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How To Bring Fresh Water To Remote Communities

Researchers at the University of Bath (UK) have developed a revolutionary desalination process that has the potential to be operated in mobile, solar-powered units. The process is low cost, low energy and low maintenance, and has the potential to provide safe water to communities in remote and disaster-struck areas where fresh water is in short supply.

Developed by the university’s Water Innovation and Research Centre in partnership with Indonesia’s Bogor Agricultural University and the University of Johannesburg, the prototype desalination unit is a 3D-printed system with two internal chambers designed to extract and/or accumulate salt. When power is applied, salt cations (positively charged ions) and salt anions (negatively charged ions) flow between chambers through arrays of micro-holes in a thin synthetic membrane. The flow can only happen in one direction thanks to a mechanism that has parallels in mobile-phone technology. As a result of this one-way flow, salt is pumped out of seawater. This contrasts with the classical desalination process, where water rather than salt is pumped through a membrane.

Desalination, which turns seawater into fresh water, has become an essential process for providing drinking and irrigation water where freshwater is scarce. Traditionally, it has been an energy-intensive process carried out in large industrial plants.


There are times when it would be enormously beneficial to install small, solar-powered desalination units to service a small number of households. Large industrial water plants are essential to 21st Century living, but they are of no help when you’re living in a remote location where drinking water is scarce, or where there is a coastal catastrophe that wipes out the fresh water supply,” said Professor Frank Marken from the Department of Chemistry

The Bath desalination system is based on ‘ionics’, where a cationic diode (a negatively charged, semi-permeable membrane studded with microscopic pores) is combined with an anionic resistor (a device that only allows the flow of negative ions when power is applied).

This amounts to a whole new process for removing salt from water,”explained Prof Marken. “We are the first people to use tiny micron-sized diodes in a desalination prototype.

He added: “This is a low-energy system with no moving parts. Other systems use enormous pressures to push the water through nano-pores, but we only remove the salts. Most intriguingly, the external pumps and switches can be replaced by microscopic processes inside the membrane – a little bit like biological membranes work.”


Blended Wing Aircraft Cuts Fuel Consumtion Up To 20%

Following a series of secret tests, Airbus has revealed a futuristic “blended wing” commercial aircraft design that promises to cut fuel consumption up to 20%.
The French aircraft maker rolled out a model of the small-scale, remote-controlled aircraft demonstrator it’s been using to test the design at the Singapore Air Show 2020 on Tuesday.

This “blended wing body” demonstrator is called MAVERIC — which stands for Model Aircraft for Validation and Experimentation of Robust Innovative Controls — and is two meters long and 3.2 meters wide.

Testing has reportedly been underway since June 2019 but the project, which launched in 2017, was kept under wraps until this month.
According to Airbus, MAVERIC helps accelerate understanding of new aircraft configurations and matures the technology necessary to fly such a radically different aircraft.
What’s so special about this aerodynamicblended wing body“? In addition to the environmental benefit — approximately 20% less fuel burn compared to current single-aisle models with the same engine — Airbus says the plane’s unusual and spacious configuration opens up new possibilities for cabin design.
To prove this point, it also released a series of design renderings showing what passengers onboard a blended wing aircraft might be in for. Noise would likely be reduced too, due to the plane’s “shieldedengine, which is mounted above the central body.
Airbus is leveraging emerging technologies to pioneer the future of flight,” says Jean-Brice Dumont, executive vice president of engineering at Airbus, in a statement announcing the new design.
By testing disruptive aircraft configurations, Airbus is able to evaluate their potential as viable future products.”

Personalized cancer vaccines

Therapeutic cancer vaccines were first developed 100 years ago and have remained broadly ineffective to date. Before tangible results can be achieved, two major obstacles must be overcome. Firstly, since tumor mutations are unique to each patient, cancer cell antigens must be targeted extremely precisely, which is very hard to achieve. Secondly, a safe system is needed to deliver the vaccine to the right location and achieve a strong and specific immune response.

Li Tang’s team at EPFL’s School of Engineering in Switzerland is coming up with a solution to the delivery problem. The researchers have used a polymerization technique called polycondensation to develop a prototype vaccine that can travel automatically to the desired location and activate immune cells there. The patented technique has been successfully tested in mice and is the topic of a paper appearing in ACS Central Science. Li Tang has also co-founded a startup called PepGene, with partners that are working on an algorithm for quickly and accurately predicting mutated tumor antigens. Together, the two techniques should result in a new and better cancer vaccine in the next several years.

Helping the body to defend itself

Most vaccines – against measles and tetanus for example – are preventive. Healthy individuals are inoculated with weakened or inactivated parts of a virus, which prompt their immune systems to produce antibodies. This prepares the body to defend itself against future infection.

However, the aim of a therapeutic cancer vaccine is not to prevent the disease, but to help the body defend itself against a disease that is already present. “There are various sorts of immunotherapies other than vaccines, but some patients don’t respond well to them. The vaccine could be combined with those immunotherapies to obtain the best possible immune response,” explains Li Tang. Another advantage is that vaccines should reduce the risk of relapse.

Delivering a cancer vaccine to the immune system involves various stages. First, the patient is inoculated with the vaccine subcutaneously. The vaccine will thus travel to the lymph nodes, where there are lots of immune cells. Once there, the vaccine is expected to penetrate dendritic cells, which act as a kind of alert mechanism. If the vaccine stimulates them correctly, the dendritic cells present specific antigens to cancer-fighting T-cells, a process that activates and trains the T-cells to attack them.

The procedure appears simple, but is extremely hard to put into practice. Because they are very small, the components of a vaccine tend to disperse or be absorbed in the blood stream before reaching the lymph nodes.

To overcome that obstacle, Li Tang has developed a system that chemically binds the vaccine’s parts together to form a larger entity. The new vaccine, named Polycondensate Neoepitope (PNE), consists of neoantigens (mutated antigens specific to the tumor to be attacked) and an adjuvant. When combined within a solvent, the components naturally bind together, forming an entity that is too large to be absorbed by blood vessels and that travels naturally to the lymph nodes.


One Trillion Trees

The World Economic Forum has launched a global initiative to grow, restore and conserve 1 trillion trees around the world – in a bid to restore biodiversity and help fight climate changeThe project aims to unite governments, non-governmental organisations, businesses and individuals in a “mass-scale nature restoration“. The initiative received the support of US President Donald Trump. While a sceptic on climate change, Trump said he wanted to show “strong leadership in restoring, growing and better managing our trees and our forests“.

Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, said: “The next decade must see unprecedented levels of collaboration if we are to meet global climate, biodiversity and Sustainable Development Goals. presents an important example of how stakeholders from all walks of life and all ages can work together to achieve a single, globally significant goal.”

Around 0.9 billion hectares of land worldwide would be suitable for reforestation, which could ultimately capture two thirds of human-made carbon emissions. The Crowther Lab of ETH Zurich has published a study in the journal Science that shows this would be the most effective method to combat climate changeThe Crowther Lab at ETH Zurich investigates nature-based solutions to climate change. In their latest study the researchers showed for the first time where in the world new trees could grow and how much carbon they would store.

Reforestation would be the most effective method to combat climate change

One aspect was of particular importance to us as we did the calculations: we excluded cities or agricultural areas from the total restoration potential as these areas are needed for human life,” explains study lead author and postdoc at the Crowther Lab Jean-François Bastin.

The researchers calculated that under the current climate conditions, Earth’s land could support 4.4 billion hectares of continuous tree cover. That is 1.6 billion more than the currently existing 2.8 billion hectares. Of these 1.6 billion hectares, 0.9 billion hectares fulfill the criterion of not being used by humans. This means that there is currently an area of the size of the US available for tree restoration. Once mature, these new forests could store 205 billion tonnes of carbon: about two thirds of the 300 billion tonnes of carbon that has been released into the atmosphere as a result of human activity since the Industrial Revolution.

According to Prof. Thomas Crowther, co-author of the study and founder of the Crowther Lab at ETH Zurich: “We all knew that restoring forests could play a part in tackling climate change, but we didn’t really know how big the impact would be. Our study shows clearly that forest restoration is the best climate change solution available today. But we must act quickly, as new forests will take decades to mature and achieve their full potential as a source of natural carbon storage.”

The study also shows which parts of the world are most suited to forest restoration. The greatest potential can be found in just six countries: Russia (151 million hectares); the US (103 million hectares); Canada (78.4 million hectares); Australia (58 million hectares); Brazil (49.7 million hectares); and China (40.2 million hectares).

Many current climate models are wrong in expecting climate change to increase global tree cover, the study warns. It finds that there is likely to be an increase in the area of northern boreal forests in regions such as Siberia, but tree cover there averages only 30 to 40 percent. These gains would be outweighed by the losses suffered in dense tropical forests, which typically have 90 to 100 percent tree cover.

A tool on the Crowther Lab website< enables users to look at any point on the globe, and find out how many trees could grow there and how much carbon they would store. It also offers lists of forest restoration organisations. The Crowther Lab will also be present at this year’s Scientifica to show the new tool to visitors.

The Crowther Lab uses nature as a solution to:

1) better allocate resources – identifying those regions which, if restored appropriately, could have the biggest climate impact;

2) set realistic goals – with measurable targets to maximise the impact of restoration projects;

3) monitor progress – to evaluate whether targets are being achieved over time, and take corrective action if necessary.


Molecular ‘Switch’ Reverses Chronic Inflammation And Aging

Chronic inflammation, which results when old age, stress or environmental toxins keep the body’s immune system in overdrive, can contribute to a variety of devastating diseases, from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s to diabetes and cancer.

Now, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have identified a molecularswitch” that controls the immune machinery responsible for chronic inflammation in the body. The finding, which appears online  in the journal Cell Metabolism, could lead to new ways to halt or even reverse many of these age-related conditions.

My lab is very interested in understanding the reversibility of aging,” said senior author Danica Chen, associate professor of metabolic biology, nutritional sciences and toxicology at UC Berkeley. “In the past, we showed that aged stem cells can be rejuvenated. Now, we are asking: to what extent can aging be reversed? And we are doing that by looking at physiological conditions, like inflammation and insulin resistance, that have been associated with aging-related degeneration and diseases.”

In the study, Chen and her team show that a bulky collection of immune proteins called the NLRP3 inflammasome — responsible for sensing potential threats to the body and launching an inflammation response — can be essentially switched off by removing a small bit of molecular matter in a process called deacetylation.

Overactivation of the NLRP3 inflammasome has been linked to a variety of chronic conditions, including multiple sclerosis, cancer, diabetes and dementia. Chen’s results suggest that drugs targeted toward deacetylating, or switching off, this NLRP3 inflammasome might help prevent or treat these conditions and possibly age-related degeneration in general.

This acetylation can serve as a switch,” Chen said. “So, when it is acetylated, this inflammasome is on. When it is deacetylated, the inflammasome is off.”


Bionic Jellyfish

It may sound more like science fiction than science fact, but researchers have created bionic jellyfish by embedding microelectronics into these ubiquitous marine invertebrates with hopes to deploy them to monitor and explore the world’s oceans.

A small prosthetic enabled the jellyfish to swim three times faster and more efficiently without causing any apparent stress to the animals, which have no brain, central nervous system or pain receptors, the researchers said.

The next steps will be to test ways to control where the jellyfish go and develop tiny sensors that could perform long-term measurements of ocean conditions such as temperature, salinity, acidity, oxygen levels, nutrients and microbial communities. They even envision installing miniscule cameras.


It’s very sci-fi futuristic,” said Stanford University bioengineer Nicole Xu, co-author of the research published this week in the journal Science Advances. “We could send these bionic jellyfish to different areas of the ocean to monitor signs of climate change or observe natural phenomena.

An initial goal will be deep dives because measurements at great depths are a major gap in our understanding of the oceans, added California Institute of Technology mechanical engineering professor John Dabiri, the study’s other co-author.

Basically, we’d release the bionic jellyfish at the surface, have it swim down to increasing depths, and see just how far we can get it to go down into the ocean and still make it back to the surface with data,” Dabiri added.


Ultrasound Can Selectively Kill Cancer Cells

A new technique could offer a targeted approach to fighting cancer: low-intensity pulses of ultrasound have been shown to selectively kill cancer cells while leaving normal cells unharmed.

Ultrasound wavessound waves with frequencies higher than humans can hear—have been used as a cancer treatment before, albeit in a broad-brush approach: high-intensity bursts of ultrasound can heat up tissue, killing cancer and normal cells in a target area. Now, scientists and engineers are exploring the use of low-intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS) in an effort to create a more selective treatment.

A study describing the effectiveness of the new approach in cell models was published in Applied Physics Letters. The researchers behind the work caution that it is still preliminary—it still has not been tested in a live animal let alone in a human, and there remain several key challenges to address—but the results so far are promising.

The research began five years ago when Caltech‘s Michael Ortiz, Frank and Ora Lee Marble Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering, found himself pondering whether the physical differences between cancer cells and healthy cells—things like size, cell-wall thickness, and size of the organelles within them—might affect how they vibrate when bombarded with sound waves and how the vibrations might trigger cancer cell death.

I have my moments of inspiration,” Ortiz says wryly.

And so Ortiz built a mathematical model to see how cells would react to different frequencies and pulses of sound waves. Together with then-graduate student Stefanie Heyden (PhD ’14), who is now at ETH Zurich, Ortiz published a paper in 2016 in the Journal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids showing that there was a gap in the so-called resonant growth rates of cancerous and healthy cells. That gap meant that a carefully tuned sound wave could, in theory, cause the cell membranes of cancerous cells to vibrate to the point that they ruptured while leaving healthy cells unharmed. Ortiz dubbed the process “oncotripsy” from the Greek oncos (for tumor) and tripsy (for breaking).


How To Etch A ‘Perfect’ Solar Energy Absorber

The University of Rochester research lab that recently used lasers to create unsinkable metallic structures has now demonstrated how the same technology could be used to create highly efficient solar power generators.

In a paper in Light: Science & Applications, the lab of Chunlei Guo, professor of optics also affiliated with the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Material Sciences Program, describes using powerful femto-second laser pulses to etch metal surfaces with nanoscale structures that selectively absorb light only at the solar wavelengths, but not elsewhere.

A regular metal surface is shiny and highly reflective. Years ago, the Guo lab developed a black metal technology that turned shiny metals pitch black.


But to make a perfect solar absorber,” Guo says, “We need more than a black metal and the result is this selective absorber.”

This surface not only enhances the energy absorption from sunlight, but also reduces heat dissipation at other wavelengths, in effect, “making a perfect metallic solar absorber for the first time,” Guo says. “We also demonstrate solar energy harnessing with a thermal electric generator device.

This will be useful for any thermal solar energy absorber or harvesting device,” particularly in  places with abundant sunlight, he adds.

The researchers experimented with aluminum, copper, steel, and tungsten, and found that tungsten, commonly used as a thermal solar absorber, had the highest solar absorption efficiency when treated with the new nanoscale structures. This improved the efficiency of thermal electrical generation by 130 percent compared to untreated tungsten.

Co-authors include Sohail Jalil, Bo Lai, Mohamed Elkabbash, Jihua Zhang, Erik M. Garcell, and Subhash Singh of the Guo lab.


Nanoparticles Act As Immunotherapy Agents

University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers have developed nanoparticles that, in the lab, can activate immune responses to cancer cells. If they are shown to work as well in the body as they do in the lab, the nanoparticles might provide an effective and more affordable way to fight cancer.

They are cheaper to produce and easier to engineer than the antibodies that underlie current immunotherapies, which as drugs cost tens of thousands of dollars a month.

The nanoparticles were made of sections of the T cell protein PD-1 (in blue) attached to a branched core called a dendrimer (in gray). The branches in the core of the nanoparticle allowed many chunks of the PD-1 protein to bind to the nanoparticle, increasing its effectiveness.

Immunotherapy basically boosts the patient’s own immune system to fight against cancer cells better,” says Seungpyo Hong, a professor in the UW–Madison School of Pharmacy. “The antibodies that are used right now are large, they’re expensive, they’re hard to engineer, and they don’t always show the highest level of efficacy either. So we wanted to explore other ways to activate the immune system.

Hong and postdoctoral associate Woo-jin Jeong led the study, published online Jan. 2 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, with collaborators at the University of Illinois at Chicago. It’s the first demonstration that nanoparticles can act as immunotherapy agents.

More research is needed to understand their effectiveness in the body, but Hong has applied for a patent on the new nanoparticles and is now testing them in animal models.

In tests against lab-grown strains of cancer, the nanoparticles boosted production of the immune stimulating protein interleukin-2 by T cells, one kind of immune cell in the body, by about 50 percent compared to no treatment. They were just as effective as antibodies. The nanoparticles were also able to improve the effectiveness of the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin in similar tests.

Normally, T cells produce a protein named PD-1 that acts like an off switch for immune responses. This “checkpoint” helps keep T cells from improperly attacking healthy cells.


How To Replace Artificial Chemicals With Natural Silk Protein In Skin Care

Most consumers are unaware of the potentially harmful chemicals that can be found in skin care products and on clothingArtificial ingredients such at parabens, which are used to prolong the shelf-life of a skin care product, have been linked to hormone and fertility damage. Formaldehyde, also used as a preservative in skin care products, is a known carcinogen. Formaldehyde is also an additive used on some clothing to prevent wrinkles and stains.
Now a small company outside of Boston aims to lead to effort to replace artificial chemicals with natural silk protein in both skin care products and textiles.
Evolved By Nature, based in Medford, Massachusetts, is applying modern biotechnology to centuries-old silk to create activated silk.

Activated silk is really us taking silk all the way back to the natural state that silk is found in in the silkworm,” described Evolved By Nature Co-founder and President Beck Lacouture.
“We are taking silk protein and unlocking its potential, using the different regions of the silk to our benefit,” she said.
The process of activating the silk requires nothing more than salt, water and heat, no added chemicals.
We remove all contaminants, so we’re left with just the protein and fiber form,” said Evolved By Nature Co-founder and CEO Greg Altman.syrupy mi
Inside the laboratory, the cocoons spun from silkworms are washed to remove its natural sticky outer coating, dried, and dissolved in salt water. The brown, syrupy mix is then purified by the removal of salt. And what’s left is pure, liquid, silk protein or activated silk. It can be used in a variety of skin care and clothing products.