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Monday, 26 September 2011

Self-powering artificial skin and quantum dot displays, 09.2011

Today:

  1. Researchers fabricate first large-area, full-color quantum dot display Scientists convert skin cells to beating heart cells 
  2. New transistors: An alternative to silicon and better than graphene 
  3. Regular exercise can delay the aging process
  4. New stretchable solar cells will power artificial electronic 'super skin' 
  5. Nasal stem cells put in ears can restore hearing 
  6. Miniature 'wearable' PET scanner ready for use 
  7. Novel transistor combines logic and memory functions, drastically reduces power consumption 
  8. Untapped crop data from Africa predicts corn peril if temperatures rise 
  9. U.S. team creates diamond aerogel in lab by emulating Mother Nature  

Researchers fabricate first large-area, full-color quantum dot display

February 21, 2011 by Lisa Zyga
(PhysOrg.com) -- For more than a decade, researchers have been trying to make TV displays out of quantum dots. Theoretically, quantum dot displays could provide extremely high-resolution images and higher energy efficiencies than current TVs. Now in a new study, researchers have presented the first large-area, full-color quantum dot display that could lead to the development of displays for the next-generation TVs, mobile phones, digital cameras, and portable game systems.
The researchers, Tae-Ho Kim and coauthors from various institutes in South Korea, have published their study on the first four-inch, full-color quantum dot display in a recent issue of . The display consists of a film printed with trillions of the tiny (an average of 3 trillion per cm2). The quantum dots emit light at a specific wavelength (color) that can be tuned by changing the size of the quantum dots.  source
My comment: Wow! I didn't know they are so far ahead in the technology of quantum dots. And if they are so efficient, that would be a great breakthrough. Just imagine not having to charge your smart phone with huge display every day. 

Scientists convert skin cells to beating heart cells

January 31, 2011 
Scripps Research Institute scientists have converted adult skin cells directly into beating heart cells efficiently without having to first go through the laborious process of generating embryonic-like stem cells. The powerful general technology platform could lead to new treatments for a range of diseases and injuries involving cell loss or damage, such as heart disease, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's disease.
(..)Because of these concerns, Ding and colleagues decided to try to tweak the process by completely bypassing the iPS stage and going directly from one type of mature cell (a skin cell) to another (a heart cell).
The team introduced the same four genes initially used to make iPS cells into adult skin fibroblast cells, but instead of letting the genes be continuously active in cells for several weeks, they switched off their activities just after a few days, long before the cells had turned into iPS cells. Once the four genes were switched off, the scientists gave a signal to the cells to make them turn into heart cells.
"In 11 days, we went from skin cells to beating heart cells in a dish," said Ding. "It was phenomenal to see."
(..) the next step will be to modify this technique further to remove the need for inserting the four genes, which have been linked to the development of cancer.  source
My comment: I hope soon enough they'll manage not to use the 4 genes. I mean, it is known that the organs in human body, for example the heart, keep some ability to regenerate even past the embryonic stage. If the body can do it without complicated genetic tweaking, then there is a way. We only have to discover it. And that will be a major major discovery. Just imagine how useful could be cells-regeneration induced by some chemical. And most importantly, how much pain it could save. Not to mention that if we learn how to induce that regeneration and more specifically, how to remove "old" and damaged cells with new and healthy ones, that is certainly a step closer to immortality.

New transistors: An alternative to silicon and better than graphene

January 30, 2011
Smaller and more energy-efficient electronic chips could be made using molybdenite. In an article appearing online January 30 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, EPFL's Laboratory of Nanoscale Electronics and Structures (LANES) publishes a study showing that this material has distinct advantages over traditional silicon or graphene for use in electronics applications.
This mineral, which is abundant in nature, is often used as an element in steel alloys or as an additive in lubricants. But it had not yet been extensively studied for use in electronics.
One of molybdenite's advantages is that it is less voluminous than silicon, which is a three-dimensional material. Another advantage of molybdenite is that it can be used to make transistors that consume 100,000 times less energy in standby state than traditional silicon . A semi-conductor with a "gap" must be used to turn a transistor on and off, and molybdenite's 1.8 electron-volt gap is ideal for this purpose.
It (the gap) thus offers a greater level of control over the electrical behavior of the material, which can be turned on and off easily.
The existence of this gap in molybdenite also gives it an advantage over graphene. Considered today by many scientists as the electronics material of the future, the "semi-metal" graphene doesn't have a gap, and it is very difficult to artificially reproduce one in the material. source
My comment: I' m very impressed by this news! Because this is a material which is much more abundant than silicone, currently cheaper to produce than graphene and it has advantages compared to both silicone and graphene. The main question is how come we didn't hear about it so far? And will we hear about it from now on? I'm also curious how toxic molybdenite is. Because from a quick google scan I read that actually it is very toxic in animal tests. But silicone is not exactly clear water neither (at least not on large scale pollution we observe today). So a risk assessment is very important before deciding which one is ecologically and economically safer.
  

Regular exercise can delay the aging process

February 22, 2011 by Lin Edwards
(PhysOrg.com) -- A team of Canadian scientists working with mice genetically modified to age twice as fast as normal has found regular exercise keeps them young.
The results showed that after five months (when the mice were the equivalent of 60 human years) the exercising mice looked like wild-type mice: younger and healthier and more active than the non-exercising mice, which were almost immobile and had lost much of their hair. The non-exercising mice were also less sociable and less fertile than the exercisers.
The researchers said every tissue and every organ they examined was better in the exercising mice than in those that did not exercise, including the hair, skin, ovaries, testicles, spleen, kidneys, and liver. In the non-exercisers their brains had shrunk and hearts were enlarged, but they were normal size in the exercisers. The anti-aging effects were "unprecedented" and protected every part of the body.
Dr Tarnopolsky said that while death is inevitable, is the most potent anti-aging therapy available and can keep us healthy and disease free for longer than anything else. source
My comment: Maybe it's the additional oxygen due to the exercises? Also, from their study it's hard to say how intensive are the exercises - strength or cardio so to say. Because for me running for 45 mins sounds quite intensive, but for a mouse, I don't know, maybe it's the equivalent of 45 mins walk in the park? Or, considering that they age twice faster, maybe it represents 4 hours of exercises? 
And the intensity is key to any ani-aging conclusion. Because you can make the statistics for people who worked very hard all their lives or for professional athletes and I'm not sure it will say they generally live much longer than other people.

New stretchable solar cells will power artificial electronic 'super skin'

February 23, 2011 By Louis Bergeron
(PhysOrg.com) -- Ultrasensitive electronic skin developed by Stanford researcher Zhenan Bao is getting even better. Now she's demonstrated that it can detect chemicals and biological molecules, in addition to sensing an incredibly light touch. And it can now be powered by a new, stretchable solar cell she's developed in her lab, opening up more applications in clothing, robots, prosthetic limbs and more.
 She's also making the skin self-powering, using to generate electricity. And the new solar cells are not just flexible, but stretchable – they can be stretched up to 30 percent beyond their original length and snap back without any damage or loss of power.
Super skin, indeed.
 The researchers are now working on extending the technique to detect proteins, which could prove useful for medical diagnostics purposes.
By adjusting aspects of the transistor structure, the super skin can detect chemical substances in either vapor or liquid environments.
Finally, Bao has figured out how to replace the materials used in earlier versions of the transistor with biodegradable materials. Now, not only will the super skin be more versatile and powerful, it will also be more eco-friendly. source
My comment: This is certainly a WOW news. I mean skin that is stretchable, self-powered and detecting chemicals? That's like the absolute sci-fi dream. I certainly wish all the luck possible to that research because it sounds so amazingly cool. Of course, its first applications will be in the army, which doesn't make me so happy, but anyway, sooner or later, it will reach normal people. And then, we'll add a whole new dimension to the tactile experience. 
Videos:

Creepy robotic head mimics a child - Does it creep you out? Not me. I think it's almost cute.


Amputees regain control with bionic arm wired to chest - "Jesse Sullivan, the man in this video, is using one of the most high-tech prosthetic arms available. But what's truly impressive about it isn't visible to the eye: instead of using a motor, he's controlling the arm with his thoughts. After an amputation, the nerves in a stump remain healthy, at least for a while, and now scientists are making use of this fact to create highly dexterous, thought-controlled prosthetics.
In the video above, the nerves from Sullivan's stump were connected to muscles in his chest. When he thinks about moving his chest muscles, the signals are picked up by the nerves that were previously connected to the arm and interpreted by a computer which relays the information to the prosthesis."



Nasal stem cells put in ears can restore hearing

PTI,Feb 15, 2011, 06.36am IST
MELBOURNE: In what could help restore hearing loss in humans, an Indian-origin scientist-led team has shown for the first time that injecting stem cells from nose into ears of mice with deafness improved their hearing.
Sonali Pandit and colleagues at Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia have claimed that the research has the potential to reverse or restore hearing during early onset sensorineural hearing loss in people. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when hearing cells in the cochlea lose their function. Frequently inherited, and usually starting during infancy, the condition could slow a child's development and lead to speech and language problems.
The team found that stem cells appear to release "factors" , or chemical substances , that help preserve the function of cochlear hearing cells, without the stem cells becoming part of the tissue of the inner ear.
Adult human nasal stem cells were used in the study, as they are plentiful, easy to obtain and unspecialized. Though it has taken five years to reach the current stage of research, the scientists anticipate that it will take a further decade at least for the findings to benefit people. source
My comment: I wonder why the nose and the ears are so deeply connected. Well, apart from the obvious physiological reasons, of course. But still, it very interesting how those stem-cells help to preserve the cochlear cells but without actually becoming them. It sounds very weird. 

Miniature 'wearable' PET scanner ready for use

March 13, 2011 


 Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, Stony Brook University, and collaborators have demonstrated the efficacy of a "wearable," portable PET scanner they've developed for rats. The device will give neuroscientists a new tool for simultaneously studying brain function and behavior in fully awake, moving animals.
"Positron emission tomography (PET) is a powerful tool for studying the   that occur in the brain," said Paul Vaska, head of PET physics at Brookhaven
But studying animals with PET has required general anesthesia or other methods to immobilize the animals.
After several years of development, the scientists have arrived at a design for a miniature, portable, donut-shaped PET scanner that can be "worn" like a collar on a rat's head for simultaneous studies of and behavior. Weighing only 250 grams, the device - dubbed RatCAP, for Rat Conscious Animal PET - is counterbalanced by a system of springs and motion stabilizers to allow the animal significant freedom of movement. Measurements of the rats' indicated only moderate and temporary increases.
"Rats wearing the device appear to adapt well and move freely about their environment," Woody said.

The researchers' next step will be to use RatCAP to explore distinct behavioral expressions that can be correlated with simultaneously acquired PET data. source
My comment: Yeah, and the ultimate next step is to put one of those deviced on the neck of each and every person on Earth and happily observe his or her thoughts in the name of national security. Ok, I'm unfair to the researchers, they created something quite cool. It's just that it is so easy to find very bad applications of this tool...
  

Novel transistor combines logic and memory functions, drastically reduces power consumption

February 1, 2011 By Mikiko Tanifuji
A group headed by Dr. Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, a Principal Investigator at the International Center for Materials Nanoarchitectonics (MANA; Japan), succeeded in the development of a novel transistor, the "atom transistor," which performs both logic and memory functions while reducing power consumption to 1 x 10-6  that of the conventional devices. Logic elements which are capable of retaining their state (i.e., memory) will be indispensible for the development of instant-on personal computers (PC) and other electronic equipment. 
In contrast to conventional transistors, which control the movement of electrons in a , the newly-developed “atom transistor” operates by transferring a very small amount of metal in an insulator. By using an insulator, which has higher resistance than a semiconductor, as the base material, and realizing on/off states by transfer of a tiny amount metal atoms in this material, the new device achieves a high on/off ratio on the same level as conventional semiconductor with extremely low .
Furthermore, it was found that the “atom transistor” also operates as a memory element which retains states by control of the operating voltage range. source
My comment:  That also sounds very interesting, though it doesn't become clear  what are the metals and how easy are the new transistors for constructing...

Untapped crop data from Africa predicts corn peril if temperatures rise

March 13, 2011 
A hidden trove of historical crop yield data from Africa shows that corn – long believed to tolerate hot temperatures – is a likely victim of global warming.
Led by Lobell, the researchers combined data from 20,000 trials in sub-Saharan Africa with weather data recorded at stations scattered across the region. They found that a temperature rise of a single degree Celsius would cause yield losses for 65 percent of the present maize-growing region in Africa – provided the received the optimal amount of rainfall. Under drought conditions, the entire maize-growing region would suffer yield losses, with more than 75 percent of areas predicted to decline by at least 20 percent for 1 degree Celsius of warming. source
My comment: And imagine, if this happens with corn, which is considered temperature-resistant, what will happen with all the other species which are not. Well, I'm far from the idea of full extinction, after all Nature is pretty well adaptable, but humans are not so much. And we have to eat...

U.S. team creates diamond aerogel in lab by emulating Mother Nature

May 10, 2011 by Bob Yirka
(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers working out of Lawrence Livermore and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, have devised a process whereby an ordinary carbon aerogel is used as a base to create a new type aerogel comprised of diamond, making it not only denser, but translucent. In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, (PNAS), the team describes a process where a carbon aerogel is set in a pool of neon gas, then subjected to pressure and then heat, causing diamond crystals to form, resulting in a diamond aerogel.
Possible applications for the new material are diverse; ranging from flat panel television screens to highly efficient thermal window coatings, to possibly being used as a component in a quantum computer. It’s also possible they could make their way towards being used as part of medical implants due to diamonds being more highly biocompatible than other materials currently in use. All of that will have to wait though, at least for a while, as the current technique was only able to produce diamond aerogel in sample sizes on the order of twice the size of a human hair’s thickness. source
My comment:  Pretty cool, huh? I've seen on the net some samples of those aerogel, it looks so alien...