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Materials science.

A photo of the leaves of a Athel tamarisk coated in condensation.

Salty sweat helps one desert plant stay hydrated

The Athel tamarisk excretes excess salt through its leaves. The buildup of salt crystals pulls water directly from the air, a study reports.

Chemists turned plastic waste into tiny bars of soap

Magnetic ‘rusty’ nanoparticles pull estrogen out of water, more stories in materials science.

A photo of two cars parked next to each other. The car on the left is covered by a large white tarp that is wrapped around it while the car on the right is pink and exposed.

This ‘thermal cloak’ keeps spaces from getting either too hot or cold

A new thermal fabric prototype could help keep cars, buildings and other spaces a comfortable temperature during heat waves while reducing CO₂ emissions.

A close up photo of a car's tire while it drives on a black top road.

Tear-resistant rubbery materials could pave the way for tougher tires

Adding easy-to-break molecular connectors surprisingly makes materials harder to tear and could one day reduce microplastic pollution from car tires.

A house in Indonesia

This house was built partly from recycled diapers

Disposable diapers can replace nearly a third of the materials used in load-bearing structures, offering a potential path to more affordable housing.

Fungus mycelium growing on a decaying trunk.

A vegan leather made of dormant fungi can repair itself

Researchers developed a leather alternative made from dormant fungus that can be reanimated and then regrow when damaged.

A photo of a hand holding a light colored rectangle with darker lines running across it.

A graphene “tattoo” could help hearts keep their beat

A proof-of-concept electronic heart tattoo relies on graphene to act as an ultrathin, flexible pacemaker. In rats, it treated an irregular heartbeat.

An oil painting showing a woman holding the body of Jesus Christ while another woman holds his head and another his feet. There are several men standing around and looking at the scene. All are brightly dressed.

Here’s why some Renaissance artists egged their oil paintings

Some Renaissance artists created eggs-quisite paintings by adding yolks to oil paints, which may have helped add texture and prevent yellowing.

A close up photo of several ghost catfish swimming on a black background while a light is shining on some of their scales which appear iridescent.

These transparent fish turn rainbow with white light. Now, we know why

Repeated structures in the ghost catfish’s muscles separate white light that passes through their bodies into different wavelengths.

gallery of images showing a Lego-like figure liquifying to escape from a prison

These shape-shifting devices melt and re-form thanks to magnetic fields

Miniature machines made of gallium embedded with magnetic particles can switch between solid and liquid states.

tiny animals from the Chinese zodiac, made in hydrogels of different colors. Top row from left: purple monkey, yellow and purple pig, yellow and purple snake, bluish gray dog, green rabbit. Bottom row from left: green tiger, yellow goat, orange horse, purple rooster, teal rat.

Want a ‘Shrinky Dinks’ approach to nano-sized devices? Try hydrogels

Patterning hydrogels with a laser and then shrinking them down with chemicals offers a way to make nanoscopic structures out of many materials.

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Materials Science News

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article material science

Unlimited Sale!

Materials Science 32 articles archived since 1845

article material science

Nature Retracts Controversial Room-Temperature Superconductor Study

One of the world’s most prestigious science journals has retracted a major paper from embattled superconductivity researcher Ranga Dias

article material science

Some Metals Mysteriously Heal Their Own Cracks

Scientists accidentally discover metals that mend themselves without human intervention

article material science

Fungi Make Safer Fireproofing Material

Scientists are now growing mycelium, the fungal root network, into fire-retardant sheets to provide a safer, nontoxic way to protect buildings

article material science

2023 Nobel Prize in Chemistry Goes to Tiny Quantum Dots with Huge Effects

Three scientists won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discovery of quantum dots, an entirely new class of material that is used in large-screen TVs and cancer surgery...

article material science

Controversy Surrounds Blockbuster Superconductivity Claim

Will a possible breakthrough for room-temperature superconducting materials hold up to scrutiny?

article material science

The Superconductor Sensation Has Fizzled, and That’s Fine

The rise and fall of LK-99 offers a lesson on how to consider technology’s role in urgently needed energy transitions

article material science

Viral New Superconductivity Claims Leave Many Scientists Skeptical

Researchers say they have discovered a new room-temperature ambient-pressure superconductor, but many scientists are unconvinced

article material science

Controversial Physicist Faces Mounting Accusations of Scientific Misconduct

Allegations of data fabrication have sparked the retraction of multiple papers from Ranga Dias, a researcher who claimed discovery of a room-temperature superconductor

article material science

Shape-Shifting, Self-Healing Machines Are Among Us

Electronics that can bend, stretch and repair themselves could potentially work in applications ranging from tougher robots to smart clothes

article material science

Bizarre Material Combines the Best Traits of Gel and Metal

A new material was used in a simple snail robot, but it could one day make artificial nervous systems for more complex machines

article material science

Quantum Light Could Probe Chemical Reactions in Real Time

Quantum bursts of light could help examine minute chemical reactions and reveal the quantum properties of mysterious materials

article material science

Scientists Made a New Kind Of Ice That Might Exist on Distant Moons

The “amorphous” solid is denser and could be water “frozen in time”

article material science

Ancient Roman Concrete Has ‘Self-Healing’ Capabilities

Mineral deposits called “lime clasts” found in ancient Roman concrete give the material self-healing capabilities that could help engineers develop more resilient modern concrete and reduce its associated emissions...

article material science

Mistletoe’s Ridiculously Clingy Seeds Could Make a Biological Glue

The festive parasite mistletoe’s sticky prowess explained

article material science

Silkworms Spin a Potential Microplastics Substitute

“Intentionally added microplastics” in pesticides and cosmetics could be made from silk instead

article material science

Engineered Metamaterials Can Trick Light and Sound into Mind-Bending Behavior

Advanced materials can modify waves, creating optical illusions and useful technologies

article material science

Poem: ‘Aerogel: A Quintain’

Science in meter and verse

article material science

Recycled Wind Turbines Could Be Made into Plexiglass, Diapers or Gummy Bears

A new resin can hold fiberglass wind turbines together for years and then be recycled into valuable products, making green energy even greener

article material science

Sandcastle Engineering: A Geotechnical Engineer Explains How Water, Air and Sand Create Solid Structures

Building the ultimate sandcastle

article material science

Marker Tip—Without Ink!—Makes a Hardy Medical Sampler

The marker material conserved samples for up to a week

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QS World University Rankings rates MIT No. 1 in 11 subjects for 2023

The Institute also ranks second in five subject areas.

March 22, 2023

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Inaugural fund supports early-stage collaborations between MIT and Jordan

MIT-Jordan Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation Seed Fund winners announced.

July 29, 2021

Graduate student Fahad Mahmood (pictured) uses ultrafast optical setups to study electron dynamics and competing phases in high temperature superconductors.

Riding an electronic wave

Graduate student Fahad Mahmood and colleagues show presence of charge-density waves in superconductive material.

December 9, 2015

A new stretchy hydrogel can be embedded with various electronics. Here, a sheet of hydrogel is bonded to a matrix of polymer islands (red) that can encapsulate electronic components such as semiconductor chips, LED lights, and temperature sensors.

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Water-based “Band-Aid” senses temperature, lights up, and delivers medicine to the skin.

December 7, 2015

MIT physics graduate student Edbert Sie works in the Gedik Lab to innovate optical control of electrons in monolayer materials — and possible new methods for information processing, such as valleytronics.

Exploring valleytronics

MIT graduate student Edbert Jarvis Sie shows promise of new valleytronics by optical tuning of electronic valleys in tungsten disulfide.

December 2, 2015

Representatives from the Americas, Europe, and Africa gathered at MIT for the first International Workshop on Alternative Potash, Nov. 10-12.

Potash: A silent crisis brews

Farmers in Africa and other tropical areas in the Southern Hemisphere are stripping potassium from soils without replacing it.

November 24, 2015

Cooling towers of a nuclear power station

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New research shows concrete is a strong choice for the long-term confinement of nuclear waste.

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Close-up image of part of the shell of a chiton (Acanthopleura granulata) shows the two kinds of sensory organs that cover the shell surface. The eyes are the dark bumps with shiny centers. The exact function of other sensory organs called aesthetes (small bumps with black centers) is not yet known.

Armor plating with built-in transparent ceramic eyes

Tiny sea creatures feature transparent optical systems as tough as their shells.

article material science

Hydrogel superglue is 90 percent water

New “water adhesive” is tougher than natural adhesives employed by mussels and barnacles.

November 9, 2015

Materials Processing Center Director Carl V. Thompson addresses the annual Materials Day Symposium, "Quantum Materials," at MIT on Oct. 14.

Quantum materials: A new paradigm for computing?

Diamond spintronics and graphene-based infrared detectors are among leading-edge technologies reported at annual Materials Day Symposium at MIT.

November 6, 2015

article material science

Harvesting more energy from photons

Quantum process increases the number of electrons produced when light strikes a metal-dielectric interface.

November 5, 2015

MIT Professor Jeffrey Grossman

Desalination gets a graphene boost

Jeffrey Grossman applies new materials research to making desalination cheaper and more efficient.

November 2, 2015

The MIT Climate CoLab's new Materials Matter competition seeks physical, social, and cultural innovations that could help transform the way we view, make, and use materials.

MIT Climate CoLab, in collaboration with Nike, launches new materials competition

Materials Matter competition, inspired by MIT research, seeks innovations that could help transform the way we view, make, and use materials.

October 29, 2015

Admir Masic, an assistant professor in the MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

The resilience of Admir Masic

A former Bosnian refugee — and new CEE faculty member — finds parallels in his life, his research, and a current political crisis.

October 20, 2015

Nuh Gedik

Faculty highlight: Nuh Gedik

Associate professor's work on topological insulators and atomically thin materials yields new, laser-driven approaches to materials for electronics.

October 9, 2015

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  • 07 November 2023

Nature retracts controversial superconductivity paper by embattled physicist

  • Davide Castelvecchi

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

Ranga Dias working at a desktop computer.

Physicist Ranga Dias is under investigation by his institution, the University of Rochester in New York. Credit: Lauren Petracca/New York Times/Redux/eyevine

Nature has retracted a controversial paper 1 claiming the discovery of a superconductor — a material that carries electrical currents with zero resistance — capable of operating at room temperature and relatively low pressure.

article material science

Why a blockbuster superconductivity claim met a wall of scepticism

The text of the retraction notice states that it was requested by eight co-authors. “They have expressed the view as researchers who contributed to the work that the published paper does not accurately reflect the provenance of the investigated materials, the experimental measurements undertaken and the data-processing protocols applied,” it says, adding that these co-authors “have concluded that these issues undermine the integrity of the published paper”. (The Nature news team is independent from its journals team.)

It is the third high-profile retraction of a paper by the two lead authors, physicists Ranga Dias at the University of Rochester in New York and Ashkan Salamat at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). Nature withdrew a separate paper last year 2 and Physical Review Letters retracted one this August 3 . It spells more trouble in particular for Dias, whom some researchers allege plagiarized portions of his PhD thesis . Dias has objected to the first two retractions and not responded regarding the latest. Salamat approved the two this year.

“It is at this point hardly surprising that the team of Dias and Salamat has a third high-profile paper being retracted,” says Paul Canfield, a physicist at Iowa State University in Ames and at Ames National Laboratory. Many physicists had seen the Nature retraction as inevitable after the other two — and especially since The Wall Street Journal and Science reported in September that 8 of the 11 authors of the paper — including Salamat — had requested it in a letter to the journal.

Dias and Salamat did not respond to a request for comment by Nature ’s news team. The retraction states that he and two other co-authors — Nugzari Khalvashi-Sutter and Sasanka Munasinghe, both at Rochester — "have not stated whether they agree or disagree with this retraction".

Early scepticism

This year’s report by Dias and Salamat is the second significant claim of superconductivity to crash and burn in 2023. In July, a separate team at a start-up company in Seoul described 4 , 5 a crystalline purple material dubbed LK-99 — made of copper, lead, phosphorus and oxygen — that they said showed superconductivity at normal pressures and at temperatures up to at least 127 °C (400 kelvin). There was much online excitement and many attempts to reproduce the results, but researchers quickly reached a consensus that the material was not a superconductor at all .

article material science

LK-99 isn’t a superconductor — how science sleuths solved the mystery

Superconductors are important in many applications, from magnetic resonance imaging machines to particle colliders, but their use has been limited by the need to keep them at extremely low temperatures. For decades, researchers have been developing new materials with the dream of finding one that exhibits superconductivity without any refrigeration.

Specialists in the field have been sceptical since this year’s Dias and Salamat paper was published, says Lilia Boeri, a physicist at the Sapienza University of Rome. This, she says, is in part because of controversies swirling around the team and in part because the latest paper was not written to what she considers a high standard.

“Virtually every serious condensed-matter physicist I know saw right away that there were serious problems with the work,” says Peter Armitage, an experimental physicist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. In particular, members of the community took issue with measurements of the material’s electrical resistance, saying it was not clear whether the property truly dropped to zero, or whether Dias and Salamat had subtracted a background signal from a key plot of resistance to create the appearance that it did. Critics say that it should not be necessary to remove background from this type of measurement. In today's text, the journal stated, "An investigation by the journal and post-publication review have concluded that these concerns are credible, substantial and remain unresolved."

article material science

Stunning room-temperature-superconductor claim is retracted

Armitage adds that the publication of the paper also raises questions about the editorial review process at Nature , and why reviewers didn’t catch the issues.

“The highly qualified expert reviewers we selected raised a number of questions about the original submission, which were largely resolved in later revisions,“ says Karl Ziemelis, chief physical sciences editor at Nature . “What the peer-review process cannot detect is whether the paper as written accurately reflects the research as it was undertaken.”

“Decisions about what to accept for publication are not always easy to make,” Ziemelis continues. “And there may be conflicts, but we strive to take an unbiased position and to ensure the interests of the community always drive our deliberations.”

Audible clamour

Nature published the now-retracted paper on 8 March. That week, Dias himself presented the results to a standing-room-only audience at a meeting of the American Physical Society in Las Vegas. Over the audible clamour of the crowd assembled outside the room’s doors — where conference staff limited entry to avoid violating fire regulations — Dias briefly described a compound made of hydrogen, lutetium and small amounts of nitrogen that was a superconductor at temperatures up to 21 °C (294 kelvin) when kept at a pressure of around 1 gigapascal (10,000 times atmospheric pressure).

article material science

‘A very disturbing picture’: another retraction imminent for controversial physicist

Many teams had already created and experimented with similar hydrogen-rich materials, called hydrides, after a milestone discovery in 2015. A group led by physicist Mikhail Eremets at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, reported 6 superconductivity in a hydrogen–sulfur compound at −70 °C (203 kelvin); at the time, this was a record-high operating temperature for a superconductor. But Eremets’s material required a much higher pressure of 145 gigapascals (1.4 million times atmospheric pressure) — comparable to the crushing conditions at the centre of Earth.

Since then, researchers have made hydride superconductors that push closer and closer to operating at room temperature, but all of them work only under extreme pressures. When Dias and Salamat published their paper in Nature in March, they seemed to have made a significant step towards a material that could find practical applications.

But some specialists were already wary because of the first Nature retraction . And some say they immediately found the fresh claims to be improbable. For instance, the material described in the paper was supposed to have around three hydrogen atoms for every lutetium atom. But if so, the lutetium would tend to donate an electron to each hydrogen, resulting in a kind of salt, says Artem Oganov, a materials scientist at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology in Moscow. “You get either an insulator or an extremely poor metal,” he says — not a superconductor.

One lab says it has partially reproduced Dias and Salamat’s results using a sample provided by the Rochester team 7 . But many others, which tried creating their own samples and running tests, could not. And in the meantime, other causes for concern have arisen. An investigation launched by Physical Review Letters before it retracted its paper by Dias and Salamat found “apparent data fabrication”, as Nature ’s news team reported in July . And an investigation launched by Nature ’s journals team after it received an anonymous critique of data in this year’s paper found that “the credibility of the published results are in question”, according to September’s news story in Science .

Credibility concerns

Armitage does not think that Dias and Salamat will be able to keep doing research, pointing to the investigation findings and allegations of plagiarism in Dias’s PhD thesis. The University of Rochester has confirmed to Nature that it has launched an investigation into the integrity of Dias’s work, which is being conducted now by external experts. The university’s spokesperson did not answer questions about whether the institution has yet disciplined Dias. UNLV did not answer Nature ’s queries about whether Salamat is being investigated, saying that “UNLV does not publicly discuss personnel matters”, but that it “is committed to maintaining the highest standards for research integrity campus wide”.

article material science

How would room-temperature superconductors change science?

Canfield says that the Dias–Salamat collaboration has spread a “foul vapour” over the field, which “is scaring young researchers and funding agencies away”.

“I have some colleagues who simply are afraid that this case of Dias puts a shadow of doubt on the credibility of our field in general,” Eremets says.

Ho-Kwang Mao, director of the Center for High Pressure Science and Technology Advanced Research in Beijing, is more sanguine. “I do not think it will affect the funding for superconductivity research other than more careful reviews, which is not necessarily bad,” he says.

Hai-Hu Wen, director of the Center for Superconducting Physics and Materials at Nanjing University in China, agrees. “Actually, it seems more easy to get funding for the research of superconductivity since some government officials seem to be influenced by the expectation of a room-temperature superconductor,” he says.

But Boeri says she has heard researchers complain that the controversies — the allegations of PhD thesis plagiarism and the findings of apparent data fabrication — have made it harder to recruit students to work on superconductors. “We face a serious communication problem, to make people understand that the field is healthy — that although there may be some bad apples, the community’s standards are much higher,” she says.

“Serious people continue to do amazing and interesting work,” Armitage says. “Sure, they can be disheartened by this nonsense, but it won’t stop the science.”


Additional reporting by Lauren Wolf.

Dasenbrock-Gammon, N. et al. Nature 615 , 244–250 (2023); retraction (2023).

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Engineered ‘living materials’ could help clean up water pollution one day

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Jonathan K. Pokorski receives funding from the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy.

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Water pollution is a growing concern globally, with research estimating that chemical industries discharge 300-400 megatonnes (600-800 billion pounds) of industrial waste into bodies of water each year.

As a team of materials scientists , we’re working on an engineered “living material” that may be able to transform chemical dye pollutants from the textile industry into harmless substances.

Water pollution is both an environmental and humanitarian issue that can affect ecosystems and human health alike. We’re hopeful that the materials we’re developing could be one tool available to help combat this problem.

Engineering a living material

The “ engineered living material ” our team has been working on contains programmed bacteria embedded in a soft hydrogel material. We first published a paper showing the potential effectiveness of this material in Nature Communications in August 2023.

The hydrogel that forms the base of the material has similar properties to Jell-O – it’s soft and made mostly of water. Our particular hydrogel is made from a natural and biodegradable seaweed-based polymer called alginate , an ingredient common in some foods .

The alginate hydrogel provides a solid physical support for bacterial cells, similar to how tissues support cells in the human body. We intentionally chose this material so that the bacteria we embedded could grow and flourish.

A green polymer, arranged in a square with a 5 by 5 grid of smaller squares, sits on a clear surface.

We picked the seaweed-based alginate as the material base because it’s porous and can retain water. It also allows the bacterial cells to take in nutrients from the surrounding environment.

After we prepared the hydrogel, we embedded photosynthetic – or sunlight-capturing – bacteria called cyanobacteria into the gel.

The cyanobacteria embedded in the material still needed to take in light and carbon dioxide to perform photosynthesis , which keeps them alive. The hydrogel was porous enough to allow that, but to make the configuration as efficient as possible, we 3D-printed the gel into custom shapes – grids and honeycombs. These structures have a higher surface-to-volume ratio that allow more light, CO₂ and nutrients to come into the material.

The cells were happy in that geometry. We observed higher cell growth and density over time in the alginate gels in the grid or honeycomb structures when compared with the default disc shape.

Cleaning up dye

Like all other bacteria, cyanobacteria has different genetic circuits , which tell the cells what outputs to produce. Our team genetically engineered the bacterial DNA so that the cells created a specific enzyme called laccase .

The laccase enzyme produced by the cyanobacteria works by performing a chemical reaction with a pollutant that transforms it into a form that’s no longer functional. By breaking the chemical bonds, it can make a toxic pollutant nontoxic. The enzyme is regenerated at the end of the reaction, and it goes off to complete more reactions.

Once we’d embedded these laccase-creating cyanobacteria into the alginate hydrogel, we put them in a solution made up of industrial dye pollutant to see if they could clean up the dye. In this test, we wanted to see if our material could change the structure of the dye so that it went from being colored to uncolored. But, in other cases, the material could potentially change a chemical structure to go from toxic to nontoxic.

The dye we used, indigo carmine , is a common industrial wastewater pollutant usually found in the water near textile plants – it’s the main pigment in blue jeans. We found that our material took all the color out of the bulk of the dye over about 10 days.

This is good news, but we wanted to make sure that our material wasn’t adding waste to polluted water by leaching bacterial cells. So, we also engineered the bacteria to produce a protein that could damage the cell membrane of the bacteria – a programmable kill switch.

The genetic circuit was programmed to respond to a harmless chemical, called theophylline , commonly found in caffeine, tea and chocolate. By adding theophylline, we could destroy bacterial cells at will.

The field of engineered living materials is still developing, but this just means there are plenty of opportunities to develop new materials with both living and nonliving components.

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