Posts belonging to Category Materials

Computer Reads Body Language

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University‘s Robotics Institute have enabled a computer to understand body poses and movements of multiple people from video in real time — including, for the first time, the pose of each individual’s hands and fingers. This new method was developed with the help of the Panoptic Studio — a two-story dome embedded with 500 video cameras — and the insights gained from experiments in that facility now make it possible to detect the pose of a group of people using a single camera and a laptop computer.

Yaser Sheikh, associate professor of robotics, said these methods for tracking 2-D human form and motion open up new ways for people and machines to interact with each other and for people to use machines to better understand the world around them. The ability to recognize hand poses, for instance, will make it possible for people to interact with computers in new and more natural ways, such as communicating with computers simply by pointing at things.

Detecting the nuances of nonverbal communication between individuals will allow robots to serve in social spaces, allowing robots to perceive what people around them are doing, what moods they are in and whether they can be interrupted. A self-driving car could get an early warning that a pedestrian is about to step into the street by monitoring body language. Enabling machines to understand human behavior also could enable new approaches to behavioral diagnosis and rehabilitation, for conditions such as autism, dyslexia and depression.


We communicate almost as much with the movement of our bodies as we do with our voice,” Sheikh said. “But computers are more or less blind to it.”

In sports analytics, real-time pose detection will make it possible for computers to track not only the position of each player on the field of play, as is now the case, but to know what players are doing with their arms, legs and heads at each point in time. The methods can be used for live events or applied to existing videos.

To encourage more research and applications, the researchers have released their computer code for both multi-person and hand pose estimation. It is being widely used by research groups, and more than 20 commercial groups, including automotive companies, have expressed interest in licensing the technology, Sheikh said.

Sheikh and his colleagues have presented reports on their multi-person and hand pose detection methods at CVPR 2017, the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition Conference  in Honolulu.


Biomaterial To Replace Plastics And Reduce Pollution

An inexpensive biomaterial that can be used to sustainably replace plastic barrier coatings in packaging and many other applications has been developed by Penn State researchers, who predict its adoption would greatly reduce pollution. Completely compostable, the material — a polysaccharide polyelectrolyte complex — is comprised of nearly equal parts of treated cellulose pulp from wood or cotton, and chitosan, which is derived from chitin — the primary ingredient in the exoskeletons of arthropods and crustaceans. The main source of chitin is the mountains of leftover shells from lobsters, crabs and shrimp consumed by humans.

These environmentally friendly barrier coatings have numerous applications ranging from water-resistant paper, to coatings for ceiling tiles and wallboard, to food coatings to seal in freshness, according to lead researcher Jeffrey Catchmark, professor of agricultural and biological engineering, College of Agricultural Sciences.

In the research, paperboard coated with the biomaterial exhibited strong oil and water barrier properties. The coating also resisted toluene, heptane and salt solutions and exhibited improved wet and dry mechanical and water vapor barrier properties.

The material’s unexpected strong, insoluble adhesive properties are useful for packaging as well as other applications, such as better performing, fully natural wood-fiber composites for construction and even flooring,” Jeffrey Catchmark said. “And the technology has the potential to be incorporated into foods to reduce fat uptake during frying and maintain crispness. Since the coating is essentially fiber-based, it is a means of adding fiber to diets.”


Nano Robots Build Molecules

Scientists at The University of Manchester have created the world’s first ‘molecular robot’ that is capable of performing basic tasks including building other molecules.

The tiny robots, which are a millionth of a millimetre in size, can be programmed to move and build molecular cargo, using a tiny robotic arm.

Each individual robot is capable of manipulating a single molecule and is made up of just 150 carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen atoms. To put that size into context, a billion billion of these robots piled on top of each other would still only be the same size as a single grain of salt. The robots operate by carrying out chemical reactions in special solutions which can then be controlled and programmed by scientists to perform the basic tasks.

In the future such robots could be used for medical purposes, advanced manufacturing processes and even building molecular factories and assembly lines.

All matter is made up of atoms and these are the basic building blocks that form molecules. Our robot is literally a molecular robot constructed of atoms just like you can build a very simple robot out of Lego bricks, explains Professor David Leigh, who led the research at University’s School of Chemistry. “The robot then responds to a series of simple commands that are programmed with chemical inputs by a scientistIt is similar to the way robots are used on a car assembly line. Those robots pick up a panel and position it so that it can be riveted in the correct way to build the bodywork of a car. So, just like the robot in the factory, our molecular version can be programmed to position and rivet components in different ways to build different products, just on a much smaller scale at a molecular level.”

The research has been published in Nature.


New Treatment To Kill Cancer

Raise your hand if you haven’t been touched by cancer,” says Mylisa Parette to a roomful of strangers. Parette, the research manager for Keystone Nano (KN), has occasional opportunities to present her company’s technologies to business groups and wants to emphasize the scope of the problem that still confronts society. “It’s easier to see the effects of cancer when nobody raises their hand,” she says. Despite 40 years of the War on Cancer, one in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with the disease at some point in their lifetime. Parette and her Keystone Nano colleagues are working on a new approach to cancer treatment. The company was formed from the collaboration of two Penn State faculty members who realized that the nanoparticle research that the one was undertaking could be used to solve the drug delivery problems that the other was facing.

Mark Kester, a pharmacologist at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, was working with a new drug that showed real promise as a cancer therapy but that could be dangerous if injected directly into the bloodstream. Jim Adair, a materials scientist in University Park, was creating nontoxic nanoparticles that could enclose drugs that might normally be toxic or hydrophobic and were small enough to be taken up by cells.

The two combined their efforts and, licensing the resulting technology from Penn State, they joined with entrepreneur Jeff Davidson, founder of the Biotechnology Institute and the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Association, to form Keystone Nano. The new company’s first hire was Parette, whose job is to translate the lab-scale technology into something that can be ramped up to an industrial scale, and to prepare that technology for FDA approval leading to clinical trials.

Davidson, Parette, and KN’s research team work out of the Zetachron building, a long, one-story science incubator a mile from Penn State’s University Park campus. Operated by the Centre County Industrial Development Corporation, the building was originally the home of the successful Penn State spin-out company that gave it its name. A second Keystone Nano lab was recently opened in the Hershey Center for Applied Research, a biotech incubator adjacent to Penn State College of Medicine.

Our excitement is that we think our technology has shown efficacy in a whole range of animal models,” Davidson, Keystone CEO, remarks during a recent meeting in the shared conference room at Zetachron. “We understand the method of action, the active ingredient. We think it has every chance of being useful in treating disease. Our question is, how do we push this forward from where we are today to determining, one way or another, that it really does work?

Keystone Nano is pioneering two approaches to cancer therapy, both of which rely on advances in nanotechnology to infiltrate tumors and deliver a therapeutic agent. The approach nearest to clinical trials is a ceramide nanoliposome, or what Davidson calls a “nano fat ball around an active ingredient.” Kester, in whose lab the approach was developed, thinks of it as a basketball with a thick bilayer coating that contains 30 percent active ceramide and a hollow interior that can hold another cancer drug.


Optical Computer

Researchers at the University of Sydney (Australia) have dramatically slowed digital information carried as light waves by transferring the data into sound waves in an integrated circuit, or microchipTransferring information from the optical to acoustic domain and back again inside a chip is critical for the development of photonic integrated circuits: microchips that use light instead of electrons to manage data.

These chips are being developed for use in telecommunications, optical fibre networks and cloud computing data centers where traditional electronic devices are susceptible to electromagnetic interference, produce too much heat or use too much energy.

The information in our chip in acoustic form travels at a velocity five orders of magnitude slower than in the optical domain,” said Dr Birgit Stiller, research fellow at the University of Sydney and supervisor of the project.

It is like the difference between thunder and lightning,” she said.

This delay allows for the data to be briefly stored and managed inside the chip for processing, retrieval and further transmission as light wavesLight is an excellent carrier of information and is useful for taking data over long distances between continents through fibre-optic cables.

But this speed advantage can become a nuisance when information is being processed in computers and telecommunication systems.


Very Fast Magnetic Data Storage

For almost seventy years now, magnetic tapes and hard disks have been used for data storage in computers. In spite of many new technologies that have been developed in the meantime, the controlled magnetization of a data storage medium remains the first choice for archiving information because of its longevity and low price. As a means of realizing random access memories (RAMs), however, which are used as the main memory for processing data in computers, magnetic storage technologies were long considered inadequate. That is mainly due to its low writing speed and relatively high energy consumption.

In 1956, IBM introduced the first magnetic hard disc, the RAMAC. ETH researchers have now tested a novel magnetic writing technology that could soon be used in the main memories of modern computers

Pietro Gambardella, Professor at the Department of Materials of the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (ETHZ, Switzerland), and his colleagues, together with colleagues at the Physics Department and at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), have now shown that using a novel technique, magnetic storage can still be achieved very fast and without wasting energy.

In 2011, Gambardella and his colleagues already demonstrated a technique that could do just that: An electric current passing through a specially coated semiconductor film inverted the magnetization in a tiny metal dot. This is made possible by a physical effect called spin-orbit-torque. In this effect, a current flowing in a conductor leads to an accumulation of electrons with opposite magnetic moment (spins) at the edges of the conductor. The electron spins, in turn, create a magnetic field that causes the atoms in a nearby magnetic material to change the orientation of their magnetic moments. In a new study the scientists have now investigated how this process works in detail and how fast it is.

The results were recently published in the scientific journal Nature Nanotechnology.


Robots With The Sense Of Touch

A team of researchers from the University of Houston (UH) has reported a breakthrough in stretchable electronics that can serve as an artificial skin, allowing a robotic hand to sense the difference between hot and cold, while also offering advantages for a wide range of biomedical devices.

Cunjiang Yu, Bill D. Cook Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering and lead author for the paper, said the work is the first to create a semiconductor in a rubber composite format, designed to allow the electronic components to retain functionality even after the material is stretched by 50 percent. The semiconductor in rubber composite format enables stretchability without any special mechanical structure. Yu noted that traditional semiconductors are brittle and using them in otherwise stretchable materials has required a complicated system of mechanical accommodations. “That’s both more complex and less stable than the new discovery, as well as more expensive.”

Our strategy has advantages for simple fabrication, scalable manufacturing, high-density integration, large strain tolerance and low cost,” he said.

Yu and the rest of the team – co-authors include first author Hae-Jin Kim, Kyoseung Sim and Anish Thukral, all with the UH Cullen College of Engineering – created the electronic skin and used it to demonstrate that a robotic hand could sense the temperature of hot and iced water in a cup. The skin also was able to interpret computer signals sent to the hand and reproduce the signals as .

The robotic skin can translate the gesture to readable letters that a person like me can understand and read,” Yu said.

The work is reported in the journal Science Advances.


Magnetic Cellular ‘Legos’ For Tissue Engineering

By incorporating magnetic nanoparticles in cells and developing a system using miniaturized magnets, researchers from 3 associated universities* in Paris (France) , have succeeded in creating cellular magneticLegos.” They were able to aggregate cells using only magnets and without an external supporting matrix, with the cells then forming a tissue that can be deformed at will. This approach, which is detailed in Nature Communications, could prove to be a powerful tool for biophysical studies, as well as the regenerative medicine of tomorrow.

Nanotechnology has quickly swept across the medical field by proposing sometimes unprecedented solutions at the furthest limits of current treatments, thereby becoming central to diagnosis and therapy, notably for the regeneration of tissue. A current challenge for regenerative medicine is to create a cohesive and organized cellular assembly without using an external supporting matrix. This is a particularly substantial challenge when it involves synthesizing thick and/or large-sized tissue, or when these tissues must be stimulated like their in vivo counterparts (such as cardiac tissue or cartilage) in order to improve their functionality.

The researchers met this challenge by using magnetism to act on the cells at a distance, in order to assemble, organize, and stimulate them. Cells, which are the building blocks of tissue, are thus magnetized in advance through the incorporation of magnetic nanoparticles, thus becoming true cellular magnetic “Legos” that can be moved and stacked using external magnets. In this new system acting as a magnetic tissue stretcher, the magnetized cells are trapped on a first micromagnet, before a second, mobile magnet traps the aggregate formed by the cells. The movement of the two magnets can stretch or compress the resulting tissue at will.

Researchers first used embryonic stem cells to test their system. They began by showing that the incorporation of nanoparticles had no impact on either the functioning of the stem cell or its capacity for differentiation. These functional magnetic stem cells were then tested in the stretcher, in which they remarkably differentiated toward cardiac cell precursors when stimulation imposed “magnetic beating” imitating the contraction of the heart. These results demonstrate the role that purely mechanical factors can play in cell differentiation.

This “all-in-one” approach, which makes it possible to build and manipulate tissue within the same system, could thus prove to be a powerful tool both for biophysical studies and tissue engineering.

* Laboratoire Matière et Systèmes Complexes (CNRS/Université Paris Diderot), in collaboration with the Laboratoire Adaptation Biologique et Vieillissement (CNRS/UPMC) and the Centre de Recherche Cardiovasculaire de Paris (Inserm/Université Paris Descartes)


Rapid, Cheap Liver Cancer Test

University of Utah researchers say they are designing a diagnostic method that will be able to accurately identify signs of liver cancer within minutes, saving critical time for patients of the stealthy disease. The new type of test could forever change how people screen for the disease, said Marc Porter, a U. chemical engineering and chemistry professor who is leading the research along with Dr. Courtney Scaife, a surgeon who both practices and teaches surgery for the university. Porter said the long-term vision is for the tool itself to become as automatic and portable as a pregnancy test, though additional technology — called a spectrometer — is currently needed to precisely measure the results of the test.

A small domino-sized cartridge holds a membrane for a new field test for liver cancer developed by researchers from the University of Utah. The test doesn’t involve sending a specimen to a blood lab and cuts the wait time for results from two weeks to two minutes. It can be administered wherever the patient is, which will be valuable for developing nations with little access to hospitals.

It’s really compact, it’s simple and low cost,” he said of the test kit.

Liver cancer is difficult to survive because typically it is highly developed by the time symptoms show up, Porter said. It is the second deadliest form of cancer worldwide, resulting in about 788,000 deaths in 2015, according to the World Health Organization. “All too often, the cancer is diagnosed past when you can actually have surgical intervention,” Porter said.

Currently, a blood test taken to determine the presence of liver cancer is usually sent to a lab offsite, where it takes days or even up to two weeks to test and return, said Vincent Horiuchi, spokesman for the U.’s College of Engineering. Those days are precious time that is lost in the fight against the disease, he said.


How To Draw Electricity from the Bloodstream

Men build dams and huge turbines to turn the energy of waterfalls and tides into electricity. To produce hydropower on a much smaller scale, Chinese scientists have now developed a lightweight power generator based on carbon nanotube fibers suitable to convert even the energy of flowing blood in blood vessels into electricity.

For thousands of years, people have used the energy of flowing or falling water for their purposes, first to power mechanical engines such as watermills, then to generate electricity by exploiting height differences in the landscape or sea tides. Using naturally flowing water as a sustainable power source has the advantage that there are (almost) no dependencies on weather or daylight. Even flexible, minute power generators that make use of the flow of biological fluids are conceivable. How such a system could work is explained by a research team from Fudan University in Shanghai, China. Huisheng Peng and his co-workers have developed a fiber with a thickness of less than a millimeter that generates electrical power when surrounded by flowing saline solution—in a thin tube or even in a blood vessel.

The construction principle of the fiber is quite simple. An ordered array of carbon nanotubes was continuously wrapped around a polymeric core. Carbon nanotubes are well known to be electroactive and mechanically stable; they can be spun and aligned in sheets. In the as-prepared electroactive threads, the carbon nanotube sheets coated the fiber core with a thickness of less than half a micron. For power generation, the thread or “fiber-shaped fluidic nanogenerator” (FFNG), as the authors call it, was connected to electrodes and immersed into flowing water or simply repeatedly dipped into a saline solution. “The electricity was derived from the relative movement between the FFNG and the solution,” the scientists explained. According to the theory, an electrical double layer is created around the fiber, and then the flowing solution distorts the symmetrical charge distribution, generating an electricity gradient along the long axis.

The power output efficiency of this system was high. Compared with other types of miniature energy-harvesting devices, the FFNG was reported to show a superior power conversion efficiency of more than 20%. Other advantages are elasticity, tunability, lightweight, and one-dimensionality, thus offering prospects of exciting technological applications. The FFNG can be made stretchable just by spinning the sheets around an elastic fiber substrate. If woven into fabrics, wearable electronics become thus a very interesting option for FFNG application. Another exciting application is the harvesting of electrical energy from the bloodstream for medical applications. First tests with frog nerves proved to be successful.

The findings are published in  the journal Angewandte Chemie.


Big Data And Skyrmions

Today’s world, rapidly changing because of “big data”, is encapsulated in trillions of tiny magnetic objects magnetic bits – each of which stores one bit of data in magnetic disk drives.   A group of scientists from the Max Planck Institutes in Halle and Dresden have discovered a new kind of magnetic nano-object in a novel material that could serve as a magnetic bit with cloaking properties to make a magnetic disk drive with no moving parts – a Racetrack Memory – a reality in the near future.

Most digital data is stored in the cloud as magnetic bits within massive numbers of magnetic disk drives.  Over the past several decades these magnetic bits have shrunk by many orders of magnitude, reaching limits where the boundaries of these magnetic regions can have special properties.  In some special materials these boundaries – “magnetic domain walls” – can be described as being topological. What this means is that these walls can be thought of as having a special magical cloak – what is referred to by scientists as “topological protection”.   An important consequence is that such magnetic walls are more stable to perturbations than similar magnetic bits without topological protection that are formed in conventional magnetic materials.  Thus, these “topological magnetic objects could be especially useful for storing1”s and “0”s, the basic elements of digital data.   One such object is a “magnetic skyrmion” which is a tiny magnetic region, perhaps tens to hundreds of atoms wide, separated from a surrounding magnetic region by a chiral domain wall.  Until recently only one type of skyrmion has been found in which it is surrounded by a chiral domain wall that takes the same form in all directions.   But there have been predictions of several other types of skyrmions that were not yet observed.

Now in a paper published in Nature, scientists from Prof. Stuart Parkin’s NISE department at the Max Planck Institute for Microstructure Physics in Halle, Germany, have found a second class of skyrmions, what are called “anti-skyrmions”, in materials synthesized in Prof. Claudia Felser.   The scientists from Halle and Dresden have found these tiny magnetic objects in a special class of versatile magnetic compounds called Heusler compounds.   Of these Heusler compounds, a tiny subset have just the right crystal symmetry to allow for the possibility of forming anti-skyrmions but not skyrmions.

The special cloaking properties of skyrmions makes them of great interest for a radically new form of solid-state memorythe Racetrack Memory. In Racetrack Memory digital data is encoded within magnetic domain walls that are packed closely within nanoscopic magnetic wires.  One of the unique features of Racetrack Memory, which is distinct from all other memories, is that the walls are moved around the nanowires themselves using recent discoveries in spin-orbitronics domain walls.  Very short pulses of current move all the backwards and forwards along the nano-wires. The walls – the magnetic bits – can be read and written by devices incorporated directly into the nanowires themselves, thereby eliminating any mechanical parts.


Urban Farming At Home

Growing your own vegetables and herbs can be a laborious process. Lack of space in urban environments makes it even harder. But this smart garden is bringing the window box into the modern age. Much like Nespresso coffee capsules, users ‘plant’ this soil pod… containing the seeds and all the nutrients which are released in sync with the plant’s life cycle.


This is the plastic container they put the growing substrate in here. It has a wick solution, so basically it starts to drain the water from the water tank, and the lamp does the rest of the job. The lamp imitates daylight time, so it’s 16 hours on and 8 hours off. So far we have tested some 7,000 different plants and each growing substrate is designed specifically for this plant,” says Karel Kask, sales Manager, Click and Grow. Estonia-based ‘Click and Grow‘ says it’s tested up to a thousand lighting solutions to ensure optimal growth. The red and white lights deliver the perfect spectrum they say, speeding up growth by 30 to 50 percent, depending on the plant. Each soil pod provides up to 3 harvests. ‘Click and Grow‘ was inspired by NASA technology used to grow food in space. Here, astronauts aboard the International Space Station sample lettuce they’ve grown.

They’re using quite similar soil-based solutions; so they take the soil substrate into space and grow them already in there. They have an automated watering solution. So it’s quite similar to the solution that we do.The Smart Garden 9, its latest and most advanced model, was displayed at this week’s IFA tech fair in Berlin,” adds Kask.