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New kind of hologram creates strange state of light at visible and invisible wavelengths

New kind of hologram creates strange state of light at visible and invisible wavelengths | Amazing Science |

Applied physicists at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have demonstrated that they can change the intensity, phase, and polarization of light rays using a hologram-like design decorated with nanoscale structures.


As a proof of principle, the researchers have used it to create an unusual state of light called a radially polarized beam, which—because it can be focused very tightly—is important for applications like high-resolution lithography and for trapping and manipulating tiny particles like viruses.


This is the first time a single, simple device has been designed to control these three major properties of light at once. (Phase describes how two waves interfere to either strengthen or cancel each other, depending on how their crests and troughs overlap; polarization describes the direction of light vibrations; and the intensity is the brightness.)


“Our lab works on using nanotechnology to play with light,” says Patrice Genevet, a research associate at Harvard SEAS and co-lead author of a paper published this month in Nano Letters. “In this research, we’ve used holography in a novel way, incorporating cutting-edge nanotechnology in the form of subwavelength structures at a scale of just tens of nanometers.” One nanometer equals one billionth of a meter.


Genevet works in the laboratory of Federico Capasso, Robert L. Wallace Professor of Applied Physics and Vinton Hayes Senior Research Fellow in Electrical Engineering at Harvard SEAS. Capasso’s research group in recent years has focused on nanophotonics—the manipulation of light at the nanometer scale—with the goal of creating new light beams and special effects that arise from the interaction of light with nanostructured materials.

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Funneling a broader spectrum of the sun’s energy

Funneling a broader spectrum of the sun’s energy | Amazing Science |

The quest to harness a broader spectrum of sunlight’s energy to produce electricity has taken a radically new turn, with the proposal of a “solar energy funnel” that takes advantage of materials under elastic strain.

“We’re trying to use elastic strains to produce unprecedented properties,” says Ju Li, an MIT professor and corresponding author of a paper describing the new solar-funnel concept that was published recently in the journal Nature Photonics.

In this case, the “funnel” is a metaphor: Electrons and their counterparts, holes — which are split off from atoms by the energy of photons — are driven to the center of the structure by electronic forces, not by gravity as in a household funnel. And yet, as it happens, the material actually does assume the shape of a funnel: It is a stretched sheet of vanishingly thin material, poked down at its center by a microscopic needle that indents the surface and produces a curved, funnel-like shape.

The pressure exerted by the needle imparts elastic strain, which increases toward the sheet’s center. The varying strain changes the atomic structure just enough to “tune” different sections to different wavelengths of light — including not just visible light, but also some of the invisible spectrum, which accounts for much of sunlight’s energy. 

Li, who holds joint appointments as the Battelle Energy Alliance Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering and as a professor of materials science and engineering, sees the manipulation of strain in materials as opening a whole new field of research.

Strain — defined as the pushing or pulling of a material into a different shape — can be either elastic or inelastic. Xiaofeng Qian, a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering who was a co-author of the paper, explains that elastic strain corresponds to stretched atomic bonds, while inelastic, or plastic, strain corresponds to broken or switched atomic bonds. A spring that is stretched and released is an example of elastic strain, whereas a piece of crumpled tinfoil is a case of plastic strain.

The new solar-funnel work uses precisely controlled elastic strain to govern electrons’ potential in the material. The MIT team used computer modeling to determine the effects of the strain on a thin layer of molybdenum disulfide (MoS2), a material that can form a film just a single molecule (about six angstroms) thick.

Unlike graphene, another prominent thin-film material, MoS2 is a natural semiconductor: It has a crucial characteristic, known as a bandgap, that allows it to be made into solar cells or integrated circuits. But unlike silicon, now used in most solar cells, placing the film under strain in the “solar energy funnel” configuration causes its bandgap to vary across the surface, so that different parts of it respond to different colors of light.

In an organic solar cell, the electron-hole pair, called an exciton, moves randomly through the material after being generated by photons, limiting the capacity for energy production. “It’s a diffusion process,” Qian says, “and it’s very inefficient.” 

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Laser levitates tiny diamonds for the first time

Laser levitates tiny diamonds for the first time | Amazing Science |
In quite an eerie feat, physicists have floated microscopic diamonds in midair using laser beams.


Researchers have already used lasers to levitate extremely small particles, such as individual atoms, but this is the first time that the technique has worked on a nanodiamond, which, in this case, measures just 100 nanometers (3.9 x 10-8 inches) across, or more than 1,000 times thinner than a fingernail.


In the new study, the physicists from the University of Rochester relied on the fact that a laser beam, which is made up of photons, creates a tiny force that usually can't be felt.

"If we turn on a light or open a door and feel the sun, we don't feel this push or pull," study researcher Nick Vamivakas said in a video released by the university. "But it turns out that if you focus a laser down with a lens to a very small region of space, it can actually pull on microscopic, nanoscopic particles."


To force the tiny diamonds to float, Vamivakas and his colleagues focused a pair of lasers toward a clear vacuum chamber and then sprayed the diamonds into the chamber using an aerosol dispenser. The diamonds gravitated toward the light, and some eventually levitated in a stable position.


Sometimes, the levitation occurred within just a couple of minutes, while other times, the process took a bit longer. "Other times, I can be here for half an hour before any diamond gets caught," Levi Neukirch, a graduate student at the University of Rochester who was involved in the study, said in a statement. "Once a diamond wanders into the trap, we can hold it for hours."


The team hopes the findings will have applications in quantum computing and, more theoretically, help explain how friction operates on extremely small scales.

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Amazing Science: Technology Postings

Amazing Science: Technology Postings | Amazing Science |

Technology (from Greek "techne", meaning "art, skill, cunning of hand" and "logia", meaning "study") is the making, modification, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, systems, and methods of organization, in order to solve a problem, improve a preexisting solution to a problem, achieve a goal, handle an applied input/output relation or perform a specific function. It can also refer to the collection of such tools, including machinery, modifications, arrangements and procedures. Examples include construction technology, medical technology, and information technology.

kevin ware's comment, August 14, 2013 8:23 AM
ya great technology.......................
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How to measure and control the temperature inside a living cell?

How to measure and control the temperature inside a living cell? | Amazing Science |

The familiar thermometer from a doctor’s office is slightly too big considering the average human skin cell is only 30 millionths of a meter wide. But the capability is significant; developing the right technology to gauge and control the internal temperatures of cells and other nanospaces might open the door to a number of defense and medical applications: better thermal management of electronics, monitoring the structural integrity of high-performance materials, cell-specific treatment of disease and new tools for medical research.


A team of researchers working on DARPA’s Quantum-Assisted Sensing and Readout (QuASAR) program recently demonstrated sub-degree temperature measurement and control at the nanometer scale inside living cells. To measure temperature, the researchers used imperfections engineered into diamond, known as nitrogen-vacancy (NV) color centers, as nanoscale thermometers. Each NV center can capture an electron, such that the center behaves like an isolated atom trapped in the solid diamond. Changes in temperature cause the lattice structure of the diamond to expand or contract, similar to the way the surface of a bridge does when exposed to hot or cold weather. These shifts in the lattice induce changes in the spin properties of the trapped atoms, which researchers measure using a laser-based technique. The result is that scientists can now monitor sub-degree variations over a large range of temperatures in both organic and inorganic systems at length scales as low as 200 nanometers. For a sense of scale, see:


The diamond sensors are themselves only 100 nanometers in diameter. Each one contains multiple NV centers (the QuASAR team engineered 500 NV centers into each), and multiple sensors can be embedded in a single cell using nanowires. Given the extremely small size of the diamond sensors and their temperature sensitivity, researchers can accurately measure temperature within areas smaller than one percent of the total area of a cell.


The QuASAR team also demonstrated control and mapping of temperature gradients at the subcellular level by implanting gold nanoparticles into a human cell alongside the diamond sensors. The 100-nanometer-diameter nanoparticles were then heated using a separate laser. By varying the power of the heating laser and the concentration of gold nanoparticles, the researchers were able to modify and characterize (using the diamond sensors) the local thermal environment around the cell. In particular, they were able to verify that the heating was localized near the gold nanoparticles and that the cell did not experience an overall ambient rise in temperature.

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First Real-Time MRI-Guided Gene Therapy for Brain Cancer

First Real-Time MRI-Guided Gene Therapy for Brain Cancer | Amazing Science |

Neurosurgeons at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center are among the first in the world to utilize real-time magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) guidance for delivery of gene therapy as a potential treatment for brain tumors. Using MRI navigational technology, neurosurgeons can inject Toca 511 (vocimagene amiretrorepvec), a novel investigational gene therapy, directly into a brain malignancy. This new approach offers a precise way to deliver a therapeutic virus designed to make the tumor susceptible to cancer-killing drugs.


“With chemotherapy, just about every human cell is exposed to the drug’s potential side-effects. By using the direct injection approach, we believe we can limit the presence of the active drug to just the brain tumor and nowhere else in the body,” said Clark Chen, MD, PhD, chief of stereotactic and radiosurgery and vice-chairman of neurosurgery at UC San Diego Health System. “With MRI, we can see the tumor light up in real time during drug infusion. The rest of the brain remains unaffected so the risk of the procedure is minimized.”


Toca 511 is a retrovirus engineered to selectively replicate in cancer cells, such as glioblastomas. Toca 511 produces an enzyme that converts an anti-fungal drug, flucytosine (5-FC), into the anti-cancer drug 5-fluorouracil (5-FU).  After the injection of Toca 511, the patients are treated with an investigational extended-release oral formulation of 5-FC called Toca FC. Cancer cell killing takes place when 5-FC comes into contact with cells infected with Toca 511.


“Inevitably, almost all glioblastoma patients fail currently available therapy.  The challenge, in part, is knowing if current drugs are actually penetrating the tumor. This MRI-guided approach will help us deliver this drug into the tumor directly to see if the drug is working,” said Santosh Kesari, MD, PhD, principal investigator and director of neuro-oncology at Moores Cancer Center.  “This approach may lead to new treatment options for patients battling several other types of brain cancers.”


Previous efforts using gene therapy to treat brain cancer were largely limited by the inability to deliver the drug into the brain. Under normal conditions, the brain is protected by the blood-brain barrier but this natural defense mechanism also prevents drugs from reaching the cancer cells in patients with brain tumors. Fortunately, 5-FC crosses the blood-brain barrier, and direct injection of Toca 511 into the tumor provides a means to selectively generate chemotherapy within the tumor mass.


To ensure that the adequate amount of Toca 511 is delivered to the region of the tumor, neurosurgeons at UC San Diego Health System utilize state-of-the art MRI guidance, called ClearPoint, to monitor the delivery and injection processes in real time. The MRI-guided process provides visual confirmation that the desired amount of drug is delivered into the tumor and provides physicians the ability to make adjustments to optimize the location of drug delivery.


Participants in this clinical trial must be 18 years or older; have a single, recurrent Grade 3 or 4 glioma; and have had prior surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. The MRI-based procedure is minimally invasive and all participants of the study were discharged from the hospital one day after surgery and resumed their normal daily activity.

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World’s first road-powered electric vehicle network switches on in South Korea

World’s first road-powered electric vehicle network switches on in South Korea | Amazing Science |

South Korea has rolled out the world’s first road-powered electric vehicle network. The network consists of special roads that have electrical cables buried just below the surface, which wirelessly transfer energy to electric vehicles via magnetic resonance. Road-powered electric vehicles are exciting because they only require small batteries, significantly reducing their overall weight and thus their energy consumption. There’s also the small fact that, with an electrified roadway, you never have to plug your vehicle in to recharge it, removing most of the risk and range anxiety associated with electric vehicles (EVs).


The network consists of 24 kilometers (15 miles) of road in the city of Gumi, South Korea. For now, the only vehicles that can use the network are two Online Electric Vehicles (OLEV) — public transport buses that run between the train station and In-dong.

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Graphene-based supercapacitors a step closer to commerical reality

Graphene-based supercapacitors a step closer to commerical reality | Amazing Science |

Graphene-based supercapacitors have already proven the equal of conventional supercapacitors – in the lab. But now researchers at Melbourne’s Monash University claim to have developed of a new scalable and cost-effective technique to engineer graphene-based supercapacitors that brings them a step closer to commercial development.


With their almost indefinite lifespan and ability to recharge in seconds, supercapacitors have tremendous energy-storage potential for everything from portable electronics, to electric vehicles and even large-scale renewable energy plants. But the drawback of existing supercapacitors has been their low energy density of around 5 to 8 Wh/liter, which means they either have to be exceedingly large or recharged frequently.


Professor Dan Li and his team at Monash University’s Department of Materials Engineering has created a graphene-based supercapacitor with an energy density of 60 Wh/liter, which is around 12 times higher than that of commercially available supercapacitors and in the same league as lead-acid batteries. The device also lasts as long as a conventional battery.


To maximize the energy density, the team created a compact electrode from an adaptive graphene gel film they had previously developed. To control the spacing between graphene sheets on the sub-nanometer scale, the team used liquid electrolytes, which are generally used as the conductor in conventional supercapacitors.


Unlike conventional supercapacitors that are generally made of highly porous carbon with unnecessarily large pores and rely on a liquid electrolyte to transport the electrical charge, the liquid electrolyte in Li’s team’s supercapacitor plays a dual role of conducting electricity and also maintaining the minute space between the graphene sheets. This maximizes the density without compromising the supercapcitor’s porosity, they claim.


To create their compact electrode, the researchers used a technique similar to one used in traditional paper making, which they say makes the process cost-effective and easily scalable for industrial applications.


"We have created a macroscopic graphene material that is a step beyond what has been achieved previously. It is almost at the stage of moving from the lab to commercial development," Professor Li said.

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World's Smallest Terahertz Detector Invented by University of Pittsburgh Physicists

World's Smallest Terahertz Detector Invented by University of Pittsburgh Physicists | Amazing Science |

Molecules could soon be “scanned” in a fashion similar to imaging screenings at airports, thanks to a detector developed by University of Pittsburgh physicists. The detector, featured in a recent issue of Nano Letters, may have the ability to chemically identify single molecules using terahertz radiation—a range of light far below what the eye can detect.

“Our invention allows lines to be ‘written’ and ‘erased’ much in the manner that an Etch A Sketch® toy operates,” said study coauthor Jeremy Levy, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy within the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. “The only difference is that the smallest feature is a trillion times smaller than the children’s toy, able to create conductive lines as narrow as two nanometers.”

Terahertz radiation refers to a color range far beyond what the eye can see and is useful for identifying specific types of molecules. This type of radiation is generated and detected with the help of an ultrafast laser, a strobe light that turns on and off in less than 30 femtoseconds (a unit of time equal to 10-15- of a second). Terahertz imaging is commonly used in airport scanners, but has been hard to apply to individual molecules due to a lack of sources and detectors at those scales.

“We believe it would be possible to isolate and probe single nanostructures and even molecules—performing ‘terahertz spectroscopy’ at the ultimate level of a single molecule,” said Levy. “Such resolution will be unprecedented and could be useful for fundamental studies as well as more practical applications.”

Levy and his team are currently performing spectroscopy of molecules and nanoparticles. In the future, they hope to work with a C60, a well-known molecule within the terahertz spectrum. 

The oxide materials used for this research were provided by study coauthor Chang-Beom Eom, Theodore H. Geballe Professor and Harvey D. Spangler Distinguished Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering. 

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New technology offers 3D images inside colon, pointing toward better colonoscopy

New technology offers 3D images inside colon, pointing toward better colonoscopy | Amazing Science |

MIT researchers have developed a new endoscopy technology that could make it easier for doctors to detect precancerous lesions in the colon. Early detection of such lesions has been shown to reduce death rates from colorectal cancer, which kills about 50,000 people per year in the United States.

The new technique, known as photometric stereo endoscopy, can capture topographical images of the colon surface along with traditional two-dimensional images. Such images make it easier to see precancerous growths, including flatter lesions that traditional endoscopy usually misses, says Nicholas Durr, a research fellow in the Madrid-MIT M+Vision Consortium, a recently formed community of medical researchers in Boston and Madrid.


“In conventional colonoscopy screening, you look for these characteristic large polyps that grow into the lumen of the colon, which are relatively easy to see,” Durr says. “However, a lot of studies in the last few years have shown that more subtle, nonpolypoid lesions can also cause cancer.”


In the United States, colonoscopies are recommended beginning at age 50, and are credited with reducing the risk of death from colorectal cancer by about half. Traditional colonoscopy uses endoscopes with fiber-optic cameras to capture images.

Durr and his colleagues, seeking medical problems that could be solved with new optical technology, realized that there was a need to detect lesions that colonoscopy can miss. A technique called chromoendoscopy, in which a dye is sprayed in the colon to highlight topographical changes, offers better sensitivity but is not routinely used because it takes too long.


“What is attractive about this technique for colonoscopy is that it provides an added dimension of diagnostic information, particularly about three-dimensional morphology on the surface of the colon,” says Nimmi Ramanujam, a professor of biological engineering at Duke University who was not part of the research team.

The researchers built two prototypes — one 35 millimeters in diameter, which would be too large to use for colonoscopy, and one 14 millimeters in diameter, the size of a typical colonoscope. In tests with an artificial silicon colon, the researchers found that both prototypes could create 3-D representations of polyps and flatter lesions. 

The new technology should be easily incorporated into newer endoscopes, Durr says. “A lot of existing colonoscopes already have multiple light sources,” he says. “From a hardware perspective all they need to do is alternate the lights and then update their software to process this photometric data.” 

The researchers plan to test the technology in human patients in clinical trials at MGH and the Hospital Clinico San Carlos in Madrid. They are also working on additional computer algorithms that could help to automate the process of identifying polyps and lesions from the topographical information generated by the new system. 

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Harvard creates brain-to-brain interface, allows humans to control other animals with thoughts alone

Seung-Schik Yoo of Harvard Medical School in Boston and colleagues created a non-invasive brain-to-brain interface that allowed human participants to move a rat's tail with their thoughts via EEG and focused ultrasound signals. Simply by thinking the appropriate thought, the BBI allows the human to control the rat’s tail. This is one of the most important steps towards BBIs that allow for telepathic links between two or more humans — which is a good thing in the case of friends and family, but terrifying if you stop to think about the nefarious possibilities of a fascist dictatorship with mind control tech.


In recent years there have been huge advances in the field of brain-computer interfaces, where your thoughts are detected and “understood” by a sensor attached to a computer, but relatively little work has been done in the opposite direction (computer-brain interfaces). This is because it’s one thing for a computer to work out what a human is thinking (by asking or observing their actions), but another thing entirely to inject new thoughts into a human brain. To put it bluntly, we have almost no idea of how thoughts are encoded by neurons in the brain. For now, the best we can do is create a computer-brain interface that stimulates a region of the brain that’s known to create a certain reaction — such as the specific part of the motor cortex that’s in charge of your fingers. We don’t have the power to move your fingers in a specific way — that would require knowing the brain’s encoding scheme — but we can make them jerk around.


Which brings us neatly onto Harvard’s human-mouse brain-to-brain interface. The human wears a run-of-the-mill EEG-based BCI, while the mouse is equipped with a focused ultrasound (FUS) computer-brain interface (CBI). FUS is a relatively new technology that allows the researchers to excite a very specific region of neurons in the rat’s brain using an ultrasound signal. The main advantage of FUS is that, unlike most brain-stimulation techniques, such as DBS, it isn’t invasive. For now it looks like the FUS equipment is fairly bulky, but future versions might be small enough for use in everyday human CBIs.

With the EEG equipped, the BCI detects whenever the human looks at a specific pattern on a computer screen. The BCI then fires off a command to rat’s CBI, which causes ultrasound to be beamed into the region of the rat’s motor cortex that deals with tail movement. As you can see in the video above, this causes the rat’s tail to move. The researchers report that the human BCI has an accuracy of 94%, and that it generally takes around 1.5 seconds for the entire process — from the human deciding to look at the screen, through to the movement of the rat’s tail. In theory, the human could trigger a rodent tail-wag by simply thinking about it, rather than having to look at a specific pattern — but presumably, for the sake of this experiment, the researchers wanted to focus on the FUS CBI, rather than the BCI.


Moving forward, the researchers now need to work on the transmitting of more complex ideas, such as hunger or sexual arousal, from human to rat. At some point, they’ll also have to put the FUS CBI on a human, to see if thoughts can be transferred in the opposite direction. Finally, we’ll need to combine an EEG and FUS into a single unit, to allow for bidirectional sharing of thoughts and ideas. Human-to-human telepathy is the most obvious use, but what if the same bidirectional technology also allows us to really communicate with animals, such as dogs? There would be huge ethical concerns, of course, especially if a dictatorial tyrant uses the tech to control our thoughts — but the same can be said of almost every futuristic, transhumanist technology.

Bernhard H. Schmitz's curator insight, July 31, 2013 12:14 PM

You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

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WIRED: Tour the World's Webcams With the Search Engine for the Internet of Things

WIRED: Tour the World's Webcams With the Search Engine for the Internet of Things | Amazing Science |

When Dan Tentler wants to find something on the internet, he doesn’t use Google or Bing. Tentler, a freelance security consultant, is a road-less-traveled kind of guy. He likes to check out the internet’s alleyways and backroads. And for people like him him, there’s only one search engine. It’s called Shodan.


When Shodan went live in 2009, it was no Google. Matherly ran the search engine on an old Dell Vostro that ran in his closet. He took the name Shodan from the rogue artificial intelligence entity in the 1999 cyberpunk video game System Shock 2.


Today, the Shodan operation is much more sophisticated, but it’s still a one-man show. Matherly has a half-rack of servers in San Diego that store his core data on the more than 1.2 billion devices he’s tracked on the internet. There’s also his network of probes, which add new data on 200 to 400 million devices each month.


Matherly pays for all of this by charging security companies big money for access to his entire database. Anybody can query Shodan, but if you want to do more than a handful of searches you have to register, and then eventually pay a one-time fee of $19 to use the site.


The project is nearly a decade-old now, and Matherly — the son of an executive at a Swiss medical device manufacturer — says it has completely changed the way he thinks about the internet. “Working on Shodan has made me more aware of how connected the world actually is,” he says. “I never imagined that a refrigerator would have an IP address, that the traffic lights down the street might be online. That the car wash has a web interface.

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Quantum microscope for revealing living structures in biology

Quantum microscope for revealing living structures in biology | Amazing Science |

The team, a collaboration between The University of Queensland and the Australian National University, believe their microscope could lead to a better understanding of the basic components of life and eventually allow quantum mechanics to be probed at a macroscopic level. Their world-first discovery has been published in Nature Photonics.


Team leader Associate Professor Warwick Bowen, of UQ’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems, said the study relied on quantum interactions between the photons of light to achieve measurement precision that surpassed conventional measurement. “This ‘quantum microscope’ is a pioneering step towards applications of quantum physics in technology,” Associate Professor Bowen said.


“In fundamental physics, it could be immediately applied towards observing phenomena in the microscopic motion of small particles that have yet to be observed and were predicted many decades ago.” In the study, the researchers used their quantum microscope to measure the cytoplasm of a live beer-brewing yeast cell and found they could achieve their measurements 64 per cent faster than with a conventional microscope.


Lead author and UQ PhD student Mr Michael Taylor said the results demonstrated for the first time that quantum light could provide a practical advantage in real-world measurements. “The measurements performed could aid in understanding the life-cycle of a cell, as its cytoplasm plays a crucial role in transferring nutrients into and around the cell,” he said.


Among other things, the ‘quantum microscope’ could reveal the finer details within a cell – more than a regular microscope. Biological imaging is a particularly important application for quantum light as these fine details are typically only visible when a lot of light is used.


“Unfortunately, biological samples are grilled when the power is increased too far,” said Mr Taylor. “The ‘quantum microscope’, on the other hand, provides a way to improve measurement sensitivity without increasing the risk of optical damage to the sample.”

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Cisco’s Forecast: 50 Billion Internet-Connected Devices by 2020 -- Too Conservative?

Cisco’s Forecast: 50 Billion Internet-Connected Devices by 2020 -- Too Conservative? | Amazing Science |
As a tech memes go, the Internet of Things is getting a bit long in tooth. The idea of internet-connected smart stuff has been heralded for years now. But where exactly are we in the quest to connect all things?


According to Cisco, there are an estimated 1.5 trillion things in the world (no mention of exactly how they counted those things, but let’s go with it) and approximately 8.7 billion, or 0.6%, were connected in 2012. The firm expects a 25% annualized decrease in price to connect between 2012 and 2020 and a matching 25% annualized increase in connectivity. That means we can expect 50 billion connected things by 2020, with 50% of those connections happening in the final three years of the decade.


Fifty billion sounds like a big number, but one could argue Cisco’s forecast is pretty conservative. Of their estimated 1.8 trillion total things in 2020, 50 billion would be a mere 2.7% of the total. Yes, it’s an increase from 2012′s 0.6%—but a fairly modest increase as these things go. Cisco is a big company, and it pays to be careful.


Maybe we can go out on a limb where Cisco can’t. The firm bases its projected annualized growth rate primarily on the decreasing price to connect. But there are other drivers too—the declining price and increasing power of embedded chips, for example. Or rapidly improving “big data” software that makes all that new information useful, and therefore more highly demanded.


In a world of exponential technology, things can move faster than our linear brains can fathom. If the number of connected things grew at twice Cisco’s predicted annualized rate, we’d have 223 billion connected things, or 12% of the total, by 2020. At a little less than quadruple Cisco’s forecast, we’d be talking 1.5 trillion connected things, or 82% of the total, by the end of the decade.

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WIRED: Spray-on smart glass filters light and heat on demand

WIRED: Spray-on smart glass filters light and heat on demand | Amazing Science |

Material scientists have published a study describing how they engineered a spray-on nanocrystal coating that that can control how much light or heat passes through it using electricity.


The team, from the US Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, has already struck up a partnership with Californian smart window startup Heliotrope to bring the material to market. Heliotrope in fact came out of the Molecular Foundry, where coauthor on the nanocrystal study Delia Milliron works as deputy director. Milliron and her ream were awarded a $3 million (£1.9 million) research grant by the Energy Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy last year, and had already achieved great success with the development of a coating that blocks heat-delivering near-infrared (NIR) light, but not visible light. Now, she and her research team have used a similar technique -- which relies on an electric current to switch its function on and off -- combining two totally different compounds to block either light or heat selectively.


One of the materials, indium tin oxide (ITO) -- a component in LCD and touchscreens -- is extremely conductive. When electricity passes through it, it allows the material to absorb heat energy from NIR. ITO nanocrystals were embedded in glass made from niobium oxide. The niobium ions in it are used in superconductive materials, and when combined with certain compounds can detect infrared light. Both ITO and niobium oxide are electrochromic, which means they change colour when a current is passed through them -- niobium oxide will darken when exposed to a current, for instance. Electrochromic materials are used for tinting the windows of some cars, and in this case would filter the amount of heat and light coming through the windows. 

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Wireless devices go battery-free with new communication technique

Wireless devices go battery-free with new communication technique | Amazing Science |

We might be one step closer to an Internet-of-things reality. The new communication technique, which the researchers call "ambient backscatter," takes advantage of the TV and cellular transmissions that already surround us around the clock. Two devices communicate with each other by reflecting the existing signals to exchange information. The researchers built small, battery-free devices with antennas that can detect, harness and reflect a TV signal, which then is picked up by other similar devices.

The technology could enable a network of devices and sensors to communicate with no power source or human attention needed. "We can repurpose wireless signals that are already around us into both a source of power and a communication medium," said lead researcher Shyam Gollakota, a UW assistant professor of computer science and engineering. "It's hopefully going to have applications in a number of areas including wearable computing, smart homes and self-sustaining sensor networks."


Using ambient backscatter, these devices can interact with users and communicate with each other without using batteries. They exchange information by reflecting or absorbing pre-existing radio signals. Everyday objects could be enabled with battery-free tags to communicate with each other. A couch could use ambient backscatter to let the user know where his keys were left.

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Elusive Skyrmions made in the Lab: Twisted magnetic fields tie information into a knot

Elusive Skyrmions made in the Lab: Twisted magnetic fields tie information into a knot | Amazing Science |

Tying knots in a piece of string is an age-old way of remembering things. Now physicists have succeeded in tying and untying microscopic magnetic vortices that may lead to more efficient computer memory.


The twisted vortices, known as skyrmions, are arrangements of atoms, with each atom acting like a bar magnet owing to a quantum property of its electrons called spin. An external magnetic field would normally tend to align all the atomic bar magnets in the same direction, but in the case of a skyrmion, the magnetization of the atoms is arrayed in a twisted vortex.


A skyrmion resists unravelling because magnetic perturbations can change the arrangement of the atomic spins but will not undo the twisting. This property, called topological stability, is shared by geometric objects such as the Möbius strip, a shape that can be obtained by joining the two ends of a ribbon together with a half-twist in between. The half-twist in a Möbius strip is 'stable' because it can be pushed around but not undone — short of cutting the ribbon, untwisting it and pasting it back again.

Topological stability is attractive to scientists looking for improved ways to carry information, says Kirsten von Bergmann, a physicist at the University of Hamburg in Germany. Conventional magnetic storage media, such as the surface of a hard disk, carry information in the form of digital bits — states denoted '0' or '1' that are represented by the magnetization of the atoms, for example with their magnetic north pole pointing up or down. But when they are packed too densely or overheated, these magnetizations can easily become unstable and get scrambled.


A skyrmion offers the chance to store information stably, so that it can be read off again as a '0' or a '1' depending on whether or not the magnetic knot exists. But for that to work, scientists must be able to create or erase magnetic skyrmions as needed.


But although the existence of skyrmions was predicted already in the 1960s (by British physicist Tony Skyrme) and has since been demonstrated in magnetic materials, researchers have not been able to create and destroy them at will in a magnetic material — until now. Writing in Science, von Bergmann and her collaborators describe how they created skyrmions on a thin magnetic film of palladium and iron on an iridium crystal. They began with a sample in which all the atomic bar magnets were aligned. The team then used the tip of a scanning tunnelling microscope to apply a small current made up of electrons that had their spins aligned, or polarized, in a particular way. The polarized current interacted with the atomic bar magnets to twist them into knot-like configurations of skyrmions, each a few nanometres, or about 300 atoms, in diameter, says von Bergmann. The scientists could also use the polarized current to erase the knot, deleting the skyrmion.

Theoretically, a skyrmionic device could hold 20 times more data per unit surface than current hard disks, von Bergmann says. However, she warns that the technology is a long way from practical applications. The team managed to create and delete a total of four skyrmions at a time (see video), but the technique worked in only about 60% of attempts, “which is very miserable for data technology”, says von Bergmann. And the researchers could control the skyrmions only at 4.2 kelvins, the temperature of liquid helium, which is not a practical operating temperature for electronic devices.

Nevertheless, this is the first time that scientists have created and deleted individual magnetic skyrmions, says Stefan Blügel, a solid-state physicist at the Jülich Research Centre in Germany. “By this experiment we can create skyrmions where and when we want them and that means we can imprint a one or zero in a controlled fashion,” he adds.

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Software upgrades to bionic eye enable color recognition, improve resolution, image focus, zooming

Software upgrades to bionic eye enable color recognition, improve resolution, image focus, zooming | Amazing Science |

The first bionic eye to be approved for patients in the U.S. is getting software upgrades. The FDA-approved Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System from Second Sight Medical Products transmits images from a small, eye-glass-mounted camera wirelessly to a microelectrode array implanted on a patient’s damaged retina. The array sends electrical signals via the optic nerve, and the brain interprets a visual image.

Now, to speed up the development process, Second Sight is working on a software platform called Acuboost that would make updating previously manufactured Argus models as easy as updating your computer’s operating system. This is especially important because the Argus is an implanted device, and installing it inside a patient’s eye requires pretty invasive surgery. So software upgrades would benefit both new patients and patients who already have the device implanted.

The company is currently developing algorithms to improve resolution, image focus and zooming. Their latest software can also automate brightness adjustments and enable color recognition.


Thus far, scientists at Second Sight have been able to produce the perception of multiple colors in the lab by sending different patterns of stimulation to each electrode in the retinal implant. When the Argus camera picks up red or green, that information would be encoded through different patterns of electrical activity, which would be sent to the electrodes in the patient’s eye, creating the perception of color.

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Self-Healing Flash Memory Survives 100 Million Cycles Versus 10k for Regular Flash

Self-Healing Flash Memory Survives 100 Million Cycles Versus 10k for Regular Flash | Amazing Science |

Macronix, one of the world’s largest producers of flash memory, has produced a new kind of flash memory that can survive more than 100 million program/erase (PE) cycles — most likely long enough to persist until the end of human civilization. By comparison, the NAND cells found in conventional flash memory — as in commercial SSDs — generally have a lifespan of just a few thousand PE cycles.


For such a huge advance you would expect an equally vast technological leap — but in this instance, that’s certainly not the case. Macronix just adds a bit of heat — literally, each of Macronix’s new memory cells contains a heating element that can deliver a jolt of 800C (1472F) heat to the cell, healing it and preventing wear-out. Furthermore, 100 million PE cycles is a low-ball estimate: In reality, Macronix’s new flash might survive billions of cycles — but it would take so long to test that the company doesn’t yet know.


Why does heat fix a flash memory cell? It’s all down to the physical structure. NAND flash is constructed from floating-gate transistors, which are exactly what they sound like. Basically, the control gate (which controls the flow of electricity across the transistor) floats above an additional oxide layer. In effect, the bit value of the cell is stored in this floating gate. To trigger the gate — to change the bit value — a certain threshold of current is required to jump through the oxide layer. Over time, this oxide layer degrades, eventually causing the cell to fail.


By applying heat, this oxide layer can be annealed, returning it to its base state. Macronix has known about this annealing effect for years — but historically its testing involved putting a bunch of memory chips in an oven and baking at 250C (482F) for a few hours. Obviously this wasn’t the best solution for consumer electronics, and so a new method had to be devised. Ta’da: Macronix’s NAND memory cell with built-in heat plates.


Macronix intends to capitalize on the self-healing flash breakthrough, but he would not give details about how and when. He was more forthcoming about when the flash industry should have worked in this technology. “It took a leap of imagination to jump into a completely different regime…very high temperature and in a very short time,” says Lue. “Afterward, we realized that there was no new physics principle invented here, and we could have done this 10 years ago.”

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Transparent graphene-based display could enable contact lens computers

Transparent graphene-based display could enable contact lens computers | Amazing Science |

Augmented reality generated in the form of a contact lens, with embedded pixels, would have many advantages over a glasses-based design. Many companies are currently working on ways to build curved LCDs, or even flexible LCDs, that could be embedded into a contact. Unless you want a full-scale bionic vision implant which sends the data to the lens, a stand-alone LCD is not going to cut it. A group of researchers from the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in Korea are now working on a solution to this this problem — the contact lens computer.

The Ulsan researchers had previously worked in an area seemingly unrelated to display technology. Their claim to fame was a graphene-based “nanoplatelet” material that was stable and conductive enough to act as a fuel cell cathode. These nanoplatelets could be separated into individual sheets by a process called ball milling. On larger scales, ball milling is typically used to uniformly grind powders with a small agitated ball bouncing around inside a closed vessel. Inside a mini ball mill, graphene can be mixed with various halogens, like chlorine or bromine, which then creep in between the graphene sheets to make a robust material.

The researchers were able to build miniature inorganic LEDs by connecting the graphene sheets together with silver nanowires into a hybrid structure. The flexible silver nanowires enabled the hybrid strucuture to maintain its high conductivity even when bent. The most important factor for using the hybrid graphene in a contact lens-based computer is its high transparency. Other transparent materials like indium tine oxide (ITO) become much less conductive when bent. When the hybrid LEDs were embedded into a regular soft contact and tested in a rabbit no ill effects were observed.

At this point the contact developed by the researchers is really just a single pixel display, but the goal of the effort is to build a device that can do everything that something like Google Glass can do. There are many forms a contact computer might take. Embedding all that hardware inside a transparent device is currently impossible. One shortcut might be to use a tether for power and communications, although that probably wouldn’t be too comfortable. Wireless options have already been developed, at least in crude form, and may ultimately be the way to go. Once the device is powered and connected, we might imagine some of the rudimentary essentials such a device might do. At a minimum, one task might be to maintain the display settings to locally to match the changing optics of the eye as they search for some stability in a detached and partially artificial world.

Via Kalani Kirk Hausman
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New stamp-sized microfluidic chip sorts cells through a technique known as cell rolling

New  stamp-sized microfluidic chip sorts cells through a technique known as cell rolling | Amazing Science |

Early in 2012, MIT scientists reported on the development of a postage stamp-sized microchip capable of sorting cells through a technique, known as cell rolling, that mimics a natural mechanism in the body. The device successfully separated leukemia cells from cell cultures — but could not extract cells directly from blood. 

Now the group has developed a new microchip that can quickly separate white blood cells from samples of whole blood, eliminating any preliminary processing steps — which can be difficult to integrate into point-of-care medical devices. The hope, the researchers say, is to integrate the microchip into a portable diagnostic device that may be used to directly analyze patient blood samples for signs of inflammatory disease such as sepsis — particularly in regions of developing countries where diagnostic lab equipment is not readily available.


In their experiments, the scientists pumped tiny volumes of blood through the microchip and recovered a highly pure stream of white blood cells, virtually devoid of other blood components such as platelets and red blood cells. What’s more, the team found that the sorted cells were undamaged and functional, potentially enabling clinicians not only to obtain a white blood cell count, but also to use the cells to perform further genetic or clinical tests. 

Rohit Karnik, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, says the key to recovering such pure, functional cells lies in the microchip’s adaption of the body’s natural process of cell rolling. 

“We believe that because we’re using a very biomimetic process, the cells are happier,” Karnik says. “It’s a more gentle process, and the cells are functionally viable.”

H. Fai Poon's curator insight, October 17, 2013 12:56 AM

Now someone make it into a cell sorter please.

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Making a smartphone even smarter: Turning it into a biosensor for toxins and bacteria

Afraid there may be peanuts or other allergens hiding in that cookie? Thanks to a cradle and app that turn your smartphone into a handheld biosensor, you may soon be able to run on-the-spot tests for food safety, environmental toxins, medical diagnostics and more.

The handheld biosensor was developed by researchers at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. A series of lenses and filters in the cradle mirror those found in larger, more expensive laboratory devices. Together, the cradle and app transform a smartphone into a tool that can detect toxins and bacteria, spot water contamination and identify allergens in food.


Kenny Long, a graduate researcher at the university, says the team was able to make the smartphone even smarter with modifications to the cellphone camera.

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Life-sized, human holograms could soon grace your living room

Life-sized, human holograms could soon grace your living room | Amazing Science |

Whether it was Princess Leia or the shark from Back to the Future 2, there was likely a movie moment that made you wish holograms were not only real, but that you could have one. And while hologram projectors exist in today's world, they're far from a universally accepted bit of tech. But now, one of the leading names in hologram projection is hoping to create something that we'll all want to own: a human-sized hologram.


This is not some projected-on-glass quasi-hologram, either. HoloVision, as the product is being called, promises to be a free-floating, life-sized image which will hover an impressive eight feet from its projector. That's better than R2D2 can muster. It'll also be full color, leaving the astromechs of science fiction squarely in the dust.


There will be limitations, however. It's easy to think that a life-sized human being, standing in your living room, would be capable of giving you a hug, for instance. But if that breakthrough is coming, it hasn't arrived yet. Holodeck creations these are not. And images projected through the magic of HoloVision won't be able to follow you into the kitchen for a snack either — not unless you've got a whole network of HoloVision cameras, anyway.


But with those limitations aside, HoloVision really seems like it could become a part of our lives — if it comes to fruition. The company behind


HoloVision, Provision 3D Media, is currently running a Kickstarter in the hope of raising $950,000 to bring the tech to life. And while a human-sized hologram is their current goal, Provision sees the future of their products as being as large or small as we need them to be, entirely interactive, and fully integrated into our daily lives. Basically, they want to give us all Tony Stark's workshop. But that's down the line.


As for now, a life-sized full-color Princess Leia will have to do. Catch the video below to check out the HoloVision concept and how it might look if it becomes a reality.

Via TechinBiz
Eileen Kennedy's curator insight, July 31, 2013 6:23 AM

Does this mean life size tutor holograms are coming soon? #edtech

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How does Elon Musk’s SF-to-LA-in-30-minutes Hyperloop work? By acoustic levitation!

How does Elon Musk’s SF-to-LA-in-30-minutes Hyperloop work? By acoustic levitation! | Amazing Science |

In July of last year, Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk let slip that he was working on the Hyperloop — an ultra-fast mode of transportation that will get you from downtown Los Angeles to downtown San Francisco is under 30 minutes. This is a distance of roughly 340 miles, and would require speeds of around 700 mph, or almost the speed of sound. Perhaps most importantly, though, Musk said the Hyperloop will only cost around $6 billion — compared to the $60 billion of the proposed high-speed rail link connecting the two cities. So far, so good, except for one niggling issue: Musk still hasn’t told us how he intends to build it.


Some of the world’s brightest minds have speculated that a vacuum tube is the only way to do it — but before that idea could even get off the ground, Musk said that the Hyperloop isnot based on an evacuated tunnel. With that possibility ruled out, there aren’t actually that many ways of safely and economically propelling carriages at 700 mph (1126 kph). Furthermore, when you factor in Musk’s comments that the Hyperloop “can never crash,” has no need for rails, and is “immune to weather,” the architecture of the system becomes a real head-scratcher. Oh, did I mention that Musk envisions the entire system being self-powered by solar panels, and that it somehow stores energy inside the system itself, without the need for batteries?


How, then, might the Hyperloop work? One possibility is by acoustic levitation. At that speed, the biggest enemy is always going to be air resistance, which is why a vacuum tunnel is usually the favored solution: In a vacuum there is no air resistance (drag), and thus you can essentially move as fast as you like — much like a spacecraft barreling through the great black expanse. But it isn’t an evacuated tube, so it must be something else. Not to mention, a vacuum tunnel would definitely not fulfill the “can never crash” factor; poke a hole in a vacuum tube, and the results would be very messy indeed. 


What we need is another way of efficiently reducing drag. Just recently, we wrote about a research group that levitated arbitrarily shaped objects in acoustic waves. This technique involves an acoustic phenomenon called standing waves — essentially, waves that are held in place by interference. If you imbue these waves with enough power (volume) and hit just the right frequency, you can levitate an object. Standing waves, as the name implies, don’t move — but Björn Smedman and Charles Alexander both theorize that, if you pump these waves into a loop (which we assume the Hyperloop is), and change up the acoustic parameters slightly, then it might be possible to carry vehicles on the edge of these waves as they travel around the loop.


It turns out that, by hitching a ride on the peak of a sound wave, you only really have to deal with drag caused by air density (linear), which is much less than drag caused by air velocity (square).If you pump enough power into the acoustic wave (i.e. increase the amplitude), the air density increases but the relative air velocity drops. In effect, the vehicle in the wave is stationary, in reference to its surroundings. Eventually, as the sound wave gets stronger and stronger, you achieve almost adiabatic travel — travel that loses no energy at all to the environment via drag or friction. In theory, this process is so efficient that solar panels on top of the loop (a very large surface area!) can power the system. The acoustic waves, traveling continuously around the loop, would effectively act as energy storage.


While acoustic waves neatly solve the traveling-at-almost-the-speed-of-sound bit, they don’t explain how you would embark and disembark from the Hyperloop. The best guess at the moment is that there will be an extra section at each end of the loop for managing acceleration and deceleration. To board the Hyperloop, you will hop into a carriage at the San Francisco or Los Angeles terminus, and then be accelerated up to speed using arailgun before entering the main loop. At the other end, you will be gently decelerated before disembarking. This neatly ties in with Musk’s comments that the Hyperloop will be a“cross between a Concorde and a railgun and an air hockey table.”

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Radically new software tracks a person’s facial expressions and maps it in real-time onto a digital avatar

Radically new software tracks a person’s facial expressions and maps it in real-time onto a digital avatar | Amazing Science |

New software tracks a person’s facial expressions and maps it—in real-time—onto a digital character. This real-time and calibration-free facial performance capture framework is based on a sensor with video and depth input. In this framework, the inventors developed an adaptive PCA model using shape correctives that adjusts on-the-fly to the actor's expressions through incremental PCA-based learning. Since the fitting of the adaptive model progressively improves during the performance, they do not require an extra capture or training session to build this model. As a result, the system is highly deployable and easy to use: it can faithfully track any individual, starting from just a single face scan of the subject in a neutral pose. Like many real-time methods, they use a linear subspace to cope with incomplete input data and fast motion. To boost the training of our tracking model with reliable samples, they use a well-trained 2D facial feature tracker on the input video and an efficient mesh deformation algorithm to snap the result of the previous step to high frequency details in visible depth map regions. This shows that the combination of dense depth maps and texture features around eyes and lips is essential in capturing natural dialogues and nuanced actor-specific emotions. It also demonstrates that using an adaptive PCA model not only improves the fitting accuracy for tracking but also increases the expressiveness of the retargeted character.

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