Big MXene Conference Coming to Drexel

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The mighty family of nanomaterials known as MXenes will feature in a three-day international conference at their birthplace in Drexel on March 1-3. August 2022.

“MXenes: Addressing Global Challenges with Innovation” is expected to convene around 200 in-person researchers, students, investors and policy makers, along with hundreds more virtual participants worldwide, to discuss fundamental research problems and future applications for the new two-dimensional materials. Since their discovery at Drexel in 2011, MXene materials have demonstrated unparalleled properties capable of improving everyday electronics and solving global technological challenges in areas such as energy storage, water purification, electromagnetic shielding, communications, smart textiles, and even medicine.

In response to the growing interest in the material, the organizers have planned four international MXene conferences/symposia this year. The August event will be the only one held at Drexel, home to the laboratories of original inventors Yury Gogotsi, Distinguished University and Charles T. and Ruth M. Bach Professor and Director of the AJ Drexel Nanomaterials Institute; and Michel Barsoum, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in the College of Engineering. Masoud Soroush, professor of chemistry and biological engineering, co-chairs the conference with Gogotsi and Barsoum.

Gogotsi explained why this conference is a milestone for the field of materials science DrexelNow.

Q: So what are MXenes?

ONE: They are a family of two-dimensional nanomaterials that have multiple atomic layers and are 100,000 times smaller than a human hair in thickness. In addition to being thin and light, they are made of a combination of several atoms, which gives them a number of properties. You can get any color, you can get metallic conductivity, semi-conductivity, etc. They differ from graphene, the only other major material discovery of the last 20 years, because graphene sheets are monatomic. The discovery of MXenes matters because everything is made of materials – mobile phones, computers, solar batteries – and new materials allow researchers and engineers to exploit new properties and add new functionalities to devices, opening up possibilities in communication, in electronics, in medicine, in energy storage, batteries, supercapacitors and much more.

Q: Why is it important to continue cultivating MXene research?

ONE: Since their discovery at Drexel, MXenes have been researched by thousands of people worldwide.

MXenes are about the most transferable technology to come out of Drexel, generating patents and licensing agreements. We study applications from smart textiles to cancer treatment to kidney dialysis to antennas and electromagnetic shields. Companies have been launched to explore applications for them.

In general, it usually takes between 15 and 25 years for new materials to go from discovery to real applications. Always when you make materials in small quantities it is expensive. Until we have a large amount of cheap but quality material, the industry will not start using it. Bridging this gap from lab-scale production to large-scale production is always one of the most important challenges for new materials.

Chemical companies won’t start producing tons until someone wants to buy it. On the other hand, companies making new gadgets, like mobile phones or smart textiles, won’t start large-scale production until they have reliable material suppliers. Still, new materials will eventually come into production if they enable major improvements to existing functions (e.g. charging time for a lithium-ion battery) or enable new functions, such as clothing with built-in antennas, energy storage capacity, body temperature sensors to provide warmth in some areas and cooling in other parts, etc.

Some applications are longer lasting. There is a medical device company called Nephria Bio that is working with MXenes to improve kidney dialysis to eventually develop a wearable kidney so that people are not dependent on dialysis machines. Making a portable kidney is a very attractive and important goal, but it clearly takes time. Another key use of MXenes is for electromagnetic shielding, such as eliminating the annoying noise that occurs when you have two microphones near each other. Typically, people use metal screens, but we can prevent interference with film that is practically invisible and extremely thin. Therefore, such shields can potentially be used in handheld electronics, Internet-of-Things devices, etc., where size and weight are important. Companies, researchers and investors can use MXenes to solve many technological problems.

Q: Who will attend the conference?

ONE: The goal of the conference is to bring together companies, researchers, investors and PhD or bachelor students so that they can learn and listen to leading experts in the field and choose directions for future research. The conference leaders invited leading experts in the field to speak. The Japanese company Murata Manufacturing Corp., the largest producer of electronics for the automotive industry, will speak at one of the panels. We will also have scientists from Manchester University in England, where graphene was discovered, speaking.

We want editors of top journals such as Nature Nanotechnology, Science, Advanced materialwhose, Fabricand Nature/Springer Publishing is hosting a panel on how to publish on MXenes and what top journals are looking for—which is very important, especially for younger scientists, to understand. We will have a panel bringing together young researchers with National Science Foundation grantees working at Drexel and grantees from Africa, Europe, and India who will talk about their research into MXenes and how they ended up becoming researchers and winning very competitive scholarships.

We will have a panel of investors and venture capitalists who will talk to the community about why and how they would invest in MXenes.

It’s not just about science. We will discuss bottlenecks in MXenes and their applications, we will discuss publication, investment, career of young researchers.

The local organizing committee, led by conference secretary Jamie Banks, made a huge effort to organize an excellent event and create a welcoming environment for all participants, whether in person or joining us online. National Science Foundation support allowed us to cover the cost of attendance for a large number of students from US universities.

COVID still prevents many other scientists from attending in person, but we made the conference hybrid so there will be lots of people who will attend and listen online, and there will be some pre-recorded presentations available to registered conference attendees.

Q: Why is it important that the conference be organized in MXenes’ birthplace?

ONE: Our research team at Drexel puts a lot of time and effort into the discovery and development of MXenes, and we are excited to see results. You grow a plant in your garden and you see fruit and you are happy because you planted the tree and now you can pick apples.

Also, it is important to have conferences in the US, because even though we discovered MXenes here in Philadelphia, there was initially very little interest in the US. The first license agreement was with a Japanese company. The first international conference on MXenes took place in China. We are glad that companies and funding agencies in the United States are starting to pay attention.

The fact that there is another conference at Drexel and there are two MXene symposia at the Materials Research Society meetings in the US in 2022 shows that there is a critical mass of MXene researchers in our country, and I hope that this conference will attract further interest. The number of publications on MXenes, the number of citations, increases exponentially. MXenes are frontier nanomaterials, and as nanotechnology enters every aspect of our lives, we expect that MXenes will soon enable many technological breakthroughs.

Drexel has a relatively small number of faculty active in nanomaterials. We do not have a department for nanotechnology. We only offer the MS degree in Nanomaterials and we have the AJ Drexel Nanomaterials Institute. Nevertheless, if you look at the most recent US News and World Report rankings, Drexel is the #1 most impactful of all institutions in the world in terms of citation impact and percentage of highly cited articles that are in the 1 percent most cited within nanoscience and nanotechnology, as well as materials science. It shows the impact and reputation of nanotechnology and materials research at Drexel, and it shows that Drexel has produced something that the rest of the world values. Now the nanomaterials field looks to Drexel as a leader.

To attend the event in person or to stream the panels and talks virtually, please register https://mxeneconference.coe.drexel.edu.

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