Boron: Physics’ latest superconducting material

by Gordon Hunt


There’s a decent chance that boron is the only natural two-dimensional superconductive element on Earth, following the discovery of its unique low-temperature properties.

Researchers at Rice University in Texas have established that boron is a resistance-free superconductor in the right environment, moving one major step beyond the fact that it was previously accepted in theory.

The problem – there’s always one – is it’s fairly useless in low temperatures -256oC, however it’s probably the only 2D superconductor around so very small circuits are primed for a boron fix.

Evgeni Penev, Alex Kutana and Boris Yakobson published their paperon the discovery at the same time that samples of the materials began being made in labs in the US and China. This was an inevitable development after an earlier paper from Yakobson and his colleagues predicted how it could be made.

In the 100 years since superconductivity was established, never before had it been tested on boron, according to Penev, who noted the lightness of its atomic mass was always appealing.

“If it’s metallic too, these are two major prerequisites for superconductivity. That means at low temperatures, electrons can pair up in a kind of dance in the crystal,” he said.

“Lower dimensionality is also helpful,” Yakobson said. “It may be the only, or one of very few, two-dimensional metals. So there are three factors that gave the initial motivation for us to pursue the research. Then we just got more and more excited as we got into it.”

Versatility abound

Penev said that boron works as, given its opposite momenta and spins, it creates what are called Cooper pairs. This means they attract each other at low temperatures with the help of lattice vibrations, giving it superconductivity properties.

“We’ve been working to characterise boron for years, from cage clusters to nanotubes to planer sheets, but the fact that these papers appeared so close together means these labs can now test our theories,” Yakobson said.

Boron is quite a versatile material, recently used in a project to successfully drag water-splitting solar energy production one step closer to reality.

A boron-doped photovoltaic project between the Tyndall National Institute in Cork, Queen’s University in Belfast and Stanford University in California just broke the record for generating a voltage from a solar cell submerged in water.

Proving the genetic code’s flexibility

Published: Thursday, March 31, 2016 – 13:55 in Biology & Nature

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Starting from the four innermost letters and working to the outermost ring, this table shows shows which three-letter base sequence or codon encodes which amino acid. In the journal <i>Angewandte Chemie International Ed.</i>, researchers from the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI), a DOE Office of Science User Facility, and Yale University have discovered that microorganisms recognize more than one codon for the rare, genetically encoded amino acid selenocysteine.

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A, C, G and T – stand in for the four chemical bases that store information in DNA. A sequence of these same four letters, repeating in a particular order, genetically defines an organism. Within the genome sequence are shorter, three-letter codons that represent one of the 20 regularly used amino acids, with three of the possible 64 three-letter codons reserved for stop signals. These amino acids are the building blocks of proteins that carry out a myriad of functions. For example, the amino acid alanine can be represented by the three-letter codon GCU and the amino acid cysteine by the three-letter codon UGU. In some organisms, the three-letter codon UGA, which normally signals the end of a protein-coding gene, is hijacked to code for a rare genetically encoded amino acid called selenocysteine. Published ahead online March 16, 2016 in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Ed., researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI), a DOE Office of Science User Facility, and Yale University have discovered that microorganisms recognize more than one codon for selenocysteine. The finding adds credence to recent studies indicating that an organism’s genetic vocabulary is not as constrained as had been long held.

The work is a follow-up to two 2014 publications; a Science paper by the JGI group finding that some organisms interpret the three “stop” codons which terminate translation to mean anything but. A synthetic biology experiment of the Yale group published in an Angewandte Chemie International Ed. paper revealed the astonishing fact that almost all codons in Escherichia coli could be replaced by selenocysteine. This posed the question whether the same phenomenon can also occur in nature.

“Access to the tremendous resources at the JGI allowed us to quickly test challenging hypotheses generated from my research projects that have been supported over the long-term by DOE Basic Energy Sicences and the National Institutes of Health,” said Dieter Soll, Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry Professor of Chemistry at Yale, the lead author of the paper. Thus a fruitful collaboration resulted; the combined team scanned trillions of base pairs of public microbial genomes and unassembled metagenome data in the National Center for Biotechnology Information and the DOE JGI’s Integrated Microbial Genomes (IMG) data management system to find stop codon reassignments in bacteria and bacteriophages. Delving into genomic data from uncultured microbes afforded researchers the opportunity to learn more about how microbes behave in their natural environments, which in turn provides information on their management of the various biogeochemical cycles that help maintain the Earth.

From approximately 6.4 trillion bases of metagenomic sequence and 25,000 microbial genomes, the team identified several species that recognize the stop codons UAG and UAA, in addition to 10 sense codons, as acceptable variants for the selenocysteine codon UGA.

The findings, the team reported, “opens our minds to the possible existence of other coding schemes… Overall our approach provides new evidence of a limited but unequivocal plasticity of the genetic code whose secrets still lie hidden in the majority of unsequenced organisms.”

This finding also illustrates the context-dependency of the genetic code, that accurately “reading” the code (and interpreting DNA sequences) and ultimately “writing” DNA (synthesizing sequences to carry out defined functions in bioenergy or environmental sciences) will require study of the language of DNA past the introductory course level.

Source: DOE/Joint Genome Institute

Battery Energy Storage System Market Worth 6.81 Billion USD by 2022

Published: Mar 31, 2016 11:31 a.m. ET


PUNE, India, Mar 31, 2016 (PR Newswire Europe via COMTEX) — PUNE, India, March 31, 2016 /PRNewswire/ —

According to the new market research report “Battery Energy Storage System Market by Battery Type (Lithium-Ion, Advanced Lead Acid, Flow Batteries,, & Sodium Sulfur), Connection Type (On-Grid and Off-Grid), Ownership, Revenue Source, Application, And Geography – Global Forecast to 2022″, published by MarketsandMarkets, the market is expected to reach USD 6.81 Billion by 2022, growing at a CAGR of 37.0% between 2016 and 2022.
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Factors such as increasing demand for grid-connected solutions, growing electric vehicle market, high requirement of lithium-ion batteries in various applications, and government support are expected to boost the growth of the battery energy storage system market.

The transportation sector expected to lead the battery energy storage system market

The growing implementation of batteries in battery electric vehicles (BEV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) is expected to support the growth of the BESS market. The implementation of battery types such as lithium-ion, Nickel-cadmium (NiCd), Nickel-metal hydride (NiMh), Li-ion polymer is driving the transportation application of the battery energy storage system market. The lithium-ion batteries gain huge traction as they provide high energy and power density in terms of volume and high charge/discharge efficiency and are more lightweight than other batteries such as lead-acid batteries. These factors are supporting the growth of battery energy storage system in transportation sector.

The residential sector expected to grow at a high rate between 2016 and 2022

The market for battery energy storage system for the residential sector is expected to grow at a high CAGR between 2016 and 2022. The residential segment use battery energy storage systems to provide power to houses. The renewable energy such as wind and solar generates power intermittently with high variable output. The ability of BESS to store this energy during peak production is driving the mass adoption of renewable energy in residential and commercial applications. All these factors are expected to drive the residential sector supporting the growth of the battery energy storage system market.

APAC expected to hold the largest market share by 2022

The Battery Energy Storage System Market in Asia-Pacific is expected to hold a large market share by 2022, growing at a high CAGR between 2016 and 2022. The installations of battery energy storage system in various countries in the APAC region such as China, India, and Japan are supporting the growth of the battery energy storage system market. Also, owing to the interest from the residential sector to use renewable resources and growing government support is expected to boost the growth in this region.

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Companies involved in the development of battery energy storage system include ABB Ltd. (Switzerland), AEG Power Solutions (The Netherland), General Electric Co. (U.S.), Hitachi ltd (Japan), LG Chem. (South Korea), NEC Corporation (Japan), Panasonic Corporation (Japan), Samsung SDI Co., ltd. (South Korea), Siemens AG (Germany), and Tesla Motors ltd. (U.S.).

This research report categorizes the global battery energy storage system market on the basis of battery type, connection type, ownership, revenue source, application, and geography. This report describes the drivers, restraints, opportunities, and challenges with respect to the battery energy storage system market. The Porter’s five forces analysis has been included in the report with a description of each of its forces and their respective impact on the battery energy storage system market. Brief information on the research methodology implemented for the report can be found in the report description provided on the website.

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Nest, Google’s $3 Billion Bet, May Be in Trouble

Could Nest be facing a brain drain?

In 2014, Google bought smart-home appliance start-up Nest for $3.2 billion. Last year, the company was adopted under the umbrella of Google parent company Alphabet, which houses several ambitious, experimental projects. But Alphabet seems to be putting pressure on its so-called “moonshots”—which don’t necessarily generate much money for the company—including Nest, which is already facing troubles of its own. A profile last week in The Information cast Nest C.E.O. Tony Fadell as a ruthless leader, while a blog post written in response by Dropcam founder Greg Duffy, whose company was acquired by Nest in a $555 million cash deal in 2014, was deeply critical of Fadell.

Now, a new report from Re/code suggests that Nest’s $340 million 2015 revenue, while impressive, is still short of Wall Street expectations, which range between $400 million and $672 million. When Google bought Nest, it set a $300 million internal sales target for the company; according to sources who spoke with Re/code, Nest only made its numbers as a result of its acquisition of Dropcam, a security-camera start-up. And soon, Nest could have other problems on its hands.

More troubling for Nest is that many of its employees are nearing the time at which their stock options vest—the end of a three-year cycle intended to retain employees after the company was acquired. Fadell’s guaranteed operating budget, reported to be as much as $500 million annually, expires in 2016, along with the stock-vesting schedule. Sources tell Re/code that “some key executives” at Nest could depart once employees’ stocks vest later this year. Former employees say that Dropcam’s sales growth was initially higher than Nest’s other products—a smart thermostat and a smoke detector called Protect—but then Nest rebranded Dropcam as Nest Cam, and sales began to slow.

The turmoil at Nest comes as Google appears to be scaling back its more gutsy initiatives. Two weeks ago, it was reported that the company had decided to part ways with robotics company Boston Dynamics, which it bought in late 2013. Boston Dynamics and its parent company, Replicant, are among a number of moonshots that have faced greater scrutiny since the creation of Alphabet, which allows investors to look more closely at how those projects stand up next to the company’s more lucrative, core Internet businesses. Google also announced Thursday it is folding its debit card program, which it said had millions of customers. Nest, Google’s self-driving-car project, and Google Fiber, for instance, are all Alphabet projects, while Google oversees Android, Google search, and YouTube. Google’s projects, for the most part, have clear revenue paths; the Alphabet projects are still more hypothetical and experimental.

Eating beans, chickpeas or lentils may help with weight loss

Lentils as a superfoodJust one serving a day of pulses, such as lentils, could help with weight loss says a new Canadian study.

Published Thursday, March 31, 2016 8:58AM EDT

Just one serving a day of pulses, including beans, peas, chickpeas or lentils, could help with weight loss says a new Canadian study published this week in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The meta-analysis, carried out by a team from St. Michael’s Hospital, looked at a total of 940 participants from 21 different clinical trials.

The data showed that after adding a single serving of pulses to their diet — about 3/4 cup (130 grams) — participants lost an average 0.34 kg (0.75 pounds) over a six-week period, and without making an effort to reduce any other foods.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Russell de Souza, commented on the results, saying, “Though the weight loss was small, our findings suggest that simply including pulses in your diet may help you lose weight, and we think more importantly, prevent you from gaining it back after you lose it.”

The study also builds on and supports the hospital’s previous work on the health benefits of a daily serving of pulses, which found that they can increase the feeling of fullness by 31 per cent, and decrease levels of “bad cholesterol” by 5 per cent.

This feeling of fullness could be important in controlling weight, with Dr de Souza commenting that 90 percent of weight loss interventions fail, possibly as a results of hunger and food cravings.

Dr de Souza also added that, “Despite their known health benefits, only 13 percent of Canadians eat pulses on any given day and most do not eat the full serving. So there is room for most of us to incorporate dietary pulses in our diet and realize potential weight management benefits.”

In an effort to increase public awareness on the many health benefits of pulses, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses.

The new findings come after the news last week that a high-protein diet, of which pulses are a great source, could help overweight and obese adults sleep better.

Discovery of a magnet capable of controlling Dirac fermions with zero mass
March 31, 2016
Discovery of a magnet capable of controlling Dirac fermions with zero mass
(A to D) Temperature dependence of magnetic and transport properties near the AFM transition temperature (TN) for EuMnBi2. (A) Magnetic susceptibility M/H for the field parallel to the c axis (H||c) at 0.1 T (blue) and 7 T (red). Open …more
A group of researchers from Osaka University and The University of Tokyo succeeded in synthesizing two-dimensional layers of bismuth (Bi) with Dirac electrons and magnetic multilayer blocks of europium.

Using flux growth in a high vacuum, this group succeeded in the synthesis of EuMnBi2, a layered substance of high-quality single crystal thought to have both properties of Dirac fermions and magnets. This substance features hybrid architecture consisting of two-dimensional layers of Bi with Dirac electrons and europium with magnetic properties.
In order to verify the strong correlation between Dirac fermions and the magnetic state, this group measured electric resistance in a strong magnetic field (some 30 to 60 tesla) at The Institute for Solid State Physics of The University of Tokyo and the High Field Laboratory for Superconducting Materials of Tohoku University.
In order to elucidate the magnetic state, the group conducted magnetic scattering experiments of radiated x-rays at the Photon Factory of the Institute of Materials Structure Science, High Energy Accelerator Research Organization.
As a result, they found that electric resistance significantly changed according to the magnetic order of europium. They also found that when a magnetic field was applied perpendicularly to the surface and the direction of magnetic moment was rotated by 90 degrees, the conductivity perpendicular to the surface was suppressed by 10 percent and Dirac fermions were confined within the surface.
Furthermore, by confining Dirac electrons in the two-dimensional layer of Bi, or the superconducting layer, through the use of this effect, this joint group achieved a bulk half-integer quantum Hall effect, in which the value of the Hall resistance becomes discrete, in a bulk magnet of Dirac fermions for the first time.
This group’s achievement will develop a new field of study, strong correlated quantum conductance of Dirac electrons, and contribute to realizing super high-speed spintronics, the foundation of high-speed and energy-saving electronics.
Explore further: Scanning tunneling microscopy reveals the exotic properties of an unusual type of electron
More information: H. Masuda et al. Quantum Hall effect in a bulk antiferromagnet EuMnBi2 with magnetically confined two-dimensional Dirac fermions, Science Advances (2016). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1501117
Journal reference: Science Advances
Provided by: Osaka University
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