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Thin Heat Shield For Superfast Aircraft

The world of aerospace increasingly relies on carbon fiber reinforced polymer composites to build the structures of satellites, rockets and jet aircraft. But the life of those materials is limited by how they handle heat.

A team of FAMU-FSU College of Engineering researchers from Florida State University’s High-Performance Materials Institute (HPMI) is developing a design for a heat shield that better protects those extremely fast machines. Their work will be published in the November edition of Carbon .

Right now, our flight systems are becoming more and more high-speed, even going into hypersonic systems, which are five times the speed of sound,” said Professor Richard Liang, director of HPMI. “When you have speeds that high, there’s more heat on a surface. Therefore, we need a much better thermal protection system.”

The team used carbon nanotubes, which are linked hexagons of carbon atoms in the shape of a cylinder, to build the heat shields. Sheets of those nanotubes are also known as “buckypaper,” a material with incredible abilities to conduct heat and electricity that has been a focus of study at HPMI. By soaking the buckypaper in a resin made of a compound called phenol, the researchers were able to create a lightweight, flexible material that is also durable enough to potentially protect the body of a rocket or jet from the intense heat it faces while flying.

Existing heat shields are often very thick compared to the base they protect, said Ayou Hao, a research faculty member at HPMI. This design lets engineers build a very thin shield, like a sort of skin that protects the aircraft and helps support its structure. After building heat shields of varying thicknesses, the researchers put them to the test.

One test involved applying a flame to the samples to see how they prevented heat from reaching the carbon fiber layer they were meant to protect. After that, the researchers bent the samples to see how strong they remained. They found the samples with sheets of buckypaper were better than control samples at dispersing heat and keeping it from reaching the base layer. They also stayed strong and flexible compared to control samples made without protective layers of nanotubes.

That flexibility is a helpful quality. The nanotubes are less vulnerable to cracking at high temperatures compared to ceramics, a typical heat shield material. They’re also lightweight, which is helpful for engineers who want to reduce the weight of anything on an aircraft that doesn’t help the way it flies.

Flying Motorcycle

Flying cars are fine — but why use a car when you can have a motorcycle instead? YC-backed startup JetPack Aviation wants to answer that question with the world’s first flying motorcycle, a personal aircraft dubbed “The Speeder,” a name that Star Wars fans will surely appreciate. Now, JetPack has raised a seed round of $2 million from investors indulging Draper Associates, Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn, YC, Cathexis Ventures and a group of angels that it says will fund the development of the Speeder’s first functional prototype.

Back in March, JetPack revealed its plans for the Speeder, which it says will provide a fully stabilized ride that’s either pilot-controlled or fully autonomous. It can take off and land vertically, and reach top speeds of potentially over 400 MPH (640 km/h). There are no exposed rotors systems, which make it a lot safer and easier to operate than a lot of other VTOL designs and helicopters, and the company says it can also be refueled in less than 5 minutes, which is a dramatically shorter turnaround time for powering up versus an electric vehicle.

This isn’t JetPack’s first aerial rodeo: The company, led by CEO and founder David Mayman, has already created an actual jet pack. Mayman himself has demonstrated the personal aerial jet pack numerous times, and it has been certified by the FAA, plus it landed a CARADA agreement with the U.S. Navy Special Forces for use in short-distance troop transportation. The jet pack also boasts a lot of features that sound, on paper, like science fiction: Over 100 mph top seed, and suitcase-sized portability, for instance.

That track record is why when Mayman tells me this $2 million round “should fully fund the first full-scale flying prototype, including all modeling designs and build,” I tend to believe him more than I would just about anyone else in the world making a similar claim.

Part of the reason the Speeder is more viable near-term than other VTOL designs is that it will rely on turbine propulsion, rather than battery-based flight systems. This is because, in Mayman’s opinion, “current battery energy density is just too low for most electrically powered VTOLs to be truly practical,” and that timelines optimistically for that to change are in the five to 10-year range. The Speeder, by comparison, should feasibly be able to provide quick cargo transportation for emergency services and military (its first planned uses before moving on to the consumer market) in a much shorter period.*


How To Print Crowns And Bridges, Surgical Guides For Dental Implant

Back at CES this year, we talked with 3D-printer maker Formlabs about its early experimentation in using its printers to make dentures faster and more affordably than existing alternatives. A few months later, the company is going deep on the concept. They’re releasing a 3D printer meant specifically for dental use, opening up a whole new wing called “Formlabs Dental” and acquiring their main resin supplier in order to better make materials for the dental industry.

Unfamiliar with Formlabs? The main thing to know is that their printers use Stereolithography (SLA) rather than the Fused Deposition Modeling (or FDM) that most people probably think of when it comes to 3D printing; in other words, they use carefully aimed UV lasers to precisely harden an otherwise goopy resin into whatever you want to print, whereas FDM printers heat up a solid material until it’s malleable and then push it through a hot glue gun-style nozzle to build a model layer by layer. SLA tends to offer higher accuracy and resolution, whereas FDM tends to be cheaper and offer a wider variety of colors and material properties.

Formlabs calls its new dentistry-centric printer the “Form 3b” — which, as the name suggests, is a slight variation on the Form 3 printer the company introduced earlier this year. The base package costs about a thousand bucks more per unit over the non-dental Form 3, but comes with software meant to tie into a dental team’s existing workflow, along with a year of Formlab’s “Dental Service Plan,” which includes training, support and the ability to request a new printer if something needs repairing (rather than waiting for yours to get shipped back and forth). The company also says the 3b has been optimized to work with its dental resins, but doesn’t say much about how.

Speaking of resins: Formlabs is acquiring Spectra, which has been its primary supplier of resins since Formlabs started back in 2012. While the company isn’t disclosing any of the terms of the deal, it does say it has put over a million dollars into building an FDA-registered clean room to make medical-grade resins. Formlabs says that anyone who already buys materials and resin from Spectra can continue to do so.

The company’s new “Formlabs Dental” division, meanwhile, will focus on figuring out new dental materials and ways to better tie in to existing dentist office workflows. Right now, the company says, the Form 3b can be used to print crowns and bridges, clear retainers, surgical guides to help during dental implant procedures, custom mouth guards (or “occlusal splints”) and dentures.


Safe Stem Cells Therapies To Fight Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Diseases

A Rutgers-led team has created better biosensor technology that may help lead to safe stem cell therapies for treating Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and other neurological disorders.

The technology, which features a unique graphene and gold-based platform and high-tech imaging, monitors the fate of stem cells by detecting genetic material (RNA) involved in turning such cells into brain cells (neurons), according to a study in the journal Nano Letters.

Stem cells can become many different types of cells. As a result, stem cell therapy shows promise for regenerative treatment of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke and spinal cord injury, with diseased cells needing replacement or repair. But characterizing stem cells and controlling their fate must be resolved before they could be used in treatments. The formation of tumors and uncontrolled transformation of stem cells remain key barriers.

This unique biosensing platform consists of an array of ultrathin graphene layers and gold nanostructures. The platform, combined with high-tech imaging (Raman spectroscopy), detects genetic material (RNA) and characterizes different kinds of stem cells with greater reliability, selectivity and sensitivity than today’s biosensors.

A critical challenge is ensuring high sensitivity and accuracy in detecting biomarkers – indicators such as modified genes or proteins – within the complex stem cell microenvironment,” said senior author KiBum Lee, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers UniversityNew Brunswick.Our technology, which took four years to develop, has demonstrated great potential for analyzing a variety of interactions in stem cells.”


Virtually Indestructible Mini Cheetah Robots

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) put on a spectacular show with a pack of mini cheetah robots the campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Researchers behind the small quadrupedal robots shared a video online of these mechanical animals running, jumping and even kicking around a soccer ballSteered manually with a remote control, each one weighs about 20 pounds and can reach speeds of around six miles per hour. The mini cheetah was designed to be ‘virtually indestructible,’ recovering with little damage, even if a backflip ends in a spill, MIT News explained earlier this year. Sangbae Kim, director of MIT‘s biomimetics lab, noted that the robots area designed to absorb the impact of jumping and landing – and the video highlights this capability. The cheetahs are shown frolicking through an area of the college campus, while being controlled by a human. The machines perform a synchronized dance, where they show their gymnastic abilities and then they all join in a game of soccer.


Eventually, I’m hoping we could have a robotic dog race through an obstacle course, where each team controls a mini cheetah with different algorithms, and we can see which strategy is more effective,‘ Kim said. ‘That’s how you accelerate research.’

Each of its legs is powered by three identical, specially designed low-cost electric motors. It was created with a modular design, which means each of its motors and other components can be swapped out if they fail or sustain damage. Benjamin Katz, a technical associate at MIT‘s department of mechanical engineering and lead developer said, ‘If you wanted to add another arm, you could just add three or four more of these modular motors.’ ‘The rate at which it can change forces on the ground is really fast.’


How To Starve Cancer Tumors and Beef Up The Immune Cells

Tumors are hogs, gobbling nutrients to fuel their runaway growth, and for decades researchers have tried to develop drugs that cut off their food supply. A study out today shows that an updated version of a failed cancer drug can not only prevent tumor cells from using an essential nutrient, but also spur immune cells to attack the growths.

T lymphocyte cells attacking a cancer cell, computer illustration. T lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that recognise a specific site (antigen) on the surface of cancer cells or pathogens and bind to it. Some T lymphocytes then signal for other immune system cells to eliminate the cell. The genetic changes that cause a cell to become cancerous lead to the presentation of tumour antigens on the cell’s surface.

It’s a pretty striking paper,” says cancer biologist Ralph DeBerardinis of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, who wasn’t connected to the study. “With a single drug, you can in effect starve the tumor and beef up the immune cells.”

Cancer cells eat to obtain molecules vital for survival and replication, but their gluttony also turns their surroundings into an acidic, oxygen-deprived moat that stymies immune cells trying to eliminate them. One of the nutrients many tumors need in abundance is the amino acid glutamine, which provides the building blocks for fabricating molecules such as DNA, proteins, and lipids. “Glutamine is incredibly important for cellular metabolism,” says immunologist Jonathan Powell of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.

Starting in the 1950s, researchers tried to turn tumors’ glutamine dependence against them, developing drugs to block its metabolism. A bacteria-derived compound called DON, for instance, kills tumors by inhibiting several enzymes that allow cancer cells to use glutamine. In clinical trials, however, the drug provoked severe nausea and vomiting, and it was never approved.

Now, Powell and colleagues have crafted a new version of DON that may be easier to stomach. It carries two chemical groups that keep it inert until it reaches the tumor’s neighborhood. There, enzymes that normally loiter around tumors remove these molecular handcuffs, unleashing the drug on the cancerous cells. With this approach, “the vast majority of the active drug is where we want,” Powell says.

To test their new compound, he and colleagues injected four types of cancer cells into mice, inducing tumors. They then dosed some of the animals with their next-generation DON. The drug worked against all four kinds of tumors, the scientists report today in Science. In untreated mice, for example, colon cancer tumors had grown more than five times larger after about 3 weeks. But in rodents that received DON, the tumors shrank and almost disappeared. The researchers found that the drug wasn’t just throttling glutamine metabolism. It was also disrupting other aspects of the cellsbiochemistry, such as their ability to use the sugar glucose.


Rare genetic mutation holds clues to preventing Alzheimer’s

Could one woman’s rare genetic mutation one day have a global impact on dementia risk? It’s possible, say investigators who report on a potentially groundbreaking case of a woman whose genetic mutation staved off dementia for decades, even though her brain had already been damaged by Alzheimer’s disease. While most Alzheimer’s cases are not driven by genetic predisposition, one woman in Colombia is among about 1,200 in her country who do face a genetically higher risk for early-onset Alzheimer’s. Why? They all carry the E280A mutation of a gene called Presenilin 1 (PSEN1), which is known to increase the chances for Alzheimer’s at a far younger age than usual.

We identified an individual that was predisposed to develop Alzheimer’s in her 40s,” noted study author Dr. Joseph Arboleda-Velasquez. He’s an assistant professor of ophthalmology with the Schepens Eye Research Institute of Mass Eye and Ear at Harvard Medical School, in Boston.

But, strangely, the woman “remained unimpaired until her 70s,” Arboleda-Velasquez added. The twist: the woman had, in fact, developed clear telltale signs of Alzheimer’s in her brain. She just hadn’t developed dementia. For example, while she had fewer neural “tangles” in her brain than is typical for Alzheimer’s patients, by the time she hit her 40s she did have the same unusually high level of brain amyloid-beta deposits as her E280A peers. Such deposits are a key signature of Alzheimer’s. So why didn’t she develop middle-aged dementia like her peers?

To unravel the mystery, Arboleda-Velasquez and his colleagues ran an in-depth genetic analysis on the woman. And what they found is that she had not just one mutation, but two. In addition to the E280A mutation, she also carried the so-calledChristchurchmutation in the APOE3 gene. But there’s more. Not only did she carry the Christchurch mutation, but she had two of them. Some of her E280A peers (about 6%) also carried a single copy of Christchurch. But she was the only one who carried two, the investigators found. “It is ultra-rare, with an approximate prevalence of less than one in every 200,000 individuals,” Arboleda-Velasquez said.

And having one such rare mutation did not appear to be enough. No protection against dementia was linked to only one Christchurch mutation. But as this woman’s case suggests, having two such mutations did seem to throw up a shield against Alzheimer’s, preserving her ability to remember things and think clearly for a few decades, long after her E280A peers had started experiencing cognitive decline.


Electric 3D-Printed Plastics

Rutgers engineers have embedded high performance electrical circuits inside 3D-printed plastics, which could lead to smaller and versatile drones and better-performing small satellites, biomedical implants and smart structures.

They used pulses of high-energy light to fuse tiny silver wires, resulting in circuits that conduct 10 times more electricity than the state of the art, according to a study in the journal Additive Manufacturing. By increasing conductivity 10-fold, the engineers can reduce energy use, extend the life of devices and increase their performance.

Our innovation shows considerable promise for developing an integrated unit – using 3D printing and intense pulses of light to fuse silver nanoparticles – for electronics,” said senior author Rajiv Malhotra, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in the School of Engineering at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.

Embedding electrical interconnections inside 3D-printed structures made of polymers, or plastics, can create new paradigms for devices that are smaller and more energy-efficient. Such devices could include CubeSats (small satellites), drones, transmitters, light and motion sensors and Global Positioning Systems. Such interconnections are also often used in antennas, pressure sensors, electrical coils and electrical grids for electromagnetic shielding.


Gene Therapy Combats Efficiently Age-related Diseases

As we age, our bodies tend to develop diseases like heart failure, kidney failure, diabetes, and obesity, and the presence of any one disease increases the risk of developing others. In traditional drug development, a drug usually only targets one condition, largely ignoring the interconnectedness of age-related diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart failure, and requiring patients to take multiple drugs, which increases the risk of negative side effects.

A new study from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and Harvard Medical School (HMS) reports that a single administration of an adeno-associated virus (AAV)-based gene therapy delivering combinations of three longevity-associated genes to mice dramatically improved or completely reversed multiple age-related diseases, suggesting that a systems-level approach to treating such diseases could improve overall health and lifespan. The research is reported in PNAS.

The AAV-based gene therapy improved the function of the heart and other organs in mice with various age-related diseases, suggesting that such an approach could help maintain health during aging.

The results we saw were stunning, and suggest that holistically addressing aging via gene therapy could be more effective than the piecemeal approach that currently exists,” said first author Noah Davidsohn, Ph.D., a former Research Scientist at the Wyss Institute and HMS who is now the Chief Technology Officer of Rejuvenate Bio. “Everyone wants to stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible, and this study is a first step toward reducing the suffering caused by debilitating diseases.

The study was conducted in the lab of Wyss Core Faculty member George Church, Ph.D. as part of Davidsohn’s postdoctoral research into the genetics of aging. Davidsohn, Church, and their co-authors honed in on three genes that had previously been shown to confer increased health and lifespan benefits when their expression was modified in genetically engineered mice: FGF21, sTGFβR2, and αKlotho. They hypothesized that providing extra copies of those genes to non-engineered mice via gene therapy would similarly combat age-related diseases and confer health benefits.

The team created separate gene therapy constructs for each gene using the AAV8 serotype as a delivery vehicle, and injected them into mouse models of obesity, type II diabetes, heart failure, and renal failure both individually and in combination with the other genes to see if there was a synergistic beneficial effect.


Measles Virus Resets Immune System To ‘Baby-like’ State

Two newly published studies have found that measles is a bigger deal than many people realize: it leaves them more susceptible to a variety of other health conditions. The issue is caused by eliminating many of the protective antibodies one develops over time, opening the door for illnesses caused by bacteria and viruses to which the patient was previously immune.

Measles vaccination rates have decreased, particularly among select populations motivated by skepticism of the science behind vaccinations in general or by ideologies that forbid their use. There’s a general belief among many that measles, a highly contagious disease most commonly acquired in childhood, is “no big deal” for most people. That’s not true, however.

Researchers with multiple institutions, including the Wellcome Sanger Institute and Harvard Medical School, found that the measles virus can essentially wipe the patient’s immune system record, eliminating the protective antibodies that make them immune to various viruses and other pathogens. This effect was observed in both humans and ferrets

According to the study, the immune system of someone who was infected with measles is partially reset to ‘an immature baby-like state,’ one that is able to respond to viruses and bacteria in a limited fashion. As a result of this, kids who contract measles are more likely to contract other illnesses they were previously immune to, such as the flu

The measles is highly preventable with the administration of a vaccine that led to the elimination of the disease in the US and, until recently, the UK. The condition itself causes a red rash and fever; there’s the potential for severe complications leading to death. Despite this, vaccination rates have decreased, particularly among certain religious collectives and anti-vaxers.