No. 11, Summer 2021
Director's Message:

That is the theme of the PME's 10 year anniversary.

Drawing on the deep research roots of the University of Chicago in ground breaking areas spanning economics, business, social work, and of course, science, the creation of the PME immediately had high expectations, and it has not disappointed.

Bringing in top talent and building up the technical and administrative infrastructure to enable ground breaking research in critical areas took years - a decade so far - to build up - and we are not done. In the next decade, there are solid plans to double the number of faculty and the size of the administration to scale up the impact of the research and development. To help focus thinking, planning, and execution, increasing industry input is required and welcome. This partnership with companies will ensure that they can capitalize on top talent, leverage state-of-the-art equipment and resources, and get the level of technical granularity they need to develop future ideas, products and capture markets.

To see the trajectory of the PME and where it is headed, I invite you to save-the-date and attend IN-PERSON, the 2021 Industry Day and the Scientific conference on Sept 17th and 18th. These events celebrate the 10th anniversary of the PME with a variety of social and technical events along with many high profile speakers (see the sidebar).

Friday, September 17th will have an emphasis on Industry and student/alumni interactions including keynotes on the topics of Sustainability (George Crabtree, Argonne National Laboratory), and Cancer ImmunoTherapy (Jeff Bluestone, Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy); faculty TED talks, and panel discussions on Industry-University synergies.

Saturday, September 18th, will be the scientific conference with several Nobelists speaking and a panel discussion on the topic of engineering impact on society.

The timing of the events were designed to make it friendlier if families wanted to also visit the city of Chicago, which is a very nice time of the year to explore the city.

This newsletter follows the usual format of activities that are UChicago centric followed by articles I thought might resonate with this crowd of curious, but busy professionals. IEEE Spectrum has a very good article on mitigating the effects of climate change, but this approach is probably tangential to industry interests and more appropriate for policy makers and national labs at this point. A recent article highlighting PME efforts in materials and energy space is more directly relevant to our industry affiliates and partners.

See the section below on the recent ImmunoEngineering 2021 event and download the ImmunoEngineering Deep Dive, a special report, presented in part with the Immunoengineering 2021 conference and Takeda Pharmaceuticals, the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation explores work from across the University of Chicago – providing a deep dive into the groundbreaking research that is shaping our understanding of how the immune system works to engineer better vaccines, immunotherapies, and diagnostics.

Feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have! I find that the best way to keep these strategies fresh and interesting is to revisit them often!

Felix Lu
Director of Corporate Engagement
The Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering
Graduate Student Internships

Are you looking for interns with a highly developed laboratory and/or computational skill set? We are encouraging our 3rd and 4th year PhD students who are curious about industrial positions to seek out internships with companies. Companies can help by providing contact points and a description of the position. Please send any questions or solicitations to Felix.
Additionally, companies that are actively working with faculty can discuss getting NSF funding for graduate student internships by applying for it through the normal faculty led proposals.

The challenges of developing new materials to deliver sustainability, reduce waste, transform clean energy technologies, and integrate into industrial applications present direct, actionable opportunities for science and engineering at UChicago and its affiliates. Corporate and government partners have an immediate need to implement sustainable materials and sensors into their production processes and infrastructure, and UChicago already has the foundations in place to build a research platform that can meet these challenges. With expanded academic expertise, education and training programs, and fabrication and testing facilities across its research ecosystem, UChicago and its affiliates will have the capability to rapidly translate fundamental discoveries in materials science into practical solutions to engineer a sustainable future.
Long before nanoscience became popular, the UC Berkeley materials chemist began developing methods for making, controlling, and analyzing colloidal nanocrystals
A. Paul Alivisatos developed the techniques that are now widely used for synthesizing colloidal nanocrystals and exquisitely controlling their sizes, shapes, and other properties. He continues to advance nanoscience and its applications in electronics and medical technology. Alivisatos, this year’s Priestley Medalist, has also worked tirelessly as a leader in the scientific and academic communities, having served as the editor in chief of a research journal and in various high-level executive roles, including national laboratory director. He is currently a university vice chancellor and provost and later this year will take on a new role—university president.

Matthew Tirrell has been reappointed dean of the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME), effective July 1, President Robert J. Zimmer and Provost Ka Yee C. Lee announced Thursday.

Tirrell is the Robert A. Millikan Distinguished Service Professor. A pioneering researcher in the fields of biomolecular engineering and nanotechnology, he has led the University’s program in molecular engineering since its inception in 2011. As the Founding Pritzker Director of the Institute for Molecular Engineering, which became the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering in 2019, he helped establish the first formal engineering program at the University and launch the first school in the nation dedicated to molecular engineering.
Under his leadership, the faculty and student body in molecular engineering have grown to include more than three dozen faculty and hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students. Its unique facilities, such as the Pritzker Nanofabrication Laboratory, allow exploration at the frontiers of modern science, helping to build and define the field of molecular engineering.

Wang and his team develop biomimetic polymer electronics, skin-like electronics that can be integrated seamlessly with human biology or used in soft robotics. In human applications, such devices would impact patient monitoring, medication therapies, implantable medical devices, and biological studies. In robotics, biomimetic polymer electronics can provide sophisticated sensory information. His lab is currently developing a multimodal sensor that can differentiate objects by touch. Such a sensor would allow soft robots to recognize texture and other physical stimuli.

Laura Gagliardi is the Richard and Kathy Leventhal Professor in the Department of Chemistry and the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, with a joint appointment at the James Franck Institute. She is also the director of the Chicago Center for Theoretical Chemistry and the Inorganometallic Catalyst Design Center. Gagliardi’s research aims to develop novel quantum chemical methods and apply them to study phenomena related to sustainable energies, with special focus on chemical systems relevant to catalysis, spectroscopy, photochemistry, and gas separation.

To better understand the structural changes, Steven Redford, a graduate student in Biophysical Sciences in the labs of Gardel and Aaron Dinner, Professor of Chemistry, the James Franck Institute, and the Institute for Biophysical Dynamics, created a computational simulation of the protein mixture Scheff produced in the lab. In this computational rendition, Redford wielded a more systematic control over variables than possible in the lab. By varying the stability of bonds between actin and its cross-linkers, Redford showed that unbinding allows actin filaments to rearrange under pressure, aligning with the applied strain, while binding stabilizes the new alignment, providing the tissue a ‘memory’ of this pressure. Together, these simulations demonstrated that impermanent connections between the proteins enable hysteresis.

“People think of cells as very complicated, with a lot of chemical feedback. But this is a stripped-down system where you can really understand what is possible,” said Gardel.

Researchers at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) at the University of Chicago have designed a completely novel potential treatment for COVID-19: nanoparticles that capture SARS-CoV-2 viruses within the body and then use the body’s own immune system to destroy it.

These “Nanotraps” attract the virus by mimicking the target cells the virus infects. When the virus binds to the Nanotraps, the traps then sequester the virus from other cells and target it for destruction by the immune system. In theory, these Nanotraps could also be used on variants of the virus, leading to a potential new way to inhibit the virus going forward. Though the therapy remains in early stages of testing, the researchers envision it could be administered via a nasal spray as a treatment for COVID-19. The results were published April 19 in the journal Matter.

As city populations boom and the need grows for sustainable energy and water, scientists and engineers with the University of Chicago and partners are looking towards artificial intelligence to build new systems to deal with wastewater. Two new projects will test out ways to make "intelligent" water systems to recover nutrients and clean water.

The U.S. Department of Energy announced that UChicago, along with Argonne National Laboratory, Northwestern University and other partners, will receive funding to develop an artificial intelligence-assisted system for recovery of energy, nutrients and freshwater from municipal wastewater.

The ultimate goal of the project, which will be funded at $2 million over three years, is to transform the existing U.S. treatment system for municipal wastewater into an intelligent water resource recovery system that will dramatically reduce energy consumption and become energy positive at a national scale.

Michael Wang and David Streets, both of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, were named to Reuters’ ​“Hot List” of today’s 1,000 most influential climate scientists.

Wang focuses on greenhouse gas reduction potentials of vehicle technologies and transportation fuels. He developed Argonne’s life cycle analysis model of Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Technologies (GREET).

Streets investigates the impact of human activities on the atmosphere, including what satellite observations can relay about emissions. He focuses on acid deposition, energy policy, urban air quality and global climate change.

A thesis or dissertation takes years of painstaking research, thought and writing. But could you distill it down to three minutes?

That was the challenge of the Three Minute Thesis competition, recently hosted by UChicago-GRAD. Thirteen master’s and PhD students had just a few minutes, and the use of only one static slide, to share their scholarship in a concise, compelling and impactful presentation.

“The less amount of time, the more you have to focus on what you think is most important about what you do,” said Michael O’Toole, senior assistant director for GRADTalk, a public speaking program for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers through UChicagoGRAD. “Students have plenty of opportunities to speak to other specialists, but they also need to be able to communicate their research to the general public in a way that’s accessible, and that a family member or friend could understand.”

With the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines for COVID-19 receiving Emergency Use Authorizations from the US Food and Drug Administration, one might be tempted to think, wishfully, that the period of uncertainty is ending and that things will soon be back to “business as usual.” However, as history indicates, the next crisis is in all probability just around the corner.

Crises have an uneven and asymmetric impact on companies, with some emerging as winners, some showing scars, and some even perish. Companies that win or even just survive often have, or have had, to pivot their business models to adapt to a new, changed environment. As we described in a previous article, pivoting is defined as a “structured course correction” of a business model. It essentially entails a deliberate shift in the main strategic components of the business model: the customer, the company, and the competition (the “3Cs”).

However, transforming organizations so that they’re able to respond quickly to a crisis cannot always be done when they’re already in the midst of one. An effective and rapid response needs planning, operating models, and capabilities that unlock accelerated innovation, particularly around a company’s “4Ps”: product, price, place (i.e., channels of distribution), and promotion. Organizations will be well served by closely examining where they are with these processes to ensure they are crisis ready. 

Molecules are the building blocks for our modern world, from phones to cars to Doritos. But coming up with new ones is still an incredibly costly and time-consuming process. A group of University of Chicago chemists wants to find a better way.“If you look at a diagram of a molecule, it seems like you should be able to just snap them together like Tinkertoys, but you can’t,” said Asst. Prof. Mark Levin. “We’d like to change that.”

Their new discovery, published May 12 in Nature, represents a first step towards that transformation: a way to easily cut nitrogen atoms from molecules.

Chicago ranked 20th on the overall list of best places to visit in the United States.

U.S. News cited "the Windy City's architecture, cuisine and museums" among the reasons it's a great travel spot for tourists with a variety of interests. "Be sure to stuff your face at least once, whether it be with a Chicago-style hot dog (sans ketchup), an Italian beef sandwich or a slice of deep-dish pizza. Then, snap some pictures in front of Millennium Park's iconic 'Bean' sculpture, check out the Art Institute of Chicago's top-notch collections or go on an architecture river cruise," U.S. News urged travelers.
On June 24, the Chicago Immunoengineering Innovation Center celebrated its first year after its public launch in a virtual conference - Immunoengineering 2021 - that was livestreamed free to audiences worldwide.

Organized in collaboration with the Polsky Center, the event not only featured a technical program highlighting recent work by leading researchers in the field, but also new startups emerging from the UChicago ecosystem recruiting collaborators and talent to help push their projects forward.

Headlined by keynotes from Moderna VP of Clinical Development, Infectious Diseases Dr. Allison August (MD '93) and Roche Head of Genentech Research & Early Development Dr. Aviv Regev, the event attracted an audience of more than 360 viewers across the globe, including researchers across academia, industry, and the government.

The events highlighted the broad range of work in the field, with applications from cancer to allergies to infectious diseases, techniques from experimental to computational, and based in institutions from academia to businesses large and small. The field's trajectory was summarized well in the Polsky Center's latest issue of the Deep Tech Dive Newsletter.

"Early innovation often begins in academic labs," said Dr. Natalie Roy D'Amore, Head of Oncology Partnerships with Takeda Pharmaceuticals. "In essence the universities are catalyzing the next generation therapeutics as biotech startups are spawned by these discoveries.
Using advanced computational genomic analysis of immune cells from mouse models, a researcher at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) at the University of Chicago and her collaborators discovered that, when exposed to a trigger, certain kinds of immune cells change their behavior in unexpected ways to produce the protein signals that cause lesions.

The research, co-led by Asst. Prof. Samantha Riesenfeld, reveals new pathways underlying immune responses and ultimately could lead to better treatment for the disease.

“Quantum technologies of the future that address unmet needs with disruptive business models simply cannot be built in isolation” said Chuck Vallurupalli, the newly appointed senior director of Duality and a seasoned business executive with over 20 years of experience scaling startups. “We are pleased to welcome six startups into the inaugural cohort of Duality, offer a unique set of resources and help them grow.”
University of Chicago and partners launch the nation’s first accelerator to support quantum startups as interest in the technology grows

Quantum technology seeks to harness the peculiar laws of quantum mechanics to build more powerful tools for processing information. Quantum computers are the most headline-grabbing form of the technology, but quantum particles are also being deployed to build more secure communications networks and more powerful sensors for imaging and measurement.

The technology has obstacles to overcome before it achieves widespread use, but the pace of progress is akin to the dawn of the electronics industry, said David Awschalom, a University of Chicago physicist and molecular engineering professor who helped create the new accelerator, Duality.
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the University of Chicago, including David Schuster, associate professor of molecular engineering at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) at the University of Chicago, have demonstrated a new technique based on quantum technology that will advance the search for dark matter, which accounts for 85% of all matter in the universe.

The technique now demonstrated by the Fermilab-University of Chicago team could enable searches for dark matter to proceed 1,000 times faster than previous methods.

The Chicago Quantum Exchange has added three new corporate partners to its growing community: Ally Financial, Corning Incorporated, and Toshiba Corporation.

Together, the Chicago Quantum Exchange and its corporate partners advance the science and engineering that is necessary to build and scale quantum technologies and develop practical applications, such as those for quantum computing and communications.

“Innovation in quantum information science requires a strong synergy of partnerships with complementary expertise,” said David Awschalom, the Liew Family Professor in Molecular Engineering and Physics at the University of Chicago, senior scientist at Argonne, director of the Chicago Quantum Exchange, and director of Q-NEXT, a Department of Energy Quantum Information Science Center. “The addition of new partners and their perspectives will help accelerate discovery and technological development and produce a skilled quantum workforce."
Does your technical management want an executive understanding of Quantum Engineering and how it may benefit your company?
The latest updates and ways to engage:

Innovation Fest Polsky
Materials Systems for Health and Sustainability

Climate Vault’s innovative solution will shorten the timeline for individuals and organizations seeking to reduce their emissions. Its mission is to significantly reduce carbon dioxide, one of the leading causes of climate change, while supporting the innovation in carbon removal technologies designed to eliminate historical CO2.

Climate Vault’s approach leverages the power of government-regulated compliance markets by purchasing and “vaulting” carbon permits, preventing polluters from using them. In addition, Climate Vault will help create the world’s first ecosystem for carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies by providing grants that spur innovation in those technologies to help make them viable and cost effective—encouraging a renewed commitment to environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing.
Articles of interest to our corporate affiliates, but not associated with the University of Chicago

In 2012 MIT Professor Amos Winter was asked to develop a lighter, cheaper prosthetic leg for the huge Indian market. And not just a bit cheaper: the new limbs needed to be 90% cheaper than those sold in western markets to meet the needs of the over half a million amputees unable to afford prosthetics that often cost tens of thousands of dollars and lasted only 2-3 years. Under these dramatic constraints, Winter’s team went back to fundamentals and reframed the problem: what could the science of movement teach us about how to design and deliver a radically different prosthetic?

Rather than taking a traditional approach, which sought to mimic a human foot, the team focused on a tunable but passive foot design that would instead mimic lower leg movements. By 2019, Winter’s team had unveiled their new, low-cost solution — one that could cheaply and easily be tailored to a patient’s weight and height. It was fundamentally different from existing products in terms of cost, design, and material. This achievement was only possible because the initial constraints imposed on the challenge forced a complete re-thinking of the problem.

So what’s an engineer who wants to save the planet to do? Even as we work on the changeover to a society powered by carbon-free energy, we must get serious about carbon sequestration, which is the stashing of CO2 in forests, soil, geological formations, and other places where it will stay put. And as a stopgap measure during this difficult transition period, we will also need to consider techniques for solar-radiation management—deflecting some incoming sunlight to reduce heating of the atmosphere. These strategic areas require real innovation over the coming years. To win the war on climate change we need new technologies too.
The stuff of 2016’s Nobel Prize in Physics could become the logic in future computers and consumer electronics

Ever since a new class of ­materials called topological insulators was first created—a discovery that helped win the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2016—researchers have been intrigued by the possibilities for electronics applications such as ultralow-energy transistors, cancer-scanning lasers­, and free-space communication beyond 5G. Topological insulators’ unusual name stems from their being insulating on the inside and conductive on the outside: On the outer boundaries of a topological insulator, electricity or (in some cases) light flows readily around corners and defects, and with virtually no losses.

Amazingly, topological insulators appear to be only the first of a possible generation of exotic electrical and optical semimetals, superconductors, and other forms of matter. As confusing as these strange and sometimes outlandish compounds might be at the moment, researchers have found that these materials can possess exceptional properties that could be developed into future technologies.

When you think of micro- or nanotechnology, you likely think of small electronics like your phone, a tiny robot or a microchip. But COVID-19 tests – which have proven to be central to controlling the pandemic – are also a form of miniaturized technology. Many COVID-19 tests can give results within hours without the need to send a sample to a lab, and most of these tests use an approach called microfluidics.

I am a professor of bioengineering and work with microfluidics for my research. Everything from pregnancy tests to glucose strips to inkjet printers to genetic tests rely on microfluidics. This technology, unbeknownst to many people, is everywhere and critical to many of the things that make the modern world go round.

Hydrogen is an appealing fuel. A kilogram of hydrogen has about three times as much energy as a comparable amount of diesel or gasoline. If it can be made cleanly and cheaply, it could be the key to cleaning up an array of tricky vital sectors.

Today, most manufactured hydrogen is made by combining natural gas with steam at high temperatures. It’s an energy-­intensive process that emits considerable amounts of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas driving climate change. But a small and growing percentage is made by splitting water into its constituent elements by zapping it with electricity, a process known as electrolysis. This also takes a lot of energy, but if the electricity comes from a renewable source like wind or solar power, it produces minimal harmful emissions.

This so-called “green” hydrogen is today about three times more expensive to produce than hydrogen derived from natural gas (which is mostly methane, whose molecules are composed of one carbon atom bonded to four hydrogen atoms). But that is half of what it cost 10 years ago. And as the cost of wind and solar power continues to drop, and economies of scale around green hydrogen production kick in, it could get a lot cheaper. If that happens, green hydrogen has the potential to become a core fuel for a decarbonized future.

A tiny protein of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that gives rise to COVID-19, may have big implications for future treatments, according to a team of Penn State researchers.

Using a novel toolkit of approaches, the scientists uncovered the first full structure of the Nucleocapsid (N) protein and discovered how antibodies from COVID-19 patients interact with that protein. They also determined that the structure appears similar across many coronaviruses, including recent COVID-19 variants—making it an ideal target for advanced treatments and vaccines.

In a major scientific leap, University of Queensland researchers have created a quantum microscope that can reveal biological structures that would otherwise be impossible to see.

This paves the way for applications in biotechnology, and could extend far beyond this into areas ranging from navigation to medical imaging.
The microscope is powered by the science of quantum entanglement, an effect Einstein described as "spooky interactions at a distance".

Professor Warwick Bowen, from UQ's Quantum Optics Lab and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQUS), said it was the first entanglement-based sensor with performance beyond the best possible existing technology.
To understand what quantum computers can do — and what they can’t — avoid falling for overly simple explanations.

Quantum computers, you might have heard, are magical uber-machines that will soon cure cancer and global warming by trying all possible answers in different parallel universes. For 15 years, on my blog and elsewhere, I’ve railed against this cartoonish vision, trying to explain what I see as the subtler but ironically even more fascinating truth.

I approach this as a public service and almost my moral duty as a quantum computing researcher. Alas, the work feels Sisyphean: The cringeworthy hype about quantum computers has only increased over the years, as corporations and governments have invested billions, and as the technology has progressed to programmable 50-qubit devices that (on certain contrived benchmarks) really can give the world’s biggest supercomputers a run for their money. And just as in cryptocurrency, machine learning and other trendy fields, with money have come hucksters.
Organizations can’t afford to underestimate the value of a change in thinking which leads to a new culture of innovation among their employees. In the science and technology sector, this is particularly true. And we believe the most important factor in the pursuit of progress is human curiosity and its role as a driving force for innovation.

In total, 64 percent of the 3,000 employees we surveyed across multiple countries and sectors identified barriers to curiosity and innovation in the working environment, such as lack of communication with colleagues outside of their own team or working under strict supervision. The biggest obstacle identified for all employees surveyed was that most initiatives are controlled from the top down, meaning that their own ideas are rarely realized.

Encouragingly, however, extensive research shows a strong association between increased curiosity and increased innovation – and business leaders worldwide are starting to recognize and embrace curiosity as a mechanism to drive success

Membranes that allow certain molecules to quickly pass through while blocking others are key enablers for energy technologies from batteries and fuel cells to resource refinement and water purification. For example, membranes in a battery separating the two terminals help to prevent short circuits, while also allowing the transport of charged particles, or ions, needed to maintain the flow of electricity.

The most selective membranes—those with very specific criteria for what may pass through—suffer from low permeability for the working ion in the battery, which limits the battery's power and energy efficiency. To overcome trade-offs between membrane selectivity and permeability, researchers are developing ways to increase the solubility and mobility of ions within the membrane, therefore allowing a higher number of them to transit through the membrane more rapidly. Doing so could improve the performance of batteries and other energy technologies.
Australian smarts and Chinese industrial might made solar power the cheapest power humanity has seen – and no one saw it coming

In the year 2000, the International Energy Agency made a prediction that would come back to haunt it: by 2020, the world would have installed a grand total of 18 gigawatts of photovoltaic solar capacity. Seven years later, the forecast would be proven spectacularly wrong when roughly 18 gigawatts of solar capacity were installed in a single year alone.

Ever since the agency was founded in 1974 to measure the world’s energy systems and anticipate changes, the yearly World Energy Outlook has been a must-read document for policymakers the world over. Over the last two decades, however, the IEA has consistently failed to see the massive growth in renewable energy coming. Not only has the organization underestimated the take-up of solar and wind, but it has massively overstated the demand for coal and oil.
COVID has shown we must study immunity in the whole body — let’s sort the logistics to acquire the right samples.

Early in the pandemic, my team spotted something surprising. When people were severely ill with COVID-19 and on a ventilator, the daily rinses of the plastic tubes in their windpipes contained immune cells from the airway. More surprisingly, what was in these airway samples was very different from what was found in the same patient’s blood.

The airway cells were producing high levels of cytokines — factors that recruit immune cells such as T cells to a tissue site and promote inflammation. By contrast, the corresponding blood samples were low in T cells, but high in other immune cells called monocytes, which were displaying unusual patterns of cell-surface receptors. Lung samples from patients who had died showed monocytes and a further type of immune cell (macrophages) clustered in the lung’s tiny air sacs; this is associated with the damage that typifies severe COVID-19. The unusual receptors suggested to us that monocytes circulating in the blood had been both altered and summoned by the cytokines produced in the airway. Had we not collected both airway and blood samples, we would not have put these pieces together.

As this example shows, the pandemic has revealed major gaps in our understanding of the human immune system. One of the biggest is the reactions in tissues — at sites of infection and where disease manifests.

Scientists have made much progress in using light to transmit data in the open air, as well as to power various devices from a distance–but how to accomplish these feats underwater has been a bit murkier. However, in a new study published May 4 in IEEE Transactions on Wireless Communications, researchers have identified a new way to boost the transfer of power and data to devices underwater using light.

The ocean and other bodies of water are full of mysteries yet to be observed. Networks of underwater sensors are increasingly being deployed to gather information. Currently the most common approach for remotely transmitting signals underwater is via sound waves, which easily travel long distances through the watery depths. However, sound cannot carry nearly as much data as light can.

“Visible light communication can provide data rates at several orders of magnitude beyond the capabilities of traditional acoustic techniques and is particularly suited for emerging bandwidth-hungry underwater applications,” explains Murat Uysal, a professor with the Department of Electrical and Electronics Engineering at Ozyegin University, in Turkey.

Researchers used platinum and aluminum compounds to create a catalyst which enables certain chemical reactions to occur more efficiently than ever before. The catalyst could significantly reduce energy usage in various industrial and pharmaceutical processes. It also allows for a wider range of sustainable sources to feed the processes, which could reduce the demand for fossil fuels required by them.

Assistant Professor Xiongjie Jin and Professor Kyoko Nozaki from the Department of Chemistry and Biotechnology at the University of Tokyo and their team have created a new catalyst, a material that enables or speeds up a specific chemical reaction, that allows for more sustainable production of so-called aromatic hydrocarbons. At present the process typically requires temperatures of 200 degrees Celsius or more and pressures of 2 or more atmospheres. But with the team's new catalyst, the temperature can be brought down to between 100 degrees and 150 degrees Celsius, and the pressure to just 1 atmosphere, or ambient pressure. This could hugely reduce the energy cost of production.

Modern medicine relies on an extensive arsenal of drugs to combat deadly diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, HIV-AIDS and malaria. Chemotherapy agents have prolonged lives for millions of cancer patients, and in some cases, cured the disease or turned it into a chronic condition.

But getting those drugs into disease-ridden cells has remained a major challenge for modern pharmacology and medicine. To tackle this difficulty, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and University of California Merced scientists and collaborators from the Max Planck Institute of Biophysics in Germany have used carbon nanotubes to enable direct drug delivery from liposomes through the plasma membrane into the cell interior by facilitating fusion of the carrier membrane with the cell.

The story of what might become the next major breakthrough in Covid-19 treatment starts on a hotel hallway floor in January 2020, months before you were worried about the virus, weeks before you likely knew it existed. A scientist and a business executive were at a health-care conference in San Francisco, hatching a plan to get a promising drug out of academia and into research trials for regulatory approval. George Painter, president of the Emory Institute for Drug Development, and Wendy Holman, chief executive officer of Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, had met at the Handlery Union Square Hotel to discuss a compound Painter had started developing with funding from the National Institutes of Health. They got so enthusiastic about the possibilities that their meeting ran long and a group of lawyers kicked them out of their room. So they continued on the hall floor, hours after they’d started.

Painter and Holman weren’t talking about targeting Covid at the time. The disease and the coronavirus that causes it, SARS-CoV-2, weren’t major concerns at the J.P. Morgan-run conference, where handshakes and cocktail parties with hundreds of guests were still the norm. Rather, Painter was hoping his drug, molnupiravir, could get more funding to speed up flu studies. Holman was eager to see if it worked on Ebola. That’s the thing about molnupiravir: Many scientists think it could be a broad-spectrum antiviral, effective against a range of threats.

During a TED talk, Australian inventor Saul Griffith wanted to show his audience how much a person’s individual choices can affect the planet. The person, in this case, was himself.

And so, the tall engineer with tousled brown hair pulled up a chart on a big screen behind him on the stage. On display was an exhaustive audit of his personal energy impact, calculating the carbon footprint of every action in his life down to his underwear, toilet paper and taxes. The founder of a wind power company and a dedicated bicycle commuter, Griffith was ashamed to discover that he was consuming much more power than the average American. In short, a planet hypocrite, he told his audience. “I really thought I was the leader of the environmental movement. I was not,” he said. “I was doing bad things to Gaia.”

Since that TED talk 10 years ago, Griffith’s San Francisco lab has attracted $100 million in capital from investors and spun out a dozen companies.
The 47-year-old, who won a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2007 for his prodigious inventions “in the global public interest,” from novel household water-treatment systems to an educational cartoon series for kids, has spent the past decade working to solve climate change through technology.

His solution: mass electrification.

Making tires for an electric vehicle is a ruthless exercise in compromise. Too much stick and the car won’t travel as far on a charge; too little, it will silently slide off the road. Exacerbating the equation is the fact that these vehicles are ponderously heavy. Michelin, however, says it has finally perfected the mix after 30 years of tinkering with its rubber recipes. If EV ranges tick slightly higher in the next few months, the battery chemists won’t deserve all the praise; save some for the tire wizards. 

Next: they want to make that same tire a data engine and, while they’re at it, fully recyclable. Hyperdrive caught up with Alexis Garcin, chairman and president of Michelin North America, to talk about the company’s R&D blitz and how he’s preparing for a massive wave of electric vehicles.

Argonne scientists across several disciplines have combined forces to create a new process for testing and predicting the effects of high temperatures on refractory oxides.

A team of researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory has come up with a way to do just that. Using innovative experimental techniques and a new approach to computer simulations, the group has devised a method of not only obtaining precise data about the structural changes these materials undergo near their melting points, but more accurately predicting other changes that can't currently be measured.

In Connecticut, a condo had lead in its drinking water at levels more than double what the federal government deems acceptable. At a church in North Carolina, the water was contaminated with extremely high levels of potentially toxic PFAS chemicals (a group of compounds found in hundreds of household products). The water flowing into a Texas home had both – and concerning amounts of arsenic too.

All three were among locations that had water tested as part of a nine-month investigation by Consumer Reports (CR) and the Guardian into the US’s drinking water. Since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, access to safe water for all Americans has been a US government goal. Yet millions of people continue to face serious water quality problems because of contamination, deteriorating infrastructure, and inadequate treatment at water plants.

CR and the Guardian selected 120 people from around the US, out of a pool of more than 6,000 volunteers, to test for arsenic, lead, PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), and other contaminants. The samples came from water systems that together service more than 19 million people.
A total of 118 of the 120 samples had concerning levels of PFAS or arsenic above CR’s recommended maximum, or detectable amounts of lead.

An influenza vaccine that is made of nanoparticles and administered through the nose enhances the body's immune response to influenza virus infection and offers broad protection against different viral strains, according to researchers in the Institute for Biomedical Sciences at Georgia State University.

Recurring seasonal flu epidemics and potential pandemics are among the most severe threats to public health. Current seasonal influenza vaccines induce strain-specific immunity and are less effective against mismatched strains. Broadly protective influenza vaccines are urgently needed.

Intranasal vaccines are a promising strategy for combatting infectious respiratory diseases, such as influenza. They are more effective than vaccines injected into a muscle because they can induce mucosal immune responses in respiratory tracts, preventing infection at the portal of virus entry. 
Under the hood, lithium-ion batteries have gotten better in the last decade.

It’s hard to write about battery research around these parts without hearing certain comments echo before they’re even posted: It’ll never see the market. Cold fusion is eternally 20 years away, and new battery technology is eternally five years away.

That skepticism is understandable when a new battery design promises a revolution, but it risks missing the fact that batteries have gotten better. Lithium-ion batteries have reigned for a while now—that’s true. But “lithium-ion” is a category of batteries that includes a wide variety of technologies, both in terms of batteries in service today and the ones we've used previously. A lot can be done—and a lot has been done—to make a better lithium-ion battery. In fact, gains in the amount of energy they can store have been on the order of five percent per year. That means that the capacity of your current batteries is over 1.5 times what they would have held a decade ago. Lithium-ion batteries have evolved, whether you noticed or not. Here's how.
Researchers in Japan reported a 100-fold improvement in their solar-energy conversion method

Converting sunlight into hydrogen is a seemingly ideal way to address the world’s energy challenges. The process doesn’t directly involve fossil fuels or create any greenhouse gas emissions. The resulting hydrogen can power fuel-cell systems in vehicles, ships, and trains; it can feed into the electrical grid or be used to make chemicals and steel. For now, though, that clean energy vision mainly exists in the lab. 

Recently, Japanese researchers said they’ve made an important step toward making vast amounts of hydrogen using solar energy. The team from Shinshu University in Nagano studies light-absorbing materials to split the hydrogen and oxygen molecules in water. Now they’ve developed a two-step method that is dramatically more efficient at generating hydrogen from a photocatalytic reaction. 

Most people on Earth get fresh water from lakes and rivers. But these account for only 0.007% of the world’s water. As the human population has grown, so has demand for fresh water. Now, two out of every three people in the world face severe water scarcity at least one month a year.

Other water sources – like seawater and wastewater – could be used to meet growing water needs. But these water sources are full of salt and usually contain such contaminants as toxic metals. Scientists and engineers have developed methods to remove salts and toxins from water – processes called desalination. But existing options are expensive and energy-intensive, especially because they require a lot of steps. Current desalination techniques also create a lot of waste – around half of the water fed into some desalination plants is lost as wastewater containing all of the removed salts and toxins.

I am a doctoral student in chemical and biomolecular engineering and part of a team that recently created a new water-purification method that we hope can make desalination more efficient, the waste easier to manage and the size of water treatment plants smaller. This technology features a new type of filter that can target and capture toxic metals while removing salt from water at the same time.

These days it’s hard to get people to pay attention in any meeting, but when people aren’t in the same room, it can be especially difficult. And it’s particularly annoying when you make a nine-minute argument, pause for an expected reaction, and get: “I’m not sure I followed you” which might as well mean: “I was shampooing my cat and didn’t realize I would be called on.”

Let’s face it, most meetings have always sucked because there’s often little to zero accountability for engagement. When we are together in a room, we often compensate with coercive eye contact. Participants feel some obligation to feign interest (even if they’re staring at their phones). In situations where you can’t demand attention with ocular oppression, you have to learn to do what we should’ve mastered long ago: create voluntary engagement. In other words, you have to create structured opportunities for attendees to engage fully.

We’ve spent the last few years studying virtual training sessions to understand why most virtual gatherings bore groups into a coma. As we’ve done so, we’ve discovered and tested five rules that lead to predictably better meeting outcomes. In one study we did, comparing 200 attendees of a face-to-face experience with 200 of a virtual experience, we found that when these rules are applied, 86% of participants report as high or higher levels of engagement as in face-to-face meetings. And we’ve now applied these rules with over 15,000 meeting participants. Here’s what works.

When the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidelines about mask-wearing on May 13, 2021, plenty of Americans were left a little confused. Now anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing.

As restrictions are lifted and people start to leave their masks at home, some people worry: Can you catch COVID-19 from someone who’s vaccinated?
Cheap lithium-ion batteries now dominate consumer electronics; look out, auto industry

Behind clean energy today is a sharp, continuing drop in photo­voltaic solar-cell prices. And behind the scenes, the prices of lithium-ion batteries are plummeting just as quickly. Between 1991 and 2018, the average price of the batteries that power mobile phones, fuel electric cars, and underpin green energy storage fell more than thirtyfold, according to work by Micah Ziegler and Jessika Trancik at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Engineers and energy-policy planners benefit from knowing future battery prices, but unlike solar prices, they aren’t always readily available. Lithium-ion batteries tend to be manufactured or bought in bulk by large companies. “Those contracts aren’t necessarily public documents,” says Ziegler. That’s partly why the drivers for the price decline are, for Ziegler and Trancik, an open area of research. Ziegler and Trancik published their comprehensive survey of studies of lithium-ion battery prices in a recent issue of the journal Energy & Environmental Science.

2D materials have triggered a boom in materials research. Now it turns out that exciting effects occur when two such layered materials are stacked and slightly twisted.

The discovery of the material graphene, which consists of only one layer of carbon atoms, was the starting signal for a global race: Today, so-called 2D materials are produced, made of different types of atoms. Atomically thin layers that often have very special material properties not found in conventional, thicker materials.

Now another chapter is being added to this field of research: If two such 2D layers are stacked at the right angle, even more new possibilities arise. The way in which the atoms of the two layers interact creates intricate geometric patterns, and these patterns have a decisive impact on the material properties, as a research team from TU Wien and the University of Texas (Austin) has now been able to show. Phonons—the lattice vibrations of the atoms—are significantly influenced by the angle at which the two material layers are placed on top of each other. Thus, with tiny rotations of such a layer, one can significantly change the material properties.

The first Covid-19 vaccine candidate went into the arms of volunteers in Seattle in March 2020. It was an mRNA vaccine from Moderna. The mRNA candidate from BioNTech and Pfizer followed in April. By December 2020, these two had become the first vaccines to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Hot on their heels are rivals based on adenovirus vectors from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, as well as Sputnik V from Russia. 

Early successes in developing vaccines by upstarts like Moderna and BioNTech papered over the struggles of vaccine heavyweights like Merck, GSK and Sanofi. But those companies that have surmounted the challenges of development now face the next phase: manufacturing doses on an enormous scale.

Ideas are the currency of the twenty-first century. The ability to persuade, to change hearts and minds, is perhaps the single greatest skill that will give you a competitive edge in the knowledge economy — an age where ideas matter more than ever.

Some economists believe that persuasion is responsible for generating one-quarter or more of America’s total national income. As our economy has evolved from an agrarian to an industrial to a knowledge-based one, successful people in nearly every profession have become those capable of convincing others to take action on their ideas.

In short, persuasion is no longer a “soft skill”— it is a fundamental skill that can help you attract investors, sell products, build brands, inspire teams, and trigger movements.

Modern human activity adds large amounts of nutrients to the environment, especially nitrogen, which is added faster than other nutrients. Although plants depend on nitrogen to live and grow, an excess of a single nutrient in a complex ecosystem may do more harm than good.

When scientists study nutrient use in plants, they typically focus on small scales: leaves, a single plant, or small cohorts of plants. Although individual leaves or plants may behave a certain way, their interactions with other factors in their environment might lead to different responses at the ecosystem level.

In this study, El-Madany et al. monitored leaf-level changes, but they also raised their sights to the ecosystem level to get an accurate picture of the real-world consequences of nutrient availability. The scientists investigated how added nitrogen and phosphorus affect water use efficiency in plants—how much carbon a plant takes in for the amount of water it loses—in a Mediterranean savanna ecosystem over 6 years.

Booming electric vehicle sales have spurred a growing demand for lithium. But the light metal, which is essential for making power-packed rechargeable batteries, isn’t abundant. Now, researchers report a major step toward tapping a virtually limitless lithium supply: pulling it straight out of seawater.

“This represents substantial progress” for the field, says Jang Wook Choi, a chemical engineer at Seoul National University who was not involved with the work. He adds that the approach might also prove useful for reclaiming lithium from used batteries.

Over 80% of Fortune 100 companies conduct hackathons to drive innovation. More than 50% of the hackathons are recurring events, indicating that they are a reliable tool for sustained innovation.

HackerEarth analyzed close to 1000 hackathons conducted over a 2-year period around the globe. The U.S. leads the way with over 350 hackathons every year, followed by India and the U.K. Additionally, the survey found that private companies accounted for almost 50% of all hackathons conducted, universities hosted about 30%, and, interestingly, non-profit and government organizations conducted over 10%.

For more insights such as the following, You can read the complete Global Hackathon Report here.

Boston-based Clean Energy Ventures, a $110 million venture capital firm that invests in early-stage climate tech startups, is pouring money into the energy storage sector for the first time. The company announced today that it will invest in battery materials (Volexion) and second-life battery recycling (Nth Cycle) startups.

Volexion was founded by Professor Mark Hersam, director of the Northwestern University Materials Research Center and a MacArthur Fellow, who discovered that coating battery cathodes with graphene can improve battery performance. Volexion’s graphene coating acts as a protective layer around battery cathode materials to suppress material and electrolyte degradation. Battery cells with Volexion’s coating can see a 30% increase in energy density, 40% increase in power density, and run twice as long as non-coated lithium-ion batteries.

Beverly, Massachusetts-based Nth Cycle is a developer of a recycling technology that extracts critical metals from batteries for a second life. It is receiving $3.2 million in seed funding led by Clean Energy Ventures.

A clean energy future propelled by hydrogen fuel depends on figuring out how to reliably and efficiently split water. That's because, even though hydrogen is abundant, it must be derived from another substance that contains it—and today, that substance is often methane gas. Scientists are seeking ways to isolate this energy-carrying element without using fossil fuels. That would pave the way for hydrogen-fueled cars, for example, that emit only water and warm air at the tailpipe.

Water, or H2O, unites hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen atoms in the form of molecular hydrogen must be separated out from this compound. That process depends on a key—but often slow—step: the oxygen evolution reaction (OER). The OER is what frees up molecular oxygen from water, and controlling this reaction is important not only to hydrogen production but a variety of chemical processes, including ones found in batteries.

A study led by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory illuminates a shape-shifting quality in perovskite oxides, a promising type of material for speeding up the OER.

In a new report in NPG Asia materials, Chisa Norioka and a team of scientists in Chemistry and Materials Engineering in Japan, detailed a universal method to easily prepare tough and stretchable hydrogels without special structures or complications. They tuned the polymerization conditions to form networks with many polymer chain entanglements, to achieve energy dissipation throughout the resulting materials.

The team prepared the tough and stretchable hydrogels via free radical polymerization using a high monomer concentration and low crosslinker content to optimize the balance between physical and chemical crosslinks via entanglements and covalent bonds. The research team used polymer chain entanglements for energy dissipation to overcome the limits of low mechanical performance for use in a wide-range of hydrogels.

As the US federal government and Congress have mounted increasing efforts over the last few years to regulate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) – a notorious class of persistent, highly mobile and potentially toxic compounds – major manufacturers of these chemicals have also ramped up their political lobbying and donation campaigns, according to an analysis by The Guardian.

Campaign finance records reveal that seven of largest PFAS producers and their industry trade groups spent at least $61 million (£44 million) during 2019 and 2020, the majority of which did not comprise campaign donations but instead funded lobbying efforts aimed at members of Congress and Donald Trump’s administration. Various proposals to address PFAS were ‘slow-walked’ by Trump political appointees, The Guardian wrote.

Plants contain several types of specialized light-sensitive proteins that measure light by changing shape upon light absorption. Chief among these are the phytochromes. Phytochromes help plants detect light direction, intensity and duration; the time of day; whether it is the beginning, middle or end of a season; and even the color of light, which is important for avoiding shade from other plants.

Remarkably, phytochromes also help plants detect temperature.
New research from Washington University in St. Louis helps explain how the handful of phytochromes found in every plant respond differently to light intensity and temperature, thus enabling land plants to colonize the planet many millions of years ago and allowing them to acclimate to a wide array of terrestrial environments.

For all the hype and hope around electric vehicles, they still make up only about 2% of new car sales in the US and just a little more globally. For many buyers, they’re simply too expensive, their range is too limited, and charging them isn’t nearly as quick and convenient as refueling at the pump.

All these limitations have to do with the lithium-ion batteries that power the vehicles. They're costly, heavy, and quick to run out of juice. To make matters worse, the batteries rely on liquid electrolytes that can burst into flames during collisions. Making electric cars more competitive with gas powered ones will require a breakthrough battery that remedies these shortcomings. That, at least, is the argument of Jagdeep Singh, chief executive of QuantumScape, a Silicon Valley startup that claims to have developed just such a technology.
When a piece of conducting material is heated up at one of its ends, a voltage difference can build up across the sample, which in turn can be converted into a current. This is the so-called Seebeck effect, the cornerstone of thermoelectric effects. In particular, the effect provides a route to creating work out of a temperature difference. Such thermoelectric engines do not have any movable part and are therefore convenient power sources in various applications, including propelling NASA's Mars rover Perseverance. The Seebeck effect is interesting for fundamental physics, too, as the magnitude and sign of the induced thermoelectric current is characteristic of the material and indicates how entropy and charge currents are coupled.

Writing in Physical Review X, the group of Prof. Tilman Esslinger at the Department of Physics of ETH Zurich now reports on the controlled reversal of such a current by changing the interaction strength among the constituents of a quantum simulator made of extremely cold atoms trapped in shaped laser fields. The capability to induce such a reversal means that the system can be turned from a thermoelectric engine into a cooler.

Where does snow come from? This may seem like a simple question to ponder as half the planet emerges from a season of watching whimsical flakes fall from the sky—and shoveling them from driveways. But a new study on how water becomes ice in slightly supercooled Arctic clouds may make you rethink the simplicity of the fluffy stuff.

The study, published by scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, includes new direct evidence that shattering drizzle droplets drive explosive "ice multiplication" events. The findings have implications for weather forecasts, climate modeling, water supplies—and even energy and transportation infrastructure.

A plant cell wall's unique ability to expand without weakening or breaking—a quality required for plant growth—is due to the movement of its cellulose skeleton, according to new research that models the cell wall. The new model, created by Penn State researchers, reveals that chains of cellulose bundle together within the cell wall, providing strength, and slide against each other when the cell is stretched, providing extensibility.

The new study, which appears online in the journal Science, presents a new concept of the plant cell wall, gives insights into plant cell growth, and could provide inspiration for the design of polymeric materials with new properties.
A software entrepreneur pivoted to making masks at the start of the pandemic. The experience opened his eyes: “I thought, ‘Wow, the US really is behind.’”

Growing up in Duluth, Minnesota, in the 1990s, Lloyd Armbrust always figured he’d work at a factory. His father managed a lime processing plant in the city, which was dominated by manufacturing—until it wasn’t. Midwestern factories withered as companies started finding cheaper labor and supplies overseas. Armbrust instead found work in publishing and then ad tech. At holidays and family gatherings, he would listen sympathetically but somewhat skeptically to his father warn that the US would face a grand reckoning for allowing China to become the world’s factory.

Those warnings echoed in Armbrust’s head in April 2020 as he surveyed a 7-foot-tall machine wielding two pairs of sharp steel shears. In an impulsive pandemic project, the software entrepreneur had spent millions standing up a mask factory in Pflugerville, Texas, to meet Covid-driven demand and show that nimble manufacturing was still possible in the US. But the project was going off the rails.

One of the most expensive Wall Street shareholder battles on record could signal a big shift in how hedge funds and other investors view sustainability.

Exxon Mobil Corp. has been fending off a so-called proxy fight from a hedge fund known as Engine No. 1, which blames the energy giant’s poor performance in recent years on its failure to transition to a “decarbonizing world.” In a May 26, 2021 vote, Exxon shareholders approved at least two of the four board members Engine No. 1 nominated, dealing a major blow to the oil company. The vote is ongoing, and more of the hedge fund’s nominees may also soon be appointed.

While its focus has been on shareholder value, Engine No. 1 says it was also doing this to save the planet from the ravages of climate change. It has been pushing for a commitment from Exxon to carbon neutrality by 2050. As business sustainability scholars, we can’t recall another time that an energy company’s shareholder – particularly a hedge fund – has been so effective and forceful in showing how a company’s failure to take on climate change has eroded shareholder value. That’s why we believe this vote marks a turning point for investors, who are well placed to nudge companies toward more sustainable business practices.
They will not succeed unless they adopt the spirit which motivates it

Using messenger rna to make vaccines was an unproven idea. But if it worked, the technique would revolutionise medicine, not least by providing protection against infectious diseases and biological weapons. So in 2013 America’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (darpa) gambled. It awarded a small, new firm called Moderna $25m to develop the idea. Eight years, and more than 175m doses later, Moderna’s covid-19 vaccine sits alongside weather satellites, gps, drones, stealth technology, voice interfaces, the personal computer and the internet on the list of innovations for which darpa can claim at least partial credit.

It is the agency that shaped the modern world, and this success has spurred imitators. In America there are arpas for homeland security, intelligence and energy, as well as the original defence one. President Joe Biden has asked Congress for $6.5bn to set up a health version, which will, the president vows, “end cancer as we know it”. His administration also has plans for another, to tackle climate change. Germany has recently established two such agencies: one civilian (the Federal Agency for Disruptive Innovation, or sprin-d) and another military (the Cybersecurity Innovation Agency). Japan’s interpretation is called Moonshot r&d. In Britain a bill for an Advanced Research and Invention Agency—often referred to as UK ARPA—is making its way through Parliament.
Detailed characterization is the best chance scientists have to make sure that the next generation of batteries are sustainable, recyclable and packed with energy.

Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries are an extraordinary technology, and they are increasingly vital to a shift away from burning fossil fuels and towards renewables. But if that shift is to be fast enough to save the planet, the batteries need to be better and they, too, need to be sustainably sourced and made.

The demand for high energy-density batteries is unstoppable. According to a recent article appearing in Nature, the number of electric vehicles in use globally is estimated to balloon by a factor of 72 – reaching nearly 1 billion vehicles between 2020 and 20501. And all those vehicles are going to need batteries. ‘Batteries are an enabler of a sustainable society,’ says Chris Stumpf, senior manager of Waters Corporation’s materials science business segment. Not forgetting that lithium-ion batteries also power our mobile devices and computers.
Characterisation techniques have reached the point where they can monitor in real-time what’s going on inside a battery. This is the way to a better battery and a more sustainable world.

Despite incredible technology advances within the last decade, researchers around the world are constantly challenged with innovating the next generation of high-performance batteries that are more cost-effective, last longer, charge faster, are safer, and are also more environmentally friendly.

Leading the pack is the lithium-ion rechargeable battery, first developed in the latter half of the 20th century and so widely adopted that its developers were awarded the Nobel prize for chemistry in 2019. As researchers strive to produce better materials aimed at improving each of a rechargeable battery’s components, the next step is to put them into a working cell for evaluation. Traditionally, a cell would be made and then measured for its cycling performance, discharge rate, and energy density among other things as a finished unit. The downside to this approach is that it does not allow for the identification of the specific component responsible for any changes to the batteries performance and can significantly slow down innovation.

For most life forms on Earth, oxygen is a necessity, not an optional extra – and because of our warming planet, oxygen is quickly disappearing from our freshwater lakes, putting aquatic life and ecosystems under threat.

Researchers looked at samples and measurements taken from 393 lakes in temperate areas of the globe across a period from 1941 to 2017, finding a widespread decline in dissolved oxygen in both surface and deep water habitats
That change in oxygen levels has a knock-on effect, all the way from the biogeochemistry of the water to the health of human populations who may rely on these lakes. It could also lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions from aquatic bacteria that produce methane.

"All complex life depends on oxygen," says environmental biologist Kevin Rose, from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. "It's the support system for aquatic food webs. And when you start losing oxygen, you have the potential to lose species."
"Lakes are losing oxygen 2.75-9.3 times faster than the oceans, a decline that will have impacts throughout the ecosystem."

I know, you probably haven't even driven one yet, let alone seriously contemplated buying one, so the prediction may sound a bit bold, but bear with me.

We are in the middle of the biggest revolution in motoring since Henry Ford's first production line started turning back in 1913. And it is likely to happen much more quickly than you imagine. Many industry observers believe we have already passed the tipping point where sales of electric vehicles (EVs) will very rapidly overwhelm petrol and diesel cars.

It is certainly what the world's big car makers think. Jaguar plans to sell only electric cars from 2025, Volvo from 2030 and last week the British sportscar company Lotus said it would follow suit, selling only electric models from 2028. And it isn't just premium brands. General Motors says it will make only electric vehicles by 2035, Ford says all vehicles sold in Europe will be electric by 2030 and VW says 70% of its sales will be electric by 2030.

For over 40 years Unilever has been researching and applying alternatives to animal testing, working with industry, academia, government scientists and NGOs to provide evidence, educate, change minds, challenge regulations and ultimately marshall in a new era of sustainable safety testing that isn’t reliant on animal models.

Human biology is different from that of rats, mice or rabbits, and there is no guarantee that animal test results will also apply to humans. While huge strides have been made in developing more human-relevant alternatives in recent years their acceptance by regulators remains a problem.
Humans often metabolize chemicals differently from animals, further reducing the relevance of animal models for exposure. ‘Now and again, the body will metabolize something in a way that activates it, and makes it worse,’ says Steve Gutsell, a computational scientist and team leader in Unilever’s Safety and Environmental Assurance Centre (SEAC). He believes that many instances where animal and human effects differ have their roots in metabolism.
Does your company want to work with UChicago/PME?

Different ways to explore interactions with the PME:
  • Senior design projects
  • Internships (undergraduate and graduate students)
  • Materials characterization/device fabrication facilities
  • Participation in FORUM/Public events
  • Give an industry seminar on your job/company/career path!
  • Licensing opportunities (I'll connect you with the Polsky center)
  • Do you want to do more computational/AI work in your product R&D?
  • Ask Felix!
Campus Information

PARKING - You are welcome to park for free on certain streets if you can find it. The closest parking lot to the Eckhardt Research Center is the North parking lot located at the SE corner of 55th St and South Ellis Ave.