May 30, 2015

UTEP Merges 3-D Printing and UAVs

(May 30, 2015)  Handmade drones are a thing of the past. The new dream is push-button technology that will print a working unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, right before your eyes.

But getting there has been challenging.

While it may be easy to print a UAV’s plastic or metal frame, the embedded electronics and motor that bring the vehicle to life are the hard part.

“Researchers around the world have struggled to create 3-D printed electronics in the last decade,” said Eric MacDonald, Ph.D., an electrical and computer engineer at The University of Texas at El Paso. “But we here at UTEP have made tremendous gains and have invented several advanced 3-D printing technologies enabling 3-D electronics.”

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May 29, 2015

Engineers turn E. coli into tiny factories for producing new forms of popular antibiotic

(May 29, 2015)  Like a dairy farmer tending to a herd of cows to produce milk, researchers are tending to colonies of the bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli) to produce new forms of antibiotics — including three that show promise in fighting drug-resistant bacteria.

The research, published today (May 29) in the journal Science Advances, was led by Blaine A. Pfeifer, an associate professor of chemical and biological engineering in the University at Buffalo School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. His team included first author Guojian Zhang, Yi Li and Lei Fang, all in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.

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Prosthetic Hands with a Sense of Touch? Breakthroughs in Providing 'Sensory Feedback' from Artificial Limbs

(May 29, 2015)  Researchers are exploring new approaches to designing prosthetic hands capable of providing "sensory feedback."  Advances toward developing prostheses with a sense of touch are presented in a special topic article in the June issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery®, the official medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).

Emerging sensory feedback techniques will provide some sensation and enable more natural, intuitive use of hand prostheses, according to the review by ASPS Member Surgeon Paul S. Cederna, MD, of University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and colleagues. They write, "These breakthroughs pave the way to the development of a prosthetic limb with the ability to feel."

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New 'designer carbon' from Stanford boosts battery performance

Stanford scientists have created a new carbon material that significantly improves the performance of batteries and supercapacitors.

(May 29,2015)  Stanford University scientists have created a new carbon material that significantly boosts the performance of energy-storage technologies. Their results are featured on the cover of the journal ACS Central Science.

"We have developed a 'designer carbon' that is both versatile and controllable," said Zhenan Bao, the senior author of the study and a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford. "Our study shows that this material has exceptional energy-storage capacity, enabling unprecedented performance in lithium-sulfur batteries and supercapacitors."

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A patient’s budding cortex — in a dish?

Networking neurons thrive in 3-D human “organoid”

(May 29, 2015)  A patient tormented by suicidal thoughts gives his psychiatrist a few strands of his hair. She derives stem cells from them to grow budding brain tissue harboring the secrets of his unique illness in a petri dish. She uses the information to genetically engineer a personalized treatment to correct his brain circuit functioning. Just Sci-fi? Yes, but...

An evolving “disease-in-a-dish” technology, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is bringing closer the day when such a seemingly futuristic personalized medicine scenario might not seem so far-fetched. Scientists have perfected mini cultured 3-D structures that grow and function much like the outer mantle – the key working tissue, or cortex — of the brain of the person from whom they were derived. Strikingly, these “organoids” buzz with neuronal network activity. Cells talk with each other in circuits, much as they do in our brains.

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OSU researchers prove magnetism can control heat, sound

Team leverages OSC services to help confirm, interpret experimental findings

(May 28, 2015)  Phonons—the elemental particles that transmit both heat and sound—have magnetic properties, according to a landmark study supported by Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) services and recently published by a researcher group from The Ohio State University.

In a recent issue of the journal Nature Materials, the researchers describe how a magnetic field, roughly the size of a medical MRI, reduced the amount of heat flowing through a semiconductor by 12 percent. Simulations performed at OSC then identified the reason for it—the magnetic field induces a diamagnetic response in vibrating atoms known as phonons, which changes how they transport heat.

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Even when we’re resting, our brains are preparing us to be social, UCLA psychologists report

(May 29, 2015)  A new study by UCLA neuroscientists sheds light on why Facebook is such a popular diversion for people who feel like taking a break. Their research shows that even during quiet moments, our brains are preparing us to be socially connected to other people.

“The brain has a major system that seems predisposed to get us ready to be social in our spare moments,” said Matthew Lieberman, a UCLA professor of psychology and of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences. “The social nature of our brains is biologically based.”

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Physicists conduct most precise measurement yet of interaction between atoms and carbon surfaces

(May 29, 2015)  Physicists at the University of Washington have conducted the most precise and controlled measurements yet of the interaction between the atoms and molecules that comprise air and the type of carbon surface used in battery electrodes and air filters — key information for improving those technologies.

A team led by David Cobden, UW professor of physics, used a carbon nanotube — a seamless, hollow graphite structure a million times thinner than a drinking straw — acting as a transistor to study what happens when gas atoms come into contact with the nanotube’s surface. Their findings were published in May in the journal Nature Physics.

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May 28, 2015

Robots Can Recover From Damage in Minutes, UW Researcher Helps Demonstrate

(May 28, 2015)  Robots will one day provide tremendous benefits to society, such as in search-and- rescue missions and putting out forest fires -- but not until they can learn to keep working if they become damaged.

Jeff Clune, a University of Wyoming assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science contributed to a paper, titled “Robots That Can Adapt Like Animals,” that shows how to make robots automatically recover from injury in less than two minutes. The paper appeared in today’s (May 28) issue of Nature, an international weekly journal of science that publishes the finest peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology.

Antoine Cully, lead author of the paper and a doctoral student at Pierre and Marie Curie University in France; and Jean-Baptiste Mouret, a then-assistant professor of artificial intelligence at Pierre and Marie Curie University, led the work. They collaborated with Clune and Danesh Tarapore, a then-doctoral student from Pierre and Marie Curie University. Tarapore is now a Marie Curie Research Fellow at the University of York in the United Kingdom.

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Stanford study on brain waves shows how different teaching methods affect reading development

Stanford Professor Bruce McCandliss found that beginning readers who focus on letter-sound relationships, or phonics, increase activity in the area of their brains best wired for reading.

(May 28, 2015)  Beginning readers who focus on letter-sound relationships, or phonics, instead of trying to learn whole words, increase activity in the area of their brains best wired for reading, according to new Stanford research investigating how the brain responds to different types of reading instruction.

In other words, to develop reading skills, teaching students to sound out "C-A-T" sparks more optimal brain circuitry than instructing them to memorize the word "cat." And, the study found, these teaching-induced differences show up even on future encounters with the word.

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Donuts, math, and superdense teleportation of quantum information

(May 28, 2015)  Putting a hole in the center of the donut—a mid-nineteenth-century invention—allows the deep-fried pastry to cook evenly, inside and out. As it turns out, the hole in the center of the donut also holds answers for a type of more efficient and reliable quantum information teleportation, a critical goal for quantum information science.

Quantum teleportation is a method of communicating information from one location to another without moving the physical matter to which the information is attached. Instead, the sender (Alice) and the receiver (Bob) share a pair of entangled elementary particles—in this experiment, photons, the smallest units of light—that transmit information through their shared quantum state. In simplified terms, Alice encodes information in the form of the quantum state of her photon. She then sends a key to Bob over traditional communication channels, indicating what operation he must perform on his photon to prepare the same quantum state, thus teleporting the information.

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May 26, 2015

Slip-sliding away: graphene nanoscrolls enable slick surfaces

(May 26, 2015)  Researchers in the Center for Nanoscale Materials and Energy Systems Division of Argonne have found a way to use tiny diamonds and graphene to give friction the slip, creating a new material combination that demonstrates the rare phenomenon of “superlubricity.” The team combined diamond nanoparticles, small patches of graphene, and a diamond-like carbon (DLC) material to create superlubricity, a highly desirable property in which friction drops to near zero.

As the graphene patches and diamond particles rub against a large DLC surface, the graphene rolls itself around the diamond particle, creating something that looks like a ball bearing on the nanoscopic level. At the atomic level, friction occurs when atoms in materials that slide against each other become “locked in state,” which requires additional energy to overcome.  This is because the positioning of atoms causes an entanglement between the materials that prevents easy sliding. By creating the graphene-encapsulated diamond ball bearings, or “scrolls”, the team found a way to translate the nanoscale superlubricity into a macroscale phenomenon. Because the scrolls change their orientation during the sliding process, enough diamond particles and graphene patches prevent the two surfaces from becoming locked in state.

Team members from CNM's Theory & Modeling Group used large-scale atomistic computations on the Mira supercomputer at the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF)  to prove that the effect could be seen not merely at the nanoscale but also at the macroscale. This is because a scroll can be manipulated and rotated more easily than a a sheet of graphene or graphite. However, the team was puzzled that while superlubricity was maintained in dry conditions, in a humid environment this was not the case. Because this behavior was counterintuitive, the team again turned to atomistic calculations. The latter showed that scroll formation was inhibited in the presence of a water layer, therefore causing higher friction.

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World’s first digitally-encoded synthetic polymers

(May 26, 2015)  Researchers have for the first time succeeded in recording a binary code on a synthetic polymer. Inspired by the capacity of DNA to retain an enormous amount of genetic information, a team from the Institut Charles Sadron de Strasbourg (CNRS) and the Institut de chimie radicalaire (CNRS/Aix Marseille Université) synthesized and read a multi-bit message on an artificial polymer. The results were published in Nature Communications on May 26, 2015

With its 3.4 billion base pairs, human DNA can compile a tremendous amount of information in a tiny
space. All of the information stored is expressed using four nitrogenous bases: A, T, G and C. Researchers had previously been able to use the sequencing of these veritable molecular building blocks to reproduce a binary code. However, the technical limits of DNA made it necessary to develop the first synthetic polymer — cheaper, more malleable and able to store binary information. This has now been achieved for the first time by a team of French scientists from the CNRS and Aix-Marseille Université.

Instead of using the four nitrogenous bases of DNA, in this study the researchers used three monomers Two of these monomers represent the binary code numbers 0 and 1, and can be used interchangeably during synthesis. A third nitroxide monomer was inserted between the bits in order to facilitate the writing and reading of the coded sequence.

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New Technique Speeds nanoMRI Imaging

Multiplexing technique for nanoscale magnetic resonance imaging (nanoMRI) developed by researchers in Switzerland cuts normal scan time from two weeks to two days

(May 26, 2015)  NanoMRI is a scanning technique that produces nondestructive, high-resolution 3-D images of nanoscale objects, and it promises to become a powerful tool for researchers and companies exploring the shape and function of biological materials such as viruses and cells in much the same way as clinical MRI today enables investigation of whole tissues in the human body.

Producing images with near-atomic resolution, however, is immensely difficult and time-consuming. A single nanoMRI scan can require weeks to complete.


(May 26, 2015)  Portable electronics - typically made of non-renewable, non-biodegradable and potentially toxic materials - are discarded at an alarming rate in consumers' pursuit of the next best electronic gadget.

In an effort to alleviate the environmental burden of electronic devices, a team of University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers has collaborated with researchers in the Madison-based U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) to develop a surprising solution: a semiconductor chip made almost entirely of wood.

The research team, led by UW-Madison electrical and computer engineering professor Zhenqiang "Jack" Ma, described the new device in a paper published today (May 26, 2015) by the journal Nature Communications. The paper demonstrates the feasibility of replacing the substrate, or support layer, of a computer chip, with cellulose nanofibril (CNF), a flexible, biodegradable material made from wood.

jounal reference (Open Access) >>

Researchers develop intelligent handheld robots

(May 26, 2015)  What if handheld tools know what needs to be done and were even able to guide and help inexperienced users to complete jobs that require skill? Researchers at the University of Bristol have developed and started studying a novel concept in robotics - intelligent handheld robots.

Historically, handheld tools have been blunt, unintelligent instruments that are unaware of the context they operate in, are fully directed by the user, and critically, lack any understanding about the task they are performing.

Dr Walterio Mayol-Cuevas and PhD student, Austin Gregg-Smith, from the University’s Department of Computer Science, have been working in the design of robot prototypes as well as in understanding how best to interact with a tool that “knows and acts”. In particular, they have been involved with comparing tools with increasing levels of autonomy.

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Squeezed quantum cats

(May 26, 2015)  ETH professor Jonathan Home and his colleagues reach deep into their bag of tricks to create so-called “squeezed Schrödinger cats”. These quantum systems could be extremely useful for future technologies.

Quantum physics is full of fascinating phenomena. Take, for instance, the cat from the famous thought experiment by the physicist Erwin Schrodinger. The cat can be dead and alive at once, since its life depends on the quantum mechanically determined state of a radioactively decaying atom which, in turn, releases toxic gas into the cat’s cage. As long as one hasn’t measured the state of the atom, one knows nothing about the poor cat’s health either – atom and kitty are intimately “entangled” with each other.

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May 25, 2015

‘Pain sensing’ gene discovery could help in development of new methods of pain relief

(May 25, 2015)  A gene essential to the production of pain-sensing neurons in humans has been identified by an international team of researchers co-led by the University of Cambridge. The discovery, reported today in the journal Nature Genetics, could have implications for the development of new methods of pain relief.

Pain perception is an evolutionarily-conserved warning mechanism that alerts us to dangers in the environment and to potential tissue damage. However, rare individuals – around one in a million people in the UK – are born unable to feel pain. These people accumulate numerous self-inflicted injuries, often leading to reduced lifespan.

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Fine-tuned molecular orientation is key to more efficient solar cells

(May 25, 2015)  Polymer solar cells are a hot area of research due to both their strong future potential and the significant challenges they pose. It is believed that thanks to lower production costs, they could become a viable alternative to conventional solar cells with silicon substrates when they achieve a power conversion efficiency—a measure that indicates how much electricity they can generate from a given amount of sunlight—of between 10 and 15 percent. Now, using carefully designed materials and an “inverted” architecture, a team of scientists has achieved efficiency of 10 percent, bringing these cells close to the threshold of commercial viability.

Polymer-based solar cells offer a number of potential advantages. They are made of polymers that are inexpensive and flexible, and can be deposited on glass or plastic substrates, allowing the construction of large-scale structures. They are cheaper to manufacture, and more environmentally-friendly, than their silicon counterparts. Unfortunately, they have lower power efficiency due to their structure and also tend to degrade more quickly.

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Engineering Phase Changes in Nanoparticle Arrays

Scientists alter attractive and repulsive forces between DNA-linked particles to make dynamic, phase-shifting forms of nanomaterials

(May 25, 2015)  Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory have just taken a big step toward the goal of engineering dynamic nanomaterials whose structure and associated properties can be switched on demand. In a paper appearing in Nature Materials, they describe a way to selectively rearrange the nanoparticles in three-dimensional arrays to produce different configurations, or phases, from the same nano-components.

"One of the goals in nanoparticle self-assembly has been to create structures by design," said Oleg Gang, who led the work at Brookhaven's Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN), a DOE Office of Science User Facility. "Until now, most of the structures we've built have been static.  Now we are trying to achieve an even more ambitious goal: making materials that can transform so we can take advantage of properties that emerge with the particles' rearrangements."

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May 22, 2015

New Computational Technique Advances Color 3D Printing Process

(May 22, 2015)  Working with researchers at Zhejiang University in China, Changxi Zheng, assistant professor of computer science at Columbia Engineering, has developed a technique that enables hydrographic printing, a widely used industrial method for transferring color inks on a thin film to the surface of manufactured 3D objects, to color these surfaces with the most precise alignment ever attained. Using a new computational method they developed to simulate the printing process, Zheng and his team have designed a model that predicts color film distortion during hydrographic immersion, and uses it to generate a colored film that guarantees exact alignment of the surface textures to the object. The research will be presented at SIGGRAPH 2015, August 9 to 13, in Los Angeles.

“Attaining precise alignment of the color texture onto the surface of an object with a complex surface, whether it’s a motorcycle helmet or a 3D-printed gadget, has been almost impossible in hydrographic printing until now,” says Zheng. “By incorporating—for the first time—a computational model into the traditional hydrographic printing process, we’ve made it easy for anyone to physically decorate 3D surfaces with their own customized color textures.”

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Partly Human Yeast Show A Common Ancestor’s Lasting Legacy

(May 22, 2015)  Despite a billion years of evolution separating humans from the baker’s yeast in their refrigerators, hundreds of genes from an ancestor that the two species have in common live on nearly unchanged in them both, say biologists at The University of Texas at Austin. The team created thriving strains of genetically engineered yeast using human genes and found that certain groups of genes are surprisingly stable over evolutionary time.

The research, published May 22 in the journal Science, paves the way for using humanized yeast to better understand genetic disorders and to screen drugs for treating the diseases.

Although yeast consist of a single cell and humans have trillions of cells organized into complex systems, we share thousands of similar genes. Of those, about 450 are critical for yeast’s survival, so researchers removed the yeast version of each one and replaced it with the human version and waited to see whether the yeast would die. Creating hundreds of new strains of yeast, each with a single human gene, resulted in many newly engineered strains — nearly half, in fact — that could survive and reproduce after having human genes swapped in for their ordinary ones.

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DALi: Robot walker for elderly people in public spaces

(May 22, 2015)  Elderly people with walking difficulties are often intimidated by busy public places. This led an EU research project to develop a robot walker to guide them around shopping centres, museums and other public buildings, thus enhancing their autonomy.

Shopping centres, airports, museums and hospitals are the kind of complex and confusing environments where elderly people on the verge of cognitive decline could have difficulties walking around without help. The walking frames they may currently use do not have the flexibility to help them navigate in often-crowded places.

This led researchers on the DALI project to develop a robotic cognitive walker (c-Walker) that can be taken to, or picked up at, the place to be visited, gently guiding the person around the building safely. The device takes corrective actions when the user comes across the type of busy area, obstacle or incident they want to avoid.

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Basel Physicists Develop Efficient Method of Signal Transmission from Nanocomponents

(May 22, 2015)  Physicists have developed an innovative method that could enable the efficient use of nanocomponents in electronic circuits. To achieve this, they have developed a layout in which a nanocomponent is connected to two electrical conductors, which uncouple the electrical signal in a highly efficient manner. The scientists at the Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel have published their results in the scientific journal “Nature Communications” together with their colleagues from ETH Zurich.

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Kiel researchers build the world’s smallest machines

Millions of euros of funding for the development of new medicines and materials

(May 22, 2015)  Great excitement at Kiel University: As the DFG (German Research Foundation) announced today (Thursday, May 21), it will continue to support the research on molecules which function like machines with another 8.9 million EUR. This funding will allow the scientists in Germany's northernmost state to develop new engineering techniques for building tiny machine-like molecules over the next four years. The ultimate miniaturisation of engineering functions should improve the efficiency of energy conversion systems, medicines, diagnostic methods and materials. Moreover, completely new areas of applications will open up along this line. The Collaborative Research Centre 677 (SFB 677) "Function by Switching" now starts into the third and final funding period. Collaborative Research Centres are supported for a maximum of twelve years. They are highly competitive and prestigious flagship institutions at German universities. In total, around 100 scientists from the fields of chemistry, physics, material sciences and medicine collaborate in this Kiel based research network.

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Coordinated Launching of an Ornithopter With a Hexapedal Robot

(May 22, 2015)  Abstract— In this work, we develop a cooperative launching system for a 13.2 gram ornithopter micro-aerial vehicle (MAV), the H2Bird, by carrying it on the back of a 32 gram hexapedal millirobot, the VelociRoACH. We determine the necessary initial velocity and pitch angle for take off using force data collected in a wind tunnel and use the VelociRoACH to reach these initial conditions for successful launch. In the wind tunnel predicted success region, we were able to complete a successful launch for 75 percent of the 12 trials in that region. Although carrying the H2Bird on top of the VelociRoACH at a stride frequency of 17 Hz increases our average power consumption by about 24.5 percent over solo running, the H2Bird, in turn, provides stability advantages to the VelociRoACH. We observed that the variance in pitch and roll velocity with the H2Bird is about 90 percent less than without. Additionally, with the H2Bird flapping at 5 Hz during transport, we observed an increase of 12.7 percent of the steady state velocity. Lastly, we found that the costs of transport for carrying the H2Bird flapping and without (6.6 and 6.8) are lower than the solo costs of transport for the VelociRoACH and for the H2Bird (8.1 and 10.1).

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Results Lead to Groundbreaking Decision from Federal Agency

(May 22, 2015)  As a result of research performed by scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of a drug to treat the deleterious effects of radiation exposure following a nuclear incident. The drug, Neupogen®, is the first ever approved for the treatment of acute radiation injury.

The research was done by Thomas J. MacVittie, PhD, professor, and Ann M. Farese, MA, MS, assistant professor, both in the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM) Department of Radiation Oncology’s Division of Translational Radiation Sciences. The investigators did their research in a non-human clinical model of high-dose radiation.

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May 21, 2015

Controlling a Robotic Arm with a Patient's Intentions

(May 21, 2015)  Neural prosthetic devices implanted in the brain's movement center, the motor cortex, can allow patients with amputations or paralysis to control the movement of a robotic limb—one that can be either connected to or separate from the patient's own limb. However, current neuroprosthetics produce motion that is delayed and jerky—not the smooth and seemingly automatic gestures associated with natural movement. Now, by implanting neuroprosthetics in a part of the brain that controls not the movement directly but rather our intent to move, Caltech researchers have developed a way to produce more natural and fluid motions.

In a clinical trial, the Caltech team and colleagues from Keck Medicine of USC have successfully implanted just such a device in a patient with quadriplegia, giving him the ability to perform a fluid hand-shaking gesture and even play "rock, paper, scissors" using a separate robotic arm.

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ORNL, Washington State researchers craft recipe for tunable shape-memory polymer

(May 21, 2015) Not all plastics are created equal. Malleable thermoplastics can be easily melted and reused in products such as food containers. Other plastics, called thermosets, are essentially stuck in their final form because of cross-linking chemical bonds that give them their strength for applications such as golf balls and car tires.

“Nobody takes a thermoset and recycles it like you would a water bottle,” said Orlando Rios from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Rios and a team of researchers from Washington State University and the University of Idaho have developed a process to make a thermoset that can be reshaped and reused. The team’s study, published in the journal Macromolecules, is featured on the current issue’s cover.

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Simulations predict flat liquid

(May 21, 2015) Computer simulations have predicted a new phase of matter: atomically thin two-dimensional liquid.

This prediction pushes the boundaries of possible phases of materials further than ever before. Two-dimensional materials themselves were considered impossible until the discovery of graphene around ten years ago. However, they have been observed only in the solid phase, because the thermal atomic motion required for molten materials easily breaks the thin and fragile membrane. Therefore, the possible existence of an atomically thin flat liquid was considered impossible.

Now researchers from the Nanoscience Center at the University of Jyväskylä, led by Academy Research Fellow Pekka Koskinen, have conducted computer simulations that predict a liquid phase in atomically thin golden islands that patch small pores of graphene. According to the simulations, gold atoms flow and change places in the plane, while the surrounding graphene template retains the planarity of liquid membrane.

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How supercooled water is prevented from turning into ice

(May 21, 2015)  Calculating the energy barrier that keeps liquid water below zero from immediately turning into ice provides the key to understanding its ability to be compressed as temperature drops

Water behaves in mysterious ways. Especially below zero, where it is dubbed supercooled water, before it turns into ice. Physicists have recently observed the spontaneous first steps of the ice formation process, as tiny crystal clusters as small as 15 molecules start to exhibit the recognisable structural pattern of crystalline ice. This is part of a new study, which shows that liquid water does not become completely unstable as it becomes supercooled, prior to turning into ice crystals. The team reached this conclusion by proving that an energy barrier for crystal formation exists throughout the region in which supercooled water’s compressibility continues to rise. Previous work argued that this barrier vanished as the liquid gets colder. These findings have been published in EPJ E by Connor Buhariwalla from St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Canada and colleagues.

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Machine-Learning Algorithm Mines Rap Lyrics, Then Writes Its Own

(May 21, 2015)  An automated rap-generating algorithm pushes the boundaries of machine creativity, say computer scientists.

The ancient skill of creating and performing spoken rhyme is thriving today because of the inexorable rise in the popularity of rapping. This art form is distinct from ordinary spoken poetry because it is performed to a beat, often with background music.

And the performers have excelled. Adam Bradley, a professor of English at the University of Colorado has described it in glowing terms. Rapping, he says, crafts “intricate structures of sound and rhyme, creating some of the most scrupulously formal poetry composed today.”

The highly structured nature of rap makes it particularly amenable to computer analysis. And that raises an interesting question: if computers can analyze rap lyrics, can they also generate them?

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New ‘deep learning’ technique enables robot mastery of skills via trial and error

(May 21, 2015)  UC Berkeley researchers have developed algorithms that enable robots to learn motor tasks through trial and error using a process that more closely approximates the way humans learn, marking a major milestone in the field of artificial intelligence.

They demonstrated their technique, a type of reinforcement learning, by having a robot complete various tasks — putting a clothes hanger on a rack, assembling a toy plane, screwing a cap on a water bottle, and more — without pre-programmed details about its surroundings.

“What we’re reporting on here is a new approach to empowering a robot to learn,” said Professor Pieter Abbeel of UC Berkeley’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences. “The key is that when a robot is faced with something new, we won’t have to reprogram it. The exact same software, which encodes how the robot can learn, was used to allow the robot to learn all the different tasks we gave it.”

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May 20, 2015

Your brain's unique response to words can reveal your identity

(May 20, 2015)  Watch your language. Words mean different things to different people – so the brainwaves they provoke could be a way to identify you.

Blair Armstrong of the Basque Center on Cognition, Brain, and Language in Spain and his team recorded the brain signals of 45 volunteers as they read a list of 75 acronyms – such as FBI or DVD – then used computer programs to spot differences between individuals. The participants' responses varied enough that the programs could identify the volunteers with about 94 per cent accuracy when the experiment was repeated.

The results hint that such brainwaves could be a way for security systems to verify individuals' identity. While the 94 per cent accuracy seen in this experiment would not be secure enough to guard, for example, a room or computer full of secrets, Armstrong says it's a promising start.

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Tunable Liquid Metal Antennas

Using electrochemistry, North Carolina State University researchers have created a reconfigurable, voltage-controlled liquid metal antenna that may play a huge role in future mobile devices and the coming Internet of Things

(May 20, 2015) Researchers have held tremendous interest in liquid metal electronics for many years, but a significant and unfortunate drawback slowing the advance of such devices is that they tend to require external pumps that can't be easily integrated into electronic systems.

So a team of North Carolina State University (NCSU) researchers set out to create a reconfigurable liquid metal antenna controlled by voltage only, which they describe in the Journal of Applied Physics, from AIP Publishing.

journal reference (Free Access) >>

Graphene antenna ‘could deliver cheap, flexible sensors’

(May 20, 2015)  Scientists at The University of Manchester have revealed a graphene antenna capable of delivering cheaper, more powerful and more sustainable RFID tags and wireless sensors.

Made from compressed graphene ink, the antenna is flexible, environmentally friendly and could be cheaply mass-produced, paving the way for wearable wireless devices and sensors.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags wirelessly transfer data in a vast range of everyday objects, from car assembly to tracking household pets. Graphene, the world’s strongest, thinnest and most conductive material, could dramatically increase the conductivity of RFID tags.

journal reference (Open Access) >>

New Printing Process Makes Three-dimensional Objects Glow

(May 20, 2015)  Engineers of KIT and Franz Binder GmbH Have Succeeded in Coating Curved Surfaces with Electroluminescent Layers

Conventional electroluminescent (EL) foils can be bent up to a certain degree only and can be applied easily onto flat surfaces. The new process developed by Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in cooperation with the company of Franz Binder GmbH & Co. now allows for the direct printing of electroluminescent layers onto three-dimensional components. Such EL components might be used to enhance safety in buildings in case of power failures. Other potential applications are displays and watches or the creative design of rooms. The development project was funded with EUR 125,000 by the Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt (German Foundation for the Environment).

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Bats' sonar secrets could make for better submarines, drones

(May 19, 2015)  The U.S. Navy has found that it pays to listen to Rolf Mueller carry on about his bat research. From unmanned aerial systems to undersea communications, practical applications flow from the team headed by Mueller, an associate professor of mechanical engineering.

Learning how bats navigate through dense thickets without crashing into each other could also help unmanned aircraft designers create better delivery vehicles, Mueller says.

Mueller's work is supported in part by the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science at Virginia Tech as well as the U.S. Navy's Naval Sea Systems Command, in Newport, Rhode Island.

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New technology could fundamentally change future wireless communications

(May 20, 2015)  Radio systems, such as mobile phones and wireless internet connections, have become an integral part of modern life. However, today’s devices use twice as much of the radio spectrum as is necessary. New technology is being developed that could fundamentally change radio design and could increase data rates and network capacity, reduce power consumption, create cheaper devices and enable global roaming.

A pioneering team of researchers from the University of Bristol's Communication Systems and Networks research group, have developed a new technique that can estimate and cancel out the interference from one’s own transmission, allowing a radio device to transmit and receive on the same channel at the same time. This therefore requires only one channel for two-way communication, using half as much spectrum compared to the current technology.

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Toward ‘green’ paper-thin, flexible electronics

(May 20, 2015)  The rapid evolution of gadgets has brought us an impressive array of “smart” products from phones to tablets, and now watches and glasses. But they still haven’t broken free from their rigid form. Now scientists are reporting in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces a new step toward bendable electronics. They have developed the first light-emitting, transparent and flexible paper out of environmentally friendly materials via a simple, suction-filtration method.

Technology experts have long predicted the coming age of flexible electronics, and researchers have been working on multiple fronts to reach that goal. But many of the advances rely on petroleum-based plastics and toxic materials. Yu-Zhong Wang, Fei Song and colleagues wanted to seek a “greener” way forward.

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May 18, 2015

Breakthrough technology holds potential for treating brain disorders

(May 18, 2015)  A Florida International University professor and his team this month published news of a scientific breakthrough that could lead to the noninvasive treatment of Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Researchers remotely manipulated the electric waves that naturally exist in the brains of mice, a feat that has far-reaching implications for medicine.

Using a previously reported FIU-patented technology, researchers began by intravenously administering magneto-electric nanoparticles, or MENs, in mice. With a magnet placed over the head of each subject animal, the particles were pulled through the blood-brain barrier, where they “coupled” the externally created magnetic field with the brain’s intrinsic electric field. This enabled researchers to wirelessly connect their computers and electronics to neurons deep within the brain.

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"Energy-Generating Rubber" Combines Flexibility and High-Output

(May 18, 2015)  Ricoh today announced that it has created a novel flexible material "Energy-Generating Rubber" that converts pressure and vibration into electric energy with high efficiency.

Currently, piezoelectric materials, which generate electricity with mechanical strain, are drawing attention as energy-harvesting* materials. Major piezoelectric materials are ceramics and polymers, but they have some deficits which prevent them from wide prevalence.
Piezoelectric ceramics are used for restricted purposes because of their fragility and heavy weight although they generate relatively high electricity. On the other hand, piezoelectric polymers generate very slight electricity although they achieve flexibility by reducing the thickness.
The "Energy-Generating Rubber" created by Ricoh generates as high a level of electricity as ceramics while its appearance is a soft and flexible sheet. Since it overcomes the deficits of previous piezoelectric ceramics and polymers, it is expected to be applied to multiple areas combining the advantages of flexibility and high-output.

Ricoh will advance research in this technology aiming at commercializing the material for various purposes especially flexible sensors. In the future, it will contribute to the coming age of IoT, when various devices are equipped with communication features, by providing a promising energy-generating material.


Goodyear Concept Tires Offer a Glimpse ofthe Future >>

Computing at the speed of light


(May 18, 2015)  University of Utah engineers have taken a step forward in creating the next generation of computers and mobile devices capable of speeds millions of times faster than current machines.

The Utah engineers have developed an ultracompact beamsplitter — the smallest on record — for dividing light waves into two separate channels of information. The device brings researchers closer to producing silicon photonic chips that compute and shuttle data with light instead of electrons. Electrical and computer engineering associate professor Rajesh Menon and colleagues describe their invention today in the journal Nature Photonics.

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New options for spintronic devices: Switching between 1 and 0 with low voltage

(May 18, 2015)  Scientists from Paris and Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin have been able to switch ferromagnetic domains on and off with low voltage in a structure made of two different ferroic materials. The switching works slightly above room temperature. Their results, which are published online in  Scientific Reports, might inspire future applications in low-power spintronics, for instance for fast and efficient data storage.

Information can be written as a sequence of bit digits, i.e. “0” and “1”. Materials which display ferromagnetism are currently used to handle or store such bits of information in magnetic memories by controlling the magnetization strength or direction of the individual bits via magnetic fields. But the use of magnetic fields goes along with high power consumption. Now, a comparatively low power approach which uses electric fields (voltages) instead to write magnetic information might do the trick, as demonstrated by HZB scientists in collaboration with Lee C. Phillips and his French colleagues.

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Penn Researchers Develop Liquid-crystal-based Compound Lenses That Work Like Insect Eyes

(May 18, 2015)  The compound eyes found in insects and some sea creatures are marvels of evolution. There, thousands of lenses work together to provide sophisticated information without the need for a sophisticated brain. Human artifice can only begin to approximate these naturally self-assembled structures, and, even then, they require painstaking manufacturing techniques.

Now, engineers and physicists at the University of Pennsylvania have shown how liquid crystals can be employed to create compound lenses similar to those found in nature. Taking advantage of the geometry in which these liquid crystals like to arrange themselves, the researchers are able to grow compound lenses with controllable sizes.

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Wearables may get boost from boron-infused graphene

Rice U. researchers flex muscle of laser-written microsupercapacitors

(May 18, 2015) A microsupercapacitor designed by scientists at Rice University that may find its way into personal and even wearable electronics is getting an upgrade. The laser-induced graphene device benefits greatly when boron becomes part of the mix.

The Rice lab of chemist James Tour uses commercial lasers to create thin, flexible supercapacitors by burning patterns into common polymers. The laser burns away everything but the carbon to a depth of 20 microns on the top layer, which becomes a foam-like matrix of interconnected graphene flakes.

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May 15, 2015

ORNL demonstrates first large-scale graphene fabrication

(May 15, 2015)  One of the barriers to using graphene at a commercial scale could be overcome using a method demonstrated by researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Graphene, a material stronger and stiffer than carbon fiber, has enormous commercial potential but has been impractical to employ on a large scale, with researchers limited to using small flakes of the material.

Now, using chemical vapor deposition, a team led by ORNL’s Ivan Vlassiouk has fabricated polymer composites containing 2-inch-by-2-inch sheets of the one-atom thick hexagonally arranged carbon atoms.

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May 14, 2015

Device developed at Washington University may allow sensations in prosthetic hands

(May 14, 2015)  To the nearly 2 million people in the United States living with the loss of a limb, including U.S. military veterans, prosthetic devices provide restored mobility, yet lack sensory feedback. A team of engineers and researchers at Washington University in St. Louis is working to change that so those with upper limb prosthetics can feel hot and cold and the sense of touch through their prosthetic hands.

Daniel Moran, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science and of neurobiology, of physical therapy and of neurological surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, has received a three-year, nearly $1.9 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to test a novel device developed in his lab that would stimulate the nerves in the upper arm and forearm. If it works, upper-limb amputees who use motorized prosthetic devices would be able to feel various sensations

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Intense Lasers Cook Up Complex, Self-Assembled Nanomaterials

New technique developed at Brookhaven Lab makes self-assembly 1,000 times faster and could be used for industrial-scale solar panels and electronics

(May 14, 2015)  Nanoscale materials feature extraordinary, billionth-of-a-meter qualities that transform everything from energy generation to data storage. But while a nanostructured solar cell may be fantastically efficient, that precision is notoriously difficult to achieve on industrial scales. The solution may be self-assembly, or training molecules to stitch themselves together into high-performing configurations.

Now, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have developed a laser-based technique to execute nanoscale self-assembly with unprecedented ease and efficiency.

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CLAIRE Brings Electron Microscopy to Soft Materials

(May 14, 2015)  Soft matter encompasses a broad swath of materials, including liquids, polymers, gels, foam and – most importantly – biomolecules. At the heart of soft materials, governing their overall properties and capabilities, are the interactions of nano-sized components. Observing the dynamics behind these interactions is critical to understanding key biological processes, such as protein crystallization and metabolism, and could help accelerate the development of important new technologies, such as artificial photosynthesis or high-efficiency photovoltaic cells. Observing these dynamics at sufficient resolution has been a major challenge, but this challenge is now being met with a new non-invasive nanoscale imaging technique that goes by the acronym of CLAIRE.

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