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New Polymer Mesophase Structure Discovered
Bilayer-folded lamellar mesophase induced by random polymer sequence Polymers, large molecules made up of repeating smaller molecules called monomers, are found in nearly everything we use in our day-to-day lives. Polymers can be natural or created synthetically. Natural polymers, also called biopolymers, include DNA, proteins, and materials like silk, gelatin, and collagen. Synthetic polymers make up many different kinds of materials, including plastic, that are used in constructing everything from toys to industrial fiber cables to brake pads. As polymers are formed through a process called polymerization, the monomers are connected through a chain. As the chain develops, the structure of the polymer determines its unique physical and chemical properties. Researchers are continually studying polymers, how they form, how they are structured, and how they develop these unique properties. By understanding this information, scientists can develop new uses for polymers and create new materials that can be used in a wide variety of industries. In a paper published in Nature Communications on May 4, researchers describe a new structure found in an aqueous solution of an amphiphilic copolymer, called a bilayer-folded lamellar mesophase, that has been discovered through a random copolymer sequence. “A new mesophase is an important discovery as it shows a new way for molecules to self-organize,” said Professor Myungeun Seo at the Department of Chemistry at KAIST. “We were particularly thrilled to identify this bilayer-folded lamellar phase because pure bilayer membranes are difficult to fold thermodynamically.” Researchers think that this mesophase structure comes from the sequence of the monomers within the copolymer. The way the different monomers arrange themselves in the chain that makes up a copolymer is important and can have implications for what the copolymer can do. Many copolymers are random, which means that their structure relies on how the monomers interact with each other. In this case, the interaction between the hydrophobic monomers associates the copolymer chains to conceal the hydrophobic domain from water. As the structure gets more complex, researchers have found that a visible order develops so that monomers can be matched up with the right pair. “While we tend to think random means disorder, here we showed that a periodic order can spontaneously arise from the random copolymer sequence based on their collective behavior,” said Professor Seo. “We believe this comes from the sequence matching problem: finding a perfectly complementary pair for a long sequence is nearly impossible.” This is what creates the unique structure of this newly discovered mesophase. The copolymer spontaneously folds and creates a multilamellar structure that is separated by water. A multilamellar structure refers to plate-like folds and the folded layers stack on top of each other. The resulting mesophase is birefringent, meaning light refracts through it, it is similar to liquid crystalline, and viscoelastic, which means that it is both viscous and elastic at the same time. Looking ahead, researchers hope to learn more about this new mesophase and figure out how to control the outcome. Once more is understood about the mesophase and how it is formed, it’s possible that new mesophases could be discovered as more sequences are researched. “One of the obvious questions for us is how to control the folding frequency and adjust the folded height, which we are currently working to address. Ultimately, we want to understand how different multinary sequences can associate with another to create order and apply the knowledge to develop new materials,” said Professor Seo. The National Research Foundation, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Science and ICT of Korea funded this research. -PublicationMinjoong Shin, Hayeon Kim, Geonhyeong Park, Jongmin Park, Hyungju Ahn, Dong Ki Yoon, Eunji Lee, Myungeun Seo, “Bilayer-folded lamellar mesophase induced by random polymersequence,” May 4, 2022, Nature Communications (https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-30122-z) -ProfileProfessor Myungeun SeoMacromolecular Materials Chemistry Lab (https://nanopsg.kaist.ac.kr/)Department of ChemistryCollege of Natural SciencesKAIST
Flexible Sensor-Integrated RFA Needle Leads to Smarter Medical Treatment
Clinical trial of flexible sensor-integrated radiofrequency ablation (RFA) needle tip monitors physical changes and steam pop Researchers have designed a thin polymeric sensor platform on a radiofrequency ablation needle to monitor temperature and pressure in real time. The sensors integrated onto 1.5 mm diameter needle tip have proven their efficacy during clinical tests and expect to provide a new opportunity for safer and more effective medical practices. The research was reported in Advanced Science as the frontispiece on August 5. Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a minimally invasive surgery technique for removing tumors and treating cardiovascular disease. During a procedure, an unintended audible explosion called ‘steam pop’ can occur due to the increased internal steam pressure in the ablation region. This phenomenon has been cited as a cause of various negative thermal and mechanical effects on neighboring tissue. Even more, the relationship between steam pop and cancer recurrence is still being investigated. Professor Inkyu Park said that his team’s integrated sensors reliably detected the occurrence of steam pop. The sensors also monitor rapidly spreading hot steam in tissue. It is expected that the diverse properties of tissue undergoing RFA could be checked by utilizing the physical sensors integrated on the needle. “We believe that the integrated sensors can provide useful information about a variety of medical procedures and accompanying environmental changes in the human body, and help develop more effective and safer surgical procedures,” said Professor Park. Professor Park’s team built a thin film type pressure and temperature sensor stack with a thickness of less than 10 μm using a microfabrication process. For the pressure sensor, the team used contact resistance changes between metal electrodes and a carbon nanotube coated polymeric membrane. The entire sensor array was thoroughly insulated with medical tubes to minimize any exposure of the sensor materials to external tissue and maximize its biocompatibility. During the clinical trial, the research team found that the accumulated hot steam is suddenly released during steam pops and this hot air spreads to neighboring tissue, which accelerates the ablation process. Furthermore, using in-situ ultrasound imaging and computational simulations, the research team could confirm the non-uniform temperature distribution around the RFA needle can be one of the primary reasons for the steam popping. Professor Park explained that various physical and chemical sensors for different targets can be added to create other medical devices and industrial tools. “This result will expand the usability and applicability of current flexible sensor technologies. We are also trying to integrate this sensor onto a 0.3mm diameter needle for in-vivo diagnosis applications and expect that this approach can be applied to other medical treatments as well as the industrial field,” added Professor Park. This study was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea. -PublicationJaeho Park, Jinwoo Lee, Hyo Keun Lim, Inkyu Park et al. “Real-Time Internal Steam Pop Detection during Radiofrequency Ablation with a Radiofrequency Ablation Needle Integrated with a Temperature and Pressure Sensor: Preclinical and clinical pilot tests," Advanced Science (https://doi/org/10.1002/advs.202100725) on August 5, 2021 -ProfileProfessor Inkyu ParkMicro & Nano Tranducers Laboratory http://mintlab1.kaist.ac.kr/ Department of Mechanical EngineeringCollege of EngineeringKAIST
Ultrafast, on-Chip PCR Could Speed Up Diagnoses during Pandemics
A rapid point-of-care diagnostic plasmofluidic chip can deliver result in only 8 minutes Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) has been the gold standard for diagnosis during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the PCR portion of the test requires bulky, expensive machines and takes about an hour to complete, making it difficult to quickly diagnose someone at a testing site. Now, researchers at KAIST have developed a plasmofluidic chip that can perform PCR in only about 8 minutes, which could speed up diagnoses during current and future pandemics. The rapid diagnosis of COVID-19 and other highly contagious viral diseases is important for timely medical care, quarantining and contact tracing. Currently, RT-PCR uses enzymes to reverse transcribe tiny amounts of viral RNA to DNA, and then amplifies the DNA so that it can be detected by a fluorescent probe. It is the most sensitive and reliable diagnostic method. But because the PCR portion of the test requires 30-40 cycles of heating and cooling in special machines, it takes about an hour to perform, and samples must typically be sent away to a lab, meaning that a patient usually has to wait a day or two to receive their diagnosis. Professor Ki-Hun Jeong at the Department of Bio and Brain Engineering and his colleagues wanted to develop a plasmofluidic PCR chip that could quickly heat and cool miniscule volumes of liquids, allowing accurate point-of-care diagnoses in a fraction of the time. The research was reported in ACS Nano on May 19. The researchers devised a postage stamp-sized polydimethylsiloxane chip with a microchamber array for the PCR reactions. When a drop of a sample is added to the chip, a vacuum pulls the liquid into the microchambers, which are positioned above glass nanopillars with gold nanoislands. Any microbubbles, which could interfere with the PCR reaction, diffuse out through an air-permeable wall. When a white LED is turned on beneath the chip, the gold nanoislands on the nanopillars quickly convert light to heat, and then rapidly cool when the light is switched off. The researchers tested the device on a piece of DNA containing a SARS-CoV-2 gene, accomplishing 40 heating and cooling cycles and fluorescence detection in only 5 minutes, with an additional 3 minutes for sample loading. The amplification efficiency was 91%, whereas a comparable conventional PCR process has an efficiency of 98%. With the reverse transcriptase step added prior to sample loading, the entire testing time with the new method could take 10-13 minutes, as opposed to about an hour for typical RT-PCR testing. The new device could provide many opportunities for rapid point-of-care diagnostics during a pandemic, the researchers say. -Publication Ultrafast and Real-Time Nanoplasmonic On-Chip Polymerase Chain Reaction for Rapid and Quantitative Molecular Diagnostics ACS Nano (https://doi.org/10.1021/acsnano.1c02154) -Professor Ki-Hun Jeong Biophotonics Laboratory https://biophotonics.kaist.ac.kr/ Department of Bio and Brain Engineeinrg KAIST
Electrosprayed Micro Droplets Help Kill Bacteria and Viruses
With COVID-19 raging around the globe, researchers are doubling down on methods for developing diverse antimicrobial technologies that could be effective in killing a virus, but harmless to humans and the environment. A recent study by a KAIST research team will be one of the responses to such efforts. Professor Seung Seob Lee and Dr. Ji-hun Jeong from the Department of Mechanical Engineering developed a harmless air sterilization prototype featuring electrosprayed water from a polymer micro-nozzle array. This study is one of the projects being supported by the KAIST New Deal R&D Initiative in response to COVID-19. Their study was reported in Polymer. The electrosprayed microdroplets encapsulate reactive oxygen species such as hydroxyl radicals, superoxides that are known to have an antimicrobial function. The encapsulation prolongs the life of reactive oxygen species, which enable the droplets to perform their antimicrobial function effectively. Prior research has already proven the antimicrobial and encapsulation effects of electrosprayed droplets. Despite its potential for antimicrobial applications, electrosprayed water generally operates under an electrical discharge condition, which can generate ozone. The inhalation of ozone is known to cause damage to the respiratory system of humans. Another technical barrier for electrospraying is the low flow rate problem. Since electrospraying exhibits the dependence of droplet size on the flow rate, there is a limit for the amount of water microdroplets a single nozzle can produce. With this in mind, the research team developed a dielectric polymer micro-nozzle array to perform the multiplexed electrospraying of water without electrical discharge. The polymer micro-nozzle array was fabricated using the MEMS (Micro Electro-Mechanical System) process. According to the research team, the nozzle can carry five to 19 micro-nozzles depending on the required application. The high aspect ratio of the micro-nozzle and an in-plane extractor were proposed to concentrate the electric field at the tip of the micro-nozzle, which prevents the electrical discharge caused by the high surface tension of water. A micro-pillar array with a hydrophobic coating around the micro-nozzle was also proposed to prevent the wetting of the micro-nozzle array. The polymer micro-nozzle array performed in steady cone jet mode without electrical discharge as confirmed by high-speed imaging and nanosecond pulsed imaging. The water microdroplets were measured to be in the range of six to 10 μm and displayed an antimicrobial effect on Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus. Professor Lee said, “We believe that this research can be applied to air conditioning products in areas that require antimicrobial and humidifying functions.” Publication: Jeong, J. H., et al. (2020) Polymer micro-atomizer for water electrospray in the cone jet mode. Polymer. Vol. No. 194, 122405. Available online at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.polymer.2020.122405 Profile: Seung Seob Lee, Ph.D. firstname.lastname@example.org http://mmst.kaist.ac.kr/ Professor Department of Mechanical Engineering (ME) Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) https://www.kaist.ac.kr Daejeon 34141, Korea Profile: Ji-hun Jeong, Ph.D. email@example.com Postdoctoral researcher Department of Mechanical Engineering (ME) Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) https://www.kaist.ac.kr Daejeon 34141, Korea (END)
Sulfur-Containing Polymer Generates High Refractive Index and Transparency
Transparent polymer thin film with refractive index exceeding 1.9 to serve as new platform materials for high-end optical device applications Researchers reported a novel technology enhancing the high transparency of refractive polymer film via a one-step vapor deposition process. The sulfur-containing polymer (SCP) film produced by Professor Sung Gap Im’s research team at KAIST’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering has exhibited excellent environmental stability and chemical resistance, which is highly desirable for its application in long-term optical device applications. The high refractive index exceeding 1.9 while being fully transparent in the entire visible range will help expand the applications of optoelectronic devices. The refractive index is a ratio of the speed of light in a vacuum to the phase velocity of light in a material, used as a measure of how much the path of light is bent when passing through a material. With the miniaturization of various optical parts used in mobile devices and imaging, demand has been rapidly growing for high refractive index transparent materials that induce more light refraction with a thin film. As polymers have outstanding physical properties and can be easily processed in various forms, they are widely used in a variety of applications such as plastic eyeglass lenses. However, there have been very few polymers developed so far with a refractive index exceeding 1.75, and existing high refractive index polymers require costly materials and complicated manufacturing processes. Above all, core technologies for producing such materials have been dominated by Japanese companies, causing long-standing challenges for Korean manufacturers. Securing a stable supply of high-performance, high refractive index materials is crucial for the production of optical devices that are lighter, more affordable, and can be freely manipulated. The research team successfully manufactured a whole new polymer thin film material with a refractive index exceeding 1.9 and excellent transparency, using just a one-step chemical reaction. The SCP film showed outstanding optical transparency across the entire visible light region, presumably due to the uniformly dispersed, short-segment polysulfide chains, which is a distinct feature unachievable in polymerizations with molten sulfur. The team focused on the fact that elemental sulfur is easily sublimated to produce a high refractive index polymer by polymerizing the vaporized sulfur with a variety of substances. This method suppresses the formation of overly long S-S chains while achieving outstanding thermal stability in high sulfur concentrations and generating transparent non-crystalline polymers across the entire visible spectrum. Due to the characteristics of the vapor phase process, the high refractive index thin film can be coated not just on silicon wafers or glass substrates, but on a wide range of textured surfaces as well. We believe this thin film polymer is the first to have achieved an ultrahigh refractive index exceeding 1.9. Professor Im said, “This high-performance polymer film can be created in a simple one-step manner, which is highly advantageous in the synthesis of SCPs with a high refractive index. This will serve as a platform material for future high-end optical device applications.” This study, in collaboration with research teams from Seoul National University and Kyung Hee University, was reported in Science Advances. (Title: One-Step Vapor-Phase Synthesis of Transparent High-Refractive Index Sulfur-Containing Polymers） This research was supported by the Ministry of Science and ICT’s Global Frontier Project (Center for Advanced Soft-Electronics), Leading Research Center Support Program (Wearable Platform Materials Technology Center), and Basic Science Research Program (Advanced Research Project).
Universal Virus Detection Platform to Expedite Viral Diagnosis
Reactive polymer-based tester pre-screens dsRNAs of a wide range of viruses without their genome sequences The prompt, precise, and massive detection of a virus is the key to combat infectious diseases such as Covid-19. A new viral diagnostic strategy using reactive polymer-grafted, double-stranded RNAs will serve as a pre-screening tester for a wide range of viruses with enhanced sensitivity. Currently, the most widely using viral detection methodology is polymerase chain reaction (PCR) diagnosis, which amplifies and detects a piece of the viral genome. Prior knowledge of the relevant primer nucleic acids of the virus is quintessential for this test. The detection platform developed by KAIST researchers identifies viral activities without amplifying specific nucleic acid targets. The research team, co-led by Professor Sheng Li and Professor Yoosik Kim from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, constructed a universal virus detection platform by utilizing the distinct features of the PPFPA-grafted surface and double-stranded RNAs. The key principle of this platform is utilizing the distinct feature of reactive polymer-grafted surfaces, which serve as a versatile platform for the immobilization of functional molecules. These activated surfaces can be used in a wide range of applications including separation, delivery, and detection. As long double-stranded RNAs are common byproducts of viral transcription and replication, these PPFPA-grafted surfaces can detect the presence of different kinds of viruses without prior knowledge of their genomic sequences. “We employed the PPFPA-grafted silicon surface to develop a universal virus detection platform by immobilizing antibodies that recognize double-stranded RNAs,” said Professor Kim. To increase detection sensitivity, the research team devised two-step detection process analogues to sandwich enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay where the bound double-stranded RNAs are then visualized using fluorophore-tagged antibodies that also recognize the RNAs’ double-stranded secondary structure. By utilizing the developed platform, long double-stranded RNAs can be detected and visualized from an RNA mixture as well as from total cell lysates, which contain a mixture of various abundant contaminants such as DNAs and proteins. The research team successfully detected elevated levels of hepatitis C and A viruses with this tool. “This new technology allows us to take on virus detection from a new perspective. By targeting a common biomarker, viral double-stranded RNAs, we can develop a pre-screening platform that can quickly differentiate infected populations from non-infected ones,” said Professor Li. “This detection platform provides new perspectives for diagnosing infectious diseases. This will provide fast and accurate diagnoses for an infected population and prevent the influx of massive outbreaks,” said Professor Kim. This work is featured in Biomacromolecules. This work was supported by the Agency for Defense Development (Grant UD170039ID), the Ministry of Science and ICT (NRF-2017R1D1A1B03034660, NRF-2019R1C1C1006672), and the KAIST Future Systems Healthcare Project from the Ministry of Science and ICT (KAISTHEALTHCARE42). Profile:-Professor Yoosik KimDepartment of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineeringhttps://qcbio.kaist.ac.kr KAIST-Professor Sheng LiDepartment of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineeringhttps://bcpolymer.kaist.ac.kr KAIST Publication:Ku et al., 2020. Reactive Polymer Targeting dsRNA as Universal Virus Detection Platform with Enhanced Sensitivity. Biomacromolecules (https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.biomac.0c00379).
New Members of KAST 2020
< Professor Zong-Tae Bae (Left) and Professor Sang Ouk Kim (Right) > Professor Zong-Tae Bae from the School of Management Engineering and Professor Sang Ouk Kim from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering became new fellows of the Korean Academy of Science and Technology (KAST) along with 22 other scientists in Korea. On November 22, KAST announced 24 new members for the year 2020. This includes seven scientists from the field of natural sciences, six from engineering, four from medical sciences, another four from policy research, and three from agriculture and fishery. The new fellows will begin their term from January next year, and their fellowships wll be conferred during the KAST’s New Year Reception to be held on January 14 in Seoul. (END)
Scientist of October, Professor Haeshin Lee
(Professor Haeshin Lee from the Department of Chemistry) Professor Haeshin Lee from the Department of Chemistry received the ‘Science and Technology Award of October’ from the Ministry of Science and ICT and the National Research Foundation of Korea for his contribution to developing an antibleeding injection needle. This novel outcome will fundamentally prevent the problem of secondary infections of AIDS, Ebola and Hepatitis viruses transmitting from patients to medical teams. This needle’s surface is coated with hemostatic materials. Its concept is simple and the key to this technology is to make materials that are firmly coated on the needle so that they can endure frictional force when being injected into skin and blood vessels. Moreover, the materials should be adhesive to skin and the interior of blood vessels, but harmless to humans. Professor Lee found a solution from natural polymer ingredients. Catecholamine can be found in mussels. Professor Lee conjugated catechol groups on the chitosan backbone. He applied this mussel-inspired adhesive polymer Chitosan-catechol, which immediately forms an adhesive layer with blood, as a bioadhesion for the antibleeding injection needle. Professor Lee said, “Chitosan-catechol, which copies the adhesive mechanism of mussels, shows high solubility in physiological saline as well as great mucoadhesion. Hence, it is perfectly suitable for coating the injection needle. Combining it with proteins allows for efficient drug delivery to the heart, which is a challenging injection location, so it will be also useful for treating incurable heart disease.”
Novel Photolithographic Technology Enabling 3D Control over Functional Shapes of Microstructures
Professor Shin-Hyun Kim and his research team in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at KAIST have developed a novel photolithographic technology enabling control over the functional shapes of micropatterns using oxygen diffusion. The research was published online in the March 13th issue of Nature Communications and was selected as a featured image for the journal. Photolithography is a standard optical process for transferring micropatterns on to a substrate by exposing specific regions of the photoresist layer to ultraviolet (UV) light. It is used widely throughout industries that require micropatterns, especially in the semiconductor manufacturing industry. Conventional photolithography relied on photomasks which protected certain regions of the substrate from the input UV light. Areas covered by the photomasks remain intact with the base layer while the areas exposed to the UV light are washed away, thus creating a micropattern. This technology was limited to a two-dimensional, disc-shaped design as the boundaries between the exposed and roofed regions are always in a parallel arrangement with the direction of the light. Professor Kim’s research team discovered that: 1) the areas exposed to UV light lowered the concentration of oxygen and thus resulted in oxygen diffusion; and 2) manipulation of the diffusion speed and direction allowed control of the growth, shape and size of the polymers. Based on these findings, the team developed a new photolithographic technology that enabled the production of micropatterns with three-dimensional structures in various shapes and sizes. Oxygen was considered an inhibitor during photopolymerization. Photoresist under UV light creates radicals which initialize a chemical reaction. These radicals are eliminated with the presence of oxygen and thus prevents the reaction. This suggests that the photoresist must be exposed to UV light for an extended time to completely remove oxygen for a chemical reaction to begin. The research team, however, exploited the presence of oxygen. While the region affected by the UV light lowered oxygen concentration, the concentration in the untouched region remained unchanged. This difference in the concentrations caused a diffusion of oxygen to the region under UV light. When the speed of the oxygen flow is slow, the diffusion occurs in parallel with the direction of the UV light. When fast, the diffusion process develops horizontally, outward from the area affected by the UV light. Professor Kim and his team proved this phenomenon both empirically and theoretically. Furthermore, by injecting an external oxygen source, the team was able to manipulate diffusion strength and direction, and thus control the shape and size of the polymer. The use of the polymerization inhibitors enabled and facilitated the fabrication of complex, three-dimensional micropatterns. Professor Kim said, “While 3D printing is considered an innovative manufacturing technology, it cannot be used for mass-production of microscopic products. The new photolithographic technology will have a broad impact on both the academia and industry especially because existing, conventional photolithographic equipment can be used for the development of more complex micropatterns.” His newest technology will enhance the manufacturing process of three-dimensional polymers which were considered difficult to be commercialized. The research was also dedicated to the late Professor Seung-Man Yang of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at KAIST. He was considered one of the greatest scholars in Korea in the field of hydrodynamics and colloids. Picture 1: Featured Image of Nature Communications, March 2015 Picture 2: Polymers with various shapes and sizes produced with the new photolithographic technology developed by Professor Kim
Polymers with Highly Improved Light-transformation Efficiency
A joint Korean research team, led by Professor Bum-Joon Kim of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at KAIST and Professor Young-Woo Han of the Department of Nanofusion Engineering at Pusan National University, has developed a new type of electrically-conductive polymer for solar batteries with an improved light-transformation efficiency of up to 5%. The team considers it a viable replacement for existing plastic batteries for solar power which is viewed as the energy source of the future. Polymer solar cells have greater structural stability and heat resistance compared to fullerene organic solar cells. However, they have lower light-transformation efficiency—below 4%—compared to 10% of the latter. The low efficiency is due to the failure of blending among the polymers that compose the active layer of the cell. This phenomenon deters the formation and movement of electrons and thus lowers light-transformation efficiency. By manipulating the structure and concentration of conductive polymers, the team was able to effectively increase the polymer blending and increase light-transformation efficiency. The team was able to maximize the efficiency up to 6% which is the highest reported ratio. Professor Kim said, “This research demonstrates that conductive polymer plastics can be used widely for solar cells and batteries for mobile devices.” The research findings were published in the February 18th issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS). Picture: Flexible Solar Cell Polymer Developed by the Research Team
KAIST Develops Ultrathin Polymer Insulators Key to Low-Power Soft Electronics
Using an initiated chemical vapor deposition technique, the research team created an ultrathin polymeric insulating layer essential in realizing transistors with flexibility and low power consumption. This advance is expected to accelerate the commercialization of wearable and soft electronics. A group of researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) developed a high-performance ultrathin polymeric insulator for field-effect transistors (FETs). The researchers used vaporized monomers to form polymeric films grown conformally on various surfaces including plastics to produce a versatile insulator that meets a wide range of requirements for next-generation electronic devices. Their research results were published online in Nature Materials on March 9th, 2015. FETs are an essential component for any modern electronic device used in our daily life from cell phones and computers, to flat-panel displays. Along with three electrodes (gate, source, and drain), FETs consist of an insulating layer and a semiconductor channel layer. The insulator in FETs plays an important role in controlling the conductance of the semiconductor channel and thus current flow within the translators. For reliable and low-power operation of FETs, electrically robust, ultrathin insulators are essential. Conventionally, such insulators are made of inorganic materials (e.g., oxides and nitrides) built on a hard surface such as silicon or glass due to their excellent insulating performance and reliability. However, these insulators were difficult to implement into soft electronics due to their rigidity and high process temperature. In recent years, many researchers have studied polymers as promising insulating materials that are compatible with soft unconventional substrates and emerging semiconductor materials. The traditional technique employed in developing a polymer insulator, however, had the limitations of low surface coverage at ultra-low thickness, hindering FETs adopting polymeric insulators from operating at low voltage. A KAIST research team led by Professor Sung Gap Im of the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department and Professor Seunghyup Yoo and Professor Byung Jin Cho of the Electrical Engineering Department developed an insulating layer of organic polymers, “pV3D3,” that can be greatly scaled down, without losing its ideal insulating properties, to a thickness of less than 10 nanometers (nm) using the all-dry vapor-phase technique called the “initiated chemical vapor deposition (iCVD).” The iCVD process allows gaseous monomers and initiators to react with each other in a low vacuum condition, and as a result, conformal polymeric films with excellent insulating properties are deposited on a substrate. Unlike the traditional technique, the surface-growing character of iCVD can overcome the problems associated with surface tension and produce highly uniform and pure ultrathin polymeric films over a large area with virtually no surface or substrate limitations. Furthermore, most iCVD polymers are created at room temperature, which lessens the strain exerted upon and damage done to the substrates. With the pV3D3 insulator, the research team built low-power, high-performance FETs based on various semiconductor materials such as organics, graphene, and oxides, demonstrating the pV3D3 insulator’s wide range of material compatibility. They also manufactured a stick-on, removable electronic component using conventional packaging tape as a substrate. In collaboration with Professor Yong-Young Noh from Dongguk University in Korea, the team successfully developed a transistor array on a large-scale flexible substrate with the pV3D3 insulator. Professor Im said, “The down-scalability and wide range of compatibility observed with iCVD-grown pV3D3 are unprecedented for polymeric insulators. Our iCVD pV3D3 polymeric films showed an insulating performance comparable to that of inorganic insulating layers, even when their thickness were scaled down to sub-10 nm. We expect our development will greatly benefit flexible or soft electronics, which will play a key role in the success of emerging electronic devices such as wearable computers.” The title of the research paper is “Synthesis of ultrathin polymer insulating layers by initiated chemical vapor deposition for low-power soft electronics” (Digital Object Identifier (DOI) number is 10.1038/nmat4237). Picture 1: A schematic image to show how the initiated chemical vapor deposition (iCVD) technique produces pV3D3 polymeric films: (i) introduction of vaporized monomers and initiators, (ii) activation of initiators to thermally dissociate into radicals, (iii) adsorption of monomers and initiator radicals onto a substrate, and (iv) transformation of free-radical polymerization into pV3D3 thin films. Picture 2: This is a transistor array fabricated on a large scale, highly flexible substrate with pV3D3 polymeric films. Picture 3: This photograph shows an electronic component fabricated on a conventional packaging tape, which is attachable or detachable, with pV3D3 polymeric films embedded.
Rechargeable Lithium Sulfur Battery for Greater Battery Capacity
Professor Do Kyung Kim from the Department of Material Science and Engineering and Professor Jang Wook Choi from the Graduate School of EEWS have been featured in the lead story of the renowned nanoscience journal Advanced Materials for their research on the lithium sulfur battery. This new type of battery developed by Professor Kim is expected to have a longer life battery life and [higher] energy density than currently commercial batteries. With ample energy density up to 2100Wh/kg—almost 5.4 times that of lithium ion batteries—lithium sulfur batteries can withstand the sharp decrease in energy capacity resulting from charging and discharging—which has been considered the inherent limitation of the conventional batteries. Professor Kim and his research team used one-dimensional, vertical alignment of 75nm tick, 15μm long sulfur nanowires to maximize electric conductivity. Then, to prevent loss of battery life, they carbon-coated each nanowire and prohibited direct contact between the sulfur and electrolyte. The result was one of the most powerful batteries in terms of both energy performance and density. Compared to conventional batteries which suffer from continuous decrease in energy capacity after being discharged, the lithium sulfur battery maintained 99.2% of its initial capacity after being charged and discharged 300 times and up to 70% even after 1000 times. Professor Kim claims that his new battery is an important step forward towards a high-performance rechargeable battery which is a vital technology for unmanned vehicles, electric automobiles and energy storage. He hopes that his research can solve the problems of battery-capacity loss and contribute to South Korea’s leading position in battery technology. Professor Kim’s research team has filed applications for one domestic and international patent for their research.
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