Women in Nanoscience


Women in Nano Blog

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Patching neurons with graphene- can this help cure Parkinson's?

Posted on March 22, 2016 at 4:30 PM Comments comments (0)

Since its discovery in 2004, graphene has intrigued us because of its extraordinary properties It is a million times thinner than a human hair, has great tensile strength and impressive electronic properties. These qualities can be employed to make our computers faster, batteries more powerful and solar cells more efficient. But Laura Ballerini, a professor of Physiology at the University of Trieste, Italy, and her post-doc., Alessandra Fabbro, are using graphene in a totally unique way. (Fabbro A., et. al. ‘Graphene-Based Interfaces do not Alter Target Nerve Cells.’ ACS Nano (2016). DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.5b05647 - See more here.) In collaboration with U.K.’s Cambridge Graphene Center, her group recently showed that pristine graphene-based materials – produced using common synthesis methods like liquid phase exfoliation (LPE) or ball milling (BM) -- can be used to stick to nerve cells without hurting them and providing electrodes that could restore sensory function to amputees and those with Parkinson’s disease.

(At nanoscience school in Cape Town together with other famous female scientists (from left: Laura Ballerini, Silvia Onesti, Loredana Casalis and Viola Voegel).

Ballerini said of this work: "For the first time we interfaced graphene to neurons directly. We then tested the ability of neurons to generate electrical signals known to represent brain activities, and found that the neurons retained their neuronal signalling properties, unaltered. This is the first functional study of neuronal synaptic activity using uncoated graphene based materials."

(During a photo shoot in the lab by Fabrizio Giraldi (a photographer) this picture is taken from backstage by one of her students.)

In addition to the obvious advantages of excellent conductivity and flexibility that this 2-D material provides, it is highly receptive to neurons’ electrical impulses and is biocompatible with minimal cytotoxic effects. This has opened new avenues for scientist all over the world to play around with different forms of graphene in order to develop highly specialized bio-devices that can be directly implanted inside a human brain. These devices offer promise to help cure neurological disorders like epilepsy or Parkinson's disease. Read more here.

(Credit: Modified by Susanna Bosi from image licensed from ktdesign/shutterstock.com).

Prof. Ballerini holds a joint appointment as full professor of Physiology from SISSA-ISAS (the Biophysics Sector of the International School for Advanced Studies) and the University of Trieste. Alessandra Fabbro’s batchelor’s degree was in biological sciences from the University of Trieste, Italy and a PhD in neuroscience from the International School for Advanced Studies in 2006. She was a post-doc with Prof. D. Peitrobon at the University of Padova, Italy, studying neurotransmission in cortical neurons of mice to understand a rare form of migraine. Since 2009, Alessandra has been working with Prof. Ballerini as a post-doc to study the bio-compatibility of carbon nanotubes and graphene with human neuronal cells.

- Written by Nakita Sengar, edited by Paulette Clancy

(Photo credit: Provided by and used with permission from Prof. Laura Ballerini.)

Eun Seon Cho (LBNL) creates a super-sponge for hydrogen gas molecules in fuel cells

Posted on March 22, 2016 at 4:20 PM Comments comments (0)

The market share of electric-drive vehicles, including full-electric, hybrids, and plug-in hybrid vehicles in 2015, now contributes about 3 percent of car sales. But not much success has been made in getting hydrogen-powered vehicles on the road. A number of major car companies, including Toyota, Honda and General Motors, are investing in making hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, but the major roadblock they face is the difficulty in storing dense hydrogen gas safely.

(Eun Seon in her lab at LBNL in 2016).

In a recent paper in Nature Communications, Dr. Eun Seon Cho, a post-doc at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), and her colleagues came up with a new recipe for a battery-like hydrogen fuel cell which can store exceptionally dense hydrogen gas - (6.5 wt% and 0.105 kg H2 per litre in the total composite). They used Mg nanocrystals encapsulated by atomically thin, gas- selective reduced graphene oxide sheets (rGO) as a storage system for hydrogen. The Mg nanocrystals act as a sponge to hold the hydrogen gas, while the graphene layer protects the nanocrystals from oxygen and other impurities and allows the small hydrogen molecules to pass through it. What’s neat about this ensemble is that the unwanted degradation of metal hydrides is prevented due to selective filtering provided by the graphene layer. This means that the overall storage tank size is reduced because of the faster fuelling permitted by their use of nanocrystals.

(End of the year lunch with her research group at LBNL in 2015).

Cho says that, among current metal hydride-based materials, their method promises better performance in terms of capacity, reversibility, kinetics and stability. Her next step is to try different catalysts to improve the speed and efficiency of these chemical reactions.

(Eun Seon loves travelling. This is her picture from her trip to South Korea (the city of Jeonju) in 2013.)

Eun Seon has been a post-doc scholar with LBNL’s Molecular Foundry since 2013. She received her bachelors and master’s degrees from Seoul National University and a PhD from MIT in materials science and engineering. Her current career goal is to become a faculty member and have more fun in the nanoscience field.

(Eun Seon in Switzerland (Grindelwald) in 2012).

(Photo credit: Provided by and used with permission from Dr. Eun Seon Cho).

- Written by Nakita Sengar, edited by Paulette Clancy

What's the best country to be a working woman?

Posted on March 22, 2016 at 4:10 PM Comments comments (0)

The Economist magazine, known not to pull punches, has compiled statistics on the best (and worst) countries to be a working woman.

It's interesting and (yes, we admit it, fun) to play with their slider bars to weight 10 issues that matter to women, such as wage gap, women on company boards, paid leave for mothers (and fathers) and see how your country fares. There are 30 countries listed; take a look.

- Written by Paulette Clancy

Technion holds first ever Israel-wide "Tech Women" conference for high school women

Posted on March 22, 2016 at 3:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Universities frequently bemoan the lack of women in STEM majors. But Technion is determined to do something about it. On March 2, 2016, they held their first ever conference for high school women to introduce them to career options in science and engineering and they invited the whole country!


Technion does well in attracting women; overall, it is now 37% women, according to Technion's president, Peretz Lavie, but their goal is 50% representation by women in all disciplines. Most impressive is the 44% women graduate students, although Technion (like us in U.S. STEM faculties) has a poor representation of women faculty.


Nearly 700 women high schoolers attended this event. They heard some inspirational stories from female role models. Here are WiN's favorites (and note that they are equally true for every country in the world):


Assistant Prof. Yael Yaniv (Biomed. Engr.): “I attended... High School... in Haifa. I was very happy when they opened a math program, but on the first day I found out that I was the only girl and I wanted to quit. Fortunately for me, my mother didn’t let me give up."


Prof. Daniella Raveh (Aerospace Engr.): “I really love airplanes. They are my occupation and my hobby. I am fortunate in being able to do what I love and I also have a pilot’s license. Aeronautics is a field that’s suitable for men and women alike."


President Lavie: "This special day was designed to convince female students that they belong here at the Technion and that they can do it. Our future in the State of Israel is based on engineering and scientific knowledge." [Insert your own university and country here and the statement still rings true.]

- Written by Paulette Clancy

Weiyang Li (Dartmouth) develops new magnetically controlled batteries for efficient energy storage

Posted on March 13, 2016 at 9:55 AM Comments comments (0)

There is a relentless demand for efficient, cost-effective and preferably large-scale energy storage systems for power grids especially as we gear up to harness intermittent renewable energy resources like the sun and wind. Current storage techniques include flow batteries which are attractive for their scalability and design flexibility. These batteries store fluids containing active materials in external reservoirs and pump them through a power stack to provide electricity. Unfortunately, these batteries operate at low voltages and have low energy densities. These factors make them too expensive to operate at large scales.

(Weiyang Li on a relaxed wine tasting trip to Sonoma County, California in Feb 2014).

To tackle these challenges, Prof. Weiyang Li, a new assistant professor at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth, along with her post-doc co-workers at Stanford, recently developed a novel battery using magnetic field-amplified lithium polysulfide materials (Li-PS). Unlike conventional methods, they used a unique biphasic solution of lithium polysulfide conventional methods, they used a unique biphasic solution of lithium polysulfide (Li2S8) and and magnetic nanoparticles (NPs) that completely eliminates the need for a pump. Thanks to the super-magnetic nature of the nanoparticles, the whole polysulfide phase acts as a ferro-liquid whose flow can be completely controlled by the magnetic field. Read more here.

(Weiyang Li hiking with her husband, Sheng Liu, in Antelope Canyon, Arizona in May 2015).

Weiyang (Fiona) Li has had an interestingly diverse education: She was educated as a chemist at Nankai University, China. Her Ph.D. was in biomedical engineering from the Washington University at St. Louis, with post-doc training in materials science at Stanford University. She joined the Dartmouth fauculty this January. Her research in energy materials focus on functional nanomaterials design and synthesis, storage and conversion design, battery technologies and fuel cells.

- Written by Nakita Sengar, edited by Paulette Clancy

(Photo credit: Provided by and used with permission from Prof. Weiyang Li.)

Who doesn't love chocolates?... Jennifer Dailey uses this to make her materials class more interesting

Posted on March 8, 2016 at 6:30 PM Comments comments (0)

Jennifer Dailey, a doctoral student in material science and engineering at Johns Hopkins University, teaches thermodynamics using chocolate as her “material.” In a recent article in the Washington Post, Dailey finds chocolates to be as effective a teaching medium as teaching with metals, and more appealing to students. Dailey uses techniques like scanning electron microscopy, X-ray diffraction and nano-indentation in her chocolates class to help students understand principles of molecular structure and crystallography. What a great way to engage students! Read more here.

(Jennifer Dailey teaching her class using chocolate at Johns Hopkins U.)

Jennifer Dailey is a PhD candidate in Prof. Howard Katz’s lab at JHU where she conducts research to create sensors for applications, such as food safety. She has won a prestigious NSF graduate fellowship for her research proposal of building biosensors using carbon nanotubes.

- Written by Nakita Sengar, edited by Paulette Clancy

(Photo credit: Used with permission, credit to: Will Kirk/homewoodphoto.jhu.edu)

CELEBRATE - It's International Women's Day

Posted on March 8, 2016 at 6:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Today, March 8th, is International Women's Day and it's a great day to celebrate women nanoscientists and their wonderful accomplishments. As for remaining challenges, there seems to be a gathering momentum for gender parity, with a number of very visible business leaders expressing their commitment to parity: People like Sir Richard Branson (Virgin Group), Fiona Dawson (Mars Food), and Hikmet Ersek (Western Union). For more details, take a look at the activities listed here.

Can you use the sun to split water to make hydrogen fuel?

Posted on March 6, 2016 at 9:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Renewable energy sources, like wind, are making real inroads to transform our energy portfolio into a sustainable pathway. But we continue to need liquid fuels for transportation, in our cars, trucks, and planes. Alternatives to oil are not easy to find. Hydrogen-fueled cars have been suggested as such an alternative, if the infrastructure for a “fill up” was in place. But where will the hydrogen fuel come from?

(Prof. Amirav in her lab at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology).

Prof. Lilac Amirav and her research associate, Yifat Nakibli, at Technion, Israel’s Institute of Technology, have developed a new technique to achieve 100% efficiency of the photon-to-hydrogen transition using a catalyst to split water into oxygen and hydrogen under visible light (the photon source). This system could lead to a novel solar-to-fuel conversion technology. Amirav, Nakibli and first-author Philip Kalisman, used cadmium selenide (CdSe) quantum dots within a cadmium sulphide (CdS) quantum rod with a platinum catalyst. The main advantage of this unusual material system is the spatial separation that it provides between electrons and holes so that charge can be separated to their relative electrodes and hence an electrical current can flow. Intrigued to know more?... then read their article recently published in NanoLetters (DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.5b04813).

(Dr. Yifat Nakibli received her PhD in chemical engineering at Technion in 2013. Since then she has been working as a researcher and lab manger in Prof. Amirav’s group in the chemistry department. This picture was taken from her family trip to Germany.)

Prof. Amirav grew up in Israel and has had a passion for environmental sustainability and green/renewable energy issues since she was a child. She received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Tel Aviv University when she was only 18. After completing her PhD from Technion, she was a post-doc with Alivisatos at Berkeley where she began the nanorod studies. Amirav is now an Assistant Professor in Chemistry at Technion, where she is a member of both RBNI (Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute) and GTEP (Grand Technion Energy Program) and she is on the national I-CORE Solar Fuels research team.

(Prof. Amirav loves to travel with her family. This is her picture with her two children during a family trip to California. “I enjoy traveling with my family and spending time with my two wonderful boys. Being a mom strengthens my motivation to work on this research since I feel it is our duty to try and create a cleaner and more sustainable world for the next generation. I believe that the search for clean and renewable energy sources is absolutely crucial.")

- Written by Nakita Sengar, edited by Paulette Clancy

(Photo credit: Provided by and used with permission from Prof. Lilac Amirav and Dr. Yifat Nakibli, credits to: Lilac in the lab: Dr. Yifat Nakibli.)

Kirigami paper-cutting goes nano

Posted on February 28, 2016 at 8:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Kirigami is an Japanese art form in which paper is folded and cut to reveal beautiful intricate patterns. Prof. Shu Yang of University of Pennsylvania was inspired by this ancient art in order to transform materials that don’t stretch (her “paper” into flexible and stretchable sheets that can be moulded into 3-D shapes using a technique she calls “fractal cut patterning” (her nano-kirigami). Look at her kirigami blog, including paper cutting that you can do at home.

(Prof. Yang playing with her son).

In her 2016 MRS Bulletin perspective on nano-kirigami, Shu Yang explains how she introduces cuts that divide the material into square or triangular rotational units. These rigid units act as hinges to help fold the material, keeping the material strain-free. Yang has used two cut patterns – ‘hierarchal’ and ‘motif alternation’. The ‘hierarchal’ pattern subdivides the original square into smaller ones by repeating the cut pattern. The ‘motif alternation’ applies a cut homogeneously throughout the material. This has allowed Yang’s group to deposit an electron-conducting thin film of (otherwise rigid) carbon nanotubes on a silicone rubber sheet stretched over a spherical baseball. This system can then be used to power a flexible Light-Emitting Diode (LED).

Shu Yang has a number of really cool studies in her group: She has developed a polymer material that changes color depending on how hard it is hit, which could be used on a helmet to indicate how hard a hit they took and hence warn of possible risk of concussion. She is working on smart and self-cleaning windows, and on mimicking a giant clam’s ability to act as a solar greenhouse.

(Prof. Yang helping her daughter with studies).

Prof. Yang is a Professor in Material Science and Engineering and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at University of Pennsylvania. She has many awards: the 2015-16 George H. Heilmeier Faculty Award for Excellence in Research, an NSF CAREER Award, a Unilever Award in Polymer Science and Engineering 2001 and an ICI award in Applied Polymer Science.

- Written by Nakita Sengar, edited by Paulette Clancy

(Photo credit: Provided by and used with permission from Prof. Shu Yang).

Women Making a Difference: Angelique Johnson builds novel hearing aids from nano-electrodes

Posted on February 21, 2016 at 6:40 PM Comments comments (0)

(Dr. Johnson wearing a bunny suit inside the cleanroom lab of University of Michigan).

Angelique Johnson, CEO of MEMStim has made a new device to help the hearing of people with a damaged cochlea. During her graduate days at the University of Michigan, Dr. Johnson (MSE ’07, PhD EE ’11), discovered a low-cost, high yield nanofabrication process that produced a novel electrode array. Her new device helps reduce residual hearing loss, offers drug delivery channels for inner ear health and cell regeneration, and improves surgical safety outcomes for people of all ages. The electrode arrays of metal wires are directly implanted inside the human cochlea. A normal functioning cochlea uses hair cells to produce electrical signals that stimulate the auditory nerves. Johnson’s electrodes help create the electrical signals in the damaged cochlea and transmit them through the auditory path for the brain to interpret.

Dr. Johnson founded MEMStim after winning $27,000 as award for the best business and presentation at the Michigan Business Challenge. She also received a $1,500 grant from Eugene Applebaum ‘Dare to Dream’ Grant Program which is given to U-M budding startups. MEMS fabrication is now a fully automated firm producing customizable electrode leads. The company is working towards distributing its MEMS electrode leads to medical companies for nerve stimulation devices. See more here.

(Dr. Johnson running the Cleveland marathon).

Dr. Johnson loves to travel the world and her favourite sport is running. She has completed four full marathons and several half marathons.

(Dr. Jonhson loves to travel. This picture is from her holidays in Thailand.)

(Dr. Johnson while travelling in Bermuda.)

- Written by Nakita Sengar, edited by Paulette Clancy

(Photo credit: Provided by and used with permission from Dr. Angelique Johnson, credit to: Marathon: Brightroom event photography, In the cleanroom: Mayurachat Gulari, With elephants: Chollad Suksom, Word travels: Martinique Johnson).