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


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


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


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


Quantum spin liquids (QSLs) are topological states of matter exhibiting remarkable properties such as the capacity to protect quantum information from decoherence. Whereas their featureless ground states have precluded their straightforward experimental identification, excited states are more revealing and particularly interesting owing to the emergence of fundamentally new excitations such as Majorana fermions. Ideal probes of these excitations are inelastic neutron scattering experiments. These we report here for a ruthenium-based material, α-RuCl3, continuing a major search (so far concentrated on iridium materials) for realizations of the celebrated Kitaev honeycomb topological QSL. Our measurements confirm the requisite strong spin-orbit coupling and low-temperature magnetic order matching predictions proximate to the QSL. We find stacking faults, inherent to the highly two-dimensional nature of the material, resolve an outstanding puzzle. Crucially, dynamical response measurements above interlayer energy scales are naturally accounted for in terms of deconfinement physics expected for QSLs. Comparing these with recent dynamical calculations involving gauge flux excitations and Majorana fermions of the pure Kitaev model, we propose the excitation spectrum of α-RuCl3 as a prime candidate for fractionalized Kitaev physics.

Concepts: Fundamental physics concepts, Spin, Quantum field theory, Neutron, Fermion, Quantum state, Standard Model, Elementary particle


The development of three-dimensional (3D) synthetic biomaterials as structural and bioactive scaffolds is central to fields ranging from cellular biophysics to regenerative medicine. As of yet, these scaffolds cannot electrically probe the physicochemical and biological microenvironments throughout their 3D and macroporous interior, although this capability could have a marked impact in both electronics and biomaterials. Here, we address this challenge using macroporous, flexible and free-standing nanowire nanoelectronic scaffolds (nanoES), and their hybrids with synthetic or natural biomaterials. 3D macroporous nanoES mimic the structure of natural tissue scaffolds, and they were formed by self-organization of coplanar reticular networks with built-in strain and by manipulation of 2D mesh matrices. NanoES exhibited robust electronic properties and have been used alone or combined with other biomaterials as biocompatible extracellular scaffolds for 3D culture of neurons, cardiomyocytes and smooth muscle cells. Furthermore, we show the integrated sensory capability of the nanoES by real-time monitoring of the local electrical activity within 3D nanoES/cardiomyocyte constructs, the response of 3D-nanoES-based neural and cardiac tissue models to drugs, and distinct pH changes inside and outside tubular vascular smooth muscle constructs.

Concepts: Heart, Cardiac muscle, Actin, Muscle contraction, Skeletal muscle, Smooth muscle, Muscular system, Vascular smooth muscle


SmB6 is a strongly correlated mixed-valence Kondo insulator with a newly discovered surface state, proposed to be of non-trivial topological origin. However, the surface state dominates electrical conduction only below T(∗) ≈ 4 K (ref. ), limiting its scientific investigation and device application. Here, we report the enhancement of T(∗) in SmB6 under the application of tensile strain. With 0.7% tensile strain we report surface-dominated conduction at up to a temperature of 240 K, persisting even after the strain has been removed. This can be explained in the framework of strain-tuned temporal and spatial fluctuations of f-electron configurations, which might be generally applied to other mixed-valence materials. We note that this amount of strain can be induced in epitaxial SmB6 films via substrate in potential device applications.

Concepts: Scientific method, Mathematics, Science, Research, Tensile strength, Theory, Dielectric


Chemical warfare agents containing phosphonate ester bonds are among the most toxic chemicals known to mankind. Recent global military events, such as the conflict and disarmament in Syria, have brought into focus the need to find effective strategies for the rapid destruction of these banned chemicals. Solutions are needed for immediate personal protection (for example, the filtration and catalytic destruction of airborne versions of agents), bulk destruction of chemical weapon stockpiles, protection (via coating) of clothing, equipment and buildings, and containment of agent spills. Solid heterogeneous materials such as modified activated carbon or metal oxides exhibit many desirable characteristics for the destruction of chemical warfare agents. However, low sorptive capacities, low effective active site loadings, deactivation of the active site, slow degradation kinetics, and/or a lack of tailorability offer significant room for improvement in these materials. Here, we report a carefully chosen metal-organic framework (MOF) material featuring high porosity and exceptional chemical stability that is extraordinarily effective for the degradation of nerve agents and their simulants. Experimental and computational evidence points to Lewis-acidic Zr(IV) ions as the active sites and to their superb accessibility as a defining element of their efficacy.

Concepts: Chemistry, Chemical substance, Chemical element, Material, Nerve agent, Chemical warfare


The controlled delivery of nucleic acids to selected tissues remains an inefficient process mired by low transfection efficacy, poor scalability because of varying efficiency with cell type and location, and questionable safety as a result of toxicity issues arising from the typical materials and procedures employed. High efficiency and minimal toxicity in vitro has been shown for intracellular delivery of nuclei acids by using nanoneedles, yet extending these characteristics to in vivo delivery has been difficult, as current interfacing strategies rely on complex equipment or active cell internalization through prolonged interfacing. Here, we show that a tunable array of biodegradable nanoneedles fabricated by metal-assisted chemical etching of silicon can access the cytosol to co-deliver DNA and siRNA with an efficiency greater than 90%, and that in vivo the nanoneedles transfect the VEGF-165 gene, inducing sustained neovascularization and a localized sixfold increase in blood perfusion in a target region of the muscle.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Cell nucleus, Cell, Molecular biology, RNA, In vivo, In vitro


Precision thermometry of the skin can, together with other measurements, provide clinically relevant information about cardiovascular health, cognitive state, malignancy and many other important aspects of human physiology. Here, we introduce an ultrathin, compliant skin-like sensor/actuator technology that can pliably laminate onto the epidermis to provide continuous, accurate thermal characterizations that are unavailable with other methods. Examples include non-invasive spatial mapping of skin temperature with millikelvin precision, and simultaneous quantitative assessment of tissue thermal conductivity. Such devices can also be implemented in ways that reveal the time-dynamic influence of blood flow and perfusion on these properties. Experimental and theoretical studies establish the underlying principles of operation, and define engineering guidelines for device design. Evaluation of subtle variations in skin temperature associated with mental activity, physical stimulation and vasoconstriction/dilation along with accurate determination of skin hydration through measurements of thermal conductivity represent some important operational examples.

Concepts: Scientific method, Psychology, Blood, Temperature, Heat, Skin, Accuracy and precision, Electrical conductivity