Articles from November 2016



Robots Surpass Humans to Perform Cataract Surgery

Axsis is a new robotic surgeondexterous but delicate enough to perform cataract surgery. Just 1.8 millimetres in diameter, its two tiny robotic arms would eventually be tipped with surgical instruments. The surgeon teleoperates it using two haptic joysticks, giving instant feedback to the user. Sensing algorithms minimise the risk of human error.

robots-better-than-humans-to-achieve-cataract-surgery

You can see where the robot is, see where the lens is, see where the relevant anatomy is. And by having a computer in the loop between when the surgeon’s moving their hands and the robot moving, that computer can recognise when the surgeon’s about to make a motion that can go outside and actually puncture the lens, for example, and stop that motion“, says Chris Wagner, Head of Advanced Surgical Systems at Cambridge Consultants.

Traditional surgical robots, such as Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci system, are large. But Axsis has all components built into a small external body. Inside, tendon-like cables control precise movements; each cable just 110 microns in diameter.

“...the same size as a human hair. And yet this material is gel-spun polyethylene which is stronger than kevlar, stronger than steel by volume and it’s what Nasa uses in some of their solar sails. So it’s an extremely efficient material, extremely strong for making this high performance actuator“, adds Wagner. Routine cataract surgery can already be performed quickly and with a relatively low complication rate. Some ophthalmologists have questioned whether this device offers much improvement. But the makers say Axsis demonstrates how miniaturised robotics could help surgeons with numerous precision procedures, without the barrier of large equipment.

“I think the fact that it’s a 1.8 millimetre diameter robot that’s operating on the size scale of the eye, it’s exciting. This just opens the door to a number of different types of procedures that you can do that previously weren’t possible.” The team says it will still take significant investment and several years to turn this prototype into a viable tool. But, they say, Axsis demonstrates how scaled-down surgical robots could be a cut above the rest.

Source: http://www.reuters.com/

The Biggest Solar Plant Ever Built produces electricity at $0.10/kWh

The massive, 648-megawatt array was officially linked to the grid after being hooked up to a 400kV substation, the operator Adani Green Energy Ltd announced. The plant is spread across 2,500 acres in the town of Kamuthi in the Ramanathapuram district (India)  and will supply enough clean, green energy for 300,000 homes. The Deccan Chronicle reported that the $679 million solar park consists of 380,000 foundations, 2.5 million solar modules, 576 inverters, 154 transformers and 6,000-kilometers of cables. The plant was built with parts and machinery from around the world. Adani Group chairman Gautam Adani formally dedicated the structure to the nation.

solar-plant-in-india

“This is a momentous occasion for the state of Tamil Nadu as well as the entire country“, he said. “We are extremely happy to dedicate this plant to the nation; a plant of this magnitude reinstates the country’s ambitions of becoming one of the leading green energy producers in the world.”

India has an ambitious solar energy goal. In 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced plans to increase solar power capacity to 100 gigawatts by 2022, five times higher than the previous target.

The plant was commissioned by Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa. Indian Express reported in July 2015 that the state government would buy the entire 648 megawatts produced by Adani at a fixed price of $0.10/kWh (Rs 7.01/kWh) for 25 years.

Source: http://www.ecowatch.com/

Electronics: How To Dissipate Heat in A Nanocomputer

Controlling the flow of heat through semiconductor materials is an important challenge in developing smaller and faster computer chips, high-performance solar panels, and better lasers and biomedical devices. For the first time, an international team of scientists led by a researcher at the University of California, Riverside has modified the energy spectrum of acoustic phononselemental excitations, also referred to as quasi-particles, that spread heat through crystalline materials like a wave—by confining them to nanometer-scale semiconductor structures. The results have important implications in the thermal management of electronic devices. Led by Alexander Balandin, Professor of Electrical and Computing Engineering and UC Presidential Chair Professor in UCR’s Bourns College of Engineering, the research is described in a paper published in the journal Nature Communications.

computer-in-fire

The team used semiconductor nanowires from Gallium Arsenide (GaAs), synthesized by researchers in Finland, and an imaging technique called Brillouin-Mandelstam light scattering spectroscopy (BMS) to study the movement of phonons through the crystalline nanostructures. By changing the size and the shape of the GaAs nanostructures, the researchers were able to alter the energy spectrum, or dispersion, of acoustic phonons. The BMS instrument used for this study was built at UCR’s Phonon Optimized Engineered Materials (POEM) Center, which is directed by Balandin.

Controlling phonon dispersion is crucial for improving heat removal from nanoscale electronic devices, which has become the major roadblock in allowing engineers to continue to reduce their size. It can also be used to improve the efficiency of thermoelectric energy generation, Balandin said. In that case, decreasing thermal conductivity by phonons is beneficial for thermoelectric devices that generate energy by applying a temperature gradient to semiconductors.

For years, the only envisioned method of changing the thermal conductivity of nanostructures was via acoustic phonon scattering with nanostructure boundaries and interfaces. We demonstrated experimentally that by spatially confining acoustic phonons in nanowires one can change their velocity, and the way they interact with electrons, magnons, and how they carry heat. Our work creates new opportunities for tuning thermal and electronic properties of semiconductor materials,” Balandin said.

Source: https://ucrtoday.ucr.edu

Pain Relief Spot Identified In Brain

Scientists have identified for the first time the region in the brain responsible for the “placebo effect” in pain relief, when a fake treatment actually results in substantial reduction of pain, according to new research from Northwestern Medicine and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC).

placebo_brain

The yellow and red sections of this brain image shows the unique brain region — the mid frontal gyrus — which Northwestern scientists discovered is responsible for placebo response in pain relief

Pinpointing the sweet spot of the pain killing placebo effect could result in the design of more personalized medicine for the 100 million Americans with chronic pain. The fMRI technology developed for the study has the potential to usher in an era of individualized pain therapy by enabling targeted pain medication based on how an individual’s brain responds to a drug.

Given the enormous societal toll of chronic pain, being able to predict placebo responders in a chronic pain population could both help the design of personalized medicine and enhance the success of clinical trials,” said Marwan Baliki, research scientist at RIC and an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
The finding also will lead to more precise and accurate clinical trials for pain medications by eliminating individuals with high placebo response before trials.

The study was published Oct. 27, 2016, in PLOS Biology.

Source: https://news.northwestern.edu/

Supersonic spray delivers high-quality graphene layer

A simple, inexpensive spray method that deposits a graphene film can heal manufacturing defects and produce a high-quality graphene layer on a range of substrates, report researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC and Korea UniversityGraphene, a two-dimensional wonder-material composed of a single layer of carbon atoms, is strong, transparent, and an excellent conductor of electricity. It has potential in a wide range of applications, such as reinforcing and lending electrical properties to plastics; creating denser and faster integrated circuits; and building better touch screens.

Although the potential uses for graphene seem limitless, there has been no easy way to scale up from microscopic to large-scale applications without introducing defects, says Alexander Yarin, UIC professor of mechanical and industrial engineering and co-principal investigator on the study.

graphene-spray

Normally, graphene is produced in small flakes, and even these small flakes have defects,” Yarin said. Worse, when you try to deposit them onto a large-scale area, defects increase, and graphene’s useful properties — its “magic” — are lost, he said.

Yarin first turned to solving how to deposit graphene flakes to form a consistent layer without any clumps or spaces. He went to Sam S. Yoon, professor of mechanical engineering at Korea University and co-principal investigator on the study. Yoon had been working with a unique kinetic spray deposition system that exploits the supersonic acceleration of droplets through a Laval nozzle. Although Yoon was working with different materials, Yarin believed his method might be used to deposit graphene flakes into a smooth layer.

Their supersonic spray system produces very small droplets of graphene suspension, which disperse evenly, evaporate rapidly, and reduce the tendency of the graphene flakes to aggregate. But to the researchers’ surprise, defects inherent in the flakes themselves disappeared, as a by-product of the spray method. The result was a higher quality graphene layer. The energy of the impact stretches the graphene and restructures the arrangement of its carbon atoms into the perfect hexagons of flawless graphene.

Imagine something like Silly Putty hitting a wall — it stretches out and spreads smoothly,” said Yarin. “That’s what we believe happens with these graphene flakes. They hit with enormous kinetic energy, and stretch in all directions. “We’re tapping into graphene’s plasticity — it’s actually restructuring.”

Their study is available online in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Source: https://news.uic.edu/

Charging Phones, Electric Cars Very Fast

Scientists from the University of Central Florida (UCF)  has developed a new process for creating flexible supercapacitors that can store more energy and be recharged more than 30,000 times without degrading.

The novel method from the UCF’s NanoScience Technology Center could eventually revolutionize technology as varied as mobile phones and electric vehicles.

bendable mobile phone

If they were to replace the batteries with these supercapacitors, you could charge your mobile phone in a few seconds and you wouldn’t need to charge it again for over a week,” said Nitin Choudhary, a postdoctoral associate who conducted much of the research published recently in the academic journal ACS Nano.

Anyone with a smartphone knows the problem: After 18 months or so, it holds a charge for less and less time as the battery begins to degrade.

Scientists have been studying the use of nanomaterials to improve supercapacitors that could enhance or even replace batteries in electronic devices. It’s a stubborn problem, because a supercapacitor that held as much energy as a lithium-ion battery would have to be much, much larger.

The team at UCF has experimented with applying newly discovered two-dimensional materials only a few atoms thick to supercapacitors. Other researchers have also tried formulations with graphene and other two-dimensional materials, but with limited success.

There have been problems in the way people incorporate these two-dimensional materials into the existing systems – that’s been a bottleneck in the field. We developed a simple chemical synthesis approach so we can very nicely integrate the existing materials with the two-dimensional materials,” said principal investigator Yeonwoong “Eric” Jung, an assistant professor with joint appointments to the NanoScience Technology Center and the Materials Science & Engineering Department.

Jung’s team has developed supercapacitors composed of millions of nanometer-thick wires coated with shells of two-dimensional materials. A highly conductive core facilitates fast electron transfer for fast charging and discharging. And uniformly coated shells of two-dimensional materials yield high energy and power densities.

Source: https://today.ucf.edu/

Solar Nanotech-Powered Clothing

Marty McFly’s self-lacing Nikes in Back to the Future Part II inspired a University of Central Florida’s (UCF) scientist who has developed filaments that harvest and store the sun’s energy — and can be woven into textile.

The breakthrough would essentially turn jackets and other clothing into wearable, solar-powered batteries that never need to be plugged in. It could one day revolutionize wearable technology, helping everyone from soldiers who now carry heavy loads of batteries to a texting-addicted teen who could charge his smartphone by simply slipping it in a pocket.

back-to-the-future

That movie was the motivation,” Associate Professor Jayan Thomas, a nanotechnology scientist at the University of Central Florida’s NanoScience Technology Center, said of the film released in 1989. “If you can develop self-charging clothes or textiles, you can realize those cinematic fantasies – that’s the cool thing.

Thomas already has been lauded for earlier ground-breaking research. Last year, he received an R&D 100 Award – given to the top inventions of the year worldwide – for his development of a cable that can not only transmit energy like a normal cable but also store energy like a battery. He’s also working on semi-transparent solar cells that can be applied to windows, allowing some light to pass through while also harvesting solar power.

His new work builds on that research. “The idea came to me: We make energy-storage devices and we make solar cells in the labs. Why not combine these two devices together?” Thomas said.

Thomas, who holds joint appointments in the College of Optics & Photonics and the Department of Materials Science & Engineering, set out to do just that.

Taking it further, he envisioned technology that could enable wearable tech. His research team developed filaments in the form of copper ribbons that are thin, flexible and lightweight. The ribbons have a solar cell on one side and energy-storing layers on the other.

The research was published Nov. 11 in the academic journal Nature Communications.

Source: https://today.ucf.edu

How To Generate Wonderful Colors

Colors are produced in a variety of ways. The best known colors are pigments. However, the very bright colors of the blue tarantula or peacock feathers do not result from pigments, but from nanostructures that cause the reflected light waves to overlap. This produces extraordinarily dynamic color effects.

blue-tarantulaScientists from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany, in cooperation with international colleagues, have now succeeded in replicating nanostructures that generate the same color irrespective of the viewing angle.

In contrast to pigments, structural colors are non-toxic, more vibrant and durable. In industrial production, however, pigments have the drawback of being strongly iridescent, which means that the color perceived depends on the viewing angle. An example is the rear side of a CD. Hence, such colors cannot be used for all applications. Bright colors of animals, by contrast, are often independent of the angle of view. Feathers of the kingfisher always appear blue, no matter from which angle we look. The reason lies in the nanostructures: While regular structures are iridescent, amorphous or irregular structures always produce the same color. Yet, industry can only produce regular nanostructures in an economically efficient way. Radwanul Hasan Siddique, researcher at KIT in collaboration with scientists from USA and Belgium has now discovered that the blue tarantula does not exhibit iridescence in spite of periodic structures on its hairs. First, their study revealed that the hairs are multi-layered, flower-like structure. Then, the researchers analyzed its reflection behavior with the help of computer simulations. In parallel, they built models of these structures using nano-3D printers and optimized the models with the help of the simulations. In the end, they produced a flower-like structure that generates the same color over a viewing angle of 160 degrees. This is the largest viewing angle of any synthetic structural color reached so far.

Apart from the multi-layered structure and rotational symmetry, it is the hierarchical structure from micro to nano that ensures homogeneous reflection intensity and prevents color changes. Via the size of the “flower,” the resulting color can be adjusted, which makes this coloring method interesting for industry. “This could be a key first step towards a future where structural colorants replace the toxic pigments currently used in textile, packaging, and cosmetic industries,” says Radwanul Hasan Siddique of KIT’s Institute of Microstructure Technology, who now works at the California Institute of Technology. He considers short-term application in textile industry feasible. Dr. Hendrik Hölscher thinks that the scalability of nano-3D printing is the biggest challenge on the way towards industrial use. Only few companies in the world are able to produce such prints.

Source: http://www.kit.edu

Adhesive Holds From Extreme Cold To Extreme Heat

Researchers from Case Western Reserve University, Dayton Air Force Research Laboratory and China have developed a new dry adhesive that bonds in extreme temperatures—a quality that could make the product ideal for space exploration and beyond.

The gecko-inspired adhesive loses no traction in temperatures as cold as liquid nitrogen or as hot as molten silver, and actually gets stickier as heat increases, the researchers report.

The research, which builds on earlier development of a single-sided dry adhesive tape based on vertically aligned carbon nanotubes, is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Liming Dai, professor of macromolecular science and engineering at Case Western Reserve and an author of the study teamed with Ming Xu, a senior research associate at Case School of Engineering and visiting scholar from Huazhong University of Science and Technology.

hanging

Ming Xu, senior research associate at Case Western Reserve, hangs from two wooden blocks held to a painted wall with six small pieces of the double-sided adhesive.

Vertically aligned carbon nanotubes with tops bundled into nodes replicate the microscopic hairs on the foot of the wall-walking reptile and remain stable from -320 degrees Fahrenheit to 1,832 degrees, the scientists say.

When you have aligned nanotubes with bundled tops penetrating into the cavities of the surface, you generate sufficient van der Waal’s forces to hold,” Xu said. “The dry adhesive doesn’t lose adhesion as it cools because the surface doesn’t change. But when you heat the surface, the surface becomes rougher, physically locking the nanotubes in place, leading to stronger adhesion as temperatures increase.”

Because the adhesive remains useful over such a wide range of temperatures, the inventors say it is ideally suited for use in space, where the shade can be frigid and exposure to the sun blazing hot.

In addition to range, the bonding agent offers properties that could add to its utility. The adhesive conducts heat and electricity, and these properties also increase with temperature. “When applied as a double-sided sticky tape, the adhesive can be used to link electrical components together and also for electrical and thermal management,”said Ajit Roy, of the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, Air Force Research Laboratory.

This adhesive can thus be used as connecting materials to enhance the performance of electronics at high temperatures,” Dai comments. “At room temperature, the double-sided carbon nanotube tape held as strongly as commercial tape on various rough surfaces, including paper, wood, plastic films and painted walls, showing potential use as conducting adhesives in home appliances and wall-climbing robots.”

Source: http://thedaily.case.edu/

How An Implant Could Help Humans With Spinal Cord Injury To Walk Again

This rhesus monkey has a partial spinal cord lesion, which paralysed its right leg. But a neuroprosthetic implant has allowed the primate to walk again. The brain-to-spine interface decodes motor intention from brain signals, then relays this to the spinal cord, bypassing the injury. Small electrical pulses stimulate neural pathways to trigger specific muscles on the legs – restoring locomotion in real-time.

paralized-primate-walks-againCLICK ON THE IMAGE TO ENJOY THE VIDEO

We inserted one of the electrodes in the small region of the cortex that controls the leg. And send the information from all the neurone we recorded to a computer that decoded the motor intention of the primates based on this signal. This means the extension or flexion movement of the leg. And the computer then sends this information to the implantable stimulator that has the capacity to deliver stimulation at the correct location with the correct timing in order to reproduce the intended extension or flexion movement of the leg“, says Grégoire Courtine, a neuroscientist at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland.

The research was led by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, alongside international collaborators. Other neuroprosthetics have previously given amputees basic control over prosthetics. And in 2012 the team here were able to stimulate a paralysed rat’s muscles to help it walk. This development takes spinal cord stimulation to a new level.

To make the link between the decoding of the brain and the stimulation of the spinal cord, and to make this communication exist – this is completely new“, comments Jocelyne Bloch, neurosurgeon at the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV).  A clinical study is now underway in Switzerland to access the feasibility of the implant in helping humans with spinal cord injury.

The research is published in the scientific journal Nature.

Source: http://actu.epfl.ch/

Swiss SmartWatch For Doctors

Intensive care doctors may soon be able to wear a smartwatch connected to the system that keeps tabs on the vital parameters of patients in the intensive care unit. If the patients’ readings – which are monitored in real time and stored on a central server – reach a dangerous level, an alert is sent directly to the doctor’s wrist via WiFi. The patient’s name and readings appear on the watch, so the doctor can react quickly and precisely. This application is the second step in a comprehensive monitoring system developed by EPFL’s Integrated Systems Laboratory (LSI). The Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) is located in Switzerland.

It began with the creation of a miniaturized microfluidic device that allows medical staff to monitor patients’ critical blood levels. The researchers embedded biosensors in it along with an array of electronics to transmit the results in real time to a tablet via Bluetooth. Seven blood levels are closely monitored: glucose, lactate, bilirubin, sodium, calcium, temperature and pH. The ability to send these readings to a portable device could make it easier to effectively monitor high-risk patients. It means that doctors can get the information they need at any time and place, and they can be alerted in an instant.

smartwatch-for-doctors

We deliberately chose a standard smartwatch so that we could see what it was capable of,” said Francesca Stradolini from EPFL. “Since we can’t send a huge amount of data to it, we use a central server that can evaluate the information and send an urgent request for a medical response to whoever is in charge of the intensive care unit.

The main advantage of this new approach, which was developed in collaboration with the Polytechnic University of Turin, is that it frees up doctors and other medical staff. They can move freely around the hospital and work on other things while keeping close tabs on their patients, thanks to the technology on their wrist.

Source: http://actu.epfl.ch/

Apple Testing Augmented Reality ‘Smart Glasses’

As part of its effort to expand further into wearable devices, Apple is working on a set of smart glasses, reports Bloomberg. Citing sources familiar with Apple‘s plans, the site says the smart glasses would connect wirelessly to the iPhone, much like the Apple Watch, and would display “images and other information” to the wearer. Apple has contacted potential suppliers about its glasses project and has ordered “small quantities” of near-eye displays, suggesting the project is in the exploratory prototyping phase of development. If work on the glasses progresses, they could be released in 2018.

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AR can be really great,” says Tim Cook, CEO of Apple in July. “We have been and continue to invest a lot in this. We’re high on AR in the long run.

Apple‘s glasses sound similar to Google Glass, the head-mounted display that Google first introduced in 2013. Google Glass used augmented reality and voice commands to allow users to do things like check the weather, make phone calls, and capture photographs. Apple‘s product could be similar in functionality. The glasses may be Apple‘s first hardware product targeted directly at AR, one of the people said. Cook has beefed up AR capabilities through acquisitions. In 2013, Apple bought PrimeSense, which developed motion-sensing technology in Microsoft Corp.’s Kinect gaming system. Purchases of software startups in the field, Metaio Inc. and Flyby Media Inc., followed in 2015 and 2016.

Google Glass was highly criticized because of privacy concerns, and as a result, it never really caught on with consumers. Google eventually stopped developing Google Glass in January of 2015. It is not clear how Apple would overcome the privacy and safety issues that Google faced, nor if the project will progress, but Apple CEO Tim Cook has expressed Apple‘s deep interest in augmented reality multiple times over the last few months, suggesting something big is in the works.

Past rumors have also indicated Apple is exploring a number of virtual and augmented reality projects, including a full VR headset. Apple has a full team dedicated to AR and VR research and how the technologies can be incorporated into future Apple products. Cook recently said that he believes augmented reality would be more useful and interesting to people than virtual reality.

Source: http://www.macrumors.com/