No. 14, Spring 2022
Director's Message:

I just came back from a very fruitful meeting with many companies. One of the topics was different ways to engagements between companies and universities. With the upwards trend of leveraging academic research resources to complement industrial innovation efforts, I thought I would say a few words here. University-industry partnerships do take some work to start and maintain (with well known barriers and bottlenecks which are often bespoke to the partnership), but are by and far winning transactions which allows two-way flows of talent, technical resource sharing including subject matter expertise, holistic external perspectives, and influence into how talent is trained.

Companies also gain unique foresight into the hows and whys of developing technologies, and synergies with academic counterparts make the whole interaction greater than the sum of the parts. Proximity is often very helpful and satellite offices and labs next to talent generators allows a quick drop in for questions, seminars, coffee chats, and other insights that are otherwise difficult to come by.

To make these industry-academic partnerships even more inviting with respect to talent recruitment, we ran a pilot workshop emphasizing communications for industrial environments (see below) where senior graduate students and postdocs learned how to better communicate their complex topics to non-expert scientists in other fields - a critically important skill in addition to the technical expertise they possess.

We've also renewed our ties with the UChicago MRSEC (Pronounced MER-SEC). The Materials Research Science and Engineering Center is an NSF funded center and is a big deal to have as it enforces interdisciplinary collaborations to advance the knowledge envelope while pushing for industry engagement - in many ways similar to the PME. Look for more MRSEC annoucements and events in the near future.

As always, 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
Recruiting Advanced-Degree Talent at PME

From immunoengineers, materials scientists, computational experts, and quantum engineers, PME offers a wealth of advanced-degree talent pools with extensive technical and professional training. If you are interested in recruiting PME master’s students, PhD students, and postdocs, please reach out directly to Briana Konnick, PME’s Director of Career Development ( Some common opportunities for engagement include:
  • Host an on-campus or virtual information session
  • Share jobs and internships
  • Interview trainees on-campus or virtually
  • Host a coffee chat or roundtable discussion for more informal engagement

Allow us to create tailored offerings that meet your hiring objectives. Reach out today to set up a meeting!

The Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) is now ranked third in the nation for research funding per faculty when compared to all other engineering schools, according to the National Science Foundation’s 2020 Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) survey.

That impressive ranking places Pritzker Molecular Engineering just behind Harvard University’s engineering school in total research funding obtained by individual faculty—$695,000 on average—and well ahead of other, more established schools in the engineering field.

This comes only ten years after PME opened its doors as an Institute and during its first year as a full-fledged engineering school. The funding per faculty represents the school’s dramatic growth and the outsized contributions of its faculty, which at the time of the survey numbered only 29.
Booth’s popular Hacking for Defense course invites students to help federal officials solve real-world operational and social challenges.

To IT security pros, hacking refers to the practice of gaining unauthorized entry into computer networks and systems. But to entrepreneurs, it means brainstorming and identifying clever fixes to common real-world problems: a process that students experience firsthand in Hacking for Defense, an experiential course at Chicago Booth that challenges them to solve pressing operational challenges facing the defense and intelligence communities. 

“It’s an ideal space in which to experiment and expand your innovation and entrepreneurship tool kits,” notes adjunct assistant professor of entrepreneurship Will Gossin, who teaches the course alongside UChicago law professor Todd Henderson. “It also presents an opportunity to enjoy a novel experience, given that there’s a whole other swath of potential career pathways in government that students might wish to consider if they’re interested in new venture creation.”
The $633 million cancer hospital would be the first free-standing cancer center in Chicago, with nearly 130 beds.

Dr. Adekunle Odunsi, director of UChicago Medicine’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, overlooks the site where the new cancer center will be built.

The University of Chicago Medical Center has revealed plans for a new $633 million cancer center on its South Side campus.

UChicago Medicine filed a certificate of need request this week to the Illinois Health Facilities & Service Review Board seeking approval to move forward with the proposed site. If approved, the 500,000-square-foot center will be located on East 57th Street between South Maryland and South Drexel avenues on land owned by UChicago Medicine. The site is currently a parking lot.

The new facility, which would be the first free-standing cancer center in Chicago, would span seven floors and have nearly 130 patient beds. It would provide both inpatient and outpatient care for patients with all types of cancer. The center will offer chemotherapy treatments, diagnostic services, X-rays, infusions and more, said Dr. Adekunle Odunsi, the director of UChicago Medicine’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of only two National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers in Illinois.
Communications Skills for working in Industry – Pilot Course – 2022

As a relatively young and uniquely positioned engineering school, one of the strengths of the advanced training at PME is a focus on professional skill development. Building on this, Laura Rico-Beck, Briana Konnick, and Felix Lu have piloted a new course focused on training PME graduate students for effective communication in various industrial contexts. 

This new, 4-part training provided effective communication skill development, opportunities for active practice, and incorporation of real-world applications in industrial contexts such as job interviews, conferences, collaborations, investor pitches, and more. This program incorporated mentors and panelists from industry and culminated in a capstone research presentation to industrial scientists-judges (See pictures below). A huge thanks to the graduate students and postdocs, and numerous participants and their companies for participating in this event! We will be using feedback from this pilot run to fine tune the course for subsequent years. If you are curious about this and want to learn more or participate, please let us know!
Researchers find new issue complicating fast charging.

Haste makes waste, as the saying goes. Such a maxim may be especially true of batteries, thanks to a new study that seeks to identify the reasons that cause the performance of fast charged lithium-ion batteries to degrade in electric vehicles.
In new research from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, scientists have found interesting chemical behavior of one of the battery’s two terminals as the battery is charged and discharged.

Lithium-ion batteries contain both a positively charged cathode and a negatively charged anode, which are separated by a material called an electrolyte that moves lithium ions between them. The anode in these batteries is typically made out of graphite — the same material found in many pencils. In lithium-ion batteries, however, the graphite is assembled out of small particles. Inside these particles, the lithium ions can insert themselves in a process called intercalation. When intercalation happens properly, the battery can successfully charge and discharge.

The future is cross-disciplinary. Challenges facing humanity are more complex, interconnected, and urgent than ever before. Thus, traditional boundaries must be crossed in academia and industry so that our greatest minds can work to find solutions – and do so quickly.

But how?

The Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) at the University of Chicago, established in 2011, is an interesting example. The institution has recently developed critical medical innovations to treat dementia and ALS, pushed the boundaries of quantum information science, and made significant strides in developing more sustainable batteries.

Their approach provides lessons for leaders looking for new ways to solve challenges. Namely, PME approaches critical thought like an engineer rather than managerially. This seems apt given that society’s biggest problems — in energy, health, global stewardship, and others — require engineering.

Our broken supply chains are proving to be a lingering problem.
The global COVID-19 outbreak certainly brought these complex networks used to ship and track goods into disarray, but it also exposed longstanding fissures. And now that most pandemic-related factory closures and misdirected ocean carriers are behind us, we’re still seeing persistent product shortages and the resulting price hikes from the grocery store to the gas pump.

I think a lot of us expected this problem to be resolved earlier. I, like many, hoped that after a short period of instability, these knotted networks would become untangled—the traffic jams would work themselves out and the backlogs would be processed expeditiously until raw supplies and finished consumer goods were buzzing around the world again.

Instead, two years into the pandemic, we still find everything from microchips to lunch meats in short supply.

As I’ve seen so many times while heading Oracle’s startup program, when a perplexing new problem emerges, startups often take the lead in bringing to market innovative solutions. And I’m seeing that again with the current supply chain snafus.
UChicago Medicine, Pritzker Molecular Engineering study could improve CAR T-cell therapy

Over the past five years, a type of cancer treatment called CAR T-cell therapy has given some patients hope for remission. This technique adds a gene—called a chimeric antigen receptor, or CAR—to a patient’s immune cells, which helps these cells find and attack cancers.

To continue improving this immunotherapy, researchers need specific, sensitive, and precise materials that can detect CARs in blood samples. That helps them understand how well the therapy is working in a patient, and also helps them develop new CARs for improved therapies.

Researchers at University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering and the David and Etta Jonas Center for Cellular Therapy at UChicago Medicine have developed a new reagent that works even better at detecting multiple kinds of CARs. The result could lead to better diagnostics and ultimately improved therapies for patients.

In the fight against cancer, a new tool has emerged that’s shifted the treatment landscape. CAR T-cell therapy, first approved for clinical use in 2017, uses a patient’s own re-engineered immune cells to attack cancer. It has proven to be particularly effective against certain types of lymphoma.

Its success represents the continued rise of immunotherapy, a class of treatments that amplify or alter the immune system in order to combat disease. Now, CAR T-cell therapy and other treatments like it are offering new hope in the fight against some of our most challenging diseases.

But developing these treatments is only possible because of the scientists who’ve dedicated their careers to growing our understanding of the immune system. Jun Huang, assistant professor of molecular engineering at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) at the University of Chicago, is one such researcher.

Qubits, the building blocks of quantum computers, can be made from many different technologies. One way to make a qubit is to trap a single neutral atom in place using a focused laser, a technique that won the Nobel Prize in 2018.  

But to make a quantum computer out of neutral atom qubits, many individual atoms must be trapped in place by many laser beams. So far, these arrays have only been constructed from atoms of a single element, out of concern that making an array out of two elements would be prohibitively complex.  

But for the first time, University of Chicago researchers have created a hybrid array of neutral atoms from two different elements, significantly broadening the system’s potential applications in quantum technology. The results were funded in part by the NSF Quantum Leap Challenge Institute Hybrid Quantum Architectures and Networks (HQAN) and published in Physical Review X

“There have been many examples of quantum technology that have taken a hybrid approach,” said Hannes Bernien, lead researcher of the project and assistant professor in the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME). “But they have not been developed yet for these neutral atom platforms. We are very excited to see that our results have triggered a very positive response from the community and that new protocols using our hybrid techniques are being developed.”

memq, a startup founded by Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) and Argonne National Laboratory researchers, was recently selected to receive the George Shultz Innovation Fund award, managed by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

memq is developing an integrated quantum photonics platform that will enable quantum communication between computers at distances orders of magnitude greater than what is available today. Manish Kumar Singh, PhD’22 leads the startup. The team includes Sean Sullivan, a researcher at Argonne National Laboratory, and Supratik Guha, professor at the Pritzker Molecular Engineering and senior advisor to Argonne Physical Sciences and Engineering directorate.

A “quantum system on a chip,” the startup’s platform would enable completely un-hackable communication protocols at distances spanning 1000s of kilometers using devices called quantum repeaters.

“We want to bring in all components of a quantum system on the same chip,” Singh explained. “That’s where the true power of the platform really is: instead of trying to connect 20 different components, we can bring it all together on a single chip.”

Advances in quantum science have the potential to revolutionize the way we live. Quantum computers hold promise for solving problems that are intractable today, and we may one day use quantum networks as hackerproof information highways.

The realization of such forward-looking technologies hinges largely on the qubit—the fundamental component of quantum systems. A significant challenge of qubit research is designing them to be customizable and tailored to work with all kinds of sensing, communication, and computational devices.

Scientists have taken a major step in the development of tailored qubits. In a paper published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the team, which includes researchers at MIT, the University of Chicago, and Columbia University, demonstrates how a particular molecular family of qubits can be finely tuned over a broad spectrum, like turning a sensitive dial on a wideband radio.

The team also outlines the underlying design features that enable exquisite control over these quantum bits.

A startup making quantum computing software just hauled in funding from the Department of Energy as it launches a new product to help evaluate quantum computers., a Chicago startup that develops software designed for the next generation of quantum computing, received $1.65 million in grant funding from the DOE. It was part of $110 million in total awards the department handed out this week to small businesses focused on scientific technologies and clean energy. A total of 87 projects received funding.
Experiments show promise of qubits made from materials already used in electronics.

University of Chicago researchers say they’ve made a breakthrough that might help bring quantum computing closer to reality.

Researchers achieved a record time for memory, or “coherence,” in quantum bits, or qubits, of more than 5 seconds. “Five seconds is long enough to send a light-speed signal to the moon and back,” says David Awschalom, a U of C researcher who leads the Chicago Quantum Exchange, an academic and corporate research consortium.

Researchers at U of C and elsewhere are trying to harness quantum mechanics—which involves manipulating particles at atomic and subatomic levels—for the next generation of computing. One of the challenges is that particles maintain their quantum states, and their ability to store information, only briefly.

Making the leap from milliseconds to seconds, as U of C researchers did, allows many thousands more operations to be performed with the qubit. That’s key toward fulfilling the long-term promise of quantum communication and computing, which means faster, more secure computing with exponentially greater processing capacity.
Does your technical management want an executive understanding of Quantum Engineering and how it may benefit your company?
The latest updates and ways to engage:

Innovation Fest Polsky
Materials Systems for Health and Sustainability
Technique by UChicago scientists creates ‘assembly line’ for integrating new materials

Let’s say you’re an engineer with an idea for a new car. But before you even can start experimenting, you have to spend hours casting screws and making rubber for tires from scratch.

This is similar to the challenge facing researchers trying to invent new kinds of technology. The ability to make, say, a flexible screen or a new solar panel, starts with discovering a new combination of materials with unusual properties at the atomic scale. But in the field of 2D materials, which is considered one of the most exciting areas for future electronics, scientists still have to laboriously hand-make each new potential material before they can test its capabilities.

A new technique asks a robot to lend a hand. Developed by scientists from the University of Chicago, Cornell University and the University of Michigan, the research lays out an innovative manufacturing method for assembling nanomaterials.

Researchers with the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering have shown for the first time how to design the basic elements needed for logic operations using a kind of material called a liquid crystal—paving the way for a completely novel way of performing computations.

The results, published Feb. 23 in Science Advances, are not likely to become transistors or computers right away, but the technique could point the way towards devices with new functions in sensing, computing and robotics.

“We showed you can create the elementary building blocks of a circuit—gates, amplifiers, and conductors—which means you should be able to assemble them into arrangements capable of performing more complex operations,” said Juan de Pablo, the Liew Family Professor in Molecular Engineering and senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, and the senior corresponding author on the paper. “It’s a really exciting step for the field of active materials.”
Articles of interest to our corporate affiliates, but not associated with the University of Chicago

In the 1960s, drillers noticed that certain fluids would firm up if they flowed too fast. Researchers have finally explained why.

Fluids can be roughly divided into two categories: regular ones and weird ones. Regular ones, like water and alcohol, act more or less as expected when pumped through pipes or stirred with a spoon. Lurking among the weird ones — which include substances such as paint, honey, mucus, blood, ketchup and oobleck — are a vast variety of behavioral enigmas that have stumped researchers over the centuries.

One such long-standing puzzle, first articulated nearly 55 years ago, arises when certain liquids stream through cracks and holes in a porous landscape such as spongy soil. At first the liquid will flow normally. But as its flow rate increases, it will pass a critical threshold where it will suddenly seem to coalesce — its viscosity shooting up like a martini turning to molasses.

Having solved a central mystery about the “twirliness” of tornadoes and other types of vortices, William Irvine has set his sights on turbulence, the white whale of classical physics.

It’s time to feed the blob. Seething and voracious, it absorbs eight dinner-plate-size helpings every few seconds.

The blob is a cloud of turbulence in a large water tank in the lab of the University of Chicago physicist William Irvine. Unlike every other instance of turbulence that has ever been observed on Earth, Irvine’s blob isn’t a messy patch in a flowing stream of liquid, gas or plasma, or up against a wall. Rather, the blob is self-contained, a roiling, lumpy sphere that leaves the water around it mostly still. To create it and sustain it, Irvine and his graduate student Takumi Matsuzawa must repeatedly shoot “vortex loops” — essentially the water version of smoke rings — at it, eight loops at a time. “We’re building turbulence ring by ring,” said Matsuzawa.

Supply shortages of semiconductors highlight security risks of an interconnected world and complex global supply chains. Circular economy approaches can help.

Semiconductor shortages have become a critical technological vulnerability and a potential national security threat for major economies including the United States, China, and Europe, as all countries and many industries rely on Taiwan for cutting-edge semiconductor devices.

The ongoing supply chain shortage of chips is also becoming a chokepoint for the clean energy transition around the world. But circular economy solutions could help reduce systemic risks and address these multiple challenges.

The current crisis of global microchip shortages that started in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic are expected to continue well into 2022 and beyond. Furthermore, there are new long-term supply chain risks on the horizon stemming from US-China geopolitical dynamics and resulting trade decisions.

I was shocked when one Friday afternoon I got a call to go to the executive suite to speak with one of my company’s top leaders.   

“Matt, sit down. I’ve wanted to speak to you about this for a while now. We are starting an innovation department, and we would like for you to join the team. I think you can really help us bring innovation insights to life and give some structure to the department.” 

I have to admit, the request was shocking. Put yourself in my position: I was a category manager in a big food brand. I had retail management experience, but no background in innovation. Now, I would be jump-starting a team to run innovation for the company, with two colleagues and a Vice President as our sponsor. What do I know about innovation? Excitement and fear rushed through my veins.

In 2021, many climate trends that were gaining steam in years past became the norm. In this article, which describes the five biggest climate and sustainable business stories from the past year, the author points to ESG standards and electric vehicles as two of these “there’s no going back” items. The other three stories — business defending democracy, the COP26 climate meeting, and tech’s role in sustainability, were decidedly more mixed. As for 2022, look out for the growing youth voice, ESG tug-of-wars and new standards, and more partnerships to solve big problems, among other coming trends
Clean Hydrogen Can Help Unlock Our Clean Energy Future

Scaling up green hydrogen can help accelerate our clean energy future. Green hydrogen is the process by which hydrogen is created using clean energy sources. In this memo, RMI outlines policy recommendations for successful and viable deployment—as hydrogen will be key to sectors of the clean economy where electrification is not possible. We explore two tactics to effectively scale clean hydrogen:

  1. Replacing current carbon-intensive hydrogen production to make the process effectively cleaner, and
  2. Replacing fossil fuels in heavy industry and transportation with clean hydrogen.

Currently, there is strong momentum around green hydrogen usage, but implementation gaps still need to be addressed to make this climate solution viable by the end of the decade. RMI identifies key gaps in existing funding and policy, and offers recommendations that can help break down barriers preventing clean hydrogen from benefiting the heavy industry and transportation sectors. This report is intended for policymakers at the federal level.

The clash between battery electric vehicles or fuel cell electric vehicles is quietly being waged behind the scenes and at conventions, as fleets eye a future of zero emissions.

A battle is brewing within the trucking industry — the likes of Godzilla versus King Kong, or Superman versus the underpowered Batman.

But this battle wouldn't likely sell many movie tickets outside of physics nerds and transport officials, because it's about which type of trucks will replace diesel-powered Class 8s. Will it be battery-electric vehicles? Or will it be fuel-cell-electric trucks, the hydrogen users?

The clash between BEVs and FCEVs is quietly being waged behind the scenes and at conventions, as fleets eye a future of zero emissions. At stake for OEMs is the hearts and minds — and orders — of big and well-capitalized fleets, likely the first customers to order zero-emission vehicles in North America.
After 150 years, is the time finally right for deep-ocean mining?

The three-year voyage of the HMS Challenger was one of the greatest scientific expeditions in an era with quite a few of them. The former warship departed England in 1872 with a complement of 237 on a mission to collect marine specimens and also to map and sample huge swaths of the seafloor. 

The ship traveled 125,936 kilometers, and the mission succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of its backers. It discovered 4,700 new marine species, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and the Mariana Trench. Its bathymetric data, collected laboriously with a weighted line, was used to make the seafloor maps that guided the route of an early transatlantic telegraph cable. But the crew’s most puzzling discovery was made on 18 February 1873, while dredging an abyssal plain near the Canary Islands. The dredging apparatus came up loaded with potato-size nodules; subsequent analysis found them to be rich in manganese, nickel, and iron. It was the first of many such hauls by the Challenger crew, from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific, where the dredges sometimes yielded a briny jumble of the dark-gray nodules, shark’s teeth, and, oddly, whale ear bones.
How to increase the supply of an increasingly valuable metal

Around 60% of the world’s lithium, a metal in high demand for making batteries, comes from evaporation ponds, like that pictured overleaf, located in deserts in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. These ponds, which can have individual areas of 60km2 or more, are filled with lithium-rich brine pumped from underground. That brine, as the ponds’ name suggests, is then concentrated in them by evaporation, after which it is treated to purge it of other metals, such as sodium and magnesium, and the lithium is precipitated as lithium carbonate.

This all takes time—often as much as two years. And the process of purification is complex and inefficient. As a consequence, only about 30% of the lithium in the original brine reaches the marketplace.

For years, intermediate measurements made it hard to quantify the complexity of quantum algorithms. New work establishes that those measurements aren’t necessary after all

As quantum computers have become more functional, our understanding of them has remained muddled. Work by a pair of computer scientists has clarified part of the picture, providing insight into what can be computed with these futuristic machines.

“It’s a really nice result that has implications for quantum computation,” said John Watrous of the University of Waterloo in Ontario.

The research, posted in June 2020 by Bill Fefferman and Zachary Remscrim of the University of Chicago, proves that any quantum algorithm can be rearranged to move measurements performed in the middle of the calculation to the end of the process, without changing the final result or drastically increasing the amount of memory required to carry out the task. Previously, computer scientists thought that the timing of those measurements affected memory requirements, creating a bifurcated view of the complexity of quantum algorithms.

Chile has lots of lithium, which is essential to the world’s transition to green energy. But anger over powerful mining interests, a water crisis and inequality has driven Chile to rethink how it defines itself.

Rarely does a country get a chance to lay out its ideals as a
nation and write a new constitution for itself. Almost never does the climate and ecological crisis play a central role.

That is, until now, in Chile, where a national reinvention is underway. After months of protests over social and environmental grievances, 155 Chileans have been elected to write a new constitution amid what they have declared a “climate and ecological emergency.”

Their work will not only shape how this country of 19 million is governed. It will also determine the future of a soft, lustrous metal, lithium, lurking in the salt waters beneath this vast ethereal desert beside the Andes Mountains.

Lithium is an essential component of batteries. And as the global economy seeks
alternatives to fossil fuels to slow down climate change, lithium demand — and prices — are soaring.

Growing competition means U.S. must decide where to excel, says National Science Board’s Julia Phillips

A new data-rich report by the National Science Foundation (NSF) confirms China has overtaken the United States as the world’s leader in several key scientific metrics, including the overall number of papers published and patents awarded. U.S. scientists also have serious competition from foreign researchers in certain fields, it finds.

That loss of hegemony raises an important question for U.S. policymakers and the country’s research community, according to NSF’s oversight body, the National Science Board (NSB). “Since across-the-board leadership in [science and engineering] is no longer a possibility, what then should our goals be?” NSB asks in a policy brief that accompanies this year’s Science and Engineering Indicators, NSF’s biennial assessment of global research, which was released this week. (NSF has converted a single gargantuan volume into nine thematic reports, summarized in The State of U.S. Science and Engineering 2022.)

Workers say the growing urgency of the climate crisis and pursuit of a meaningful career path are big pulls.

When Heidi Lim decided in 2017 to leave her job at a Silicon Valley software company and work in climatetech, she didn’t search for openings at a solar-panel installer or electric-vehicle maker. Instead, Lim wanted to join a fledgling field in need of more bright minds, where she felt she could have a greater impact than in a mature industry or at a trillion-dollar firm like Tesla.

She wanted to work on carbon dioxide removal. 

The broadly defined category includes initiatives to suck CO2 directly from the sky, capture the gas from industrial facilities, recycle it into concrete and tires, lock it away in underground caverns and store it in forests or soil. Many of the technological solutions are early-stage and largely unproven. Previous U.S. efforts to capture carbon from coal-fired power plants ultimately led to hundreds of millions of dollars in wasted taxpayer money.

You have a great idea—a product tweak that will save your company money, a process change to increase your team’s productivity, or a plan for heading off a looming crisis. There’s just one snag: You’re not sure how to approach your boss about it, or worse, you’ve tried and failed to get the attention of higher-ups.

According to the author’s research, two factors are crucial to a successful pitch: having the confidence to make your suggestion and knowing how to frame it to get the best reception from your boss.

The key, the author says, is to understand the psychology of higher-ups—to get inside their heads. Doing so can help you recognize what tips the scales in your favor—and identify the (rare) instances when it’s best to try to go around or above them.

Pollution of the world's rivers from medicines and pharmaceutical products poses a "threat to environmental and global health", a report says.

Paracetamol, nicotine, caffeine and epilepsy and diabetes drugs were widely detected in a University of York study. 

The research is among the most extensive undertaken on a global scale.

Rivers in Pakistan, Bolivia and Ethiopia were among the most polluted. Rivers in Iceland, Norway and the Amazon rainforest fared the best. 
The impact of many of the most common pharmaceutical compounds in rivers is still largely unknown.

But it is already well established that dissolved human contraceptives can impact the development and reproduction of fish, and scientists fear the increased presence of antibiotics in rivers could limit their effectiveness as medicines.

The global extent of pharmaceutical pollution has been revealed in a new study that has also shone a spotlight on contamination hotspots around the world. A lab in York in the UK worked with samples from 259 rivers, encompassing 104 countries on every continent to build-up a picture of contamination of waterways with drugs.

‘This is the first time, using one huge dataset, we are able to take a comparative view of pharmaceutical pollution across the world,’ says John Wilkinson at the University of York, UK, where water samples were shipped by collaborators for high-performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. The survey involved the cooperation of 86 institutions worldwide, with a consortium of 127 researchers. Previously, extensive data on pharma pollution was only available for the US, Europe and China.

Study calls for cap on production and release as pollution threatens global ecosystems upon which life depends

The cocktail of chemical pollution that pervades the planet now threatens the stability of global ecosystems upon which humanity depends, scientists have said.

Plastics are of particularly high concern, they said, along with 350,000 synthetic chemicals including pesticides, industrial compounds and antibiotics. Plastic pollution is now found from the summit of Mount Everestto the deepest oceans, and some toxic chemicals, such as PCBs, are long-lasting and widespread.

The study concludes that chemical pollution has crossed a “planetary boundary”, the point at which human-made changes to the Earth push it outside the stable environment of the last 10,000 years.

Chemical pollution threatens Earth’s systems by damaging the biological and physical processes that underpin all life. For example, pesticides wipe out many non-target insects, which are fundamental to all ecosystems and, therefore, to the provision of clean air, water and food.

PODCAST: The journey to solving the structures of these critically important molecules began with a chance discovery. Today, after decades of painstaking lab work and huge technological leaps, the field of protein science is exploding. (Season 2/Episode 3)

Every living thing, from bacteria to our own bodies, is made up of cells. And those cells are built from four kinds of large biological molecules: carbohydrates, fats, nucleic acids (that’s DNA and RNA) and proteins. These vital components of life are too small to be seen by the naked eye, or even by a light microscope. So even though 19th century scientists knew these “invisible” molecules were there — and they could do experiments to work out their chemical constituents — they couldn’t see them; they couldn’t make out their shapes in any detail. This is the story of how the invisible became visible in the 20th century. 

It’s the story of a long, laborious slog to develop the tools and the techniques that would reveal the structure of biological molecules — and how seeing the structure of these molecules enabled us to understand how they work and to design drugs that block or enhance their actions.
A major eruption on the far side of the sun Tuesday created one of the largest coronal mass ejections (CME) in recent years. 
With an eruption of this magnitude, the Earth dodged a bullet — quite literally according to Jim Todd, the Director of Space Science Education at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

“We saw a very large coronal mass ejection, which is a major storm on the sun,” Todd explained. “It happened on the far side, which is awfully good because it was enormous.”

Though the explosive CME is not expected to strike Earth, images captured by satellite and seismic mapping showing the sheer size of the eruption had many people talking, Todd saidTodd said scientists estimate the flare stretched to roughly 400,000 kilometers, greater than the distance between the Earth and the Moon.

Imagine making some liquids mix that do not mix, then unmixing them.

In one of the grand challenges of science, a Flinders University device which previously 'unboiled' egg protein is now unraveling the mystery of incompatible fluids; a development that could enhance many future products, industrial processes and even the food we eat. 

Using the highly advanced rapid fluidic flow techniques possible in the Flinders vortex fluidic device (VFD), the Australian research team has capped off 10 years of research to find a way to use clean chemistry to unlock the mystery of 'mixing immiscibles'. 

This will have applications in a range of global industries—from food processing and nutraceuticals to cosmetics and drug delivery (think more pure and effective fish oil capsules), says Flinders University Professor Colin Raston, senior author in a new paper, published today in Chemical Science.
Why stop at just SARS-CoV-2? Vaccines in development aim to protect against many coronaviruses at once

In 2017, three leading vaccine researchers submitted a grant application with an ambitious goal. At the time, no one had proved a vaccine could stop even a single beta coronavirus—the notorious viral group then known to include the lethal agents of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), as well as several causes of the common cold and many bat viruses. But these researchers wanted to develop a vaccine against them all.

Grant reviewers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) deemed the plan "outstanding." But they gave the proposal a low priority score, dooming its bid for funding. "The significance for developing a pan-coronavirus vaccine may not be high," they wrote, apparently unconvinced that the viruses pose a global threat.

How things have changed.

A ripping yarn about ripping yarn

For thousands of years, humans have made yarn by twisting together shorter fibers of cotton or wool into hugely long filaments. Twisting parallel fibers around one another greatly increases the frictional forces among them, requiring much greater force to rip the fibers apart lengthwise. Now, a duo of physicists in France has spun a simple but comprehensive formula that explains precisely how a yarn’s strength depends on the amount of twisting, the radius of the yarn, and other factors, APS Physics reports. A yarn spun so each individual fiber corkscrews nine times will be 10 times stronger than one in which each fiber twists just five times, the researchers report this month in Physical Review Letters. For a fixed radius, a yarn containing fewer thick fibers will hold roughly as much weight as one containing more thin ones. But too much twisting is counterproductive: More than nine twists breaks the individual fibers. The new theory could help optimize the design of yarns made of novel fibers, the researchers suggest.
Caudovirales viruses may help fruit flies—and humans—with memory

Viruses that live in our guts could play an important but unexplored role in our cognitive function, The Scientist reports. When researchers had volunteers perform brain-teasing tasks, they found the fastest puzzle solvers tended to host higher levels of Caudovirales viruses in their guts than the slower ones. To test whether viruses have a direct effect on memory, the scientists next fed a group of 92 fruit flies a Caudovirales-rich diet. Compared with flies that weren’t chowing down on extra viruses, the flies seemed to hold onto their memories longer and expressed more genes associated with mental plasticity, the researchers report in Cell Host & Microbe this week. Whereas past research about the relationship between the brain and the microbiome has focused on gut-dwelling bacteria, scientists say this study opens up many new questions about how viruses affect our brain functions.

Boron nitride nanotube membrane creates power by controlling the flow of electrically charged ions in water

Green energy advocates may soon be turning blue. A new membrane could unlock the potential of "blue energy," which uses chemical differences between fresh- and saltwater to generate electricity. If researchers can scale up the postage stamp–size membrane in an affordable fashion, it could provide carbon-free power to millions of people in coastal nations where freshwater rivers meet the sea.

"It's impressive," says Hyung Gyu Park, a mechanical engineer at Pohang University of Science and Technology in South Korea who wasn't involved with the work. "Our field has waited for this success for many years."

Blue energy's promise stems from its scale: Rivers dump some 37,000 cubic kilometers of freshwater into the oceans every year. This intersection between fresh- and saltwater creates the potential to generate lots of electricity—2.6 terawatts, according to one recent estimate, roughly the amount that can be generated by 2000 nuclear power plants.

An abundant element could hold the key to high energy batteries.

Although lithium-ion batteries currently power our cell phones, laptops and electric vehicles, scientists are on the hunt for new battery chemistries that could offer increased energy, greater stability and longer lifetimes. One potential promising element that could form the basis of new batteries is magnesium.

Argonne chemist Brian Ingram is dedicated to pursuing magnesium-ion battery research. In his view, magnesium-ion batteries could one day play a major role in powering our future.

Q: Why do we need to look beyond lithium-ion batteries?

A: Lithium-ion batteries meet the needs of many of society’s applications today for personal electronics and electric vehicles. However, as the energy storage landscape continues to evolve into other applications and energy sectors — particularly in terms of decarbonizing our future — energy storage will face new technical and cost challenges that will require us to find cheaper batteries, better supply chains, faster charging rates, discharge over longer periods, improved safety and longer lifetimes. As battery researchers, we need to develop different kinds of batteries for a diversity of applications, allowing markets to select appropriate technologies and enabling better materials supply chains that can today constrain scaleup and lead to higher costs.

The fast-evolving market for vehicle batteries is driving commoditisation and consolidation, but also innovation

Batteries are being described as the new oil, so perhaps it’s no surprise that in recent years there have been more innovations in batteries than in almost any other technology (as measured by patents). Aside from R&D, billions are being invested in expanding production across the globe and in partnerships all along the supply chain, from raw materials to battery cells.

Prices of lithium-ion batteries – the mainstay of the electric vehicle (EV) market – have tumbled by almost 90% over the past decade. However, raw materials prices (especially for lithium) rose sharply last year. According to BloombergNEF, that threatens to push back the point at which electric cars will compete on cost with internal combustion vehicles, perhaps as far as 2026 in some markets. It also puts pressure on vehicle makers, who must meet new fleet emissions standards on the road to net zero.
Biologists are discovering the true nature of cells—and learning to build their own.

It was by accident that Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, a Dutch cloth merchant, first saw a living cell. He’d begun making magnifying lenses at home, perhaps to better judge the quality of his cloth. One day, out of curiosity, he held one up to a drop of lake water. He saw that the drop was teeming with numberless tiny animals. These animalcules, as he called them, were everywhere he looked—in the stuff between his teeth, in soil, in food gone bad. A decade earlier, in 1665, an Englishman named Robert Hooke had examined cork through a lens; he’d found structures that he called “cells,” and the name had stuck. Van Leeuwenhoek seemed to see an even more striking view: his cells moved with apparent purpose. No one believed him when he told people what he’d discovered, and he had to ask local bigwigs—the town priest, a notary, a lawyer—to peer through his lenses and attest to what they saw.

Van Leeuwenhoek’s best optics were capable of more than two hundred times magnification. That was enough to see an object a millionth the size of a grain of sand. Even so, the cells appeared minuscule. He surmised that they were “furnished with instruments for motion”—tiny limbs that must “consist, in part, of blood-vessels which convey nourishment into them, and of sinews which move them.” But he doubted that science would ever advance enough to reveal the inner structure of anything that small.

Chemicals cost more than just money: Today, petrochemical production spews out nearly 2% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Now, researchers have taken an important step to vastly reduce that footprint, by using bacteria and waste gases from steel plants, rather than petroleum, as the starting ingredient for dozens of commodity chemicals. So far, the process has been used for three commodity chemicals. But because researchers may be able to expand it to others, it could help the chemical industry escape its reliance on fossil fuels, and effectively remove carbon from the skies. 

“[Harnessing] biology to utilize waste gas and produce industrial chemicals is really exciting,” says Corinne Scown, a biofuels expert with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who was not involved with the work. “It goes after two sectors at once that are difficult to decarbonize: steel production and industrial chemicals. It tackles a hard problem.”

Scientists have built their own “mini-antibodies” using software that predicts how proteins fold. The advance could enable development of a new class of drugs to fight everything from cancer to COVID-19.

“It’s pretty amazing stuff,” says Steven Mayo, a chemist at the California Institute of Technology who wasn’t involved in the study. The software should also allow researchers to design diagnostic probes that could detect diseases early in the body, adds Tanja Kortemme, a bioengineer at the University of California, San Francisco, also not involved. “It opens up many possibilities.”

Antibodies excel at binding to proteins, such as those on invading microbes, so pharmaceutical companies use them as drugs to battle infections and cancer. But because antibodies are large proteins, they are costly to make and often unstable. Researchers have been working to make miniature versions of these binders that are cheaper and often more stable. But designing them to bind specific targets has been difficult.

Global recognition of the need to diversify energy storage in accordance with sustainability is driving the development of beyond Li-ion batteries. However, the transition toward a truly sustainable energy industry necessitates informed cradle-to-cradle cost, performance, and environmental assessments together with introduction of long-term international legislation and concerted action from all stakeholders along the battery chain.

Batteries will play a significant role in reaching the global target of carbon neutrality by 2050. However, Li-ion batteries (LIBs), the current dominant technology, face increasing scrutiny over their dependence on critical materials such as Co and graphite, and their associated socio-environmental impacts. Although LIBs will still be necessary for certain applications, the future energy landscape requires greater diversification of storage chemistries that can deliver higher energy, longer lifetimes, faster charging, and greater safety in an economical and sustainable manner.
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Different ways to explore interactions with the PME:
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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.
Acknowledgements: Thank you again to Dominique Jaramillo for her enormous effort in helping to put this newsletter together!