Articles from December 2012

Augmented Reality Lens

The Centre of Microsystems Technology (CMST), IMEC’s associated laboratory at Ghent University – Belgium, has developed an innovative spherical curved LCD display, which can be embedded in contact lenses. The first step toward fully pixilated contact lens displays, this achievement has potential wide-spread applications in medical and cosmetic domains.
Unlike LED-based contact lens displays, which are limited to a few small pixels, imec’s innovative LCD-based technology permits the use of the entire display surface.
The first prototype presented today contains a patterned dollar sign. It can only display rudimentary patterns, similar to an electronic pocket calculator. In the future, the researchers envision fully autonomous electronic contact lenses embedded with this display. These next-generation solutions could be used for medical purposes, for example to control the light transmission toward the retina in case of a damaged iris, or for cosmetic purposes such as an iris with a tunable color. In the future, the display could also function as a head-up display, superimposing an image onto the user’s normal view.

Normally, flexible displays using liquid crystal cells are not designed to be formed into a new shape, especially not a spherical one. Thus, the main challenge was to create a very thin, spherically curved substrate with active layers that could withstand the extreme molding processes,” said Jelle De Smet, the main researcher on the project. “Moreover, since we had to use very thin polymer films, their influence on the smoothness of the display had to be studied in detail. By using new kinds of conductive polymers and integrating them into a smooth spherical cell, we were able to fabricate a new LCD-based contact lens display.
Let’s have a look on more advanced projects in USA and Japan that are competing to put on the market the first quantglass:

New York Is A Global Hub For Nanotechnologies

Alain Kaloyeros, who heads the University at Albany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE), said that New York is in a good position to face the mounting challenges within nanotechnology globally.
Kaloyeros, CEO of the nanocollege, writes that the cost for future nanotechnology development is rising exponentially” and the cost for fabrication facilities, now at $5 billion, is expected to cost between $10 billion to $15 billion.
Those two factors are driving companies to join New York’s model focused on consortiums, where companies work on non-competitive research at “Switzerland-like innovation hubs.” Kaloyeros said in this model, New York acts “as the ‘referee’ by providing the leveled playing field for each consortium participant to leverage its investments and protect its competitivenes.

CNSE is based at the Albany NanoTech complex on Fuller Road in Albany, New York. The college has been the recipient of more than $14 billion in high-tech investments.
Its other sites are in Halfmoon, where it conducts solar energy research; Rochester, where its Smart System Technology and Commercialization Center of Excellence (STC) is located; and Utica, where its Center of Competency in Information Technologies is located.
The Albany NanoTech site is the epicenter of New York’s tech development. That was illustrated best last year when the state announced a $4.8 billion research project involving the world’s largest computer-chip manufacturers, including IBM, GlobalFoundries, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., and Intel.

An Invisible Scalpel Made Of Sounds

University of Michigan engineering researchers have developed a new therapeutic ultrasound approach say it could lead to an invisible knife for noninvasive surgery.They designed a carbon-nanotube-coated lens that converts light to sound and can focus high-pressure sound waves to finer points than ever before.
Today’s ultrasound technology enables far more than glimpses into the womb. Doctors routinely use focused sound waves to blast apart kidney stones and prostate tumors, for example. The tools work primarily by focusing sound waves tightly enough to generate heat, says Jay Guo, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science, mechanical engineering, and macromolecular science and engineering. Guo is a co-author of a paper on the new technique published in the current issue of Nature‘s journal Scientific Reports.

The beams that today’s technology produces can be unwieldy, says Hyoung Won Baac, a research fellow at Harvard Medical School who worked on this project as a doctoral student in Guo’s lab.
A major drawback of current strongly focused ultrasound technology is a bulky focal spot, which is on the order of several millimeters,” Baac said. “A few centimeters is typical. Therefore, it can be difficult to treat tissue objects in a high-precision manner, for targeting delicate vasculature, thin tissue layer and cellular texture. We can enhance the focal accuracy 100-fold.”


Seeing Viruses In Action Is Invaluable

Investigators at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute have invented a way to directly image biological structures at their most fundamental level and in their natural habitats. The technique is a major advancement toward the ultimate goal of imaging biological processes in action at the atomic level.

A novel microfluidics platform allowed viewing of structural details of rotavirus double-layered particles; the 3-D graphic of the virus, in purple, was reconstructed from data gathered by the new technique.
It’s sort of like the difference between seeing Han Solo frozen in carbonite and watching him walk around blasting stormtroopers,” said Deborah Kelly, an assistant professor at the VTC Research Institute and a lead author on the paper describing the first successful test of the new technique. “Seeing viruses, for example, in action in their natural environment is invaluable.


Stretchable Electronics Are The Future Of Mobile Phones

According to the University of Delaware‘s Professor Bingqing Wei, stretchable electronics are the future of mobile electronics, leading giants such as IBM, Sony and Nokia to incorporate the technology into their products.
Beyond traditional electronics, potential stretchable applications include biomedical, wearable, portable and sensory devices, such as cyber skin for robotic devices and implantable electronics. All established classes of high-performance electronics exploit single-crystal inorganic materials, such as silicon or gallium arsenide, in forms (i.e., semiconductor wafers) that are fundamentally rigid and planar. The human body is, by contrast, soft and curvilinear. This mismatch in properties hinders the development of devices capable of intimate, conformal integration with biological tissues, for applications ranging from basic measurement of electrophysiological signals, to delivery of advanced therapies, to establishment of human-machine interfaces. One envisioned solution involves the use of organic electronic materials, whose flexible properties have generated interest in them for potential use in paper-like displays, solar cell, and other types of consumer electronic devices.

Advances in soft and stretchable substrates and elastomeric materials have given rise to an entirely new field,” says Wei, a mechanical engineering professor at UD.
But even if scientists can engineer stretchable electronics — what about their energy source?
Rechargeable and stretchable energy storage devices, also known as supercapacitors, are urgently needed to complement advances currently being made in flexible electronics,” explains Wei.

How To Capture Carbon

Within the next 7 years, coal will replace oil as the first energy source in the world. The problem of greenhouse gas (GHG) and the global climate change has to be addressed. The Norwegian state-owned enterprise Gassnova and the Research Council of Norway have jointly established the Norwegian Research Programme for Accelerating the Commercialisation of Carbon Capture and Storage by Financial Stimulation of Research Development and Demonstration (CLIMIT) to promote and provide funding for CSS-related projects. The Research Council administers the R&D portion of the CLIMIT programme. The projects showing greatest promise include everything from large-scale demonstration facilities to research on use of tiny nanoparticles. Sound solutions for carbon capture and storage (CCS) are a key component in a carbon-neutral society. In Norway, public authorities and the R&D sector have pooled their resources in the search for effective solutions.

One major challenge for efficient CO2 management is that the processes involved are energy-intensive and require large investments upfront. We are looking to remedy this with ground-breaking solutions,” says Special Adviser Åse Slagtern of the Research Council. “For CO2 capture to be efficient for industry and power plants, costs will have to be cut dramatically.

From Dragonflies To Nanostructured Flying Machines

Ever since the Wright brothers, engineers have been working to develop bigger and better flying machines that maximize lift while minimizing drag. There has always been a need to efficiently carry more people and more cargo. And so the science and engineering of getting large aircraft off the ground is very well understood.
But what about flight at a small scale? Say the scale of a dragonfly, a bird or a bat?
Hui Hu, an Iowa State University associate professor of aerospace engineering, said there hasn’t been a need to understand the airflow, the eddies and the spinning vortices created by flapping wings and so there haven’t been many engineering studies of small-scale flight. But that’s changing. The U.S. Air Force, for example, is interested in insect-sized nano-air vehicles or bird-sized micro-air vehicles. The vehicles could fly microphones, cameras, sensors, transmitters and even tiny weapons right through a terrorist’s doorway. See former post on

So how do you design a little flier that’s fast and agile as a house fly? Hu says a good place to start is nature itself. These kinds of physics and aerodynamics lessons – and many more – need to be learned before engineers can design effective nano– and micro-scale vehicles.

Ultra-Fast Computer Memory For Smartphones and Tablets

By using electric voltage instead of a flowing electric current, researchers from UCLA‘s Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have made major improvements to an ultra-fast, high-capacity class of computer memory known as magnetoresistive random access memory, or MRAM.. The UCLA team’s improved memory, which they call MeRAM for magnetoelectric random access memory, has great potential to be used in future memory chips for almost all electronic applications, including smart-phones, tablets, computers and microprocessors, as well as for data storage, like the solid-state disks used in computers and large data centers.
The research team was led by principal investigator Kang L. Wang, UCLA‘s Raytheon Professor of Electrical Engineering, and included lead author Juan G. Alzate, an electrical engineering graduate student, and Pedram Khalili, a research associate in electrical engineering and project manager for the UCLA–DARPA research programs in non-volatile logic.

The ability to switch nanoscale magnets using voltages is an exciting and fast-growing area of research in magnetism,” Khalili said. “This work presents new insights into questions such as how to control the switching direction using voltage pulses, how to ensure that devices will work without needing external magnetic fields, and how to integrate them into high-density memory arrays“.


How A Damaged DNA Repairs Itself?

University of Illinois physics team discovered how a DNA-repair protein matches up a broken DNA strand with an intact region of double-stranded DNA. Every time a human or bacterial cell divides it first must copy its DNA. Specialized proteins unzip the intertwined DNA strands while others follow and build new strands, using the originals as templates. Whenever these proteins encounter a break – and there are many – they stop and retreat, allowing a new cast of molecular players to enter the scene. Scientists have long sought to understand how one of these players, a repair protein known as RecA in bacterial cells, helps broken DNA find a way to bridge the gap. They knew that RecA guided a broken DNA strand to a matching sequence on an adjoining bit of double-stranded DNA, but they didn’t know how. In a new study, researchers report they have identified how the RecA protein does its job.

The puzzle for scientists has been: How does the damaged DNA look for and find its partner, the matching DNA, so that it can repair itself?” said University of Illinois physics professor Taekjip Ha, who led the study. “Because the genomic DNA is millions of bases long, this task is much like finding a needle in a haystack. We found the answer to how the cell does this so quickly.

How To Capture Circulating Cancer Cells?

A glass plate with a nanoscale roughness could be a simple way for scientists to capture and study the circulating tumor cells that carry cancer around the body through the bloodstream. Engineering and medical researchers at the University of Michigan have devised such a set-up, which they say takes advantage of cancer cells‘ stronger drive to settle and bind compared with normal blood cells.

This false-color microscopic image shows cancer cells selectively adhering to patterned nanorough letters (UM) on a glass surface

Circulating tumor cells are believed to contribute to cancer metastasis, the grim process of the disease spreading from its original site to distant tissues. Blood tests that count these cells can help doctors predict how long a patient with widespread cancer will live. “Our system can capture the majority of circulating tumor cells regardless of their surface proteins or their physical sizes, and this could include cancer progenitor or initiating cells,” said Jianping Fu, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering and a senior author of a paper on the technique published online in ACS Nano.

A New Coating For Ships Worth Billions Of Dollars

Researchers at the *Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials (IWM) in Halle, Germany, have developed a new coating for ships keeping ship hulls free of marine organisms. “The electrochemically active coating system produces regularly changing pH values on the surface of the hull. This effectively prevents colonization without having to use any biocides“, explains Professor Manfred Füting of the IWM in Halle who is coordinating the project.

Special underwater coatings prevent shells and other organisms from growing on the hull of ships – but biocide paints are ecologically harmful. Together with the industry, researchers have developed more environmentally-friendly alternatives. If a ship is at anchor for longer periods algae, shells and barnacles will colonize it. Every year, this so-called biofouling causes economic losses of billions of Dollar. Biological growth on the underwater surface promotes corrosion. The deposits increase the roughness of the hull below the waterline which has a braking effect as the ship travels. Depending on the roughness of the basified bio layer, the consumption of fuel can increase by up to 40 percent. In the case of a large container ship this can result in additional annual costs of several millions.

*Fraunhofer is Europe’s largest application-oriented research organization. The research efforts are geared entirely to people’s needs: health, security, communication, energy and the environment.

The Smallest Transistor Ever to Be Built

Silicon’s crown is under threat: The semiconductor’s days as the king of microchips for computers and smart devices could be numbered, thanks to the development of the smallest transistor ever to be built from a rival material, indium gallium arsenide.

A cross-section transmission electron micrograph of the fabricated transistor. The central inverted V is the gate. The two molybdenum contacts on either side are the source and drain of the transistor. The channel is the indium gallium arsenide light color layer under the source, drain and gate.

The compound transistor, built by a team in MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories, performs well despite being just 22 nanometers (billionths of a meter) in length. This makes it a promising candidate to eventually replace silicon in computing devices, says co-developer Jesús del Alamo, the Donner Professor of Science in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), who built the transistor with EECS graduate student Jianqian Lin and Dimitri Antoniadis, the Ray and Maria Stata Professor of Electrical Engineering.