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SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest, 12/14.
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. 

If you'd like notifications of these weekly Digests then just grab the SciTech Digest page here: https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/105994073381308284341/+ScitechdigestNet/posts

+ScienceSunday, with your hosts +Buddhini Samarasinghe, +Rajini Rao, +Chad Haney, +Allison Sekuler, and +Robby Bowles!

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SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest, 10/14.
Human longevity companies, reprogramming neurons, self-assembling nanotubes, electron gases, boosting healthspan, better optical tweezers, gene editing HIV, multiferroics, weaponised drones.

1. Private Longevity Initiatives: Big Data & Big Genomics.
Craig Venter announced the launch of his latest venture, Human Longevity Inc., to increase human lifespan and healthspan http://www.businessweek.com/news/2014-03-04/craig-venter-starts-dna-scanning-company-to-boost-longevity. Human Longevity is aiming to make 100 years old the new 60 (and 50 the new 30?) and will build the world’s largest human genome sequencing facility; the company hopes to sequence the DNA of 100,000 people per year and will promote healthy aging using genomics and stem cell therapies. More here: http://www.humanlongevity.com/. In Silico Medicine Inc. also launched this week with similiar goals http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/03/prweb11644588.htm, aiming to exploit big data approaches to gene expression analysis and young vs old comparisons to design therapeutics that alter gene networks to shift towards younger states. More here: http://www.insilicomedicine.com/#!/. These two join Calico as a group of big, well-funded efforts to tackle human lifespan and healthspan. 

2. Reprogramming Astrocytes to Generate Neurons.
In recent work astrocyte cells were reprogrammed / turned into functional neurons that formed networks in mice; scar-forming astrocytes in the spinal cords of adult mice were also turned into neurons http://www.utsouthwestern.edu/newsroom/news-releases/year-2014/feb/stemcells-zhang.html. This in vivo cellular reprogramming was accomplished via a simple two step process of (i) introducing a specific transcription factor into the area of interest and (ii) administering a drug - valproic acid - to encourage neuron survival. Such an intervention might finally repair broken spinal cords and nerves. No tumours were observed but the change did take 12 weeks to finish; further work hopes to increase the number and rate of neuron formation. 

3. Nanotube Scaffolds with Peptides and Carbon Nanotubes.
Cyclic peptides have been engineered to self-assemble via hydrogen bonding into with stacked tubular nanotubes whose diameter and functionalisation can be completely controlled; functionalising with a suitable peptide linker molecule results in carbon nanotubes binding to the linker in whatever orientation the cyclic peptides have adopted http://www.nanowerk.com/nanotechnology_news/newsid=34581.php. I like such complementary self-assembly approaches because I can imagine a suitably patterned surface onto which the cyclic peptides bind in a controlled manner - the subsequent binding of the carbon nanotubes produces an identical pattern of nanotubes whose conduction and other properties can be used. 

4. Manipulating Exotic Matter: Electron Gases.
The material strontium titanate has been engineered to create an electron gas just below the surface http://www.tuwien.ac.at/en/news/news_detail/article/8663/. Irradiating the surface of the material with intense electromagnetic radiation causes oxygen atoms to be removed from the surface, which causes oxygen atoms within the bulk of the material to migrate to the surface, building up an oxygen deficiency and a surplus of electrons. The electrons form a two-dimensional freely-moving “gas” close to the surface - the first time a stable, durable electron gas has been possible. The properties of the gas can be finely tuned and controlled and future work will explore magnetic, superconducting, and other phenomena. 

5. Boosting Health- & Lifespan by 8.8%
Recent animal trials with a compound that activates the sirtuin1 protein in cells was found to increase average lifespan by 8.8% http://www.cell.com/cell-reports/retrieve/pii/S2211124714000655. The animals were fed a standard diet supplemented with the drug and benefited from (i) extension of mean lifespan, (ii) improvement to healthspan, (iii) reduction in risk factors for metabolic diseases, and (iv) anti-inflammatory benefits in tissues. Sirtuin1 research has been a little controversial over the last few years, announcing big promises and then encountering a few failures; hopefully this latest promising effort results in more substantial benefits for humans. While the small molecule is nice I wonder how long until more targeted approaches such as CRISPR are used to activate sirtuin1?

6. Optical Tweezers get a Boost in Capabilities.
The latest developments in optical tweezers seeks to address problems of particle size, three dimensional manipulation, and particle overheating http://gizmodo.com/worlds-tiniest-tweezers-grab-nanoparticles-using-nothi-1536205601. The latest optical nano-tweezer is able to manipulate particles down to just 50nm in size, can accurately in three dimensions across several micrometers, and does not overheat the particle. The device accomplishes this via a novel metal-coated optical fiber architecture that is able to focus light to induce stable particle capture. 

7. Clinically Proving the Effectiveness of Gene Editing Versus HIV.
A recent clinical trial demonstrated that editing the genes of T-Cells with zinc-finger nuclease (ZFN) enzymes was a safe and effective treatment against HIV http://www.nature.com/news/gene-editing-method-tackles-hiv-in-first-clinical-test-1.14813. ZFNs targeting the CCR5 gene was added to blood taken from HIV patients, which successfully disabled the gene in 25% of cells; when added back to the patient HIV killed untreated cells and allowed the population of cells resistant to HIV to expand. Pretty exciting, especially considering that now this method has been clinically proven to be safe we can expect similar methods to be applied to other patients in need of genetic tweaks to regain health. The newer CRISPR method would also seem to be applicable in this case. 

8. Computing with Multiferroics and Electron Spin Waves.
New magnetic multiferroic materials have been formed into a functional prototype chip that use alternating voltages to send cascading spin waves along the material rather than the electrons themselves http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/ucla-engineering-team-increases-267293.aspx. Think of a travelling water wave in which the water molecules are approximately stationary; these are “waves” of uniform electron spin in which the electrons are stationary. This is a promising form of computing because the phenomenon does away with most of the issues of heat and power requirements of conventional chips: faster and much more energy efficient computing could result. 

9. Weaponised Semi-Autonomous Drone Hexacopter.
CUPID is a new semi-autonomous hexacopter drone system equipped with surveillance hardware, object recognition, targeting unit, and an 80,000 volt taser http://www.theverge.com/2014/3/8/5483774/the-cupid-drone-strikes-with-80000-volts-to-the-chest. An example use case is (i) set the drone to monitor a particular area, (ii) trespasser enters area and drone flies close to issue a warning via speaker, (iii) trespasser ignores drone and continues or attacks drone, (iv) drone activates targeting laser and shoots trespasser with the taser, disabling person and all electronics within 5 feet due to EMP burst, (iv) drone calls for assistance. At this stage CUPID is more for demonstration purposes but the possibilities are clear. And if the trespasser damages one or more of the drone rotors then software like this http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/aerial-robots/every-quadrotor-needs-this-amazing-failsafe-software will keep it flying. 

10. The Benefits of Fleets of Small Satellites.
Planet Labs is a company that builds small breadbox-sized satellites designed to image the Earth, and recently launched and deployed a fleet of 28 such satellites to orbit the Earth http://singularityhub.com/2014/03/02/fleet-of-toaster-sized-satellites-will-orbit-earth-provide-near-real-time-surveillance/. The average age of images in Google Earth is 36 months; Planet Earth’s system can cheaply cut this down to 3 months and provide, for the first time, a single homogenous view of what is happening on Earth. It seems that continuing advances in miniaturisation are making space ever-more accessible for remote satellites - this is just one of a large number of projects launching cheap satellites into space - and applications like these are sure to expand. 

An archive of the SciTech Digests can also be found here: http://www.scitechdigest.net 

+ScienceSunday, with your hosts +Buddhini Samarasinghe, +Rajini Rao, +Chad Haney, +Robby Bowles, and +Allison Sekuler 

+STEM on Google+ Community 
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A book that is, no doubt, full of prescient observations of the near and present future.
 
I'm sorry.

I have been so engrossed with Hackbright stuff that I neglected to remind you all that +Daniel Suarez's Influx became available for purchase (In hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats) on Thursday.

For those who have forgotten who Dan is, first, I'm judging you and second, he is the author of the excellent novels Daemon, Freedom, and Kill Decision.

Influx is just as good as his prior works AND the rights have been purchased by 20th Century Fox. Now you too can be a hipster who reads the book before seeing the movie.

I'll wait a week or so before posting about specific plot points and ideas so I don't spoil things too much.
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SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest, 07/14.
Click-linked DNA, internal cochlear device, nanocrystalline sheets, insect robots, red-blue optogenetics, LIDAR chips, restoring senescent cells, white matter map, fusion unity.

1. Transcriptional Viability for Click-Linked DNA.
For the first time a synthetic DNA linker backbone has been demonstrated as functional in a living eukaryotic cell http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/anie.201308691/full. A new synthetic click-chemistry reaction process able to create arbitrary DNA sequences cheaper, quicker, and easier than standard enzymatic DNA assembly approaches actually replaces the natural backbone with a triazole molecule. This advances the goal of total chemical synthesis and assembly of genes and genomes. The functional nature of the DNA sequences produced was demonstrated by splicing into a eukaryotic cell, from which error-free transcribed mRNA was observed, as well as the fluorescent protein that the sequence encoded. Cellular machinery therefore tolerates the non-natural DNA, but I still wonder about transcriptional efficiency comparisons with natural DNA. Yet another big advance for fundamental biotechnology tools, making DNA synthesis cheaper and easier. 

2. Fully Internal Cochlear Implants Now Possible.
Future cochlear implants will probably not need any visible external hardware at all. This is thanks to a new low power signal processing chip that can be wireless recharged and which uses the natural microphone of the middle ear http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2014/cochlear-implants-with-no-exterior-hardware-0209.html. Originally developed to assist patients with middle-ear hearing loss in which the middle-ear bones do not vibrate strongly enough to activate the auditory nerve, the same design should provide low-power, fully-internal benefits to other hearing aid devices such as cochlear implants. 

3. Self-Assembling Two-Dimensional Nanocrystalline Sheets.
New theoretical work shows how cadmium selenide (CdSe) semiconducting nanocrystals should self-assemble via facet-specific attachment into two-dimensional honeycomb lattice sheets http://prx.aps.org/pdf/PRX/v4/i1/e011010, colloquially referred to by the popular press as “artificial graphene”. The excitement around the work stems from the wide-ranging possibilities that such a platform enables, with tantalising results indicating topological insulator, conductor, and semiconductor regions in the same system. All properties can be tailored by altering the materials and nanogeometry. All they need to do now is reduce to practice and create a real physical system. 

4. Early Insect-Like Robots.
Researchers claim to have developed a robot that uses the nervous system of honeybees as a model to operate, mimicking the neural network that connects sensory input to motor output http://www.fu-berlin.de/en/presse/informationen/fup/2014/fup_14_040-roboter-insekten-fortbewegung/index.html. This is the first time that robots have been conditioned in in a one-shot learning experiment via spiking neural networks. In related work self-organising robots inspired by termite colonies demonstrate swarm-like intelligence in building complex structures out of modular building blocks http://www.seas.harvard.edu/news/2014/02/robotic-construction-crew-needs-no-foreman, and new algorithms enable herding collaborative fleets of robots http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2014/herding-robots-0212.html

5. Growing Sophistication for Optogenetic Tools.
Optogenetics, the practice of inserting genes for membrane-bound light-sensitive proteins into neurons so that they can be controlled with light has been given a boost with the discovery of a range of new opsin proteins that are sensitive to either red or blue light, and which allow complex control of two populations of neurons at once http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2014/optogenetic-toolkit-goes-multicolor-0209.html. The discovery of these natural opsins was fortuitous given that various groups had tried to engineer modified opsins to achieve this ability but failed due to structural trade-offs. These new tools allow studies, investigations, and interventions into neuronal circuits that were not possible before. 

6. Sequencing the DNA of IVF Embryos.
Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis takes a big step forward with high-throughput DNA sequencing of embryos during in vitro fertilization http://www.technologyreview.com/news/524396/dna-sequencing-of-ivf-embryos/. This first trial will be concentrating on chromosomal abnormalities, which is the most common cause of IVF failure, but it will also be assessing the feasibility of using the method to screen for genetic diseases known to affect a family. This and other methods are expected to significantly improve the efficiency and cost of IVF procedures generally; I suspect it won’t be much longer before we see similar research using CRISPR and other methods to make genomic corrections for embryos. 

7. Advanced 3D LIDAR Chip.
New single-photon infrared detectors power the most advanced LIDAR (light detection and ranging) 3D imaging system ever produced http://www.technologyreview.com/news/524166/the-worlds-most-powerful-3-d-laser-imager/. The new chip plus optics allow high altitude aerial 3D mapping of land and building features to high resolution much quicker than prior systems, potentially creating in minutes 3D maps that used to take days of flight. Another promising application is for cars, such as self-driving cars, that make use of LIDAR systems as part of their environmental awareness and real-time navigation processes; quicker, cheaper, better sensors would be a boon here. 

8. Senescent Cells - Harm & Reversal.
Old, defective, and non-productive senescent cells accumulate with age and contribute to a range of age-related diseases. One recent example of this is the demonstration that the accumulation of senescent cells directly leads to a decline in the ability of the kidney to repair damage and regenerate internal structures http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0088071, something that youthful kidneys are able to do. There are many avenues being explored to reverse cellular senescence, and one recent example simply involved the silencing of one particular gene (p16INK4a) in senescent muscle stem cells, which resulted in the restoration of regenerative function in aged muscles https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2014/02/silencing-p16-to-reverse-senescence-in-old-muscle-stem-cells.php. Note gene silencing via RNA interference also got easier recently http://phys.org/news/2014-02-rna-nature-nanoparticles-best-ever-gene.html

9. Human Brain White Matter Connections Mapped.
The first map of core white matter connections in the human brain has been created, showing that not all brain connections are equally important http://pressroom.usc.edu/how-our-brain-networks-research-reveals-white-matter-scaffold-of-human-brain/. White matter - generally glial cells and myelinated axons - act as crucial relay and communications infrastructure between different brain regions. Such a map helps advise and inform on the likely impact of brain injuries and brain diseases depending on the location of damage in the patient’s brain, and may also be useful and relevant to ongoing brain mapping efforts. 

10. Surpassing Unity - A Nuclear Fusion Milestone.
The National Ignition Facility has achieved an order-of-magnitude performance improvement in fusion yield over past experiments and, for the first time, surpassed a fuel-gain greater than unity in which the nuclear fusion energy released was greater than the energy used to trigger fusion https://www.llnl.gov/news/aroundthelab/2014/Feb/NR-14-02-06.html#.UwCzwfmSznQ. Surpassing unity is a key milestone on the path towards ignition and a controllable nuclear fusion source of energy. The key innovation was novel shaping of the laser pulse that triggers fusion in the deuterium-tritium implosion, and a harnessing of alpha-particle feedback to accelerate the burn and “run away” to ignition.

An archive of the SciTech Digests can also be found here: http://www.scitechdigest.net 

+ScienceSunday, with your hosts +Buddhini Samarasinghe, +Rajini Rao, +Chad Haney, +Robby Bowles, and +Allison Sekuler 

+STEM on Google+ Community 
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SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest, 11/14.
Bioscilloscope, atom etching, huge DNA origami, graphene cages, tungsten diselenide, tiny sensors, acoustic cloak, controlling cell movement.

1. Bioscilloscope for Genetic Circuit Analysis.
The invention of a new system combines certain genes and hardware to further digitise synthetic biology and the analysis of genetic circuits .http://news.rice.edu/2014/03/09/rice-synthetic-biologists-shine-light-on-genetic-circuit-analysis/. The biological analogue to electronic voltages is genes being turned on and off and this new method is an ultra-precise way to measure gene expression in bacteria by combining light-sensing proteins, an array of LED lights, and standard fluorescent reporter genes - basically a biological function generator and oscilloscope. Genetic circuits receive inputs and produce outputs, and by linking them together you can build complex functions such as counting, memory, growth, and sensing; the group found a 7 minute delay for gene expression. This helps bring mathematical predictability and cut-and-paste simplicity to genetic circuit design. 

2. Removing Atoms from a Diamond Surface via Laser-Etching.
A new two-photon ultraviolet laser system allows targeted etching of diamond surfaces at 20nm resolution and with further refinements is hoped to ultimately enable the removal of single carbon atoms from diamond surfaces http://mq.edu.au/newsroom/2014/03/05/the-power-of-light-super-resolution-laser-machining-possible/. The new technique avoids the heat problems that prevented similar methods from achieving the same effect, and can form ultra-deep subwavelength structures and patterns on polished diamond surfaces. Should be useful for forming waveguides and other optical gratings for a range of applications, although this also makes me think of techniques for diamondoid synthesis too. 

3. Largest DNA Origami Structures Created.
Some of the largest ever self-assembled molecular structures have been created out of DNA http://phys.org/news/2014-03-self-assembling-nanocages-largest-standalone-d.html. These self-assembled DNA Origami cages are one-tenth as wide as a bacterial cell, and were formed from tripod DNA Origami building blocks (400 times larger than the group’s DNA bricks) whose legs they stabilised with DNA struts for extra strength, and which they programmed to self-assemble into large polyhedral cages such as tetrahedra and hexagonal prisms. The structures were imaged with “DNA-PAINT”, a technique that attaches fluorescent tags to DNA strands that (in this case) bound to complementary strands on the corners of the cages. Such scaffolds might in future be functionalised to house sensors, biofactories, energy storage, etc.

4. Programmable Folding Graphene Nanocages.
On the topic of self-assembling origami nanocages, a new technique called hydrogenation-assisted graphene origami takes a flat graphene pattern and folds it into a three dimensional structure depending on an electric field http://www.nanowerk.com/nanotechnology_news/newsid=34732.php. Folds occur where lines or edges have been hydrogenated; the proof-of-concept folds into a tiny cage-like cube with overlapping graphene faces, and partially unfolds when an external magnetic field is applied. The group quote hydrogen storage in the cages of 9.5% by weight and hope to extend this. But I’d love to see this work extended to create arbitrarily complex graphene solids - blocks that could be covalently joined together. 

5. Tungsten Diselenide Pushes 2D Materials Forward.
A few layers of two-dimensional tungsten diselenide sheets has been demonstrated to function as a powerful new optoelectronic material, enabling the construction of photodetectors, photovoltaic cells, and LEDs http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2014/two-dimensional-material-shows-promise-for-optoelectronics-0310.html. The main promise with this material is that its bandgap can be controllably engineered simply bringing the film close to a metal electrode and tuning the voltage from positive to negative. Such bandgap engineering is expected to make it possible to make LEDs that produce any desired colour and also allow the team to build on the prototype transistors that they have tested. 

6. Genetic Algorithms Help Find Software Bugs.
A new software testing methodology employs genetic algorithms to mutate and evolve input data in order to search for an find bugs in a wide range of software http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/at-work/test-and-measurement/fighting-buggy-code-with-genetic-algorithms. The approach successfully uncovers more than twice the bugs that conventional random-test-input techniques are able to uncover, and also achieves greater coverage. This is a nice example of an automated productivity-boosting tool to help programmers accelerate software development and cut down on the up to 25% of their time that is spent debugging, and its utility has been demonstrated across a wide range of software including web applications, smart phone apps, java apps, and even automotive sensor applications. 

7. Terahertz Metamaterial Optical Switches.
Nanoparticles of vanadium oxide 200nm in size deposited on a glass surface and coated with much smaller gold nanoparticles have been shown to function as optical switches capable of flipping in a few trillionths of a second http://spectrum.ieee.org/nanoclast/semiconductors/optoelectronics/nanoscale-ultrafast-optical-switch-could-revolutionize-electronics. Brief flashes of laser light strike the gold nanoparticles and cause “hot” electrons to jump to the vanadium oxide, causing the material to undergo a phase change from an opaque metallic state to a transparent semiconducting state; this method is five times as efficient at triggering the change as laser light alone. Chalk this up to another interesting possibility for optical computing, but still a way to go for fully functional devices. 

8. Progressively Tiny Sensors to Explore the Body.
A new ultrasound imaging sensor fits on a chip just 1.5mm across and, connected to a catheter, is designed to travel through arteries provide real-time imaging of blockages and other damage to a surgical team http://singularityhub.com/2014/03/13/tiny-ultrasonic-device-to-travel-arteries-and-image-coronary-blockages/. Joining the medical sensor miniaturisation trend this week is an even tinier pressure sensor designed to be injected into a patient’s bladder and send pressure information regarding bladder function; future versions should be completely wireless http://www.gizmag.com/bladder-pressure-sensor-sintef/31153/. I wonder what other uses these sensors might be put towards in the body, such as miniature pulse detectors? 

9. Three Dimensional Acoustic Cloaking Device.
The world’s first three dimensional acoustic cloak has been demonstrated http://www.pratt.duke.edu/news/acoustic-cloaking-device-hides-objects-sound. The device is able to reroute sound waves to create the impression that the cloak and anything enclosed by it is not there, regardless of the direction of the sound or the location of the observer. Like with all metamaterials the waves are travelling a shorter path and so must be slowed by the right amount to compensate. Possible applications include concert venues and other auditory uses that benefit from hiding structural features, as well as possible submarine applications for sonar cloaking. Might be fun to get dolphins or bats to play with these devices, perhaps sound cancelling headphones, acoustic insulation, and I wonder if the design insights gleaned have anything to benefit optical cloaks. 

10. Controlling Cell Movement with Electric Fields.
A new technique demonstrates control of single layers of epithelial cells; simply by applying a small electric current the sheet of cells can be induced to move and turn in any direction http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2014/03/11/herding-cells-new-approach-to-tissue-engineering/. The mass can be split, moved, recombined, and moved again depending on the direction of the current. The team quotes possible wound healing applications - accelerating wound healing by inducing the migration of epithelial cells - but I think the technique could be useful in forcing a layer of epithelial cells to completely coat and colonise the surface of channels in a microfluidic chip or the scaffold blood vessels in an artificial organ. 

The weekly SciTech Digests are also available as a Google Newsstand Edition here: 
https://www.google.com/producer/editions/CAow4-hB/scitech_digest 

+ScienceSunday, with your hosts +Buddhini Samarasinghe, +Rajini Rao, +Chad Haney, +Allison Sekuler, and +Robby Bowles!

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I love to see effective processes from one field follow the data into another. 
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SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest, 08/14.
MinION, CRISPR protein, synthetic muscles, atomtronic memory, tissue printing, wireless broadband, optogenetic pain, graphene filters.

1. MinION: A Miniature USB Device for DNA Sequencing and Sensing.
After making some bold claims a couple of years ago Oxford Nanopore has finally delivered a functional prototype nanopore device for customer review https://www.nanoporetech.com/. The miniature device plugs into a computer via USB and upon pipetting a solution of interest into the activity well the device spreads the fluid over a nanopore-embedded chip that can (i) directly sequence DNA, (ii) directly sequence RNA, (iii) detect proteins or other molecules bound to probe DNA strands. This video http://vimeo.com/77246565 provides a good overview. Provided the sequence error-correction codes are acceptable such a small, portable, cheap, and user-friendly system will be a game-changer and boost the accelerating development of biotechnology generally. 

2. CRISPR Protein Structure Determined.
The CRISPR precise genome editing tool that continues to accelerate biotechnology research may now be engineered for further improvements since the three dimensional structure of the main protein (Cas9) has now been determined http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2014/research-reveals-structure-of-key-crispr-complex-0213.html. The structure shows the binding protein, the guide RNA, the cleaving protein, the target DNA, and how the pieces all work together. It is expected that such structural knowledge will allow alterations and improvements in CRISPR to better suit a range of specific needs, some of which are already being tested. In other structural protein news a long-extinct uricase protein has been “resurrected” to treat human diseases related to uric acid http://gizmodo.com/resurrecting-dinosaur-age-proteins-to-cure-human-diseas-1525447018

3. Super Synthetic Muscles from Fishing Wire.
Newly developed synthetic muscle fibers can lift 100 times more weight and generate 100 times more mechanical power than the same length and weight of human muscle http://gizmodo.com/muscle-made-from-fishing-wire-is-100x-stronger-than-you-1527241129, and see the video here How to create an artificial muscle from fishing line.. One of the attractions of the fibers is how simple they are: fishing wire twisted into tight coils that contracts when heated. To say that these fibers have massive potential is an understatement; not only could they be used to significantly improve robotic and prosthetic movement, weight, and power, the team has even created prototype textiles that open and close with temperature. The fibers need improvement however: I want to see (i) composite fibers with an imperfect conductive metal core so that heat can be switched on and off with a precise electric current (the coil with current may possibly convey additional contraction force due to induced magnetism), (ii) engineering optimisation to select the best polymer and metal for the job, (iii) creating a prototype robot powered by the muscles, (iv) addressing the cooling requirements of such a system, and (v) exploring tensegrity robotic architectures!

4. Atomtronics: Memory & Devices.
A super-cooled gas (BEC or Bose-Einstein Condensate) system has been engineered to demonstrate, for the first time, a hysteresis-type memory effect http://www.nature.com/news/atom-circuits-a-step-closer-1.14709. Previous work has used BECs to create analogues of transistors and capacitors and this latest development adds to the suite of tools available to create atomtronic devices to allow computing with atoms instead of electrons or photons. There are thoughts that the new “ring” BEC may have applications in quantum computing and atomtronic systems in future, and also as extremely sensitive rotation sensors possibly in the medium term. One interesting experimental confirmation of theory is the quantised nature of the BEC’s rotation, that past a critical stirring rate, all the atoms suddenly start flowing and rotate faster than the paddle.

5. A Couple of Big Steps in Tissue Printing.
Engineering suitable vasculature for artificial tissues has proved to be an on-going problem, but a new tissue printing technique is capable of creating patterned three dimensional tissues composed of multiple cell types and blood vessels
http://www.seas.harvard.edu/news/2014/02/essential-step-toward-printing-living-tissues. The method is enabled by newly developed biological inks that contain a mixture of extracellular matrix and living cells; another ink was engineered to melt as it cooled, which enabled hollow tubes to be formed when the ink was suctioned out after cooling. Injecting endothelial cells into the hollow tubes resulted in growth of blood vessel lining and hence a vascular system for the tissue. A new micro-robotic 3D tissue construction technique also shows promise as an early platform, allowing a magnetic “microbot” under the control of external magnetic fields to move and position various cell-hydrogel blocks in order to assemble complex tissue architectures http://www.brighamandwomens.org/about_bwh/publicaffairs/news/pressreleases/PressRelease.aspx?sub=0&PageID=1670

6. Multi-Faceted Chemical Microparticles.
A new co-jetting process allows construction of microparticles with geometrically distinct chemical faces http://phys.org/news/2014-02-3d-microparticles-chemically-independent-patches.html. Each equal third of the microparticle is composed of a different material, and this allows distinct, and separate functional surface chemistries to be applied to individual thirds of the microparticle via a controllable click-chemistry process. The attraction here is the potential for the functional microparticles to be used for directed self-assembly to produce, or dismantle, larger and more complex macroparticle structures. While the microparticles are currently limited to tiny cylinders, further refinements might lead to microparticles with four instead of three regions and adorned with caps to make uniform micro-cube particles for more versatile self-assembly. 

7. pCell Wireless Broadband Cells to Massively Boost Bandwidth.
After two years of additional development the new pCell technology has been officially launched, and promises full-speed wireless broadband to every mobile device regardless of the number of users on the same spectrum http://venturebeat.com/2014/02/19/steve-perlmans-artemis-unveils-his-breakthrough-wireless-broadband-technology-pcell/. The technology encodes a unique signal for each device and is said to enable mobile data users to enjoy fast internet with no congestion, no dead zones, and no weak signals and will feel like you’re on a fiber optic network. Introductory demo here: Visualization and Explanation of pCell Technology. Let’s hope this is legitimate and powers our networks ASAP. 

8. Multilayer Graphene as Ultimate Water Filter.
A new water filter made out of multilayer graphene oxide membranes is ultra-precise and ultra-fast, not allowing any ions or molecules larger than 0.9nm to pass through http://www.kurzweilai.net/new-multilayer-graphene-structure-allows-ultraprecise-ultrafast-water-filtering. The filter is impermeable to all gases and vapours but allows water to pass through the capillaries in an ultra-fast capacity. Such membranes might also make ideal containers for hard to contain gases like Helium and Hydrogen. The smallest ions still get through the filter but the team believe their work show it is possible to improve the membrane to prevent even these ions from getting through, and so allow easy seawater desalination. 

9. Controlling Pain with Optogenetics.
Optogenetic engineering of the peripheral nervous system has produced mice whose sensitivity to pain can be increased or decreased with the flash of light of specific wavelengths http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/february/biox-numb-pain-021914.html. The key innovation was the development of an engineered virus and its injection into nerves responsible for pain; upon integration and expression of the DNA encoding the two Opsins (light sensitive proteins) those nerves could then be influenced by switching on light to increase or decrease pain sensation. Great potential for treatment of people suffering chronic pain arising from peripheral nerves. But one of the most promising avenues I see for this work is for being co-opted for use in prosthetics, both for conveying sensation (pain and otherwise) and motor control via the reverse mechanism. 

10. 40% Efficient Solar Panels.
By developing a new process to peel hundreds of precise atomic layers of a larger bulk material aggregate, researchers have created thin GaAs (gallium arsenide) sheets that can enable the fabrication of cheap solar panels with efficiencies passing 40% http://arstechnica.com/science/2014/02/is-it-time-to-move-away-from-silicon-based-solar/. In other solar power news detailed investigations into the molecular photosystems that power photosynthesis have enabled the creation of efficient artificial photosystems for the splitting of water to create hydrogen gas http://phys.org/news/2014-02-artificial-leaf-developmental-hurdle.html

The weekly SciTech Digests are also available as a Google Newsstand Edition here: 
https://www.google.com/producer/editions/CAow4-hB/scitech_digest 

+ScienceSunday, with your hosts +Buddhini Samarasinghe, +Rajini Rao, +Chad Haney, +Allison Sekuler, and +Robby Bowles 

+STEM on Google+ Community 
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The depiction of things that happen faster than my heart beats is mesmerizing.
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A Matter of Scale: worth every Power.
Join the Simple Science and Interesting Things Community and share interesting stuff!
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The observable universe is about 46 billion light years in radius. Scientific observation of the Universe has led to inferences of its earlier stages. These observations suggest that the Universe has been governed by the same physical laws and constants throughout most of its extent and history. The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model that describes the early development of the Universe, which is calculated to have begun 13.798 ± 0.037 billion years ago. Observations of a supernovae have shown that the Universe is expanding at an accelerating rate
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universe

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