Newsletter, March 2016

    MIT Materials News that Matters
    March 2016
    Materials Processing Center at MIT
    77 Massachusetts Avenue
    Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139Youtube twitter google plusfacebook

    Faculty Highlight: Alexie M. Kolpak

    MIT Assistant Professor Alexie M. Kolpak. Photo, Denis Paiste, Materials Processing Center
    MIT Assistant Professor Alexie M. Kolpak.
    Performance across a wide range of new technologies from solar cells to fuel cells depends on interactions at interfaces between materials on the atomic scale, MIT Assistant Professor Alexie Kolpak says. "The behavior is influenced, and often dominated by, the interfaces," she says.
    Yet studies at this atomic scale, for example, at the interface between solid electrodes and water in a cell for splitting water, are difficult to observe experimentally and costly to model computationally. Kolpak's group at MIT is making progress in a number of different thrusts both through its own computational studies and through collaborations with experimentalists.
    11 Summer Scholars selected
    The Materials Processing Center (MPC) and Center for Materials Science and Engineering (CMSE) have selected 11 outstanding undergraduates to conduct graduate level research at MIT. 
    The National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF REU) sponsored program runs from June 7 through Aug. 6, 2016.
    Catalyzing water-splitting via a new mechanism 
    Theoretically based models and simulations show that in the most-efficient process - essentially a fast-kinetic shortcut - dehydrogenated hydroxide ions adsorb to the catalyst surface and combine directly with oxygen from the oxide lattice.
    Theoretically based models and simulations show that in the most-efficient process - essentially a fast-kinetic shortcut - dehydrogenated hydroxide ions adsorb to the catalyst surface and combine directly with oxygen from the oxide lattice. 
    Mobilizing oxygen atoms from the crystal surface of perovskite-oxide electrodes to participate in the formation of oxygen gas is key to speeding up water-splitting reactions, researchers at Skoltech Center for Electrochemical Energy Storage, The University of Texas at Austin, and MIT show in a new paper published online March 23, 2016, in Nature Communications. 
    They also demonstrated that one particular material, SrCoO2.7 (strontium cobaltite), exhibits highly active water electrolysis, much faster than the state-of-art catalyst, iridium oxide, which contains precious metals. In the study, Earth abundant non-precious metal oxide catalysts best known as perovskites were investigated.
    Speeding up electrocatalysis
    Mechanical engineering doctoral student Xi (Jerry) Rong identified a new fundamental relationship between electrolysis reaction mechanism and perovskite metal oxide stability.
    Interest in perovskite non-precious metal oxides for catalysts is driven by three things: they are relatively cheap compared to platinum, they can be highly active catalysts for a variety of reactions, and their three-part composition allows for tunable properties. Experiments, however, are costly, time consuming and hard to analyze at the atomic scale, giving impetus to computational approaches that can screen out exceptional combinations.
    Mechanical engineering doctoral student Xi (Jerry) Rong models interfaces between solid electrodes and water in an electrolysis cell for splitting water into hydrogen fuel, an attractive way to depart from traditional energy sources such as fossil fuels towards clean, renewable energy sources.
    Forming patches boosts bacterial life

    Bacillus subtilis_ a commonly studied soil bacteria_ survives at much lower cell density when it self-organizes into patches_ new research by MIT postdoc Christoph Ratzke and Associate Professor of Physics Jeff Gore shows. Image_ Christoph Ratzke
    Bacillus subtilis, a commonly studied soil bacteria, survives at much lower cell density when it self-organizes into patches.
    Natural systems such as grasslands form clusters, or patches, that bolster resilience under stress. Experiments show this same behavior can be modeled in bacteria with several important implications for creating survivable environments for threatened or endangered species, MIT researchers reported online in Nature Microbiology.
    Populations of the commonly studied soil bacteria Bacillus subtilis survive at much lower cell density when they form patches than when they are more evenly spread out in their environment, says Jeff Gore, Latham Family Career Development Associate Professor of Physics. This patchy growth is sufficient by itself to enhance survival prospects, but it also reduces expansion.
    In Other News
    In this time-lapse series of photos_ progressing from top to bottom_ a coating of sucrose _ordinary sugar_ over a wire made of carbon nanotubes is lit at the left end_ and burns from one end to the other. As it heats the wire_ it drives a wave of electrons
    At left, a transmission electron micrograph shows a lead sulfide (PbS) nanocrystal superlattice. At right, a scanning electron micrograph shows thickness and long-range ordering of PbS nanocrystals. Images courtesy of the Tisdale Lab.
    An artist_s rendering of a calcium liquid battery. Illustration_ Christine Daniloff_ MIT
    MIT develops nontoxic way of generating portable power
    Battery substitutes produce current by burning fuel-coated carbon nanotubes like a fuse. 
    Nanocrystal self-assembly sheds its secrets
    A new approach gives a real-time look at how the complex structures form. 
    New chemistries found for liquid batteries
    Grid-scale approach to rechargeable power storage gets new arsenal of possible materials.

    Upcoming Events
    Special Seminar: Dr. Venkat Viswanathan, Electrochemical energy systems. Fri., April 1, 12-1pm, MIT Chipman Room, 6-104 
    Nano Days, Sat., April 2, 11am-3:30pm, Museum of Science, Boston 
    National Academy of Engineering Regional Meeting and Symposium at MIT, Thurs., April 14, 1-5:30pm, 
    Samberg Conference Center, 5-52 
    Cambridge Science Festival, April 15-24, Cambridge, MA
    MADMEC 2016 kickoff, Tues., April 19, 12-2 pm, MIT 6-104
    Open House - Under the Dome: Come Explore MIT, Sat., April 23, 10am-3pm, MIT Campus, 77 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA
    TechConnect World Innovation Conference and Expo, May 22-25, Washington, DC
    MIT Commencement 2016 Ceremonies: Investiture of Doctoral Hoods: 11 am, Thurs., June 2;  Commencement: 10 am, Fri., June 3 
    Materials Day, MIT, Tues., Oct. 18, 2016
    Join the MPC Collegium
    QR code for collegium webpage
    • Facilitation of on-campus meetings
    • Access to Collegium member-only briefing materials
    • Representation on the MPC External Advisory Board
    • Facilitation of customized student internships
    • Medium and long-term on-campus corporate staff visits
    For more information, contact Mark Beals at 617-253-2129 or
    About MPC

    The goals of the Materials Processing Center are to unite the materials research community at MIT and to enhance Institute-industry interactions. Collaboration on research ventures, technology transfer, continuing education of industry personnel, and communication among industrial and governmental entities are our priorities. The MPC 
    Industry Collegium is a major vehicle for this collaboration. The MPC sponsors seminars and workshops, as well as a summer internship for talented undergraduates from universities across the U.S. We encourage interdisciplinary research collaborations and provide funds management assistance to faculty.
    MIT, Materials Processing Center
    77 Massachusetts Avenue
    Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139