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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Researchers transmit broadband data from Earth to Moon at 19.44mbps, 4800 times the previous record

Researchers transmit broadband data from Earth to Moon at 19.44mbps, 4800 times the previous record | Amazing Science |

Aside from air, water and fresh vegetables, what would need to survive on the moon? One thing that would likely of feature high on the list is a decent, reliable wireless internet. And thanks to a group of researches from MIT and Nasa this kind of connectivity could be within the realms of possibility.

Between them, the two organisations have demonstrated for the first time that data communication technology is capable of providing those in space with the same kind of connectivity we enjoy on Earth, and can even facilitate large data transfers and high-definition video streaming.

To do this it uses four separate telescopes based at a ground terminal in New Mexico to send the uplink signal to the moon. A laser transmitter that can send information as coded pulses of invisible infrared light feeds into each of the telescopes, which results in 40 watts of transmitter power.

Nasa and MIT will present their findings at the CLEO laser technology conference in California on 9 June, but the findings have also been detailed by the Optical Society. The team will explain how their laser-powered communication uplink between the moon and Earth breaks previous record transmission speeds -- achieved by RF signals -- by a factor of 4,800.

The team has transmitted data across the 384,633km distance between Earth and the moon at a rate of 19.44mbps and has also managed to download data at a rate of 622mbps. "Communicating at high data rates from Earth to the moon with laser beams is challenging because of the 400,000-kilometre distance spreading out the light beam," says Mark Stevens of MIT Lincoln Laboratory. "It's doubly difficult going through the atmosphere, because turbulence can bend light-causing rapid fading or dropouts of the signal at the receiver."

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's curator insight, May 31, 2014 12:02 PM

Research into space colonization, is gaining a lot of attention given the threats of climate change, to food security

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Video game GPU processors to improve cancer patient treatment

Video game GPU processors to improve cancer patient treatment | Amazing Science |

Medical physicists at UT Southwestern Medical Center are finding new ways to use the speed of video game processors to promote research that is aimed at improving patient care.

In recent years, video game processors, known as graphic processing units, or GPUs, have become massively powerful as game makers support increasingly elaborate video graphics. Medical experts took note of the GPU’s rapid-fire processing. Among the pioneers seeking ways to apply the processing speed of GPUs to medical use is Dr. Steve Jiang, UT Southwestern’s new Director of the Division of Medical Physics and Engineering, and Professor and Vice Chairman of Radiation Oncology.

One practical application is reducing the time required to calculate the radiation dose delivered to a tumor during proton radiotherapy, he said. The faster video processors can reduce the time of the most complex calculation method from 70 hours to just 10 seconds.

“That’s an astonishing improvement in processing speed,” Dr. Jiang said. “We should really thank video gamers. The popularity of video games has resulted in a tool that is very beneficial for scientific computing in medicine. The quicker results mean increased convenience for patients and physicians, and translate in a significant way to better patient care,” he said.

Radiotherapy is often delivered in many treatments that can span weeks, during which time the patient’s anatomy or the tumor itself can change. Dr. Jiang’s highly efficient calculation allows for more accurate treatment plans based on daily calculations that are adapted to changes in the patient’s daily geometry (such as weight, size and shape of the tumor), as well as the healthy tissue around the tumor. With the faster processor, doctors can make calculations before each treatment, instead of re-using older data, and new calculations can make the treatments more exact, sparing surrounding healthy tissue.

“The main idea is to change the way we treat patients,” Dr. Jiang said. “If someone has a cancer, you want to treat the disease immediately and precisely. The current slower calculations require patients to wait for about a week to receive the first radiation treatment after consulting with doctors.”

Although video games may seem to offer little beyond entertainment, the consumer demand was so intense that game developers created better, faster, and cheaper processors for video games than for any other applications.

“Market forces are strong and act much quicker than federal or state research funding mechanisms,” Dr. Jiang said.

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Glasses-free 3D projector for almost hologram-quality 3D video

Glasses-free 3D projector for almost hologram-quality 3D video | Amazing Science |

Over the past three years, researchers in the Camera Culture group at the MIT Media Lab have steadily refined a design for a glasses-free, multiperspective, 3D video screen, which they hope could provide a cheaper, more practical alternative to holographic video in the short term.

Now they’ve designed a projector that exploits this technology, which they’ll unveil at this year’s Siggraph, the major conference in computer graphics.

As striking as it is, the illusion of depth now routinely offered by 3-D movies is a paltry facsimile of a true three-dimensional visual experience. In the real world, as you move around an object, your perspective on it changes. But in a movie theater showing a 3-D movie, everyone in the audience has the same, fixed perspective — and has to wear cumbersome glasses, to boot.

Despite impressive recent advances, holographic television, which would present images that vary with varying perspectives, probably remains some distance in the future. But in a new paper featured as a research highlight at this summer's Siggraph computer-graphics conference, the MIT Media Lab's Camera Culture group offers a new approach to multiple-perspective, glasses-free 3-D that could prove much more practical in the short term. 

Instead of the complex hardware required to produce holograms, the Media Lab system uses several layers of liquid-crystal displays (LCDs), the technology currently found in most flat-panel TVs. To produce a convincing 3-D illusion, the displays would need to refresh at a rate of about 360 times a second, or 360 hertz. Such displays may not be far off: LCD TVs that boast 240-hertz refresh rates have already appeared on the market, just a few years after 120-hertz TVs made their debut.

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‘Heart disease-on-a-chip’: Merged stem cell and "organ-on-a-chip" technologies

‘Heart disease-on-a-chip’: Merged stem cell and "organ-on-a-chip" technologies | Amazing Science |
Harvard scientists have merged stem cell and “organ-on-a-chip” technologies to grow, for the first time, functioning human heart tissue carrying an inherited cardiovascular disease. The research appears to be a big step forward for personalized medicine, because it is working proof that a chunk of tissue containing a patient’s specific genetic disorder can be replicated in the laboratory.

The work, published in the journal Nature Medicine, is the result of a collaborative effort bringing together scientists from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI), the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering,Boston Children’s Hospital, the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and Harvard Medical School (HMS). It combines the “organs-on-chips” expertise of Kevin Kit Parker and stem cell and clinical insights byWilliam Pu.

Using their interdisciplinary approach, the investigators modeled the cardiovascular disease Barth syndrome, a rare X-linked cardiac disorder caused by mutation of a single gene called Tafazzin, or TAZ. The disorder, which is currently untreatable, primarily appears in boys, and is associated with a number of symptoms affecting heart and skeletal muscle function.

The researchers took skin cells from two Barth syndrome patients, and manipulated the cells to become stem cells that carried the patients’ TAZ mutations. Instead of using the stem cells to generate single heart cells in a dish, the cells were grown on chips lined with human extracellular matrix proteins that mimicked their natural environment, tricking the cells into joining together as they would if they were forming a diseased human heart. The engineered diseased tissue contracted very weakly, as would the heart muscle of a Barth syndrome patient.

The investigators then used genome editing, a technique pioneered by Harvard collaborator George Church, to mutate TAZ in normal cells, confirming that this mutation is sufficient to cause weak contraction in the engineered tissue. On the other hand, delivering the TAZ gene product to diseased tissue in the laboratory corrected the contractile defect, creating the first tissue-based model of correction of a genetic heart disease.

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Astronomy: A small-sized quantum telescope could make giant mirrors obsolete

Astronomy: A small-sized quantum telescope could make giant mirrors obsolete | Amazing Science |

Quantum mechanics, rather than a huge telescope, could be the best route to high-resolution space images, according to new research carried out in the UK. If confirmed, a telescope of any size could resolve ever-smaller features of the night sky, allowing astronomers to discover exoplanets and other distant objects much more easily than is currently possible. A new proposal uses cloned photons to beat diffraction limit.

The diffraction limit for a telescope aperture is set per photon – but if there were many identical, cloned photons arriving at the same time, the diffraction limit would be reduced by a factor equal to the square root of their number. To achieve this, Kellerer proposes that a quantum "non-demolition" measurement is performed upon each photon passing through the pupil of the telescope. Such a measurement does not reveal specific information about the photon, but only records its passing. After the measurement, the photon is cloned by letting it "de-excite" atoms, which spontaneously emit several identical photons that are then recorded by a detector, which calculates their average signal.

Unfortunately, the technology required to build a telescope using quantum cloning is very far off since, lacking efficiency, current quantum non-demolition measurements are performed on laser photons. A much closer goal, says Kellerer, is a proof-of-principle experiment in which a quantum telescope would be directed at a very bright light source with a narrow spectral range. This might be done at a laboratory specializing in quantum optics, such as the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, or theInstitute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information in Innsbruck, Austria. "That's the first step to do now," she says.

Physicist Shigeki Takeuchi at Osaka University in Japan, who recently experimentally demonstrated a microscope that benefits from quantum entanglement, calls it a "very interesting" idea. "I have a feeling that a more detailed theoretical analysis based on quantum physics may be important as the next step," he says.

Even if the principle of the quantum telescope proves to be valid, a question remains whether it would be any easier to exploit quantum mechanics than build a bigger mirror. For her part, Kellerer is confident that the time for a quantum telescope will come, saying "We are getting better and better at exploiting quantum some point it will become easier to use the quantum optical technology."

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Flexible all-carbon electronics can be integrated onto plants, insects, and more

Flexible all-carbon electronics can be integrated onto plants, insects, and more | Amazing Science |

Carbon-based electronics are being widely explored due to their attractive electrical and mechanical properties, but synthesizing them in large quantities at low cost is still a challenge.

Now in a new study, researchers have developed a new method for synthesizing entire integrated all-carbon electronic devices, including transistors, electrodes, interconnects, and sensors, in a single step, greatly simplifying their formation. The inexpensive electronic devices can then be attached to a wide variety of surfaces, including plants, insects, paper, clothes, and human skin.

The researchers, Kyongsoo Lee, et al., at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) in Ulsan Metropolitan City, South Korea, and the Korea Electrotechnology Research Institute in Changwon, South Korea, have published a paper on the new synthesis method in a recent issue of Nano Letters.

The new approach takes advantage of the unique atomic geometries of carbon to synthesize entire arrays of electronic devices, specifically carbon nanotube transistors, carbon nanotube sensors, and graphite electrodes.

"Our all-carbon devices (transistors and sensors) are composed of (i) carbon nanotubes (as channels) and (ii) graphite (as electrodes)," said Jang-Ung Park, Assistant Professor at UNIST.

The electrode part needs metallic materials whose resistance is very small with the negligible change by external bias." "Both the carbon nanotubes and graphite are carbon," he said. "Depending on the bond structure of carbon, the carbon nanotubes can exhibit semiconducting properties and the graphite can show metallic properties. We designed multiple catalysts to synthesize the carbon nanotubes and graphite locally with the desired structures of electronic devices. In this way, the all-carbon devices can be synthesized." 

The electronic devices can also be integrated onto various surfaces via van der Waals forces. For example, after wetting the transistors and sensors, the researchers showed that they can be attached to the leaf of a live bamboo plant and to the epidermis of a live stag beetle. The researchers also demonstrated that the sensors could be fitted onto the surfaces of a fingernail, a particulate mask, a protective arm sleeve, adhesive tape, and newspaper.

The widespread application of all-carbon electronics in outdoor environments could be useful for a variety of reasons. Here the researchers show that the sensors can detect very low levels of DMMP vapor, which is used for producing nerve agents such as soma and sarin. The sensors could also be used to monitor environmental conditions, including temperature, humidity, pollution, and infections. All this can be done without an on-board power source.

"We integrated antennas with our devices," Park said. "Thus, the wireless transportation of power and sensing signals was possible with no battery."

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Next generation of smart devices: Enzyme-based micropump autonomously pumps insulin in response to glucose levels

Next generation of smart devices: Enzyme-based micropump autonomously pumps insulin in response to glucose levels | Amazing Science |

For next-generation smart devices, autonomy is key. These devices will be able to power themselves, independently respond to stimuli, and perform different kinds of work, all without human intervention. With these abilities, smart devices could potentially have very wide-reaching implications.

In a recent study published in Nature Chemistry, Samudra Sengupta, et al., from The Pennsylvania State University, the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, have designed and demonstrated a self-powered enzyme micropump that autonomously delivers small molecules and proteins in response to specific chemical stimuli.

"We demonstrate that surface-anchored enzymes can act as pumps in the presence of their respective substrates, pumping fluid and particles in a directional manner," coauthor Ayusman Sen, Professor of Chemistry at Penn State, told "This discovery enables the design of non-mechanical, self-powered nano/microscale pumps that precisely control flow rate and turn on in response to specific stimuli. One example described in the paper is the release of insulin from a reservoir at a rate proportional to ambient glucose concentration."

As a proof-of-principle, the researchers demonstrated how an enzyme micropump can be used to pump out insulin in response to the glucose concentration in the surrounding solution. A similar process occurs in the pancreas of healthy individuals, and afterwards the increased insulin stimulates muscle and fat cells to absorb the increased amounts of glucose from the blood.

However, in individuals with Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not produce sufficient amounts of insulin in response to elevated blood sugar levels. By autonomously releasing insulin in response to glucose concentration, the enzyme micropump essentially fulfills this role of the pancreas.

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Scientists Use Liquid Metal (Gallium-Indium-Selenium Alloy) To Reconnect Severed Nerves

Scientists Use Liquid Metal (Gallium-Indium-Selenium Alloy) To Reconnect Severed Nerves | Amazing Science |
Chinese biomedical engineers have used liquid metal to transmit electrical signals across the gap in severed sciatic nerves. The work raises the prospect of a new treatment for nerve injuries, they say.

When peripheral nerves are severed, the loss of function leads to atrophy of the effected muscles, a dramatic change in quality of life and, in many cases, a shorter life expectancy.

Despite decades of research, nobody has come up with an effective way to reconnect nerves that have been severed. Various techniques exist to sew the ends back together or to graft nerves into the gap that is created between severed ends.

Ultimately, the success of these techniques depends on the ability of the nerve ends to grow back and knit together. But given that nerves grow at the rate of one mm per day, it can take a significant amount of time, sometimes years, to reconnect. And during this time, the muscles can degrade beyond repair, leading to long-term disability.

So neurosurgeons have long hoped for a way to keep muscles active while the nerves regrow. One possibility is to electrically connect the severed ends so that the signals from the brain can still get through. But how to do this effectively?

Today, Jing Liu at Tsinghua University in Beijing and a few pals say they’ve reconnected severed nerves using liquid metal for the first time. And they say that in conducting electrical signals between the severed ends of a nerve, the metal dramatically outperforms the standard saline electrolyte used to preserve the electrical properties of living tissue.

Biomedical engineers have been eyeing the liquid metal alloy gallium-indium-selenium for some time (67 percent Ga, 20.5 percent In and 12.5 percent Sn by volume). This material is liquid at body temperature and is thought to be entirely benign. Consequently, they have been studying various ways of using it inside the body, such as for imaging.

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Gecko-like Adhesives Now Useful for Real World Surfaces

Gecko-like Adhesives Now Useful for Real World Surfaces | Amazing Science |

The ability to stick objects to a wide range of surfaces such as drywall, wood, metal and glass with a single adhesive has been the elusive goal of many research teams across the world, but now a team of University of Massachusetts Amherst inventors describe a new, more versatile version of their invention, Geckskin, that can adhere strongly to a wider range of surfaces, yet releases easily, like a gecko’s feet.

“Imagine sticking your tablet on a wall to watch your favorite movie and then moving it to a new location when you want, without the need for pesky holes in your painted wall,” says polymer science and engineering professor Al Crosby. Geckskin is a ‘gecko-like,’ reusable adhesive device that they had previously demonstrated can hold heavy loads on smooth surfaces such as glass.

Crosby and polymer science researcher Dan King, with other UMass Amherst researchers including biology professor Duncan Irschick, report in the current issue of Advanced Materials how they have expanded their design theory to allow Geckskin to adhere powerfully to a wider variety of surfaces found in most homes such as drywall, and wood.

Unlike other gecko-like materials, the UMass Amherst invention does not rely on mimicking the tiny, nanoscopic hairs found on gecko feet, but rather builds on “draping adhesion,” which derives from the gecko’s integrated anatomical skin-tendon-bone system. As King explains, “The key to making a strong adhesive connection is to conform to a surface while still maximizing stiffness.”

In Geckskin, the researchers created this ability by combining soft elastomers and ultra-stiff fabrics such as glass or carbon fiber fabrics. By “tuning” the relative stiffness of these materials, they can optimize Geckskin for a range of applications, the inventors say.

To substantiate their claims of Geckskin’s properties, the UMass Amherst team compared three versions to the abilities of a living Tokay gecko on several surfaces, as described in their journal article this month. As predicted by their theory, one Geckskin version matches and even exceeds the gecko’s performance on all tested surfaces.

Irschick points out, “The gecko’s ability to stick to a variety of surfaces is critical for its survival, but it’s equally important to be able to release and re-stick whenever it wants. Geckskin displays the same ability on different commonly used surfaces, opening up great possibilities for new technologies in the home, office or outdoors.”

Crosby notes, “It’s been a lot of fun thinking about all of the different things you ever would want to hang somewhere, and then doing it. Geckskin changes the way you think.” 

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SpaceX's Reusable Falcon 9 Successfully Launches and Lands

SpaceX's Reusable Falcon 9 Successfully Launches and Lands | Amazing Science |
American space company SpaceX successfully tested a stage of what they hope will eventually become a reusable rocket, the Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R).

Even as its Falcon 9 rocket blasted its Dragon cargo capsule towards the International Space Station last Friday, aerospace company SpaceX was preparing another feat. On Monday April 21, SpaceX launched a variant of the Falcon 9 design from its facility in Texas. The rocket in question is a prototype of the Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R).

The F9R successfully blasted off and rose to an altitude of 250 meters. The rocket briefly hovered at that altitude before safely descending back to the launch pad. The entire maneuver was captured on video by a drone aircraft.

SpaceX intends the F9R design eventually to become the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket; such reusability would substantially reduce the cost of space launches, which currently rely upon disposal rockets. Future assessments will see the F9R launched from SpaceX’s New Mexico test facility. During those evaluations, the rocket will be launched with the landing legs tucked away and to greater heights to more closely approximate conditions during an actual launch and landing.

In the meantime, SpaceX Dragon capsules will continue to ferry cargo, and eventually astronauts, to the space station. Friday’s launch was the third of 12 planned Dragon cargo runs to the station as part of SpaceX’s $1.6 billion contract with NASA.

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Molecular scale MRI: System designed to peer into the atomic structure of individual molecules

Molecular scale MRI: System designed to peer into the atomic structure of individual molecules | Amazing Science |

A team of scientists, led by Professor of Physics and of Applied Physics Amir Yacoby, has developed a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) system that can produce nanoscale images, and may one day allow researchers to peer into the atomic structure of individual molecules. Their work is described in a March 23 paper in Nature Nanotechnology.

“What we’ve demonstrated in this new paper is the ability to get very high spatial resolution, and a fully operational MRI technology,” Yacoby said. “This work is directed toward obtaining detailed information on molecular structure. If we can image a single molecule and identify that there is a hydrogen atom here and a carbon there … we can obtain information about the structure of many molecules that cannot be imaged by any other technique today.”

Though not yet precise enough to capture atomic-scale images of a single molecule, the system already has been used to capture images of single electron spins. As the system is refined, Yacoby said he expects it eventually will be precise enough to peer into the structure of molecules.

While the system designed by Yacoby and colleagues operates in much the same way conventional MRIs do, the similarities end there.

“What we’ve done, essentially, is to take a conventional MRI and miniaturize it,” Yacoby said. “Functionally, it operates in the same way, but in doing that, we’ve had to change some of the components, and that has enabled us to achieve far greater resolution than conventional systems.”

Yacoby said that while conventional systems can achieve resolutions of less than a millimeter, they are effectively limited by the magnetic field gradient they can produce. Since those gradients fade dramatically within just feet, conventional systems built around massive magnets are designed to create a field large enough to image an object — like a human — that may be a meter or more in length.

The nanoscale system devised by Yacoby and colleagues, by comparison, uses a magnet that’s just 20 nanometers in diameter — about 300 times smaller than a red blood cell — but is able to generate a magnetic field gradient 100,000 times larger than even the most powerful conventional systems.

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New Land Rover Discovery has an ‘invisible bonnet’ to detect obstacles

New Land Rover Discovery has an ‘invisible bonnet’ to detect obstacles | Amazing Science |
IT could be the biggest breakthrough in driveway safety yet — even though it was originally designed to help four-wheel-drives navigate tricky bush tracks.

Land Rover has come up with a camera system that appears to make the bonnet invisible — by projecting the image of what’s below, into the windscreen directly in front of the driver. While there is a public push to make rear-view cameras mandatory on new cars, figures show that 40 per cent of driveway deaths occur when vehicles are driven forwards because the view is obscured by the large bonnets of family-sized SUVs. The British brand developed the technology for off-road use to help drivers navigate obstacles with ease.

But the system, unveiled on the eve of the New York motor show, could find more regular use in driveways. Tiny cameras fitted below the grille are paired with a display that is projected into the windscreen so that it appears as if the vehicle’s bonnet is transparent. The system is only at the experimental stage for now but is expected to be available on the new Land Rover Discovery, due on sale next year.

The Land Rover concept also has lasers mounted in the front fog lights that continuously scan the terrain ahead “and renders a contour map” on the screen in the dash to help drivers plot a path off the beaten track. The same lasers can also test the depth of water in river crossings, Land Rover says. Camera technology is making rapid progress in new cars of all shapes and sizes. Japanese car maker Nissan has unveiled a new rear-view “mirror” that actually shows the view from a camera instead.

Originally scooped by @Onisha Ellis

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What is the optimal size of a power grid?

What is the optimal size of a power grid? | Amazing Science |

David Newman, a physicist at the University of Alaska, believes that smaller grids would reduce the likelihood of severe outages, such as the 2003 Northeast blackout that cut power to 50 million people in the United States and Canada for up to two days.

Newman and co-authors make their case in the journal Chaos. North America has three power grids that transmit electricity from hundreds of power plants to millions of consumers. Each grid is huge, because the more power plants and power lines in a grid, the better it can even out local variations in the supply and demand or respond if some part of the grid goes down.

But large grids are vulnerable to the rare but significant possibility of a grid-wide blackout like the one in 2003, when overloaded transmission lines hit unpruned foliage in Ohio, combined with a software bug a power-plant alarm system.

“The problem is that grids run close to the edge of their capacity because of economic pressures. Electric companies want to maximize profits, so they don’t invest in more equipment than they need,” Newman said.

In their new paper, the researchers ask whether the grid has an optimal size, one large enough to share power efficiently but small enough to prevent enormous blackouts.

The team based its analysis on the Western United States grid, which has more than 16,000 nodes. Nodes include generators, substations, and transformers, which convert high-voltage electricity into low-voltage power for homes and business.

The model started by comparing one 1,000-bus grid with ten 100-bus networks. It then assessed how well the grids shared electricity in response to virtual outages.

“We found that for the best tradeoff between providing backup power and blackout risk, the optimal size was 500 to 700 nodes,” Newman said.

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Pill sensors: How digital drugs will transform healthcare (WIRED)

Pill sensors: How digital drugs will transform healthcare (WIRED) | Amazing Science |

Andrew Thompson is CEO and co-founder of Proteus Digital Health, a California-based company building tiny ingestible sensors that can be incorporated into pills to let doctors know when patients take them. This is one of several connected products the company has in the pipeline that should help improve current diagnosis and treatment methods. Andrew was speaking at Wired Health on 29 April, 2014.

What we've created is a new category of therapeutic products. Today you have generic products, branded products and soon we'll have digital products". We're in an early phase of commercial release of these products and that will start to expand fairly dramatically over the next couple of years. We created an FDA De Novo device category for an ingestible sensor and we have permission to make use of that technology either as a co-ingested, co-packaged or encapsulated dose form. We've also created a new pathway for what I'm going to call a digital NDA [new drug approval], which could lead to a new class of therapeutic product. The first of these digital NDAs will start to appear in 2015. Andrew Thomson states, "What we've created is a new category of therapeutic products. Today you have generic products, branded products and soon we'll have digital products. And digital products are going to by far the most valuable and biggest category -- over time."

Video talk:

Proteus Digital Health

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"Thermal Touch" can turn any surface into an augmented reality 3D touchscreen

"Thermal Touch" can turn any surface into an augmented reality 3D touchscreen | Amazing Science |

Augmented reality company Metaio is developing "Thermal Touch," a technology that combines infrared and visible light cameras to detect the heat signature from your fingers and turn any object into a touchscreen. The technology could be embedded in the smartphones and wearable devices of the future to offer new ways of interacting with our environment.

Metaio, an augmented reality company based in Munich, believes that thermal imaging cameras will be a staple in the personal electronics of the future, and has developed the prototype of a user interface that relies on them to turn any object into a heat-sensitive touchscreen.

Consisting of an infrared and standard camera working in tandem and running on a tablet PC, the prototype registers the heat signature left by a person’s finger when touching a surface. Metaio’s AR software then supplements the experience with AR and computer vision to allow the user to interact with digital content in all-new tactile way.

The best graphic user interface (GUI) for wearable headsets has yet to be determined – device makers have so far experimented with voice navigation, companion devices and even projection, but in order for consumers to adopt new technology on a massive level it needs to be convenient and, above all, accessible in countless scenarios.

With “Thermal Touch”, a wearable headset user could turn any surface into a touch-screen: Imagine pushing directions to your device simply by touching a static map in a shopping mall, building complex or airport; children could bring play to new levels and launch digital content directly from their toys; design professionals could visualize their digital and 3-D creations on their real world counterparts; and service technicians could pull up information just by touching an object in real life.

“Thermal Touch” is a prototype and far from everyday usability. Metaio released the demo to educate the community on the possibilities of computer vision. It is likely that in 5-10 years infrared cameras may join a multitude of advanced sensors being integrated into devices everyday, including the wearable augmented reality headsets of the near future.

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Transistors that wrap around tissues and morph with them

Transistors that wrap around tissues and morph with them | Amazing Science |

Electronic devices that become soft when implanted inside the body and can deploy to grip 3-D objects, such as large tissues, nerves and blood vessels have been created by researchers from The University of Texas at Dallas and the University of Tokyo.

These biologically adaptive, flexible transistors might one day help doctors learn more about what is happening inside the body, and also could be used to stimulate the body for treatments.

The research, published in Advanced Materials, is one of the first demonstrations of transistors that can change shape and maintain their electronic properties after they are implanted in the body, said Jonathan Reeder, a graduate student in materials science and engineering and lead author of the work.

“Scientists and physicians have been trying to put electronics in the body for a while now, but one of the problems is that the stiffness of common electronics is not compatible with biological tissue,” he said.

“You need the device to be stiff at room temperature so the surgeon can implant the device, but soft and flexible enough to wrap around 3-D objects so the body can behave exactly as it would without the device. By putting electronics on shape-changing and softening polymers, we can do just that.”

Shape memory polymers (plastics) developed by Dr. Walter Voit, assistant professor of materials science and engineering and mechanical engineering and an author of the paper, are key to enabling the technology.

The polymers respond to the body’s environment and become less rigid when they’re implanted. In addition to the polymers, the electronic devices are built with layers that include thin, flexible electronic foils first characterized by a group including Reeder in work published last year in Nature.

The Voit and Reeder team from the Advanced Polymer Research Lab in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science fabricated the devices with an organic semiconductor but used adapted techniques normally applied to create silicon electronics that could reduce the cost of the devices.

“We used a new technique in our field to essentially laminate and cure the shape memory polymers on top of the transistors,” said Voit, who is also a member of the Texas Biomedical Device Center. “In our device design, we are getting closer to the size and stiffness of precision biologic structures, but have a long way to go to match nature’s amazing complexity, function and organization.”

Keith Wayne Brown's curator insight, May 15, 2014 9:39 AM

A necessary step for posthumanity.

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Four Paraplegic Men Voluntarily Move Their Legs Again

Four Paraplegic Men Voluntarily Move Their Legs Again | Amazing Science |

 Four young men who have been paralyzed for years achieved groundbreaking progress -- moving their legs -- as a result of epidural electrical stimulation of the spinal cord, an international team of life scientists at the University of Louisville, UCLA and the Pavlov Institute of Physiology reported today in the medical journal Brain. The study was funded in part by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

All four participants were classified with a chronic motor complete spinal cord injury and were unable to move their lower extremities prior to the implantation of an epidural stimulator. This research builds on an initial study, published in the May 2011 edition of The Lancet, which evaluated the effects of epidural stimulation in the first participant, Rob Summers, who recovered a number of motor functions as a result of the intervention.

Now three years later, the key findings documented in Brain detail the impact of epidural stimulation in four participants, including new tests conducted on Summers. What is truly revolutionary is that the second, third and fourth participants were able to execute voluntary movements immediately following the implantation and activation of the stimulator. The results and recovery time were unexpected, leading researchers to speculate that some pathways may be intact post-injury and therefore able to facilitate voluntary movements.

"Two of the four subjects were diagnosed as motor and sensory complete injured with no chance of recovery at all," Claudia Angeli, Ph.D., senior researcher, Human Locomotor Research Center at Frazier Rehab Institute, and assistant professor, University of Louisville's Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center (KSCIRC) and lead author. "Because of epidural stimulation, they can now voluntarily move their hips, ankles and toes. This is groundbreaking for the entire field and offers a new outlook that the spinal cord, even after a severe injury, has great potential for functional recovery."

These results were achieved through continual direct epidural electrical stimulation of the participants' lower spinal cords, mimicking signals the brain normally transmits to initiate movement. Once the signal was triggered, the spinal cord reengaged its neural network to control and direct muscle movements. When coupling the intervention with rehabilitative therapy, the impact of epidural stimulation intensified. Over the course of the study, the researchers noted that the participants were able to activate movements with less stimulation, demonstrating the ability of the spinal network to learn and improve nerve functions.

"We have uncovered a fundamentally new intervention strategy that can dramatically affect recovery of voluntary movement in individuals with complete paralysis even years after injury," said Susan Harkema, Ph.D., University of Louisville professor and rehabilitation research director at KSCIRC, Frazier Rehab Institute, director of the Reeve Foundation's Neuro Recovery Network and primary author of The Lancet article. "The belief that no recovery is possible and complete paralysis is permanent has been challenged."

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Extreme: Sony Crams 3,700 Blu-Rays' Worth of Storage onto a Single Cassette Tape

Extreme: Sony Crams 3,700 Blu-Rays' Worth of Storage onto a Single Cassette Tape | Amazing Science |
There was a time, in computing's not-so-distant past, where magnetic tape was the best way to back up large amounts of data. In the mid-90s, tape could store tens or hundreds of gigabytes, while hard drive capacities were still mostly measured in megabytes. That would soon change, of course, with the advent of writable optical media and cheap, large hard drives, but even today tape drives still hang around as one of the best options for mass data backup. Now, Sony has developed a new technology that pushes tape drives far beyond where they once were, leading to individual tapes with 185 terabytes of storage capacity.

Back in 2010, the standing record for how much data magnetic tape could store was 29.5GB per square inch. To compare, a standard dual-layer Blu-ray disc can hold 25GB per layer — this is why big budget, current-gen video games can clock in at around 40 or 50GB. That, however, is an entire disc, whereas magnetic tape could store more than half of that capacity in one little square inch. Sony has announced that it has developed a new magnetic tape material that demolishes the previous 29.5GB record, and can hold a whopping 148GB per square inch, making it the new record holder of storage density for the medium. If spooled into a cartridge, each tape could have a mind-boggling 185TB of storage. Again, to compare, that’s 3,700 dual-layer 50GB Blu-rays (a stack that would be 14.3 feet or 4.4 meters high, incidentally). In fact, one of these tapes would hold five more terabytes than a $9,305 hard drive storage array.

In order to create the new tape, Sony employed the use of sputter deposition, which creates layers of magnetic crystals by firing argon ions at a polymer film substrate. Combined with a soft magnetic under-layer, the magnetic particles measured in at just 7.7 nanometers on average, able to be closely packed together.

Perhaps surprisingly, storage tape shipments grew 13% two years ago, and were headed for a 26% growth just last year. Sony also stated that it would like to commercialize the new material — as well as continue developing its sputter deposition methods — but did not say if or when it will ever happen. While 185TB of storage sitting on a single cartridge is extremely appealing for people with large digital collections — music, games, or really any kind of media — it’s best to remember that the storage medium of tape has never been easy access. Read and write times feel like (and often are) an oblivion, and tape is used mainly for safe-keeping backup, rather than because you have too much music on your SSD and want to free up space for a new game. Still, when it comes to massive, non-time-sensitive storage, tape storage libraries are still one of the most common methods used by big corporations.

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Color-changing polymer maps fingerprints

Color-changing polymer maps fingerprints | Amazing Science |
Tiny beads of sweat may offer new way to identify people’s fingerprints.

Sweaty fingers make tidy prints. Beads of perspiration seeping from a person’s pores can leave detailed maps of the fingertips, and a new technique can detect the sweat.

Human finger pores ooze salty drops of water about the size of pinpricks, says materials scientist Jong-Man Kim of Hanyang University in Seoul, South Korea.

He and colleagues created color-changing polymers that snap from blue to red when they touch the tiny droplets. Individual polymer units look like teeny tadpoles, with bulbous heads and skinny tails. When packed tightly together, they form stacked sheets that appear blue. But when water swells the polymers’ heads, the crowded sheets twist apart and absorb shorter wavelengths of light, making the sheets look red.

Pressing a finger to a polymer-coated film instantly colored it with red dots, Kim’s team reports April 29 in Nature Communications. Kim thinks the polymers could improve existing fingerprinting technologies, which analyze impressions left by finger ridges’ loops, arches and whorls. Pores speckle these ridges, creating unique dot patterns that match up with traditional fingerprints.

Forensics teams can pick up 10-year-old dots of sweat left on a piece of paper even in the absence of fingerprints, Kim says, but the dot data are often tossed because no one had a simple way to map people’s pores.

References: J. Lee et al. Hydrochromic conjugated polymers for human sweat pore mappingNature Communications. Published online April 29, 2014. doi:10.1038/ncomms4726. 

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Stanford bioengineers create circuit board modeled on the human brain, which operates 9,000 times faster

Stanford bioengineers create circuit board modeled on the human brain, which operates 9,000 times faster | Amazing Science |

Stanford bioengineers have developed faster, more energy-efficient microchips based on the human brain – 9,000 times faster and using significantly less power than a typical PC. This offers greater possibilities for advances in robotics and a new way of understanding the brain. For instance, a chip as fast and efficient as the human brain could drive prosthetic limbs with the speed and complexity of our own actions.

For all their sophistication, computers pale in comparison to the brain. The modest cortex of the mouse, for instance, operates 9,000 times faster than a personal computer simulation of its functions.

Not only is the PC slower, it takes 40,000 times more power to run, writes Kwabena Boahen, associate professor of bioengineering at Stanford, in an article for the Proceedings of the IEEE.

"From a pure energy perspective, the brain is hard to match," says Boahen, whose article surveys how "neuromorphic" researchers in the United States and Europe are using silicon and software to build electronic systems that mimic neurons and synapses.

Boahen and his team have developed Neurogrid, a circuit board consisting of 16 custom-designed "Neurocore" chips. Together these 16 chips can simulate 1 million neurons and billions of synaptic connections. The team designed these chips with power efficiency in mind. Their strategy was to enable certain synapses to share hardware circuits. The result was Neurogrid – a device about the size of an iPad that can simulate orders of magnitude more neurons and synapses than other brain mimics on the power it takes to run a tablet computer.

The National Institutes of Health funded development of this million-neuron prototype with a five-year Pioneer Award. Now Boahen stands ready for the next steps – lowering costs and creating compiler software that would enable engineers and computer scientists with no knowledge of neuroscience to solve problems – such as controlling a humanoid robot – using Neurogrid.

Its speed and low power characteristics make Neurogrid ideal for more than just modeling the human brain. Boahen is working with other Stanford scientists to develop prosthetic limbs for paralyzed people that would be controlled by a Neurocore-like chip.

"Right now, you have to know how the brain works to program one of these," said Boahen, gesturing at the $40,000 prototype board on the desk of his Stanford office. "We want to create a neurocompiler so that you would not need to know anything about synapses and neurons to able to use one of these."

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Scientists track 3-D nanoscale changes in rechargeable battery material during operation

Scientists track 3-D nanoscale changes in rechargeable battery material during operation | Amazing Science |

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory have made the first 3D observations of how the structure of a lithium-ion battery anode evolves at the nanoscale in a real battery cell as it discharges and recharges.

"This work offers a direct way to look inside the electrochemical reaction of batteries at the nanoscale to better understand the mechanism of structural degradation that occurs during a battery's charge/discharge cycles," said Brookhaven physicist Jun Wang, who led the research. "These findings can be used to guide the engineering and processing of advanced electrode materials and improve theoretical simulations with accurate 3D parameters."

Chemical reactions in which lithium ions move from a negatively charged electrode to a positive one are what carry electric current from a lithium-ion battery to power devices such as laptops and cell phones. When an external current is applied-say, by plugging the device into an outlet-the reaction runs in reverse to recharge the battery.

Scientists have long known that repeated charging/discharging (lithiation and delithiation) introduces microstructural changes in the electrode material, particularly in some high-capacity silicon and tin-based anode materials. These microstructural changes reduce the battery's capacity-the energy the battery can store-and its cycle life-how many times the battery can be recharged over its lifetime. Understanding in detail how and when in the process the damage occurs could point to ways to avoid or minimize it.

Via José Gonçalves
Mikko Hakala's curator insight, March 27, 2014 5:24 PM

What happens in the real battery's anode material during the initial charge/discharge cycles? For the first time structural evolution could be observed by in situ at nanoscale resolution (~30 nm) in 3D. 


Measurements with transmission x-ray microscope at Brookhaven National Synchrotron Light Source.

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Wireless power transfer achieved for a 5-meter distance

Wireless power transfer achieved for a 5-meter distance | Amazing Science |
A great improvement has been demonstrated in the distance that electric power can travel wirelessly. Researchers developed the 'Dipole Coil Resonant System' for an extended range of inductive power transfer, up to 5 meters between transmitter and receiver coils. "Our technology proved the possibility of a new remote power delivery mechanism that has never been tried at such a long distance. Although the long-range wireless power transfer is still in an early stage of commercialization and quite costly to implement, we believe that this is the right direction for electric power to be supplied in the future. Just like we see Wi-Fi zones everywhere today, we will eventually have many Wi-Power zones at such places as restaurants and streets that provide electric power wirelessly to electronic devices," they say.

Chun T. Rim, a professor of Nuclear & Quantum Engineering at KAIST, and his team showcased, on April 16, 2014 at the KAIST campus, Daejeon, Republic of Korea, a great improvement in the distance that electric power can travel wirelessly. They developed the "Dipole Coil Resonant System (DCRS)" for an extended range of inductive power transfer, up to 5 meters between transmitter and receiver coils.

Since MIT's (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) introduction of the Coupled Magnetic Resonance System (CMRS) in 2007, which used a magnetic field to transfer energy for a distance of 2.1 meters, the development of long-distance wireless power transfer has attracted much attention for further research.

However, in terms of extending the distance of wireless power, CMRS, for example, has revealed technical limitations to commercialization that are yet to be solved: a rather complicated coil structure (composed of four coils for input, transmission, reception, and load); bulky-size resonant coils; high frequency (in a range of 10 MHz) required to resonate the transmitter and receiver coils, which results in low transfer efficiency; and a high Q factor of 2,000 that makes the resonant coils very sensitive to surroundings such as temperature, humidity, and human proximity.

Professor Rim proposed a meaningful solution to these problems through DCRS, an optimally designed coil structure that has two magnetic dipole coils, a primary one to induce a magnetic field and a secondary to receive electric power. Unlike the large and thick loop-shaped air coils built in CMRS, the KAIST research team used compact ferrite core rods with windings at their centers. The high frequency AC current of the primary winding generates a magnetic field, and then the linkage magnetic flux induces the voltage at the secondary winding.

Scalable and slim with a size of 3 m in length, 10 cm in width, and 20 cm in height, DCRS is significantly smaller than CMRS. The system has a low Q factor of 100, showing 20 times stronger against the environment changes, and works well at a low frequency of 100 kHz. The team conducted several experiments and achieved promising results: for instance, under the operation of 20 kHz, the maximum output power was 1,403 W at a 3-meter distance, 471 W at 4-meter, and 209 W at 5-meter. For 100 W of electric power transfer, the overall system power efficiency was 36.9% at 3 meters, 18.7% at 4 meters, and 9.2% at 5 meters.

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Global Soundscapes: Help Scientists Record One Day of Sound on Earth

Global Soundscapes: Help Scientists Record One Day of Sound on Earth | Amazing Science |

Bryan Pijanowski wants to capture the sounds of the world on a single day, and he needs your help. Beginning on Earth Day, April 22 of this year, Pijanowski hopes to enlist thousands of people in recording a few minutes of their everyday surroundings with his Soundscape Recorder smartphone app.

All those sonic snippets could create an unprecedented soundtrack to life on Earth — and as they accumulate, year after year, scientists could use them to measure patterns and changes in our sonic environments.

“I’ve been on a campaign to record as many ecosystems as possible,” said Pijanowski, a soundscape ecologist at Purdue University. “But there’s only so many places in the world I can be. I thought about how I could get more recordings into a database, and it occurred to me: We have a couple billion people on this planet with smartphones!”

Pijanowski’s work typically takes him to places like the Sonoran desert or old-growth rain forests in Borneo, where he analyzes recordings to learn more about ecosystem health and dynamics: relationships between biodiversity and forest canopy structure, or how natural communities recover from wildfire.

With the Global Soundscape project and its Soundscape Recorder app, now available for iOS and Android devices, the emphasis is on cities and towns and suburbs, and our relationships to their sonic character.

After making a recordings with the app, people are asked a short series of questions about what they heard and how they feel. The recording is then uploaded to the Global Soundscape database. “If we make this part of the Earth Day culture, something everyone goes out and does, we can begin to characterize those sounds and compare them from year to year,” said Pijanowski.

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New technique takes cues from astronomy and ophthalmology to sharpen microscope images

New technique takes cues from astronomy and ophthalmology to sharpen microscope images | Amazing Science |

The complexity of biology can befuddle even the most sophisticated light microscopes. Biological samples bend light in unpredictable ways, returning difficult-to-interpret information to the microscope and distorting the resulting image.

The approach, a form of adaptive optics, works in tissues that do not scatter light, making it well suited to imaging the transparent bodies of zebrafish and the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, important model organisms in biological research. Janelia group leader Eric Betzig says his team developed the new technology by combining adaptive optics strategies that astronomers and ophthalmologists use to cancel out similar distortions in their images.

In a report published online on April 13, 2014, in the journal Nature Methods, Betzig, postdoctoral fellow Kai Wang, and their colleagues show how the technique brings into focus the fine, branching structures and subcellular organelles of nerve cells deep in the living brain of a zebrafish. These structures remain blurry and indistinct under the same microscope without adaptive optics. "The results are pretty eye-popping," Betzig says. "This really takes the application of adaptive optics to microscopy to a completely different level."

"Our technique is really robust, and you don't need anything special to apply our technology. [In the future] it could be a very convenient add-on component to commercially available microscopes," says Wang, a postdoctoral researcher in Betzig's lab.

Via José Gonçalves
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Currently, the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a 'city-killer' sized asteroid is blind luck

Currently, the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a 'city-killer' sized asteroid is blind luck | Amazing Science |

A new visualization of data from a nuclear weapons warning network, to be unveiled by B612 Foundation CEO Ed Lu during the evening event at Seattle's Museum of Flight, shows that "the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a 'city-killer' sized asteroid is blind luck."

Since 2001, 26 atomic-bomb-scale explosions have occurred in remote locations around the world, far from populated areas, made evident by a nuclear weapons test warning network. In a recent press release B612 Foundation CEO Ed Lu states:

  • "This network has detected 26 multi-kiloton explosions since 2001, all of which are due to asteroid impacts. It shows that asteroid impacts are NOT rare—but actually 3-10 times more common than we previously thought. The fact that none of these asteroid impacts shown in the video was detected in advance is proof that the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a 'city-killer' sized asteroid is blind luck. The goal of the B612 Sentinel mission is to find and track asteroids decades before they hit Earth, allowing us to easily deflect them."

The B612 Foundation is partnered with Ball Aerospace to build the Sentinel Infrared Space Telescope Mission. Once positioned in solar orbit closer to the Sun from Earth, Sentinel will look outwards in infrared to detect hundreds of thousands of as-yet unknown near-Earth objects over 140 meters in size. The privately-funded spacecraft is slated to launch in 2017-18 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

In addition to Lu, Space Shuttle astronaut Tom Jones and Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders will be speaking at the event, titled "Saving the Earth by Keeping Big Asteroids Away."

Read more on the B612 Foundation website.

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