SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - Week 22 of 2012A Top 10 selection of the scientific and technological advances that I discovered this week.1. Creating Matter From “Nothing”.
The team that formulated the original mathematics to describe invisibility cloaks via metamaterials and also wormholes that transport waves, have described a system that can create matter waves inside a cavity “out of nothing” http://www.washington.edu/news/articles/mathematicians-can-conjure-matter-waves-inside-an-invisible-hat
. First step is to make a minimal proof-of-concept device that is able to do just that, next would be the creation of an entire atom or molecule. Makes me wonder whether, maybe way down the track, you could produce whole, complex, macroscopic objects if you were able to inject enough energy into the system, a la the Star Trek
replicator? Related news shows a team trapping exitons in a condensate trap to form a giant matter wave http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/pressreleases/exotic_particles_chilled_and_trapped_form_giant_matter_wave/
. 2. Mechanical Metamaterials That Stretch When Compressed.
Wow. Just wow. So this team has created metamaterials that contract under tension (or being pulled) rather than stretching, and that stretch or expand when being compressed (or squeezed) http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2012/05/negative-compressibility.html
. This is completely counter-intuitive and amazing for being an effect of purely mechanical force . . . but then again all everyday forces that we apply are mediated by the electromagnetic force, which is routinely manipulated by metamaterials. Quoted applications include body armour for military uses, but I think that is lazy thinking. The force characteristics of this phenomenon remind me of the gluon-mediated nuclear strong force between quarks and nucleons, because when you try to pull these things apart the force holding them together increases - opposite to that between charged or massive bodies. I think the applications from this could be so much more
. 3. Cleverly Repairing Spinal Injuries.
Researchers have enabled paralysed rats to walk again with a combination of electrical and chemical stimulation applied to their spine http://www.technologyreview.com/biomedicine/40482/?ref=rss
, in a process that allows voluntary initiation of the circuits - mainly in the lower spine - that control walking. Related news showed a group discovering how the zebra fish can heal its spinal cord after injury http://www.monash.edu.au/news/show/fish-study-raises-hopes-for-spinal-cord-injury-repair
, that might possibly lead to spinal regeneration for humans in future. 4. New Milestone In Whole-Brain Mapping Reached.
A neuroscience laboratory has used a new shot-gun automated imaging method to complete the first draft of a mouse brain connectome or complete circuit diagram http://www.cshl.edu/Article-Mitra/neuroscientists-reach-major-milestone-in-whole-brain-circuit-mapping-project
. Much of the data is publicly accessible too, and you can explore this brain yourself at http://brainarchitecture.org/mouse/about
. Just like the early days of automated DNA sequencing (slow, error-prone, expensive, etc) this marks an important milestone in the drive to develop the platform and so allow rapid, accurate, and cheap whole-brain mapping. 5. Next Generation Modular DNA Origami.
This new modular design for DAN Origami creates discrete DNA origami units or tiles, which are themselves customisable, and which can be programmed to self-assemble into a myriad of different structures http://wyss.harvard.edu/viewpressrelease/84/
. The expanding toolkit of DNA Origami never ceases to amaze me. To use such completely programmable matter to make digital structures such as the 100nm letters in this study is an easy-to-grasp proof-of-concept there is just so much more that this can and will be used for including self assembly of other custom materials, therapeutic interventions at a cellular level, and many others. 6. Making Logic Gates Out Of Cells.
Researchers have engineered cells to function as AND or OR boolean logic gates, able to produce an output (or not) that is based on particular inputs http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/training_cells_to_perform_boolean_functions__its_logical
. While simple cellular systems have been made in the past, these more advanced cellular switches were made possible with protein-mediated chemically inducible dimerisation. Related news was the development of an integrated chemical chip that is able to use ions and molecules (instead of electrons and holes) to compute logic functions, and so interface chemical-based computational units directly with biological circuits in muscles for example http://www.alphagalileo.org/ViewItem.aspx?ItemId=120626&CultureCode=en
. 7. Wireless Recharging and Tracking Systems For Quadcopters.
This research team has demonstrated a proof-of-concept system for wireless power transfer between a hovering quadcopter and a stationary coil http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/robotics-hardware/quadrotors-turned-into-flying-wireless-battery-chargers
?, which could serve to either charge the quadcopter from mains-connected coils, or else use the quadcopter to charge other devices that are running low on power and unable to source energy otherwise. Another team has created a cheap on-board tracking system for UAVs (could be used for quadcopters) http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/27881/?ref=rss
that enables them to track vehicles or circle structures on the ground.8. Miniaturised Optical Cell Analysis.
Researchers have created a miniaturised microfluidic system with integrated optics that is able to quickly and cheaply perform a range of optical measurements to rapidly screen cells in a sample for cancer, HIV, etc http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-05/ps-bdf053012.php
. Conventional equipment to do this costs $100,000 and yet this system can be put together for $1,000 - representing the ongoing drive to make the capabilities of well-equipped laboratories accessible to everyone. 9. The Energy Storage Applications of Ionic Liquids.
Ionic liquids are an exciting class of customisable materials with tremendous applications across most areas of chemistry, especially as electrolytes for batteries. Good news for the company Boulder Ionics, nearing commercialisation for their electrolytes that might double the storage capacity of ultracapacitors or improve rechargeable metal-air batteries by an order of magnitude http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/40480/?ref=rss
. 10. Cutting Graphene into Arbitrary Shapes Using an AFM.
This group is using an atomic force microscope (AFM) robot to cut graphene into arbitrary shapes http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-05/sicp-gcu052112.php
; such capabilities are important due to the electrical properties of graphene being dependent on the size, geometry, and edge structure of the graphene substrate. Bonus: An App for Peer-2-Peer Ad-Hoc Mobile Internet.
Implementing ad-hoc peer-2-peer mobile networking has been discussed for many years and has been implemented in many small settings, but this smartphone application (available now on iPhone or Android via Appstore or Google Play) allows users to seamlessly set up such ad-hoc networks on the fly http://www.springwise.com/telecom_mobile/app-turns-smartphones-routers-shared-mobile-internet-coverage/
. So, if a lot of users in an area have this set up then you might make a video call over WiFi, with the packets jumping from one node to the next and so on until reaching the recipient directly or via a conventional DSL line that one node was connected to, or I can also think of running this on my AR Drone and setting up smartphones around the local environment to massively increase the range of the Drone way beyond the usual 50 or 60 meters for a single WiFi connection.