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In case you missed it (ICYMI), here are some of the stories that made headlines in the world of cleanrooms and nanotechnology in the past week.

Ions inside of water droplets. Image: Northwestern Engineering

Scientists at Northwestern Engineering are trying to figure out why rare earths are strongly attracted to each other across long distances, which makes it tough to separate and extract them. For the first time, a series of molecular simulations hints that the medium in which the elements are suspended — in addition to the elements themselves — is partly responsible for the strong attraction. The results could mean that rare earth recovery could wind up being faster, easier, and less expensive.

Researchers at ICN2 in Spain have developed a material used for photoelectrochemical water splitting — not only is this material less expensive than current alternatives, but it also heightens the efficiency and output of the process. Photoelectrochemical (PEC) water splitting is a technique where sunlight is captured in combination with specialized semiconductor materials to start electrolysis and separate the hydrogen from the water molecule. The research team has optimized the semiconductor material’s properties to create a more efficient and productive solar-to-fuel conversion.

A first-of-its kind ring sensor can detect chemical and biological threats. Image: American Chemical Society

Finally, a team at University of California, San Diego wished to create a portable, affordable, wearable sensor that could pick up external chemical threats. The resulting sensor is a wearable ring with two parts — an electrochemical sensor cap for detecting chemical and biological threats, and a circuit board under the cap for processing and sending data wirelessly to a smartphone or laptop. The ring can take voltammetric and chronoamperometric measurements, which enables detection of a variety of chemical threats. The prototype ring was exposed to explosives and organophosphate nerve agents, both in vapor and liquid phases, and was shown to be highly selective and sensitive. Researchers say the device could also be used to detect hazardous environmental or security agents.

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