to “etch-a-sketch” nanoscale electrical connections, where patterns of electrically conducting wires can be drawn and then wiped away again as often as required.
“In this way, complete electronic circuits could be created and then dynamically reconfigured when needed to carry out a different role, overturning the paradigm that electronic circuits need be fixed components of hardware, typically designed with a dedicated purpose in mind.”
Breakthrough in thin electrically conducting sheets paves way for smaller electronic devices Credit: Queen’s University Belfast
There are two key hurdles to overcome when creating these 2-D sheets, long straight walls need to be created. These need to effectively conduct electricity and mimic the behavior of real metallic wires. It is also essential to be able to choose exactly where and when the domain walls appear and to reposition or delete them.
Through the research, the Queen’s researchers have discovered some solutions to the hurdles. Their research proves that long conducting sheets can be created by squeezing the crystal at precisely the location they are required, using a targeted acupuncture-like approach with a sharp needle. The sheets can then be moved around within the crystal using applied electric fields to position them.
Dr Raymond McQuaid, a recently appointed lecturer in the School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen’s University, added: “Our team has demonstrated for the first time that copper-chlorine boracite crystals can have straight conducting walls that are hundreds of microns in length and yet only nanometres thick.
The key is that, when a needle is pressed into the crystal surface, a jigsaw puzzle-like pattern of structural variants, called “domains”, develops around the contact point. The different pieces of the pattern fit together in a unique way with the result that the conducting walls are found along certain boundaries where they meet.
“We have also shown that these walls can then be moved using applied electric fields, therefore suggesting compatibility with more conventional voltage operated devices. Taken together, these two results are a promising sign for the potential use of conducting walls in reconfigurable nano-electronics.”
More information: Raymond G.P. McQuaid et al. Injection and controlled motion of conducting domain walls in improper ferroelectric Cu-Cl boracite, Nature Communications (2017). DOI: 10.1038/ncomms15105
A team of researchers, led by the University of Minnesota, have discovered a new nano-scale thin film material with the highest-ever conductivity in its class. The new material could lead to smaller, faster, and more powerful electronics, as well as more efficient solar cells.
The discovery is being published today in Nature Communications, an open access journal that publishes high-quality research from all areas of the natural sciences.
Researchers say that what makes this new material so unique is that it has a high conductivity, which helps electronics conduct more electricity and become more powerful. But the material also has a wide bandgap, which means light can easily pass through the material making it optically transparent. In most cases, materials with wide bandgap, usually have either low conductivity or poor transparency.
“The high conductivity and wide bandgap make this an ideal material for making optically transparent conducting films which could be used in a wide variety of electronic devices, including high power electronics, electronic displays, touchscreens and even solar cells in which light needs to pass through the device,” said Bharat Jalan, a University of Minnesota chemical engineering and materials science professor and the lead researcher on the study.
Currently, most of the transparent conductors in our electronics use a chemical element called indium. The price of indium has gone up tremendously in the past few years significantly adding to the cost of current display technology. As a result, there has been tremendous effort to find alternative materials that work as well, or even better, than indium-based transparent conductors.
In this study, researchers found a solution. They developed a new transparent conducting thin film using a novel synthesis method, in which they grew a BaSnO3 thin film (a combination of barium, tin and oxygen, called barium stannate), but replaced elemental tin source with a chemical precursor of tin. The chemical precursor of tin has unique, radical properties that enhanced the chemical reactivity and greatly improved the metal oxide formation process. Both barium and tin are significantly cheaper than indium and are abundantly available.
“We were quite surprised at how well this unconventional approach worked the very first time we used the tin chemical precursor,” said University of Minnesota chemical engineering and materials science graduate student Abhinav Prakash, the first author of the paper. “It was a big risk, but it was quite a big breakthrough for us.”
Jalan and Prakash said this new process allowed them to create this material with unprecedented control over thickness, composition, and defect concentration and that this process should be highly suitable for a number of other material systems where the element is hard to oxidize. The new process is also reproducible and scalable.
They further added that it was the structurally superior quality with improved defect concentration that allowed them to discover high conductivity in the material. They said the next step is to continue to reduce the defects at the atomic scale.
“Even though this material has the highest conductivity within the same materials class, there is much room for improvement in addition, to the outstanding potential for discovering new physics if we decrease the defects. That’s our next goal,” Jalan said.
Researchers in AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland-funded materials science research centre hosted in Trinity College Dublin, have fabricated printed transistors consisting entirely of 2-dimensional nanomaterials for the first time. These 2D materials combine exciting electronic properties with the potential for low-cost production. This breakthrough could unlock the potential for applications such as food packaging that displays a digital countdown to warn you of spoiling, wine labels that alert you when your white wine is at its optimum temperature, or even a window pane that shows the day’s forecast. The AMBER team’s findings have been published today in the leading journal Science.
This discovery opens the path for industry, such as ICT and pharmaceutical, to cheaply print a host of electronic devices from solar cells to LEDs with applications from interactive smart food and drug labels to next-generation banknote security and e-passports.
Prof Jonathan Coleman, who is an investigator in AMBER and Trinity’s School of Physics, said, “In the future, printed devices will be incorporated into even the most mundane objects such as labels, posters and packaging. Printed electronic circuitry (constructed from the devices we have created) will allow consumer products to gather, process, display and transmit information: for example, milk cartons could send messages to your phone warning that the milk is about to go out-of-date.
We believe that 2D nanomaterials can compete with the materials currently used for printed electronics. Compared to other materials employed in this field, our 2D nanomaterials have the capability to yield more cost effective and higher performance printed devices. However, while the last decade has underlined the potential of 2D materials for a range of electronic applications, only the first steps have been taken to demonstrate their worth in printed electronics. This publication is important because it shows that conducting, semiconducting and insulating 2D nanomaterials can be combined together in complex devices. We felt that it was critically important to focus on printing transistors as they are the electric switches at the heart of modern computing. We believe this work opens the way to print a whole host of devices solely from 2D nanosheets.”
Led by Prof Coleman, in collaboration with the groups of Prof Georg Duesberg (AMBER) and Prof. Laurens Siebbeles (TU Delft, Netherlands), the team used standard printing techniques to combine graphene nanosheets as the electrodes with two other nanomaterials, tungsten diselenide and boron nitride as the channel and separator (two important parts of a transistor) to form an all-printed, all-nanosheet, working transistor.
Printable electronics have developed over the last thirty years based mainly on printable carbon-based molecules. While these molecules can easily be turned into printable inks, such materials are somewhat unstable and have well-known performance limitations. There have been many attempts to surpass these obstacles using alternative materials, such as carbon nanotubes or inorganic nanoparticles, but these materials have also shown limitations in either performance or in manufacturability. While the performance of printed 2D devices cannot yet compare with advanced transistors, the team believe there is a wide scope to improve performance beyond the current state-of-the-art for printed transistors.
The ability to print 2D nanomaterials is based on Prof. Coleman’s scalable method of producing 2D nanomaterials, including graphene, boron nitride, and tungsten diselenide nanosheets, in liquids, a method he has licensed to Samsung and Thomas Swan. These nanosheets are flat nanoparticles that are a few nanometres thick but hundreds of nanometres wide. Critically, nanosheets made from different materials have electronic properties that can be conducting, insulating or semiconducting and so include all the building blocks of electronics. Liquid processing is especially advantageous in that it yields large quantities of high quality 2D materials in a form that is easy to process into inks. Prof. Coleman’s publication provides the potential to print circuitry at extremely low cost which will facilitate a range of applications from animated posters to smart labels.
USB flash drives are already common accessories in offices and college campuses. But thanks to the rise in printable electronics, digital storage devices like these may soon be everywhere—including on our groceries, pill bottles and even clothing.
Duke University researchers have brought us closer to a future of low-cost, flexible electronics by creating a new “spray-on” digital memorydevice using only an aerosol jet printer and nanoparticle inks.
The device, which is analogous to a 4-bit flash drive, is the first fully-printed digital memory that would be suitable for practical use in simple electronics such as environmental sensors or RFID tags. And because it is jet-printed at relatively low temperatures, it could be used to build programmable electronic devices on bendable materials like paper, plastic or fabric.
“We have all of the parameters that would allow this to be used for a practical application, and we’ve even done our own little demonstration using LEDs,” said Duke graduate student Matthew Catenacci, who describes the device in a paper published online March 27 in the Journal of Electronic Materials.
At the core of the new device, which is about the size of a postage stamp, is a new copper-nanowire-based printable material that is capable of storing digital information.
“Memory is kind of an abstract thing, but essentially it is a series of ones and zeros which you can use to encode information,” said Benjamin Wiley, an associate professor of chemistry at Duke and an author on the paper.
Most flash drives encode information in series of silicon transistors, which can exist in a charged state, corresponding to a “one,” and an uncharged state, corresponding to a “zero,” Wiley said.
The new material, made of silica-coated copper nanowires encased in a polymer matrix, encodes information not in states of charge but instead in states of resistance. By applying a small voltage, it can be switched between a state of high resistance, which stops electric current, and a state of low resistance, which allows current to flow.
And, unlike silicon, the nanowires and the polymer can be dissolved in methanol, creating a liquid that can be sprayed through the nozzle of a printer.
“We have developed a way to make the entire device printable from solution, which is what you would want if you wanted to apply it to fabrics, RFID tags, curved and flexible substrates, or substrates that can’t sustain high heat,” Wiley said.
To create the device, Catenacci first used commercially-available gold nanoparticle ink to print a series of gold electrodes onto a glass slide. He then printed the copper-nanowire memory material over the gold electrodes, and finally printed a second series of electrodes, this time in copper.
To demonstrate a simple application, Catenacci connected the device to a circuit containing four LED lights. “Since we have four bits, we could program sixteen different states,” Catenacci said, where each “state” corresponds to a specific pattern of lights. In a real-world application, each of these states could be programmed to correspond to a number, letter, or other display symbol.
Though other research groups have fabricated similar printable memory devices in recent years, this is the first to combine key properties that are necessary for practical use. The write speed, or time it takes to switch back and forth between states, is around three microseconds, rivaling the speed of flash drives. Their tests indicate that written information may be retained for up to ten years, and the material can be re-written many times without degrading.
While these devices won’t be storing digital photos or music any time soon—their memory capacity is much too small for that—they may be useful in applications where low cost and flexibility are key, the researchers say.
“For example, right now RFID tags just encode a particular produce number, and they are typically used for recording inventory,” Wiley said. “But increasingly people also want to record what environment that product felt—such as, was this medicine always kept at the right temperature? One way these could be used would be to make a smarter RFID tags that could sense their environments and record the state over time.”
“Using electrons like photons could provide the basis for a new electronic device that could carry current with virtually no resistance, even at room temperature.”
A new way to grow narrow ribbons of graphene, a lightweight and strong structure of single-atom-thick carbon atoms linked into hexagons, may address a shortcoming that has prevented the material from achieving its full potential in electronic applications.
Graphene nanoribbons, mere billionths of a meter wide, exhibit different electronic properties than two-dimensional sheets of the material. “Confinement changes graphene’s behavior,” said An-Ping Li, a physicist at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Graphene in sheets is an excellent electrical conductor, but narrowing graphene can turn the material into a semiconductor if the ribbons are made with a specific edge shape.
Previous efforts to make graphene nanoribbons employed a metal substrate that hindered the ribbons’ useful electronic properties. Now, scientists at ORNL and North Carolina State University report in the journal Nature Communications that they are the first to grow graphene nanoribbons without a metal substrate. Instead, they injected charge carriers that promote a chemical reaction that converts a polymer precursor into a graphene nanoribbon.
At selected sites, this new technique can create interfaces between materials with different electronic properties. Such interfaces are the basis of semiconductor electronic devices from integrated circuits and transistors to light-emitting diodes and solar cells. “Graphene is wonderful, but it has limits,” said Li.
“In wide sheets, it doesn’t have an energy gap–an energy range in a solid where no electronic states can exist. That means you cannot turn it on or off.” When a voltage is applied to a sheet of graphene in a device, electrons flow freely as they do in metals, severely limiting graphene’s application in digital electronics.
“When graphene becomes very narrow, it creates an energy gap,” Li said. “The narrower the ribbon is, the wider is the energy gap.” In very narrow graphene nanoribbons, with a width of a nanometer or even less, how structures terminate at the edge of the ribbon is important too. For example, cutting graphene along the side of a hexagon creates an edge that resembles an armchair; this material can act like a semiconductor. Excising triangles from graphene creates a zigzag edge–and a material with metallic behavior.
To grow graphene nanoribbons with controlled width and edge structure from polymer precursors, previous researchers had used a metal substrate to catalyze a chemical reaction. However, the metal substrate suppresses useful edge states and shrinks the desired band gap. Li and colleagues set out to get rid of this troublesome metal substrate. At the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, a DOE Office of Science User Facility at ORNL, they used the tip of a scanning tunneling microscope to inject either negative charge carriers (electrons) or positive charge carriers (“holes”) to try to trigger the key chemical reaction. They discovered that only holes triggered it. They were subsequently able to make a ribbon that was only seven carbon atoms wide–less than one nanometer wide–with edges in the armchair conformation.
“We figured out the fundamental mechanism, that is, how charge injection can lower the reaction barrier to promote this chemical reaction,” Li said. Moving the tip along the polymer chain, the researchers could select where they triggered this reaction and convert one hexagon of the graphene lattice at a time. Next, the researchers will make heterojunctions with different precursor molecules and explore functionalities. They are also eager to see how long electrons can travel in these ribbons before scattering, and will compare it with a graphene nanoribbon made another way and known to conduct electrons extremely well.
Using electrons like photons could provide the basis for a new electronic device that could carry current with virtually no resistance, even at room temperature.
“It’s a way to tailor physical properties for energy applications,” Li said. “This is an excellent example of direct writing. You can direct the transformation process at the molecular or atomic level.” Plus, the process could be scaled up and automated.
Source and top image: Oak Ridge National Laboratory
By suspending tiny metal nanoparticles in liquids, Duke University scientists are brewing up conductive ink-jet printer “inks” to print inexpensive, customizable circuit patterns on just about any surface.
Printed electronics, which are already being used on a wide scale in devices such as the anti-theft radio frequency identification (RFID) tags you might find on the back of new DVDs, currently have one major drawback: for the circuits to work, they first have to be heated to melt all the nanoparticles together into a single conductive wire, making it impossible to print circuits on inexpensive plastics or paper.
A new study by Duke researchers shows that tweaking the shape of the nanoparticles in the ink might just eliminate the need for heat.
Duke University chemists have found that silver nanowire films like these conduct electricity well enough to form functioning circuits without applying high temperatures, enabling printable electronics on heat-sensitive materials like paper or plastic. (Image: Ian Stewart and Benjamin Wiley)
By comparing the conductivity of films made from different shapes of silver nanostructures, the researchers found that electrons zip through films made of silver nanowires much easier than films made from other shapes, like nanospheres or microflakes. In fact, electrons flowed so easily through the nanowire films that they could function in printed circuits without the need to melt them all together.
“The nanowires had a 4,000 times higher conductivity than the more commonly used silver nanoparticles that you would find in printed antennas for RFID tags,” said Benjamin Wiley, assistant professor of chemistry at Duke. “So if you use nanowires, then you don’t have to heat the printed circuits up to such high temperature and you can use cheaper plastics or paper.”
“There is really nothing else I can think of besides these silver nanowires that you can just print and it’s simply conductive, without any post-processing,” Wiley added.
These types of printed electronics could have applications far beyond smart packaging; researchers envision using the technology to make solar cells, printed displays, LEDS, touchscreens, amplifiers, batteries and even some implantable bio-electronic devices. The results appeared online in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces (“Effect of Morphology on the Electrical Resistivity of Silver Nanostructure Films”).
Silver has become a go-to material for making printed electronics, Wiley said, and a number of studies have recently appeared measuring the conductivity of films with different shapes of silver nanostructures. However, experimental variations make direct comparisons between the shapes difficult, and few reports have linked the conductivity of the films to the total mass of silver used, an important factor when working with a costly material.
“We wanted to eliminate any extra materials from the inks and simply hone in on the amount of silver in the films and the contacts between the nanostructures as the only source of variability,” said Ian Stewart, a recent graduate student in Wiley’s lab and first author on the ACS paper.
Stewart used known recipes to cook up silver nanostructures with different shapes, including nanoparticles, microflakes, and short and long nanowires, and mixed these nanostructures with distilled water to make simple “inks.” He then invented a quick and easy way to make thin films using equipment available in just about any lab — glass slides and double-sided tape.
“We used a hole punch to cut out wells from double-sided tape and stuck these to glass slides,” Stewart said. By adding a precise volume of ink into each tape “well” and then heating the wells — either to relatively low temperature to simply evaporate the water or to higher temperatures to begin melting the structures together — he created a variety of films to test.
The team say they weren’t surprised that the long nanowire films had the highest conductivity. Electrons usually flow easily through individual nanostructures but get stuck when they have to jump from one structure to the next, Wiley explained, and long nanowires greatly reduce the number of times the electrons have to make this “jump”.
But they were surprised at just how drastic the change was. “The resistivity of the long silver nanowire films is several orders of magnitude lower than silver nanoparticles and only 10 times greater than pure silver,” Stewart said.
The team is now experimenting with using aerosol jets to print silver nanowire inks in usable circuits. Wiley says they also want to explore whether silver-coated copper nanowires, which are significantly cheaper to produce than pure silver nanowires, will give the same effect.
Wilbur and Orville Wright conquered flight on December 17th, 1903. Few inventions were as transformational over the next century. It took four days to travel from New York to Los Angeles in 1900, by train. By the 1930s it could be done in 17 hours, by air. By 1950, six hours.
But here’s the most amazing part of the story: Hardly anyone paid attention at the time.
Unlike, say, mapping the genome, a lay person could instantly grasp the marvel of human flight. A guy sat in a box and turned into a bird.
But days, months, even years after the Wright’s first flight, hardly anyone noticed.
Here’s the front page of The New York Times the day after the first flight. Not a word about the Wrights:
Two days after. Again, nothing:
Three days later, when the Wrights were on their fourth flight, one of which lasted nearly a minute. Nothing:
This goes on. Four days. Five days, six days, six weeks, six months … no mention of the men who conquered the sky for the first time in human history.
The Library of Congress, where I found these papers, reveals two amazing details. One, the first passing mention of the Wrights in The New York Times came in 1906, three years after their first flight. Two, in 1904, the Times asked a hot-air-balloon tycoon whether humans may fly someday. He answered:
That was a year after the Wright’s first flight.
In his 1952 book on American history, Frederick Lewis Allen wrote:
Several years went by before the public grasped what the Wrights were doing; people were so convinced that flying was impossible that most of those who saw them flying about Dayton [Ohio] in 1905 decided that what they had seen must be some trick without significance – somewhat as most people today would regard a demonstration of, say, telepathy. It was not until May, 1908 – nearly four and a half years after the Wright’s first flight – that experienced reporters were sent to observe what they were doing, experienced editors gave full credence to these reporters’ excited dispatches, and the world at last woke up to the fact that human flight had been successfully accomplished.
So .. What’s the Point?
The Wrights’ story shows something more common than we realize: There’s often a big gap between changing the world and convincing people that you changed the world.
Jeff Bezos once said:
“Invention requires a long-term willingness to be misunderstood. You do something that you genuinely believe in, that you have conviction about, but for a long period of time, well-meaning people may criticize that effort … if you really have conviction that they’re not right, you need to have that long-term willingness to be misunderstood. It’s a key part of invention.”
It’s such an important message. Things that are instantly adored are usually just slight variations over existing products. We love them because they’re familiar. The most innovative products – the ones that truly change the world – are almost never understood at first, even by really smart people.
It happened with the telephone. Alexander Graham Bell tried to sell his invention to Western Union, which quickly replied:
This `telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a practical form of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us. What use could this company make of an electrical toy?
It happened with the car. Twenty years before Henry Ford convinced the world he was onto something, Congress published a memo, warning:
Horseless carriages propelled by gasoline might attain speeds of 14 or even 20 miles per hour. The menace to our people of vehicles of this type hurtling through our streets and along our roads and poisoning the atmosphere would call for prompt legislative action. The cost of producing gasoline is far beyond the financial capacity of private industry… In addition the development of this new power may displace the use of horses, which would wreck our agriculture.
It happened with the index fund – easily the most important financial innovation of the last half-century. John Bogle launched the first index fund in 1975. No one paid much attention to for next two decades. It started to gain popularity, an inch at a time, in the 1990s. Then, three decades after inception, the idea spread like wildfire.
It’s happening now, too. 3D printing has taken off over the last five years. But it’s hardly a new invention. Check out this interview with the CEO of 3D Systems in … 1989. 3D printing, like so many innovations, had a multi-decade lag between invention and adoption. Solar is similar. Photovoltaics were discovered in 1876. They were commercially available by the 1950s, and Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House in the 1970s. But they didn’t take off – really take off – until the late 2000s.
Big breakthroughs typically follow a seven-step path:
First, no one’s heard of you.
Then they’ve heard of you but think you’re nuts.
Then they understand your product, but think it has no opportunity.
Then they view your product as a toy.
Then they see it as an amazing toy.
Then they start using it.
Then they couldn’t imagine life without it.
This process can take decades. It rarely takes less than several years.
Three points arise from this.
1. It takes a brilliance to change the world. It takes something else entirely to wait patiently for people to notice. “Zen-like patience” isn’t a typical trait associated with entrepreneurs. But it’s often required, especially for the most transformative products.
2. When innovation is measured generationally, results shouldn’t be measured quarterly. History is the true story of how long, messy, and chaotic change can be. The stock market is the hilarious story of millions of people expecting current companies to perform quickly, orderly, and cleanly. The gap between reality and expectations explains untold frustration.
3. Invention is only the first step of innovation. Stanford professor Paul Saffo put it this way:
It takes 30 years for a new idea to seep into the culture. Technology does not drive change. It is our collective response to the options and opportunities presented by technology that drives change.
Professor Yoel Fink, director of MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics
Photo: M. Scott Brauer
National public-private consortium led by MIT will involve manufacturers, universities, agencies, companies.
A wide range of industries are expected to benefit from these revolutionary fibers and textiles, including apparel, consumer products, automotive, medical devices, and consumer electronics. “Fibers and fabrics are ubiquitous,” Fink says. “Our institute will go everywhere a fiber and fabric goes.”
An independent nonprofit founded by MIT has been selected to run a new, $317 million public-private partnership announced today by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.
The partnership, named the Advanced Functional Fibers of America (AFFOA) Institute, has won a national competition for federal funding to create the latest Manufacturing Innovation Institute. It is designed to accelerate innovation in high-tech, U.S.-based manufacturing involving fibers and textiles.
The proposal for the institute was led by Professor Yoel Fink, director of MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE). The partnership includes 32 universities, 16 industry members, 72 manufacturing entities, and 26 startup incubators, spread across 27 states and Puerto Rico.
This is the eighth Manufacturing Innovation Institute established to date, and the first to be headquartered in New England. The headquarters will be established in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in proximity to the MIT campus and its U.S. Army-funded Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology, as well as the Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center.
This unique partnership, Fink says, has the potential to create a whole new industry, based on breakthroughs in fiber materials and manufacturing. These new fibers and the fabrics made from them will have the ability to see, hear, and sense their surroundings; communicate; store and convert energy; monitor health; control temperature; and change their color.
The new initiative will receive $75 million in federal funding out of a total of $317 million through cost sharing among the Department of Defense, industrial partners, venture capitalists, universities, nonprofits, and states including the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The initial funding will cover a five-year period and will be administered through the new, independent, nonprofit organization set up for the purpose. The partnership, which will focus on both developing new technologies and training the workforce needed to operate and maintain these production systems, also includes a network of community colleges and experts in career and technical education for manufacturing.
“Massachusetts’s innovation ecosystem is reshaping the way that people interact with the world around them,” says Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. “This manufacturing innovation institute will be the national leader in developing and commercializing textiles with extraordinary properties. It will extend to an exciting new field our ongoing efforts to nurture emerging industries, and grow them to scale in Massachusetts. And it will serve as a vital piece of innovation infrastructure, to support the development of the next generation of manufacturing technology, and the development of a highly skilled workforce.”
“Through this manufacturing innovation institute, Massachusetts researchers and Massachusetts employers will collaborate to unlock new advances in military technology, medical care, wearable technology, and fashion,” adds Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. “This, in turn, will help drive business expansion, support the competitiveness of local manufacturers, and create new employment opportunities for residents across the Commonwealth.”
Announcing the new institute at an event at MIT, Carter stressed the importance of technology and innovation to the mission of the Department of Defense and to national security broadly: “The intersection of the two is truly an opportunity-rich environment. These issues matter. They have to do with our protection and our security, and creating a world where our fellow citizens can go to school and live their lives, and dream their dreams, and one day give their children a better future. Helping defend your country and making a better world is one of the noblest things that a business leader, a technologist, an entrepreneur, or a young person can do, and we’re all grateful to all of you for doing that with us.”
A new age of fabrics
For thousands of years, humans have used fabrics in much the same way, to provide basic warmth and aesthetics. Clothing represents “one of the most ancient forms of human expression,” Fink says, but one that is now, for the first time, poised to undergo a profound transformation — the dawn of a “fabric revolution.”
“What makes this point in time different? The answer is research,” Fink says: Objects that serve many complex functions are always made of multiple materials, whereas single-material objects, such as a drinking glass, usually have just a single, simple function. But now, new technology — some of it developed in Fink’s own laboratory — is changing all that, making it possible to integrate many materials and complex functional structures into a fabric’s very fibers, and to create fiber-based devices and functional fabric systems.
The semiconductor industry has shown how to combine millions of transistors into an integrated circuit that functions as a system; as described by “Moore’s law,” the number of devices and functions has doubled in computer chips every couple of years. Fink says the team envisions that the number of functions in a fiber will grow with similar speed, paving the way for highly functional fabrics.
The challenge now is to execute this vision, Fink says. While many textile and apparel companies and universities have figured out pieces of this puzzle, no single one has figured it all out.
“It turns out there is no company or university in the world that knows how to do all of this,” Fink says. “Instead of creating a single brick-and-mortar center, we set out to assemble and organize companies and universities that have manufacturing and ‘making’ capabilities into a network — a ‘distributed foundry’ capable of addressing the manufacturing challenges. To date, 72 manufacturing entities have signed up to be part of our network.”
“With a capable manufacturing network in place,” Fink adds, “the question becomes: How do we encourage and foster product innovation in this new area?” The answer, he says, lies at the core of AFFOA’s activities: Innovators across the country will be invited to execute “advanced fabric” products on prototyping and pilot scales. Moreover, the center will link these innovators with funding from large companies and venture capital investors, to execute their ideas through the manufacturing stage. The center will thus lower the barrier to innovation and unleash product creativity in this new domain, he says.
Promoting leadership in manufacturing
The federal selection process for the new institute was administered by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Manufacturing Technology Program and the U.S. Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center and Contracting Command in New Jersey. Retired Gen. Paul J. Kern will serve as chairman of the AFFOA Institute.
As explained in the original call for proposals to create this institute, the aim is to ensure “that America leads in the manufacturing of new products from leading edge innovations in fiber science, commercializing fibers and textiles with extraordinary properties. Known as technical textiles, these modern day fabrics and fibers boast novel properties ranging from being incredibly lightweight and flame resistant, to having exceptional strength. Technical textiles have wide-ranging applications, from advancing capabilities of protective gear allowing fire fighters to battle the hottest flames, to ensuring that a wounded soldier is effectively treated with an antimicrobial compression bandage and returned safely.”
In addition to Fink, the new partnership will include Tom Kochan, the George Maverick Bunker Professor of Management at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, who will serve as chief workforce officer coordinating the nationwide education and workforce development (EWD) plan. Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering Alexander Slocum will be the EWD deputy for education innovation. Other key MIT participants will include professors Krystyn Van Vliet from the Materials Science and Engineering and Biological Engineering departments; Peko Hosoi and Kripa Varanasi from the Department of Mechanical Engineering; and Gregory Rutledge from the Department of Chemical Engineering.
Among the industry partners who will be members of the partnership are companies such as Warwick Mills, DuPont, Steelcase, Nike, and Corning. Among the academic partners are Drexel University, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the University of Georgia, the University of Tennessee, and the University of Texas at Austin.
In a presentation last fall about the proposed partnership, MIT President L. Rafael Reif said, “We believe that partnerships — with industry and government and across academia — are critical to our capacity to create positive change.” He added, “Our nation has no shortage of smart, ambitious people with brilliant new ideas. But if we want a thriving economy, producing more and better jobs, we need more of those ideas to get to market faster.” Accelerating such implementation is at the heart of the new partnership’s goals.
Connecting skills, workers, and jobs
This partnership, Reif said, will be “a system that connects universities and colleges with motivated companies and with far-sighted government agencies, so we can learn from each other and work with each other. A system that connects workers with skills, and skilled workers with jobs. And a system that connects advanced technology ideas to the marketplace or to those who can get them to market.”
Part of the power of this new collaboration, Fink says, is combining the particular skills and resources of the different partners so that they “add up to something that’s more than the sum of the parts.” Existing large companies can contribute both funding and expertise, smaller startup companies can provide their creative new ideas, and the academic institutions can push the research boundaries to open up new technological possibilities.
“MIT recognizes that advancing manufacturing is vital to our innovation process, as we explored in our Production in the Innovation Economy (PIE) study,” says MIT Provost Martin Schmidt. “AFFOA will connect our campus even more closely with industries (large and small), with educational organizations that will develop the skilled workers, and with government at the state and federal level — all of whom are necessary to advance this new technology. AFFOA is an exciting example of the public-private partnerships that were envisioned in the recommendation of the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership.”
“Since MIT’s start, there has always been an emphasis on ‘mens et manus,’ using our minds and hands to make inventions useful at scales that impact the nation and the world,” adds Van Vliet, the director of manufacturing innovation for MIT’s Innovation Initiative, who has served as the faculty lead in coordinating MIT’s response to manufacturing initiatives that result from the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership. “What makes this new partnership very exciting is, this is for the first time a manufacturing institute headquartered in our region that connects our students and our faculty with local and national industrial partners, to really scale up production of many new fiber and textile technologies.”
“Participating in this group of visionaries from government, academia, and industry — who are all motivated by the goal of advancing a new model of American textile manufacturing and helping to develop new products for the public and defense sectors — has been an exciting process,” says Aleister Saunders, Drexel University’s senior vice provost for research and a leader of its functional fabrics center. “Seeing the success we’ve already had in recruiting partners at the local level leads me to believe that on a national level, these centers of innovation will be able to leverage intellectual capital and regional manufacturing expertise to drive forward new ideas and new applications that will revolutionize textile manufacturing across the nation.”
“Revolutionary fabrics and fibers are modernizing everything from battlefield communication to medical care,” says U.S. Congressmen Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.). “That the Commonwealth would be chosen to lead the way is no surprise. From Lowell to Fall River, our ability to merge cutting-edge technology with age-old ingenuity has sparked a new day for the textile industry. With its unparalleled commitment to innovation, MIT is the perfect epicenter for scaling these efforts. I applaud President Reif, Professor Fink, and all of the partners involved for this tremendous success.”
The innovations that led to the “internet of things” and the widespread incorporation of digital technology into manufacturing have brought about a revolution whose potential is unlimited and will generate “brilliant ideas that people will be able to bring to this task of making sure that America stays number one in each and every one of these fields,” said Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) at the MIT event. “The new institute we are announcing today will help ensure that both Massachusetts and the United States can expand our technological edge in a new generation of fiber science.”
A wide range of industries are expected to benefit from these revolutionary fibers and textiles, including apparel, consumer products, automotive, medical devices, and consumer electronics. “Fibers and fabrics are ubiquitous,” Fink says. “Our institute will go everywhere a fiber and fabric goes.”
Genesis Nanotechnology, Inc. ~ “Great Things from Small Things”
You must be logged in to post a comment.