To Coin a Phrase: Nanoscoops

by Michael Mullaney on January 10, 2011

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Our story last week introduced the world to “nanoscoops” – a new, novel nanomaterial that holds great promise for advancing rechargeable battery technology. The release has secured a nice foothold in the media, with mentions by Wired, Engadget, TechNewsDaily, and many others.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this story was watching this entirely new word, “nanoscoops,” proliferate across the interwebs.  To our best knowledge, there was no instance of “nanoscoops” prior to Professor Nikhil Kortakar publishing his scientific study on Dec. 28, 2010.

On Jan. 4, 2011, a day after the Rensselaer story on this research was released, our mutual friend Google turned up about 4,000 search results for “nanoscoops.”  Today, about a week later, Google is showing about 51,300 results. This neologism is quietly reverberating through the ether and – likely sooner than later – will be further cemented into history with its own entry Wikipedia or HowStuffWorks.

A cool aspect of this story is that nanoscoops really do, honest-to-goodness, resemble ice cream cones. This is evidenced in the side by side comparison above. Rather than a delicious cone and ice cream however, the nanoscoops are made from a carbon nanorod “cone” topped with a thin layer of nanoscale aluminum and a “scoop” of nanoscale silicon.

Here’s why it’s important: The parts of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that actually store energy, in the anode, physically grow and shrink as the battery charges and releases energy. As a result, charging or discharging too quickly creates stress that can cause anodes to break. Nanoscoops, however, because of their unique shape, are incredibly good at resisting and dissipating this stress. So an anode made from nanoscoops doesn’t break when you charge or discharge it at fast rates. This means nanoscoops could be the answer to “filling up” the battery in your laptop, cell phone, or even electric car at lightning-fast speeds.

When researching this story, I asked Professor Koratkar if he or another member of the research team coined the phrase “nanoscoops.” He couldn’t recall, and neither could a student who worked on the project. This is understandable, as they were undoubtedly caught up in the excitement of their discovery. Even though they can’t remember exactly who on the team first said the word “nanoscoops,” it’s clear that their innovation – with the help of Google – will never be forgotten.