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SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - Week 17 of 2012
A Top 10 selection of the scientific and technological advances that I discovered this week.

1. Sensing, Lensing, Conducting, “Photonising” Graphene
Graphene announcements were big this week. Although the space is so busy I sometimes suspect graphene is big most weeks. We had graphene being used for (i) accurate and selective sensing of gases http://www.nanowerk.com/spotlight/spotid=25043.php, (ii) a powerful 2-dimensional lens for focusing electrons http://www.kurzweilai.net/graphene-lenses-for-electrons, (iii) an incredibly flexible and transparent composite material for electrical applications http://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/featurednews/title_206443_en.html, and (iv) robust photonics applications after IBM’s tinkering http://spectrum.ieee.org/nanoclast/semiconductors/nanotechnology/multilayer-graphene-enables-terahertzcapable-tunable-notch-filters?.

2. Our Tree of Life Gets a New Branch
The discovery of a new species, which is neither fungus, alga, parasite, plant, or animal was announced. This protozoan effectively adds a whole new branch to our tree of life and I eagerly await the results of its genetic analysis http://www.apollon.uio.no/english/articles/2012/microorganism.html, especially with regards to highly conserved sequences like ribosomes.

3. Metamaterials; Fine Control of Visible Light and Sound Waves
This is interesting research on metamaterials that have control over visible light http://spectrum.ieee.org/semiconductors/optoelectronics/metamaterials-step-into-the-light? for applications that include better optical switches, and laser pulses in addition to the usual lenses and cloaking possibilities, and also other metamaterials with control over sound waves http://physics.aps.org/articles/v5/33 for better focusing of ultrasound, aoustic cloaking, sound cancellation and other applications. I don’t know about you but I’d love to have my house and car impervious to outside sources of sound.

4. Exoskeletons: Robotics for Humans
The wonderful and ever-innovative Festo released a new exoskeletal hand / arm for tele-operated manipulation and remote control of a near-identical robotic arm http://www.festo.com/cms/en_corp/12713_12717.htm#id_12717, while the Japanese continue to lead the field with exoskeletons for general purpose heavy lifting and elderly assistance applications http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21428614.800-wearable-muscle-suit-makes-heavy-lifting-a-cinch.html?.

5. Alternative Solar Cell Architectures
I’ve always been excited by the possibility of materials engineering in the solar energy space resulting in a solar-powered-paint that can be applied to surfaces with ease, but was always worried how you’d go about linking the pigments to allow adequate current to flow. So I found it exciting to discover last week that liquid solar-cell-material was demonstrated that can be printed onto surfaces and where they had solved the linking problem http://www.usc.edu/uscnews/newsroom/news_release.php?id=2707. Also, solar cells based on LED designs were shown to break efficiency records and offer yet another path forward for creating better solar pannels http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-04/osoa-tsc041912.php.

6. Repairing Hearts and Blood Vessels
Viral vectors have been used to deliver particular microRNAs to damaged heart tissue, which have successfully reprogrammed the heart cells to properly repair the damage http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-04/aha-gr042312.php; here’s hoping the technique is extended to heal other tissues and introduced to patients. Meanwhile commercial enterprise Cytograft has successfully developed, and regularly produced, biological human blood vessels for transplantation into patients http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120423131512.htm.

7. Self-Assembly of New Materials and Devices
I think this is the first demonstration that I have seen in which (tunable / controllable) sophisticated structures self-assemble in solutions containing multiple types of particles http://www.pratt.duke.edu/node/3253, plus it involved ferrofluids, which is cool by default. Meanwhile, this advance http://newscenter.lbl.gov/feature-stories/2012/04/27/gold-thin-films/ claims to have comprised the first self-assembly of nanoparticles into device-ready materials with multiple-layers of thin films from highly ordered one-, two- and three-dimensional arrays of gold nanoparticles.

8. Detecting and Ameliorating Prions in Living Brains
An existing molecule known to detect prions in brains has now been shown to render them harmless and potentially cure prion-based diseases http://www.kurzweilai.net/prions-eliminated-in-mice-brains. Prions have similarities with proteins that comprise the amyloid plaques thought to be involved in alzheimer's and other similar diseases of the brain, so the hope is that these molecules - and alternative molecular architectures currently being investigated - will be effective therapeutics.

9. Microfluidics and Lab-On-A-Chip Systems Getting Better
This new microfluidic lab on a chip http://www.news.ualberta.ca/article.aspx?id=0EC281968D4C4F15A76D0E6D088C4F55 can rapidly perform 20 tests on a single drop of blood, while the broader system it is a part of continues the accelerating trend to reducing the size, cost, and scale of a modern laboratory to that of a cheap box that sits on your desk. Medicine will be truly personalised when we can each do our own genetic testing and tinkering at home.

10. Cheap Titanium Powder
The reason I like this development http://www.ameslab.gov/news/videos/iowa-powder-atomization-technologies-running-americas-next-top-energy-innovator involving the production of titanium powder 10 times more efficiently is because of the effect it might have on manufacturing and personal product fabrication more generally. Many 3D printing fabrication methods use powdered materials, and if the efficiency of producing this titanium powder was combined with a method of chemically altering the powder such that 3D printing methods could print with titanium . . . I think that would be pretty transformative.
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Dewet Diener's profile photoEthan Smith's profile photoSingularity Utopia's profile photoRajini Rao's profile photo
21 comments
 
Cheering the discovery of a potential new branch of life (#2)!
 
Cheers +Dewet Diener - which one do you like best?

#2 is amazing +Rajini Rao! Given the scope of the development I'm surprised it wasn't reported more widely in the mainstream media :/
 
I missed the story, so I'm glad to catch it on your weekly digest!
 
Heard nothing about it either... Kind of sad when I think of all the silly stuff that did make the news. Either way, amazing find! Also digging the precision of the exohand.

No love for MITs water repellent & glare free glass? :p
http://www.mit.edu/newsoffice/2012/glare-dust-and-fog-free-glass-0426.html
Perhaps not really that groundbreaking but this could prove to be very useful when applied to solar panels (accumulated dirt becomes a real problem after a while).
 
I thought that the solar cell/nanocrystals were very cool. Imagine just painting one's home to harness energy. They didn't describe how the electricity would be harnessed from the nanocrystals ...there must be a conducting layer beneath and wiring of sorts?
 
Please notify me regarding this weekly summary, if it's not too much trouble.
 
I can find it no problem +Rajini Rao, it is just the remembering to search for it which is the problem; thus a notification would be handy. Perhaps a blog could be created solely regarding this summary and then people could subscribe to email delivery.
 
MIT's water repellent glass was number 11 +Koen De Paus :)
The hardest job for me is filtering and cutting equally awesome science!

+Rajini Rao - I think they managed to design some conductive ligands that not only joined the crystals together but also allowed current to flow between them. I guess they also expect these linker molecules to also attach to conductors / electrodes at some point in order to extract energy?

Thank you +Singularity Utopia - I have been thinking for the past few weeks about throwing these posts up onto my (neglected) blog to provide another source / record. You've given me the impetus to stop putting it off and do so this week and will provide you with the link when done.
 
+Singularity Utopia you can save a search term and it will function like a circle and run like a feed. Its pretty slick and for breaking news its like a giant room with everyone taking about one subject.

I always wonder with the exoskeletons, why doesn't your arm get crushed in between the robot pushing up and the load pushing down.
 
Yes +Ethan Smith I also know you can save searches but it is not the same as being reminded via notification or email.
 
You prefer a more direct notification. I think there's a way. +Jonathan Langdale once posted a photo, put tags on it of everyone who wanted notifications, then locked the comments. Only he could post, and when he did it would notify everyone the thread had been updated. It doesn't allow for discussion though....
 
In the "Publicize" tab of feedburner you will see third service from the top in the "SERVICES" list on the left: "Email Subscriptions Offer feed updates via email"... make sure that service is ticked. It is just above "PingShot".
 
Ok, cool, all done - thanks for that, it should work now http://feeds.feedburner.com/ITechnophile (I didn't realise I already had feedburner active, so I used this existing feed and not the new one I linked to above) the email option appears when I preview it
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