No. 8, Fall 2020
Director's Message:

It's not very difficult to make a robust argument that this pandemic (and any others that may be coming in the near future) has been a fundamental disruptor in many industries formerly considered 'robust'.

The current 'slow motion chaos' and our attempts at a recovery has enabled us to analyze the direct ties among technologies, economic models, and manufacturing shortfalls. A holistic and design thinking approach allows a better understanding of the complexity of this interplay - for example see this journal article on Ecological Economics on models for a circular economy. Instead of being reactive though, what if we could be proactive? This assertive inquiry can manifest from a 'triple-helix' - Industry-University-Government consortium - where common-mode challenges are addressed and solved so that all parties benefit from 'the rising tide'. This is where industries that have discovered their fundamental disruptors can focus on minimizing future economic and infrastructural seizures. Check out the event next Monday (Sept 28) on Partners in Innovation: How to Collaborate with Universities and National Labs, put on by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

The PME, which was designed from the ground-up to address these disruptors sits are the forefront of innovation in four foundational pillars: Quantum Engineering, ImmunoEngineering, Materials Systems for Sustainability and Health, and connecting with the broader public about how these developments will affect them, and our society at large. Our connections with other parts of campus allow companies to tap into a holistic menu of options.

Check out the article below on "Hacking for Defense" class that teaches how to think about tackling large-scale, complex problems that span not only technological spheres but have a foothold in the policy, legal, and international and cultural domains. A good example of this is the emerging 'Quantum' technologies described as a pilot level implementation of future infrastructure and how the various technologies can affect and interact with other parts. PME professor David Awchalom talks about this in the Big Brains podcast. More detail is offered in an C&EN article on how quantum computing can change the pharmaceutical industry. Also, manufacturers are increasingly concerned about data and information security and interested in how the development of quantum technologies can help. MxD is exploring this, and MAPI is also putting together a meeting to discuss this topic.

Feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have! I find that the best way to keep these strategies fresh and interesting is to revisit them often!

Felix Lu
Director of Corporate Engagement
The Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering
The Industry Seminar Series - a way for students to connect with industry professionals
Graduate Student Internships

Are you looking for interns with a highly developed laboratory and/or computational skill set? We are encouraging our 3rd and 4th year PhD students who are curious about industrial positions to seek out internships with companies. Companies can help by providing contact points and a description of the position. Please send any questions or solicitations to Felix.
Additionally, companies that are actively working with faculty can discuss getting NSF funding for graduate student internships by applying for it through the normal faculty led proposals.
Join our PME / Industry linkedIn Groups to get occasional updates and interesting articles!
The course aims to train students in how to apply the “innovation toolkit” – lean startup, human-centered design, prototyping – to the Department of Defense (DoD) and Intelligence Communities. Each team will be partnered with an agency lead who will support the student’s research and development. The goal also is that this will lead to new partnerships between government agencies and UChicago students.

“Outside of the skill development, we believe large organizations like those in the DoD deserve attention from our students,” explained Gossin, who said there are few institutions where the impact of student work can be greater – both during the upcoming fall quarter and beyond.

“If we can pique students to look at large institutions with curiosity rather than dismay, we’ll be making progress to ensuring that these institutions realize their missions,” he added.

The US National Science Foundation is expanding an internship programme for graduate students.

As part of a broad mission to prepare science students for careers outside academia, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) has expanded a funding initiative to support master’s and PhD students for six-month internships in companies, government laboratories and non-profit organizations.

The INTERN supplemental-funding opportunity, launched last year for select departments within the NSF, will now be open to almost every graduate student supported by an NSF grant, says Prakash Balan, programme director in the NSF’s Directorate for Engineering. At a time when available US industry positions far outnumber job openings in US academia, the internships can give students real-world training for their futures, he adds. “Opportunities like this give students exposure and experience at a time when it matters most,” he says.

Interested in building your R&D pipeline? Learn how to team up with universities and national labs to gain access to some of the brightest minds and most innovative tools in the industry. This panel will highlight the various opportunities you have for research collaborations, gaining access to state-of-the-art research facilities, and licensing new and innovative technologies from the University of Chicago, Argonne, and Fermi. Panelists will demystify the "tech transfer" process and explain how easy it is to collaborate as partners in innovation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has fostered uncertainty around the globe. Five metrics of uncertainty in the United States and the United Kingdom set records in the first few months of 2020, according to a team of 15 international researchers including Chicago Booth’s Steven J. Davis

This helps explain the unprecedented economic fallout, since economists generally agree that uncertainty creates a drag on growth. The findings bode poorly for a swift recovery. High levels of uncertainty are “likely to depress investment, hiring, and the purchase of large-ticket consumer durables,” Davis says.

“In the vaccine field, you hear over and over again that you just have to accept the response that comes with an individual molecule,” Esser-Kahn said. “But we wanted to find a way to limit the ability of a cell’s response to produce the cytokines that are associated with inflammation. We wanted to decouple the initial, unneeded inflammation from the immune system response that is actually productive.”

To test its effectiveness, the researchers tested it in mouse models of several different diseases. For dengue, they found that the molecule helped produce more antibodies that neutralized the virus. For HIV, they found that it helped produce antibodies that targeted a difficult-to-reach part of the virus – overcoming one of the roadblocks that has made an HIV vaccine so difficult to create.
When the researchers added the molecule to an already-available flu vaccine, they found it increased the vaccine’s level of protection against the disease.

“We thought that the molecule would decrease inflammation, but we were surprised to see that it could provide more protection at the same time,” Esser-Kahn said.

Let’s talk about quantum computing in drug discovery

Martin, Roach, and their peers foresee a major role for quantum computing in reducing time and improving results for in silico drug discovery—the growing practice of looking for new molecules with computers rather than test tubes. Research information technology heads are eager to advance as far as possible in precompetitive joint efforts so they can be ready as soon as quantum computing gains traction in the pharmaceutical research lab.
Does your technical management want an executive understanding of Quantum Engineering and how it may benefit your company?

At the University of Chicago last month, DOE released a blueprint for building from today’s nascent quantum networks, many of which involve DOE’s National Labs, into a full-fledged national quantum internet.

The blueprint lays out four priority research opportunities to make this happen, including providing the foundational building blocks for that internet; integrating quantum networking devices; creating repeating, switching, and routing technologies for quantum entanglement; and enabling error correction of quantum networking functions.

Molecular engineers at the University of Chicago have found a way to extend the quantum state of a qubit to 22 milliseconds, representing a huge improvement and a window some say will make quantum computers far more feasible. The secret is an alternating magnetic field, which they say is scientifically “intricate” but easy to apply.

Working with qubits in solid silicon carbide, the scientists extended the time in quantum state of their qubit to 22 milliseconds, which sounds small to our slow human brains, but is almost an eternity for a qubit. In fact, the researchers say it’s 10,000 times longer than the next nearest quantum state finding.
A world-renowned scientist explores quantum technology and why the future of quantum may be in Chicago

Imagine a new technology that could create unbreakable encryption, supercharge the development of AI, and radically expedite the development of drug treatments for everything from cancer to COVID-19. That technology could be quantum computing and the quantum internet.

David Awschalom is a professor in quantum science and engineering at the University of Chicago, and he’s one of the leading experts in the field. With new massive investments in quantum from the Department of Energy, he’s hoping to lead the development of this new technology as Chicago emerges as a leading global hub for quantum research.

Tian Zhong, an assistant professor at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) at the University of Chicago, was awarded a grant in which he aims to create a new form of qubits using rare-earth elements doped in solids. Rare-earth elements refer to the lanthanide series, a family of atoms in the periodic table with atomic numbers from 58 to 71.

Zhong chose to use rare-earth atoms because they have demonstrated superb quantum coherence properties desirable for quantum technology. In addition, these materials are already ubiquitous in electronic gadgets such as TV displays, laser pointers, and mobile phones.
The latest updates and ways to engage:

In a new study, scientists at the University of Chicago managed to do exactly that. The team demonstrated control of atomic quantum memories in silicon carbide, a common material found in electric cars and LED light bulbs. Then, they used this control to create an “entangled state,” representing a connection between the quantum memories and electrons trapped in the semiconductor material.

Published Sept. 21 in Nature Materials, the study effectively shows how one could encode and write quantum information onto the core of a single atom, unlocking the potential for building qubits that can remain operational—or “coherent”—for extremely long times. The study results hold major implications for quantum computing, according to the authors.
mini MBE
PME News

Recently, the PME was awarded an NSF grant for the "Development of a Miniaturized Molecular Beam Epitaxy Setup for Direct Printing of Quantum Circuits."

The team consists of Professors Shuolong Yang, David Schuster, Tian Zhong, and Supratik Guha. This Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) grant will support the University of Chicago on the development of a nanoscale deposition tool – a miniaturized molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) setup – for direct fabrication of nanoscale structures for quantum applications. As the era of quantum engineering emerges, there is a pressing need to rapidly design, prototype, and test nanoscale structures for quantum information processing. This project will develop a nanoscale deposition tool based on scanning probe techniques, and potentially revolutionize nanofabrication by integrating deposition and patterning in one step. For questions related to this, please direct them to Professor Shuolong Yang.
Sustainable Materials Systems
Turning carbon dioxide into liquid fuel

New electrocatalyst efficiently converts carbon dioxide into ethanol.

“With this research, we’ve discovered a new catalytic mechanism for converting carbon dioxide and water into ethanol,” said Tao Xu, a professor in physical chemistry and nanotechnology from Northern Illinois University. ​“The mechanism should also provide a foundation for development of highly efficient electrocatalysts for carbon dioxide conversion to a vast array of value-added chemicals.”

“The process resulting from our catalyst would contribute to the circular carbon economy, which entails the reuse of carbon dioxide,” said Di-Jia Liu, senior chemist in Argonne’s Chemical Sciences and Engineering division and a UChicago CASE scientist in the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, University of Chicago. This process would do so by electrochemically converting the CO2 emitted from industrial processes, such as fossil fuel power plants or alcohol fermentation plants, into valuable commodities at reasonable cost.

Because CO2 is a stable molecule, transforming it into a different molecule is normally energy intensive and costly. However, according to Liu, ​“We could couple the electrochemical process of CO2-to-ethanol conversion using our catalyst to the electric grid and take advantage of the low-cost electricity available from renewable sources like solar and wind during off-peak hours.” Because the process runs at low temperature and pressure, it can start and stop rapidly in response to the intermittent supply of the renewable electricity.

PME research could be applied to smart coatings, sensors and wearable electronics

These crystals can also form so-called “blue phase crystals,” which have the properties of both liquids and crystals and can in some cases transmit or reflect visible light better than liquid crystals themselves.

The researchers knew that these crystals could potentially be manipulated to produce a wide range of optical effects if stretched or strained, but they also knew that it’s not possible to stretch or strain a liquid directly. Instead, they placed tiny liquid crystal droplets into a polymer film.

“That way we could encapsulate chiral liquid crystals and deform them in very specific, highly controlled ways,” de Pablo said. “That allows you to understand the properties they can have and what behaviors they exhibit.”
Innovation Fest Polsky
Articles of interest to our corporate affiliates, but not associated with the University of Chicago

Plants ignore the most energy-rich part of sunlight because stability matters more than efficiency, according to a new model of photosynthesis.

From large trees in the Amazon jungle to houseplants to seaweed in the ocean, green is the color that reigns over the plant kingdom. Why green, and not blue or magenta or gray? The simple answer is that although plants absorb almost all the photons in the red and blue regions of the light spectrum, they absorb only about 90% of the green photons. If they absorbed more, they would look black to our eyes. Plants are green because the small amount of light they reflect is that color.

But that seems unsatisfyingly wasteful because most of the energy that the sun radiates is in the green part of the spectrum. When pressed to explain further, biologists have sometimes suggested that the green light might be too powerful for plants to use without harm, but the reason why hasn’t been clear. Even after decades of molecular research on the light-harvesting machinery in plants, scientists could not establish a detailed rationale for plants’ color.

Chromium steel—similar to what we know today as tool steel—was first made in Persia, nearly a millennium earlier than experts previously thought, according to a new study led by UCL researchers.

The discovery, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, was made with the aid of a number of medieval Persian manuscripts, which led the researchers to an archaeological site in Chahak, southern Iran.

The findings are significant given that material scientists, historians and archaeologists have long considered that chromium steel was a 20th century innovation.

Glass is amorphous in nature—its atomic structure does not involve the repetitive arrangement seen in crystalline materials. But occasionally, it undergoes a process called devitrification, which is the transformation of a glass into a crystal—often an unwanted process in industries. The dynamics of devitrification remain poorly understood because the process can be extremely slow, spanning decades or more.
Upcoming meetings


SEPTEMBER 30 | 1:00–4:00pm ET

Amidst a tumultuous year, cybersecurity professionals have been forced to make a tremendous shift in the way they understand their organization’s cyber risk landscape. MAPI’s Recalibrating Cyber Risk Management in Manufacturing will convene cybersecurity and risk professionals working in manufacturing to share how they have continued to aggressively tackle cyber-attacks on their organizations while simultaneously adjusting for what the future may look like.

The United-States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) recently went into effect on July 1, 2020, which ended the twenty-six years reign of NAFTA. While much of the agreement is like NAFTA, it is critical for manufacturers, importers, and exporters to understand the key differences, and how these changes may impact current operations.

During this one-hour webinar, Adrienne Braumiller, founder of Braumiller Law Group PLLC, and Jennifer Horvath, partner at Braumiller Law Group PLLC, will discuss:
  • Changes to rules of origin with a focus on the industry sectors (automotive, chemicals, rubber & plastics, textile) that are particularly impacted
  • Differences in the process for completing certificates of origin
  • Guidance for sourcing, recordkeeping and accounting, and customs entry processes to comply and prepare for USMCA audits
  • New regulations coming out of Canada and Mexico as a result of USMCA

Currently, the company’s quantum processors top out at 65 qubits. It plans to launch a 127-qubit processor next year and a 433-qubit machine in 2022. To get to this point, IBM is also building a completely new dilution refrigerator to house these larger chips, as well as the technology to connect multiple of these units to build a system akin to today’s multi-core architectures in classical chips.

Solving the impossible in a few hours of computing time, finding answers to problems that have bedeviled science and society for years, unlocking unprecedented capabilities for businesses of all kinds—those are the promises of quantum computing, a fundamentally different approach to computation.

None of this will happen overnight. In fact, many companies and businesses won’t be able to reap significant value from quantum computing for a decade or more, although a few will see gains in the next five years. But the potential is so great, and the technological advances are coming so rapidly, that every business leader should have a basic understanding of how the technology works, the kinds of problems it can help solve, and how she or he should prepare to harness its potential.

We asked leaders from the two companies about their high-trust, inclusive workplace cultures and how they’ve responded to the coronavirus crisis. From Arthrex, which is based in Naples, Fla., we interviewed Kathy Sparrow, senior vice president of human resources. From Kalamazoo-based Stryker, we interviewed Katy Fink, vice president and chief human resources officer.

Scientists in Belgium have developed a simple and environmentally-benign method for recovering precious metals from metal wires and spent automotive catalysts. Using highly-concentrated aluminium nitrate and aluminium chloride solutions, they were able to dissolve both gold and platinum group metals, and then precipitate out the pure metals, allowing them to potentially be recycled and reused.
Technologies to Mitigate the Climate Impacts of Steel

The current climate implications of steel use today are distressing. In 2018, the production of steel accounted for roughly 3 gigaton equivalents of CO2, or 7–9% of global emissions. To put this in perspective, steel production alone produced more CO2 than the aviation, aluminum, and plastics sectors combined.

Processing one ton of crude steel produces on average 1.9 tons of CO2. Why? Steel is simply iron that has been purified and supplemented with a small amount (.05–2%) of carbon. The purification process involves melting impure iron at 2000–3000 degrees Fahrenheit in a blast furnace and adding large amounts of coke, a refined form of coal, to chemically react with oxides and other impurities in the iron, producing steel, CO2, and heat. Coke production and use accounts for 50–75% of emissions while energy accounts for the remaining 25–50%. It is clear that steel production is an emissions problem; what can we do to address it?
Different ways to explore interactions with the PME:
  • senior design projects
  • internships
  • materials characterization /device fabrication facilities
  • participation in FORUM events
  • give an industry seminar!
  • Ask Felix!
Campus information
PARKING - You are welcome to park for free on certain streets if you can find it. The closest parking lot to the Eckhardt Research Center is the North parking lot located at the SE corner of 55th St and South Ellis Ave.