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The ability to tailor medical patches and capsules at the molecular level offers a game-changing approach to medical treatment and drug delivery. With each molecule positioned for optimal effectiveness, patches and capsules can be improved and customized for a variety of purposes.
Because MRI scans rely on the use of a strong magnetic field, the presence of metal in a patient’s body can interfere with the technology and even rule out imaging. A research team at Argonne National Laboratory has manipulated the technology so that such metal objects become a detection system—in essence, allowing them to go unnoticed by the magnetic field.
Applying their findings in MRI technology has enabled the researchers to create other ground-breaking innovations, among them a device called the Molecule Nanoweaver. This unique tool can be used as both a fabricator and a detector of high-tech patches, multilayered capsules and other medical products.
As a fabricator, the nanoweaver can produce patches, capsules and other products by using electric, magnetic and intermolecular forces to manipulate molecules into useful patterns. As a detector, the nanoweaver’s spectroscopy and imaging capabilities allow the user to follow the process closely to ensure that fabrication proceeds correctly. For example, the Molecule Nanoweaver could be used to optimize and produce a heart-muscle stimulator patch that provides low-level electrical stimulation from electrochemical reactions taking place in the patch material.
Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory have developed a low-cost process that accelerates biological methane production rates at least fivefold — the Enhanced Renewable Methane Production System. The system could enhance biological methane production at wastewater treatment plants, farms, and landfills. This system addresses one of the largest barriers to the expansion of renewable methane — the naturally slow rate of production. To overcome this challenge, Argonne researchers examined the natural biology of methane production, the natural processes for carbon dioxide sequestration, and the environmental quality of the water found in coal bed methane wells. Their research led to the novel, low-cost treatment to accelerate biological methane production while sequestering CO2. The treatment enhances the heating value of biogas, delivering a gas that is close to pipeline quality. In addition, the renewable methane process leaves coal's environmental pollutants, such as sulfur and mercury, in the ground, avoiding their emissions.
The Enhanced Renewable Methane Production System provides a method for biological methane production from a carbonaceous feedstock to generate methane, while simultaneously sequestering the CO2 produced during the process by reacting with magnesium and calcium silicate rocks. This process links the biological conversion (renewable carbon source being converted to methane and carbon dioxide) to a geochemical mechanism (producing solid carbonate-enriched minerals), thus sequestering the CO2.
In the long term, hydrogen is expected to be the fuel of choice for both the power and transportation industries. Just as conventional cars need gas stations, hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars will need an infrastructure. Hydrogen separation technology is integral to successful fossil-based hydrogen production technologies. Thin, dense composite membranes fabricated from ceramic and hydrogen-transport metal may provide a simple, efficient means for separating hydrogen from fossil-based gas streams. New ceramic-metal composite (cermet) membranes developed at Argonne, called hydrogen transport membranes, could eliminate the need for costly, conventional hydrogen-manufacturing facilities; the membranes could one day be small and efficient enough to be installed at every gas station.
Membranes currently used by industry to separate gases are not selective enough to isolate pure hydrogen—the simplest and smallest of all elements. Argonne has developed a composite cermet that transports only atomic hydrogen, allowing the membrane to separate pure hydrogen for use as a clean-burning fuel and in production of fertilizers and other products. The new membrane material works on a different principle than conventional porous membranes; hydrogen is the only species that passes through it because it dissolves in, and diffuses rapidly through, the metal phase in the composite. Unlike most membrane systems, Argonne's hydrogen membrane tolerates temperatures as high as 900 degrees Celsius. Such elevated temperatures push more hydrogen atoms into the membrane, accelerating the rate of gas separation.
The most likely raw feedstock material for hydrogen separation is syngas, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide made by reacting natural gas with oxygen. Because syngas can be expensive to produce, Argonne is exploring the use of another membrane to extract oxygen. The team has demonstrated that the oxygen membranes successfully separate oxygen and that this separated oxygen, when reacted with methane, forms syngas. Because Argonne's oxygen and hydrogen membranes both function at the same high temperatures, they can work in tandem: one membrane adding oxygen to methane to create syngas and the other extracting hydrogen from the syngas.
Argonne scientists have developed a super hard and slick nanocomposite coating (SSC) that significantly reduces friction and wear and can eliminate scuffing-related failures. The coating can be used in components of moving mechanical systems, including engines. Eliminating scuffing is especially important because it is a life-limiting factor in many components used under heavy loading or in heavy machinery, such as earth-moving and mining equipment. The SSC also increases energy efficiency by reducing friction by as much as 80%. SSCs can be produced at moderate temperatures (200–400°C) on almost any kind of metallic substrates at high growth rates.
Argonne’s SSCs are based on special formulations of hard and soft phases that provide friction coefficients of 0.02 to 0.05 under boundary lubricated sliding conditions and prevent wear. Therefore, the SSCs can extend wear life, reduce maintenance costs, and reduce environmental emissions by reducing fuel consumption.
Argonne researchers have collaborated with Galleon International and Hauzer Technocoating to develop a production-scale deposition system to meet the demands of large-volume applications in the transportation and manufacturing sectors. The new system uses a modified version of existing plasma coating equipment that is well-suited for demonstrating flexible, production-scale coating for large-volume industrial applications. The SSC is unique in that the ingredients used in its synthesis were predicted by using a crystal-chemical model proposed by the developers of the SSC technology. In the collaborations, the scientists are using special coating ingredients that are predicted by using the crystal-chemical model.
Plastics products—such as grocery bags, packaging foam, plates, and cups—are lightweight, strong, and inexpensive to produce. However, because these products are not biodegradable, they collect in landfills, litter the environment, and present a long-term environmental problem. Through a new process developed by an Argonne scientist Vilas Pol, a wide range of waste plastics can be converted into a fine black carbon powder or carbon nanotubes. This carbon-based substance has numerous industrial applications, ranging from its use as an anode material in manufacturing lithium-ion batteries to serving as a component in water purification, tires, electronics, paints, and printer inks and toners.
Plastic bags have become a fact of life for businesses and consumers. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans use over 100 billion plastic bags annually, but only about 13% are recycled.
Plastics are not biodegradable. They collect in landfills and litter roadsides. Scientists say plastics take more than 100 years to decompose. Conventional recycling methods are ineffective because different types of plastics—polystyrene and polyethylene, for example—cannot be mixed and the quality of recycled plastic is typically poor.
At Argonne, chemist Vilas Pol has devised an environmentally green method that breaks down plastics and transforms them into a highly usable substance. In Dr. Pol’s solvent-free process, plastic bags are inserted into a specially designed reactor and heated to 700 degrees Celsius, forming a fine black powder. The powder contains tiny carbon spheres— around 2 to 5 micrometers wide and one-twentieth the width of a human hair.
If a cobalt-based catalyst is added during the heating, the powder forms microscopic carbon nanotubes. Both substances—carbon nanotubes and carbon spheres—have numerous industrial applications. They are used to manufacture lithium-ion batteries, which power cell phones, laptops, and other products. The batteries also serve as the power source for electric cars. Moreover, the properties of carbon micropheres make them useful in water purification and the tire industry, as well as in the manufacture of paint, printer inks, and toners.
Argonne National Laboratory has developed a way to make commercially viable lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and electric vehicles that are safer, will last longer, and cost less than current Li-ion batteries. Argonne researchers, Drs. Khalil Amine and Zonghai Chen, accomplished this goal by making only a small change to the Li-ion chemistry. The scientists are testing a new molecule based on boron and fluorine as an additive in the electrolyte of Li-ion batteries. By adding a small amount of this substance to battery cells, they found they can keep individual cells in the battery from reaching unsafe voltage levels. The new molecule picks up electrons and keeps the cell charge from increasing if the cell reaches an unsafe voltage level.
Reliance on rechargeable lithium batteries is growing because they offer the greatest chance for breakthroughs. The development of hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) and PHEVs can be increased by removing barriers related to calendar and operating life, safety, and cost. The performance limitations arise largely because of uncontrolled reactions that occur at high and low potentials at the electrolyte/electrode interface, leading to high cell impedance, reduced energy and power output, and a limited cycle life (less than two years). Argonne’s invention is a charge transfer mechanism for Li-ion battery overcharge protection. When the battery is overcharged, the redox shuttle is oxidized by losing an electron to the positive electrode. The radical cation formed is then diffused back to the negative electrode, causing the cation to obtain an electron and be reduced. The net reaction is to shuttle electrons from the positive electrode to the negative electrode without causing chemical damage to the battery (Figure 1).
Typically, cancer patients who require radiation therapy may experience an array of side effects, such as nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, or changes in the skin. In addition, the x-ray treatment is linked to secondary cancers. Recently misaligned x-ray treatment systems have caused illnesses—and even death. This groundbreaking innovation in radiation therapy provides successful, cost-effective radiation without the limitations of conventional treatment. The innovation, an endoscopic electron beam, promises to transform the delivery of radiation treatment for millions of cancer patients—including many for whom radiation was previously impossible.
Radiation has proven an effective therapy in cancer treatment. However, because human tissue absorbs the electrons, physicians must limit patients’ exposure to radiation and generally prescribe such treatment only for surface cancers or procedures that require large surgical incisions to expose the body core.
Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory, led by John Noonan, have devised an innovative radiation treatment that capitalizes on the benefits of conventional radiation therapy while overcoming its drawbacks. Transporting the electron beam to the internal cancer, the beam can be absorbed by the tumor only, with healthy tissue minimally damaged.
An electron beam, less than 1 millimeter in diameter and at very low beam emittance, is delivered through a laparoscopic tube inserted through a small incision and positioned directly at the tumor. The beam can vary in energy from 1 million to 10 million electron volts, suitable to cover tumors ranging from approximately 0.5 cm to 5 cm, respectively. Enormous doses of radiation can be delivered endoscopically without fear of exceeding advisable total body dose exposure.
The endoscopic method will be highly effective in treating a number of cancers previously regarded as inoperable or in radiation-sensitive areas, such as the spine, nerves, the optic nerve, and organs, including the brain.
Being able to vary the beam’s energy level gives physicians control in preventing damage to healthy tissue. In the case of brain tumors, the laparoscopic tube provides an additional advantage during therapy, as a means of removing dead cells that could harm healthy ones. In addition, because of the technology’s precision, treatment time is shortened, with electron beams potentially requiring only a single treatment as compared with conventional radiation therapy requiring several months—a significant improvement in patient care.
Scientists at Argonne National Laboratory have created a process by which amorphous and nanophase pharmaceutical compounds can be synthesized without the use of a container, thus avoiding potential contamination. The process involves acoustic levitation—that is, a technique in which an object is suspended through pressure created by intense sound waves—to form molecular gels and amorphous solids. The method is expected to help pharmaceutical manufacturers create drugs that dissolve more quickly on delivery.
The containerless method involves the use of a levitator, a chamber in which objects can be suspended through sound-wave pressure. Argonne scientists developed two protocols using this technique on several over-the-counter and prescription medicines. In the first method, the team dissolved such drugs as ibuprofen and the antibiotic clofoctol in ethanol, and then allowed droplets of the solution to evaporate while suspended in the levitator. In the second method, researchers used a laser to melt the antihistamine cinnarizine into droplets and suspend them as they cooled.
For years, radio frequency identification (RFID) technology has been used in a variety of applications, from passports to inventory tracking in retail environments. Homeland security concerns have heightened the need for sensitive, real-time tracking of thousands of radioactive and hazardous material packages to ensure accountability, safety, security, and worker and public health. Through the support of DOE, Argonne researchers have developed and tested a patented RFID tracking and monitoring technology called ARG-US (which means “watchful guardian”) that will modernize the management of nuclear and
The heart of the ARG-US system is a battery-powered RFID tag that remotely monitors the vital parameters of packages containing sensitive materials in storage and transportation. The ARG-US RFID tag incorporates a suite of sensors for seal integrity, temperature, humidity, shock, radiation and battery strength. New sensors can be added via the tag’s built-in expansion interface. As designed and developed, ARG-US can add an extra layer of security, functionality and savings to the handling, storage and transport of nuclear and radioactive materials and other sensitive items.
The ARG-US system provides continuous, near-real-time tracking and monitoring of packages during transport, in-transit stops and storage by using multi-functional RFID tags attached to each package, in conjunction with RFID readers, control computers, stand-alone and web-based software, and satellite or cellular-based channels. Two specialized software applications—ARG-US TransPort and ARG-US OnSite—have been developed, providing a powerful, customizable platform for full life-cycle materials management during transport and storage. The system incorporates secure communications, databases, and web services. Together, these features can dramatically increase efficiency while reducing costs associated with nuclear material operations and aging management.
The need for ARG-US technology has grown beyond its initial application of managing nuclear materials as a result of demonstrated performance, and now includes its application to civilian fuel cycles, incident responses, and emergency management.
In April 2011, ARG?US was chosen by an industry panel to receive RFID Journal’s prestigious “Most Innovative Use of RFID” Award. ARG?US was also selected as a finalist to present at the 2011 World’s Best Technology Innovation Marketplace, a preeminent technology forum. In February 2012, the system was featured in a case study in the U.S. for the World Institute for Nuclear Security and the World Nuclear Transport Institute Joint International Best Practice Guide on Electronic Tracking for the Transport of Nuclear and Other Radioactive Materials, Revision 1.0.
Copper is drawing much attention as an electrode and interconnect material for integrated sub-micron circuit technology due to its low resistivity and high electro- and stress-mitigation resistance which are superior to Al and Al-alloys. Cu is also a promising candidate to replace Pt due to its low-cost, high conductivity and easier reactive etching properties. However, the successful substitution of Cu into thin-film devices requires the solution to critical issues such as adhesion of Cu layers to Si, SiO.sub.2 and ferroelectric layers, Cu diffusion, and elimination of oxidation of the Cu during growth of oxide films. A significant problem is that Cu oxidizes at relatively low temperatures at a significant rate, which results in degradation of the electrical conduction properties of the Cu electrode layers. Thus protection against oxidation is necessary when growing ferroelectric or high permittivity oxide films on Cu electrode layers, since synthesis of those layers requires high temperature and oxygen ambient or oxygen plasmas.
Argonne’s invention is a multi-layer thin film device containing copper layers protected by amorphous TiAl oxide and devices incorporating TiAl. The layered device comprises a substrate of or containing silicon and/or a compound thereof or of or containing diamond, an adhering layer on the substrate, an electrical conducting layer on the adhering layer, a barrier layer of an oxide of TiAl and a high dielectric layer forming one or more of an electrical device and/or a magnetic device (see figure).
To prevent oxidation of the copper layer during growth of the oxide layer on the copper layer, a TiAl oxygen diffusion barrier is put on top of the copper layer before growing the oxide layer. The TiAl layer absorbs oxygen preferentially binding it to the constituent elements (Ti and Al) of the layer and inhibiting the diffusion of oxygen atoms towards the copper layer while growing the oxide film in an oxygen environment at high temperature. The TiAl oxygen diffusion barrier layer can be deposited by MOCVD, molecular beam epitaxy, atomic layer deposition or physical vapor deposition or any other method suitable for growing oxide thin films.
Scientists at Argonne National Laboratory have created an in vitro, cell-free system and method for producing several types of protein: membrane proteins, membrane-associated proteins, and soluble proteins.
With advances that can be gleaned from the study of high quality samples of this type, this method is expected to drive advances in membrane protein structural biology and deepen our approaches for characterizing biological activity as cellular interfaces.
In most organisms, cell membranes are the vital structures that serve as the interface between an organism and its environment, enabling the creation of compartments where proteins carry out the cell’s basic functions. Proteins in these membranes carry out the essential functions of the cell, such as uptake of nutrients, excretion of wastes, energy generation, and signal transduction. The functions performed by membrane proteins are extremely important for all organisms. Previously, researchers studying these proteins needed to replicate them within cells: a complex, time-consuming process.
Despite the fact that they represent approximately 30% of every genome and comprise more than 60% of all drug targets, only about 100 unique membrane protein structures have been determined to date (compared to about 10,000 unique structures in soluble protein families). One reason for this relatively low number of unique membrane protein structures is that it is difficult to isolate membrane proteins using conventional methods. Also, once isolated, purification is highly protein-specific, is not adaptable to high-throughput methodologies, and rarely yields the amounts of pure membrane proteins needed for extensive biochemical studies and crystallization trials.
The in vitro method is capable of producing membrane proteins, membrane-associated proteins, and soluble proteins. This methodology promises to become an important tool for deepening scientists’ understanding of life and driving advances in molecular biology.
The success of modern industries— especially those that are electricity-intensive—depends on complex engineering systems to ensure safe, productive and efficient operations. System breakdowns can result in millions of dollars in lost time and productivity—and even the loss of life and property. For example, in the utilities industry—where the continuous operation of coolant pumps is essential—the breakdown of a single pump can result in a loss of as much as $10 million in downtime.
Scientists at Argonne National Laboratory devised a unique early-warning system, called the Multivariate State Estimation Technique (MSET), that monitors the performance of sensors, equipment and plant processes in an industrial environment. A highly sensitive, highly accurate tool, MSET monitors the operation of any process that uses multiple sensors, detecting and alerting users of potential
MSET, the winner of a 1998 R&D 100 Award, consists of a unique, patented suite of statistically based pattern recognition modules. It detects and identifies malfunctions that may occur in process sensors, components or control systems; or changes in process operating conditions. The MSET modules interact to provide users with the information needed for the safe, reliable and economical operation of a process by detecting, locating and identifying very subtle changes that could lead to future problems well in advance of actual equipment degradation.
Since it provides continuous calibration validation for all sensors, MSET offers a technical basis for reducing burdensome instrument calibration requirements. It can also help users determine when it is appropriate to continue or extend operation of certain components, or to schedule corrective actions, such as sensor replacement or re-calibration, component adjustment.
MSET uses an ultra-sensitive Sequential Probability Ratio Test (SPRT, which was also developed and patented by the MSET inventors) to discern sensor or system anomalies at the earliest possible time. MSET’s unique capabilities make
it better than conventional approaches—including neural networks—in sensitivity, reliability and computational efficiency.
To use MSET, the user first collects sensor readings (via a digital acquisition system) to characterize the normal operating state of the system. MSET automatically selects an optimal subset of these data and uses it to "train" the system to recognize normal behavior. During monitoring, MSET generates an accurate estimate of what each signal should be based on the latest set of sensor readings and the previously learned correlations among them. Then, SPRT analyzes the difference between this state estimate and the measurement, and quickly detects and alerts the smallest developing faults. If an abnormal condition is detected, the initial diagnostic step identifies the cause as either a sensor degradation or an operational change in the process. When a sensor fault is identified, MSET uses the estimated value of the signal to provide an extremely precise "virtual sensor" that can be used to fully replace the function of the faulted sensor.