Space Tango CubeLab on board the International Space Station ISS. Space Tango

The University of Zurich has sent adult human stem cells to the International Space Station (ISS). Researchers from UZH Space Hub will explore the production of human tissue in weightlessness. On 6 March at 11:50 PM EST, the International Space Station resupply mission Space X CRS-20 took off from Cape Canaveral (USA). On board: 250 test tubes from the University of Zurich containing adult human stem cells. These stem cells will develop into bone, cartilage and other organs during the month-long stay in space.

 

At rough areas of a catalyst surface, water is split into hydrogen and oxygen in a more energy efficient way than at smooth areas. MPI-P, License CC-BY-SA

Whether as a fuel or in energy storage: hydrogen is being traded as the energy carrier of the future. To date, existing methodologies have not been able to elucidate how exactly the electrochemical process of water splitting into hydrogen and oxygen takes place at the molecular scale on a catalyst surface. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz have now developed a new method to investigate such processes "live" on the nanometer scale. The new detailed insights into the splitting of water on gold surfaces could aid the design of energy-efficient electro-catalysts.

Figure: Diagram of membrane production: 1. Synthesis of the custom-made triblock terpolymer; 2. SNIPS: the functional groups of triblock terpolymer (-OH, C5H4N) position themselves precisely in the pores; 3. Post-functionalisation: after treatment with methyl iodide (CH3I) or 1,3-propane sultone ((CH2)3SO3), the nanochannelsare positively or negatively charged and allow organic molecules to pass selectively. [Fig: Zhenzhen Zhang]

A new membrane developed at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht (HZG) separates small dye particles or drug substances not only by size but also by their electrical charge. This additional function enables organic molecules with lateral dimensions of one to two nanometres to be such high-efficiently separated for the first time. HZG’s polymer researcher Zhenzhen Zhang has now presented her results in the journal Advanced Materials.
“Classic Blue” is the trending colour of the year 2020. The textile industry has long since adjusted its dyeing lines accordingly. To prevent dye residue from ending up in the wastewater, membrane technology provides an environmentally friendly way to safely remove harmful substances. 

Researchers were able to shape the electric field of an attosecond pulse. Illustration: Jürgen Oschwald and Carlo Callegari

Chemical reactions are determined at their most fundamental level by their respective electronic structure and dynamics. Steered by a stimulus such as light irradiation, electrons rearrange themselves in liquids or solids. This process takes only a few hundred attoseconds, whereby one attosecond is the billionth part of a billionth of a second. Electrons are sensitive to external fields, so researchers can easily control them by irradiating the electrons with light pulses. As soon as they thus temporally shape the electric field of an attosecond pulse, researchers can control the electronic dynamics in real time.

 

A team led by Prof. Dr. Giuseppe Sansone from the Institute of Physics at the University of Freiburg shows in the scientific journal Nature how they were able to completely shape the waveform of an attosecond pulse.

For the first time, super magnets are be made with the help of laser-based 3D printing technology. © IMAT – TU Graz

Magnetic materials play important roles in electrical products. These materials are usually manufactured by means of established production techniques and use of rare earth metals. Several research teams at TU Graz are working on alternative, more environmentally friendly production methods. From wind turbines and electric motors to sensors and magnetic switching systems: permanent magnets are used in many different electrical applications. The production of these magnets usually involves sintering or injection moulding. But due to the increasing miniaturisation of electronics and the more exacting requirements, this places on magnetic components in terms of geometry, these conventional manufacturing methods are frequently coming up short.

Frankfurt researchers followed the movements of this tiny molecule – just two-thousandths of the thickness of a piece of paper. The RNA aptamer changes its structure when it binds hypoxanthine. Goethe University

FRANKFURT. Even more detailed insights into the cell will be possible in future with the help of a new development in which Goethe University was involved: Together with scientists from Israel, the research group led by Professor Harald Schwalbe has succeeded in accelerating a hundred thousand-fold the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) method for investigating RNA. In the same way that a single piece of a puzzle fits into the whole, the molecule hypoxanthine binds to a ribonucleic acid (RNA) chain, which then changes its three-dimensional shape within a second and in so doing triggers new processes in the cell. Thanks to an improved method, researchers are now able to follow almost inconceivably tiny structural changes in cells as they progress – both in terms of time as well as space. The research group led by Professor Harald Schwalbe from the Center for Biomolecular Magnetic Resonance (BMRZ) at Goethe University has succeeded, together with researchers from Israel, in accelerating a hundred thousand-fold the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) method for investigating RNA.

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 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.

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.

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.

As the loading with curcumin (yellow) increases, the dissolution rate of the containers made of polymeric micelles (blue) decreases. (Picture: Ann-Christin Pöppler)

Nanocontainer for drugs can have their pitfalls: If they are too heavily loaded, they will only dissolve poorly. Why this happens is now reported by a Würzburg research group in "Angewandte Chemie". Nanocapsules and other containers can transport drugs through a patient's body directly to the origin of the disease and release them there in a controlled manner. Such sophisticated systems are occasionally used in cancer therapy. Because they work very specifically, they have fewer side effects than drugs that are distributed throughout the entire organism.

Energy transport in biomimetic nanotubes (left) and a three-dimensional spectrum (right). Bjoern Kriete (l.) / Stefan Mueller (r.)

It is crucial for photovoltaics and other technical applications, how efficiently energy spreads in a small volume. With new methods, the path of energy in the nanometer range can now be followed precisely. Plants and bacteria lead the way: They can capture the energy of sunlight with light-harvesting antennas and transfer it to a reaction centre. Transporting energy efficiently and in a targeted fashion in a minimum of space – this is also of interest to mankind. If scientists were to master it perfectly, they could significantly improve photovoltaics and optoelectronics.

Left: Schematic illustration for the SMAIS method for 2D polymer synthesis, Right: High-resolution transmission electron microscopic image for 2D polyimide Left: by Marc Hermann, TRICKLABOR), Right: by Dr. Haoyuan Qi, Uni Ulm

Scientists at the Center for Advancing Electronics Dresden (cfaed) at TU Dresden have succeeded in synthesizing sheet-like 2D polymers by a bottom-up process for the first time. A novel synthetic reaction route was developed for this purpose. The 2D polymers consist of only a few single atomic layers and, due to their very special properties, are a promising material for use in electronic components and systems of a new generation. The research result is a collaborative work of several groups at TU Dresden and Ulm University and was published this week in two related articles in the scientific journals "Nature Chemistry" and "Nature Communications".

A monolayer of organic molecules is placed in the focused light field and replies to this illumination by fluorescence, embedding all information about the invisible properties. Pascal Runde

Physicists and chemists at the University of Münster (Germany) have jointly succeeded in developing a so-called nano-tomographic technique which is able to detect the typically invisible properties of nano-structured fields in the focus of a lens. Such a method may help to establish nano-structured light landscapes as a tool for material machining, optical tweezers, or high-resolution imaging. The study was published in "Nature Communications".

Time-lapse images show that the enzyme ‘breathes’ during turnover: it expands and contracts aligned with the catalytic sub-steps. Its two halves communicate via a string of water molecules. Jörg Harms / MPSD

Researchers from the Department of Atomically Resolved Dynamics of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg, the University of Potsdam (both in Germany) and the University of Toronto (Canada) have pieced together a detailed time-lapse movie revealing all the major steps during the catalytic cycle of an enzyme. Surprisingly, the communication between the protein units is accomplished via a water-network akin to a string telephone. This communication is aligned with a ‘breathing’ motion, that is the expansion and contraction of the protein.