VechainThor & Changing materials at the Atomic Level to Achieve True Sustainability.

VeChain Official
6 min readAug 3, 2023

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Sustainability, in part, means doing more with less. More efficient cars mean we can transport more goods with less energy spent while more efficient computers allow us to do more calculations with little energy being utilized.

The same is true about materials. It has been long been known that small modifications of structures at the nanoscale result in huge modifications and improvements of properties at the macroscopic level. This is the beauty of the nanotechnology - even though nanomaterials might be expensive and complex to produce, we only need a small amount of them to create large effects. As such, the use of nanostructured substances become economically and practically justifiable.

Traditionally, nanotechnology deals with modification of structures at the scale of a few tens or hundreds of nanometers (1 nanometre is a billion times smaller than a metre, so 10 to 100 nanometres is 100 million to 10 million times smaller than a metre). But what if we can go even deeper, and start thinking about engineering material properties on the truly atomic level (the size of an atom is typically 0.1–0.2nm)?

Modifications on the atomic level are becoming more feasible by the day with huge implications for the properties of materials. Terms like ‘single atom catalysis’, or ‘coloured centres’, have recently become very popular terms in the materials science world, terms that relate to simply adding or replacing a single atom with radical outcomes for how materials behave.

This field of research has major implications for the sustainability of our global society.

The major applications

As mentioned, there are two current major applications of single-atom material modifications: single atom catalysis and coloured centres.

Catalysts are substances which modify the pathway of a reaction. They are not used in the reaction itself, but significantly change the speed of a reaction or swing the reaction to produce one product or another predominantly.

Today, practically no industrial chemical processes work without catalysts. Every single combustion car has catalysts for exhaust gas neutralization. Even though theoretically catalysts should not be consumed during the reaction, they still have limited lifetime, due to poisoning, contamination, unintended utilization, etc.

Typically, catalysts are made with expensive noble metals, so, they are very expensive (as, undoubtedly, any car owner who has had to replace one knows). Thus, scientists are always on the search for novel catalysts.

Some time ago people realized that adding single atoms into a foreign crystal creates strong disturbance in the electronic structure, allowing the whole system to act as a much more efficient catalyst. This is a very good example of the synergy with sustainability: we take two materials, each being rather inexpensive but mediocre catalysts, bringing them together to yield far superior chemical performances from them.

Another example of the utilization of single atom impurities is in structures such as single photon emitters. For many quantum applications (such as quantum computing or quantum telecommunication) it is strictly necessary to work with very reproducible sources of individual photons (the unit of light).

There are a number of ways we can obtain such sources, but, the most compact way, which offers integration with the modern electronics is through the creation of quantum dots, requiring the placement of foreign atoms into a particular crystal.

The idea is not new, we used this (or actually, nature used it) to produce gem stones, for instance. It is chromium impurities which give a Ruby its red colour or the Vanadium in a sapphire that lends it a purple hue (note, that without chromium or vanadium we would get a clear corundum, which is simply the aluminium oxide).

But as we learn how to control the impurities in different crystals, we are unleashing huge potential for a variety of different new applications, including those in the quantum realm.

Machine learning for single atom control

So, as we can see, controlling materials on the atomic scale is a very good idea. If replacing one atom yields such huge changes, imagine what can happen as we learn how to create complex local atomic structures, consisting of several foreign atoms, designed purposefully.

Naturally, we face significant challenges on the way. We don’t yet have a method that allows us to replace particular atoms with ultimate precision just yet — our current technologies allow us to do it globally, using self-assembly. How can we predict the properties of a particular configurations of atomic defects and how can we envisage which structures can be achieved using this or some other growth method?

To answer such questions, we require very extensive computations, machine learning and AI, which also have to account for quantum effects.

Can we bypass such computations? Well, machine learning may give us some hope. To date, we have created huge databases of the various kinds of defects across various materials that are being used to teach neural networks about quantum mechanics.

This allows us to predict the properties of particular atomic impurities very quickly and with high precision. Moreover, we now can now find the pathways for the synthesis of a particular structure with particular properties more effectively and reliably.

The power is in the scale and importantly — trust

The basic truth for any machine learning approach is that the more data we feed to it — the better it works.

Populating materials databases, especially those which deal not with perfect crystals, but with alloys, impurities, defects, etc., takes enormous effort. That’s the reason such efforts need to be distributed and carefully verified.

To make the most of these data, different research groups need to use coherent and uniform settings for their calculations/experiments. If set up properly, the result will greatly exceed expectations and rapidly accelerate the pace of development.

This is where vechain’s blockchain technology comes in- providing the perfect platform for such distributed data to be generated, accumulated, verified and, most importantly, effectively utilised to produce next generation nanotechnology products.

Control over single atoms — the perspective

Where can we envisage the utilization of such atomistic control over material properties in terms of sustainability?

First of all — more efficient and low cost catalysts. This technology affects everything — from more efficient production of petrochemicals, conversion of oil and gas into hydrogen, water splitting for hydrogen generation, lighter and cheaper catalysts for vehicles, and many others.

Second — various quantum devices will make generational leaps in terms of power and efficiency: sensors, quantum telecommunication, quantum computing and many others.

Ultimately, gaining control over single atoms will revolutionize all our technologies, from food production to electronics, from healthcare to construction. Doing more with less is the key principle for sustainability and controlling properties of materials on atomic level brings us closer to achieving global sustainability goals.

To achieve this, we’ll need immense computational power and for those data to be of known quality and validity, blockchain is the essential tool.

VechainThor will be an underpinning factor in helping qualify such data as we progress in to the fourth industrial revolution — a new era, driven by mastery at the microscopic level, advanced computing, blockchain Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and more.

About Vechain

Vechain, headquartered in San Marino, Europe, is the curator of VechainThor, a world leading smart contract platform spearheading the real world adoption of blockchain technology.

Through leveraging the capabilities of ‘trustless’ data (information without intermediaries), smart contracts and IoT technologies, VechainThor has enabled solutions across a wide array of fields. Vechain now turns its attention to the greatest challenge of all — building digital ecosystems to drive sustainability and digital transformation at global scale.

Visit https://www.vechain.org to learn more.

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VeChain Official

VeChain, based in San Marino, Europe built VeChainThor, a powerful platform driving a blockchain and sustainability revolution