The aim of the SimConDrill project is to build a cyclone filter that can efficiently remove tiny plastic particles from large quantities of water. © KLASS-Filter GmbH, Türkenfeld, Germany.

Microplastics enter our wastewater and the environment on a daily basis. Yet wastewater treatment plants struggle to filter out enough of these tiny plastic particles. Fortunately, help is on hand in the form of the SimConDrill research project, which the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has been funding since 2019. Combining the expertise of five partners from industry and research, the aim of the project is to jointly develop a filter featuring tiny, laser-drilled holes that can remove plastic particles as small as 10 micrometers from wastewater. This remarkable innovation has now been nominated for the prestigious Green Award.

Flexible electronic skin equipped with an array of giant magneto resistance sensors and complex electronics circuit designed and developed for sensing distribution of magnetic field. Photo: Masaya Kondo

Researchers from Dresden and Osaka present the first fully integrated flexible electronics made of magnetic sensors and organic circuits which opens the path towards the development of electronic skin. Human skin is a fascinating and multifunctional organ with unique properties originating from its flexible and compliant nature. It allows for interfacing with external physical environment through numerous receptors interconnected with the nervous system. Scientists have been trying to transfer these features to artificial skin for a long time, aiming at robotic applications.

Synthetic cells with compartments. Magenta shows the lipid membrane, cyan shows the fluorescently tagged membrane-free sub-compartments. Love et al. / MPI-CBG

Dresden researchers engineer a minimal synthetic cellular system to study basic cell function. Cells are the basic unit of life. They provide an environment for the fundamental molecules of life to interact, for reactions to take place and sustain life. However, the biological cell is very complicated, making it difficult to understand what takes place inside it. One way to tackle this biological problem is to design a synthetic minimal cell as a simpler system compared to biological cells. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden and the Max-Planck-Institute of Colloids and Interfaces (MPICI) in Potsdam accomplished such an engineering challenge by building a synthetic cell that can encapsulate fundamental biochemical reactions.

The measuring device can help automotive manufacturers reduce vehicle emissions by developing new combustion engines or by exhaust after-treatment. © Bainschab

Together with international partners, researchers at Graz University of Technology have developed a measurement method that measures particles below 10 nanometres for the first time and will contribute to the implementation of future, stricter emission standards. A few days ago, the European Commission presented its Green Deal, which aims to make the EU climate neutral by 2050 in order to protect the environment and improve people's health and quality of life. One of the planned measures is the introduction of stricter exhaust regulations. The limit values for pollutant emissions from vehicles have already been laid down by law.

The newly developed material conducts heat well along the layers, while at the same time providing thermal insulation vertically. © MPI-P, Lizenz CC-BY-SA

Styrofoam or copper - both materials have very different properties with regard to their ability to conduct heat. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz and the University of Bayreuth have now jointly developed and characterized a novel, extremely thin and transparent material that has different thermal conduction properties depending on the direction. While it can conduct heat extremely well in one direction, it shows good thermal insulation in the other direction. 
Thermal insulation and thermal conduction play a crucial role in our everyday lives - from computer processors, where it is important to dissipate heat as quickly as possible, to houses, where good insulation is essential for energy costs. Often extremely light, porous materials such as polystyrene are used for insulation, while heavy materials such as metals are used for heat dissipation. A newly developed material, which scientists at the MPI-P have jointly developed and characterized with the University of Bayreuth, can now combine both properties.

Complex supramolecular nano-structure on a silver surface. The chiral pattern is controlled by hydrogen-bonding between hydroxamic acids decorating both ends of the rod-like building block. Image: B. Zhang / TUM

Nanoscience can arrange minute molecular entities into nanometric patterns in an orderly manner using self-assembly protocols. Scientists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have functionalized a simple rod-like building block with hydroxamic acids at both ends. They form molecular networks that not only display the complexity and beauty of mono-component self-assembly on surfaces; they also exhibit exceptional properties.

Fluorescence microscopy of induced pluripotent stem cells of a healthy blood donor differentiated into early ectoderm. Source: Paul-Ehrlich-Institut

Jointly with researchers from Germany and France, researchers of the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have generated induced pluripotent stem cells from one health individual, one patient with Aicardi-Goutières syndrome, and one patient with Renpenning syndrome. Proteins play a role in both diseases, which are also important for the immunological recognition of the human immune deficiency virus (HIV). With iPSCs and derived cell types, new insights can be gained into the syndromes and the human immune system in the fight against HIV. The results are reported in Stem Cell Research in three different contributions published from December 2019 to January 2020.

Crystals of synthetic molecular ruby. photo/©: Steffen Treiling

Using base metals instead of expensive precious metals / Chromium in a designed environment exhibits an exceptionally long lifetime of its electronically excited state and potentially allows for sustainable photocatalytic applications. Sustainable chemical applications need to be able to employ renewable energy sources, renewable raw materials, and Earth-abundant elements. However, to date many techniques have only been possible with the use of expensive precious metals or rare earth metals, the extraction of which can have serious environmental impacts.

Excitation of helium nanodroplets by ultra-short laser pulses. Photo: AG Stienkemeier

A team headed by Professor Frank Stienkemeier at Freiburg’s Institute of Physics and Dr. Marcel Mudrich, professor at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, has observed the ultrafast reaction of nanodroplets of helium after excitation with extreme ultraviolet radiation (XUV) using a free-electron laser in real time. The researchers have published their findings in the latest issue of Nature Communications. Lasers generating high-intensity and ultra-short XUV and X-ray pulses give researchers new options for investigating the fundamental properties of matter in great detail. In many such experiments, material samples in the nanometer range are of particular interest. Some scientists use helium droplets no larger than a few nanometers as a means of transporting and studying embedded molecules and molecular nanostructures.

Let there be light – and it was directional: The world's first electrically powered Yagi-Uda antenna was built at the University of Würzburg's Department of Physics. Picture: Department of Physics

For the first time, physicists from the University of Würzburg have successfully converted electrical signals into photons and radiated them in specific directions using a low-footprint optical antenna that is only 800 nanometres in size. Directional antennas convert electrical signals to radio waves and emit them in a particular direction, allowing increased performance and reduced interference. This principle, which is useful in radio wave technology, could also be interesting for miniaturised light sources. After all, almost all Internet-based communication utilises optical light communication. Directional antennas for light could be used to exchange data between different processor cores with little loss and at the speed of light. To enable antennas to operate with the very short wavelengths of visible light, such directional antennas have to be shrunk to nanometre scale.

A ray of hope for even more efficient lithium-ion batteries: A solid electrolyte (here LiTi2(PO4)3, Li-green, Ti-blue, P-purple, O-red) with “migration paths” for lithium ions (yellow strips). © Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials IWM

High-performance, long-lasting energy storage devices are crucially important for many future-oriented technologies: e.g. for electromobility, for mobile end devices such as tablets and smartphones as well as for the efficient use of energy from renewable sources. Dr. Daniel Mutter from the Fraunhofer IWM was able to clarify what the chemical composition of solid ceramic electrolytes should be in order to ensure good performance in lithium-ion batteries. The research was published in the Journal of Applied Physics. Such solid electrolytes are more environmentally friendly than traditional liquid electrolytes and could make lithium-ion batteries significantly safer and more efficient.

Single crystal of the material manganese bismuth telluride, almost one millimeter in length. It is the first antiferromagnetic topological insulator the first antiferromagnetic topological insulator. Photo: A. Isaeva, TU Dresden/IFW Dresden

An international consortium of chemists and physicists has discovered a new type of quantum material with intrinsic magnetic and topological properties. Since they manifest without doping or strong external magnetic fields, this material may lead the way to new applications in spintronics, two-dimensional magnetism and quantum transport. Since their discovery in 2009, topological insulators are a hot topic of material physics. The special thing about them is that they simultaneously act as both insulators and electron conductors. While an electrically insulating state prevails inside the crystals, the crystal surfaces are conducting.

3D-rendered high-resolution scanning tunneling micrograph of Clar’s goblet. Empa

Graphene, a two-dimensional structure made of carbon, is a material with excellent mechani-cal, electronic and optical properties. However, it did not seem suitable for magnetic applica-tions. Together with international partners, Empa researchers have now succeeded in synthesiz-ing a unique nanographene predicted in the 1970s, which conclusively demonstrates that car-bon in very specific forms has magnetic properties that could permit future spintronic applica-tions. The results have just been published in the renowned journal Nature Nanotechnology.

The graphene nanoribbon (center) consists of a single layer of honeycomb carbon atom and has different electrical properties depending on its shape and width. Jan-Philip Joost, AG Bonitz

 

New materials are needed to further reduce the size of electronic components and thus make devices such as laptops and smartphones faster and more efficient. Tiny nanostructures of the novel material graphene are promising in this respect. Graphene consists of a single layer of carbon atoms and, among other things, has a very high electrical conductivity. However, the extreme spatial confinement in such nanostructures influences strongly their electronic properties. A team led by Professor Michael Bonitz of the Institute for Theoretical Physics and Astrophysics (ITAP) at Kiel University has now succeeded in simulating the detailed behavior of electrons in these special nanostructures using an elaborate computational model. This knowledge is crucial for the potential use of graphene nanostructures in electronic devices.

Illustration of the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) needle in the brain tissue. © whitehoune - stock.adobe.com, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, University of Stuttgart. Montage: Martin Vötsch (design-galaxie.de)

 

A team of neuroscientists and electrical engineers from Germany and Switzerland developed a highly sensitive implant that enables to probe brain physiology with unparalleled spatial and temporal resolution. Now published in Nature Methods, they introduce an ultra-fine needle with an integrated chip that is capable of detecting and transmitting nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) data from nanoliter volumes of brain oxygen metabolism. The breakthrough design will allow entirely new applications in the life sciences.

Nanoparticles of graphene flash irregularly when excited with light. This results in higher resolution in microscopy. © MPI-P

Conventional light microscopes cannot distinguish structures when they are separated by a distance smaller than, roughly, the wavelength of light. Superresolution microscopy, developed since the 1980s, lifts this limitation, using fluorescent moieties. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research have now discovered that graphene nano-molecules can be used to improve this microscopy technique. These graphene nano-molecules offer a number of substantial advantages over the materials previously used, making superresolution microscopy even more versatile.