Posts belonging to Category Universities

How To Use Computers Heat To Generate Electricity

Electronic devices such as computers generate heat that mostly goes to waste. Physicists at Bielefeld University (Germany) have found a way to use this energy: They apply the heat to generate magnetic signals known as ‘spin currents’. In future, these signals could replace some of the electrical current in electronic components. In a new study, the physicists tested which materials can generate this spin current most effectively from heat. The research was carried out in cooperation with colleagues from the University of Greifswald, Gießen University, and the Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research in Dresden.

The Bielefeld physicists are working on the basic principles for making data processing more effective and energy-efficient in the young field of ‘spin caloritronics’. They are members of the ‘Thin Films & Physics of Nanostructures’ research group headed by Professor Dr. Günter Reiss. Their new study determines the strength of the spin current for various combinations of thin films.

A spin current is produced by differences in temperature between two ends of an electronic component. These components are extremely small and only one millionth of a millimetre thick. Because they are composed of magnetic materials such as iron, cobalt, or nickel, they are called magnetic nanostructures.

The physicists take two such nanofilms and place a layer of metal oxide between them that is only a few atoms thick. They heat up one of the external films – for example, with a hot nanowire or a focused laser. Electrons with a specific spin orientation then pass through the metal oxide. This produces the spin current. A spin can be conceived as electrons spinning on their own axes – either clockwise or anti-clockwise.

Their findings have been  published  in the research journal ‘Nature Communications’.


Polymeric Materials Outperform Natural Antibodies

Experts from the Biotechnology Group led by Professor Sergey Piletsky at the University of Leicester (UK) in collaboration with the spin-off company MIP Diagnostics Ltd, have announced the development of polymeric materials with molecular recognition capabilities which hold the potential to outperform natural antibodies in various diagnostic applications.

chemical background

 In a newly released article ‘A comparison of the performance of molecularly imprinted polymer nanoparticles for small molecule targets and antibodies in the ELISA format’ the researchers successfully demonstrated that polymer nanoparticles produced by the molecular imprinting technique (MIP nanoparticles) can bind to the target molecule with the same or higher affinity and specificity than widely used commercially available antibodies and against challenging targets.

Additionally, their ease of manufacture, short lead time, high affinity and the lack of requirement for cold chain logistics make them an attractive alternative to traditional antibodies for use in immunoassays.

Professor Piletsky, from our Department of Chemistry, explained: “It is now well over twenty years since the first demonstration that molecularly imprinted polymers can be used as the recognition material in assays for clinically significant drugs“. 


Photovoltaics: Light Absorption Enhanced by Up to 200 Percent

Sunlight reflected by solar cells is lost as unused energy. The wings of the butterfly Pachliopta aristolochiae are drilled by nanostructures (nanoholes) that help absorbing light over a wide spectrum far better than smooth surfaces. Researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany, have now succeeded in transferring these nanostructures to solar cells and, thus, enhancing their light absorption rate by up to 200 percent.

 “The butterfly studied by us is very dark black. This signifies that it perfectly absorbs sunlight for optimum heat management. Even more fascinating than its appearance are the mechanisms that help reaching the high absorption. The optimization potential when transferring these structures to photovoltaics (PV) systems was found to be much higher than expected,” says Dr. Hendrik Hölscher of KIT’s Institute of Microstructure Technology (IMT).


The scientists of the team of Hendrik Hölscher and Radwanul H. Siddique (formerly KIT, now Caltech) reproduced the butterfly’s nanostructures in the silicon absorbing layer of a thin-film solar cell. Subsequent analysis of light absorption yielded promising results: Compared to a smooth surface, the absorption rate of perpendicular incident light increases by 97% and rises continuously until it reaches 207% at an angle of incidence of 50 degrees. “This is particularly interesting under European conditions. Frequently, we have diffuse light that hardly falls on solar cells at a vertical angle,” Hendrik Hölscher says. However, this does not automatically imply that efficiency of the complete PV system is enhanced by the same factor, says Guillaume Gomard of IMT. “Also other components play a role. Hence, the 200 percent are to be considered a theoretical limit for efficiency enhancement.

The scientists have reported their results in the journal Science Advances. (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700232.)


How To Correct Genes That Cause High Cholesterol

U.S. researchers have used nanotechnology plus the powerful CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing tool to turn off a key cholesterol-related gene in mouse liver cells, an advance that could lead to new ways to correct genes that cause high cholesterol and other liver diseasesNanotechnology is the design and manipulation of materials thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair.

We’ve shown you can make a nanoparticle that can be used to permanently and specifically edit the DNA in the liver of an adult animal,” said study author Daniel Anderson, an associate professor in chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The study, published  in Nature Biotechnology, holds promise for permanently editing genes such as PCSK9, a cholesterol-regulating gene that is already the target of two drugs made by the biotechnology companies Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Amgen.

In the study, the scientists were trying to develop a safe and efficient way to deliver the components needed for CRISPR-Cas9, a type of molecular scissors that can selectively trim away defective genes and replace them with new stretches of DNA.

The system consists of a DNA-cutting enzyme called Cas9 and a stretch of RNA that guides the cutting enzyme to the correct spot in the genome. Most teams currently use viruses to deliver CRISPR into cells, an approach that is limited because the immune system can develop antibodies to viruses.

To overcome this, the team chemically modified the CRISPR components to protect them from enzymes in the body that would normally break them down. They then inserted this material into nano-scale fat particles and injected them into mice, where they made their way to liver cells.

In tests targeting the PCSK9 gene, the system proved highly effective, . The PCSK9 protein made by this gene was undetectable in the treated mice, eliminating the gene in more than 80 percent of liver cells, which also experienced a 35 percent drop in total cholesterol, the researchers reported.

High levels of cholesterol can clog arteries, causing reduced blood flow that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.


AI, “worst event in the history of our civilisation” says Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking has sent a stark warning out to the world, stating that the invention of artificial intelligence (AI) could be the “worst event in the history of our civilisation”. Speaking at the Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon, Portugal, the theoretical physicist reiterated his warning against the rise of powerful, conscious machines.
While Prof Hawking admitted that AI could be used for good, he also stated that humans need to find a way to control it so that it does not become more powerful than us as “computers can, in theory, emulate human intelligence, and exceed it.” Looking at the positives, the 75-year old said AI could help undo some of the damage that humans have inflicted on the natural world, help beat disease and “transform” every aspect of society. But, there are negatives that come with it.

Success in creating effective AI, could be the biggest event in the history of our civilisation. Or the worst. We just don’t know. “So we cannot know if we will be infinitely helped by AI, or ignored by it and side-lined, or conceivably destroyed by it. “Unless we learn how to prepare for, and avoid, the potential risks, AI could be the worst event in the history of our civilisation. It brings dangers, like powerful autonomous weapons, or new ways for the few to oppress the many. It could bring great disruption to our economy,” explains the University of Cambridge alumni.

Prof Hawking added that to make sure AI is in line with our goals, creators need to “employ best practice and effective management.” But he still has hope: “I am an optimist and I believe that we can create AI for the good of the world. “That it can work in harmony with us. We simply need to be aware of the dangers, identify them, employ the best possible practice and management, and prepare for its consequences well in advance.”

Just last week, Prof Hawking warned that AI will replace us as the dominant being on the planet.


New Genetic And Stem-Cell Technology To Grow Sheets Of Skin

Somewhere in Germany’s Ruhr valley, a nine-year-old boy is doing what children do: playing football, joking around with friends and going to school. Two years ago, he was confined to a hospital bed, dying of a rare and cruel genetic skin disease. The boy had junctional epidermolysis bullosa, or JEB. He, like other people with the disease, carried a mutation in a gene that controls the integrity of the skin. Doctors could only try to ease his suffering as some 80% of his skin simply fell away.

A team of Italian researchers came to his aid by combining stem-cell techniques with gene therapy. As a young scientist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, in the 1980s, Michele De Luca — the lead author of the new study — watched pioneers in skin regeneration learn to grow small sheets of skin from cells taken from burns patients, and to use them in grafts. He extended the work in Italy, applying new genetic and stem-cell technologies. He developed ways to generate stem cells from human skin, replace disease-causing genes in them and grow sheets of healthy skin on scaffolds in the lab.

He chose JEB for his first clinical trial, which he registered with the Italian Medicines Agency in 2002. Four years later, he reported his first success, in which he created healthy skin patches from biopsies to replace small areas of sloughed-off skin on the legs of a patient with a form of JEB (F. Mavilio et al. Nature Med. 12, 1397–1402; 2006). New European Commission regulations introduced in 2007 required him to pause the project while he created facilities adhering to ‘good manufacturing practices’ (GMPs) and a spin-off company to meet the demands for strengthened oversight of cell-based therapies.

Having a company refocused his team’s attention on a different type of stem-cell therapy, one likely to yield a product for the market faster. Holoclar, a treatment that replaces the eye’s cornea in a form of blindness, became the world’s first commercial stem-cell therapy in 2015.

A few months later, at the University of Modena, De Luca got a call out of the blue from doctors in Germany who were trying to treat the little boy. Because the therapy had been in a clinical trial, albeit one on hold at the time, and because De Luca could provide GMP services, German regulatory authorities quickly approved the one-off compassionate use of the JEB therapy. Surgeons in Germany sent a skin biopsy to Modena, and two major skin transplants followed. Six months after the initial biopsy, the boy returned to school. During the many months since, he has not had so much as a blister, and loves to show off his ‘new skin’. By their nature, highly personalized treatments using gene therapies and products derived from an individual’s stem cells are likely to be applicable to only a subset of patients.

Scientists and clinicians have presented the details of the recovery in Nature (T. Hirsch et al.Nature; 2017). This major clinical development was based on decades of basic research. The clinical data gathered during 21 months of follow-up after the boy’s treatment have also led to major insights into human skin biology, as discussed in an accompanying News & Views (M. Aragona and C. Blanpain Nature; 2017). For example, normal regeneration of the epidermis is directed by only a few stem-cell clones that can self-renew.


Sophia The Robot Says: ‘I have feelings too’

Until recently, the most famous thing that Sophia the robot had ever done was beat Jimmy Fallon a little too easily in a nationally televised game of rock-paper-scissors.


But now, the advanced artificial intelligence robot — which looks like Audrey Hepburn, mimics human expressions and may be the grandmother of robots that solve the world’s most complex problems — has a new feather in her cap:


The kingdom of Saudi Arabia officially granted citizenship to the humanoid robot last week during a program at the Future Investment Initiative, a summit that links deep-pocketed Saudis with inventors hoping to shape the future.

Sophia’s recognition made international headlines — and sparked an outcry against a country with a shoddy human rights record that has been accused of making women second-class citizens.


Smart Paper Conducts Electricity, Detects Water

In cities and large-scale manufacturing plants, a water leak in a complicated network of pipes can take tremendous time and effort to detect, as technicians must disassemble many pieces to locate the problem. The American Water Works Association indicates that nearly a quarter-million water line breaks occur each year in the U.S., costing public water utilities about $2.8 billion annually.

A University of Washington (UW) team wants to simplify the process for discovering detrimental leaks by developing “smartpaper that can sense the presence of water. The paper, laced with conductive nanomaterials, can be employed as a switch, turning on or off an LED light or an alarm system indicating the absence or presence of water.

Water sensing is very challenging to do due to the polar nature of water, and what is used now is very expensive and not practical to implement,” said lead author Anthony Dichiara, a UW assistant professor of bioresource science and engineering in the School of Environment and Forest Sciences. “That led to the reason to pursue this work.”

Along with Dichiara, a team of UW undergraduate students in the Bioresource Science and Engineering program successfully embedded nanomaterials in paper that can conduct electricity and sense the presence of water. Starting with pulp, they manipulated the wood fibers and carefully mixed in nanomaterials using a standard process for papermaking, but never before used to make sensing papers.

Discovering that the paper could detect the presence of water came by way of a fortuitous accident. Water droplets fell onto the conductive paper the team had created, causing the LED light indicating conductivity to turn off. Though at first they thought they had ruined the paper, the researchers realized they had instead created a paper that was sensitive to water.
The researchers described their discovery in a paper appearing in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A.


Nanocompounds Enhance Microbial Activity On Soil, Enrich Crops

We live in a world where day to day objects seems to be getting smaller and better. The advent of nanotechnology is a major contributing factor to this phenomenon. Defined as the “engineered construction of matter at the molecular level”, nanotechnology has applications and uses in a multitude of fields. From medicine, electronics, food, clothing, batteries and environment, nanotechnology seems to be pushing the limits of all these fields. Now, scientist have discovered yet another novel application of nanotechnologyfacilitating soil microbial growth.

Indian scientists from the G. B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnangar, Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Izatnagar, and State Council for Science & Technology, Dehradun, studied the impact of three nanocompounds on soil microbial activity and the health of plants being cultivated.

The scientists found that supplementing agricultural soils with nanocompounds like nanoclay, nanochitosan and nanozeolite led to a higher growth of microbial populations in the soil. And such an increased microbial population further led to increased levels of phosphorus, organic carbon and nitrogen in the soils, all of which are known to improve the health of crops being cultivated. Additionally, the scientists also observed increased levels of microbial enzyme activity in the soil, as well as a 50% rise in the total protein content of the soil.

Although nanoclay had the least effect on the soil’s pH, nanozeolite was found to best facilitate the growth of soil microbes. An increase in soil microbial activity along with all the other downstream benefits, caused by these nanocompounds, are all an indicator of enhanced soil health. Therefore, supplementing soils with such nanocompounds could go a long way in improving the agricultural soils, plant health and ultimately, the crop yields of the country.


AI-controlled Greenhouse Uses 90 Percent Less Water To Produce Salads

Californian startup  Iron Ox runs an indoor farm complete with a few hundred plants—and two robot farmers. Instead of using technology to grow genetically modified food, a former Google engineer partnered with one of his friends who had a PhD in robotics to open a technology-based farm where they plant, seed, and grow heads of lettuce.


Iron Ox’s goal is to provide quality produce to everyone without a premium price. According to Natural Society the average head of lettuce travels 2,055 miles from farm to market, which is why fresh lettuce is often so expensive. Currently, Iron Ox only provides produce to restaurants and grocery stores in the Bay Area of California, which is why after a daily harvest, their products are hours fresh as opposed to shipped in. The company aims to open greenhouses near other major cities, guaranteeing same-day delivery from their trucks at a fraction of the price of the current supply chain.

So why the robots? Lettuce has always been a testing ground for farming innovation, from early greenhouses to closed aquaponic ecosystems. According to Iron Ox, their AI-controlled greenhouse uses 90 percent less water than traditional farms, and because of the technology, each head of lettuce receives intimate individualized attention that is not realistic with human labor. Iron Ox also says that because they grow their products indoors with no pesticides, they don’t have to worry about typical farming issues like stray animals eating their product.

Iron Ox has yet to launch a fully-functioning automated greenhouse, but hope to build their first by the end of 2017. However, Iron Ox is not the only company to experiment with robot farming. Spread, a sustainable farming organization, broke ground on their first techno-farm, which will be fully automated and operated by robots growing lettuce, in May. They have plans to expand to the Middle East next and then continue growing.

Does this mean the future of produce is automation? Not exactly. Agriculture is complex business, and not all produce can be greenhouse-grown as efficiently and effectively as lettuce. But it’s one more reason for farmers to be aware of how the robots are coming for us all.


Acupuncture And Nanotechnology Married To Cure Cancer

DGIST (Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology) in South Korea announced that Professor Su-Il In’s research team from the department of Energy Science and Engineering has presented the possibility of cancer treatment, including colorectal cancer, using acupuncture needles that employ nanotechnology for the first time in the world.

The research team of Professor Su-Il In, through joint research with Dr. Eunjoo Kim of Companion Diagnostics & Medical Technology Research Group at DGIST and Professor Bong-Hyo Lee’s research team from the College of Oriental Medicine at Daegu Haany University, has published a study showing that the molecular biologic indicators related to anticancer effects are changed only by the treatment of acupuncture, which is widely used in oriental medicine.

In oriental medicine, treatment using acupuncture needles has been commonly practiced for thousands of years in the fields of treating musculoskeletal disorders, pain relief, and addiction relief. Recently, it has emerged as a promising treatment for brain diseases, gastrointestinal disorders, nausea, and vomiting, and studies are under way to use acupuncture to treat severe diseases.


Not only that, Professor In’s team discovered that acupuncture needles can be used for cancer treatment which is difficult to treat in modern medicine. In this study, the researchers developed nanoporous needles with microscopic holes in the surface of the needles ranging from nanopores (nm = one billionth of a meter) to micrometers (μm = one millionth of a meter) by applying relatively simple electrochemical nanotechnology. By increasing the surface area of the needle by a factor of ten, the nanoporous needles doubled the electrophysiological signal generation function by needle stimulus.

As a result of AOM administration in rats, the rats receiving periodic acupuncture treatment with nanoporous needles were found to have a much lower incidence of abnormal vascular clusters as a precursor to colorectal cancer in the initiation stage than those in the control group.


Thin Films Power Electronics Mixed In Fabrics

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) reported significant advances in the thermoelectric performance of organic semiconductors based on carbon nanotube thin films that could be integrated into fabrics to convert waste heat into electricity or serve as a small power source.

The research demonstrates significant potential for semiconducting single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) as the primary material for efficient thermoelectric generators, rather than being used as a component in a “compositethermoelectric material containing, for example, carbon nanotubes and a polymer. The discovery is outlined in the new Energy & Environmental Science paper, Large n- and p-type thermoelectric power factors from doped semiconducting single-walled carbon nanotube thin films.

There are some inherent advantages to doing things this way,” said Jeffrey Blackburn, a senior scientist in NREL’s Chemical and Materials Science and Technology center and co-lead author of the paper with Andrew Ferguson. These advantages include the promise of solution-processed semiconductors that are lightweight and flexible and inexpensive to manufacture. Other NREL authors are Bradley MacLeod, Rachelle Ihly, Zbyslaw Owczarczyk, and Katherine Hurst. The NREL authors also teamed with collaborators from the University of Denver and partners at International Thermodyne, Inc., based in Charlotte, N.C.

Ferguson, also a senior scientist in the Chemical and Materials Science and Technology center, said the introduction of SWCNT into fabrics could serve an important function for “wearable” personal electronics. By capturing body heat and converting it into electricity, the semiconductor could power portable electronics or sensors embedded in clothing.