Research Bits: March 28

The start of smell modeling; polarons may help produce hydrogen, improve touchscreens.


Modeling how the nose smells

The first 3D molecular-level picture of how an odor molecule binds to and activates an odorant receptor (OR) on olfactory cells in the nose may help us understanding and eventually be used to build a map of all the receptors. Scientists at UC San Francisco (UCSF) used cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), which UCSF developed, to take a moving picture of the wiggly receptors and come out with a 3D manipulable image of the binding. Software gets a clear picture averaging the thousands of images taken. The odorant receptors, which number over 1000 variations, are proteins that bind odor molecules on the surface of olfactory cells, which then produce a signal sent to areas in the brain. No one has yet mapped the interactions of thousands of scent molecules with hundreds of odorant receptors, so that a chemist could design a molecule and predict what it would smell like.

“We’ve dreamed of tackling this problem for years,” said Aashish Manglik, MD, PhD, an associate professor of pharmaceutical chemistry. “We now have our first toehold, the first glimpse of how the molecules of smell bind to our odorant receptors. For us, this is just the beginning.”

The findings appeared in the March 15, 2023 online issue of Nature.

Christian B. Billesbølle, Claire A. de March, Wijnand J. C. van der Velden, Ning Ma, Jeevan Tewari, Claudia Llinas del Torrent, Linus Li, Bryan Faust, Nagarajan Vaidehi, Hiroaki Matsunami, Aashish Manglik. Structural basis of odorant recognition by a human odorant receptor. Nature, 2023; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-023-05798-y

Looking at polarons

Using simulations run on the Texas Advanced Computing Center’s (TACC) Frontera supercomputer, scientists from the University of Texas at Austin have mapped the fundamental conditions of polarons in 2D materials. Polarons are a type of electron that have a cloud of atoms in a crystal lattice. They are known as quasiparticles and behave differently from electrons in that they don’t move in waves (as electrons do) but have wave packets that hop instead from lattice to lattice.

“This ‘hopping transport’ regime confers the material with novel properties and has implications on the design of materials for electronics,” said Feliciano Giustino, professor of Physics and the W. A. ‘Tex’ Moncrief, Jr. Chair of Quantum Materials Engineering at the Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences (Oden Institute) and the Department of Physics, College of Natural Sciences, The University of Texas at Austin. “We charted a map to indicate in which materials polarons should be found, under what conditions, and the characteristics of their properties.”

Understanding polarons can help improve the touchscreens and OLED displays and production of hydrogen. Anything that relies on electric charge transport through polarons could benefit.

Hydrogen fuel could potentially be made by sunlight rather than using fossil fuels if the process can be achieved through charge transport from polarons in key materials such as titanium dioxide.

Giustino and the Oden Institute invented EPW, a message passing interface (MPI) code in open-source Fortran that calculates polaron properties related to electron-phonon interaction using Density-Functional Perturbation Theory and Maximally Localized Wannier Functions. Led by the Oden Institute, an international collaboration of scientists are developing the code.

Weng Hong Sio, Feliciano Giustino. Polarons in two-dimensional atomic crystals. Nature Physics, 2023; DOI: 10.1038/s41567-023-01953-4

Oxygen-ion battery

Researchers from the Vienna University of Technology (TU Wien) say they have invented an oxygen-ion-battery using ceramic materials. The rechargeable battery’s storage capacity does not diminish over time.

While they do not have the high energy density of a lithium-ion battery, the oxygen-ion batteries can be produced without rare elements and are made of incombustible materials. The battery is not suitable for electric cars and mobile devices as it can’t produce the energy density needed, but it may be used as energy storage.

Alexander Schmid, Martin Krammer, Jürgen Fleig. Rechargeable Oxide Ion Batteries Based on Mixed Conducting Oxide Electrodes. Advanced Energy Materials, 2023; 13 (11): 2203789 DOI: 10.1002/aenm.202203789

Check out this weeks’ tech papers.

Catch up on industry research and curated tech papers.

Bookmark our industry-research round-up page.

Leave a Reply

(Note: This name will be displayed publicly)