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Left to right: Graduate student Cédric Viry, Professor Jeffrey Grossman, and postdoc Grace Han, along with their collaborators, are using specially designed “photoswitching” molecules to control the release of heat from materials used to store thermal energy in devices ranging from solar concentrators and solar cookers to heated seats in vehicles.

Saving heat until you need it

A new concept for thermal energy storage involves a material that absorbs heat as it melts and releases it as it resolidifies — but only when triggered by light.

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The toughness of Sporopollenin, a polymer within the shells of pollen grains (seen here magnified 500X using a scanning electron microscope), has made it possible for plant life to survive on land — but has also frustrated attempts to study its fundamental composition, until now.

Cracking a tough case

Whitehead Institute and MIT researchers uncover the detailed molecular structure of the sporopollenin polymer, an inert material key for the emergence of land plants.

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