SCIENCE DIGEST • Thank You +Mark Bruce • Do not disturb for an hour... ( :
SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - Week 33 of 2012
A Top 10 selection of the scientific and technological advances that I discovered this week. One day early due to imminent travel commitments.

1. Spintronics Takes a Huge Step Forward.
Possibly the biggest news of the week was IBM’s breakthrough announcement concerning the demonstration of a 30-fold improvement in the spin-lifetime of electrons, and enough to match the cycle time of a modern CPU. The team confirmed a 2003 theory by locking the electron spin rotation but there is still some time before the exploitation of spin phenomena makes it into consumer products with the required 40 Kelvin temperature presenting a significant hurdle. 

2. A Computer Based on the Processing of Phonons (Units of Sound or Vibration).
While we’re looking at the next generation of computing we had another group propose  a novel computational design based on the generation and processing of phonons on the surface of a patterned silicon membrane Phonons are basically vibrations at this scale, essentially heat that the team believe they can distinguish from thermal noise and use for information processing. In any case the ability to controllably route heat in this way may lead to other applications. 

3. Targeted Delivery of RNAi to the Brain.
I like the chances of this joint project from biotech company Alnylam and Medtronic, one of the world’s largest medical device companies They’re using one of Medtronic’s catheter+drug pump devices (already proven in 250,000 patients) to deliver high levels of small interfering RNAs (siRNA) directly into the brains of patients with Huntington’s disease, with the siRNA code being targeted to the mRNA product of the Huntingtin gene and so drastically reducing the amount of protein produced. Clinical trials are underway but the additional promise here is the build-out of these technology platforms. 

4. A Novel Approach to Storing Hydrogen.
Researchers have designed and created nanoparticles made of hybrid materials that are able to store and release hydrogen at practical temperatures and pressures As we all know, for hydrogen to fulfill its promise as a clean high-density fuel of the future it needs a practical and robust storage technology. This group are on a promising path that might see them scale this hurdle that has been holding the field back. 

5. Powerful Cleansing System Discovered in the Brain.
A new technique for imaging and analysing the flow of cerebrospinal fluid in living, intact brains has allowed a group to identify a powerful new cleansing system operating in the brain This “glymphatic” system is powered by glial cells and serves to remove waste products - such as proteins and other molecules - from the brain. Intervening to fix or improve this system may have important ramifications for treating neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, which are associated with a build-up of such waste products in the networks of the brain. 

6. Protein Folding with Quantum Computing.
A team from Harvard University has used a Dwave quantum computer to solve basic protein folding problems After the achieving success with this proof-of-principle the researchers note that the same techniques can be used to tackle the related problems of molecular recognition, protein design, and sequence alignment. 

7. X-Ray Laser Beam Refined to Narrow Spectrum Precision.
Researchers have taken the world’s most powerful x-ray laser beam and developed new methods to refine the beam to achieve much higher intensities across a much narrower spectrum of x-ray wavelengths This will enable experiments that were never before possible and provide greater capability for manipulating matter on an atomic level. 

8. Engineering Tissues with a Three-Dimensional Network of Blood Vessels.
Tissue engineers have used scaffolds to build pancreatic tissue that is surrounded by a three-dimensional network of blood vessels, and further shown that when implanted into mice the engineered tissue survives longer and produces more insulin This demonstrates the importance of accounting for a dedicated blood vessel network to facilitate engineered tissues, although the technique is still some time away from any human testing. 

9. Printing an Image at Physically Maximal Resolution.
By engineering surfaces with electron-beam lithography a research group has created an image with the maximum possible resolution (~100,000dpi), due to the surface features being of similar scale to the diffraction limit of light There is no actual colour on the surface of the image, rather the colours form from light interacting with the metal nanostructures on the surface - the dimensional parameters of which dictate the plasmonic resonance and the reflected colour. 

10. Building a Better Robotic Hand.
A group at Sandia has developed a new robotic hand that is more affordable, more durable, and more dextrous It is also based on a modular design that I like. The components are modular so can be individually improved to improve the overall hand, and the hand itself is modular, allowing it to be added as needed to other existing robots. Check out the video shown in the article to see some of its abilities in action. 

The weekly SciTech Digests are also available as a Google Currents Edition here:
2 Photos - View album
Shared publiclyView activity