Design and discovery of catalysts to make clean energy and mitigate the harmful effect of greenhouse gases remains a massive challenge. Here the authors report a combustion-synthesised iron-based catalyst of high activity and selectivity for directly converting CO2 to aviation jet fuel.
2020 Top 50 Chemistry and Materials Sciences Articles
We are pleased to share with you the 50 most downloaded Nature Communications articles* in chemistry and materials sciences published in 2020. Featuring authors from around the world, these papers highlight valuable research from an international community.
Browse all Top 50 subject area collections here.
* Data obtained from SN Insights (based on Digital Science's Dimensions) and has been normalised to account for articles published later in the year.
Synthetic biology will transform how we grow food, what we eat, and where we source materials and medicines. Here I have selected six products that are now on the market, highlighting the underlying technologies and projecting forward to the future that can be expected over the next ten years.
Fired brick is a universal building material, produced by thousand-year-old technology, which throughout history has seldom served any other purpose. Here, the authors show that bricks can store energy after chemical treatment to convert their iron oxide content into conducting polymer nanofibers.
It is desirable yet challenging to develop sustainable structural materials to replace petroleum-based plastics. Here, the authors report a facile assembly method for manufacturing high-performance structural materials with a unique combination of high strength, toughness and stiffness.
The 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to a trio of pioneers of the modern lithium-ion battery. Here, Professor Arumugam Manthiram looks back at the evolution of cathode chemistry, discussing the three major categories of oxide cathode materials with an emphasis on the fundamental solid-state chemistry that has enabled these advances.
Conducting polymers are promising materials for diverse applications but the fabrication of conducting polymers mostly relies on conventional fabrication techniques. Here the authors introduce a high performance 3D printable conducting polymer ink to take full advantage of advanced 3D printing.
The electronic structure of benzene has been a test bed for competing theories along the years. Here the authors show via quantum chemistry calculations that the wavefunction of benzene can be partitioned into tiles which show that the two electron spins exhibit staggered Kekulé structures.
Large-scale, unbiased proteomics studies of biological samples like plasma are constrained by the complexity of the proteome. Herein, the authors develop a highly parallel protein quantitation platform leveraging multi nanoparticle protein coronas for deep proteome sampling and biomarker discovery.
The development of high performing metal-ion batteries require guidelines to build improved electrodes and electrolytes. Here, the authors review the current state-of-the-art in the rational design of battery materials by exploiting the interplay between composition, crystal structure and electrochemical properties.
Ultra-conformal drawn-on-skin electronics for multifunctional motion artifact-free sensing and point-of-care treatment
Designing efficient wearable bioelectronics for health monitoring, disease prevention, and treatment, remains a challenge. Here, the authors demonstrate an ultra-conformal, customizable and deformable drawn-on-skin electronics which is robust to motion artifacts and resistant to physical damage.
While organisms like squid can adaptively modulate the optical properties of their tissues, human cells lack analogous abilities. Here the authors engineer human cells to produce protein architectures with tunable light scattering functionalities.
Diatomic carbon (C2) is historically an elusive chemical species, considered to require high physical energy for its generation. Here, the authors describe the first room-temperature chemical synthesis of C2 and present experimental evidence for its singlet biradical (quadruple bonding) character and role as a molecular element of nanocarbons.
Poor mechanical properties of reduced graphene oxide sheets hinder development of flexible energy storage systems. MXene functionalised graphene oxide with Ti-O-C bonding and additional crosslinking is here reported to dramatically increase toughness for flexible supercapacitors.
Here, the authors develop a one-step, contamination-free, Au-assisted mechanical exfoliation method for 2D materials, and isolate 40 types of single-crystalline monolayers, including elemental 2D crystals, metal-dichalcogenides, magnets and superconductors with millimetre size.
Imaging specific proteins in the ultrastructural context largely relies on correlative light/electron microscopy, but fluorophore incompatibility and registration issues limit its use. Here the authors develop an expansion microscopy method with pan-labeling of the proteome to obtain EM-equivalent light microscopy images.
Tooth whitening has attracted significant interest; however, most techniques are potentially destructive. Here, the authors model the replacement of standard abrasives in toothpaste with piezoelectric particles for catalytic degradation of organic stains and report less damage than hydrogen peroxide treatment.
Stable high-capacity and high-rate silicon-based lithium battery anodes upon two-dimensional covalent encapsulation
Stabilizing silicon without sacrificing other device parameters is essential for practical use in lithium and post lithium battery anodes. Here, the authors show the skin-like two-dimensional covalent encapsulation furnishing a remarkable level of integrated lithium storage performances of silicon.
3D printing of metals produces elongated columnar grains which are usually detrimental to component performance. Here, the authors combine ultrasound and 3D printing to promote equiaxed and refined microstructures in a titanium alloy and a nickel-based superalloy resulting in improved mechanical properties.
Plants synthesize more than 3000 tetrahydroisoquinoline (THIQ) alkaloids, but only a few of them have been produced by engineered microbes and titers are very low. Here, the authors increase (S)-reticuline titer to 4.6 g/L and repurpose the yeast Ehrlich pathway to synthesize a diverse array of THIQ scaffolds.
In-situ structure and catalytic mechanism of NiFe and CoFe layered double hydroxides during oxygen evolution
NiFe and CoFe layered double hydroxides are among the most active electrocatalysts for the alkaline oxygen evolution reaction. Here, by combining operando experiments and rigorous DFT calculations, the authors unravel their active phase, the reaction center and the catalytic mechanism.
Ultra-high open-circuit voltage of tin perovskite solar cells via an electron transporting layer design
Despite the lower device efficiency, tin perovskite based solar cells are preferred choices compared to lead-based counterparts due to much lower toxicity. Here Jiang et al. use a fullerene derivative to greatly suppress carrier interface recombination and obtain record high cell efficiency of 12%.
Highly efficient all-inorganic perovskite solar cells with suppressed non-radiative recombination by a Lewis base
There has been a hot competition to optimize the device performance for all-inorganic perovskite solar cells. Here Wang et al. employ a Lewis base molecule to suppresses the non-radiative recombination in the inverted device and achieve a champion efficiency of 16.1%.
Developing autonomous self-healing materials for application under extreme conditions is challenging. Here, the authors design a highly stretchable elastomer by incorporation of H-bonds and disulphide methathesis, which shows efficient self-healing under extreme conditions.
Electrochemical CO2 reduction to high-concentration pure formic acid solutions in an all-solid-state reactor
Electrochemical CO2 reduction to liquid fuels is limited by low product concentrations and formation of mixtures with traditional liquid electrolytes. Here the authors report an all-solid-state system for a continuous generation of high-purity and high-concentration formic acid vapors and solutions.
While single-atom catalysts exhibit intriguing catalytic performances and electronic structures, syntheses are often tailored to a particular system. Here, authors report electrochemical deposition as a universal approach for the fabrication of single-atom catalysts over range of metals and supports.
Fatigue-resistant adhesion is of interest for a range of applications, but has been limited in synthetic hydrogels. Here, the authors report on a synthetic hydrogel with ordered nanocrystalline domains resulting in high fatigue-resistant adhesion and demonstrate the coating of different surfaces.
Mass spectrometry-based proteomics typically relies on highly sensitive nano-flow liquid chromatography (LC) but this can reduce robustness and reproducibility. Here, the authors show that micro-flow LC enables robust and reproducible high-throughput proteomics experiments at a very moderate loss of sensitivity.
To realize a skin-like display for human-electronics interfaces, intrinsically stretchable light-emitting, transistor and device interconnect components are needed. Here, the authors report a fully stretchable transistor driven active-matrix organic light-emitting electrochemical cell array.
Here the authors demonstrate all-dielectric fishnet-achromatic-metalenses from the visible to the near-infrared region. This metalens performs efficiently independent of polarization over about an octave from 640 nm to 1200 nm.
Nature has developed the ability to produce a wide range of optical effects most notably in the butterfly wing. Here, the authors report on the analysis of the structures responsible for ultra-black coloration across different butterflies and combine this with modelling to identify the key characteristics
Nature of power electronics and integration of power conversion with communication for talkative power
Designing efficient power and communication electronics remains a challenge. Here, the authors reveal info characteristics of power electronics and propose a modulation strategy based on frequency hopping-differential phase shift keying to enable power converter design integrated with communication.
Self-charging power systems integrating energy generation and storage are receiving consideration attention. Here the authors report an aqueous Zn-ion battery that can be self-recharged by the spontaneous redox reaction between cathode and oxygen from ambient environment without external power supply.
Butterfly wings have low thermal capacity and thus are vulnerable to damage by overheating. Here, Tsai et al. take an interdisciplinary approach to reveal the organs, nanostructures and behaviors that enable butterflies to sense and regulate their wing temperature.
Semiconductor to metal transition in two-dimensional gold and its van der Waals heterostack with graphene
Dimensionality of a material is a critical parameter to control its electronic properties. Here, the authors report that 2D gold transforms from a semiconductor, with valence band maximum 50 meV below the Fermi level, into a metal by tuning the number of layers from 1 to 2 in between graphene and SiC.
Alloy anode materials in lithium batteries usually suffer from fatal structural degradation due to the large volume change during cycling. Here the authors report a design in which Al foil serves as both anode and current collector to circumvent the strain.
[2 + 2] cycloaddition of alkynes with alkenes would normally require UV light irradiation. Here, the authors report an alkyne–alkene [2 + 2] cycloaddition based on visible light energy transfer photocatalysis, both inter- and intramolecularly, to afford cyclobutenes and 1,3-dienes.
Ammonia synthesis via the Haber–Bosch process typically takes place at an elevated temperature in order to achieve a reasonable rate. Here the authors report on a CaFH solid solution with low activation energy for catalytic ammonia synthesis at lower temperatures.
Highly efficient three-dimensional solar evaporator for high salinity desalination by localized crystallization
Solar-driven water evaporation technology still faces main challenges of limited efficiency and salt fouling. Here the authors achieve high energy efficiency and evaporation rate under high salinity through an energy reutilizing strategy based on interfacial water film inhomogeneity on a biomimetic structure.
Direct evidence of boosted oxygen evolution over perovskite by enhanced lattice oxygen participation
While water splitting provides a renewable means to store energy, the sluggish O2 evolution half-reaction limits applications. Here, authors examine a silicon-incorporated strontium cobaltite perovskite and correlate lattice oxygen participation in O2 evolution to the oxygen ion diffusivity.
Superplasticity at high strain rates is challenging to achieve in high strength materials. Here, the authors show superplastic elongation in excess of 2000% in a high entropy alloy nanostructured by high-pressure torsion.
Structured graphene metamaterial selective absorbers for high efficiency and omnidirectional solar thermal energy conversion
Here, the authors demonstrate a selective solar thermal absorber with wavelength selectivity, arising from metallic trench-like structures, using broadband dispersionless ultrathin graphene metamaterial film, with excellent thermal conductivity.
Plate-lattices are predicted to reach the upper bounds of strength and stiffness compared to traditional beam-lattices, but they are difficult to manufacture. Here, the authors use two-photon polymerization 3D-printing and pyrolysis to make carbon plate-nanolattices which reach those theoretical bounds, making them up to 639% stronger than beam-nanolattices.
A solvent-assisted ligand exchange approach enables metal-organic frameworks with diverse and complex architectures
Metal-organic frameworks are promising for a range of applications, but architectural control is challenging. Here the authors use solvent-assisted ligand exchange to access a variety of metal-organic framework nanomaterials for precursors of nanoporous carbon with sodium ion storage properties.
Synergistic electroreduction of carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide on bimetallic layered conjugated metal-organic frameworks
Effective electrocatalyst is crucial in promoting CO2 reduction to address current energy/environmental issue. Here, the authors develop bimetallic layered two-dimensional conjugated metal-organic framework to synergistically and efficiently electro-catalyze CO2 to CO toward syngas synthesis.
3D microstructure design of lithium-ion battery electrodes assisted by X-ray nano-computed tomography and modelling
The 3D microstructure of the electrode predominantly determines the electrochemical performance of Li-ion batteries. Here, the authors show that the microstructural heterogeneities lead to non-uniform Li insertion and current distribution while graded-microstructures improve the performance.
Quantum dots are often referred to as “artificial atoms” as they create zero-dimensional traps for electrons, with characteristic atom-like spectra. Leon et al. demonstrate that higher shell and orbital states of a multi-electron silicon quantum dot with better control fidelity than single electron dots.
Nanosecond-time-scale delayed fluorescence molecule for deep-blue OLEDs with small efficiency rolloff
Deep-blue emitting organic materials with low exciton lifetime are required to realize efficient organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) at high brightness. Here, the authors report deep-blue OLEDs featuring thermally activated delayed fluorescence molecules with subnano-second exciton lifetime.
Interlayer twist angle between vertically stacked 2D material layers can trigger exciting fundamental physics. Here, the authors report precise control of interlayer twist angle of stacked centimeter scale multilayer MoS2 homostructures that enables continuous change in their indirect bandgap, Moiré phonons and electrical properties.