Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Journal: Nature materials


We report the synthesis and application of an elastic, wearable crosslinked polymer layer (XPL) that mimics the properties of normal, youthful skin. XPL is made of a tunable polysiloxane-based material that can be engineered with specific elasticity, contractility, adhesion, tensile strength and occlusivity. XPL can be topically applied, rapidly curing at the skin interface without the need for heat- or light-mediated activation. In a pilot human study, we examined the performance of a prototype XPL that has a tensile modulus matching normal skin responses at low strain (<40%), and that withstands elongations exceeding 250%, elastically recoiling with minimal strain-energy loss on repeated deformation. The application of XPL to the herniated lower eyelid fat pads of 12 subjects resulted in an average 2-grade decrease in herniation appearance in a 5-point severity scale. The XPL platform may offer advanced solutions to compromised skin barrier function, pharmaceutical delivery and wound dressings.

Concepts: Skin, Materials science, Tensile strength, Strength of materials, Elasticity, Linear elasticity, Elastic modulus


Quantum time crystals are systems characterized by spontaneously emerging periodic order in the time domain1. While originally a phase of broken time translation symmetry was a mere speculation2, a wide range of time crystals has been reported3-5. However, the dynamics and interactions between such systems have not been investigated experimentally. Here we study two adjacent quantum time crystals realized by two magnon condensates in superfluid 3He-B. We observe an exchange of magnons between the time crystals leading to opposite-phase oscillations in their populations-a signature of the AC Josephson effect6-while the defining periodic motion remains phase coherent throughout the experiment. Our results demonstrate that time crystals obey the general dynamics of quantum mechanics and offer a basis to further investigate the fundamental properties of these phases, opening pathways for possible applications in developing fields, such as quantum information processing.


Plant nanobionics aims to embed non-native functions to plants by interfacing them with specifically designed nanoparticles. Here, we demonstrate that living spinach plants (Spinacia oleracea) can be engineered to serve as self-powered pre-concentrators and autosamplers of analytes in ambient groundwater and as infrared communication platforms that can send information to a smartphone. The plants employ a pair of near-infrared fluorescent nanosensors-single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) conjugated to the peptide Bombolitin II to recognize nitroaromatics via infrared fluorescent emission, and polyvinyl-alcohol functionalized SWCNTs that act as an invariant reference signal-embedded within the plant leaf mesophyll. As contaminant nitroaromatics are transported up the roots and stem into leaf tissues, they accumulate in the mesophyll, resulting in relative changes in emission intensity. The real-time monitoring of embedded SWCNT sensors also allows residence times in the roots, stems and leaves to be estimated, calculated to be 8.3 min (combined residence times of root and stem) and 1.9 min mm(-1) leaf, respectively. These results demonstrate the ability of living, wild-type plants to function as chemical monitors of groundwater and communication devices to external electronics at standoff distances.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Carbon dioxide, Ultraviolet, Root, Fern, Leaf, Amaranthaceae, Spinach


The gastrointestinal tract is the site of most drug delivery and therapeutic interventions for the management and treatment of numerous diseases. However, selective access to its mucosa, especially in the small bowel, is challenging. Here we develop an orally administered gut-coating formulation that provides a transient coating of the bowel. Through a materials screening campaign, we identified a sucrose octasulfate aluminium complex and further engineered the pH-dependent material into a complex coacervate formulation linked via pH-independent electrostatic interaction, which allowed an effective transient physical coating on the gastrointestinal mucosa, independent of gastric acid exposure. We tested the therapeutic values of this technology in two settings. Oral administration of this gut-coating formulation modulated the nutrient contact with bowel mucosa, which lowered the glucose responses in rodent models indicating a potential therapeutic utility in diabetes. Furthermore, the formulation protected biological agents from gastric acid exposure and degradation, which enabled oral delivery to the small bowel mucosa.


Dendrite formation during electrodeposition while charging lithium metal batteries compromises their safety. Although high-shear-modulus (Gs) solid-ion conductors (SICs) have been prioritized to resolve the pressure-driven instabilities that lead to dendrite propagation and cell shorting, it is unclear whether these or alternatives are needed to guide uniform lithium electrodeposition, which is intrinsically density-driven. Here, we show that SICs can be designed within a universal chemomechanical paradigm to access either pressure-driven dendrite-blocking or density-driven dendrite-suppressing properties, but not both. This dichotomy reflects the competing influence of the SIC’s mechanical properties and the partial molar volume of Li+ ([Formula: see text]) relative to those of the lithium anode (GLi and VLi) on plating outcomes. Within this paradigm, we explore SICs in a previously unrecognized dendrite-suppressing regime that are concomitantly ‘soft’, as is typical of polymer electrolytes, but feature an atypically low [Formula: see text] that is more reminiscent of ‘hard’ ceramics. Li plating (1 mA cm-2; T = 20 °C) mediated by these SICs is uniform, as revealed using synchrotron hard X-ray microtomography. As a result, cell cycle life is extended, even when assembled with thin Li anodes (~30 µm) and either high-voltage NMC-622 cathodes (1.44 mAh cm-2) or high-capacity sulfur cathodes (3.02 mAh cm-2).


To progress from the laboratory to commercial applications, it will be necessary to develop industrially scalable methods to produce large quantities of defect-free graphene. Here we show that high-shear mixing of graphite in suitable stabilizing liquids results in large-scale exfoliation to give dispersions of graphene nanosheets. X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy and Raman spectroscopy show the exfoliated flakes to be unoxidized and free of basal-plane defects. We have developed a simple model that shows exfoliation to occur once the local shear rate exceeds 10(4) s(-1). By fully characterizing the scaling behaviour of the graphene production rate, we show that exfoliation can be achieved in liquid volumes from hundreds of millilitres up to hundreds of litres and beyond. The graphene produced by this method performs well in applications from composites to conductive coatings. This method can be applied to exfoliate BN, MoS2 and a range of other layered crystals.

Concepts: Spectroscopy, X-ray, Volume, Water, Liquid, Raman spectroscopy, Graphite, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy


Nature utilizes the available resources to construct lightweight, strong and tough materials under constrained environmental conditions. The impact surface of the fast-striking dactyl club from the mantis shrimp is an example of one such composite material; the shrimp has evolved the capability to localize damage and avoid catastrophic failure from high-speed collisions during its feeding activities. Here we report that the dactyl club of mantis shrimps contains an impact-resistant coating composed of densely packed (about 88 per cent by volume) ~65-nm bicontinuous nanoparticles of hydroxyapatite integrated within an organic matrix. These mesocrystalline hydroxyapatite nanoparticles are assembled from small, highly aligned nanocrystals. Under impacts of high strain rates (around 104 s-1), particles rotate and translate, whereas the nanocrystalline networks fracture at low-angle grain boundaries, form dislocations and undergo amorphization. The interpenetrating organic network provides additional toughening, as well as substantial damping, with a loss coefficient of around 0.02. An unusual combination of stiffness and damping is therefore achieved, outperforming many engineered materials.


Glioblastoma multiforme is an aggressive, invasive brain tumour with a poor survival rate. Available treatments are ineffective and some tumours remain inoperable because of their size or location. The tumours are known to invade and migrate along white matter tracts and blood vessels. Here, we exploit this characteristic of glioblastoma multiforme by engineering aligned polycaprolactone (PCL)-based nanofibres for tumour cells to invade and, hence, guide cells away from the primary tumour site to an extracortical location. This extracortial sink is a cyclopamine drug-conjugated, collagen-based hydrogel. When aligned PCL-nanofibre films in a PCL/polyurethane carrier conduit were inserted in the vicinity of an intracortical human U87MG glioblastoma xenograft, a significant number of human glioblastoma cells migrated along the aligned nanofibre films and underwent apoptosis in the extracortical hydrogel. Tumour volume in the brain was significantly lower following insertion of aligned nanofibre implants compared with the application of smooth fibres or no implants.

Concepts: Cancer, Oncology, Brain tumor, Tumor, Glioblastoma multiforme


Stimulation with ultrafast light pulses can realize and manipulate states of matter with emergent structural, electronic and magnetic phenomena. However, these non-equilibrium phases are often transient and the challenge is to stabilize them as persistent states. Here, we show that atomic-scale PbTiO3/SrTiO3 superlattices, counterpoising strain and polarization states in alternate layers, are converted by sub-picosecond optical pulses to a supercrystal phase. This phase persists indefinitely under ambient conditions, has not been created via equilibrium routes, and can be erased by heating. X-ray scattering and microscopy show this unusual phase consists of a coherent three-dimensional structure with polar, strain and charge-ordering periodicities of up to 30 nm. By adjusting only dielectric properties, the phase-field model describes this emergent phase as a photo-induced charge-stabilized supercrystal formed from a two-phase equilibrium state. Our results demonstrate opportunities for light-activated pathways to thermally inaccessible and emergent metastable states.


Biological systems assemble living materials that are autonomously patterned, can self-repair and can sense and respond to their environment. The field of engineered living materials aims to create novel materials with properties similar to those of natural biomaterials using genetically engineered organisms. Here, we describe an approach to fabricating functional bacterial cellulose-based living materials using a stable co-culture of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast and bacterial cellulose-producing Komagataeibacter rhaeticus bacteria. Yeast strains can be engineered to secrete enzymes into bacterial cellulose, generating autonomously grown catalytic materials and enabling DNA-encoded modification of bacterial cellulose bulk properties. Alternatively, engineered yeast can be incorporated within the growing cellulose matrix, creating living materials that can sense and respond to chemical and optical stimuli. This symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast is a flexible platform for the production of bacterial cellulose-based engineered living materials with potential applications in biosensing and biocatalysis.