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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Materials Science and Engineering - Open Access Policy Deposits

This series is automatically populated with publications deposited by UC Irvine Samueli School of Engineering Materials Science and Engineering researchers in accordance with the University of California’s open access policies. For more information see Open Access Policy Deposits and the UC Publication Management System.

Cover page of CryoEM reveals the complex self-assembly of a chemically driven disulfide hydrogel.

CryoEM reveals the complex self-assembly of a chemically driven disulfide hydrogel.


Inspired by the adaptability of biological materials, a variety of synthetic, chemically driven self-assembly processes have been developed that result in the transient formation of supramolecular structures. These structures form through two simultaneous reactions, forward and backward, which generate and consume a molecule that undergoes self-assembly. The dynamics of these assembly processes have been shown to differ from conventional thermodynamically stable molecular assemblies. However, the evolution of nanoscale morphologies in chemically driven self-assembly and how they compare to conventional assemblies has not been resolved. Here, we use a chemically driven redox system to separately carry out the forward and backward reactions. We analyze the forward and backward reactions both sequentially and synchronously with time-resolved cryogenic transmission electron microscopy (cryoEM). Quantitative image analysis shows that the synchronous process is more complex and heterogeneous than the sequential process. Our key finding is that a thermodynamically unstable stacked nanorod phase, briefly observed in the backward reaction, is sustained for ∼6 hours in the synchronous process. Kinetic Monte Carlo modeling show that the synchronous process is driven by multiple cycles of assembly and disassembly. The collective data suggest that chemically driven self-assembly can create sustained morphologies not seen in thermodynamically stable assemblies by kinetically stabilizing transient intermediates. This finding provides plausible design principles to develop and optimize supramolecular materials with novel properties.

Formation and Nanomechanical Properties of Silver-Mediated Guanine DNA Duplexes in Aqueous Solution


Silver cations can mediate base pairing of guanine (G) DNA oligomers, yielding linear parallel G-Ag+-G duplexes with enhanced stabilities compared to those of canonical DNA duplexes. To enable their use in programmable DNA nanotechnologies, it is critical to understand solution-state formation and the nanomechanical stiffness of G-Ag+-G duplexes. Using temperature-controlled circular dichroism (CD) spectroscopy, we find that heating mixtures of G oligomers and silver salt above 50 °C fully destabilizes G-quadruplex structures and converts oligomers to G-Ag+-G duplexes. Electrospray ionization mass spectrometry supports that G-Ag+-G duplexes form at stoichiometries of 1 Ag+ per base pair, and CD spectroscopy suggests that as the Ag+/base stoichiometry increases further, G-Ag+-G duplexes undergo additional morphological changes. Using liquid-phase atomic force microscopy, we find that this excess Ag+ enables assembly of long fiberlike structures with ∼2.5 nm heights equivalent to a single DNA duplex but with lengths that far exceed a single duplex. Finally, using the conditions established to form single G-Ag+-G duplexes, we use a surface forces apparatus (SFA) to compare the solution-phase stiffness of single G-Ag+-G duplexes with dG-dC Watson-Crick-Franklin duplexes. SFA shows that G-Ag+-G duplexes are 1.3 times stiffer than dG-dC duplexes, confirming gas-phase ion mobility spectrometry measurements and computational predictions. These findings may guide the development of structural DNA nanotechnologies that rely on silver-mediated base pairing.

Cover page of Ultrafast Q-boosting in semiconductor metasurfaces

Ultrafast Q-boosting in semiconductor metasurfaces


All-optical tunability of semiconductor metasurfaces offers unique opportunities for novel time-varying effects, including frequency conversion and light trapping. However, the all-optical processes often induce optical absorption that fundamentally limits the possible dynamic increase of their quality factor (Q-boosting). Here, we propose and numerically demonstrate the concept of large Q-boosting in a single-material metasurface by dynamically reducing its structural anisotropy on a femtosecond timescale. This balance is achieved by excitation with a structured pump and takes advantage of the band-filling effect in a GaAs direct-bandgap semiconductor to eliminate the free-carrier-induced loss. We show that this approach allows a dynamic boosting of the resonance quality factor over orders of magnitude, only limited by the free-carrier relaxation processes. The proposed approach offers complete dynamic control over the resonance bandwidth and opens applications in frequency conversion and light trapping.

Cover page of Reversible Cl/Cl- redox in a spinel Mn3O4 electrode.

Reversible Cl/Cl- redox in a spinel Mn3O4 electrode.


A unique prospect of using halides as charge carriers is the possibility of the halides undergoing anodic redox behaviors when serving as charge carriers for the charge-neutrality compensation of electrodes. However, the anodic conversion of halides to neutral halogen species has often been irreversible at room temperature due to the emergence of diatomic halogen gaseous products. Here, we report that chloride ions can be reversibly converted to near-neutral atomic chlorine species in the Mn3O4 electrode at room temperature in a highly concentrated chloride-based aqueous electrolyte. Notably, the Zn2+ cations inserted in the first discharge and trapped in the Mn3O4 structure create an environment to stabilize the converted chlorine atoms within the structure. Characterization results suggest that the Cl/Cl- redox is responsible for the observed large capacity, as the oxidation state of Mn barely changes upon charging. Computation results corroborate that the converted chlorine species exist as polychloride monoanions, e.g., [Cl3]- and [Cl5]-, inside the Zn2+-trapped Mn3O4, and the presence of polychloride species is confirmed experimentally. Our results point to the halogen plating inside electrode lattices as a new charge-storage mechanism.

Cover page of Concentration-Dependent Photocatalytic Upcycling of Poly(ethylene terephthalate) Plastic Waste

Concentration-Dependent Photocatalytic Upcycling of Poly(ethylene terephthalate) Plastic Waste


Photocatalytic plastic waste upcycling into value-added feedstock is a promising way to mitigate the environmental issues caused by the nondegradable nature of plastic waste. Here, we developed a MoS2/g-C3N4 photocatalyst that can efficiently upcycle poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET) into valuable organic chemicals. Interestingly, the conversion mechanism is concentration-dependent. For instance, at a low ethylene glycol (EG) concentration (7.96 mM), acetate is the main product. Unexpectedly, the conversion of PET water bottle hydrolysate with only 7.96 mM ethylene glycol (EG) can produce a 4 times higher amount of acetate (704.59 nmol) than the conversion of 300 mM EG (174.50 nmol), while at a higher EG concentration (300 mM), formate is the dominant product. Herein, a 40 times higher EG concentration (300 mM compared to 7.96 mM) would produce only ∼3 times more formate (179 nmol compared to 51.86 nmol). In addition, under natural sunlight conditions, comparable amounts of liquid and gaseous products are produced when commercial PET plastics are employed. Overall, the photocatalytic PET conversion process is quite efficient under a low concentration of EG in PET hydrolysate, indicating the enormous potential of this photocatalysis strategy for real plastics upcycling.

Cover page of Unlocking the Potential of CuAgZr Metallic Glasses: A Comprehensive Exploration with Combinatorial Synthesis, High-Throughput Characterization, and Machine Learning.

Unlocking the Potential of CuAgZr Metallic Glasses: A Comprehensive Exploration with Combinatorial Synthesis, High-Throughput Characterization, and Machine Learning.


In this work, the CuAgZr metallic glasses (MGs) are investigated, a promising material for biomedical applications due to their high strength, corrosion resistance, and antibacterial activity. Using an integrated approach of combinatorial synthesis, high-throughput characterization, and machine learning (ML), the mechanical properties of CuAgZr MGs are efficiently explored. The investigation find that post-deposition oxidation in inter-columnar regions with looser packing causes high oxygen content in Cu-rich regions, significantly affecting the alloys mechanical behavior. The study also reveals that nanoscale structural features greatly impact plastic yielding and flow in the alloys. ML algorithms are tested, and the multi-layer perceptron algorithm produced satisfactory predictions for the alloys hardness of untested alloys, providing valuable clues for future research. The work demonstrates the potential of using combinatorial synthesis, high-throughput characterization, and ML  techniques to facilitate the development of new MGs with improved strength and economic feasibility.

Streamlining and Optimizing Strategies of Electrostatic Parameterization


Accurate characterization of electrostatic interactions is crucial in molecular simulation. Various methods and programs have been developed to obtain electrostatic parameters for additive or polarizable models to replicate electrostatic properties obtained from experimental measurements or theoretical calculations. Electrostatic potentials (ESPs), a set of physically well-defined observables from quantum mechanical (QM) calculations, are well suited for optimization efforts due to the ease of collecting a large amount of conformation-dependent data. However, a reliable set of QM ESP computed at an appropriate level of theory and atomic basis set is necessary. In addition, despite the recent development of the PyRESP program for electrostatic parameterizations of induced dipole-polarizable models, the time-consuming and error-prone input file preparation process has limited the widespread use of these protocols. This work aims to comprehensively evaluate the quality of QM ESPs derived by eight methods, including wave function methods such as Hartree-Fock (HF), second-order Møller-Plesset (MP2), and coupled cluster-singles and doubles (CCSD), as well as five hybrid density functional theory (DFT) methods, used in conjunction with 13 different basis sets. The highest theory levels CCSD/aug-cc-pV5Z (a5z) and MP2/aug-cc-pV5Z (a5z) were selected as benchmark data over two homemade data sets. The results show that the hybrid DFT method, ωB97X-D, combined with the aug-cc-pVTZ (a3z) basis set, performs well in reproducing ESPs while taking both accuracy and efficiency into consideration. Moreover, a flexible and user-friendly program called PyRESP_GEN was developed to streamline input file preparation. The restraining strengths, along with strategies for polarizable Gaussian multipole (pGM) model parameterizations, were also optimized. These findings and the program presented in this work facilitate the development and application of induced dipole-polarizable models, such as pGM models, for molecular simulations of both chemical and biological significance.

Cover page of Strain‐Driven Bidirectional Spin Orientation Control in Epitaxial High Entropy Oxide Films

Strain‐Driven Bidirectional Spin Orientation Control in Epitaxial High Entropy Oxide Films


High entropy oxides (HEOs), based on the incorporation of multiple-principal cations into the crystal lattice, offer the possibility to explore previously inaccessible oxide compositions and unconventional properties. Here it is demonstrated that despite the chemical complexity of HEOs external stimuli, such as epitaxial strain, can selectively stabilize certain magneto-electronic states. Epitaxial (Co0.2 Cr0.2 Fe0.2 Mn0.2 Ni0.2 )3 O4 -HEO thin films are grown in three different strain states: tensile, compressive, and relaxed. A unique coexistence of rocksalt and spinel-HEO phases, which are fully coherent with no detectable chemical segregation, is revealed by transmission electron microscopy. This dual-phase coexistence appears as a universal phenomenon in (Co0.2 Cr0.2 Fe0.2 Mn0.2 Ni0.2 )3 O4 epitaxial films. Prominent changes in the magnetic anisotropy and domain structure highlight the strain-induced bidirectional control of magnetic properties in HEOs. When the films are relaxed, their magnetization behavior is isotropic, similar to that of bulk materials. However, under tensile strain, the hardness of the out-of-plane (OOP) axis increases significantly. On the other hand, compressive straining results in an easy OOP magnetization and a maze-like magnetic domain structure, indicating the perpendicular magnetic anisotropy. Generally, this study emphasizes the adaptability of the high entropy design strategy, which, when combined with coherent strain engineering, opens additional prospects for fine-tuning properties in oxides.