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Tiny 4-Inch Wafer Holds One Million NanoRobots

Researchers have harnessed the latest nanofabrication techniques to create bug-shaped robots that are wirelessly powered, able to walk, able to survive harsh environments and tiny enough to be injected through an ordinary hypodermic needle.

When I was a kid, I remember looking in a microscope, and seeing all this crazy stuff going on. Now we’re building stuff that’s active at that size. We don’t just have to watch this world. You can actually play in it,” said Marc Miskin, who developed the nanofabrication techniques with his colleagues professors Itai Cohen and Paul McEuen and researcher Alejandro Cortese at Cornell University while Miskin was a postdoc in the laboratory for atomic and solid state physics there. In January, he became an assistant professor of electrical and systems engineering at the University of Pennsylvania.

Miskin will present his microscopic robot research on this week at the American Physical Society March Meeting in Boston. He will also participate in a press conference describing the work. Information for logging on to watch and ask questions remotely is included at the end of this news release.

Over the course of the past several years, Miskin and research colleagues developed a multistep nanofabrication technique that turns a 4-inch specialized silicon wafer into a million microscopic robots in just weeks. Each 70 micron long (about the width of a very thin human hair), the robots’ bodies are formed from a superthin rectangular skeleton of glass topped with a thin layer of silicon into which the researchers etch its electronics control components and either two or four silicon solar cells — the rudimentary equivalent of a brain and organs.

Robots are built massively in parallel using nanofabrication technology: each wafer holds 1 million machines

The really high-level explanation of how we make them is we’re taking technology developed by the semiconductor industry and using it to make tiny robots,” said Miskin.

Each of a robot’s four legs is formed from a bilayer of platinum and titanium (or alternately, graphene). The platinum is applied using atomic layer deposition. “It’s like painting with atoms,” said Miskin. The platinum-titanium layer is then cut into each robot’s four 100-atom-thick legs. “The legs are super strong,” he said. “Each robot carries a body that’s 1,000 times thicker and weighs roughly 8,000 times more than each leg.”

The researchers shine a laser on one of a robot’s solar cells to power it. This causes the platinum in the leg to expand, while the titanium remains rigid in turn, causing the limb to bend. The robot’s gait is generated because each solar cell causes the alternate contraction or relaxing of the front or back legs. The researchers first saw a robot’s leg move several days before Christmas 2017. “The leg just twitched a bit,” recalled Miskin. “But it was the first proof of concept — this is going to work!

Teams at Cornell and Pennsylvania are now at work on smart versions of the robots with on-board sensors, clocks and controllers. The current laser power source would limit the robot’s control to a fingernail-width into tissue. So Miskin is thinking about new energy sources, including ultrasound and magnetic fields, that would enable these robots to make incredible journeys in the human body for missions such as drug delivery or mapping the brain.

We found out you can inject them using a syringe and they survive — they’re still intact and functional — which is pretty cool,” he said.

Source: https://eurekalert.org/

‘Epigenetic’ Gene Tweaks Could Trigger Cancer

You could be forgiven for thinking of cancer as a genetic disease. Sure, we know it can be triggered by things you do – smoking being the classic example – but most of us probably assume that we get cancer because of a genetic mutation – a glitch in our DNA. It turns out that this is not quite the end of the story.

We now have the first direct evidence that switching off certain genes – something that can be caused by our lifestyle or the environment we live in – can trigger tumours, without mutating the DNA itself. The good news is that these changes are, in theory, reversible.

All cells contain the same DNA, but individual genes in any cell can be switched on or off by the addition or subtraction of a methyl group – a process known as epigenetic methylation.

For years, researchers have known that mutations to our DNA – either those passed on at birth or those acquired as a result of exposure to radiation, for example – can cause cancer. But epigenetic changes have also been implicated in cancer because abnormal patterns of gene methylation are seen in virtually all types of human tumours.

For example, a gene called MLH1 produces a protein that repairs DNA damage. It is often mutated in colon cancer tumours, but in some tumour samples the gene is healthy, but appears to have been silenced by methylationThe problem is that it has been difficult to test whether abnormal methylation occurs as a result of a tumour or is a cause of its growth.

In genetics you can easily delete a gene and see what the consequence is, but it’s much harder to direct methylation to specific regions of the genome,” says Lanlan Shen of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

To get round this problem, Shen and her colleagues used a naturally occurring sequence of DNA, which draws in methyl groups to methylate nearby genes. They call it their “methylation magnet”.

The team inserted this sequence next to the tumour suppressor gene, p16, in mouse embryonic stem cells. These embryos then developed into mice that carry the “methylation magnet” in all of their cells. The team focused on methylating p16 because it is abnormally methylated in numerous cancers.

They monitored the rodents for 18 months – until they reached the mouse equivalent of middle age. Over this time, 30 per cent of the mice developed tumours around their body, including in their liver, colon, lungs and spleen. None of a control group of genetically identical mice developed tumours.

Some tissues showed faster methylation than others, for example in the liver, colon and spleen, and that’s exactly where we saw the tumours grow,” says Shen. “It seems like methylation predisposed the tissue to tumour development.” She reckons that methylation silences p16, which lifts the break that it normally places on any abnormal cell division.

Source: https://www.newscientist.com/

Self-Sterilizing Microneedles

Vaccinations are the world’s frontline defence against infectious diseases yet despite decades of interventions, unsafe injection practices continue to expose billions of people to serious infection and disease.

Now, new technology from the University of South Australia is revolutionising safe vaccination practices through antibacterial, silver-loaded dissolvable microneedle patches, which not only sterilise the injection site to inhibit the growth of bacteria, but also physically dissolve after administration.

These first generation microneedles have the potential to transform the safe administration of transdermal vaccinations and drug delivery”, explains Lead researcher, Professor Krasimir Vasilev .

Injections are one of the most common health care procedures used for vaccinations and curative care around the world,” Prof Vasilev adds. “But up to 40 per cent of injections are given with improperly sterilised syringes and needles, placing millions of people at risk of contracting a range of illnesses or diseases. “Our silver-loaded microneedles have inherently potent antibacterial properties which inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria and reduce the chance of infection.”

The UniSA study tested the antibacterial efficacy of silver-loaded microneedles against bacteria associated with common skin infections – Golden staph, staphylococcus epidermis, escherichia coli and pseudomonas aeruginosa – and found that the silver-loaded microneedle patches created a 24-hour bacteria-free zone around the patch administration site, a feature unique to the new technology.

The silver-loaded microneedles comprise an array of 15 x 15 needles each 700 micron in length, which pierce only the top layer of the skin without reaching the underlying nerves, making them 100 per cent painless.

The microneedles are made from a safe, biocompatible and highly water-soluble polymer that completely dissolve within one minute of application, leaving behind no sharp waste.

Source: http://www.unisa.edu.au/

New Quantum Sensor Improves Cancer Treatment

A new quantum sensor developed by researchers at the University of Waterloo’s Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) in Canada, has proven it can outperform existing technologies and promises significant advancements in long-range 3D imaging and monitoring the success of cancer treatments.

The sensors are the first of their kind and are based on semiconductor nanowires that can detect single particles of light with high timing resolution, speed and efficiency over an unparalled wavelength range, from ultraviolet to near-infrared.

The technology also has the ability to significantly improve quantum communication and remote sensing capabilities.

Interaction of single incident photon pulses and a tapered semiconductor nanowire array photodetector

A sensor needs to be very efficient at detecting light. In applications like quantum radar, surveillance, and nighttime operation, very few particles of light return to the device,” said principal investigator Michael Reimer, an IQC faculty member and assistant professor in the Faculty of Engineering’s electrical and computer engineering department. “In these cases, you want to be able to detect every single photon coming in.

The next generation quantum sensor designed in Reimer’s lab is so fast and efficient that it can absorb and detect a single particle of light, called a photon, and refresh for the next one within nanoseconds. The researchers created an array of tapered nanowires that turn incoming photons into electric current that can be amplified and detected.

Remote sensing, high-speed imaging from space, acquiring long range high resolution 3D images, quantum communication, and singlet oxygen detection for dose monitoring in cancer treatment are all applications that could benefit from the kind of robust single photon detection that this new quantum sensor provides.

The semiconducting nanowire array achieves its high speed, timing resolution and efficiency thanks to the quality of its materials, the number of nanowires, doping profile and the optimization of the nanowire shape and arrangement. The sensor detects a broad spectrum of light with high efficiency and high timing resolution, all while operating at room temperature. Reimer emphasizes that the spectrum absorption can be broadened even further with different materials.

This device uses Indium Phosphide (InP) nanowires. Changing the material to Indium Gallium Arsenide (InGaAs), for example, can extend the bandwidth even further towards telecommunications wavelengths while maintaining performance,” Reimer said. “It’s state of the art now, with the potential for further enhancements.”

Once the prototype is packaged with the right electronics and portable cooling, the sensor is ready for testing beyond the lab.  “A broad range of industries and research fields will benefit from a quantum sensor with these capabilities,” said Reimer.

Source: https://uwaterloo.ca/

The Vatican’s Swiss Guards Are Now Using 3D Printed Helmets

For hundreds of years, the Swiss Guard have worn a distinctive, brightly-colored dress uniform while protecting the Pope and Vatican City, with only a couple of minor changes over the years. This year, they’re making a big change: the traditional, metal helmet — called a morion — is being replaced with ones that are 3D printed.


The uniforms and equipment of the Swiss Guard are imbued with tradition. The modern uniform was introduced in 1914, inspired by Renaissance-era artwork featuring the soldiers. Over the years, the Vatican has retained the traditional elements of the uniform, employing blacksmiths to provide replacement parts for their armor. Last year, the Swiss Guard announced that it ould replace the iconic helmet with one made out of PA-12, which were lighter and cheaper than their metal predecessors. This isn’t a trivial thing — as the soldiers spend a lot of time outdoors in the sun, the helmets would become uncomfortably hot, to the point where they would get burned.
The first batch of 98 of the new helmets (120 were ordered in all) were delivered to the Vatican on January 22nd, on the 513th anniversary of the founding of the Guard. Those new helmets were designed using scans of helmets from the 16th century, and are printed in just 14 hours using an HP 3D printer, as opposed to the older metal ones, which took nearly 130 hours to manufacture. The new morions also considerably lighter (weighting in at 570 grams; the ones they are replacing weighed 2 kilograms), are UV resistant, and incorporate ventilation slots to keep the soldiers’ heads cooler. There’s also no tradeoff on security for the soldiers, according to Swiss Guard spokesman Sergeant Urs Breitenmoser, because they’re used for ceremonial purposes such as papal masses and state visits.

Source: https://www.theverge.com/

New Perovskite Solar Cells Increase Efficiency By 17%

Researchers have layered different mineral forms of titanium oxide on top of one another to improve perovskite-type solar cell efficiency by one-sixth. The layered titanium oxide layer was better able to transport electrons from the center of the cell to its electrodes. This novel approach could be used to fabricate even more efficient perovskite-type solar cells in future. While most solar cells are made of silicon, such cells are difficult to manufacture, requiring vacuum chambers and temperatures above 1000 °C. Research efforts have therefore recently focused on a new type of solar cell, based on metal halide perovskites. Perovskite solutions can be inexpensively printed to create more efficient, inexpensive solar cells.

In solar cells perovskites can turn light into electricity—but they have to be sandwiched between a negative and positive electrode. One of these electrodes has to be transparent, however, to allow the sun’s light to reach the perovskites. Not only that, any other materials used to help charges flow from the perovskites to the electrode must also be transparent. Researchers have previously found that thin layers of titanium oxide are both transparent and able to transport electrons to the electrode.

Now, a Japan-based research team centered at Kanazawa University has carried out a more detailed study into perovskite solar cells using electron transport layers made of anatase and brookite, which are different mineral forms of titanium oxide. They compared the impact of using either pure anatase or brookite or combination layers (anatase on top of brookite or brookite on top of anatase). The anatase layers were fabricated by spraying solutions onto glass coated with a transparent electrode that was heated to 450 °C. Meanwhile, the researchers used water-soluble brookite nanoparticles to create the brookite layers, as water-soluble inks are more environmentally friendly than conventional inks. These nanoparticles have been yielded poor results in the past; however, the team predicted that combination layers would solve the issues previously encountered when using the nanoparticles.

By layering brookite on top of anatase we were able to improve solar cell efficiency by up to 16.82%,” study coauthor Koji Tomita says.

These results open up a new way to optimize perovskite solar cells, namely via the controlled stacking and manipulation of the different mineral forms of titanium oxide.

The team’s study was recently published in the ACS journal Nano Letters.

Source: https://www.kanazawa-u.ac.jp/

How To Hide Hot Objects From Infrared Detection

Hiding an object from heat-sensing cameras could be useful for military and technology applications as well as for research. Efforts to develop such a method have been underway for decades with varying degrees of success. Now, researchers report in ACS Nano that they have fabricated an inexpensive, easy-to-produce film that makes objects completely invisible to infrared detectors.

Several prior systems have been developed to mask the difference in temperature between an object and its surroundings. But each of these alternatives has weaknesses, such as difficulty in making the devices, the need for a power supply, the use of rigid materials or the addition of thick and heavy thermal blankets that can lead to heat buildup. Xuetong Zhang and colleagues wanted to find a better way.

A new, flexible infrared stealth cloak is made of a porous film of Kevlar nanofibers impregnated with polyethylene glycol.

The researchers fabricated an aerogel film made of DuPont™ Kevlar® fibers. By itself, the aerogel turned out to be a good thermal insulator, but the researchers enhanced its capabilities by coating its fibers with polyethylene glycol (PEG) and a protective waterproof layer. PEG stores heat when it melts and releases heat when it solidifies. In simulated sunlight, the composite film covering an object soaked up heat from the sun while only slowly increasing in temperature, just like the surroundings, making the object invisible to a thermal camera.

When the light was turned off to simulate night, the coating gradually surrendered its stored heat energy to match the surroundings. Without the coating, the object heated up or cooled off much faster than its environment, making it visible. In a second type of application, a combined structure consisting of aerogel films and the PEG composite film could hide hot targets from a thermal camera. The researchers say their film performs comparably to other stealth films but is simpler and cheaper to make.

Source: https://www.eurekalert.org/
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https://cen.acs.org/

Driven by a Desire to Build Smarter Robots

Founded in 2015, CloudMinds’ unique Cloud Robot Service Platform consists of Human Augmented Robotics Intelligence with Extreme Reality (HARIX), Secure virtual backbone network (VBN over 4G/5G), and Robot Control Unit (RCU). HARIX is a highly scalablecloud brain” that can operate millions of cloud robots of different types and service roles. HARIX features a highly efficient multi-media switching engine, a MMO gaming engine, and a powerful AI Cloud that seamlessly integrates best-of-breed AI technologies developed by CloudMinds and others, such as face and object recognition, voice recognition and NLP, navigation, and motion control (vision controlled robotic grasping and move) as well as third party AI services. With a broad ecosystem of partners,

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CloudMindscloud robotic services are empowering customer engagements in retail, hospitality, real estate, smart city and a wide range of vertical applications.

How to make robots marter? CoudMinds is connecting robots and devices over secure Virtual Backbone Networks (VBN) to Cloud AI. The Human Augmented Robotics Intelligence with Extreme Reality (HARIX) platform is an ever evolving “cloud brain”. It is capable of operating millions of cloud robots performing different tasks. It also empowers robots and devices with Cloud AI capabilities such as Natural Language Processing (NLP), Computer Vision (CV), navigation, and vision-controlled manipulation.

For sure in the vision of CloudMinds initiators, by 2025 helpful humanoid robots will be affordable for the average household.

Source: https://www.en.cloudminds.com/

Have China’s CRISPR Twins Enhanced Brains?

New research suggests that a controversial gene-editing experiment to make children resistant to HIV may also have enhanced their ability to learn and form memories. The twins, called Lulu and Nana, reportedly had their genes modified before birth by a Chinese scientific team using the new editing tool CRISPR. The goal was to make the girls immune to infection by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Now, new research shows that the same alteration introduced into the girls’ DNA, deletion of a gene called CCR5, not only makes mice smarter but also improves human brain recovery after stroke, and could be linked to greater success in school.

The answer is likely yes, it did affect their brains,” says Alcino J. Silva, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, whose lab uncovered a major new role for the CCR5 gene in memory and the brain’s ability to form new connections.

“The simplest interpretation is that those mutations will probably have an impact on cognitive function in the twins,” says Silva. He says the exact effect on the girls’ cognition is impossible to predict, and “that is why it should not be done.”

The Chinese team, led by He Jiankui of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, claimed it used CRISPR to delete CCR5 from human embryos, some of which were later used to create pregnanciesHIV requires the CCR5 gene to enter human blood cells.

The experiment has been widely condemned as irresponsible, and He is under investigation in China. News of the first gene-edited babies also inflamed speculation about whether CRISPR technology could one day be used to create super-intelligent humans, perhaps as part of a biotechnology race between the US and China.

There is no evidence that He actually set out to modify the twins’ intelligence. MIT Technology Review contacted scientists studying the effects of CCR5 on cognition, and they say the Chinese scientist never reached out to them, as he did to others from whom he hoped to get scientific advice or support.
As far as I know, we never heard from him,” says Miou Zhou, a professor at the Western University of Health Sciences in California.

Although He never consulted the brain researchers, the Chinese scientist was certainly aware of the link between CCR5 and cognition.  It was first shown in 2016 by Zhou and Silva, who found that removing the gene from mice significantly improved their memory. The team had looked at more than 140 different genetic alterations to find which made mice smarter.

Source: https://www.technologyreview.com/

Sharpen Molecular Scissors And Expand The Gene Editing Toolbox

Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) scientists have figured out a better way to deliver a DNA editing tool to shorten the presence of the editor proteins in the cells in what they describe as a “hit and run” approach.

CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) technology is used to alter DNA sequences and modify gene function. CRISPR/Cas9 is an enzyme that is used like a pair of scissors to cut two strands of DNA at a specific location to add, remove or repair bits of DNA. But CRISPR/Cas9 is not 100 percent accurate and could potentially cut unexpected locations, causing unwanted results.

One of the major challenges of CRISPR/Cas9 mRNA technologies is the possibility of off-targets which may cause tumors or mutations,” said Baisong Lu, Ph.D, assistant professor of regenerative medicine at WFIRM and one of the lead authors of the paper. Although other types of lentivirus-like bionanoparticles (LVLPs) have been described for delivering proteins or mRNAs, Lu said, “the LVLP we developed has unique features which will make it a useful tool in the expanding genome editing toolbox.

To address the inaccuracy issue, WFIRM researchers asked the question: Is there a way to efficiently deliver Cas9 activity but achieve transient expression of genome editing proteins? They tested various strategies and then took the best properties of two widely used delivery vehicles – lentivirus vector and nanoparticles – and combined them, creating a system that efficiently packages Cas9 mRNA into LVLPs, enabling transient expression and highly efficient editing.

Lentiviral vector is a widely used gene delivery vehicle in research labs and is already widely used for delivering the CRISPR/Cas9 mRNA technology for efficient genome editing. Nanoparticles are also being used but they are not as efficient in delivery of CRISPR/Cas9.

By combining the transient expression feature of nanoparticle-delivery strategies while retaining the transduction efficiency of lentiviral vectors, we have created a system that may be used for packaging various editor protein mRNA for genome editing in a ‘hit and run’ manner,” said Anthony Atala, M.D., director of WFIRM and co-lead author of the paper. “This system will not only improve safety but also avoid possible immune response to the editor proteins, which could improve in vivo gene editing efficiency which will be useful in research and clinical applications.

The WFIRM team published its findings in a paper published recently in the journal  Nucleic Acids Research.

Source: https://school.wakehealth.edu/