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Consciousness is global, CLIP 3D printing, Neuromorphic optical computing, Silicon photonic switches, DNA molecular transport, Magnetised graphene, More drone advances, Robotic arms, Targeted nucleic acids, Nanoparticles click.
1. Network Theory and Global Consciousness.
Recent brain imaging studies strongly suggest that consciousness, our rich conscious experience, is indeed a global rather than local phenomenon in the brain http://news.vanderbilt.edu/2015/03/213466/. Network or graph theory was used in this case to examine the links between various parts of the brain that were related to conscious awareness; in this case subjects reported when they were aware of a small disk flashed briefly on a screen while an fMRI scanner imaged the activity of their brains. The data suggested that the whole of the brain became more functionally connected following reports of awareness. This would also appear to provide experimental support for Tononi’s Integrate Information Theory of Consciousness.
2. CLIP Optical 3D Printing Technology.
If you missed this one this week you were living under a rock - everyone was sharing and watching the amazing new 3D printing technology unveiled by Carbon3D this week http://3dprint.com/51566/carbon3d-clip-3d-printing. CLIP stands for Continuous Liquid Interface Production and involves the use of a projector to programmably solidify discrete regions of a UV-curable liquid resin as the growing part is pulled out of the resin bath. This is forming solid structures in three dimensions continuously, without a print-head, and is 25x to 100x faster than conventional approaches on the market. A potentially transformative technological evolution, only now emerging from stealth-mode after heavy venture backing. Oh, and it does 1 micron resolution too; be sure to watch the videos if you haven’t already. In related news commercial interests develop open-source algorithms for better 3D printing https://www.llnl.gov/news/america-makes-taps-lawrence-livermore-ge-develop-open-source-algorithms-3d-printing.
3. Brain-Like Computing with Light.
Microofibers produced from chalcogenide glasses possess a range of optical properties that allow them to be used to replicate a range of equivalent neuron and brain functions and signal protocols http://www.southampton.ac.uk/mediacentre/news/2015/mar/15_45.shtml#.VQo1Qv4mmyc. These can be thought of as photonic neurons that might one day enabled neuromorphic hardware with ultrafast signal transmission speeds, higher bandwidth and lower power consumption than their biological and electronic counterparts. The paper concluded: “we implemented an optical axon in an amorphous metal-sulphide microfiber that enables photonic synapses to perform analogues of fundamental neurophysiological functions of the mammalian central nervous system.”
4. Large-Scale Silicon Photonic Switches.
In related photonics news the largest-ever silicon photonic switch has been developed, which enables higher bandwidth and lower energy losses http://www.osa.org/en-us/about_osa/newsroom/news_releases/2015/largest-scale_silicon_photonic_switch_to_be_presen/. Previous photonic switches incorporated just 64 switching elements but the new design manages 2,500 and 10k should be feasible. Existing architectures would never be able to scale to this level due to optical losses, but the new architecture circumvents this problem by incorporating new MEMS switching element that can switch states 1,000 times faster than existing MEMS switches. Applications include computing, networking, data transmission and routing.
5. Tethered DNA Origami for Molecular Transport.
Advancing on the work of DNA origami “walkers” to transport molecular cargo across a surface this latest work simplifies and accelerates the process by using a tethered DNA origami molecule that is free to swing around and facilitate rapid molecular transport across surfaces in conjunction with natural diffusions processes http://www.nanowerk.com/spotlight/spotid=39476.php. The concept here is to use partial compartmentalisation that is able to rectify and utilise brownian motion to advantage, and the embodiment was a 30nm atomically-precise DNA arm swinging a molecular cargo around on a 90nm x 60nm platform. Future hurdles to overcome include interfacing with the outside world and other applications include structured DNA sensing and computing arrays.
6. The Benefits of Magnetised Graphene.
A simple and robust method for magnetising graphene with hydrogen has been developed http://www.nrl.navy.mil/media/news-releases/2015/nrl-researchers-pattern-magnetic-graphine. The magnetism can be controlled by adding or limiting the amount of hydrogenation, and a commercial electron-beam process can then etch away hydrogen to produce precisely defined magnetic patterns on the graphene. Applications include magnetic data storage of course, but it will be quite a stretch to see if they can actually achieve the million-fold improvement over current hard drives that they claim as “possible”. Tightly packed magnetic graphene might also make for much more powerful permanent magnets and this would also be worth exploring. In related news graphene quantum dots get better http://spectrum.ieee.org/nanoclast/semiconductors/optoelectronics/new-production-twist-for-graphene-quantum-dots-opens-up-applications.
7. More Drone Advancements.
A few of interesting drone developments this week. First, drones can now be used to build high-resolution 3D scans of landmarks and larger areas http://www.technologyreview.com/news/535596/high-resolution-3-d-scans-built-from-drone-photos/, and as drone traffic and capabilities increase this might lead to high resultion 3D maps of the entire planet. Second, a new hybrid gas-electric drone has 13 times the range of a battery electric drone http://nextbigfuture.com/2015/03/hybrid-gas-electric-drone-has-13-times.html, with a flight time of 2.5 hours and a range of 100 miles, which is pretty damn amazing when you think about it. Finally, leading on from last week’s cockroaches, other researchers are flying beetles via remote control http://www.gizmag.com/remote-control-giant-flower-beetles/36588/.
8. Easy-to-Program Robotic Arms Take Another Step.
A couple of important robot arm advances this week. First, Universal Robotics launched its new UR3 robotic arm in three different sizes http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/industrial-robots/universal-robots-ur3-robotic-arm. This is an easy to program multi-articulated robotic arm for a wide range of repetitive tasks that is safe to work near humans. Rethink Robotics also followed up its previous Baxter robot by launching the new Sawyer Robot which is again an easy to program multi-articulated robotic arm (unlike Baxter’s two) that incorporates a range of improvements to make it smaller, faster, stronger, and more precise http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/industrial-robots/sawyer-rethink-robotics-new-robot. It’s great to see competition heating up in this area and ongoing technical improvements delivering ever-better robotic capabilities.
9. Targeted Nucleic Acid Drugs.
Nanoparticles (of gold or lipid in this case) that are coated with 100+ strands of DNA of specific sequence have been termed “spherical nucleic acids” and recently demonstrated very effective immunomodulatory properties http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2015/03/spherical-nucleic-acids-set-stage-for-new-paradigm-in-drug-development.html. The DNA is designed to target different cell receptors and in the this “spherical” form proves to be one of the most simple, efficient, and potent immunomodulators to be developed, with significant promise against cancer and autoimmune disorders. And also this week we had specific microRNAs being used in tissue regeneration, effectively - and temporarily - boosting cell proliferation to take the place of damaged tissue http://www.uphs.upenn.edu/news/News_Releases/2015/03/morrisey/.
10. Nanoparticulate Click Chemistry.
A tough choice for number ten this week, but I went with the deceptively simple and innocuous click chemistry technique developed for easily and controllably joining nanoparticles together and to other surfaces http://phys.org/news/2015-03-click-modern-chemistry-bonds-nanoparticles.html. Click-chemistries are usually used to precisely control the chemical connection of one molecule to another as part of a defined synthetic step, but in this work the concept was adapted to nanoparticles and allowing the quick and permanent bonding of nanoparticles together and to solid substrates. Think ordered arrays of different nanoparticles, even quantum dots, in defined patterns working to perform some function.