Nanostructure challenges and successes, from 16th century warships to 21st century energy

Modern materials under study for next generation technologies, such as for energy conversion and storage, environmental remediation and health, are highly complex, often heterogeneous and nanostructured. A full understanding of the structure requires us to go beyond crystallography and to study the local structure, which is a major experimental challenge. There are recently emerging powerful experimental developments, for example, using the atomic pair distribution function technique (PDF), among others. I will describe the structural insights that can be obtained from heterogeneous nanostructured components, such as electrodes and electrolytes in fuel cells and batteries and thermoelectrics. These approaches can yield quantitative information such as thermodynamic parameters that help us to understand function even in working devices, as well as to study failure of the devices. The approaches are under active development and show great promise. I will describe the latest developments, including spatially resolved studies of nanostructure in real devices under operating conditions with ex-situ, in-situ and in-operando studies.