Highlights of News during non-publication time (Part 4)

Intellectual Property

WIPO: JD.com: e-Commerce from China to the World

We bring you another case study highlighting how the Madrid System can support companies manage their portfolio of international registrations. Today, we review the case of Chinese e-commerce company JD.com

With over twenty years of experience, JD.com has become a top technology and services enterprise with supply chain at its core. The company delivers all kind of products across China and has diversified its business into industries as varied as logistics, technology or health. JD.com has experimented a fast, online and global growth during the past several years, which set a high requirement for JD.com´s trademark strategy, needing a structured and reliable trademark registration system. Discover how JD.com has been successfully leveraging the Madrid System since 2012.

With over twenty years of experience, JD.com has become a top technology and services enterprise with supply chain at its core. The company, also known as Jingdong and formerly called 360buy, started by selling authentic-only magneto-optical disks, but soon diversified to sell other electronic devices such as phones, computers or home appliances online.


Today, JD.com delivers all kind of products, including fresh and frozen goods across China. It has also diversified its business segments by tapping into diverse industries, as varied as logistics, technology, or health.

The firm has prospered throughout the years, becoming the first major Chinese e-commerce company to be listed on New York’s NASDAQ stock exchange in 2014, and ranking 59th on the Fortune Global 500 list in 2021. Today, JD.com serves hundreds of millions of households in China and connects them with hundreds of thousands high-quality brands and products worldwide.

Investing in technology to foster a more productive and sustainable world

JD.com is focused on developing the smartest, most efficient logistics systems possible. The company has built the world’s first fully automated warehouse in Shanghai, and is currently developing its own autonomous deliver vehicles. JD.com also invests heavily in research and development (R&D), with a focus on a number of key areas with a meaningful impact on its operations, including smart logistics and supply chains, artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

In 2021, JD.com introduced a new mission statement: “Powered by Technology for a More Productive and Sustainable World.” Since 2017, JD.com had invested a total of RMB 75 billion yuan (almost 12 billion US dollars or over 10 billion euros) in R&D, making it one of the Chinese enterprises with the largest investment in technology. In the past six years, the growth rate of JD’s R&D investment has far exceeded that of its revenue.

Globally, JD’s vision is to “become the most trusted enterprise in the world.” It is transitioning its business model from “the world to China” to “China to the world”. In short, it aims to bring its knowledge in retail infrastructure – from logistics to supply chain, technology and other capabilities – to the world. It also aims to provide the most reliable retail platform to customers worldwide, to construct a full range of distribution channels, and to build the international cross-border trading platform.

In order to support that, Intellectual property is undoubtedly a valuable asset for the company and JD.com attaches an increasing importance to protecting its innovation and intellectual property rights. The company understands how WIPO’s Madrid System can support it in its mission to become one of the most trusted internet company worldwide.

As the services provided by JD.com grew, so did its intellectual property (IP) strategy. Trademark registration is an efficient means to protect a brand and JD.com realizes that a successful brand should have a solid trademark strategy.

Taking advantage of the Madrid System to support fast growth

JD.com has experimented fast growth in the past several years. However, with fast growth often come new challenges, especially in an online environment that goes beyond borders. These challenges are also accentuated when a company operates over a broad range of business areas. JD.com has several different business segments: retail, technology, logistics, health, insurance, property development and management, and overseas business. All these variables – a rapid business development in a broad range of business areas and across many countries and regions – set a high requirement for the JD trademark strategy.

A convenient and cost-effective trademark registration system like the Madrid System is beneficial for rapidly developing brands. JD.com has been leveraging it since 2012, to register effortlessly its different trademarks across several countries and regions with only one application. This saves the company long, bureaucratic procedures, document translations and different currency payments for the registration processes in each different country. Through the Madrid System, companies pay one set of fees in only one currency and language to apply for trademarks in multiple territories.

With JD’s fast international development, and the real-time spread of information on the Internet, its core trademark had to be registered rapidly in multiple countries, covering multiple classes of goods and services. In this regard, the Madrid System also offers a right of priority, meaning that by already having the trademark registered in its Office of origin, JD.com had a priority to register that same mark in all other member countries of the System.

Lastly, WIPO and the Madrid System offer the possibility of expanding the scope of protection, by adding countries or regions to an existing international registration through the subsequent designation procedure. These registrations can also be renewed simultaneously through online payment, which is highly convenient for trademark registration management. Both JD’s core trademark and new trademarks are registered under WIPO’s Madrid System.

JD.com and the WIPO Madrid System in practice

JOY + JD.COM (WIPO International Registration No. 1403477, 1434520)

JD’s core trademark “JOY + JD.COM” has seen its registered countries and classes increase through its use of the Madrid System. The mark’s logo is composed of the JD’s characters and of JD’s mascot, an animated white dog called JOY. JOY has appeared in several short movies and animations to commemorate events such as the Chinese Year of the Dog in 2018, and has starred in videos with other companies’ mascots such as Hello Kitty or LINE FRIENDS. Nowadays, stuffed JOY plush toys, keychains and similar gadgets can be purchased online.


SEVEN FRESH Supermarket (WIPO International Registration No. 1575170)

One of the latest business models established by JD.com is a supermarket chain. SEVEN FRESH Supermarkets are technologically advanced stores where shoppers can use connected mirrors that display the origin and nutritional content of a product, as well as a mobile app for scanning and payment of the products. Some of the stores also provide tailored services. For example, one supermarket in Beijing has a special service section dedicated to elderly people, as well as a service to teach this demographic how to place orders online from home.

The registration for SEVEN FRESH Supermarket trademark was also made through the Madrid System. The advantage of using the System to register a new trademark was clear for JD.com. Considering most countries apply a right of priority, rapid and efficient registration of new trademarks can prevent trademark squatting, and lay a solid legal foundation for the future development and enhancement of the brand.



lululemon names Michael Aragon as CEO of MIRROR

Appointment accelerates lululemon’s ability to fully realize its vision for MIRROR to build and extend the lululemon community globally.

lululemon athletica inc. (NASDAQ:LULU) on January 7, 2022, announced the appointment of Michael Aragon as CEO of MIRROR and lululemon Digital Fitness, effective January 17, 2022. In this role, Mr. Aragon will oversee the development and expansion of the MIRROR in-home digital platform, and will report directly to Chief Executive Officer, Calvin McDonald.

Michael Aragon

“Mike Aragon has an impressive track record of building successful brands by connecting people and building communities through digital content and experiences,” said Calvin McDonald, CEO of lululemon. “He is the ideal leader to chart the path forward for MIRROR as we engage with the more than 10 million lululemon guests who live the sweat life.”

Mr. Aragon joins lululemon from Amazon, where he has served for five years as Chief Content Officer at Twitch, the world’s leading live-streaming service that creates unique multi-player entertainment experiences. Under Mr. Aragon’s leadership, Twitch increased the number of creators using the platform from 1 million to 8 million and expanded into new content segments beyond gaming, leading to significant growth in the number of hours watched.

Previously, Mr. Aragon served as General Manager, VRV at Ellation, Inc., where he expanded programming and led the launch of a new digital service at the start-up prior to its acquisition by AT&T in 2017. And he spent more than a decade with the Sony Group Corporation, where he expanded the PlayStation Network beyond gaming, and managed the digital, music and original content services in more than 30 countries.

“lululemon is a brand synonymous with well-being and building communities, with an incredible opportunity to create the most engaging fitness content available in the industry,” said Mr. Aragon. “MIRROR has a strong market position with a growing subscriber base, and I look forward to building upon this solid foundation and defining the next chapter of growth with the talented MIRROR team.”

Mr. Aragon is an avid runner and earned his BBA in Finance from the University of New Mexico and his MBA from Dartmouth College.

MIRROR is a nearly invisible, interactive home gym featuring live and on-demand fitness classes and personal training in a variety of workout genres. MIRROR is creating a new category of in-home fitness with cutting-edge hardware, responsive software, and best-in-class content that transforms any room into a complete home gym. For the first time, the essential components of a great studio workout – variety, personalization, and community – are brought to the most convenient place: the home. MIRROR was founded by Brynn Putnam, creator of Refine Method, named “New York’s Smartest Workout.” MIRROR is headquartered in New York City. HTTPS://MIRROR.CO.


Bridgewater CEO McCormick Stepping Down to Consider Senate Run  – Nir Bar Dea and Mark Bertolini named co-CEOs

By guest author Juliet Chung from the Wall Street Journal

Bridgewater Associates named two new co-chief executives to head the world’s largest hedge-fund firm on Monday, after CEO David McCormick told staff he would be stepping down to consider running for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania.

Bridgewater CEO McCormick

Bridgewater elevated to co-CEO deputy chief executive Nir Bar Dea, 40 years old, along with former Aetna chief executive Mark Bertolini, 65, who has been a member of Bridgewater’s board for three years, according to a memo to Bridgewater employees that was released publicly.

The announcement formalises a transition many were expecting given Mr. McCormick’s political ambition. In December, he put out an ad touting his military record and family Christmas-tree farm that all but declared his candidacy in the Republican primary.

Founded by Ray Dalio, who is known for an unorthodox management style known as radical transparency, Bridgewater manages about USD 150 billion.




Avalon Appoints Chief Harvey Yesno to its Board of Directors

Avalon Advanced Materials Inc. (TSX: AVL) (OTCQB: AVLNF) (“Avalon” or the “Company”) is pleased to announce the appointment of Chief Harvey Yesno to the Company’s Board of Directors, to stand for election at the next Annual General Meeting of Shareholders to be held on February 24, 2022.

Chief Harvey Yesno

Mr. Yesno is a member and former Chief of the Eabametoong First Nation located at Fort Hope approximately 350 km NNE of Thunder Bay, ON, where he now resides. He served as Chief for six terms from 1977 to 1991 and one further term from 2019-21. He also served as Grand Chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation (Treaty #9 and #5) from 2012-15. From 1993 to 2010 he served as President & CEO of Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund (“NADF”), based in Thunder Bay. NADF is a non-profit Indigenous financial institution that supports Indigenous business and economic development in Northern Ontario by providing Indigenous entrepreneurs with access to capital for start-ups and growth of businesses. From 2011-2012, Mr. Yesno served as Director of Community Relations for Ontario’s Ring of Fire Secretariat.

Commented Avalon President & CEO, Don Bubar, “I have known Harvey since 2002 when we both served on the Smart Growth regional panel for Northwestern Ontario. I am delighted to welcome an Indigenous leader with broad experience in Northwestern Ontario in identifying First Nation challenges related to government, the economy and resource development to Avalon’s Board of Directors. I look forward to working closely with Harvey to inspire greater Indigenous business participation in the sustainable development of critical minerals supply chains that will support the emerging clean economy in Ontario.”

Mr. Yesno commented, “I am pleased to accept Avalon’s invitation to serve on its Board of Directors. I share the Company’s vision for how critical minerals offer an exceptional business opportunity for northern Ontario First Nations to participate in the rapidly emerging global clean economy. I became familiar 20 years ago with Avalon’s Lilypad Cesium-Tantalum-Lithium project because it is located just west of Fort Hope in our traditional territory and I now recognize what an exceptional economic development opportunity it represents for Eabametoong First Nation.”

About Avalon Advanced Materials Inc.

Avalon Advanced Materials Inc. is a Canadian mineral development company specializing in sustainably-produced materials for clean technology. The Company now has four advanced stage projects, providing investors with exposure to lithium, tin and indium, as well as rare earth elements, tantalum, cesium and zirconium. Avalon is currently focusing on developing its Separation Rapids Lithium Project near Kenora, Ontario while continuing to advance other projects, including its 100%-owned Lilypad Cesium-Tantalum-Lithium Project located near Fort Hope, ON. Social responsibility and environmental stewardship are corporate cornerstones.

The European Commission appoints two Directors in its department for trade and a Principal Adviser in the department for energy

Joanna Szychowska

The European Commission has decided on December 22, 2021, to appoint Joanna Szychowska as Director for the ‘Asia, Services and Digital Trade, Investment and Intellectual Property’ Directorate and Martin Lukas as Director for the ‘Trade defence’ Directorate in the Directorate-General for Trade (DG TRADE). DG TRADE is responsible for EU policy on trade with countries beyond the EU’s borders. Joanna Szychowska, a Polish national, has a long experience in regulatory processes and negotiations, a deep knowledge of EU industrial policy, as well as EU institutional matters and legislative procedures. She is currently Head of Unit for `Mobility´ in the Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (DG GROW) where she is responsible for the competitiveness of the automotive, maritime and railway, industries. Prior to that, she headed the ‘automotive and mobility industries’ Unit after having managed the ‘public procurement legislation’ Unit in the same DG. She was previously a member of the Cabinet of Vice-President Günter Verheugen, responsible for Enterprise and Industry, and of Commissioner Danuta Hübner, in charge of Regional Policy. Joanna Szychowska started her career at a private law firm in Warsaw. Prior to joining the Commission in 2004, she acted as Director of the Department of the European Law in the Office of the Committee for European Integration in Warsaw, where she was in charge of the harmonisation of Polish law with EU law before Poland’s accession to the EU. In his new position, Martin Lukas will build on his considerable experience in international negotiations, his thorough understanding of EU trade policy as well as his vast experience in EU external relations and trade defence policy. Martin Lukas, an Austrian national, has pursued a long career in DG Trade where he is currently Head of Unit for “Dispute Settlement and Legal Aspects of trade policy”. In this capacity, he was responsible for managing a team of legal officers dealing with trade disputes and legal aspects of trade negotiations as well as providing legal advice on institutional and market access matters. He was also overseeing the work on an EU strategy to deal with the blockage of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) dispute settlement system. Before joining this unit as Deputy Head of Unit in 2005, he was Head of Policy Section of the Trade Defence Directorate and Deputy Negotiator of the WTO Subsidies Agreement. He joined the Commission in 1996. He holds law degrees from the University of Vienna and the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, DC. The Commission also decided to appoint Hans van Steen as Principal Adviser for an integrated renewable energy strategy towards the 2050 carbon neutrality objective in the Directorate-General for Energy (DG ENER), responsible for the EU’s energy policy. In his new position, Hans van Steen will draw on his strong innovation capacity, his solid background in EU funding instruments, his familiarity with the emerging energy system of the future as well as his thorough experience in EU energy policies and energy transition. Hans van Steen, a Danish national, is currently Adviser in DG ENER in charge of Just Transition, energy efficiency, innovation and research. As of 2018, he has been Acting Director for two Directorates in the same DG where he has dealt with the preparation of the Fit for 55 package, as well as energy efficiency and renewable energy. Previously he worked for DG ENER in an adviser capacity, focusing on renewable energy, including bioenergy sustainability, energy research activities and certain international fora, including the Clean Energy Ministerial. He obtained further management experience by heading different units in DG ENER in earlier stages of his career. He joined the Commission in 1989 as a national expert. Prior to that, he was Head of Section in the Ministry for Energy in Copenhagen.



Change on the Board of Directors of Forbo Holding Ltd

Dr. Reto Müller will not be standing for re-election at the 2022 Ordinary General Meeting. The Board of Directors of Forbo Holding Ltd will propose Dr. Eveline Saupper and Jens Fankhänel for election to the Board of Directors.

Retirement from the Board of Directors

Dr. Reto Müller

After 11 years’ service as a member, Dr. Reto Müller will not be standing for re-election to the Board of Directors at the next Ordinary General Meeting, due to take place on April 1, 2022. He has been a member of the Board since 2011 and served on the Audit and Finance Committee.

“On behalf of the Board of Directors of Forbo Holding Ltd, I would like to thank Dr. Reto Müller for his valued and accomplished contribution to the development of the company. During his period as a Board member, he contributed wide-ranging international experience and in-depth industrial expertise. We wish him all the best for the future,” says This E. Schneider, Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors.

Elections of new members to the Board of Directors

Dr. Eveline Saupper

The Board of Directors of Forbo Holding Ltd will propose Dr. Eveline Saupper and Jens Fankhänel for election to the Board of Directors at the Ordinary General Meeting of April 1, 2022.

Dr. Eveline Saupper, a Swiss citizen, is a professional Board Director. After periods at Peat Marwick Mitchell (today KPMG) and Baker McKenzie, Zurich and Chicago, she joined the Homburger law firm in Zurich, where she served as a partner from 1994 to 2014. As a partner, she also worked in a variety of management roles in IT, finance and human resources. She holds a degree in law (lic. iur.) as well as a PhD in law from the University of St. Gallen and is admitted to the Bar of Zurich. She is also a certified tax expert.

Jens Fankhänel, a German citizen, is CEO of the Kardex Group. After several years in international consulting and project management, he has worked since 2002 in a variety of management roles in industries focusing on intralogistics and automated material flow. He has been with Kardex since 2011 and as CEO has had overall responsibility for the Kardex Group since 2016. He has extensive experience in digitization, strategy implementation and running international technology companies. He has a degree in electrical engineering/ specialization in automation engineering and technical cybernetics from the University of Chemnitz.

This E. Schneider highlights: “We are delighted that the Forbo Board of Directors is to be joined by Dr. Eveline Saupper, a proven expert in taxation, finance and human resources, and Jens Fankhänel, an experienced industrial manager in the fields of digitization and automation technologies.”

Forbo is a leading producer of floor coverings, building and construction adhesives, as well as power transmission and conveyor belt solutions. Forbo’s linoleum floor coverings are made from natural raw materials. It is biodegradable and CO2-neutral (cradle to gate), without offsetting. In the manufacture of its heterogeneous vinyl floor coverings, Forbo uses the latest in phthalate-free plasticizers with a base layer containing up to 45% recycled material. The BioBelt™ is a biologically degradable conveyor belt made largely from renewable, plant-based materials. The AmpMiser™ conveyor belt enables energy savings and therefore also a reduction in CO2 emissions of up to 50%. For Forbo as a responsible manufacturer, the careful use of all resources for a sustainable future is a guiding principle.

Forbo employs about 5,500 people and has an international network of 25 sites with production and distribution, 6 assembly centers, and 49 sales organizations in a total of 39 countries around the world. The company generated net sales of CHF 1,117.7 million in the 2020 business year. Forbo is headquartered in Baar in the canton of Zug, Switzerland. Forbo Holding Ltd is listed on SIX Swiss Exchange (security number 354151, ISIN CH0003541510, Bloomberg FORN SW, Reuters FORN.S).


The European Commission appoints a new Head of Representation in in Lithuania

Marius Vaščega

On December 22, 2021, Marius Vaščega has been appointed as Head of the European Commission’s Representation in Vilnius and will take office on 1 February 2022. In this function, he will act as the official representative of the European Commission in Lithuania under the political authority of President Ursula von der Leyen. Mr Vaščega, a Lithuanian national, is equipped with a considerable amount of experience in European affairs, having worked for European institutions in various capacities since 2004. During this time, he has acquired a thorough knowledge of the key EU policy areas and he is well-versed in a range of areas, such as political representation and coordination, as well as strategic communication and outreach tasks, which will play a key role in his new function. Since 2019, Marius Vaščega has been the Head of Cabinet of EU Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius responsible for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, after successfully leading the transition team of the Commissioner-designate to prepare his entry into office. In this position, he has been in the lead on a number initiatives related to the European Green Deal initiatives, including in the fields of circular economy, biodiversity, reduction of pollution, sustainability of oceans and their resources. Prior to this function, Marius Vaščega was the deputy Head of European Commission Representation in Lithuania and Head of its political section and economic adviser. Before joining the Commission as international relations officer in 2013, he worked both in the Council of the EU advising rotating Presidencies of the Council (2009-13), and in the European Parliament (2004-2008). Before Lithuania’s accession to the EU, he had a private law practice and was a lecturer in the Faculty of Law of Vilnius University.



Research: 41% US homes own streaming media player

Findings from analyst firm Parks Associates reveal US broadband households have an average of 14.5 connected devices, with future purchase intentions still high as consumers continue to embrace entertainment technology:

  • 41 % of US broadband households have a streaming media player
  • 38 % US broadband households have a gaming console
  • 36 % of US broadband households subscribe to or are trialling a video gaming service
  • 31 % of US broadband households or 30+ million households use free ad-based OTT services
  • 50 % of Cord-Cutters cite the high cost of traditional pay-TV services as the reason to cancel the service

“Streaming video consumption and the devices that enable it are fixtures of modern life,” said Paul Erickson, Director of Research, Parks Associates. “Consumers are increasingly willing to spend for better entertainment experiences at home, and they now see greater tangible value in the content, services, and devices that maximize the quality of their home audio and visual experiences.”



Swiss Empa: Food waste reduction – Ecological coating for Bananas

By guest author Rainer Klose freom Swiss Empa

Empa and Lidl Switzerland have jointly developed a cellulose protective coating for fruit and vegetables. The novel coating is made from so-called pomace – squeezed fruit and vegetable peels. The innovative project can reduce packaging and prevent food waste.

Plastic packaging in grocery stores protects fruits and vegetables from spoilage, but also creates significant amounts of waste. Together with the retailer Lidl Switzerland, Empa researchers have now developed a protective cover for fruit and vegetables based on renewable raw materials. For this project, Lidl chose Empa as a partner because Empa had decades of research experience with cellulose products.

Keeping fruits fresh at home

 In Empa’s Cellulose & Wood Materials laboratory, the researchers then spent more than a year developing a special protective cellulose coating that can be applied to fruits and vegetables. The result: Coated fruits and vegetables stay fresh significantly longer. In tests, the shelf life of, for instance, bananas was extended by more than a week. This significantly reduces food waste. “The big goal is that such bio-coatings will be able to replace a lot of petroleum-based packaging in the future,” says Gustav Nyström, head of the Empa lab.






















Production from press residues


Related Video is available here


Throughout the country

In summer, the highly promising preliminary study, which has been ongoing since 2019, was successfully completed and the main study launched. The cellulose layer developed at Empa will be tested and further improved over the next two years together with Lidl Switzerland and a fruit and vegetable supplier. The project is supported by Innosuisse, the Swiss innovation agency. The aim is for the new technology to be used in all 150 Lidl stores throughout Switzerland following the successful main trial.

Related Video can be had here

To wrap or not to wrap: How ecological are plastic wrappers for cucumbers?

Plastic packaging waste is an immense problem for the environment. Retailers are therefore looking for ways to do without plastic packaging for food. However, not all fresh vegetables and fruits are provided by nature with a suitable protective cover that suits our cooling and storage conditions. Oranges and lemons may be so comfortable in the home refrigerator without a plastic cover that they last for weeks. Not so the tender cucumber! The dry air in the refrigerator does not agree with it, it becomes rubbery and possibly ends up in the trash. If, on the other hand, it is wrapped in a plastic cover, it stays crisp for longer.

Researchers at Empa in St. Gallen have now used life cycle assessment analyses to calculate how food waste due to spoiled food can be offset against the environmental impact of plastic packaging on imported cucumbers. For the model calculation, they followed the path of a cucumber from the producer in Spain to a Swiss supermarket. According to this, the plastic wrapping accounts for only 1% of the environmental impact caused by production and transport. Overall, the positive effect on the environment from less “food waste” is almost 5 times higher than the negative effect from packaging, according to the researchers.

Until alternative methods such as the “Rübli hilft Gurke” project by Empa and its implementation partner Lidl (see main text) can be applied on a large scale, the researchers calculate that it makes ecological sense to offer imported cucumbers in plastic film in stores – provided that the plastic waste is disposed of correctly. (Image: Empa)

C Shrivastava, E Crenna, S Schudel, K Shoji, D Onwude, R Hischier, T Defraeye; To wrap or not to wrap cucumbers? Preprint (2021)




PSI – Semiconductors reach the quantum world

By guest author Laura Hennemann from PSI

Quantum effects in superconductors could give semiconductor technology a new twist. Researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and Cornell University in New York State have identified a composite material that could integrate quantum devices into semiconductor technology, making electronic components significantly more powerful. They publish their findings today in the journal Science Advances.

Our current electronic infrastructure is based primarily on semiconductors. This class of materials emerged around the middle of the 20th century and has been improving ever since. Currently, the most important challenges in semiconductor electronics include further improvements that would increase the bandwidth of data transmission, energy efficiency and information security. Exploiting quantum effects is likely to be a breakthrough.

Quantum effects that can occur in superconducting materials are particularly worthy of consideration. Superconductors are materials in which the electrical resistance disappears when they are cooled below a certain temperature. The fact that quantum effects in superconductors can be utilised has already been demonstrated in first quantum computers.

To find possible successors for today’s semiconductor electronics, some researchers – including a group at Cornell University – are investigating so-called heterojunctions, i.e. structures made of two different types of materials. More specifically, they are looking at layered systems of superconducting and semiconducting materials. “It has been known for some time that you have to select materials with very similar crystal structures for this, so that there is no tension in the crystal lattice at the contact surface,” explains John Wright, who produced the heterojunctions for the new study at Cornell University.

Two suitable materials in this respect are the superconductor niobium nitride (NbN) and the semiconductor gallium nitride (GaN). The latter already plays an important role in semiconductor electronics and is therefore well researched. Until now, however, it was unclear exactly how the electrons behave at the contact interface of these two materials – and whether it is possible that the electrons from the semiconductor interfere with the superconductivity and thus obliterate the quantum effects.

“When I came across the research of the group at Cornell, I knew: here at PSI we can find the answer to this fundamental question with our spectroscopic methods at the ADRESS beamline,” explains Vladimir Strocov, researcher at the Synchrotron Light Source SLS at PSI.

This is how the two groups came to collaborate. In their experiments, they eventually found that the electrons in both materials “keep to themselves”. No unwanted interaction that could potentially spoil the quantum effects takes place.

Synchrotron light reveals the electronic structures

The PSI researchers used a method well-established at the ADRESS beamline of the SLS: angle-resolved photoelectron spectroscopy using soft X-rays – or SX-ARPES for short. “With this method, we can visualise the collective motion of the electrons in the material,” explains Tianlun Yu, a postdoctoral researcher in Vladimir Strocov’s team, who carried out the measurements on the NbN/GaN heterostructure. Together with Wright, Yu is the first author of the new publication.

The SX-ARPES method provides a kind of map whose spatial coordinates show the energy of the electrons in one direction and something like their velocity in the other; more precisely, their momentum. “In this representation, the electronic states show up as bright bands in the map,” Yu explains. The crucial research result: at the material boundary between the niobium nitride NbN and the gallium nitride GaN, the respective “bands” are clearly separated from each other. This tells the researchers that the electrons remain in their original material and do not interact with the electrons in the neighbouring material.

“The most important conclusion for us is that the superconductivity in the niobium nitride remains undisturbed, even if this is placed atom by atom to match a layer of gallium nitride,” says Vladimir Strocov. “With this, we were able to provide another piece of the puzzle that confirms: This layer system could actually lend itself to a new form of semiconductor electronics that embeds and exploits the quantum effects that happen in superconductors.”

Original publication:

Momentum-resolved electronic structure and band offsets in an epitaxial NbN/GaN superconductor/semiconductor heterojunction
T. Yu, J. Wright, G. Khalsa, B. Pamuk, C. S. Chang, Y. Matveyev, X. Wang, T. Schmitt, D. Feng, D. A. Muller, H. G. Xing, D. Jena, V. N. Strocov
Science Advances, 22 December 2021 (online)
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abi5833

The Paul Scherrer Institute PSI develops, builds and operates large, complex research facilities and makes them available to the national and international research community. The institute’s own key research priorities are in the fields of matter and materials, energy and environment and human health. PSI is committed to the training of future generations. Therefore about one quarter of our staff are post-docs, post-graduates or apprentices. Altogether PSI employs 2100 people, thus being the largest research institute in Switzerland. The annual budget amounts to approximately CHF 400 million. PSI is part of the ETH Domain, with the other members being the two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, ETH Zurich and EPFL Lausanne, as well as Eawag (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology), Empa (Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology) and WSL (Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research).





Environmentally friendly electronics – Shellac for printed circuits

Intelligent packaging with sensors that monitor goods, such as vegetables, on long transport routes is a trend for the future. Yet printed and disposable electronics also cause problems: Metals in printing inks are expensive – and disposing of them in an environmentally sound manner is costly and exacerbates the problem of electronic waste. A new solution from Empa researchers aims to remedy this.

By guest author Norbert Raabe from Swiss Empa.

More precise, faster, cheaper: Researchers all over the world have been working for years on producing electrical circuits using additive processes such as robotic 3-printing (so-called robocasting) – with great success, but this is now becoming a problem. The metal particles that make such “inks” electrically conductive are exacerbating the problem of electronic waste. Especially since the waste generated is likely to increase in the future in view of newtypes of disposable sensors, some of which are only used for a few days.

Unnecessary waste, thinks Gustav Nyström, head of Empa’s Cellulose & Wood Materials lab: “There is an urgent need for materials that balance electronic performance, cost and sustainability.” To develop an environmentally friendly ink, Nyström’s team therefore set ambitious goals: metal-free, non-toxic, biodegradable. And with practical applications in mind: easily formable and stable to moisture and moderate heat.

The Paul Scherrer Institute PSI develops, builds and operates large, complex research facilities and makes them available to the national and international research community. The institute’s own key research priorities are in the fields of matter and materials, energy and environment and human health. PSI is committed to the training of future generations. Therefore about one quarter of our staff are post-docs, post-graduates or apprentices. Altogether PSI employs 2100 people, thus being the largest research institute in Switzerland. The annual budget amounts to approximately CHF 400 million. PSI is part of the ETH Domain, with the other members being the two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, ETH Zurich and EPFL Lausanne, as well as Eawag (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology), Empa (Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology) and WSL (Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research).


With carbon and shellac

The researchers chose inexpensive carbon as the conductive material, as they recently reported in the journal “Scientific Reports”. More precisely: elongated graphite platelets mixed with tiny soot particles that establish electrical contact between these platelets – all this in a matrix made of a well-known biomaterial: shellac, which is obtained from the excretions of scale insects. In the past, it was used to make records; today it is used, among other things, as a varnish for wooden instruments and fingernails. Its advantages correspond exactly to the researchers’ desired profile. And on top of that, it is soluble in alcohol – an inexpensive solvent that evaporates after the ink is applied so that it dries.

Despite these ingredients, the task proved challenging. That’s because whether used in simple screen printing or with modern 3D printers, the ink must exhibit shear thinning behaviour: At “rest,” the ink is rather viscous. But at the moment of printing, when it is subjected to a lateral shear force, it becomes somewhat more fluid – just like a non-drip wall paint that only acquires a softer consistency when applied by the force of the roller. When used in additive manufacturing such as 3D printing with a robotic arm, however, this is particularly tricky: An ink that is too viscous would be too tough – but if it becomes too liquid during printing, the solid components could separate and clog the printer’s tiny nozzle.


Tests with real applications

 To meet the requirements, the researchers tinkered intensively with the formulation for their ink. They tested two sizes of graphite platelets: 40 micrometers and 7 to 10 micrometers in length. Many variations were also needed in the mixing ratio of graphite and carbon black, because too much carbon black makes the material brittle – with the risk of cracking as the ink dries. By optimizing the formulation and the relative composition of the components, the team was able to develop several variants of the ink that can be used in different 2D and 3D printing processes.

“The biggest challenge was to achieve high electrical conductivity,” says Xavier Aeby, one of the researchers involved, “and at the same time form a gel-like network of carbon, graphite and shellac.” The team investigated how this material behaves in practice in several steps. For example, with a tiny test cuboid: 15 superimposed grids from the 3D printer – made of fine strands just 0.4 millimeters in diameter. This showed that the ink was also sufficient for demanding processes such as robocasting.

To prove its suitability for real components, the researchers constructed, among other things, a sensor for deformations: a thin PET strip with an ink structure printed on it, whose electrical resistance changed precisely with varying degrees of bending. In addition, tests for tensile strength, stability under water and other properties showed promising results – and so the research team is confident that the new material, which has already been patented, could prove itself in practice. “We hope that this ink system can be used for applications in sustainable printed electronics,” says Gustav Nyström, “for example, for conductive tracks and sensor elements in smart packaging and biomedical devices or in the field of food and environmental sensing.”



More insight into how vision works

PSI scientists have shed light on an important component of the eye: a protein in the rod cells of the retina which helps us see in dim light. Acting as an ion channel in the cell membrane, the protein is responsible for relaying the optical signal from the eye to the brain. If a genetic disorder disrupts the molecular function in a person, they will go blind. Scientists have deciphered the protein’s three-dimensional structure, preparing the way for innovative medical treatments. The study is published in the scientific journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.

By guest author Brigitte Osterath

“It’s thanks to the rod cells in our eye that we can observe the stars in the night sky,” explains Jacopo Marino, a biologist with PSI’s Laboratory of Biomolecular Research. “These photo cells are so sensitive to light that they can detect even a single photon reaching us from a very remote part of the universe – a truly incredible feat.” The ability of our brain to eventually translate these light beams into a visual impression is partly down to the cyclic nucleotide-gated (CNG) ion channels whose three-dimensional structure has now been illuminated by a PSI research group led by Jacopo Marino.

The ion channel acts as a gatekeeper controlling whether specific particles are allowed through to the interior of the receptor cell. It is embedded in the protein-rich shell – the cell membrane – of the rod cells. In darkness, the ion channel, and thus the gate to the cell, is completely open. But when light hits the eye, it triggers a cascade of processes in the rod cells. This ultimately causes the gate to close, with the result that positively charged particles, such as calcium ions, can no longer enter into the cell.


This electrochemical signal continues via the nerve cells into the brain’s visual cortex, where a visual impression – such as a flash of light – is created. “The idea of solving the structure of this channel dates back to nearly 20 years ago, when Gebhard Schertler and Benjamin Kaupp already collaborated on this topic,” says Jacopo Marino. Both are co-authors of the new study.

Endurance paid off

PhD student Diane Barret first had to extract the channel protein from cows’ eyes supplied by an abattoir – a complicated and arduous process. “This was a very challenging task, as the protein is extremely sensitive and decomposes very quickly. In addition, it is only available in tiny quantities in the source material,” Barret explains. It took a whole two years to obtain enough protein to work with. “We were both too stubborn to simply give up,” says Jacopo Marino, laughing. “But in the end that stubbornness paid off.”

The scientists then used cryo-electron microscopy to reveal the three-dimensional structure of the ion channel. “In contrast to previous studies on the structure of the ion channel, we investigated the native protein as it exists in the eye. We are therefore much closer to the real conditions that exist in living creatures,” Diane Barret says.

One of the reasons why a clearer understanding of the channel protein’s natural structure is important is to advance the development of treatments for genetic disorders for which there is no known cure, such as retinitis pigmentosa. With this disease, photoreceptors gradually die off, leaving people blind. One possible cause is that the body is unable to correctly produce the CNG channel protein due to a genetic defect. As a result, the ion channel does not close completely when light hits the eye, disrupting the cell’s electrochemical balance and causing the cells to die.

“If we could find molecules that affect the protein in such a way that the channel would completely close, we could prevent the cells from dying – and thus stop people going blind,” explains Jacopo Marino. Now that researchers have identified the precise structure of the protein they are able to search specifically for such molecules.

Additional barrier

The protein comprises four parts: three lots of subunit A, and one lot of subunit B. A correctly functioning ion channel is only possible in this combination. In their study, PSI scientists show why the B subunit seems to play such an important role: a side arm of the protein – a single amino acid – protrudes from the rest of the protein, like a barrier across a gateway. This narrows the passage in the channel to the point where no ions can pass through.

“No one expected that – it came as a total surprise,” says Diane Barret. Other narrow places already exist in the A subunit – like main gateways – which were previously thought to be the only ones. It is interesting to note that the additional barrier is found not only in the protein from the cow’s eye, but seems to apply to all types of animal, as the scientists showed. Whether crocodiles, eagles or humans – all living creatures with an ion channel in their eye have the same protruding amino acid at this position in the protein. As it has been preserved so consistently dur

The Paul Scherrer Institute PSI develops, builds and operates large, complex research facilities and makes them available to the national and international research community. The institute’s own key research priorities are in the fields of matter and materials, energy and environment and human health. PSI is committed to the training of future generations. Therefore about one quarter of our staff are post-docs, post-graduates or apprentices. Altogether PSI employs 2100 people, thus being the largest research institute in Switzerland. The annual budget amounts to approximately CHF 400 million. PSI is part of the ETH Domain, with the other members being the two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, ETH Zurich and EPFL Lausanne, as well as Eawag (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology), Empa (Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology) and WSL (Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research).