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SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - Week 18 of 2012
A Top 10 selection of the scientific and technological advances that I discovered this week.

1. Implanted Sensory Prostheses Take Their Next Step
An implantable MEMS microphone has been developed that should improve upon and continue to miniaturise the standard Cochlear implant by removing any external hardware http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/biomedical/bionics/middle-ear-mems-microphone-could-restore-hearing?, meanwhile a retinal implant chip continues to do well in clinical trials http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-17936302 and has proven to partially restore vision to patients with certain types of blindness. I can’t wait for devices like these to provide better-than-normal sensory acuity.

2. Knife-Edge Scanning Microscope Brain Atlas
The aptly named Knife-Edge Scanning Microscope Brain Atlas is an automated brain-scanning machine that slices brain sections into ultra-thin slices, images them, then assembles them into a 3D atlas that can be navigated via a Google Maps API as outlined here http://research.cs.tamu.edu/bnl/kesm.html. An interesting overview article was here http://singularityhub.com/2012/05/01/new-device-automatically-slices-and-scans-brains-then-puts-them-into-a-google-map/. Just as the completion of the human genome project was enabled by advanced automated sequencing tools, the human connectome project will be driven by projects like this - advanced automated neural mapping tools.

3. Controlling Light Like Never Before
By use of a spatial light modulator, to make light interfere with itself, a team claims to be able to make light follow curved and convoluted paths like never before thought possible http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21428624.700-selfbending-light-boomerangs-could-help-surgeons.html - I can only hope that they replicate the theoretical result with real experiments. Meanwhile optical tweezers get a significant and needed improvement http://www.nist.gov/pml/div683/tweezers-050212.cfm.

4. Remote Controlled Gene Activation
Nanoparticles were linked to antibodies, which bound to specific Calcium receptors on the surface of particular cells, which had been genetically engineered; when a miniature MRI machine was switched on to magnetically heat the nanoparticles in a certain area the calcium was bought into the cells, which switched on the genes for producing insulin and so causing blood sugar levels to drop http://www.nature.com/news/remote-controlled-genes-trigger-insulin-production-1.10585. This is an interesting platform technology with good research uses and possible therapeutic applications in future. Swap the antibodies to target other receptors - possibly genetically altered ones - or swap the nanoparticles to respond to different external stimuli, or swap the gene switch to accomplish another biological effect. Lots of possibilities.

5. Autonomous Quadcopters Making 3D Environmental Maps
New autonomous quadcopters can navigate on their own - with intelligent on-board systems - and produce 3D maps of the environments that they fly over http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/industrial-robots/sfly-quadrotors-navigate-outdoors-all-by-themselves? with applications quoted as military and emergency response, for example, rapidly deploying swarms of these drones to very quickly map a large area. 3D scanning - of both environments, building interiors, and objects - is really heating up; Matterport is commercialising a hand-held 3D scanner to make a model of anything http://venturebeat.com/2012/03/27/matterport-3d-scanner/.

6. Improving Natural Cellular Delivery Systems
A naturally occurring protein, used by the body to deliver other molecules into cells, has been co-opted and bioengineered into a platform for by-passing the blood brain barrier for the delivery of desired drugs and other molecules http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0035821 including contrast imaging agents to massively enhance MRI scans.

7. NEMS for Next Generation Nanoelectronics
The development of nano-electro-mechanical-systems (NEMS) has been continuing apace with chip-based NEMS switches functioning as robust transistors for different / hybrid computational applications http://www.nature.com/nnano/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nnano.2012.40.html; benefits include low power consumption and mechanical & thermal stability. Related to NEMS are the tips on these new high-density arrays for high-throughput deposition polymer pen lithography http://www.nanoink.net/press-releases/2012/press-release-05-01-2012.html.

8. You Want More Optical Curiosities?
This week we had the announcement of (i) a very fast all-optical switch that changes in 120 picoseconds http://jqi.umd.edu/news/326-fast-low-power-all-optical-switch.html, (ii) the realisation of attosecond (10^-18) laser pulses for probing matter http://www.cleoconference.org/home/news-and-press/cleo-press-releases/attosecond-lighthouses-may-help-illuminate-the-tem/, (iii) a 10Ghz optical transistor built out of silicon http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/27808/?ref=rss, and (iv) materials engineering uncovers nanocrystals able to produce many different colours of light http://news.brown.edu/pressreleases/2012/04/nanolasers.

9. Designer Lymph Nodes and Biological Spare Parts
Researchers are building designer lymph nodes for patients in clinical trials by injecting special genetically engineered cells in a promising attempt aimed at improving the immunologic response of cancer patients http://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-04-lymph-nodes.html, while other tissue engineers are spinning extra-cellular matrix into 3D structures that can be seeded with different types of cells to create functional tissues http://www.technologyreview.com/biomedicine/40348/?ref=rss.

10. Engineering Cells and Internal Structures
Aged hematopoietic stem cells can be engineered into a functionally younger state, with important implications for aging and rejuvenation in general http://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-05-aged-hematopoietic-stem-cells-rejuvenated.html. Rejuvenation researchers are also making good progress engineering the lysosome within the cell, adding more potent enzymatic capabilities to break down waste materials that normal lysosomes cannot handle http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/rej.2011.1282, and which accumulate with age leading to pathologies.
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