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April 2016

Special Message

The 2016 MRS Spring Meeting—held for the first time in Phoenix—came to a successful conclusion on Friday, April 1, with over 4,400 attendees and 145 exhibitors. Our congratulations go to the Meeting Chairs Christopher A. Bower, Andrew M. Minor, Roger Narayan, Izabela Szlufarska, and Osamu Ueda, for putting together an excellent technical program along with various special events. MRS would also like to thank all the Symposium Organizers, Session Chairs, and Symposium Assistants for their part in the success of this meeting.

Contributors to news on the 2016 MRS Spring Meeting include Meeting Scene reporters Mary Nora Dickson, Damon Dozier, Michael Lee, Judy Meiksin, Devesh Mistry, Tine Naerland, Aditi Risbud, Arthur L. Robinson, and Lori Wilson, with photographers Andrea Pekelnicky and Rebecca Yokum and newsletter production by Joe Yzquierdo; Bloggers The Duong, Monica Jung de Andrade, Sankalp Kota, and John Robertson; and Social Media news by Charlene Santiago and Melina Zúñiga from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication (Arizona State University).

Thank you for subscribing to the Meeting Scene e-mails from the 2016 MRS Spring Meeting. We hope you enjoyed reading them. We welcome your comments and feedback.

Innovation in Materials Characterization Award

Frances M. Ross, IBM T.J. Watson Research Center

Niels de Jonge, INM—Leibnitz Institute for New Materials

Chongmin Wang, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Transmission Electron Microscopy of Specimens and Processes in Liquid

Written by Arthur L. Robinson

Once, many of us automatically thought of electron microscopy as an ultrahigh-vacuum technique best limited to thin, solid samples, such as the elaborately prepared, thin sections of biological cells prepared for transmission electron microscopy (TEM). But, as Frances Ross noted in her introduction section of the Innovation in Materials Characterization Award presentation, from the beginning one goal has been to image liquid specimens and measure processes in liquids with good spatial and temporal resolution. As far back as the early 1940s, the two main approaches to handling liquid samples were already apparent in the form of thin-window (closed) cells and differentially-pumped (open) cells that maintained a low pressure near the electron beam, but both were difficult to use and neither improved the spatial resolution significantly over that of an optical microscope. Modern materials and fabrication have come to the rescue. Electron-transparent silicon-nitride windows capable of withstanding high pressures and ionic liquids with low vapor pressure and vacuum stability combined with micromanipulators to place nanosamples in contact with the ionic liquids make the two methods practical.

Ross continued her portion of the presentation by describing closed cells for TEM of electrochemical processes. She pointed out an important tradeoff in choosing the thickness: Thin windows provide the best resolution, since there is less liquid for the electrons to pass through, but real electrochemical processes often require somewhat thicker liquids, perhaps flowing as well, before they will occur. Radiation effects have to be considered as well, not only for any solids present, but for the liquid, which can be plagued by artifacts such as gas bubbles under radiation doses comparable to those in nuclear reactors. Electrochemical growth models apply to individual structures (nuclei, pits, dendrites) yet were developed based on ensemble measurements such as cluster density, average film thickness and current per unit area. Liquid-cell TEM combines good spatial and temporal resolution with measurement of electrochemical parameters, thus occupying an essential niche between light microscopy and scanning tunneling microscopy. Ross illustrated this capability with a series of studies starting with electrochemical nucleation and growth and continuing with instabilities in zinc-based batteries, pitting corrosion in aluminum films, galvanic displacement to create nanostructured catalytic surfaces, and electrical control of nanoparticle growth in solution. Ross closed by emphasizing the ability of TEM to provide quantitative data, the opportunity for advanced cell designs, and the possibility of drawing on high-speed, analytical, and aberration-corrected liquid-cell microscopy, as well as correlative microscopy involving electrons plus light or x-rays.

Niels de Jonge continued the presentation with a review of scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) of whole cells in liquids. The objective of the research is to study how cellular function is regulated by external signals received by membrane proteins. Membrane proteins (receptors), which lie in the cell membrane, interpret chemical signals from outside the cell and decide which action a cell should take. De Jonge illustrated the idea with the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) to which epidermal growth factor, a signal for cell growth, can bind. A subsequent dimerization reaction completes the process. But this picture is obtained indirectly from biochemical techniques, as there has been no way to directly image the process: fluorescence microscopy has insufficient resolution, and electron microscopy has required thin, solid samples. For direct imaging in liquids, de Jonge and his colleagues developed a closed cell through which liquid could flow. To obtain contrast, they labeled the EGFR with gold nanoparticles. In this way, they were able to obtain images distinguishing monomers and dimers with 4-nm resolution. An alternative method applicable to the thin regions of the cell away from the nucleus is to use STEM detection in an environmental SEM (ESEM) at lower voltage. To find the regions of interest in the cell, light and electron microscopy were combined. This technique is being used to study HER2 in breast cancer cells. A member of the EGFR family, HER2 does not require an external signaling ligand and thus opens the way to uncontrolled cell growth, suggesting a possible link to the development of drug resistance.

Chongmin Wang completed the presentation with a discussion of the use of open cells for battery research. The main components of batteries (anode materials, cathode materials, electrolytes, and interfaces) all play important roles in battery operation and failure during the charging and discharging cycles. In lithium-ion batteries, for example, the standard graphite anode has a limited charge capacity, and researchers are looking for alternatives, such as silicon, to boost the capacity, in principle up to a factor of 10 or so. The difficulty is that the capacity of silicon anodes decreases as the number of charge–discharge cycles grows during service, owing to failure to accommodate the large volume change during each cycle. Wang’s group developed an open-cell design for in situ TEM of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries with the cathode attached to one gold rod, nanowires anodes to a second gold rod, an ionic liquid electrolyte between, and a bias applied across the sample and use it to study the possible benefits of coatings to mitigate capacity fading. One promising candidate is alucone, a metal–organic material, but how does it work? They found that the strength and thickness of the coating materials are critical parameters. For example, too strong a coating will lead to battery self-discharge. The ideal coating provides a deformable layer with weak resilience. Wang ended with a look at the advantages of open and closed cells. Both open and closed liquid cells can provide similar information on the intrinsic response of material to ion insertion and extraction, but the closed liquid cell is the only way to correlate electrochemical behavior, structure, and chemistry in real battery.

Niels de Jonge, Frances M. Ross, and Chongmin Wang, received the Innovation in Materials Characterization Award “for seminal contributions to the imaging of specimens in liquids using transmission electron microscopy, revolutionizing the direct observation of materials processes, batteries during operation, and biological structures.”

Sustainability in my Community Poster Exhibition

MRS University Chapters were asked to answer the question “What is your community doing to create a more sustainable future?” by submitting a poster highlighting materials-related sustainable activities in their local communities and to promote interactions with society. MRS members voted for their favorite poster.


María Eugenia Pérez Barthaburu’s group from the MRS Chapter in Uruguay received first place.

1st Place: Maia Mombrú, I. Galain, G. Azcune, R. Keuchkerián, M. Pérez Barthaburu of Universidad de la República for Uruguay: a sustainable energy country for everyone.

2nd Place: Tyler Boquet-Caron, Shelby Boydb, Julian Brodie, Alexandria Cruz, Andrew Squires, Ruocun Wang, Veronica Augustynb of North Carolina State University—Raleigh for Building the SciBridge between Africa and the U.S.

3rd Place: Hsin-An Chen, Yi-Rung Lin of National Taiwan University for Anti-corrosion layer of graphene for volcanic-hosted geothermal developing in Taiwan.

Honorable Mentions: Jasmin Smajic, Nitinkumar Batra and Bilal Ahmed of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) for Sustainability in KAUST Community and Cassie Marker, Nathan Martin, Jared Carter, Lakshmy Pulickal of The Pennsylvania State University for Sustainability. Putting a Green Fingerprint in Your Backyard

After the conference

I would have thought that I could take a small break from thinking about materials science after 5 days at MRS. On the way to see my cousin in Glendale, AZ, one taxi driver and I got immersed in a conversation about extractive metallurgy, as he used to do lots of business with the copper mines in New Mexico before his retirement. If that wasn't surprising, another taxi driver that took me from Glendale to the airport spoke to me about precision measurement systems and novel cutting methods his company developed (e.g. water jetting, EDM) for aluminum composites and Ti alloy composites for Boeing, before his retirement. Although he was more on the management side, he said he would have wanted to learn to do research if he were to turn back the hands of time. So I suppose I should consider myself lucky in that regard. Goodbye Arizona!

First Conference Talk

My heart was racing before my first conference today in the morning session of the EE5 symposium, despite having practiced the talk successfully a few times. Before I started speaking, seeing a close friend and some other classmates in the audience had an incredibly calming effect on me. I'm grateful that they were there to support me because it helped my delivery be smooth. My talk summarized the results of months of work on the high rate capabilities of MXenes, a class of 2D transition metal that I focus on for my research. Since pseudocapacitance is generally considered to lead to lower power density than electrochemical double layer capacitors (EDLC, e.g. activated carbon based devices), I highlighted the need for pseudocapacitive materials to have power densities exceed those of EDLCs. In particular, high electronic conductivity and fast ionic diffusion into the material are key, and MXenes just happened to be a good materials system to test this hypothesis.

Strategies to Improve Energy Storage Devices

An invited talk in the EE5 symposium on novel strategies for creating faster, longer-lasting energy storage devices was quite comprehensive. Among the strategies, were researching polymorphs of electrochemically active compounds (e.g. MnO2), combining capacitor-like and battery-like electrodes to create hybrid devices, using 2D materials as intercalation based electrodes, or using 2D materials as conductive networks for other redox-active compounds. Special attention was given to MXenes, a large family of 2D transition metal carbides discovered at Drexel University in 2011, and how they have been explored for many applications, including aqueous electrolyte supercapacitors, organic electrolyte supercapacitors, and  hybrid devices with LiFePO4 (widely used Li-ion battery cathode).


The first time I ever saw the Pacific Ocean was during last spring's MRS meeting.  It holds a special place in my heart as the first California city I ever visited, and I have MRS to thank.  However, after the conference ended today, I got the chance to make some new Arizona memories.  I drove north to Sedona with some old friends, and along the way saw the raw and powerful beauty of the Arizona landscape.  As we left Phoenes, first I was blown away at the beautiful and foreign Saguaro Cacti as we drove up I-17 just to the east of Prescott national park.  From there, we ascend a series of mountains until we arrived on a large plateau.  As we went, the elevation increased and so did the vegetation.  We transitioned from the borders of the Sonoran desert to the grasslands of the higher elevations.   From the top we were able to see the distant mountains near Flagstaff, a distant glimpse of the great mountains of the west.  Finally, just when I thought things could not get any more beautiful, we descended from the plateau into the v=Verde Valley; appropriately named, it seems, due to the several small stream and river valleys, fed by the mountains to the north, the leave long streaks of green wherever a river flows.  Finally the famous red rocks of Sedona emerged like titanic watchmen over the land.  All of this happened within a two hour drive of Phoenix.  I left a few pictures here from the trip, but my point is this; Phoenix and Arizona have shown me incredible beauty, and I am looking forward to exploring this land for many years to come thanks to MRS.

Photo 1 (1)
The red rocks of Sedona 


Photo 2 (1)
n Arizona sunset

MRS Awards: We need your Help to Increase Diversity in Nominations

Do you know that about 48% of the Materials Research Society (MRS) members are international, but that does not reflect in the nominations of awards? Similarly, women nominations do not reflect the MRS members numbers.

In the evolving society wherein diversity is a key driver towards successful innovation, it is intriguing that the MRS nominations are mostly Caucasian males from US. There are efforts from various committees at MRS to help increase the diversity of nomination to awards. At the moment, the MRS offers 12 different opportunities of awards:

  1. Graduate Student Award
  2. Innovation in Materials Characterization
  3. The Kavli Foundation Early Career Lectureship in Materials Science
  4. Materials Theory Award
  5. Mid-Career Researcher
  6. MRS Fellow
  7. MRS Impact Award
  8. MRS Medal
  9. Outstanding Young Investigator
  10. Postdoctoral Awards
  11. Turnbull Lectureship
  12. Von Hippel Award

Please, leave your comments in this post with suggestions how could we increase the diversity within the nominations to MRS awards. Join us in this effort, spread the nomination forms worldwide so to increase diverse nominations!


MRS towards diversity nominations.