Impossible material made by Uppsala University researchers


A novel material with world record breaking surface area and water adsorption abilities has been synthesized by researchers from Uppsala University, Sweden.

The results are published today in PLOS ONE.

The magnesium carbonate material that has been given the name Upsalite is foreseen to reduce the amount of energy needed to control environmental moisture in the electronics and drug formulation industry as well as in hockey rinks and ware houses. It can also be used for collection of toxic waste, chemicals or oil spill and in drug delivery systems, for odor control and sanitation after fire.

In contrast to what has been claimed for more than 100 years in the scientific literature, we have found that amorphous magnesium carbonate can be made in a very simple, low-temperature process, says Johan Goméz de la Torre, researcher at the Nanotechnology and Functional Materials Division.

While ordered forms of magnesium carbonate, both with and without water in the structure, are abundant in nature, water-free disordered forms have been proven extremely difficult to make. In 1908, German researchers claimed that the material could indeed not be made in the same way as other disordered carbonates, by bubbling CO2 through an alcoholic suspension. Subsequent studies in 1926 and 1961 came to the same conclusion.

A Thursday afternoon in 2011, we slightly changed the synthesis parameters of the earlier employed unsuccessful attempts, and by mistake left the material in the reaction chamber over the weekend. Back at work on Monday morning we discovered that a rigid gel had formed and after drying this gel we started to get excited, says Johan Goméz de la Torre.

A year of detailed materials analysis and fine tuning of the experiment followed. One of the researchers got to take advantage of his Russian skill since some of the chemistry details necessary for understanding the reaction mechanism was only available in an old Russian PhD thesis.

After having gone through a number of state of the art materials characterization techniques it became clear that we had indeed synthesized the material that previously had been claimed impossible to make, says Maria Strømme, professor of nanotechnology and head of the nanotechnology and functional materials division.

The most striking discovery was, however, not that they had produced a new material but it was instead the striking properties they found that this novel material possessed. It turned out that Upsalite had the highest surface area measured for an alkali earth metal carbonate; 800 square meters per gram.

This places the new material in the exclusive class of porous, high surface area materials including mesoporous silica, zeolites, metal organic frameworks, and carbon nanotubes, says Strømme.

In addition we found that the material was filled with empty pores all having a diameter smaller than 10 nano meters. This pore structure gives the material a totally unique way of interacting with the environment leading to a number of properties important for application of the material. Upsalite is for example found to absorb more water at low relative humidities than the best materials presently available; the hydroscopic zeolites, a property that can be regenerated with less energy consumption than is used in similar processes today.

Read more . . .

via Uppsala Universitet & AlphaGalileo

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‘Maser’ source of microwave beams comes out of the cold

“A new type of electronic device”

Researchers have shown off a microwave-emitting version of the laser, called a maser, that works at room temperature.

Masers were invented before the laser, but have languished in obscurity because they required high magnetic fields and difficult cooling schemes.

A report in Nature outlines a far simpler version using a crystalline material and no cooling or magnets.

The resulting intense microwave beams could be used in applications ranging from medical diagnostics to astronomy.

Masers were borne of an idea first postulated by Albert Einstein: that in some materials, energy could be pumped in and concentrated into a beam of electromagnetic waves oscillating in synchrony.

The first maser – an acronym of microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation – was built in 1953, and later masers were used, for example, in the first transatlantic television broadcast.

But researchers carried the work on, coaxing materials to amplify visible light instead of microwaves, earning three of them the 1964 Nobel prize in physics.

These “lasers” reached complete ubiquity as simple designs for them were perfected and applications for them proliferated.

However, the relative complexity of masers has relegated them to niche applications.

Masers remain in use – in a form much like those of the early prototypes – in applications such as atomic clocks and as the amplifiers for the minuscule communication signals coming from space probes.

Now researchers at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and Imperial College London in the UK have completely revamped the way “masing” is done, by carrying it out in a crystal of material called p-terphenyl that is infiltrated by chains of five-sided molecules called pentacene.

Their radically new design uses yellow light from a commercially available medical laser to “pump” energy in, producing synchronised microwaves at room temperature and in air, with no need for strong magnets or complex cooling and vacuum schemes.

Mark Oxborrow of NPL, lead author of the paper, called the design “a new type of electronic device” whose applications may, like the laser itself, stretch far beyond those imaginable in these early days.

The key value of masers lies not in their ability to produce a useful beam as lasers do, but to carry out the amplification process in a particularly clean way, without adding much noise.

That is why they are used to detect the tiny signals coming from space missions as distant as the Voyager probes, billions of kilometres away.

Read more . . .

via BBC – Jason Palmer

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