This article is published in collaboration with Medium.
The eighteenth century’s cotton looms and steam engines overturned the way the world worked in the first industrial revolution. Then came mass production, with the efficient factories of the early twentieth century changing the nature of labour. Then the computer age, as PCs gradually shrank from the size of a room to something that would fit in the palm of your hand.
And now we’re in the middle of the most profound and fast-moving economic shift of them all. Man and machine are converging, digitisation is disrupting everything, new technologies are emerging more quickly than we can imagine them, let alone think up the rules to govern their use. This is the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a new era where we will be able to 3D-print both livers and guns.
Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution is the theme of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2016 in Davos. Before we can master it, we need to define it.
Here, Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman at the World Economic Forum, explains how this revolution differs from others in its speed, breadth and impact.
What does this change mean to you? Can you provide a concrete example of how the Fourth Industrial Revolution will play out in your community, your industry, or even in your family? What should we do to manage its risks and reap its rewards?
We are inviting essay submissions of up to 900 words on the theme of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. A shortlist of five essays will be published on the World Economic Forum’s Agenda blog platform, which is read by 1.5 million people a month. The winning essay will be shared with delegates at Davos and promoted across our social media channels during the meeting, while the winner will receive a signed copy of Professor Klaus Schwab’s book.
If you would like to enter, please follow these steps:
1. Publish your essay on Medium
2. Tag your essay “Davos essay contest”
3. Email the link to firstname.lastname@example.org
4. The deadline for submissions is December 31st. The shortlist will be announced on Medium and Forum Agenda on January 11th, and the winner on January 18th.
5. The contest is for members of the public. World Economic Forum staff and constituents are not eligible.
Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.
To keep up with the Agenda subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Author: Ceri Parker is Commissioning Editor at the World Economic Forum.
29 Dec 2015
An example of a metasurface, which can create negative refraction. (Image: Birck Nanotechnology Center, Purdue University)
Posted: Dec 28, 2015
A team of scientists from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) and the Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics in the Russian Academy of Sciences has proposed a two-dimensional metamaterial composed of silver elements, that refracts light in an unusual way.
The research has been published on November 18 in Optical Material Express (“Negative-angle refraction and reflection of visible light with a planar array of silver dimers”). In the future, these structures will be able to be used to develop compact optical devices, as well as to create an “invisibility cloak.”
The results of computer simulations carried out by the authors showed that it would be a high performance material for light with a wavelength from 400-500nm (violet, blue and light blue). Efficiency in this case is defined as the percentage of light scattered in a desired direction. The efficiency of the material is approximately 70% for refraction, and 80% for reflection of the light.
Theoretically, the efficiency could reach 100%, but in real metals there are losses due to ohm resistance.
A metamaterial is a material, the properties of which are created by an artificial periodic structure. The prefix “meta” indicates that the characteristics of the material are beyond what we see in nature. Most often, when we talk about metamaterials, we mean materials with a negative refractive index.
When light is incident on the surface of such a material, the refracted light is on the same side of the normal to the surface as the incident light. The difference between the behaviour of the light in a medium with a positive and a negative refractive index can be seen, for example, when a rod is immersed in liquid.
The existence of substances with a negative refractive index was predicted as early as the middle of the 20th century. In 1976 Soviet physicist V.G. Veselago published an article that theoretically describes their properties, including an unusual refraction of light. The term “metamaterials” for such substances was suggested by Roger Walser in 1999. The first samples of metamaterials were made from arrays of thin wires and only worked with microwave radiation.
Importantly, the unusual optical effects do not necessarily imply the use of the volumetric (3d) metamaterials. You can also manipulate the light with the help of two-dimensional structures – so-called metasurfaces. In fact, it is a thin film composed of individual elements.
An example of a metasurface, which can create negative refraction
An example of a metasurface, which can create negative refraction. (Image: Birck Nanotechnology Center, Purdue University)
The principle of operation of the metasurface is based on the phenomenon of diffraction. Any flat periodic array can be viewed as a diffraction lattice, which splits the incident light into a few rays. The number and direction of the rays depends on geometrical parameters: the angle of incidence, wavelength and the period of the lattice. The structure of the unit cell, in turn, determines how the energy of the incident light is distributed between the rays. For a negative refractive index it is necessary that all but one of the diffraction rays are suppressed, then all of the incident light will be directed in the required direction.
This idea underlies the recent work by the group of scientists from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and the Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics. The unit cell of the proposed lattice is composed of a pair of closely spaced silver cylinders with a radius of the order of 100 nanometres (see figure). Such a structure is simple and operates at optical wavelengths, while most analogues have more complex geometries and only work with microwaves.
The effective interaction of pairs of metal cylinders with light is due to the plasmon resonance effect. Light is absorbed by the metal rods, forcing the electrons in the metal to oscillate and re-radiate. Researchers were able to adjust the parameters of the cell so that the resulting optical lattice response is consistent with abnormal (i.e. negative) refraction of the incident wave (see figure). Interestingly, by reversing the orientation of the cylinder pairs you can get an abnormal reflection effect. It should be noted that the scheme works with a wide range of angles of incidence.
Abnormal refraction of light on a metamaterial
Variants of the proposed structure for the pair of silver cylinders. (Image courtesy of the authors of the study)
The results achieved can be applied to control optical signals in ultra-compact devices. In this case we are talking primarily about optical transmission and information processing technologies, which will help expedite computer processing in the future. The conventional electrical interconnects used in modern chips are operating at the limit of their carrying capacities and inhibit further growth in computing performance.To replace the electrical interconnects by optical we need to be able to effectively control optical signals at nanoscale. In order to solve this problem the efforts of the scientific community are focused to a large extent on creating structures capable of “turning” the light in the desired direction.
It should be noted that an experimental demonstration of anomalous scattering using the lattice described above requires the manufacture of smooth metal cylinders separated by a very small distance (less than 10 nanometres). This is quite a difficult practical problem, the solution of which could be a breakthrough for modern photonics.
Source: Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology
With that in mind, researchers at Case Western Reserve University have developed flexible wire-shaped microsupercapacitors that can be woven into a jacket, shirt or dress.
By their design or by connecting the capacitors in series or parallel, the devices can be tailored to match the charge storage and delivery needs of electronics donned.
While there’s been progress in development of those electronics–body cameras, smart glasses, sensors that monitor health, activity trackers and more–one challenge remaining is providing less obtrusive and cumbersome power sources.
“The area of clothing is fixed, so to generate the power density needed in a small area, we grew radially-aligned titanium oxide nanotubes on a titanium wire used as the main electrode,” said Liming Dai, the Kent Hale Smith Professor of Macromolecular Science and Engineering. “By increasing the surface area of the electrode, you increase the capacitance.”
Dai and Tao Chen, a postdoctoral fellow in molecular science and engineering at Case Western Reserve, published their research on the microsupercapacitor in the journal Energy Storage Materials this week. The study builds on earlier carbon-based supercapacitors.
A capacitor is cousin to the battery, but offers the advantage of charging and releasing energy much faster.
How it works
In this new supercapacitor, the modified titanium wire is coated with a solid electrolyte made of polyvinyl alcohol and phosphoric acid. The wire is then wrapped with either yarn or a sheet made of aligned carbon nanotubes, which serves as the second electrode. The titanium oxide nanotubes, which are semiconducting, separate the two active portions of the electrodes, preventing a short circuit.
In testing, capacitance–the capability to store charge–increased from 0.57 to 0.9 to 1.04 milliFarads per micrometer as the strands of carbon nanotube yarn were increased from 1 to 2 to 3.
When wrapped with a sheet of carbon nanotubes, which increases the effective area of electrode, the microsupercapactitor stored 1.84 milliFarads per micrometer. Energy density was 0.16 x 10-3 milliwatt-hours per cubic centimeter and power density .01 milliwatt per cubic centimeter.
Whether wrapped with yarn or a sheet, the microsupercapacitor retained at least 80 percent of its capacitance after 1,000 charge-discharge cycles. To match various specific power needs of wearable devices, the wire-shaped capacitors can be connected in series or parallel to raise voltage or current, the researchers say.
When bent up to 180 degrees hundreds of times, the capacitors showed no loss of performance. Those wrapped in sheets showed more mechanical strength.
“They’re very flexible, so they can be integrated into fabric or textile materials,” Dai said. “They can be a wearable, flexible power source for wearable electronics and also for self-powered biosensors or other biomedical devices, particularly for applications inside the body.”
Dai ‘s lab is in the process of weaving the wire-like capacitors into fabric and integrating them with a wearable device.
- Tao Chen, Liming Dai. Flexible and wearable wire-shaped microsupercapacitors based on highly aligned titania and carbon nanotubes. Energy Storage Materials, 2016; 2: 21 DOI: 10.1016/j.ensm.2015.11.004
A team of researchers working in China has found a way to dramatically improve the energy storage capacity of supercapacitors—by doping carbon tubes with nitrogen. In their paper published in the journal Science, the team describes their process and how well the newly developed supercapacitors worked, and their goal of one day helping supercapacitors compete with batteries.
Like a battery, a capacitor is able to hold a charge, unlike a battery, however, it is able to be charged and discharged very quickly—the down side to capacitors is that they cannot hold nearly as much charge per kilogram as batteries. The work by the team in China is a step towards increasing the amount of charge that can be held by supercapacitors (capacitors that have much higher capacitance than standard capacitors—they generally employ carbon-based electrodes)—in this case, they report a threefold increase using their new method—noting also that that their supercapacitor was capable of storing 41 watt-hours per kilogram and could deliver 26 kilowatts per kilogram to a device.
The new supercapacitor was made by first forming a template made of tubes of silica. The team then covered the inside of the tubes with carbon using chemical vapor deposition and then etched away the silica, leaving just the carbon tubes, each approximately 4 to 6 nanometers in length. Then, the carbon tubes were doped with nitrogen atoms. Electrodes were made from the resulting material by pressing it in powder form into a graphene foam. The researchers report that the doping aided in chemical reactions within the supercapacitor without causing any changes to its electrical conductivity, which meant that it was still able to charge and discharge as quickly as conventional supercapcitors. The only difference was the dramatically increased storage capacity.
Because of the huge increase in storage capacity, the team believes they are on the path to building a supercapacitor able to compete directly with batteries, perhaps even lithium-ion batteries. They note that would mean being able to charge a phone in mere seconds. But before that can happen, the team is looking to industrialize their current new supercapacitor, to allow for its use in actual devices.
More information: T. Lin et al. Nitrogen-doped mesoporous carbon of extraordinary capacitance for electrochemical energy storage, Science (2015). DOI: 10.1126/science.aab3798
Carbon-based supercapacitors can provide high electrical power, but they do not have sufficient energy density to directly compete with batteries. We found that a nitrogen-doped ordered mesoporous few-layer carbon has a capacitance of 855 farads per gram in aqueous electrolytes and can be bipolarly charged or discharged at a fast, carbon-like speed. The improvement mostly stems from robust redox reactions at nitrogen-associated defects that transform inert graphene-like layered carbon into an electrochemically active substance without affecting its electric conductivity. These bipolar aqueous-electrolyte electrochemical cells offer power densities and lifetimes similar to those of carbon-based supercapacitors and can store a specific energy of 41 watt-hours per kilogram (19.5 watt-hours per liter).
28 Dec 2015
|A group of researchers in Japan and China identified the requirements for the development of new types of extremely low power consumption electric devices by studying Cr-doped (Sb,Bi)2Te3 thin films. This study has been reported in Nature Communications (“Carrier-mediated ferromagnetism in the magnetic topological insulator Cr-doped (Sb,Bi)2Te3“).|
|At extremely low temperatures, an electric current flows around the edge of the film without energy loss, and under no external magnetic field. This attractive phenomenon is due to the material’s ferromagnetic properties; however, so far, it has been unclear how the material gains this property. For the first time, researchers have revealed the mechanism by which this occurs. “Hopefully, this achievement will lead to the creation of novel materials that operate at room temperature in the future,” said Akio Kimura, a professor at Hiroshima University and a member of the research group.|
|Ferromagnetism mediated by Sb or Te atoms. (Image: Hiroshima University)|
|Their achievement can be traced back to the discovery of the quantum Hall effect in the 1980’s, where an electric current flows along an edge (or interface) without energy loss. However, this requires both a large external magnetic field and an extremely low temperature. This is why practical applications have not been possible. Researchers believed that this problem could be overcome with new materials called topological insulators that have ferromagnetic properties such as those found in Cr-doped (Sb,Bi)2Te3.|
|A topological insulator, predicted in 2005 and first observed in 2007, is neither a metal nor an insulator, and has exotic properties. For example, an electric current is generated only at the surface or the edge of the material, while no electric current is generated inside it. It looks as if only the surface or the edge of the material has metallic properties, while on the inside it is an insulator.|
|At extremely low temperatures, a thin film made of Cr-doped (Sb,Bi)2Te3 shows a peculiar phenomenon. As the film itself is ferromagnetic, an electric current is spontaneously generated without an external magnetic field and electric current flows only around the edge of the film without energy loss. However, it was previously unknown as to why Cr-doped (Sb,Bi)2Te3 had such ferromagnetic properties that allowed it to generate electric current.|
|“That’s why we selected the material as the object of our study,” said Professor Kimura.|
|Because Cr is a magnetic element, a Cr atom is equivalent to an atomic-sized magnet. The N-S orientations of such atomic-sized magnets tend to be aligned in parallel by the interactions between the Cr atoms. When the N-S orientations of Cr atoms in Cr-doped (Sb,Bi)2Te3 are aligned in parallel, the material exhibits ferromagnetism. However, the interatomic distances between the Cr atoms in the material are, in fact, too long to interact sufficiently to make the material ferromagnetic.|
|The group found that the non-magnetic element atoms, such as the Sb and Te atoms, mediate the magnetic interactions between Cr atoms and serve as the glue to fix the N-S orientations of Cr atoms that face one direction. In addition, the group expects that its finding will provide a way to increase the critical temperature for relevant device applications.|
|The experiments for this research were mainly conducted at SPring-8. “We would not have achieved perfect results without the facilities and the staff there. They devoted themselves to detecting the extremely subtle magnetism that the atoms of non-magnetic elements exhibit with extremely high precision. I greatly appreciate their efforts,” Kimura said.|
|Source: Hiroshima University|
Researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a first-of-its-kind self-healing gel that repairs and connects electronic circuits, creating opportunities to advance the development of flexible electronics, biosensors and batteries as energy storage devices.
Although technology is moving toward lighter, flexible, foldable and rollable electronics, the existing circuits that power them are not built to flex freely and repeatedly self-repair cracks or breaks that can happen from normal wear and tear.
Until now, self-healing materials have relied on application of external stimuli such as light or heat to activate repair. The UT Austin “supergel” material has high conductivity (the degree to which a material conducts electricity) and strong mechanical and electrical self-healing properties.
“In the last decade, the self-healing concept has been popularized by people working on different applications, but this is the first time it has been done without external stimuli,” said mechanical engineering assistant professor Guihua Yu, who developed the gel. “There’s no need for heat or light to fix the crack or break in a circuit or battery, which is often required by previously developed self-healing materials.”
Yu and his team created the self-healing gel by combining two gels: a self-assembling metal-ligand gel that provides self-healing properties and a polymer hydrogel that is a conductor. A paper on the synthesis of their hydrogel appears in the November issue of Nano Letters.
In this latest paper, the researchers describe how they used a disc-shaped liquid crystal molecule to enhance the conductivity, biocompatibility and permeability of their polymer hydrogel. They were able to achieve about 10 times the conductivity of other polymer hydrogels used in bioelectronics and conventional rechargeable batteries. The nanostructures that make up the gel are the smallest structures capable of providing efficient charge and energy transport.
In a separate paper published in Nano Letters in September, Yu introduced the self-healing hybrid gel. The second ingredient of the self-healing hybrid gel is a metal-ligand supramolecular gel. Using terpyridine molecules to create the framework and zinc atoms as a structural glue, the molecules form structures that are able to self-assemble, giving it the ability to automatically heal after a break.
When the supramolecular gel is introduced into the polymer hydrogel, forming the hybrid gel, its mechanical strength and elasticity are enhanced.
To construct the self-healing electronic circuit, Yu believes the self-healing gel would not replace the typical metal conductors that transport electricity, but it could be used as a soft joint, joining other parts of the circuit.
“This gel can be applied at the circuit’s junction points because that’s often where you see the breakage,” he said. “One day, you could glue or paste the gel to these junctions so that the circuits could be more robust and harder to break.”
Yu’s team is also looking into other applications, including medical applications and energy storage, where it holds tremendous potential to be used within batteries to better store electrical charge.
Yu’s research has received funding from the National Science Foundation, the American Chemical Society, the Welch Foundation and 3M.
- Yaqun Wang, Ye Shi, Lijia Pan, Yu Ding, Yu Zhao, Yun Li, Yi Shi, Guihua Yu. Dopant-Enabled Supramolecular Approach for Controlled Synthesis of Nanostructured Conductive Polymer Hydrogels. Nano Letters, 2015; 15 (11): 7736 DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.5b03891
The right blend of polymers enables rapid and molecule-selective filtering of tiny particles from water.
A method of fabricating polymer membranes with nanometer-scale holes that overcomes some practical challenges has been demonstrated by KAUST researchers.
Porous membranes can filter pollutants from a liquid, and the smaller the holes, the finer the particles the membrane can remove. The KAUST team developed a block copolymer membrane with pores as small as 1.5 nanometers but with increased water flux, the volume processed per hour by a membrane of a certain area.
A nanofilter needs to be efficient at rejecting specific molecules, be producible on a large scale, filter liquid quickly and be resistant to fouling or the build-up of removed micropollutants on the surface.
Block copolymers have emerged as a viable material for this application. Their characteristics allow them to self-assemble into regular patterns that enable the creation of nanoporous materials with pores as small as 10 nanometers.
However, reducing the size further to three nanometers has only been possible by post-treating the membrane (depositing gold, for example2). Moreover, smaller holes usually reduce the water flux.
Klaus-Viktor Peinemann from the KAUST Advanced Membranes & Porous Materials Center and Suzana Nunes from the KAUST Biological and Environmental Science and Engineering Division formed a multidisciplinary team to find a solution.
“We mixed two block copolymers in a casting solution, tuning the process by choosing the right copolymer systems, solvents, casting conditions,” explained Haizhou Yu, a postdoctoral fellow in Peinemann’s group. This approach is an improvement on alternatives because it doesn’t require material post-treatment.
Peinemann and colleagues blended polystyrene-b-poly(acrylic acid) and polystyrene-b-poly(4-vinylpyridine) in a ratio of six to one. This created a sponge-like layer with a 60 nanometer film on top. Material analysis showed that nanoscale pores formed spontaneously without the need for direct patterning1.
The researchers used their nanofiltration material to filter the biological molecule protoporphyrin IX from water. The filter simultaneously allowed another molecule, lysine, to pass through, demonstrating its molecular selectivity. The researchers were able to filter 540 liters per hour for every square meter of membrane, which is approximately 10 times faster than commercial nanofiltration membranes.
The groups teamed up with Victor Calo from the University’s Physical Science and Engineering Division to develop computer models to understand the mechanism of pore formation. They showed that the simultaneous decrease in pore size and increase in flux was possible because, while the pores are smaller, the pore density in the block copolymer is higher.
“In the future, we hope to optimize membranes for protein separation and other applications by changing the copolymer composition, synthesizing new polymers and mixing with additives,” said Nunes.
The above post is reprinted from materials provided by KAUST – King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
- Yu, H., Qiu, X., Moreno, N., Ma, Z., Calo, V. M., Nunes, S. P. & Peinemann, K.-V. Self-assembled asymmetric block copolymer membranes: Bridging the gap from ultra- to nanofiltration. Angewandte Chemie International Edition, December 2015
- Haizhou Yu, Xiaoyan Qiu, Suzana P. Nunes, Klaus-Viktor Peinemann. Self-Assembled Isoporous Block Copolymer Membranes with Tuned Pore Sizes. Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 2014; 53 (38): 10072 DOI: 10.1002/anie.201404491