Nanotechnology essentially means controlling matter on a tiny scale, at the atomic and molecular level. This sounds truly sci-fi, but can, in fact, be put to some very ordinary uses in surprisingly everyday products. In this article, we’ll explore common products that make use of nanotechnology – but first, let’s get a quick overview of the amazing world of nanotechnology…
What is nanotechnology?
Nanotechnology is about looking at the world on such a tiny scale that we can not only see the atoms that make up everything around us (including ourselves), but we can manipulate and move those atoms around to create new things. Think of nanotechnology, then, as being a bit like construction … only on a tiny scale.
And I do mean tiny. The nanoscale is 1,000 times smaller than the microscopic level and a billion times smaller than the typical world of meters that we’re used to measuring things in. (Nano literally means one-billionth.) If you took a human hair, for instance, it would measure approximately 100,000 nanometers wide. That’s the sort of scale we’re dealing with at a nano level.
That’s all very cool, I hear you say, but how does understanding this nanoscopic world impact (if you’ll excuse the pun) the world at large? For one thing, when we zoom in and look at materials on an atomic level, we sometimes find they behave quite differently and have completely different properties at the atomic level.
As a simple example, silk feels incredibly soft and delicate to the touch, but if you look at it at a nano-level, you’ll see it’s made up of molecules aligned in cross-links, and this is what makes silk so strong. We can then use knowledge like this to manipulate other materials at a nano level, to create super-strong, state-of-the-art materials like Kevlar.
This is where the technology bit of nanotechnology comes in – using our knowledge of materials at a nano-level to create exciting new solutions and products.
Everyday products that use nanotechnology
Nanotechnology may seem like something out of the future, but in fact, many everyday products are already made using nanotechnology. Take these seven common products, for instance:
Nanoparticles have been added to sunscreens for years to make them more effective. Two particular types of nanoparticles commonly added to sunscreen are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These tiny particles are not only highly effective at blocking UV radiation, they also feel lighter on the skin, which is why modern sunscreens are nowhere near as thick and gloopy as the sunscreens we were slathered in as kids.
When used in textiles, nanoparticles of silica can help to create fabrics that repel water and other liquids. Silica can be added to fabrics either by being incorporated into the fabric’s weave or sprayed onto the surface of the fabric to create a waterproof or stainproof coating. So if you’ve ever noticed how liquid forms little beads on waterproof clothing – beads that simply roll off the fabric rather than being absorbed – that’s thanks to nanotechnology.
In the same way that clothing can be made waterproof and stainproof through nanotechnology, so too can upholstered furniture. Even better, nanotechnology is also helping to make furniture less flammable; by coating the foam used in upholstered furniture with carbon nanofibers, manufacturers can reduce flammability by up to 35 percent.
Nanotechnology can also be used to optimize adhesives. Interestingly, most glues lose their stickiness at high temperatures, but a powerful “nano-glue” not only withstands high temperatures – it gets stronger as the surrounding temperature increases.
5. Coatings for car paintwork
We all know bird droppings can wreak havoc on car paintwork. To combat this, a company called Nanorepel has produced a high-performance nanocoating that can be used to protect your car’s paintwork from bird poop. The company also makes coatings to protect car upholstery from stains and spillages.
6. Tennis balls
Nanotechnology has found a range of applications in the world of sports equipment, with a couple of great examples coming from one of my favorite sports: tennis. Nanotechnology helps tennis balls keep their bounce for longer, and make tennis racquets stronger.
Without nanotechnology, we wouldn’t have many of the electronics we use in everyday life. Intel is undoubtedly a leader in tiny computer processors, and the latest generation of Intel’s Core processor technology is a 10-nanometer chip. When you think a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter, that’s incredibly impressive!
Bernard Marr is an internationally best-selling author, popular keynote speaker, futurist, and a strategic business & technology advisor to governments and companies. He helps organisations improve their business performance, use data more intelligently, and understand the implications of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, blockchains, and the Internet of Things. Why don’t you connect with Bernard on Twitter (@bernardmarr), LinkedIn (https://uk.linkedin.com/in/bernardmarr) or instagram (bernard.marr)?
More than thirty years ago, Fred Davis developed the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) as part of his dissertation at MIT. It’s one of the most widely cited papers in the field of technology acceptance (a.k.a. adoption). Since 1989, it’s spawned an entire field of research that extends and adds to it. What does TAM convey and how might today’s AI benefit from it?
TAM is an intuitive framework. It feels obvious yet powerful and has withstood the test of time. Davis started with a premise so simple that it’s easy to take it for granted: A person will only try, use and ultimately adopt technology if they are willing to exert some effort. And what could motivate users to expend this effort?
He outlined several variables that could motivate users, and many researchers have added to his list over the years, but these two variables are the ones that were most important: 1. Does it look easy to use? 2. Will it be useful? If the learning curve doesn’t look too steep and there’s something in it for them, a user will be inclined to adopt. Many researchers have added to this foundation over the years. For example, we’ve learned that a user’s intention can also be influenced by subjective norms.
We’re motivated to adopt new tech at work when senior leadership thinks it’s important. Perceived usefulness can also be influenced by image, as in, “Does adopting this tech make me look good?” And lastly, usefulness is high if relevance to the job is high.
TAM can be a powerful concept for an AI practitioner. It should be front-of-mind when embedding AI in an existing tool or process and when developing an AI-first product, as in, one that’s been designed with AI at the center of its functionality from the start. (Think Netflix.) Furthermore, AI can be used to drive adoption by levering TAM principles that increase user motivation.
Making AI more adoptable
With the proliferation of AI in sales organizations, AI algorithms are increasingly embedded in tools and processes leveraged by sales representatives and sales managers. Adding decision engines to assist sales representatives is becoming increasingly common. A sales organization may embed models that help determine a customer’s propensity to buy or churn, recommend next best actions or communications and more. The problem is, many of these initiatives don’t work because of a lack of adoption.
TAM can help us design these initiatives more carefully, so that we maximize the chances of acceptance. For example, if these models surface recommendations and results that fit seamlessly into reps’ tools and processes, they would perceive them as easy to use.
And if the models make recommendations that help a sales person land a new customer, prevent one from leaving and help them upsell or cross-sell when appropriate, reps would perceive them as useful. In other words, if the AI meets employees where they are and offers timely, beneficial support, adoption becomes a no-brainer.
We also see many new products and services that are AI first. For these solutions, if perceived ease of use or perceived usefulness are not high, there would be no adoption. Consider a bank implementing a tech-enabled solution like mobile check deposits. This service depends on customers having a trouble-free experience.
The Newark airport’s global entry system uses facial recognition to scan international flyers’ faces. It’s voluntary, and the experience is fantastic. The kiosk recognizes my face, and a ticket is printed for me to take to the immigration officer. Personally, I find this AI-first process a better experience than the previous system that depended on fingerprints, and now I will always opt for the new one.
Using AI to drive adoption
And perhaps counter intuitively, what if AI was used to drive elements of TAM within existing technology? Can AI impact perceived usefulness? Can AI impact perceived ease of use? Consider CRM. It has been improved and refined over the years and is in use within most sales organizations, yet the level of dissatisfaction with CRM is high and adoption remains a challenge.
How can AI help? A machine learning algorithm that uses location services can recommend that a rep visit a nearby customer, increasing the perceived usefulness of their CRM solution. Intelligent process automation can also help reps see relevant information from a contracting database as information on renewals are being entered. Bots can engage customers on behalf of the representatives to serve up more qualified leads. The possibilities are numerous. All these AI features are designed to ensure that CRM lives up to its promise as a source of value to the sales representative.
Outside of sales, consider patients. In the past few years, many new technologies have been introduced to help diabetics. Adoption of this technology is critical to self-management, and self-management is critical to treating the disease. For any new technology in this space, patients need to see that it’s useful to them.
AI can play a role in gathering information such as glucose levels, activity and food intake and make recommendations on insulin dosing or caloric intake. Such information gathering could go a long way toward reducing the fatigue that diabetics feel while they make countless health and nutrition decisions throughout the day.
AI’s algorithmic nature makes it easy to forget that it’s another technology and that it can aid technology. Its novelty can convince us that everything about it is new. TAM holds up because it’s intuitive, straightforward and proven. While we boldly innovate a path forward in the world of AI, shed convention and think like a disruptor, let’s keep an eye on our history too. There’s some useful stuff in there.
Arun provides strategy and advisory services, helping clients build their analytics capabilities and leverage their data and analytics for greater commercial effectiveness. He currently works with clients on a broad range of analytics needs that span multiple industries, including technology, telecommunications, financial services, travel and transportation and healthcare. His areas of focus are AI adoption and ethics, as well as analytics organization design, capability building, AI explainability and process optimization.
The AI Practitioners Guide for Beginners is a series that will provide you with a high-level overview of business and data strategy that a machine learning practitioner needs to know, followed by a detailed walkthrough of how to install and validate one of the popular artificial intelligence frameworks: TensorFlow on the Intel® Xeon® Scalable platform. Read the AI Practitioners Guide for Beginners article:
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Graphene strips folded in similar fashion to origami paper could be used to build microchips that are up to 100 times smaller than conventional chips, found physicists – and packing phones and laptops with those tiny chips could significantly boost the performance of our devices.
New research from the University of Sussex in the UK shows that changing the structure of nanomaterials like graphene can unlock electronic properties and effectively enable the material to act like a transistor.
The scientists deliberately created kinks in a layer of graphene and found that the material could, as a result, be made to behave like an electronic component. Graphene, and its nano-scale dimensions, could therefore be leveraged to design the smallest microchips yet, which will be useful to build faster phones and laptops.
Alan Dalton, professor at the school of mathematical and physics sciences at the University of Sussex, said: “We’re mechanically creating kinks in a layer of graphene. It’s a bit like nano-origami.
“This kind of technology – ‘straintronics’ using nanomaterials as opposed to electronics – allows space for more chips inside any device. Everything we want to do with computers – to speed them up – can be done by crinkling graphene like this.”
Discovered in 2004, graphene is an atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms, which, due to its nano-sized width, is effectively a 2D material. Graphene is best known for its exceptional strength, but also for the material’s conductivity properties, which has already generated much interest in the electronics industry including from Samsung Electronics.
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The field of straintronics has already shown that deforming the structure of 2D nanomaterials like graphene, but also molybdenum disulfide, can unlock key electronic properties, but the exact impact of different “folds” remains poorly understood, argued the researchers.
Yet the behavior of those materials offers huge potential for high-performance devices: for example, changing the structure of a strip of 2D material can change its doping properties, which correspond to electron density, and effectively convert the material into a superconductor.
The researchers carried an in-depth study of the impact of structural changes on properties, such as doping in strips of graphene and of molybdenum disulfide. From kinks and wrinkles to pit-holes, they observed how the materials could be twisted and turned to eventually be used to design smaller electronic components.
Manoj Tripathi, research fellow in nano-structured materials at the University of Sussex, who led the research, said: “We’ve shown we can create structures from graphene and other 2D materials simply by adding deliberate kinks into the structure. By making this sort of corrugation we can create a smart electronic component, like a transistor, or a logic gate.”
The findings are likely to resonate in an industry pressed to conform to Moore’s law, which holds that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles every two years, in response for growing demand for faster computing services. The problem is, engineers are struggling to find ways to fit much more processing power into tiny chips, creating a big problem for the traditional semiconducting industry.
A tiny graphene-based transistor could significantly help overcome these hurdles. “Using these nanomaterials will make our computer chips smaller and faster. It is absolutely critical that this happens as computer manufacturers are now at the limit of what they can do with traditional semiconducting technology. Ultimately, this will make our computers and phones thousands of times faster in the future,” said Dalton.
Since it was discovered over 15 years ago, graphene has struggled to find as many applications as was initially hoped for, and the material has often been presented as a victim of its own hype. But then, it took over a century for the first silicon chip to be created after the material was discovered in 1824. Dalton and Tripathi’s research, in that light, seems to be another step towards finding a potentially game-changing use for graphene.
A GGV Capital survey reveals 94% of private cloud companies expect improved revenue in 2021, while two-thirds do not expect the pandemic to impact their businesses beyond next year.
The Covid-19 pandemic has upended almost every facet of our lives; enterprise software companies, from startups to multibillion-dollar public companies, have not been immune to 2020’s headwinds. Yet this sector also benefited from the mass shift to work-from-home and accelerated digital adoption. For the last decade, companies have been transitioning their business processes, applications, and data to the cloud, and COVID-19 simply sped up this digital transformation.
As an investor in the software industry for over 20 years, I wanted to explore the impact of the pandemic on enterprise companies and what their CEOs predict will happen to their businesses in 2021. So I conducted an informal survey; I polled 25 CEOs of top software companies, from growth-stage to pre-IPO, listed in this year’s Forbes Cloud 100, and 17 responded. It’s hardly a scientific study, but the CEOs’ responses were illuminating, proving the pandemic has hurt many software companies’ 2020 top-lines but also provided unprecedented opportunities for growth.
Nearly 90% of respondents say the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted their 2020 top-line results. Seven companies project their top-line annual ARR to come in up to 20% below their pre-COVID plan, while six project results that are 20-50% below their pre-COVID plans. Two companies actually project higher ARR than planned pre-COVID, proving some software business models flourished during work-from-home orders.
Not surprisingly, however, the overall top-line impact of the pandemic for this group was negative in the down 20% to down 50% range. Yet valuations for many private enterprise software companies surged during the pandemic; public market funds and venture investors alike clearly believe organizations will continue their digital transformations via cloud computing, AI, and open source.
Interestingly, many public cloud companies also underperformed in 2020 compared to projected guidance, but they seemed to have weathered the pandemic better than private cloud companies. GGV took a look at published financial records for 36 public cloud companies, and, in aggregate, roughly two-thirds of these companies undershot our estimate of their internal, pre-COVID top-line plans for 2020, but they did so by a smaller margin than the 17 private companies I surveyed. Their median underperformance compared to plan was -2.9%.
The other one-third of the public companies we examined actually exceeded our estimates of their internal, pre-COVID top-line plans. Why did public cloud companies perform better than private ones in 2020? We don’t think public cloud companies are necessarily higher quality than private ones, but, more likely, they were not growing as fast as their private counterparts leading into COVID, so they didn’t have as high a hill to climb to maintain planned internal growth assumptions.
It has also been easier to sell new business into existing accounts than to find new accounts during the pandemic, giving public companies with a large installed base an advantage.
[Note: To identify the public companies’ internal pre-COVID growth plans for 2020, we took the simple average growth rate from the full-year 2020 public guidance these companies offered when reporting their Q4 ’19 results, just prior to the pandemic, and the full-year growth these companies sustained in 2019. Although not perfect, this seems a pretty good proxy for most public companies’ pre-COVID 2020 plans.]
Private cloud companies are already recovering and confident regarding the future. Almost all of the software CEOs we surveyed are more optimistic about 2021 than they are with the reality of 2020. Out of the 17 respondents, 16 believe their businesses will improve in 2021. Seven said their businesses would perform significantly better in 2021, and nine thought business would be mildly better next year. Additionally, while no one knows how the pandemic will play out, two-thirds of the CEOs surveyed believe the pandemic will not impact their businesses beyond 2021.
Many of the CEOs we surveyed believe that, with vaccines becoming widely available, the world will return to some semblance of normal in mid-2021. “I see a massive upswing in in-person experiences such as entertainment, travel, and social engagement beyond pre-COVID levels as people ‘make up for lost time’, and with that, I see corresponding success for tech platforms enabling these,” said one CEO.
“2021 will be the perfect storm for enterprise software—massive IT budget increases, paired with a distributed workforce,” said one CEO. Seeing strong demand for remote workforce technologies, security infrastructure, and data capture and analytics software, the CEOs were confident revenues would improve. “There will be a sustained momentum in digital transformation even as we move past COVID,” predicted one CEO, while another expects an “acceleration of technology that connects people and teams and that creates more business agility.”
As demand for enterprise software booms in 2021, the CEOs believe a shakeout may come later in the year. “Competition between cloud providers will lead to lower margins, with each cloud trying to differentiate themselves with exclusive software,” said one CEO. Another commented that we should expect to see “much higher volatility between the winners and losers, and if the model is right, business will accelerate; if it is not, there will be no room for error and companies will collapse.”
I believe the enterprise software companies that will succeed post-pandemic will fall into three broad categories: those that serve developers with offerings that win their hearts and minds utilizing open source and API-driven models such as Hashicorp, Confluent, and Stripe; those enabling knowledge workers through low-code or no-code apps, such as SmartSheet and Notion; and those helping organizations extract value from massive quantities of data, including Snowflake, Databricks, and MongoDB.
Of course, these companies are already success stories, and many startups will emerge in an ecosystem around these winners in the next few years. With 2020 in the rearview mirror, I’m sure I speak for everyone in that I can’t wait to see what 2021 brings.
I am a Managing Partner at GGV Capital, a global venture capital firm focused on local founders. I invest in Enterprise Tech startups across seed to growth stages and across key areas including Open Source, cloud, infrastructure and cyber security sectors. I have been a VC for the the past 20+ years and in the last decade helped nine companies complete IPOs. I write about the trends and companies driving the next $1 trillion enterprise market and host the Founder Real Talk podcast, where I interview founders and startup executives about about the challenges they face and how they’ve grown from tough experiences.
http://goo.gl/WPKt5w The world is divided in many different ways. We’re divided by invisible national boundaries, which carve up the land into different countries. We’re separated by seas and continents, which force us to live apart. Aside from that, we’re also separated by religion, and culture, and language. Because of all this, it’s sometimes hard to remember that we’re all one human race, and we all need to work together to deal with some of the issues that could change the face of the whole planet.
Imagine a future where every home, office or building is painted with solar panels and its bricks operate as batteries thanks to nanotechnology. There’s a lot of promise, but what is nanotechnology? And is it more science fiction than fact?
When you hear the term nanotech, chances are some sci-fi book or movie pops into your head, where they used the term to explain away some technological wonder or advancement. “Don’t worry about that, it’s nanotech!” It’s become a deus ex machina for science fiction writers.
But what we’re starting to see is that nanotechnology is responsible for great advances in physics, biology, chemistry, engineering and material science. It’s responsible for the new age of modern technology that will help civilization reach for the stars and more.
Nanotechnology refers to our ability to study and engineer technologies at a nanoscale, which is the range from 1 to 100 nanometers. That begs the question, “how small is a nanometer?” Well, if I tell you “A nanometer is one billionth of a meter … or one millionth of a millimeter” I don’t think that really clears things up. I don’t know about you, but my brain breaks trying to think about that scale. So, let’s try to put it in perspective: a human hair is around 75,000 nanometers wide – and remember, the range for nanoscale is 1 to 100 nanometers. Still not doing it for you? Let’s flip it around. Imagine a marble measures 1 nanometer. In comparison to that, the Earth would measure about one meter in diameter.1 Let that sink in for a minute… a marble compared to the size of our entire planet … that’s 1 nanometer compared to 1 meter.
Given how mind-boggling these scales are, we definitely have to give credit to the father of nanotechnology, Physicist Richard Feynman. It all started with the American Physical Society meeting held at the California Institute of Technology on December 29, 1959. Feynman gave a talk titled “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” where he speculated about being able to construct machines down to the molecular level — and the concept behind nanotechnology was born. It wasn’t until 1974 that the term “nanotechnology” was coined by Professor Norio Taniguchi, while he worked on ultraprecision machining.
With the advent of nanotechnology, scientists were now able to manipulate individual atoms. And that takes us into the realm of quantum mechanics, which is the science behind how matter behaves in atomic and subatomic scale. Thankfully, that’s out of scope for this video since that breaks my brain even more, but basically materials at this scale tend to behave differently and exhibit distinctive chemical and physical properties. Scientists were keen to learn and exploit this attribute to craft materials at nanoscale.
Since 1981, we’ve come forward leaps and bounds in the field of Nanotech. There’s so much that I could cover, but in the interest of time, I’ve picked two categories of examples that are helping to make what seemed like science fiction into science fact for our future. But I’d love to hear in the comments if there are any topics or examples you’d like to see covered in a future video.
The first category is one that I talk about a lot: solar. Nanotechnology is leading the charge for solar energy. Most silicon based solar panels, which accounts for about 95% of commercial solar, utilize nanoscale processes for manufacturing. Some are multi-junction solar cells, which layer different solar technologies to broaden the wavelengths of light that are captured and converted into energy. This layer cake of solar cell technologies are measured in nanometers. Thinner than a width of a human hair. But it’s the next generation of solar cells that are being researched now that could takes things to a whole new level.
Imagine the paint on your house or a building acting as a solar panel? Or how about your car? Chemistry professor Richard L. Brutchey from University of Southern California and researcher David H. Webber successfully developed solar collecting paint by using solar-collecting nanocrystals. At only 4 nanometers in size, nanocrystals can float in a liquid solution. You could potentially fit 250 billion nanocrystals on the head of a pin, they’re THAT small. Brutchey and Webber were able to find an organic molecule that would keep the nanocrystals conductive without sticking to each other.
So why isn’t this available in the market yet? Well those nanocrystals were built with cadmium, which is a toxic metal. Researchers have been busy trying to find alternative materials and there are some really promising leads.
Quantum dot solar cells
Quantum dot solar cells are one area to look at. Quantum dots are semiconducting particles that behave differently due to their size and the effects of quantum mechanics, like I mentioned earlier. They have energy similarities to atoms, which is why they’re sometimes referred to as “artificial atoms.” In June 2020 researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory were able to create cadmium-free Quantum Dot solar cells. Their zinc-doped variant has a high defect tolerance and is toxic-element-free.
This year researchers at the University of Queensland were even able to break a new world efficiency record of 16.6% for a quantum dot solar cell made from a halide Perovskite. That’s a 25% improvement in relative efficiency compared to the last record holder from 2017, so there’s fast progress being made. But the big challenge is around commercialization of the breakthrough, so the university is working on a large scale printing process in addition to continuing to improve the efficiency.
Perovskite solar paint
In 2014, researchers at the University of Sheffield were able to develop a spray on solar cell using Perovskite which is a class of man-made compounds that share the same crystalline structure as the calcium titanium oxide mineral with the same name.2,3 It happens to be one of the most promising solar technologies in recent years because it has a broad absorption spectrum. It consists of a 300 nanometer thin film with a crystal structure that aids solar absorption and can operate efficiently during cloudy days as well. Scientific Director at Saule Technologies, Dr. Konrad Wojciechowski, says that this could be printed using an inkjet printer.4
Swedish firm Skanska tested it on a building in 2019 and is expected to start producing it in 2021 with the expected cost to be $58 per meter and an efficiency around 10%.
The reason why all of these examples are so exciting is that a paintable solar cell opens up the floodgates for where you can apply solar power. Painting the walls of a building, not just the roof, or as I mentioned earlier, your car. It should also help to reduce the costs of manufacturing solar technologies, which will make it more accessible. It’s potentially a huge win/win.
The second category I wanted to look at for this video is nanotechnology being applied to energy storage. In a previous video I’ve walked through graphene and carbon nanotubes and how they’re impacting energy storage today. Specifically, in my supercapacitor video I talked about how companies like NAWA Technologies and Skeleton are building out graphene-based supercapacitors today. Skeleton’s products can be found helping to power major tram-systems in big European hubs like Warsaw and Mannheim.5
As a quick refresher, batteries and supercapacitors share some similarities in how they work. In a battery there’s a positive and negative side, which are called the cathode and anode. Those two sides are submerged in a liquid electrolyte and are separated by a micro perforated separator, which only allows ions to pass through. When the battery charges and discharges, the ions flow back and forth between the cathode and anode. But capacitors are different, they don’t rely on chemical play in order to function. Instead, they store potential energy electrostatically. Capacitors use a dielectric, or insulator, between their plates to separate the collection of positive and negative charges building on each plate. It’s this separation that allows the device to store energy and quickly release it6. It’s basically capturing static electricity.
In one recent advancement in batteries from July 2020, scientists from Clemson Nanomaterials Institute were able to achieve high rate capability, fast diffusion, high capacity, and a long cycle life thanks to sandwiching silicone nanoparticles with carbon nanotubes called bucky papers.7 The cycle life for lithium batteries with silicon based anodes is less than 100, but thanks to the new sandwiched silicon electrode structure they were able achieve 500 cycles and deliver three times more capacity than graphite. Silicone happens to have ten times higher capacity than graphite, but it expands by about 300 percent in volume as it absorbs ions. The end result is an anode that breaks apart. This nanostructure counters this factor and would help us replace graphite with silicone, so that our batteries can become safer and lighter.
But I’ve saved the craziest research I’ve seen in a while for last… Nanotechnology could potentially turn bricks into batteries. …well, more like supercapacitors, but that doesn’t have the same alliteration. Washington University’s Institute of Materials Science & Engineering took work from their microsupercapacitor research using Fe2O3 (iron oxide – or rust) as a conducting polymer, also known as rust-assisted vapor-phase polymerization. Rolls right off the tongue. I’m not going to get bogged down into the technical details, partially because of my broken brain, but what sets this process apart is that the nanostructures formed by this process are self-assembled. Other processes like this might take several steps and treatments, which makes this process unique.
So I can hear you asking how does this possibility relate to bricks? That red pigment in your classic brick is … you probably guessed it … Fe2O3 (iron oxide – or rust). By applying their polymer process to a standard red brick, you end up with a capacitor.8 Julio D’Arcy, assistant professor of chemistry, who worked on this research, described it:
“In this work, we have developed a coating of the conducting polymer PEDOT, which is comprised of nanofibers that penetrate the inner porous network of a brick; a polymer coating remains trapped in a brick and serves as an ion sponge that stores and conducts electricity.” -Julio D’Arcy, Assistant Professor9
This process leaves a blue PEDOT coating on one side of the brick, so that could be easily hidden on one side of the brick wall. They estimate that it would take about 50 bricks to power an emergency lighting system for 5 hours, so this clearly isn’t going to power your entire house. But then again, a building is made up of thousands of bricks, so there’s a potential for a building’s brick walls to act as a massive supercapacitor to absorb solar panel overproduction, or to cover peak energy use to smooth out demand, and pair with battery storage in a hybrid setup.
We’re already seeing some of nanotechnologies benefits in the world around us today, but the research and advancements we’re seeing in the lab, like these, are what to look forward to for the future. Nanotech may have been an overused and blanket term that’s lost a little bit of it’s meaning to most of us, but there’s real progress being made.