Augmented chloroplasts, stretchable electronics, expression recognition, rhenium disulfide, convenient stem cells, graphene IR sensors, lab-on-fibers, continuous peptide synthesis, inflation confirmation.
1. Plant Chloroplasts Augmented with Nanotubes.
The ability of plants to capture energy from light has been boosted by 30% by embedding carbon nanotubes into the plant’s chloroplasts http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2014/bionic-plants.html, while a modified nanotube allowed the plants to detect nitric oxide. This was accomplished by coating the nanotubes with charged molecules to facilitate the penetration of the plant cell wall; a solution containing the coated nanotubes was delivered to the plants via their gas-exchanging stromata. The impact on glucose production from this 30% boost is yet to be quantified, but if it leads to a comparable boost in glucose synthesis there would be a range of compelling benefits such as enhanced production of plant-based products and even faster growth of forests, grasses, and crops - massively boosting conventional yields.
2. Much Ado About Stretchable Electronics.
We had a collection of interesting developments in stretchable electronics this week. First, a functional stretchable antenna designed for wearable devices and enabled by a pattern of silver nanowires embedded in a flexible polymer http://news.ncsu.edu/releases/wms-zhu-silverantenna-2014/. Second, the first flexible carbon nanotube circuits were created with p and n-type transistors that exhibit low power consumption and immunity to electrical noise http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-03/ssoe-smf031414.php, which are critical to commercial devices being realised. Finally, we have an interesting review on the start-of-the-art in flexible, stretchable, energy storage including flexible carbon nanotube electrodes for batteries, flexible carbon nanotube supercapacitors, stretchable batteries and stretchable solar cells http://www.nanowerk.com/spotlight/spotid=34862.php.
3. Computer Vision Distinguishes Real from Fake Human Expressions.
A new computer vision and machine learning system can distinguish between real and fake facial expressions with 85% accuracy, as compared to 55% accuracy achieved by humans http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/computing/software/computer-can-spot-fake-expressions-of-pain-. Both real and fake expressions use the same facial muscles; it is the dynamics of when, how much, and how quickly the muscles move that distinguishes real from fake attempts and these are things that humans in general aren’t good at picking up on. So, might we see future Google Glass devices with face recognition, emotion recognition, real & fake expression recognition, micro-expression detection and lying detection all presented with a degree of probability? With such greater transparency in our interactions what will the impact be: more honesty between people or an arms race of subdermal implants better able to fake it?
4. Rhenium Disulfide; 2D Benefits in 3D Convenience.
A newly discovered two-dimensional semiconductor behaves electrically as if it were a two-dimensional monolayer even as a bulk three-dimensional material http://phys.org/news/2014-03-semiconductor-d-physics-electronics.html. This material is ideal because it allows both the creation of two dimensional electronic devices and the studying of two dimensional physics with easy-to-make and handle three dimensional crystals. These properties arise from the unique crystal lattice symmetry possessed by rhenium disulfide that results in weak coupling between layers. Definitely an interesting new avenue for two dimensional electronics to explore.
5. DIY Stem Cell Creation from One Drop of Blood.
A new method generates stem cells from a single drop of finger-pricked blood, enabling donors to do their own collections for analysis and producing up to 600 stem cell colonies per milliliter of blood http://www.a-star.edu.sg/Media/News/Press-Releases/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/2582.aspx. Envisaged to allow the establishment of much larger human induced pluripotent stem cell banks the group believes patients can send in their blood drop sample to the group’s facility, which can perform cellular reprogramming, DNA sequencing, and blood serotyping in a parallel process on the one tiny drop of blood. The main benefits are that this is a far less invasive and easier method to collect stem cells - I wonder if there are any DIY bio groups that might start playing with this?
6. Graphene Sensors for Full Infrared Spectrum.
The first light detector able to sense the full infrared spectrum and function at room temperature has been made out of graphene http://www.ns.umich.edu/new/releases/22042-thermal-vision-graphene-light-detector-first-to-span-infrared-spectrum. With no bulky cooling equipment the detector can be made extremely thin, and graphene can also sense visible and ultraviolet light. The key innovation was made by sandwiching an insulating layer between two layers of graphene, which massively enhanced the electrical signal the top graphene sheet was able to produce from infrared light. Thermal imaging, blood-flow, chemical detection are obvious applications. In related news a method has been found to make graphene superconducting http://phys.org/news/2014-03-team-potential-graphene-superconducting.html.
7. Diagnostic Laboratories on Optical Fibers.
Prototype lab-on-fiber technology has been developed for a while now and it finally looks like commercial devices may hit the market in the next few years http://spectrum.ieee.org/biomedical/devices/how-were-shrinking-chemical-labs-onto-optical-fibers. The basics of the technology involve etching gratings inside optical fibers for light to back-scatter from, reflecting from the surface of the fiber to which chemical sensors have been attached; the reflected optical signal will be altered by a defined amount depending on whether the target molecule has bound to the sensor, and in what amount. Current fibers can detect 2ng per liter (pinch of salt in a swimming pool) and in future should enable small, powerful, personal diagnostic devices that might even be implanted.
8 Efficient Maufacture of Peptide Drugs.
A newly developed continuous-flow system for joining amino acids together can add a new amino acid to a peptide chain every couple of minutes - compared to nearly an hour for conventional mechines http://phys.org/news/2014-03-chemists-peptide-drugs-diseases.html. An entire therapeutic peptide can be created in an hour and future refinements should cut this by half or more, in addition to opening up the possibility of exploring the applications of mirror-image peptides compared the the right-handed molecules that biology uses. An add-on system can combine these peptides into larger functional protein molecules and enzymes up to 130 aminoacids long so far; the group believes that 10 of the new machines could meet current world-wide demand for up to 500,000 custom peptides per year. In related news a team has a better way of creating “unnatural” amino acids http://phys.org/news/2014-03-team-unnatural-amino-acids.html.
9. Solvent-Cast 3D Printing.
A new “solvent-cast” 3D printing method with up to 30 micrometer resolution uses an extruded polymer solution loaded with dichloromethane (DCM); the DCM evaporates upon extrusion causing extremely rapid cooling and hardening of the polymer
http://www.3ders.org/articles/20140124-new-solvent-cast-3d-printing-technique-raise-potential-of-printing-antennas.html. This is like a far more precise and controllable 3Doodler, and allows percise 3D free-form structures such as vertical spirals to be formed without supports. Take a look at the videos embedded in the page - pretty cool demonstrations.
10. First Direct Evidence of Cosmic Inflation.
At the start of the week a major research group announced the first direct evidence for cosmic inflation, showing data representing the first images of gravitational waves and ripples in the fabric of spacetime http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/news/2014-05. This significant advance provided experimental confirmation of Big Bang inflationary theory and confirmed a deep connection between the twin pillars of physics, quantum mechanics and general relativity. The data not only provides experimental confirmation, it indicates when inflation took place and how powerful the process was.
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