Fuel cells and artificial photosynthesis are two promising electro-catalytic strategies to transform and store energy. Using an electro-catalytic set-up allows you to run reactions at low temperatures and pressures. The most common electrolyte (the liquid the electro-chemical cell is operating in) is water. Due to these features, electro-catalytic setups can be easily run on a small scale and in a distributed (local) way, for instance to store excess energy from intermittent renewable energy sources in chemical bonds.

...continue reading "First-principles electro-catalysis"

We are on the cover of Surface Science (Farahnaz Maleki made this very nice picture) and check out the tweet of @ElsevierPhysics:

This is a book review on “Scientific Paper Writing – A Survival Guide”  written by Bodil Holst and published on 30.12.2015 on the CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Another advice book on paper writing?

But wait, this one looks vaguely familiar. The new book written by Bodil Holst, a bookprofessor of physics at the University of Bergen (Norway), grabs your attention with cover art by none other than Jorge Cham, the creator of PhD comics. Throughout the book, many comics of the popular web series are reproduced to accompany the explanations on the scientific publishing process. This process, sometimes viewed as a black box by academic newcomers, is the main focus of the book. The self-proclaimed aim of Bodil Holst is levelling the playing field for young scientists by transparently laying out the conditions that must be met for getting your work published.

...continue reading "Book Review: “Scientific Paper Writing – A Survival Guide” by Bodil Holst"

Researchers from ORNL found that copper nano-particles supported on carbon nano-spikes can electrochemically catalyse the transformation of carbon dioxide (CO2) to ethanol. These are great news, because because CO2 is a greenhouse gas and ethanol is a fuel, which means we are transforming waste to fuel! Industrially, the process could be used for the storage of excess electricity from renewable energy sources. The CO2 is dissolved in water and the catalyst electrochemically transforms it directly to ethanol. The yield is 63%!

Glass can be formed naturally; for example in volcanoes or when lightning strikes a sandy beach and it has been produced by humans for thousands of years. Glasses can take on many different appearances, colors, and properties. Thus, it may be surprising that our understanding of the exact structure of glass is not complete, even after such a long time. Very often, you will hear glasses described as amorphous. This word is derived from Greek and means without shape. So we have a rough idea that glass is somehow shapeless. In the following we will see, how we can investigate the atomic arrangement in glass using modern techniques.

...continue reading "How we can see the structure of glass"

The presence of nanoparticles in industrial processes dates back well before the advent of nanotechnology [1] : carbon nanoparticles as rubber additives for tires [2] or titania nanoparticles for pigmentary applications [3] represent a paradigm of mass production of nanoscale objects. The success of manufacturing approaches based on the assembling of nanoparticles is largely determined by the established infrastructure and customer base with cost reduction as a general benchmark. Several techniques for the synthesis of metal oxides have been developed: sol-gel processing, [4] chemical vapor deposition, [5] hydrolysis process. [6] Among different processes for the production of nanoparticles, gas-phase routes are very popular both for large scale production and for fundamental studies. [7] Producing the nanoclusters in the gasphase makes it for instance possible to obtain clean particles without contaminants. With the so called low-energy cluster beam deposition, it is possible to produce gas-phase clusters in vast amounts! For a deposition area of 10×10 cm for a thin film of 30 nm thickness, the deposition time is around 10 minutes.

...continue reading "Large-scale production of gas-phase nanoparticles"

The design of novel materials plays a key role in the advancement of technologies in any application field. It is therefore crucial that the materials research is pursued with optimal effectiveness and efficiency. Modern computational materials design in synergy with concepts from big data processing and -storage can largely contribute to meet this requirement. For example, the systematic investigation of a large set of bulk materials can be realized fast and cost effective with high-throughput (HT) electronic structure methods.

The general procedure for a HT-approach is to compute the properties of interest of a large set of possible materials. The information is then ideally stored in a searchable database. The last step is the materials search and selection. With statistical and graphical means, the properties of a large set of materials can be visualized. In fig. 1, the formation energy of a binary alloy (FePt) is shown as an example.

Convex Hull of FePt alloys

Fig. 1: The alloy formation energy of Fe-Pt alloys as function of the composition. Many different structures have been screened (red crosses) and the most stable structures lay on the blue line (convex hull). Data taken from the AFLOWLIB repository.

...continue reading "High-Throughput Computations for Materials Design"

Graphene consists of one atomic layer of carbon, and so it belongs to the class of two-dimensional materials. It is extraordinary stable and electrons can move on it extremely fast. Researchers at the Japanese RIKEN institute found now a new way to prepare graphene.

To do this, they radiated graphite in the microwave adding an ionic liquid. The graphene layers are separated with the help of the irradiation. Then, the ionic liquid can penetrate between the layers to keep them separated.

The best quality in science can doubtlessly be reached when the full potential of researchers is exhausted, independently of their gender. However, gender inequality in science is still a problem in Europe. A new study from Elsevier shows that women in Germany publish less than men. While woman produced in average 2.07 publications per year in the period of 2010-2014, men produced 2.34. Also the citation impact of their publications is lower. The differences in publication rate and impact are smaller for senior researchers (researchers with more than 10 years since their first publication).

In Germany, the ratio of women in science has increased by around 3 % from 2010 to 2014, but still only 31 % of the researchers are women. Furthermore, the ratio of women amongst senior researchers stayed constant since 2010.

It's a common situation: You are at a party, going out with friends or just met someone on the bus stop and start chatting. Small talk. What are you doing here? Nice / horrible weather today, isn't it? So, what do you do? Well, there it is. I find myself hesitating to answer this question. I guess many have, at least those, that write in science blogs. I work in experimental quantum physics and there is only so many witty comebacks to stunned silence, bewilderment or statements that they never got physics. But that's okay, it's clearly not for everyone. But luckily I have a great comeback when people ask me what it's for.

Look around you and you will see the fruits of quantum physics all around you. From the semiconductors that make up basically everything around us that runs on electricity to computers and smartphones. None of it possible without quantum science. While it still is spooky and weird, it has silently worked its way into our everyday lives. And it still does, working tirelessly in the background to maybe, some day, save the day again. Not the hero we know, but the hero we need?

...continue reading "Quantum Science and the Next Step in Computation"