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Gizmorama - October 17, 2016

Good Morning,

A research team has found the perfect inspiration to create a new type of anti-reflective surface. Well, I guess it's nice to see that cicada wings are finally getting their due.

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- Scientists model anti-relective surfaces after cicada wings --*

SHANGHAI - A team of researchers from China's Shanghai Jiao Tong University recently developed a new class of anti-reflective materials using nanostructures derived from titanium dioxide. The scientists cited cicada wings as their inspiration.

Cicada wings are marked by periodic conical structures, which researchers call "nano-nipples." Scientists were able to texture materials with tiny titanium dioxide structures that mimic the miniature dots. The added texture diminished the materials' reflectivity.

The tiny dots deflect light from a variety of angles into the space between each structure. The light becomes permanently trapped.

"The multiple reflective and scattering effects of the antireflective structures prevented the incident light from returning to the outside atmosphere," lead researcher Wang Zhang explained in a news release.

Researchers say the biomorphic titanium dioxide structures are relatively easy and cheap to produce.

"[They] show great potential for photovoltaic devices such as solar cells," Zhang added. "We expect our work to inspire and motivate engineers to develop antireflective surfaces with unique structures for various practical applications."

The nanostructures found on cicada wings have previously inspired novel antimicrobial materials.

The latest research was published in the journal Applied Physics Letters.

*-- Engineers build carbon-free supercapacitor --*

BOSTON - Today's supercapacitors, energy storage devices capable of quickly delivering a large charge, feature carbon-derived components -- the production of which requires harsh chemicals and large amounts of energy.

Recently, scientists at MIT built a supercapacitor without carbon. In place of carbon, scientists deployed metal-organic frameworks, or MOFs.

"We've found an entirely new class of materials for supercapacitors," Mircea Dinca, an MIT associate professor of chemistry, told MIT News.

MOFs are porous, sponge-like materials with a lot of surface area -- an important quality for supercapacitor materials. Unfortunately, MOFs aren't all that conductive, another important quality.

"One of our long-term goals was to make these materials electrically conductive," Dinca said.

It's a goal some scientists thought was impossible.

Though MOFs don't conduct electricity very well, they do conduct ions, positively charged atoms and molecules. Ion conductivity is a key component of high-functioning electrode. The quality gave researchers hope that an MOF could be used in supercapacitors.

Through trial and error, researchers were able to develop an electrically conductive MOF using nickel.

When researchers made a supercapacitor using the novel material, they matched the performance of today's best carbon-based supercapacitors. In some respects -- like its ability to withstand many charge-discharge cycles -- it outperformed commercial supercapacitors.

Though the production of MOFs currently requires the use of rather expensive materials, the production process involves fewer toxic chemicals.

Researchers hope their findings -- detailed in the journal Nature Materials -- are just the beginning. The MOF used by Dinca and his research partners boasts one of the smaller surface areas of the class. New and improved MOFs could offer even greater capacity.


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