No. 17, Winter 2022-2023
Director's Message:

I hope 2023 has been treating you well so far! You may have seen a recent article in Nature and addressed in The Economist on a declining trend of disruptive ideas being published. While it's unclear on exactly why this is, a proposed hypothesis

"is that scientists and inventors are producing work based on narrower foundations. They found that citing older work, citing one’s own work, and citing less diverse work all correlate with less disruption. As the amount of published science grows, the effort required to master a pool of knowledge that is both deepening and narrowing as the years roll by may inhibit the ability to form creative connections between disparate fields."

PME is working among grand challenge fields, at the interfaces, and is designed to be intrinsically transdisciplinary - not just a bunch of different experts thrown together, but a group of experts who choose to work among different fields and collaborators. It should come as no surprise then, that it was found that Researchers who collaborate with others in multiple research areas found to publish more highly cited papers.

The research infrastructure that facilitates new and important discoveries, while not perfect, is being refined and optimized and I encourage you to consider engagement and partnerships to share in the thrill of discovery and development. That, however, is just one part of the pie - commercialization only starts with fundamentals. The Polsky Center is building up Deep Tech Ventures to help commercialize sophisticated developments, and
the innovation ecosystem plays an important role in the growth of the developer. Understanding this system and strategically optimizing it with the help of government and focused partners is part of why we are all here. Part of this is opening up the floor for discussion at this year's annual event for industry. We will be hosting a combined event (one after the other) of the Science and Engineering Industry Expo (talent recruitment) followed by the Industry Networks Day. Consider joining us for this at the end of August, 2023.

Finally, check out the highlights from Argonne National Labs 2022 highlights - it provides some interesting insights into future trends that will play a significant role. These include:
  • stretchable electronics for healthcare
  • climate research at more granular levels (neighborhood effects)
  • optimizing combustion
  • materials for AI and neuromorphic computing
  • AI/computation and mechanics of materials for energy storage and generation
  • quantum bit technologies
  • supercomputing infrastructure
  • materials characterization capabilities

As always, feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have! I enjoy catching up with my readers and learning about your latest accomplishments and ideas!

Felix Lu
Director of Corporate Engagement
The Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering
2023 INDUSTRY NETWORKS DAY - Co-Hosted with the Science and Engineering Industry Expo

At the Expo, talk about your company and why it is a great place to work, interview students and postdocs, and then join us for networking!

The Science and Engineering Industry Expo is our main technical talent recruitment forum and will be held virtually (Tuesday) and in-person (Wednesday) on August 29th and 30th. This will end with a poster session, and begin the Industry Networks Day event which will have formal activities on Thursday, August 31st. More details to come!

Industry Networks Day will feature panel discussions on innovation ecosystems and how to best use them, as well as discussions on topics such as ESG, emerging technologies, and keynote addresses. Network, learn about the latest developments from thought leaders in sustainability and health as well as partnering opportunities at the University of Chicago and the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering Industry day event!

WHO: Industrial leaders and innovators who are interested in networking with current and future peers, and learning about emerging technologies

WHAT: PME and Cohort driven emerging technologies and the talent being developed


WHEN: Pre-official save-the-date! Tues-Thurs, August 29-31, 2023; August 29 (Tues) will be a virtual talent recruitment event for those who cannot make it in-person, August 30 (Wed) will be the in-person talent recruitment event and will end with a poster session. August 31st will start the Industry Networks Day with panels, keynotes, and networking.

WHY: Networking, Learning, Talent discovery
Recruiting Advanced-Degree Talent at PME

From immunoengineers, materials scientists, computational experts, and quantum engineers, PME offers a wealth of advanced-degree talent pools with extensive technical and professional training. If you are interested in recruiting PME master’s students, PhD students, and postdocs, please reach out directly to Briana Konnick, PME’s Director of Career Development ([email protected]). Some common opportunities for engagement include:
  • Host an on-campus or virtual information session
  • Share jobs and internships
  • Interview trainees on-campus or virtually
  • Host a coffee chat or roundtable discussion for more informal engagement

Allow us to create tailored offerings that meet your hiring objectives. Reach out today to set up a meeting!
UChicago/Argonne and PME technological strengths (from a recent and detailed faculty survey)
Environment fate of materials and sustainability

Sensing technology and sustainability

Polymer circularity

Resource recovery

Critical material supply chain
Green batteries

Critical materials life cycle analysis

AI/Machine Learning applied to sustainability

Carbon capture

Solar Technology

Water is everything—essential to industry, agriculture, and life itself. In our age, however, this critical and once ubiquitous resource has become progressively more sparse and more contaminated.

To address the mounting crisis, leading researchers from around the planet are forging new technologies for water treatment, sensing, reclamation, and management. Now, their work is compiled into a single text, establishing the scientific scaffold for a water-secure future and a guide to those passionate about water research.

The World Scientific Reference of Water Science broaches a broad spectrum of topics such as state-of-the-art water sensing, surface acoustic-wave technologies, emerging nanotechnology-based water treatment research, and recent advances in water desalination.

“Many places around the world are experiencing water scarcity,” said Matthew Tirrell, dean of the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering and editor-in-chief of the multi-volume work. “Climate change combined with our growing global economy are key drivers responsible for expanding the water crisis to many parts of our world. We need cost-effective sensors and energy-efficient water treatment technologies to enable a higher rate of water reuse, more intelligent fit-for-purpose water systems, and thus a more sustainable future."

The University of Chicago is stepping up its efforts to create more startups, committing more than $20 million to launch three new accelerators focused on deep technology such as data science, artificial intelligence, clean technology and life sciences—areas where the university excels but for which funding often is hardest to find.

U of C plans to launch at least 60 startups a year from its own faculty, staff and students as well as founders outside the university. It also plans to raise a $25 million external fund this year from corporate partners and external investors to provide seed funding to startups.

The Polsky Deep Tech Ventures program is modeled on an earlier experiment with an accelerator devoted to quantum computing, a challenging but promising area of technology where U of C is a leader. It's also another expansion of U of C's efforts over the past decade to become more adept at turning research prowess in medicine, math, physics and other disciplines into commercial ventures.

"These are companies that are harder to get started and take more money because you have to de-risk the technology at the same time you're developing the business model," says Jay Schrankler, associate vice president and head of the Polsky Center. "The upsides tend to be a lot bigger."

“PME is already structured to approach global challenges through an interdisciplinary lens, and the AI-enabled Molecular Engineering of Materials and Systems for Sustainability (AIMEMS) program is now providing additional support to train our graduate students to use this thinking throughout their careers,” said Juan de Pablo, Liew Family Professor of Molecular Engineering and the program’s principal investigator. “Even after one year we are already seeing the success of this transformative way of approaching graduate education, and our students are primed to become leaders at the frontiers of knowledge in AI-enabled molecular engineering.”

Quantum technology is on the verge of changing the world, according to David Awschalom, Liew Family Professor in Molecular Engineering at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME).

Quantum sensing, communications, and computing will revolutionize industry and the economy, enabling everything from impenetrable digital security to more powerful, energy-efficient electronic devices to new ways of diagnosing and treating disease.

"The impacts will likely be far greater than we can imagine," Awschalom said. "In the early days of computers, no one was thinking about the internet, or mobile phones, or even bar codes, but today they're ubiquitous. We're at that early stage in quantum engineering."
Matthew Tirrell to transition out of role as dean of the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering next year

Matthew Tirrell, dean of the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering and Distinguished Service Professor in PME, has announced he plans to transition out of his role as dean on Sept. 1, 2023.

“Matt has been a visionary leader, recruiting and enabling a generation of University of Chicago faculty as they have shaped and defined the new field of molecular engineering,” said President Paul Alivisatos. “I am thankful to him for his deep commitment to the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, and for his many impactful contributions to the University of Chicago.”

Tirrell has led the University’s molecular engineering program since its inception in 2011, first as the Founding Pritzker Director of the Institute for Molecular Engineering. In 2019, PME became the first school in the nation dedicated to the field. Tirrell built the PME faculty, comprising 33 primary appointments and 10 secondary appointments, organized into three engineering research themes: immunoengineering, quantum engineering, and materials for sustainability and health, as well as a theme in arts, science, and technology.

The National Institutes of Health today announced it has selected Sihong Wang, assistant professor at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) and researcher at Argonne National Laboratory, to receive the prestigious 2022 NIH Director’s New Innovator Award.

The award is given to exceptionally creative early-career scientists proposing high-risk, high-impact research. Prof. Wang will receive nearly $2.5 million in total funding over five years to develop biomedical implants that are more compatible with the human immune system.

A handful of soil is not only a miracle to a farmer, but also an engineer: “It can respond to a range of stimuli,” said chemist Bozhi Tian. “If you shine light or heat on it, if you step on it, if you add water, if you add chemicals—the soil changes in response and in turn, this affects the microbes or plants living in the soil. There are so many things we can learn from this.”

Tian and his laboratory at the University of Chicago are taking inspiration from nature to engineer new systems with a range of potential applications. Their latest experiment mimics the structure of soil to create materials that can interact with their environment, with promise for electronics, medicine, and biofuel technology. It has multiple potential applications; preliminary tests have shown the material can boost the growth of microbes and may be able to help treat gut disorders.

In a study described in Nature Chemistry, the team designed a springy substance composed of tiny particles of clay, starch, and droplets of liquid metal. The clay and starch create structure with lots of nooks and crannies, but it’s flexible enough that the material can also adapt and respond to the conditions around it.
Much like real soil, these nooks and crannies create the perfect spots for microbes to flourish. “We found the porosity is very important; we call it the partitioning effect,” said Tian. “I think of it like a meeting—if you break a large meeting or class into smaller sections there will be more interaction.”

Pioneering scientist Sidney Nagel receives Medal for Exceptional Achievement in Research
Physicists have a reputation for caring about the grandest questions: the formation of the universe, the collisions of black holes, the nature of time and space.

But Sidney Nagel was also curious about the more modest things that make up the texture of our world. The physics as a raindrop stretches and falls from an overhang. Why a spill from a coffee cup forms a ring instead of a spot. The shifting of grains of sand.

“No one thought you’d find basic truths by looking at these sorts of things,” he said. “But the fact that we don’t know how to think about answering these questions means there’s some fundamental physics we don’t know.”

Nagel spent nearly 50 years doing exactly that. This year, Nagel, the Stein-Freiler Distinguished Service Professor of Physics at the University of Chicago, is accepting the 2023 American Physical Society Medal for Exceptional Achievement in Research. The award, sometimes referred to as the ‘lifetime achievement Oscar of physics,’ recognizes “contributions of the highest level that advance our knowledge and understanding of the physical universe in all its facets.”

Scientists with the University of Chicago have discovered a way to create a material that can be made like a plastic, but conducts electricity more like a metal.

The research, published Oct. 26 in Nature, shows how to make a kind of material in which the molecular fragments are jumbled and disordered, but can still conduct electricity extremely well.

The gut microbiome plays a significant role in the immune system’s tolerance of potential food allergens, such as milk or peanuts. Research has shown that certain bacteria can protect against food allergies by preventing antigens from entering the bloodstream. Now, a group of researchers at the University of Chicago have created a special type of polymeric molecule to deliver a crucial metabolite produced by these bacteria directly to the gut, where it helps restore the intestinal lining and allows the beneficial bacteria to flourish.

After rising for years, food allergies have now reached near epidemic proportions in western countries. An estimated 8 percent of children are allergic to peanuts, eggs, milk, shellfish, and more.

Immunologists like Prof. Cathryn Nagler are on the case. Nagler, herself allergic to eggs as a child, has studied the human microbiome as the key to curing allergies and other disorders. Her breakthroughs have led to new thinking in the field, and her startup, ClostraBio, is poised to bring new therapeutics to market.
“The microbiome is a fascinating world within a world,” said Nagler, the Bunning Family Professor at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME). “It’s a new frontier, and we are just beginning to scratch the surface.”
How cells become cancerous is a process researchers are still trying to fully understand. Generally, normal cells grow and multiply through controlled cell division, where old and damaged cells are replaced after they die by new cells. Sometimes this process stops working, leading cells to start growing uncontrollably and develop into a tumor.
Traditionally, cancer treatments like chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation and surgery focus on killing cancer cells. Another type of treatment using stem cells called differentiation therapy, however, focuses on persuading cancer cells to become normal cells.
We are researchers who study how stem cells, or immature cells that can develop into different types of cells, behave in states of health and disease. We believe that stem cells can provide potential treatments for cancer of all types in many different ways.

Create a great offer by adding words like "free" "personalized" "complimentary" or "customized." A sense of urgency often helps readers take an action, so think about inserting phrases like "for a limited time only" or "only 7 remaining!"

Today, most methods to determine the proteins inside a cell rely on a crude census—scientists usually grind a large group of cells up before characterizing their genetic material. But just as a population of 100 single people differs in many ways from a population of 20 five-person households, this kind of description fails to capture information about how proteins are interacting and clumping together into functional groups.

Now, researchers at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) have developed an approach that lets them more easily study whether proteins are located in close proximity to each other inside a cell. The technology, which can be carried out at the same time as more routine gene sequencing, is described in the journal Nature Methods.

“This is a streamlined and high-throughput way to look into protein functions inside individual cells,” said Savas Tay, professor of molecular engineering and senior author of the new work. “I think this method is going to be a major resource for the molecular biology community.”

Natural evolution, left to its own devices, operates on the scale of centuries. Even our immune system, when faced with an especially pervasive threat like malaria, can sometimes take hundreds or even thousands of years to mount an effective defense. Juan L. Mendoza, assistant professor at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME), wants to speed up the timeline.

Mendoza is a protein engineer and computational biologist specializing in immune system research. He combines bioengineering with computational analysis to explore and better understand cytokines—a group of proteins that act as the body’s early warning system against infection.

“I am passionate about this work because our research can impact people’s lives positively,” said Mendoza. “Yes, my excitement about the science itself is motivating, but the idea that we can change the prospects for some cancer patients is a big part of my drive.”

Key among Mendoza’s tools is a technique called “directed evolution.” It’s a process in which researchers synthesize an extensive library of mutated proteins that then undergo a series of tests. By studying how the mutated proteins interact with other proteins of interest, researchers like Mendoza can infer how our normal “unevolved” proteins work.
Friday, March 31, 2023 12:30 pm - 4:00 pm

William Eckhardt Research Center, 5640 S Ellis Ave, Chicago, IL 60637

The 2023 Chicago Quantum Recruiting Forum will bring together current quantum leaders from both academia and industry with the rising generation of quantum scientists and engineers. This forum will be an outstanding opportunity for students to catalyze their careers and employers to recruit top talent.

Usually, a defect in a diamond is a bad thing. But for engineers, miniscule blips in a diamond’s otherwise stiff crystal structure are paving the way for ultrasensitive quantum sensors that push the limits of today’s technologies. Now, researchers at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) have developed a method to optimize these quantum sensors, which can detect tiny perturbations in magnetic or electric fields, among other things.

Their new approach, published in PRX Quantum, takes advantage of the way defects in diamonds or semiconductors behave like qubits— the smallest unit of quantum information.

“Researchers are already using this kind of qubit to make really amazing sensors,” said Prof. Aashish Clerk, senior author of the new work. “What we’ve done is come up with a better way of getting the most information we can out of these qubits.”
Pritzker Molecular Engineering professors David Awschalom and Liang Jiang awarded $1 million for development of South Korea-U.S. quantum center

The National Research Foundation of South Korea (NRF) has awarded two professors from the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) $1 million to co-lead the creation of a South Korea-U.S. joint research center dedicated to quantum error correction.

Prof. David Awschalom and Prof. Liang Jiang will serve as co-principal investigators for The Center for Quantum Error Correction, which seeks to improve the fidelity of networked quantum computing systems. The center will receive funding over five years, continuing the long history of scientific collaboration between the United States and South Korea.

Seung-Woo Lee, from the Korea Institute of Science and Technology’s Center for Quantum Information, will serve as the center’s lead principal investigator.

The concept of “symmetry” is essential to fundamental physics: a crucial element in everything from subatomic particles to macroscopic crystals. Accordingly, a lack of symmetry—or asymmetry—can drastically affect the properties of a given system.

Qubits, the quantum analog of computer bits for quantum computers, are extremely sensitive—the barest disturbance in a qubit system is enough for it to lose any quantum information it might have carried. Given this fragility, it seems intuitive that qubits would be most stable in a symmetric environment. However, for a certain type of qubit—a molecular qubit—the opposite is true.

Researchers from the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME), the University of Glasgow, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found that molecular qubits are much more stable in an asymmetric environment, expanding the possible applications of such qubits, especially as biological quantum sensors.

The work was published in August in Physical Review X.

CHICAGO — The secret to a more secure and powerful internet — one potentially impossible to hack — might be residing in a basement closet seemingly suited for brooms and mops.

The three-foot-wide cubby, in the bowels of a University of Chicago laboratory, contains a slim rack of hardware discreetly firing quantum particles into a fiber-optic network. The goal: to use nature’s smallest objects to share information under encryption that cannot be broken — and eventually to connect a network of quantum computers capable of herculean calculations.

The modest trappings of Equipment Closet LL211A belie the importance of a project at the forefront of one of the world’s hottest technology competitions. The United States, China and others are vying to harness the bizarre properties of quantum particles to process information in powerful new ways — technology that could confer major economic and national security benefits to the countries that dominate it.
Researchers use light to control magnetic fields at nanoscale

In thin, two-dimensional semiconductors, electrons move, spin and synchronize in unusual ways. For researchers, understanding the way these electrons carry out their intricate dances— and learning to manipulate their choreography—not only lets them answer fundamental physical questions, but can yield new types of circuits and devices.

One correlated phase that such electrons can take on is magnetic order, in which they align their spin in the same direction. Traditionally, the ability to manipulate magnetic order within a 2-D semiconductor has been limited; scientists have used unwieldy, external magnetic fields, which limit technological integration and potentially conceal interesting phenomena.

Now, researchers from the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) have discovered how to use nanoscale, low-power laser beams to precisely control magnetism within a 2-D semiconductor. Their approach, described online in the journal Science Advances, has implications for both studying the emergence of the correlated phase as well as designing new optoelectronic and spintronic devices.
Jennifer Choy: engineering atomic antennas for quantum sensing

Jennifer Choy makes atom-size antennas. They bear no resemblance to the telescoping rod that transmits pop hits through a portable stereo. But functionally, they’re similar. They’re quantum sensors, picking up tiny electromagnetic signals and relaying them in a way we can measure.

How tiny a signal? A quantum sensor could discern temperature changes in a single cell of human tissue or even magnetic fields originating at Earth’s core.
Jennifer Choy, a scientist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, is developing technologies that could lead to ultraprecise accelerometers and magnetometers for navigation and for probing minuscule changes in a material’s electromagnetic fields.
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

The semiconductors of today—like the ones powering the device you’re probably reading on—contain billions of miniscule transistors printed onto thin wafers of silicon. As engineers design smaller, faster, and more energy-efficient electronic devices, they need even tinier transistors. Shrinking these components, however, is not as simple as making them smaller; it often requires new materials and lithography methods.

Now, researchers at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) have developed a “mix and match” design platform that points toward appropriate combinations of self-assembling block polymers to make semiconductors with the desired sizes and properties for technical applications. The new approach, described online in Nature Materials, creates patterns only a few nanometers in dimension—smaller than existing commercial transistors.

“We developed a platform where we can mix and match different components of these materials to give us the properties we want for specific applications,” said Paul Nealey, the Brady W. Dougan Professor of Molecular Engineering, who led the new research. “I think this will have a tremendous impact in this field as well as the broader area of polymer research.”
Technology to produce, convert and store energy is central to these researchers’ efforts.

To create this type of device, we turned to electrically conductive polymers that have been used to build semiconductors and transistors. These polymers are made to be stretchable, like a rubber band. Rather than working like a typical computer chip, though, the chip we’re working with, called a neuromorphic computing chip, functions more like a human brain. It’s able to both store and analyze data.
Articles of interest to our corporate affiliates, but not associated with the University of Chicago

In times of disruption and great uncertainty, most organizations tend to protect what they have and wait for a return to “normal.” That’s a high-risk strategy today because we may be on the cusp of a new era. Structural supply-chain issues, rising interest rates, and sustainability challenges are just a few conditions that have become the new norm and hold critical implications for business models. Amid this much change, merely trying to manage costs and raise productivity is unlikely to overcome the growth challenge that seven out of eight organizations face today. Instead, companies need to find emerging pockets of growth that can help them secure long-term success.

Innovation is critical to achieving that goal. Enduring outperformance requires management teams to refocus innovation efforts on fresh opportunities for growth and diversification—and to develop new products, invest in new business models, and forge new partnerships to seize those opportunities. By taking defensive measures such as conserving cash while also going on the offense, “ambidextrous leaders” create value despite volatility, setting up their organizations to thrive in a world that has likely changed in fundamental ways.

WASHINGTON — A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends a range of actions the federal government should take to maintain the United States’ global leadership in science and technology. The government should shift from its historical emphasis on protecting specific technologies from access by competitor nations to a risk-management approach that protects the United States’ own capacity to innovate, the report says.

“Because the landscape of technology and competition is changing, protecting specific technologies themselves is certainly insufficient, often ineffective, and sometimes counterproductive,” said Susan Gordon, former principal deputy director of national intelligence in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and co-chair of the committee that wrote the report. “Protecting and strengthening the nation’s ability to innovate in order to respond to military and commercial challenges is at least equally — and perhaps vitally more — important.”

This year’s improvement comes after Covid-19 led to two of the worst years ever for global energy efficiency progress, with annual gains falling to around 0.5% in 2020 and 2021. Key factors included a higher share of energy-intensive industry in energy demand as other sectors contracted and a slowing pace of retrofits and upgrades in buildings and factories. Energy efficiency progress had already slowed before the onset of the pandemic, with the global rate of improvement falling from 2% in the first half of the last decade to 1.3% in the second half.

Efficiency improvements need to average about 4% a year this decade to align with the IEA’s Net Zero Emission by 2050 Scenario. There are encouraging signs of progress. The electrification of transport and heating is accelerating, with one in every eight cars sold globally now electric, and almost 3 million heat pumps set to be sold in 2022 in Europe alone – up from 1.5 million in 2019 – as they become an increasingly cost-effective heating source. Existing building codes are being strengthened and new ones are being introduced in emerging and developing economies, while a rising wave of energy saving awareness campaigns is helping millions of citizens better manage their energy use. All governments in Southeast Asia, for example, are now developing policies for efficient cooling, vital for a region with one of the fastest rates of growth in electricity demand.

Working in the climate space, it isn’t always easy to stay positive. Although it’s clear that more action is needed, there are huge breakthroughs being made on climate solutions of all kinds – and we want to make sure we celebrate those successes every step of the way.

So, here’s a roundup of the sustainability wins and positive environmental news stories that gave the Lune team hope in 2022, across:

  • Carbon markets
  • Business sustainability 
  • Climate policy
  • Nature, biodiversity, wildlife conservation
  • Clean energy

And here’s to more stories like these in 2023
Interactive Map
That unchecked climate change will profoundly affect the world’s economy well into the future is almost universally accepted among researchers. But the world is not a homogeneous economy; likewise, climate change will also affect different parts of the world in different ways. Research from Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, the Glen A. Lloyd Distinguished Service Professor at UChicago’s Kenneth C. Griffin Dept. of Economics, with José-Luis Cruz of Princeton, forecasts changes in welfare over time and space, depicted in the interactive map below.

The nuclear power industry made major strides in 2022 and that momentum is expected to carry over into this year as the Biden Administration continues to implement the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates the new laws could reduce carbon emissions by 1 million metric tons in 2030 and are also giving an added boost to clean energy technologies like nuclear energy to support the current and future fleet of reactors.

Here are the top five nuclear power stories to watch out for in 2023.

How Is Clean Hydrogen Produced?

Most of the hydrogen currently produced in the U.S. is made through steam-methane reforming. In this process, methane reacts with high-temperature steam to produce carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen.
One way to produce hydrogen without emissions is through low- and high-temperature electrolysis by splitting water into pure hydrogen and oxygen. High-temperature electrolyzers use both heat and electricity to split water and are more efficient.

Traditional and advanced nuclear reactors are well-suited to provide this constant heat and electricity needed to produce clean hydrogen, which could open new markets for nuclear power plants.
DOE estimates that a single 1,000-megawatt reactor could produce up to 150,000 tons of hydrogen each year. This could be sold regionally as a commodity for fertilizers, oil refining, steel production, material handling equipment, fuel cell vehicles, or even carbon-neutral synthetic fuels.

The reality is that a specific ‘hub’ or ‘hubs’ are still a critical priority for most organizations as a means of building scale, providing the right experiences for early career talent, allowing closer proximity to the business, product and customer and creating a shared identity and community for the team.
In our own vernacular, we think of these next gen hubs as more than just the tech work and instead are calling them 'purpose hubs'. They go far beyond provide a place for workers to sit and meet. The hybrid world we live in dictates that these hubs be far more intentional both in terms of what happens inside the building, but also in the area around the building and the diverse educational and innovation partners the hub needs to connect and collaborate with

Yet despite—or perhaps because of—this productivity (papers published and patents issued each year now number in the millions), it has been documented that innovation within specific fields has been in decline. For example, a paper titled “Science in the age of selfies”, published in 2016, warned of a shifting incentive-and-information landscape in biology, particularly neuroscience, that has diluted the number of high-impact discoveries.

Michael Park and Russell Funk of the University of Minnesota, and Erin Leahey of the University of Arizona, have set out to determine whether this decline holds for science and technology in general. In a study published this week in Nature they analyse 45m papers and 3.9m patents published and filed between 1945 and 2010.

The measurement they use for this work, known as the CD index, quantifies how “consolidating” or “disruptive” each paper or patent is. A paper is consolidating (a low CD score) if later work citing it also cites the papers that it, itself, cited. Discoveries and inventions of this sort—like a patent awarded in 2005 for genetically modified soyabeans—serve to propel science forward along its existing trajectory. By contrast, a paper is disruptive (a high CD score) if it is cited by later work in the absence of citations of its predecessors. A classic example of that was the study published in 1953 by James Watson and Francis Crick on the double-helical structure of DNA. High-CD papers disrupt the status quo, fundamentally altering a field’s trajectory or creating a new field altogether.

A small team of researchers at Beijing Normal University working with a colleague from Bar-Ilan University has found that researchers who collaborate with other researchers in multiple research areas tend to publish more highly cited papers than do those who generally only work with others in their field. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the group describes analyzing the authorship of papers published in the journal American Physical Society and what they learned about collaboration and the degree of impact of authorship of papers under different scenarios.

When researchers produce results they deem worthy of sharing, they submit a paper describing their work to an established journal for publication. Most researchers hope that in addition to sharing what they have learned, they could receive recognition for their achievements. One way that recognition comes about is through citations—others cite their work as part of their own processes as they conduct new research and publish their own papers. In this new effort, the researchers wondered how collaboration between researchers on research efforts might impact citations.

Semiconductors can raise the abilities of humanity like no other technology.Almost by definition, all technologies increase human abilities. But for most of them, natural resources and energy constraints make orders-of-magnitude improvements questionable. Transistor-enabled technology is a unique exception for the following reasons.

This novel research finds little evidence that smart thermostats have a statistically or economically significant effect on energy use, thus challenging assumptions about the effective scaling of new user-based technologies.

Economists have long argued that innovation is an essential driver of economic growth, with some estimates suggesting that roughly 50 percent of US annual GDP growth is attributable to innovation. Likewise, policymakers have long paid particular attention to stimulating innovation and to the supply of new technologies, while economists have studied both pecuniary and non-pecuniary aspects of technology adoption.

However, innovation alone cannot drive growth; users must also adopt new technologies. Likewise, an effective innovation is not measured by its potential returns but, rather, on its effective returns to scale, and “scale” is the operative word driving recent research. For example, research questions revolve around whether small-scale research findings persist in larger markets and broader settings. Further, what happens when interventions are scaled to larger populations? Should we expect the same level of efficacy observed in the small-scale setting? If not, then what are the important threats to scalability? More than an academic exercise, a proper understanding of these and related questions can avoid wasted resources, improve people’s lives, and build trust in the scientific method’s ability to contribute to policymaking.

Supply-chain issues have dominated the discussion at this year’s Battery Show in Novi, MI, and one of those issues has been the problem of obtaining sufficient minerals, such as nickel and cobalt, to meet the robust demand for electric vehicles and other battery applications. At a panel session Tuesday afternoon titled "Raw Materials Availability, Costs, and Pricing," several panelists on the frontlines of refining these minerals hashed out some of the current supply challenges.

Ken Hoffman, Co-Head of EV Battery Materials Research at McKinsey & Company, dispelled any thoughts that recycling efforts would make an appreciable impact on resolving current materials shortages. “The only way to get the electric vehicle battery train rolling is to refine more raw materials, such as nickel.”

The sourcing of battery raw materials will only get more critical, as the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act will provide financial incentives for consumers only when the final assembly of the vehicles occurs in North America. Hoffman noted according to the Act, by 2029, all EV batteries must be sourced in North America, which means all battery components, including materials, will need to be sourced onshore.

How much plastic debris ends up in the world’s oceans every year? That’s a question that preoccupied University of Georgia’s Jenna Jambeck for years until she worked out the math with colleagues in 2015 and published the findings in Science. Bottom line: The tonnage translates to the equivalent of five grocery bags full of plastic lined up on every foot of coastline around the globe.

Jambeck coauthored “Plastic as a Persistent Marine Pollutant,” a 2017 review on what’s known about how marine plastics work their way into the food web, in the Annual Review of Environment and Resources. It argues for a “Global Convention on Plastic Pollution,” similar to other international conventions to tackle persistent organic pollutants such as DDT and PCBs.

Using artificial intelligence, physicists have compressed a daunting quantum problem that until now required 100,000 equations into a bite-size task of as few as four equations—all without sacrificing accuracy. The work, published in the September 23 issue of Physical Review Letters, could revolutionize how scientists investigate systems containing many interacting electrons. Moreover, if scalable to other problems, the approach could potentially aid in the design of materials with sought-after properties such as superconductivity or utility for clean energy generation.

The machines are coming for your crops—at least in a few fields in America. This autumn John Deere, a tractor-maker, shipped its first fleet of fully self-driving machines to farmers. The tilling tractors are equipped with six cameras which use artificial intelligence (ai) to recognise obstacles and manoeuvre out of the way.

Julian Sanchez, who runs the firm’s emerging-technology unit, estimates that about half the vehicles John Deere sells have some AI capabilities. That includes systems which use onboard cameras to detect weeds among the crops and then spray herbicides, and combine harvesters which automatically alter their own setting to waste as little grain as possible. Mr Sanchez says that for a medium-sized farm, the additional cost of buying an AI-enhanced tractor is recouped in two to three years.

In 2018, we explored the $1 trillion opportunity for artificial intelligence (AI) in industrials.

As companies are recovering from the pandemic, research shows that talent, resilience, tech enablement across all areas, and organic growth are their top priorities.

Despite this opportunity, many executives remain unsure where to apply AI solutions to capture real bottom-line impact. The result has been slow rates of adoption, with many companies taking a wait-and-see approach rather than diving in.

Rather than endlessly contemplate possible applications, executives should set an overall direction and road map and then narrow their focus to areas in which AI can solve specific business problems and create tangible value. As a first step, industrial leaders could gain a better understanding of AI technology and how it can be used to solve specific business problems. They will then be better positioned to begin experimenting with new applications.

When AI emerged from its long winter and sprung onto business agendas in the 2010s, a scarcity of data science talent put considerable constraints on how and where business leaders could apply the technology. While AI talent challenges remain, strides have been made and many lessons have been learned that can be applied to tech talent strategies overall.

An arguably wider talent gap in quantum technology threatens to stall progress on breakthrough quantum use cases, jeopardizing the creation of a massive amount of business value. Quantum computing alone, which represents the largest market potential for the three mains areas of quantum technology (the other two areas being quantum sensing and quantum communications), 1 could account for up to nearly $700 billion in value.

The irony of all this, pointed out in a paper just published in the Geographical Journal by Mark Maslin and his colleagues at University College, London, is that, as demand for oil and gas drops in response to the climate-change-induced energy shift currently going on, sulphur produced this way will become less available. Yet this is happening at a moment when demand for the element is increasing.

Partly, that demand growth reflects a need for more fertiliser as human populations expand. But it is also a consequence of the role of sulphuric acid in the production of metals like lithium and nickel that go into electronic devices (including electric cars) and the batteries that power them. These elements are often extracted from their ores by leaching them out of the rock with acid. And the acid preferred for this is sulphuric.

Scientists have measured the highest toughness ever recorded, of any material, while investigating a metallic alloy made of chromium, cobalt, and nickel (CrCoNi). Not only is the metal extremely ductile—which, in materials science, means highly malleable—and impressively strong (meaning it resists permanent deformation), its strength and ductility improve as it gets colder. This runs counter to most other materials in existence.

What are the most efficient ways to change the world for the better? What actions will effectively reduce poverty and illness, minimize violent crime or strengthen community resilience to extreme weather? Many governments and philanthropic organizations in the U.S. and abroad grapple with those tough questions when deciding how best to use the limited resources entrusted to them by taxpayers or donors.

Answering such complex questions requires clearly seeing something that is all too often hidden or murky: causality. Did a particular policy or initiative actually cause the desired effect? Or was it just a coincidence?

In the 1990s, a small group of researchers developed a scientifically rigorous way to design complex social experiments that can clearly distinguish those all-important causes from mere correlations and coincidences. Their method recast a statistical technique traditionally used in clinical medical trials, giving rise to a new movement in social science research and winning them a Nobel Prize.

A new computational approach will improve understanding of different states of carbon and guide the search for materials yet to be discovered.

Materials—we use them, wear them, eat them and create them. Sometimes we invent them by accident, like with Silly Putty. But far more often, making useful materials is a tedious and expensive process of trial and error.
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have recently demonstrated an automated process for identifying and exploring promising new materials by combining machine learning (ML)—a type of artificial intelligence—and high performance computing. The new approach could help accelerate the discovery and design of useful materials.
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.
Acknowledgements: Thank you again to Dominique Jaramillo for her enormous effort in helping to put this newsletter together!