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November 2020

Strategies for emotional wellbeing (Part 1 of 3 in Navigating, surviving, and thriving in the challenging landscape of academia)

It's no news that during graduate studies and beyond, the unique combination of stressors in academia takes a psychological toll on students, postdocs, and faculty. In light of increased isolation and financial strain during the disruptive pandemic, the topic of mental wellbeing has gained renewed attention. In this year's virtual meeting, MRS brings a 3-part series Navigating, surviving, and thriving in the challenging landscape of academia.

The unstable environment and future uncertainty have been unsettling. Mental fatigue can be overwhelming for anyone, leading to low motivation and low mood. In Part 1 Coping with Stress in Academia—Strategies to cope with the pandemic & create support structures, Prof Yvette G. Flores from the University of California, Davis shares coping strategies for emotional wellness.

Physical self-care includes getting enough exercise, sleep, hydration and nutrition. Emotional self-care involves actions designed to maintain balance in our lives. For example, play board games with your family,  meditate, do breathing exercises, practice yoga, pray, cook, bake or watch the sunset - do what works for you.

Emotions begin in our thoughts and ideas. Our emotional state is reflected in our actions. Therefore, self-awareness of our thoughts allows us to change our behaviors.


  • Accept information without corroborating its origin. Misinformation exacerbates panic and anxiety, giving a destabilizing effect.


  • Recognize our fears - learn to understand them instead of rejecting them. Identify sources of anxiety.
  • Begin the day with positive affirmation.
  • Maintain a group of friends whom we can share our worries.
  • Have gratitude. Recall 3 positive things during bedtime.
  • Have compassion for ourselves. It is okay to not feel okay - give yourself permission.
  • Have patience. "This too, shall pass."

And remember, that each and every one of us is worthy of career success and holistic wellness. We're all in this together. As the saying goes, crisis is opportunity. Let's transform our fears into opportunities for improvement.

On a final note, do check out the curation of resources for the academic community under the "Files" tab.

Part 2 of the series "The international academic experience - relocation, isolation and adapting to change" coming up on Tue 1st Dec 1130 - 1330 Eastern Time. My blog here

In Part 3, join an interactive workshop "Mental health literacy and creating community culture change in STEM" on Thu 3rd Dec 1130 - 1330 Eastern Time.

Let me know your favorite self-care tips on Twitter @labspatula

Wishing everyone a good day ahead.

P.S. How about checking out some art?

F20MRS Meeting: 3D Printing of MXene Ink for Fabrication of Micro-Supercapacitors

Dr. Jafar Orangi is a recent PhD graduate from Beidaghi lab at Auburn University. His work is on developing 3D printing strategies to fabricate energy storage devices using MXene Ink.

His talk at MRS join meeting this year is on the fabrication of on-chip three-dimensional (3D) micro-supercapacitors based on 2D MXenes. Generally, one of the main factors that affects the overall performance of an energy storage device is the electrode preparation and device assembly part. Dr. Orangi and his co-workers are developing a cutting edge approach to obsolete the additives that are conventionally used in electrode fabrication methods. They have introduced a new fabrication method of MXene electrodes and device assembly using an extrusion-based 3D printing process that uses viscoelastic water-based MXene ink.

The general approach in their work is layer-by-layer deposition of the MXene ink to fabricate the 3D electrodes on different substrates. this method is especially applicable for the fabrication of flexible energy storage devices.

You can learn about his work using this link.

F20MRS Meeting: Understanding the factors that influence multivalent ion intercalation kinetics

Dr. Veronica Augustyn is an assistant professor at NC State University. Her group works on the synthesis and characterization of materials for electrochemical energy technologies. 

During this year's MRS join the meeting, she is presenting their work on understanding the factors that influence multivalent ion intercalation kinetics with a focus on water addition influence in Mg2+ non-aqueous on Mg2+-ion intercalation into metal oxide host. This proposed strategy is to decrease the interfacial charge transfer resistance and increase solid state Mg2+ diffusion, leading to higher reversibility in the Mg-ion battery system. 

The big question that they intend to answer is to understand the potential mechanisms of water role using molecular dynamics simulations and different materials characterization techniques combined with a deep understanding of electrochemistry. 

It is definitely an informative talk for electrochemists in the field of energy storage!

You can find the work using this link.


Symposium S.SM03: Flexible, Stretchable Biointegrated Materials, Devices and Related Mechanics

Roisin Owens, University of Cambridge

A Bioelectronic In Vitro Model of the Microbiome-Gut-Brain Axis

Written by Jessalyn Low Hui Ying

In vitro models are useful for modeling human biological systems, especially in cases where animal models do not suffice. This is particularly true for the study of microbiome-gut-brain interactions. For this, Roisin Owens and her colleagues developed an in vitro model using polymeric electroactive materials. They have previously established that conducting polymer scaffolds can be integrated into tubular transistor devices where the active barrier is the conducting polymer poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene):poly(styrenesulfonate) (PEDOT:PSS). This tubular scaffold is able to host cells and also monitor cell growth over time. “This is a unique model and one of the things that makes it really stand apart is the fact that we have the integrated monitoring, so we can see whether something we add to the model is increasing the resistance of the epithelium or decreasing the blood-brain barrier permeability,” says Owens.

To achieve a co-culture of multiple cell types, fibroblasts were seeded onto the scaffold, and intestinal epithelial cells four days later, to generate a monolayer of epithelial cells pointing into the lumen of scaffold like the gut. Haematoxylin and eosin (HE) staining showed the integration of scaffold with fibroblasts and the presence of the epithelial layer with globular mucous producing cells, indicating tissue formation. Resistance and capacitance were also observed to change with time. To increase the repository of cells in the scaffold, the researchers have also grown monocytes as well as integrated bacteria. The addition of bacteria caused an initial dip in transepithelial resistance but recovery was faster in the presence of immune cells. Owens reports that the gut model is almost complete and that they are now developing models of vasculature and neurovasculature including components of the blood–brain barrier (BBB) and brain model.

Symposium S.SM01: Organ-on-a-Chip—Toward Personalized Precision Medicine

Mehdi Nikkhah, Arizona State University

Engineering of Microfluidic Tumor On-Chip Models to Study Cancer Metastasis

Written by Jessalyn Low Hui Ying

There are many challenges in modeling cancer, due to its high complexity particularly from the tumor microenvironment. Modeling these complex disease landscapes, however, are integral to understanding cancer progression and paving the way for new treatments. In this talk, Mehdi Nikkhah reports the development of a tumor-on-a-chip model to recapitulate the breast tumor microenvironment and study cancer cell invasion.

The research team built a microfluidic chip consisting of two distinct regions—stroma and tumor—which allowed for cancer cell migration from the tumor to stroma region. To further enhance the complexity of the modelled tumor microenvironment, patient-derived cancer associated fibroblasts (CAFs) were embedded in the stroma region. Using the microfluidic platform, it was discovered that CAFs significantly increased cancer cell invasion from tumor to stroma. With this, the researchers tried to identify mediators of cell invasion. Gene expression profiling of cancer cells identified a gene, glycoprotein non-metastatic B (GPNMB) that was highly expressed in breast cancer cells when cocultured with CAFs. A functional knockdown of GPNMB was conducted and results showed that this significantly reduced the invasion of cancer cells even in the presence of CAFs.

These results highlight the ability of this tumor-on-a-chip model to recapitulate patient-specific tumor microenvironments and investigate key molecular pathways in tumor-stroma interactions. Nikkhah also mentions in his talk the advanced utility of this platform technology. By adding a third region of vascular network to mimic the vascular niche, this device can be used to study brain cancer and how the vascular niche promotes glioma stem cells invasion.

Symposium X: Frontiers of Materials Research

Vijay-narayananVijay Narayanan, IBM T.J. Watson Research Center
The Golden Age of Materials Innovations—From High-κ/Metal Gate to AI Hardware

In his early days at IBM, Vijay Narayanan introduced new materials at the nanoscale to incorporate into the core of the transistor in order to enable computers to work rapidly at low power. With the advent of deep learning-based artificial intelligence algorithms, materials innovation is required again. Currently, the research community is working under the idea that artificial neural networks can be mapped to arrays of non-volatile memory (NVM) elements. The NVM elements being evaluated as resistive processing units are falling short. Narayanan says innovation and collaboration across academia and industry is necessary to overcome this obstacle.

Complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) chips have reached the third generation in development in which fin field-effect transistor (finFETs) are fabricated through extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV). The next step in the semiconductor technology roadmap is scaling down to 5 nm node and beyond through R&D in nanosheet device architectures.

For the next phase in semiconductor R&D, Narayanan said, “Materials scientists have had the opportunity to now impact a totally new era of AI compute.” In his talk, Narayanan concentrated on analog AI, “which is the concept of using nonvolatile memory elements crossbar arrays for deep learning acceleration.”

Deep learning has become essential because the amount of data available has increased exponentially, Narayanan said. Furthermore, with the deep learning explosion, in 2014 to 2015, accuracies in image recognition are better than what humans can do, and likewise with speech recognition. “This can be a significant benefit for the entire AI computer ecosystem,” Narayanan said. And now, due to machine learning, new technology and new paradigms are needed to absorb the emerging workloads.

Materials innovation comes into play in regards to new architectures for AI to help “consume the workloads and help map deep learning networks into something that can be energy efficient,” Narayanan said. It will be critical for materials researchers to collaborate with algorithmic teams early on in the R&D of AI hardware.

Narayanan’s presentation will be available online through December 31, 2020.

F.EL.02: Emerging Light-Emitting Materials and Devices—Halide Perovskites, Quantum Dots and Other Nanoscale Emitters

Zhi Kuang Tan, National University of Singapore

Efficient Near-Infrared Electroluminescent Devices for Wearable Technologies

Written by Parul, Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, India

This lecture reminds me of one very trendy quote on modern wearable technology i.e. “It is not that we use technology, we live technology”. And we already know, colloidal quantum dots are always in the limelight due to their vast number of optoelectronic applications, but narrow emissive and high photoluminescence quantum yield of perovskite nanocrystals was a breakthrough in this field since 2014. Large-area-near-infrared and transparent infrared-based perovskite light-emitting diodes are the most interesting and attractive finding reported in this talk since 2020. The major applications of these materials and properties are reported in facial recognition, eye sensing, and other health monitoring devices, smartwatches ~part of wearable technology. In this talk, researchers have reported Poly(N, N'-bis-4-butyl phenyl-N, N'-biphenyl)benzidine (poly-TPD) and Poly(9,9-dioctylfluorene-alt-N-(4-sec-butyl phenyl)-diphenylamine) (TFB) as a hole transporting layer in the fabrication of PE-LEDs, and decent efficiency was reported with poly-TPD (20%) and TFB (17%). Three types of devices were prepared to probe the overall efficiency of the device. It is concluded that the balance of hole and electron current is required for an effective device. Also, narrow efficiency in a device leads to the scale-up of area of device; ultimately this idea is going to affect the commercialized aspect of medical devices and wearable technology.

F.EL.02: Emerging Light-Emitting Materials and Devices—Halide Perovskites, Quantum Dots and Other Nanoscale Emitters

Laura Herz, Oxford University

Nanoscale Effects in Metal Hybrid Halide Perovskite for Light Emitting Diodes

Written by Parul, Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, India

Metal hybrid halide perovskite structures are of interest to the scientific community because of their extraordinary optoelectronic properties, but an easy loss of organic cation in these hybrid materials hinders its real potential. Therefore, the fundamental study of degradation pathways is important to study before their commercialization in light-emitting diodes and solar cells. In this report, a comparative study of electron microscopic images before and after the degradation of material in the presence of an electron beam are explored to define the degradation mechanism of hybrid halide perovskite materials. Thermally co-evaporated thin films of FAPbI3/MAPbI3 are studied on nanoscale-transmission electron microscopy grids and different microscopic images are captured on a slight variation of electron beam exposure to notice the pathway. Initially, a pristine cubic phase of perovskite material is formed but on further exposure, it changes to a bright- and dark-checkered pattern. Electron beam induces dissociation and loss of organic cation i.e FA+ but the perovskite structure is still maintained after FA+ loss which confirmed the ease of regeneration of perovskite structure by addition of new FA+ precursors. In the later part of the talk, defects, dislocations, and stacking faults of FAPbI3 were contrasted using microscopic images. The discussion was important in the context of fundamentals and applied science of perovskite materials.

Symposium S.SM08: Emerging Strategies and Applications in Drug Delivery

Christopher Jewell, University of Maryland-College Park

Enhancing Immunotherapy through Rational Control of Immune Signaling

Written by Jessalyn Low Hui Ying

“The immune system is a perfect example of a drug delivery and engineering problem,” says Christopher Jewell. Vaccines and immunotherapies targeting the immune system are critical in many areas like cancer treatment and bacteria infections. While biomaterials are useful and in fact possess intrinsic immunogenic features, these materials may add a layer of complexity such as in mechanism of action. Jewell and his research team develops a technique of self-assembling immune signals to build into structures that offer the benefits of biomaterials such as co-delivery and tunability, but without the additional complication of a carrier component.

To do this, polyelectrolyte multilayer (PEM) assembly is used. Here, the entire structure is assembled from immune signals, which they term as immune polyelectrolyte multilayers (iPEMs). The cationic layer consists of antigens that are peptides either with a net cationic charge, or with appended amino acids. The anionic layer consists of adjuvants such as toll-like receptor (TLR) agonists, of which many are nucleic acid based and negatively charged. iPEMs were demonstrated to achieve co-delivery and quicker internalization compared to free immune cells. When coated on microneedles for vaccination in mice, significant tumor-specific T cell expansion was observed.

One important consideration in the development of these iPEMs is the robustness in terms of controlling what pathways are turned on and to what level. The researchers built a library of iPEMs with tumor antigens and different combinations of TLR agonists and showed that composition could be controlled. iPEMs also allowed for tunable control over TLR loading and consequently programmable control of TLR signaling across multiple pathways. More interestingly, the researchers showed that changing TLR composition results in different T cell response against the same antigen. The results show the great potential of iPEMs in controlling response against a certain antigen by modulating the signaling pathway. Jewell notes that this is important for cancer as generating a more robust response can drive more durable outcomes.