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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Hendo Hover: First prototype of a Marty McFly hoverboard

Hendo Hover: First prototype of a Marty McFly hoverboard | Amazing Science |

It's impossible to talk about hoverboards without invoking a particular movie title, so we're not even going to try: Remember that awesome scene from Back to the Future Part II? It's one step closer to reality: A California startup just built a real, working hoverboard. Arx Pax is attempting to crowdfund the Hendo Hoverboard as a proof of concept for its hover engine technology -- it's not quite the floating skateboard Marty McFly rode through Hill Valley (and the Wild West), but it's an obvious precursor to the imagined ridable: a self-powered, levitating platform with enough power to lift a fully grown adult.

I initially approached the floating pallet with caution, expecting it to dip and bob under my weight like a piece of driftwood. It didn't. The levitating board wiggled slightly under my 200-pound frame, but maintained its altitude (a mere inch or so) without visible strain. Arx Pax tells me that the current prototype can easily support 300 pounds and future versions will be able to hold up to 500 pounds without issue. Either way, you'll need to hover over a veryspecific kind of surface to get it to hold anything: The Hendo uses the same kind of electromagnetic field technology that floats MagLev trains -- meaning it will only levitate over non-ferrous metals like copper or aluminum.

Riding the contraption was a lot fun, but also quite the challenge: The Hendo hoverboard doesn't ride at all like McFly's flying skateboard. In fact, without a propulsion system, it tends to drift aimlessly. Arx Pax founder and Hendo inventor Greg Henderson says it's something the company is working on. "We can impart a bias," he tells me, pointing out pressure-sensitive pads on the hoverboard's deck that manipulate the engines. "We can turn on or off different axes of movement." Sure enough, leaning on one side of the board convinces it to rotate and drift in the desired direction. Without feeling the friction of the ground, however, I had trouble knowing how much pressure to exert -- Henderson's staff had to jump in and save me from spinning out of control. Clearly, this might take some practice.

As fun as its current form is, Henderson didn't necessarily set out to reinvent transportation. The Hendo engine's original inspiration came from architecture. "It came from the idea of hovering a building out of harm's way," he says. "If you can levitate a train that weighs 50,000 kilograms, why not a house?" After some prodding, he clarifies the idea as a sort of emergency lifting system that could theoretically raise a building off of its foundation during an earthquake, essentially rendering the natural disaster's tremors harmless. The idea sounds as fictional as, well, a hoverboard -- but he already built one of those.

Grace Monroe's curator insight, November 2, 2014 3:54 PM

This is an article detailing the Hendo Hover Board. A company has built this hover board and has started a Kickstart campaign in order to prove that this technology really exist. Those who donate a certain amount to the Kickstart campaign will be allowed to ride this board. The author of this article was one of these people. In this article he discusses his experience with the board. 

MaryBeth Pedroza's comment, November 17, 2014 2:36 PM
I like that you incorporated the hover board, that's awesome! Everyone always talks about Back to the Future and the hover board, but nobody ever talks about how it has been made possible. Really interesting article.
ZacharyPM05's curator insight, February 12, 2015 1:39 PM

If i had $10,000 i would own one... This answers my cost question.

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Manufacturing superconducting circuits, simplified

Manufacturing superconducting circuits, simplified | Amazing Science |
Computer chips with superconducting circuits—circuits with zero electrical resistance—would be 50 to 100 times as energy-efficient as today's chips, an attractive trait given the increasing power consumption of the massive data centers that power the Internet's most popular sites.

Superconducting chips also promise greater processing power: Superconducting circuits that use so-called Josephson junctions have been clocked at 770 gigahertz, or 500 times the speed of the chip in the iPhone 6.

But Josephson-junction chips are big and hard to make; most problematic of all, they use such minute currents that the results of their computations are difficult to detect. For the most part, they've been relegated to a few custom-engineered signal-detection applications.

In the latest issue of the journal Nano Letters, MIT researchers present a new circuit design that could make simple superconducting devices much cheaper to manufacture. And while the circuits' speed probably wouldn't top that of today's chips, they could solve the problem of reading out the results of calculations performed with Josephson junctions.

The MIT researchers developed a 3-terminal, nanowire-based superconducting electrothermal device which has no Josephson junctions. This device, which they call a "nanocryotron"—or nTron—, can be patterned from a single thin film of superconducting material with conventional electron-beam lithography. The nanocryotron has a demonstrated gain of >20, can drive impedances of 100 kΩ, and operates in typical ambient magnetic fields.

The team has additionally applied it both as a digital logic element in a half-adder circuit, and as a digital amplifier for superconducting nanowire single-photon detectors pulses. The nanocryotron has immediate applications in classical and quantum communications, photon sensing, and astronomy, and its input characteristics are suitable for integration with existing superconducting technologies.

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Google tests waters for potential ultra-fast wireless service

Google tests waters for potential ultra-fast wireless service | Amazing Science |

 Google Inc is preparing to test new technology that may provide the foundation for a wireless version of its high-speed "Fiber" Internet service, according to telecommunication experts who scrutinized the company's regulatory filings.

In a public but little-noticed application with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Monday, Google asked the agency for permission to conduct tests in California across different wireless spectrums, including a rarely-used millimeter-wave frequency capable of transmitting large amounts of data.

It is unclear from the heavily redacted filing what exactly Google intends to do, but it does signal the Internet giant's broader ambition of controlling Internet connectivity. The technology it seeks to test could form the basis of a wireless connection that can be broadcast to homes, obviating the need for an actual ground cable or fiber connection, experts say.

By beaming Internet services directly into homes, Google would open a new path now thoroughly dominated by Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and other entrenched cable and broadband providers. It could potentially offer a quicker and cheaper way to deliver high-speed Internet service, a potential threat to the cable-telecoms oligopoly, experts said.

“From a radio standpoint it’s the closest thing to fiber there is,” said Stephen Crowley, a wireless engineer and consultant who monitors FCC filings, noting that millimeter frequencies can transmit data over short distances at speeds of several gigabits per second.

“You could look at it as a possible wireless extension of their Google Fiber wireless network, as a way to more economically serve homes. Put up a pole in a neighborhood, instead of having to run fiber to each home,” said Crowley.

Craig Barratt, the head of the Google Access and Energy division leading the effort to offer high-speed fiber networks in Kansas City and other locations, signed off as the authorized person submitting Google's FCC application.

The world’s No.1 Internet search engine has expanded into providing consumers with services such as Internet access. The company said it wants to roll out its high-speed Internet service to more than 30 U.S. cities, and in 2013 it struck a deal to provide free wireless Internet access to 7,000 Starbucks cafes across America.

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Leia Display System uses mist for large 3D interactive screen display

Leia Display System uses mist for large 3D interactive screen display | Amazing Science |

An organization in Poland has announced that it has a new kind of screen display for sale, all part of what it calls the Leia Display System. In practice, it's like an empty picture frame that has mist pushed from above or below (to where the picture should be) and upon which video imagery is projected. The systems also have sensors that allow the images that are displayed to be manipulated like a touch screen. The result is an interactive 2D hologram that in some respects, allows for displaying video in ways not seen before—mostly because hands and other body parts can pass right through it.

Though the company isn't saying so, it's likely the name for the system comes from the movie Star Wars, where a Princess Leia hologram is projected to offer a message. Thus far the company is offering two display sizes, the S-95, which the company describes as TV sized, (approximately 37x25 inches) uses mist pushed from below—company reps suggest it might be useful as a virtual assistant, for modeling or for playing games. The other display, the X-300, is much bigger—it's hanged from above and pushes mist from the top down and has a display size of approximately 10x8 feet—big enough to walk through, the company notes on its site. It's also big enough to drive a car through, which when combined with special effects, creates quite an impression. One interesting aspect of the displays is that both have water consumption statistics because they need to create the mist, which is of course lost to the air as it's made. The smaller version uses approximately .10 gallons per hour, while the larger model uses up to a gallon per hour.

Both models are currently ready for sale or rent—the company has distributors in South Korea, Saudi Arabia/Dubai, and Benulux/France—though prices for the displays have not be announced—the web site simply asks those interested to call them.

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High-speed fluorescence for 1,000-times-faster LEDs

High-speed fluorescence for 1,000-times-faster LEDs | Amazing Science |

Duke University researchers have made fluorescent molecules emit photons of light 1,000 times faster than with previous designs — a speed record, and a step toward realizing superfast light-emitting diodes (LEDs) for nanophotonic devices, such as telecommunication lasers and as single-photon sources for quantum cryptography. Future uses include telecommunication lasers and as single-photon sources for quantum cryptography.

The 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded for the discovery 20 years ago of how to make blue LEDs, leading to more efficient white light bulbs and video screens. But LEDs’ slow emission rate (∼10 nanoseconds) and non-directional emission has limited their use.

Now in a new study, engineers from Duke headed by Maiken Mikkelsen, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and physics, significantly increased the photon emission rate of fluorescent molecules. The results appear online October 12 in Nature Photonics.

To attain the greatest effect, Mikkelsen’s team tuned the gap’s resonant frequency to match the color of light that the molecules respond to (in a range from green to infrared). With the help of co-author David R. Smith, the James B. Duke Professor and Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke, they used computer simulations to determine the exact size of the gap needed between the nanocubes and gold film to optimize the setup, which turned out to be 20 nanometers.

“We can select cubes with just the right size and make the gaps with nanometer precision,” said Gleb Akselrod, a postdoc in Mikkelsen’s lab and first author on the study. “When we have the cube size and gap perfectly calibrated to the molecule, that’s when we see the record 1,000-fold increase in fluorescence speed.”

Because the experiment used many randomly aligned molecules, the researchers believe they can do even better. They plan to design a system with individual fluorescent molecule placed precisely underneath a single nanocube. According to Akselrod, they can achieve even higher fluorescence rates by standing the molecules up on edge at the corners of the cube.

“If we can precisely place molecules like this, it could be used in many more applications than just fast LEDs,” said Akselrod. “We could also make fast sources of single photons that could be used for quantum cryptography. This technology would allow immediate communications across vast distances that could not be hacked.”

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Nobel Prize 2014 in Chemistry given for circumventing a basic law of physics, pushing the limits of microscopes

Nobel Prize 2014 in Chemistry given for circumventing a basic law of physics, pushing the limits of microscopes | Amazing Science |

Three scientists, two American and one German, received this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry for circumventing a basic law of physics and enabling microscopes to peer at the tiniest structures within living cells.

The 2014 laureates, announced Wednesday by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, are Eric Betzig, 54, of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Virginia; Stefan W. Hell, 51, of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Germany; and William E. Moerner, 61, of Stanford University in California.

For centuries, optical microscopes — those that magnify ordinary visible light — have allowed biologists to study organisms too small to be seen with the naked eye. But a fundamental law of optics known as the diffraction limit, first described in 1873, states that the resolution can never be better than half the wavelength of light being looked at.

For visible light, that limit is about 0.2 millionths of a meter, or one-127,000th of an inch. A human hair is 500 times as wide. But a bacterium is not much larger than the size of the diffraction limit, and there was little hope of seeing details within the cell like the interaction of individual proteins. Other technology like the electron microscope, which generates images from beams of electrons instead of particles of light, achieves higher resolution, but it has other limitations, like requiring the sample to be sliced thin and placed in a vacuum. For biological research, that generally meant the subject of study had to be dead.

At first glance, circumventing the diffraction limit would seem a foolish pursuit, like trying to invent a perpetual motion machine or faster-than-light travel — doomed by fundamental limits on how the universe works. Nonetheless, Dr. Hell, who was born in Romania, started working on the problem after finishing his doctorate at the University of Heidelberg in 1990. After failing to find financing in Germany to pursue his ideas, he obtained a research position at the University of Turku in Finland in 1993. A year later, he published his theoretical proposal for achieving sharper microscopic pictures.

Dr. Hell’s insight was that by using lasers, he could restrict the glow to a very small section. That way, for structures smaller than the diffraction limit, “You can tell them apart just by making sure that one of them is off when the other is on,” he said in an interview.

Other scientists could have just taken his proposal and made it work in the laboratory long before he did, he said, adding: “I was a sort of nobody in those days. I didn’t even have a lab, really. People could have taken it as a recipe, could have done it. But they didn’t do it. Why didn’t they do it? Because they thought it wouldn’t work that way.”

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Creating low-cost solar energy on bendable plastic films

Creating low-cost solar energy on bendable plastic films | Amazing Science |
Work by PhD student Alex Barker, under the supervision of Dr Justin Hodgkiss, a senior lecturer in the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, is helping to improve the efficiency of next generation solar cells made from materials like plastics.

The research, published recently by the prestigious international Journal of the American Chemical Society, addresses the long-standing question of how light produces charge pairs far enough apart from each other that they are free to flow as current, rather than staying bound together and ultimately just releasing heat.

The technique used by the researchers was to freeze the solar cells to -263 degrees Celsius, where charge pairs get stuck together. They then used lasers to measure the how far apart they moved as the temperatures increase.

"We found that the efficiency of polymer, or plastic-based, solar cell is determined by the ability of charge pairs to rapidly escape from each other while they are still 'hot' from the light energy," says Dr Hodgkiss, a 2011 Rutherford Discovery Fellow.

He adds that understanding how plastic solar cells work will result in more efficient and cheaper conductive materials that overcome the limitations of conventional solar cells.

"Because they're plastic and flexible, they could be rolled out to cover a tent or used as semi-transparent filters on windows."

The findings of the research settle a long-standing debate about how polymer solar cells work, and offers potential to guide the design of cheaper and more efficient materials, by isolating the key step in their development.

Ms. Moon's curator insight, October 9, 2014 10:29 PM

Materials Science is a fascinating subject. Here someone thought outside conventional wisdom and created something new and better. That's what "innovation" is all about.

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Invention of blue LEDs wins physics Nobel Prize of 2014

Invention of blue LEDs wins physics Nobel Prize of 2014 | Amazing Science |

The 2014 Nobel Prize for physics has been awarded to a trio of scientists in Japan and the US for the invention of blue light emitting diodes (LEDs). Professors Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura made the first blue LEDs in the early 1990s. This enabled a new generation of bright, energy-efficient white lamps, as well as colour LED screens.

The winners will share prize money of eight million kronors. They were named at a press conference in Sweden, and join a prestigious list of 196 other Physics laureates recognized since 1901.

Prof Nakamura, who was woken up in Japan to receive the news, told the press conference, "It's unbelievable." The committee chair, Prof Per Delsing, from Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, emphasized the winners' dedication. "What's fascinating is that a lot of big companies really tried to do this and they failed," he said. "But these guys persisted and they tried and tried again - and eventually they actually succeeded."

Although red and green LEDs had been around for many years, blue LEDs were a long-standing challenge for scientists in both academia and industry. Without them, the three colours could not be mixed to produce the white light we now see in LED-based computer and TV screens. Furthermore, the high-energy blue light could be used to excite phosphorus and directly produce white light - the basis of the next generation of light bulb. Today, blue LEDs are found in people's pockets around the world, inside the lights and screens of smartphones. White LED lamps, meanwhile, deliver light to many offices and households. They use much less energy than both incandescent and fluorescent lamps.

Inside an LED, current is applied to a sandwich of semiconductor materials, which emit a particular wavelength of light depending on the chemical make-up of those materials. Gallium nitride was the key ingredient used by the Nobel laureates in their ground-breaking blue LEDs. Growing big enough crystals of this compound was the stumbling block that stopped many other researchers - but Profs Akasaki and Amano, working at Nagoya University in Japan, managed to grow them in 1986 on a specially-designed scaffold made partly from sapphire.

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High Efficiency Achieved for Harvesting Hydrogen Fuel From the Sun using Earth-Abundant Materials

High Efficiency Achieved for Harvesting Hydrogen Fuel From the Sun using Earth-Abundant Materials | Amazing Science |

Today, the journal Science published the latest development in Michael Grätzel’s laboratory at EPFL: producing hydrogen fuel from sunlight and water. By combining a pair of solar cells made with a mineral called perovskite and low cost electrodes, scientists have obtained a 12.3 percent conversion efficiency from solar energy to hydrogen, a record using earth-abundant materials as opposed to rare metals.

The race is on to optimize solar energy’s performance. More efficient silicon photovoltaic panels, dye-sensitized solar cells, concentrated cells and thermodynamic solar plants all pursue the same goal: to produce a maximum amount of electrons from sunlight. Those electrons can then be converted into electricity to turn on lights and power your refrigerator.

At the Laboratory of Photonics and Interfaces at EPFL, led by Michael Grätzel, where scientists invented dye solar cells that mimic photosynthesis in plants, they have also developed methods for generating fuels such as hydrogen through solar water splitting. To do this, they either use photoelectrochemical cells that directly split water into hydrogen and oxygen when exposed to sunlight, or they combine electricity-generating cells with an electrolyzer that separates the water molecules.

By using the latter technique, Grätzel’s post-doctoral student Jingshan Luo and his colleagues were able to obtain a performance so spectacular that their achievement is being published today in the journal Science. Their device converts into hydrogen 12.3 percent of the energy diffused by the sun on perovskite absorbers – a compound that can be obtained in the laboratory from common materials, such as those used in conventional car batteries, eliminating the need for rare-earth metals in the production of usable hydrogen fuel.

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Bring thermal vision to your phone with this camera add-on

Bring thermal vision to your phone with this camera add-on | Amazing Science |

For the most part, smartphone peripherals can make your mobile devices even more powerful than they already are. A new add-on, dubbed Seek Thermal, aims to do just that by bringing extra imaging features to your handset. The tiny gadget can be attached to an iPhone or Android smartphone (via Lightning port and microUSB, respectively) and, thanks to a companion app, turn that otherwise common device into one with a thermal camera. Seek Thermal notes it wants to help users across different scenarios, such as being aware of what's around them at night time or, why not, look at clogged pipes throughout the household, just to mention a couple. If you're interested, be ready to pay a premium -- both the iPhone and Android models are priced at $199.

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New paint-on, clear bandage not only protects wounds and burns but enables direct measurement of tissue oxygen

New paint-on, clear bandage not only protects wounds and burns but enables direct measurement of tissue oxygen | Amazing Science |

Inspired by a desire to help wounded soldiers, an international, multidisciplinary team of researchers led by Assistant Professor Conor L. Evans at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Harvard Medical School (HMS) has created a paint-on, see-through, “smart” bandage that glows to indicate a wound’s tissue oxygenation concentration.  Because oxygen plays a critical role in healing, mapping these levels in severe wounds and burns can help to significantly improve the success of surgeries to restore limbs and physical functions. The work was published today in The Optical Society’s (OSA) open-access journal Biomedical Optics Express.

“Information about tissue oxygenation is clinically relevant but is often inaccessible due to a lack of accurate or noninvasive measurements,” explained lead author Zongxi Li, an HMS research fellow on Evans' team.
Now, the “smart” bandage developed by the team provides direct, noninvasive measurement of tissue oxygenation by combining three simple, compact and inexpensive components: a bright sensor molecule with a long phosphorescence lifetime and appropriate dynamic range; a bandage material compatible with the sensor molecule that conforms to the skin’s surface to form an airtight seal; and an imaging device capable of capturing the oxygen-dependent signals from the bandage with high signal-to-noise ratio.
This work is part of the team’s long-term program “to develop a Sensing, Monitoring And Release of Therapeutics (SMART) bandage for improved care of patients with acute or chronic wounds,” says Evans,  senior author on the Biomedical Optics Express paper.

The bandage is applied by “painting” it onto the skin’s surface as a viscous liquid, which dries to a solid thin film within a minute. Once the first layer has dried, a transparent barrier layer is then applied atop it to protect the film and slow the rate of oxygen exchange between the bandage and room air—making the bandage sensitive to the oxygen within tissue.
The final piece involves a camera-based readout device, which performs two functions: it provides a burst of excitation light that triggers the emission of the phosphors inside the bandage, and then it records the phosphors’ emission. “Depending on the camera’s configuration, we can measure either the brightness or color of the emitted light across the bandage or the change in brightness over time,” Li said. “Both of these signals can be used to create an oxygenation map.”  The emitted light from the bandage is bright enough that it can be acquired using a regular camera or smartphone—opening the possibility to a portable, field-ready device.

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Physicists design record-breaking laser that accelerates the interaction between light and matter by ten times

Physicists design record-breaking laser that accelerates the interaction between light and matter by ten times | Amazing Science |

Reporting in the journal Nature Physics, physicists from Imperial College London and the Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, in Germany, used semiconductor nanowires made of zinc oxide and placed them on a silver surface to create ultra-fast lasers. 

By using silver rather than a conventional glass surface, the scientists were able to shrink their nanowire lasers down to just 120 nanometres in diameter - around a thousandth the diameter of human hair.

The physicists were able to shrink the laser by using surface plasmons, which are wave-like motions of excited electrons found at the surface of metals. When light binds to these oscillations it can be focused much more tightly than usual. 

By using surface plasmons they were able to squeeze the light into a much smaller space inside the laser, which allowed the light to interact much more strongly with the zinc oxide. 

This stronger interaction accelerated the rate at which the laser could be turned on and off to ten times that of a nanowire laser using a glass surface. These are the fastest lasers recorded to date, in terms of the speed at which they can turn on and off.

Senior author Dr Rupert Oulton from the Department of Physics at Imperial College London said: “This work is so exciting because we are engineering the interaction of light and matter to drive light generation in materials much faster than it occurs naturally. When we first started working on this, I would have been happy to speed up switching speeds to a picosecond, which is one trillionth of a second. But we’ve managed to go even faster, to the point where the properties of the material itself set a speed limit.” 

PhD student Robert Röder, from Friedrich-Schiller Universität Jenasaid: “This is not only ‘world record’ regarding the switching speed. Most likely we also achieved the maximum possible speed at which such a semiconductor laser can be operated.” 

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Superabsorbing ring could make light work of snaps, be the ultimate camera pixel

Superabsorbing ring could make light work of snaps, be the ultimate camera pixel | Amazing Science |
A quantum effect in which excited atoms team up to emit an enhanced pulse of light can be turned on its head to create 'superabsorbing' systems that could make the 'ultimate camera pixel'.

'Superradiance', a phenomenon where a group of atoms charged up with energy act collectively to release a far more intense pulse of light than they would individually, is well-known to physicists. In theory the effect can be reversed to create a device that draws in light ultra-efficiently. This could be revolutionary for devices ranging from digital cameras to solar cells. But there's a problem: the advantage of this quantum effect is strongest when the atoms are already 50% charged -- and then the system would rather release its energy back as light than absorb more.

Now a team led by Oxford University theorists believes it has found the solution to this seemingly fundamental problem. Part of the answer came from biology. 'I was inspired to study ring molecules, because they are what plants use in photosynthesis to extract energy from the Sun,' said Kieran Higgins of Oxford University's Department of Materials, who led the work. 'What we then discovered is that we should be able to go beyond nature's achievement and create a 'quantum superabsorber'.'

A report of the research is published in Nature Communications.

At the core of the new design is a molecular ring, which is charged to 50% by a laser pulse in order to reach the ideal superabsorbing state. 'Now we need to keep it in that condition' notes Kieran. For this the team propose exploiting a key property of the ring structure: each time it absorbs a photon, it becomes receptive to photons of a slightly higher energy. Charging the device is like climbing a ladder whose rungs are increasingly widely spaced.

'Let's say it starts by absorbing red light from the laser,' said Kieran, 'once it is charged to 50% it now has an appetite for yellow photons, which are higher energy. And we'd like it to absorb new yellow photons, but NOT to emit the stored red photons.' This can be achieved by embedding the device into a special crystal that suppresses red light: it makes it harder for the ring to release its existing energy, so trapping it in the 50% charged state.

The final ingredient of the design is a molecular 'wire' that draws off the energy of newly absorbed photons. 'If you built a system with a capacity of 100 energy units the idea would be to 'half-charge' it to 50 units, and the wire would then 'harvest' every unit over 50,' said Kieran. 'It's like an overflow pipe in plumbing -- it is engineered to take the energy level down to 50, but no lower.' This means that the device can handle the absorption of many photons in quick succession when it is exposed to a bright source, but in the dark it will simply sit in the superabsorbing state and efficiently grab any rare passing photon.

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World first: Man paralyzed from the chest down walks again after cell transplant from his nasal cavity

World first: Man paralyzed from the chest down walks again after cell transplant from his nasal cavity | Amazing Science |

A paralysed man has been able to walk again after a pioneering therapy that involved transplanting cells from his nasal cavity into his spinal cord. Darek Fidyka, who was paralyzed from the chest down in a knife attack in 2010, can now walk using a frame. The treatment, a world first, was carried out by surgeons in Poland in collaboration with scientists in London.

Details of the research are published in the journal Cell TransplantationBBC One's Panorama program had unique access to the project and spent a year charting the patient's rehabilitation. Darek Fidyka, 40, from Poland, was paralyzed after being stabbed repeatedly in the back in the 2010 attack. He said walking again - with the support of a frame - was "an incredible feeling", adding: "When you can't feel almost half your body, you are helpless, but when it starts coming back it's like you were born again."

Prof Geoff Raisman, chair of neural regeneration at University College London's Institute of Neurology, led the UK research team. He said what had been achieved was "more impressive than man walking on the moon".

The treatment used olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) - specialist cells that form part of the sense of smell. OECs act as pathway cells that enable nerve fibers in the olfactory system to be continually renewed. In the first of two operations, surgeons removed one of the patient's olfactory bulbs and grew the cells in culture. Two weeks later they transplanted the OECs into the spinal cord, which had been cut through in the knife attack apart from a thin strip of scar tissue on the right. They had just a drop of material to work with - about 500,000 cells. About 100 micro-injections of OECs were made above and below the injury.

Four thin strips of nerve tissue were taken from the patient's ankle and placed across an 8mm (0.3in) gap on the left side of the cord.

The scientists believe the OECs provided a pathway to enable fibers above and below the injury to reconnect, using the nerve grafts to bridge the gap in the cord.

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New Omnidirectional Broadband 2D Crystal Efficiently Absorbs 85% Of Photon Energy

New Omnidirectional Broadband 2D Crystal Efficiently Absorbs 85% Of Photon Energy | Amazing Science |

Research engineers at MIT have developed a novel solar material in the form of a 2D metallic, dielectric photonic crystal.  The material has remarkable properties of broadband absorption of sunlight, from visible to near infrared portions of the spectrum, with little dependence on the angle of the incident light.  Efficiencies in these bands were measured to be 85% absorption of photons.

The material also withstands temperatures up to 1000 degrees Celsius, making it suitable to act as the material for a collector of concentrated sunlight.  Experiments show that the absorption is governed by the nanocavities.  Tuning the absorption bands is accomplished simply by varying the radii and depths of the cavities.

The new material works as a part of the solar-thermophotovoltaic (STPV) device in which incident solar radiation is converted to infrared, heat energy, causing the material to emit light that is in turn converted to electrical energy.   Earlier STPV devices contained nanocavities but were hollow and not filled with a dielectric.  According to the primary author, “They were empty, there was air inside.  No one had tried putting a dielectric material inside, so we tried that and saw some interesting properties.”  A dielectric is a material which responds to electric fields by shielding or attenuating it via non-mobile charges, in contrast to a conductor which shields by rearrangement of electrons.

The cavities are sized in the right way such that there is a rich and complex absorption mode structure perfect for relevant wavelengths.  “You can tune the absorption just by changing the size of the nanocavities,” said Dr. Chou.

Importantly, the new material is compatible with many kinds of existing manufacturing technologies.  The lead author Dr. Chou said “This is the first-ever device of this kind that can be fabricated with a method based on current techniques, which means it’s able to be manufactured on silicon wafer scales.”

Prior work on similar materials were restricted in size to making devices that span only a few inches.  The new cavity material is both cheaper and easier to process.

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Lockheed Martin aims to develop compact fusion reactor prototype in 5 years, production unit in 10

Lockheed Martin aims to develop compact fusion reactor prototype in 5 years, production unit in 10 | Amazing Science |

Hidden away in the secret depths of the Skunk Works, a Lockheed Martin research team has been working quietly on a nuclear energy concept they believe has the potential to meet, if not eventually decrease, the world’s insatiable demand for power.

Dubbed the compact fusion reactor (CFR), the device is conceptually safer, cleaner and more powerful than much larger, current nuclear systems that rely on fission, the process of splitting atoms to release energy. Crucially, by being “compact,” Lockheed believes its scalable concept will also be small and practical enough for applications ranging from interplanetary spacecraft and commercial ships to city power stations. It may even revive the concept of large, nuclear-powered aircraft that virtually never require refueling—ideas of which were largely abandoned more than 50 years ago because of the dangers and complexities involved with nuclear fission reactors.

Yet the idea of nuclear fusion, in which atoms combine into more stable forms and release excess energy in the process, is not new. Ever since the 1920s, when it was postulated that fusion powers the stars, scientists have struggled to develop a truly practical means of harnessing this form of energy. Other research institutions, laboratories and companies around the world are also pursuing ideas for fusion power, but none have gone beyond the experimental stage. With just such a “Holy Grail” breakthrough seemingly within its grasp, and to help achieve a potentially paradigm-shifting development in global energy, Lockheed has made public its project with the aim of attracting partners, resources and additional researchers.

Although the company released limited information on the CFR in 2013, Lockheed is now providing new details of its invention. Aviation Week was given exclusive access to view the Skunk Works experiment, dubbed “T4,” first hand. Led by Thomas McGuire, an aeronautical engineer in the Skunk Work’s aptly named Revolutionary Technology Programs unit, the current experiments are focused on a containment vessel roughly the size of a business-jet engine. Connected to sensors, injectors, a turbopump to generate an internal vacuum and a huge array of batteries, the stainless steel container seems an unlikely first step toward solving a conundrum that has defeated generations of nuclear physicists—namely finding an effective way to control the fusion reaction.

“I studied this in graduate school where, under a NASA study, I was charged with how we could get to Mars quickly,” says McGuire, who earned his Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Scanning the literature for fusion-based space propulsion concepts proved disappointing. “That started me on the road and [in the early 2000s], I started looking at all the ideas that had been published. I basically took those ideas and melded them into something new by taking the problems in one and trying to replace them with the benefits of others. So we have evolved it here at Lockheed into something totally new, and that’s what we are testing,” he adds.

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NTU scientists develop ultra-fast charging batteries that last 20 years

NTU scientists develop ultra-fast charging batteries that last 20 years | Amazing Science |

Scientists at Nanyang Technology University (NTU) have developed ultra-fast charging batteries that can be recharged up to 70 per cent in only two minutes. The new generation batteries also have a long lifespan of over 20 years, more than 10 times compared to existing lithium-ion batteries.

This breakthrough has a wide-ranging impact on all industries, especially for electric vehicles, where consumers are put off by the long recharge times and its limited battery life.

With this new technology by NTU, drivers of electric vehicles could save tens of thousands on battery replacement costs and can recharge their cars in just a matter of minutes.

Commonly used in mobile phones, tablets, and in electric vehicles, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries usually last about 500 recharge cycles. This is equivalent to two to three years of typical use, with each cycle taking about two hours for the battery to be fully charged.

In the new battery, the traditional graphite used for the anode (negative pole) in lithium-ion batteries is replaced with a new gel material made from titanium dioxide.

Titanium dioxide is an abundant, cheap and safe material found in soil. It is commonly used as a food additive or in sunscreen lotions to absorb harmful ultraviolet rays.

Naturally found in spherical shape, the NTU team has found a way to transform the titanium dioxide into tiny nanotubes, which is a thousand times thinner than the diameter of a human hair. This speeds up the chemical reactions taking place in the new battery, allowing for superfast charging. 

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New slug flow microextraction technique yields fast results in drug, biomedical testing from single drop of blood

New slug flow microextraction technique yields fast results in drug, biomedical testing from single drop of blood | Amazing Science |

A new technique makes it possible to quickly detect the presence of drugs or to monitor certain medical conditions using only a single drop of blood or urine, representing a potential tool for clinicians and law enforcement.

The technique works by extracting minute quantities of target molecules contained in specimens of blood, urine or other biological fluids, and then testing the sample with a mass spectrometer.

Testing carried out with the technology takes minutes, whereas conventional laboratory methods take hours or days to yield results and require a complex sequence of steps, said Zheng Ouyang, an associate professor in Purdue University's Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering. "We've converted a series of operations into a single extraction process requiring only a pinprick's worth of blood," he said.

The method, called "slug flow microextraction," could be used to detect steroids in urine for drug screening in professional sports and might be combined with a miniature mass spectrometer also being commercialized. The combined technologies could bring a new class of compact instruments for medicine and research, Ouyang said.

Findings are detailed in a paper appeared online Oct. 5 in the research journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition. The paper was authored by graduate student Yue Ren, undergraduate student Morgan N. McLuckey, former postdoctoral research associate Jiangjiang Liu and Ouyang.

The researchers demonstrated the technique, using it to perform therapeutic-drug monitoring, which has potential applications in drug development and personalized therapy; to monitor enzyme function, as demonstrated for acetylcholinesterase, which is directly related to the symptoms and therapy for Alzheimer's disease; to detect steroids, yielding results in one minute; and to test for illicit drugs.

"In the future, for example, parents might be able to test their children's urine for drugs with a simple cartridge they would take to the corner drug store, where a desktop mass spectrometer would provide results in a few minutes," Ouyang said.

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Quantum camera can take photos in almost complete darkness, needs less than one photon per pixel

Quantum camera can take photos in almost complete darkness, needs less than one photon per pixel | Amazing Science |
Using quantum-entangled pairs of photons as the shutter trigger for a super-high-speed camera, researchers can actually create images from less than a single photon per pixel.

It’s no secret that cameras are quickly getting better at capturing images in low light. Researchers at the University of Glasgow have pushed this trend to create an imager that can work with less than 1 photon per pixel. By combining two esoteric technologies — photon heralding and compressive imaging– the team has achieved a milestone that on the surface seems impossible. Leaving aside the huge amount of math and physics required under the covers, the process itself is actually fairly straightforward and very clever.

The first half of the weird science — which is also called “ghost imaging” — is based on what are called heralded photons. Under certain circumstances pairs of quantum-entangled photons can be produced using a process called spontaneous parametric down-conversion (SPDC) and then split apart. Most of the time, when you detect one, the other one can also be detected. The detection of the first photon “heralds” the existence of the second.

The team’s imager uses a beam splitter to send one of each pair of photons it creates through the object being imaged (the camera only works for creating images of transmissive targets) and to a very sensitive single-pixel detector. It sends the other to a high-speed camera. The detector is only activated when a photon is sensed coming through the target object. When one does, the detector sends a signal to open the shutter of the camera — located at the end of the path of the other photon from the original pair — for about 15 nanoseconds. That’s long enough to record the position of the second — heralded — photon, but short enough to keep out almost all background noise. In essence, the single-pixel detector acts as a very high-speed shutter for the camera, so that it only takes pictures of photons that have passed through the target. To allow time for the shutter release signal to get from the detector to the camera, a delay line of about 70 nanoseconds is added to the photon’s path to the camera.

This use of heralded photons gets the imager’s light needs down to almost one photon per pixel — although there is still the unavoidable shot noise that comes with the Poisson distribution of photons. Compressive imaging allow the imager to deal with this noise, and to to push the boundaries even further – to less than one photon per pixel. By relying on the inherent redundancy of information in natural subjects, compressive imaging uses frequency domain information – in this case generated by performing a Discrete Cosine Transform (DCT) on the image — to essentially reconstruct portions of the image that were not directly captured.

This amazing camera isn’t just for show. The team hopes it can lead to the development of cameras for use in science research that can be used to study and document subjects that are very light-sensitive, like certain biological specimens.

Reference: arXiv:1408.6381 - "Imaging with a small number of photons"

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Mapping Wi-Fi dead zones with Helmholtz equation

Mapping Wi-Fi dead zones with Helmholtz equation | Amazing Science |

A home's Wi-Fi dead zones are, to most of us, a problem solved with guesswork. Your laptop streams just fine in this corner of the bedroom, but not the adjacent one; this arm of the couch is great for uploading photos, but not the other one. You avoid these places, and where the Wi-Fi works becomes a factor in the wear patterns of your home. In an effort to better understand, and possibly eradicate, his Wi-Fi dead zones, one man took the hard way: he solved the Helmholtz equation.

The Helmholtz equation models "the propagation of electronic waves" that involves using a sparse matrix to help minimize the amount of calculation a computer has to do in order to figure out the paths and interferences of waves, in this case from a Wi-Fi router. The whole process is similar to how scattered granular material, like rice or salt, will form complex patterns on top of a speaker depending on where the sound waves are hitting the surfaces.

The author of the post in question, Jason Cole, first solved the equation in two dimensions, and then applied it to his apartment's long and narrow two-bedroom layout. He wrote that he took his walls to have a very high refractive index, while empty space had a refractive index of 1.

Cole found in his simulation he could get pretty good coverage even with his router in one corner of the room, but could get "tendrils of Internet goodness" everywhere if he placed the router right in the center of the apartment. In a simulation where he gave the concrete some absorption potential, he found a map more like what he expected: excellent reception immediately around the router, and beams that shone into various rooms with periodic strong spots from the waves' interference.

When he introduced time to the system, Cole was able to simulate how his apartment might fill with waves over a certain period and eventually become an oscillating standing wave forming pockets of high activity. For instance, the Wi-Fi signal hits a pretty good curve around the doorway into the second bedroom for good reception in a band a couple of feet wide down the center; there's also surprisingly good signal behind a thick wall in the upper right corner of the floor plan.

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Cesium: The element that redefined time

Cesium: The element that redefined time | Amazing Science |

Until about 175 years ago, it was the sun that defined time. Wherever you were, high noon was high noon, and on a clear day a quick glance up into the sky or down at a sundial told you everything you needed to know.

It was not until the 1930s that the physicist Louis Essen developed the first quartz ring clock, the most accurate timepiece of its day, and a precursor of the cesium clock.

Quartz clocks exploit the fact that quartz crystals vibrate at a very high frequency if the right electrical charge is applied to them. This is known as a resonant frequency, everything on earth has one.

It is hitting the resonant frequency of a champagne glass that - allegedly - allows a soprano to shatter it when she hits her top note. It also explains why a suspension bridge at Broughton in Lancashire collapsed in 1831. Troops marching over it inadvertently hit its "resonant frequency", setting up such a strong vibration the bolts sheared. Ever since, troops have been warned to "break step" when crossing suspension bridges.

To understand how this phenomenon helps you to measure time, think of the pendulum of a grandfather clock. The clock mechanism counts a second each time it swings.

Quartz plays the same role as a pendulum, just a lot quicker: it vibrates at a resonant frequency many thousands of times a second.

And that's where cesium comes in. It has a far higher resonant frequency even than quartz - 9,192,631,770 Hz, to be precise. This is one reason Essen used the element to make the first of the next generation of clocks - the "atomic" clocks.

Essen's quartz creation erred just one second in three years. His first atomic clock created at NPL in 1955 was accurate to one second in 1.4 million years. The cesium fountain at NPL today is accurate to one second in every 158 million years. That means it would only be a second out if it had started keeping time back in the peak of the Jurassic Period when diplodocus were lumbering around and pterodactyls wheeling in the sky.

But modern technology means these days even more staggeringly accurate clocks are possible. That's because cesium was always a compromise element when it came to timekeeping. Louis Essen chose cesium, because the frequency of its transition was at the limit of what the technology of his day could measure. We have today new ways of measuring time.

The frequency of the transition of strontium, for example, is 444,779,044,095,486.71 Hz. A strontium clock developed in the US would only have lost a second since the earth began: it is accurate to a second in five billion years. The scientists at NPL reckon optical clocks that keep time to within one second in 14 billion years are on the horizon - that's longer than the universe has been around.

Now, if such insane levels of accuracy seem pointless, then think again. Without the caesium clock, for example, satellite navigation would be impossible. GPS satellites carry synchronized cesium clocks that enable them collectively to triangulate your position and work out where on earth you are.

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Captioning on Glass: Google Glass can now display captions for hard-of-hearing users

Captioning on Glass: Google Glass can now display captions for hard-of-hearing users | Amazing Science |

Georgia Institute of Technology researchers have created a speech-to-text Android app for Google Glass that displays captions for hard-of-hearing persons when someone is talking to them in person. “This system allows wearers like me to focus on the speaker’s lips and facial gestures, “said School of Interactive Computing Professor Jim Foley.

“If hard-of-hearing people understand the speech, the conversation can continue immediately without waiting for the caption. However, if I miss a word, I can glance at the transcription, get the word or two I need and get back into the conversation.”

“The smartphone uses the Android transcription API to convert the audio to text,” said Jay Zuerndorfer, the Georgia Tech Computer Science graduate student who developed the app. “The text is then streamed to Glass in real time.”

The “Captioning on Glass” app is now available to install from MyGlass. More information here.

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk promises a self-driving model for next year

Tesla CEO Elon Musk promises a self-driving model for next year | Amazing Science |

Last night, Elon Musk told the world that Tesla was ready to reveal its "D" on October 9th, as well as preparing us for "something else" to expect along the way. But the CEO isn't done teasing just yet. In a recent interview with CNN Money, Musk's let it be known that a Tesla car next year "will probably be 90 percent capable of autopilot," though he didn't dive into any specifics about which model(s) this comment was in reference to.

"So 90 percent of your miles could be on auto. For sure highway travel," the Tesla boss added. Such a thingwould be possible, Musk said, by combining different sensors with image-recognition cameras, radars and long-rage ultrasonics -- which, without a doubt, paints a bright picture for future vehicles from the company. "Other car companies will follow ... Tesla is a Silicon Valley company. I mean, if we're not the leader, then shame on us."

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IBM opens a new era of computing with brain-like chip: 4096 cores, 1 million neurons, 5.4 billion transistors

IBM opens a new era of computing with brain-like chip: 4096 cores, 1 million neurons, 5.4 billion transistors | Amazing Science |

Scientists at IBM Research have created by far the most advanced neuromorphic (brain-like) computer chip to date. The chip, called TrueNorth, consists of 1 million programmable neurons and 256 million programmable synapses across 4096 individual neurosynaptic cores. Built on Samsung’s 28nm process and with a monstrous transistor count of 5.4 billion, this is one of the largest and most advanced computer chips ever made. Perhaps most importantly, though, TrueNorth is incredibly efficient: The chip consumes just 72 milliwatts at max load, which equates to around 400 billion synaptic operations per second per watt — or about 176,000 times more efficient than a modern CPU running the same brain-like workload, or 769 times more efficient than other state-of-the-art neuromorphic approaches. Yes, IBM is now a big step closer to building a brain on a chip.

The animal brain (which includes the human brain, of course), as you may have heard before, is by far the most efficient computer in the known universe. As you can see in the graph below, the human brain has a “clock speed” (neuron firing speed) measured in tens of hertz, and a total power consumption of around 20 watts. A modern silicon chip, despite having features that are almost on the same tiny scale as biological neurons and synapses, can consume thousands or millions times more energy to perform the same task as a human brain. As we move towards more advanced areas of computing, such as artificial general intelligence and big data analysis — areas that IBM just happens to be deeply involved with — it would really help if we had a silicon chip that was capable of brain-like efficiency.

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The Internet Of Things Could Become A Big Trend in 2015

The Internet Of Things Could Become A Big Trend in 2015 | Amazing Science |

Goldman Sachs report on the Internet of things:

The Internet of Things (IoT) is emerging as the  third wave in the development of the Internet. The  1990s’ fixed Internet wave connected 1 billion users while the 2000s’ mobile wave connected another 2 billion.

The IoT has the potential to connect 10X as many (28 billion) “things” to the Internet by 2020, ranging from bracelets to cars.

Breakthroughs in the cost of sensors, processing power and bandwidth to connect devices are enabling ubiquitous connections right now. Early simple products like fitness trackers and thermostats are already gaining traction.

Lots of room to participate ...
Personal lives, workplace productivity and consumption will all change. Plus there will be a string of new businesses, from those that will expand the Internet “pipes”, to those that will analyze the reams of data, to those that will make new things we have not even thought of yet.

Benchmarking the future: early adopters
We see five key early verticals of adoption: Wearables, Cars, Homes, Cities, and Industrials.

Test cases for what the IoT can achieve 
Focus is on new products and sources of revenue and new ways to achieve cost efficiencies that can drive sustainable competitive advantages. 

Key to watch out for 

Privacy and security concerns. A likely source of friction on the path to adoption. 

Focus, Enablers, Platforms, & Industrials

The IoT building blocks will come from those that can web-enable devices, provide common platforms on which they can communicate, and develop new applications to capture new users.

Enablers and Platforms

We see increased share for Wi-Fi, sensors and low-cost microcontrollers. Focus is on software applications for managing communications between devices, middleware, storage, and data analytics.


Home automation is at the forefront of the early product opportunity, while factory floor optimization may lead the efficiency side.

75 billion. That's the potential size of the Internet Things sector, which could become a multi-trillion dollar market by the end of the decade.

That's a very big number of devices as extrapolated from a Cisco report that details how many devices will be connected to the Internet of Things by 2020. That's 9.4 devices for every one of the 8 billion people that's expected to be around in seven years.

To help put that into more perspective, back in Cisco also came out with the number of devices it thinks were connected to the Internet in 2012, a number Cisco's Rob Soderbery placed at 8.7 billion. Most of the devices at the time, he acknowledged were the PCs, laptops, tablets and phones in the world. But other types of devices will soon dominate the collection of the Internet of Things, such as sensors and actuators.

By the end of the decade, a nearly nine-fold increase in the volume of devices on the Internet of Things will mean a lot of infrastructure investment and market opportunities will available in this sector. And by "a lot," I mean ginourmous. In an interview with Barron's, Cisco CEO John Chambers figures that will translate to a $14-trillion industry.

See also: Cisco Hearts Internet Of Things

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