Single GaN nanowire (NW) devices fabricated on SiO2 can exhibit a strong degradation after annealing due to the occurrence of void formation at the contact/SiO2 interface. This void formation can cause cracking and delamination of the metal film, which can increase the resistance or lead to a complete failure of the NW device. In order to address issues associated with void formation, a technique was developed that removes Ni/Au contact metal films from the substrates to allow for the examination and characterization of the contact/substrate and contact/NW interfaces of single GaN NW devices. This procedure determines the degree of adhesion of the contact films to the substrate and NWs and allows for the characterization of the morphology and composition of the contact interface with the substrate and nanowires. This technique is also useful for assessing the amount of residual contamination that remains from the NW suspension and from photolithographic processes on the NW-SiO2 surface prior to metal deposition. The detailed steps of this procedure are presented for the removal of annealed Ni/Au contacts to Mg-doped GaN NWs on a SiO2 substrate.
18 Related JoVE Articles!
Examining Local Network Processing using Multi-contact Laminar Electrode Recording
Institutions: University of Texas , University of Texas .
Cortical layers are ubiquitous structures throughout neocortex1-4
that consist of highly recurrent local networks. In recent years, significant progress has been made in our understanding of differences in response properties of neurons in different cortical layers5-8
, yet there is still a great deal left to learn about whether and how neuronal populations encode information in a laminar-specific manner.
Existing multi-electrode array techniques, although informative for measuring responses across many millimeters of cortical space along the cortical surface, are unsuitable to approach the issue of laminar cortical circuits. Here, we present our method for setting up and recording individual neurons and local field potentials (LFPs) across cortical layers of primary visual cortex (V1) utilizing multi-contact laminar electrodes (Figure 1; Plextrode U-Probe, Plexon Inc).
The methods included are recording device construction, identification of cortical layers, and identification of receptive fields of individual neurons. To identify cortical layers, we measure the evoked response potentials (ERPs) of the LFP time-series using full-field flashed stimuli. We then perform current-source density (CSD) analysis to identify the polarity inversion accompanied by the sink-source configuration at the base of layer 4 (the sink is inside layer 4, subsequently referred to as granular layer9-12
). Current-source density is useful because it provides an index of the location, direction, and density of transmembrane current flow, allowing us to accurately position electrodes to record from all layers in a single penetration6, 11, 12
Neuroscience, Issue 55, laminar probes, cortical layers, local-field potentials, population coding
A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
Monolayer Contact Doping of Silicon Surfaces and Nanowires Using Organophosphorus Compounds
Institutions: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Monolayer Contact Doping (MLCD) is a simple method for doping of surfaces and nanostructures1
. MLCD results in the formation of highly controlled, ultra shallow and sharp doping profiles at the nanometer scale. In MLCD process the dopant source is a monolayer containing dopant atoms.
In this article a detailed procedure for surface doping of silicon substrate as well as silicon nanowires is demonstrated. Phosphorus dopant source was formed using tetraethyl methylenediphosphonate monolayer on a silicon substrate. This monolayer containing substrate was brought to contact with a pristine intrinsic silicon target substrate and annealed while in contact. Sheet resistance of the target substrate was measured using 4 point probe. Intrinsic silicon nanowires were synthesized by chemical vapor deposition (CVD) process using a vapor-liquid-solid (VLS) mechanism; gold nanoparticles were used as catalyst for nanowire growth. The nanowires were suspended in ethanol by mild sonication. This suspension was used to dropcast the nanowires on silicon substrate with a silicon nitride dielectric top layer. These nanowires were doped with phosphorus in similar manner as used for the intrinsic silicon wafer. Standard photolithography process was used to fabricate metal electrodes for the formation of nanowire based field effect transistor (NW-FET). The electrical properties of a representative nanowire device were measured by a semiconductor device analyzer and a probe station.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, nanotechnology, chemistry, monolayer contact doping (MLCD), nanowire, silicon substrate, chemical vapor deposition (CVD),
Analyzing Protein Dynamics Using Hydrogen Exchange Mass Spectrometry
Institutions: University of Heidelberg.
All cellular processes depend on the functionality of proteins. Although the functionality of a given protein is the direct consequence of its unique amino acid sequence, it is only realized by the folding of the polypeptide chain into a single defined three-dimensional arrangement or more commonly into an ensemble of interconverting conformations. Investigating the connection between protein conformation and its function is therefore essential for a complete understanding of how proteins are able to fulfill their great variety of tasks. One possibility to study conformational changes a protein undergoes while progressing through its functional cycle is hydrogen-1
H-exchange in combination with high-resolution mass spectrometry (HX-MS). HX-MS is a versatile and robust method that adds a new dimension to structural information obtained by e.g.
crystallography. It is used to study protein folding and unfolding, binding of small molecule ligands, protein-protein interactions, conformational changes linked to enzyme catalysis, and allostery. In addition, HX-MS is often used when the amount of protein is very limited or crystallization of the protein is not feasible. Here we provide a general protocol for studying protein dynamics with HX-MS and describe as an example how to reveal the interaction interface of two proteins in a complex.
Chemistry, Issue 81, Molecular Chaperones, mass spectrometers, Amino Acids, Peptides, Proteins, Enzymes, Coenzymes, Protein dynamics, conformational changes, allostery, protein folding, secondary structure, mass spectrometry
Electric Cell-substrate Impedance Sensing for the Quantification of Endothelial Proliferation, Barrier Function, and Motility
Institutions: Institute for Cardiovascular Research, VU University Medical Center, Institute for Cardiovascular Research, VU University Medical Center.
Electric Cell-substrate Impedance Sensing (ECIS) is an in vitro
impedance measuring system to quantify the behavior of cells within adherent cell layers. To this end, cells are grown in special culture chambers on top of opposing, circular gold electrodes. A constant small alternating current is applied between the electrodes and the potential across is measured. The insulating properties of the cell membrane create a resistance towards the electrical current flow resulting in an increased electrical potential between the electrodes. Measuring cellular impedance in this manner allows the automated study of cell attachment, growth, morphology, function, and motility. Although the ECIS measurement itself is straightforward and easy to learn, the underlying theory is complex and selection of the right settings and correct analysis and interpretation of the data is not self-evident. Yet, a clear protocol describing the individual steps from the experimental design to preparation, realization, and analysis of the experiment is not available. In this article the basic measurement principle as well as possible applications, experimental considerations, advantages and limitations of the ECIS system are discussed. A guide is provided for the study of cell attachment, spreading and proliferation; quantification of cell behavior in a confluent layer, with regard to barrier function, cell motility, quality of cell-cell and cell-substrate adhesions; and quantification of wound healing and cellular responses to vasoactive stimuli. Representative results are discussed based on human microvascular (MVEC) and human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC), but are applicable to all adherent growing cells.
Bioengineering, Issue 85, ECIS, Impedance Spectroscopy, Resistance, TEER, Endothelial Barrier, Cell Adhesions, Focal Adhesions, Proliferation, Migration, Motility, Wound Healing
Scalable Nanohelices for Predictive Studies and Enhanced 3D Visualization
Institutions: University of California Merced, University of California Merced.
Spring-like materials are ubiquitous in nature and of interest in nanotechnology for energy harvesting, hydrogen storage, and biological sensing applications. For predictive simulations, it has become increasingly important to be able to model the structure of nanohelices accurately. To study the effect of local structure on the properties of these complex geometries one must develop realistic models. To date, software packages are rather limited in creating atomistic helical models. This work focuses on producing atomistic models of silica glass (SiO2
) nanoribbons and nanosprings for molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. Using an MD model of “bulk” silica glass, two computational procedures to precisely create the shape of nanoribbons and nanosprings are presented. The first method employs the AWK programming language and open-source software to effectively carve various shapes of silica nanoribbons from the initial bulk model, using desired dimensions and parametric equations to define a helix. With this method, accurate atomistic silica nanoribbons can be generated for a range of pitch values and dimensions. The second method involves a more robust code which allows flexibility in modeling nanohelical structures. This approach utilizes a C++ code particularly written to implement pre-screening methods as well as the mathematical equations for a helix, resulting in greater precision and efficiency when creating nanospring models. Using these codes, well-defined and scalable nanoribbons and nanosprings suited for atomistic simulations can be effectively created. An added value in both open-source codes is that they can be adapted to reproduce different helical structures, independent of material. In addition, a MATLAB graphical user interface (GUI) is used to enhance learning through visualization and interaction for a general user with the atomistic helical structures. One application of these methods is the recent study of nanohelices via MD simulations for mechanical energy harvesting purposes.
Physics, Issue 93, Helical atomistic models; open-source coding; graphical user interface; visualization software; molecular dynamics simulations; graphical processing unit accelerated simulations.
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g.
, signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation.
The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
Analysis of Tubular Membrane Networks in Cardiac Myocytes from Atria and Ventricles
Institutions: Heart Research Center Goettingen, University Medical Center Goettingen, German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) partner site Goettingen, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
In cardiac myocytes a complex network of membrane tubules - the transverse-axial tubule system (TATS) - controls deep intracellular signaling functions. While the outer surface membrane and associated TATS membrane components appear to be continuous, there are substantial differences in lipid and protein content. In ventricular myocytes (VMs), certain TATS components are highly abundant contributing to rectilinear tubule networks and regular branching 3D architectures. It is thought that peripheral TATS components propagate action potentials from the cell surface to thousands of remote intracellular sarcoendoplasmic reticulum (SER) membrane contact domains, thereby activating intracellular Ca2+
release units (CRUs). In contrast to VMs, the organization and functional role of TATS membranes in atrial myocytes (AMs) is significantly different and much less understood. Taken together, quantitative structural characterization of TATS membrane networks in healthy and diseased myocytes is an essential prerequisite towards better understanding of functional plasticity and pathophysiological reorganization. Here, we present a strategic combination of protocols for direct quantitative analysis of TATS membrane networks in living VMs and AMs. For this, we accompany primary cell isolations of mouse VMs and/or AMs with critical quality control steps and direct membrane staining protocols for fluorescence imaging of TATS membranes. Using an optimized workflow for confocal or superresolution TATS image processing, binarized and skeletonized data are generated for quantitative analysis of the TATS network and its components. Unlike previously published indirect regional aggregate image analysis strategies, our protocols enable direct characterization of specific components and derive complex physiological properties of TATS membrane networks in living myocytes with high throughput and open access software tools. In summary, the combined protocol strategy can be readily applied for quantitative TATS network studies during physiological myocyte adaptation or disease changes, comparison of different cardiac or skeletal muscle cell types, phenotyping of transgenic models, and pharmacological or therapeutic interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cardiac myocyte, atria, ventricle, heart, primary cell isolation, fluorescence microscopy, membrane tubule, transverse-axial tubule system, image analysis, image processing, T-tubule, collagenase
Writing and Low-Temperature Characterization of Oxide Nanostructures
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh.
Oxide nanoelectronics is a rapidly growing field which seeks to develop novel materials with multifunctional behavior at nanoscale dimensions. Oxide interfaces exhibit a wide range of properties that can be controlled include conduction, piezoelectric behavior, ferromagnetism, superconductivity and nonlinear optical properties. Recently, methods for controlling these properties at extreme nanoscale dimensions have been discovered and developed. Here are described explicit step-by-step procedures for creating LaAlO3
nanostructures using a reversible conductive atomic force microscopy technique. The processing steps for creating electrical contacts to the LaAlO3
interface are first described. Conductive nanostructures are created by applying voltages to a conductive atomic force microscope tip and locally switching the LaAlO3
interface to a conductive state. A versatile nanolithography toolkit has been developed expressly for the purpose of controlling the atomic force microscope (AFM) tip path and voltage. Then, these nanostructures are placed in a cryostat and transport measurements are performed. The procedures described here should be useful to others wishing to conduct research in oxide nanoelectronics.
Physics, Issue 89,
oxide nanostructures; nanoelectronics; semiconductor; LaAlO3/SrTiO3; lithography; AFM nanolithography
Dorsal Column Steerability with Dual Parallel Leads using Dedicated Power Sources: A Computational Model
In spinal cord stimulation (SCS), concordance of stimulation-induced paresthesia over painful body regions is a necessary condition for therapeutic efficacy. Since patient pain patterns can be unique, a common stimulation configuration is the placement of two leads in parallel in the dorsal epidural space. This construct provides flexibility in steering stimulation current mediolaterally over the dorsal column to achieve better pain-paresthesia overlap. Using a mathematical model with an accurate fiber diameter distribution, we studied the ability of dual parallel leads to steer stimulation between adjacent contacts on dual parallel leads using (1) a single source system, and (2) a multi-source system, with a dedicated current source for each contact. The volume conductor model of a low-thoracic spinal cord with epidurally-positioned dual parallel (2 mm separation) percutaneous leads was first created, and the electric field was calculated using ANSYS, a finite element modeling tool. The activating function for 10 um fibers was computed as the second difference of the extracellular potential along the nodes of Ranvier on the nerve fibers in the dorsal column. The volume of activation (VOA) and the central point of the VOA were computed using a predetermined threshold of the activating function. The model compared the field steering results with single source versus dedicated power source systems on dual 8-contact stimulation leads. The model predicted that the multi-source system can target more central points of stimulation on the dorsal column than a single source system (100 vs. 3) and the mean steering step for mediolateral steering is 0.02 mm for multi-source systems vs 1 mm for single source systems, a 50-fold improvement. The ability to center stimulation regions in the dorsal column with high resolution may allow for better optimization of paresthesia-pain overlap in patients.
Medicine, Issue 48, spinal cord stimulation, dorsal columns, current steering, field steering
Nanofabrication of Gate-defined GaAs/AlGaAs Lateral Quantum Dots
Institutions: Université de Sherbrooke.
A quantum computer is a computer composed of quantum bits (qubits) that takes advantage of quantum effects, such as superposition of states and entanglement, to solve certain problems exponentially faster than with the best known algorithms on a classical computer. Gate-defined lateral quantum dots on GaAs/AlGaAs are one of many avenues explored for the implementation of a qubit. When properly fabricated, such a device is able to trap a small number of electrons in a certain region of space. The spin states of these electrons can then be used to implement the logical 0 and 1 of the quantum bit. Given the nanometer scale of these quantum dots, cleanroom facilities offering specialized equipment- such as scanning electron microscopes and e-beam evaporators- are required for their fabrication. Great care must be taken throughout the fabrication process to maintain cleanliness of the sample surface and to avoid damaging the fragile gates of the structure. This paper presents the detailed fabrication protocol of gate-defined lateral quantum dots from the wafer to a working device. Characterization methods and representative results are also briefly discussed. Although this paper concentrates on double quantum dots, the fabrication process remains the same for single or triple dots or even arrays of quantum dots. Moreover, the protocol can be adapted to fabricate lateral quantum dots on other substrates, such as Si/SiGe.
Physics, Issue 81, Nanostructures, Quantum Dots, Nanotechnology, Electronics, microelectronics, solid state physics, Nanofabrication, Nanoelectronics, Spin qubit, Lateral quantum dot
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
Measuring Cation Transport by Na,K- and H,K-ATPase in Xenopus Oocytes by Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometry: An Alternative to Radioisotope Assays
Institutions: Technical University of Berlin, Oregon Health & Science University.
Whereas cation transport by the electrogenic membrane transporter Na+
-ATPase can be measured by electrophysiology, the electroneutrally operating gastric H+
-ATPase is more difficult to investigate. Many transport assays utilize radioisotopes to achieve a sufficient signal-to-noise ratio, however, the necessary security measures impose severe restrictions regarding human exposure or assay design. Furthermore, ion transport across cell membranes is critically influenced by the membrane potential, which is not straightforwardly controlled in cell culture or in proteoliposome preparations. Here, we make use of the outstanding sensitivity of atomic absorption spectrophotometry (AAS) towards trace amounts of chemical elements to measure Rb+
transport by Na+
- or gastric H+
-ATPase in single cells. Using Xenopus
oocytes as expression system, we determine the amount of Rb+
) transported into the cells by measuring samples of single-oocyte homogenates in an AAS device equipped with a transversely heated graphite atomizer (THGA) furnace, which is loaded from an autosampler. Since the background of unspecific Rb+
uptake into control oocytes or during application of ATPase-specific inhibitors is very small, it is possible to implement complex kinetic assay schemes involving a large number of experimental conditions simultaneously, or to compare the transport capacity and kinetics of site-specifically mutated transporters with high precision. Furthermore, since cation uptake is determined on single cells, the flux experiments can be carried out in combination with two-electrode voltage-clamping (TEVC) to achieve accurate control of the membrane potential and current. This allowed e.g.
to quantitatively determine the 3Na+
transport stoichiometry of the Na+
-ATPase and enabled for the first time to investigate the voltage dependence of cation transport by the electroneutrally operating gastric H+
-ATPase. In principle, the assay is not limited to K+
-transporting membrane proteins, but it may work equally well to address the activity of heavy or transition metal transporters, or uptake of chemical elements by endocytotic processes.
Biochemistry, Issue 72, Chemistry, Biophysics, Bioengineering, Physiology, Molecular Biology, electrochemical processes, physical chemistry, spectrophotometry (application), spectroscopic chemical analysis (application), life sciences, temperature effects (biological, animal and plant), Life Sciences (General), Na+,K+-ATPase, H+,K+-ATPase, Cation Uptake, P-type ATPases, Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometry (AAS), Two-Electrode Voltage-Clamp, Xenopus Oocytes, Rb+ Flux, Transversely Heated Graphite Atomizer (THGA) Furnace, electrophysiology, animal model
Iterative Optimization of DNA Duplexes for Crystallization of SeqA-DNA Complexes
Institutions: McMaster University .
SeqA is a negative regulator of DNA replication that prevents premature reinitiation events by sequestering hemimethylated GATC clusters within the origin of replication1
. Beyond the origin, SeqA is found at the replication forks, where it organizes newly replicated DNA into higher ordered structures2
. SeqA associates only weakly with single GATC sequences, but it forms high affinity complexes with DNA duplexes containing multiple GATC sites. The minimal functional and structural unit of SeqA is a dimer, thereby explaining the requirement of at least two GATC sequences to form a high-affinity complex with hemimethylated DNA3
. Additionally, the SeqA architecture, with the oligomerization and DNA-binding domains separated by a flexible linker, allows binding to GATC repeats separated by up to three helical turns. Therefore, understanding the function of SeqA at a molecular level requires the structural analysis of SeqA bound to multiple GATC sequences. In protein-DNA crystallization, DNA can have none to an exceptional effect on the packing interactions depending on the relative sizes and architecture of the protein and the DNA. If the protein is larger than the DNA or footprints most of the DNA, the crystal packing is primarily mediated by protein-protein interactions. Conversely, when the protein is the same size or smaller than the DNA or it only covers a fraction of the DNA, DNA-DNA and DNA-protein interactions dominate crystal packing. Therefore, crystallization of protein-DNA complexes requires the systematic screening of DNA length4
and DNA ends (blunt or overhang)5-7
. In this report, we describe how to design, optimize, purify and crystallize hemimethylated DNA duplexes containing tandem GATC repeats in complex with a dimeric variant of SeqA (SeqAΔ(41-59)-A25R) to obtain crystals suitable for structure determination.
Structural Biology, Issue 69, SeqA, DNA replication, DNA purification, protein-DNA complexes, protein-DNA cocrystallization, X-ray crystallography
Polycrystalline Silicon Thin-film Solar cells with Plasmonic-enhanced Light-trapping
Institutions: University of New South Wales .
One of major approaches to cheaper solar cells is reducing the amount of semiconductor material used for their fabrication and making cells thinner. To compensate for lower light absorption such physically thin devices have to incorporate light-trapping which increases their optical thickness. Light scattering by textured surfaces is a common technique but it cannot be universally applied to all solar cell technologies. Some cells, for example those made of evaporated silicon, are planar as produced and they require an alternative light-trapping means suitable for planar devices. Metal nanoparticles formed on planar silicon cell surface and capable of light scattering due to surface plasmon resonance is an effective approach.
The paper presents a fabrication procedure of evaporated polycrystalline silicon solar cells with plasmonic light-trapping and demonstrates how the cell quantum efficiency improves due to presence of metal nanoparticles.
To fabricate the cells a film consisting of alternative boron and phosphorous doped silicon layers is deposited on glass substrate by electron beam evaporation. An Initially amorphous film is crystallised and electronic defects are mitigated by annealing and hydrogen passivation. Metal grid contacts are applied to the layers of opposite polarity to extract electricity generated by the cell. Typically, such a ~2 μm thick cell has a short-circuit current density (Jsc
) of 14-16 mA/cm2
, which can be increased up to 17-18 mA/cm2
(~25% higher) after application of a simple diffuse back reflector made of a white paint.
To implement plasmonic light-trapping a silver nanoparticle array is formed on the metallised cell silicon surface. A precursor silver film is deposited on the cell by thermal evaporation and annealed at 23°C to form silver nanoparticles. Nanoparticle size and coverage, which affect plasmonic light-scattering, can be tuned for enhanced cell performance by varying the precursor film thickness and its annealing conditions. An optimised nanoparticle array alone results in cell Jsc
enhancement of about 28%, similar to the effect of the diffuse reflector. The photocurrent can be further increased by coating the nanoparticles by a low refractive index dielectric, like MgF2
, and applying the diffused reflector. The complete plasmonic cell structure comprises the polycrystalline silicon film, a silver nanoparticle array, a layer of MgF2
, and a diffuse reflector. The Jsc
for such cell is 21-23 mA/cm2
, up to 45% higher than Jsc
of the original cell without light-trapping or ~25% higher than Jsc
for the cell with the diffuse reflector only.
Light-trapping in silicon solar cells is commonly achieved via light scattering at textured interfaces. Scattered light travels through a cell at oblique angles for a longer distance and when such angles exceed the critical angle at the cell interfaces the light is permanently trapped in the cell by total internal reflection (Animation 1: Light-trapping)
. Although this scheme works well for most solar cells, there are developing technologies where ultra-thin Si layers are produced planar (e.g. layer-transfer technologies and epitaxial c-Si layers) 1
and or when such layers are not compatible with textures substrates (e.g. evaporated silicon) 2
. For such originally planar Si layer alternative light trapping approaches, such as diffuse white paint reflector 3
, silicon plasma texturing 4
or high refractive index nanoparticle reflector 5
have been suggested.
Metal nanoparticles can effectively scatter incident light into a higher refractive index material, like silicon, due to the surface plasmon resonance effect 6
. They also can be easily formed on the planar silicon cell surface thus offering a light-trapping approach alternative to texturing. For a nanoparticle located at the air-silicon interface the scattered light fraction coupled into silicon exceeds 95% and a large faction of that light is scattered at angles above critical providing nearly ideal light-trapping condition (Animation 2: Plasmons on NP)
. The resonance can be tuned to the wavelength region, which is most important for a particular cell material and design, by varying the nanoparticle average size, surface coverage and local dielectric environment 6,7
. Theoretical design principles of plasmonic nanoparticle solar cells have been suggested 8
. In practice, Ag nanoparticle array is an ideal light-trapping partner for poly-Si thin-film solar cells because most of these design principle are naturally met. The simplest way of forming nanoparticles by thermal annealing of a thin precursor Ag film results in a random array with a relatively wide size and shape distribution, which is particularly suitable for light-trapping because such an array has a wide resonance peak, covering the wavelength range of 700-900 nm, important for poly-Si solar cell performance. The nanoparticle array can only be located on the rear poly-Si cell surface thus avoiding destructive interference between incident and scattered light which occurs for front-located nanoparticles 9
. Moreover, poly-Si thin-film cells do not requires a passivating layer and the flat base-shaped nanoparticles (that naturally result from thermal annealing of a metal film) can be directly placed on silicon further increases plasmonic scattering efficiency due to surface plasmon-polariton resonance 10
The cell with the plasmonic nanoparticle array as described above can have a photocurrent about 28% higher than the original cell. However, the array still transmits a significant amount of light which escapes through the rear of the cell and does not contribute into the current. This loss can be mitigated by adding a rear reflector to allow catching transmitted light and re-directing it back to the cell. Providing sufficient distance between the reflector and the nanoparticles (a few hundred nanometers) the reflected light will then experience one more plasmonic scattering event while passing through the nanoparticle array on re-entering the cell and the reflector itself can be made diffuse - both effects further facilitating light scattering and hence light-trapping. Importantly, the Ag nanoparticles have to be encapsulated with an inert and low refractive index dielectric, like MgF2
, from the rear reflector to avoid mechanical and chemical damage 7
. Low refractive index for this cladding layer is required to maintain a high coupling fraction into silicon and larger scattering angles, which are ensured by the high optical contrast between the media on both sides of the nanoparticle, silicon and dielectric 6
. The photocurrent of the plasmonic cell with the diffuse rear reflector can be up to 45% higher than the current of the original cell or up to 25% higher than the current of an equivalent cell with the diffuse reflector only.
Physics, Issue 65, Materials Science, Photovoltaics, Silicon thin-film solar cells, light-trapping, metal nanoparticles, surface plasmons
Inhibitory Synapse Formation in a Co-culture Model Incorporating GABAergic Medium Spiny Neurons and HEK293 Cells Stably Expressing GABAA Receptors
Institutions: University College London.
Inhibitory neurons act in the central nervous system to regulate the dynamics and spatio-temporal co-ordination of neuronal networks. GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) is the predominant inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It is released from the presynaptic terminals of inhibitory neurons within highly specialized intercellular junctions known as synapses, where it binds to GABAA
Rs) present at the plasma membrane of the synapse-receiving, postsynaptic neurons. Activation of these GABA-gated ion channels leads to influx of chloride resulting in postsynaptic potential changes that decrease the probability that these neurons will generate action potentials.
During development, diverse types of inhibitory neurons with distinct morphological, electrophysiological and neurochemical characteristics have the ability to recognize their target neurons and form synapses which incorporate specific GABAA
Rs subtypes. This principle of selective innervation of neuronal targets raises the question as to how the appropriate synaptic partners identify each other.
To elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms, a novel in vitro
co-culture model system was established, in which medium spiny GABAergic neurons, a highly homogenous population of neurons isolated from the embryonic striatum, were cultured with stably transfected HEK293 cell lines that express different GABAA
R subtypes. Synapses form rapidly, efficiently and selectively in this system, and are easily accessible for quantification. Our results indicate that various GABAA
R subtypes differ in their ability to promote synapse formation, suggesting that this reduced in vitro
model system can be used to reproduce, at least in part, the in vivo
conditions required for the recognition of the appropriate synaptic partners and formation of specific synapses. Here the protocols for culturing the medium spiny neurons and generating HEK293 cells lines expressing GABAA
Rs are first described, followed by detailed instructions on how to combine these two cell types in co-culture and analyze the formation of synaptic contacts.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, Developmental neuroscience, synaptogenesis, synaptic inhibition, co-culture, stable cell lines, GABAergic, medium spiny neurons, HEK 293 cell line
Analyzing and Building Nucleic Acid Structures with 3DNA
Institutions: Rutgers - The State University of New Jersey, Columbia University .
The 3DNA software package is a popular and versatile bioinformatics tool with capabilities to analyze, construct, and visualize three-dimensional nucleic acid structures. This article presents detailed protocols for a subset of new and popular features available in 3DNA, applicable to both individual structures and ensembles of related structures. Protocol 1 lists the set of instructions needed to download and install the software. This is followed, in Protocol 2, by the analysis of a nucleic acid structure, including the assignment of base pairs and the determination of rigid-body parameters that describe the structure and, in Protocol 3, by a description of the reconstruction of an atomic model of a structure from its rigid-body parameters. The most recent version of 3DNA, version 2.1, has new features for the analysis and manipulation of ensembles of structures, such as those deduced from nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) measurements and molecular dynamic (MD) simulations; these features are presented in Protocols 4 and 5. In addition to the 3DNA stand-alone software package, the w3DNA web server, located at http://w3dna.rutgers.edu, provides a user-friendly interface to selected features of the software. Protocol 6 demonstrates a novel feature of the site for building models of long DNA molecules decorated with bound proteins at user-specified locations.
Genetics, Issue 74, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Bioengineering, Biophysics, Genomics, Chemical Biology, Quantitative Biology, conformational analysis, DNA, high-resolution structures, model building, molecular dynamics, nucleic acid structure, RNA, visualization, bioinformatics, three-dimensional, 3DNA, software
Institutions: University of Utah.
A limitation of traditional full-field electroretinograms (ERG) for the diagnosis of retinopathy is lack of sensitivity. Generally, ERG results are normal unless more than approximately 20% of the retina is affected. In practical terms, a patient might be legally blind as a result of macular degeneration or other scotomas and still appear normal, according to traditional full field ERG. An important development in ERGs is the multifocal ERG (mfERG). Erich Sutter adapted the mathematical sequences called binary m-sequences enabling the isolation from a single electrical signal an electroretinogram representing less than each square millimeter of retina in response to a visual stimulus1
Results that are generated by mfERG appear similar to those generated by flash ERG. In contrast to flash ERG, which best generates data appropriate for whole-eye disorders. The basic mfERG result is based on the calculated mathematical average of an approximation of the positive deflection component of traditional ERG response, known as the b-wave1
. Multifocal ERG programs measure electrical activity from more than a hundred retinal areas per eye, in a few minutes. The enhanced spatial resolution enables scotomas and retinal dysfunction to be mapped and quantified.
In the protocol below, we describe the recording of mfERGs using a bipolar speculum contact lens.
Components of mfERG systems vary between manufacturers. For the presentation of visible stimulus, some suitable CRT monitors are available but most systems have adopted the use of flat-panel liquid crystal displays (LCD). The visual stimuli depicted here, were produced by a LCD microdisplay subtending 35 - 40 degrees horizontally and 30 - 35 degrees vertically of visual field, and calibrated to produce multifocal flash intensities of 2.7 cd s m-2
. Amplification was 50K. Lower and upper bandpass limits were 10 and 300 Hz. The software packages used were VERIS versions 5 and 6.
Medicine, Issue 58, Multifocal electroretinogram, mfERG, electroretinogram, ERG