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Plastic Waste Desintegrates Into Nanoparticles

There is a considerable risk that plastic waste in the environment releases nano-sized particles known as nanoplastics, according to a new study from Lund University in Sweden. The researchers studied what happened when takeaway coffee cup lids, for example, were subjected to mechanical breakdown, in an effort to mimic the degradation that happens to plastic in the ocean.The majority of all marine debris is plastic. Calculations have shown that ten per cent of all plastic produced globally ends up in the sea. This plastic waste is subjected to both chemical and mechanical degradation. The sun’s UV rays contribute to the degradation, as do waves, which cause plastic waste to grind against stones on the water’s edge, against the sea floor or against other debris.

Is there a risk that this plastic waste disintegrates to the extent that nanoplastics are released? The research community is divided on whether the degradation process stops at slightly larger plastic fragmentsmicroplastics – or actually continues and creates even smaller particles. The researchers behind the study have now investigated this issue by subjecting plastic material to mechanical degradation under experimental conditions.

We have been able to show that the mechanical effect on the plastic causes the disintegration of plastic down to nano-sized plastic fragments,” says Tommy Cedervall, chemistry researcher at Lund University.

The emphasis of a number of other recent studies from the research community has been on microplastics and their increased distribution among organisms. There are now intense attempts to also identify nanoplastics in the environment. Last year, in an earlier study from Lund University, researchers showed that nano-sized plastic particles can enter the brains of fish and that this causes brain damage which probably disturbs fish behaviour.

It’s important to begin mapping what happens to disintegrated plastic in nature, concludes Tommy Cedervall.

Source: https://www.lunduniversity.lu.se/

Megalibrary To Boost Discovery of New Materials

Different eras of civilization are defined by the discovery of new materials, as new materials drive new capabilities. And yet, identifying the best material for a given application—catalysts, light-harvesting structures, biodiagnostic labels, pharmaceuticals and electronic devices—is traditionally a slow and daunting task. The options are nearly infinite, particularly at the nanoscale (a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter) where material propertiesoptical, structural, electrical, mechanical and chemical—can significantly change, even at a fixed composition.

A new study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) supports the efficacy of a potentially revolutionary new tool developed at Northwestern University to rapidly test millions (even billions) of nanoparticles to determine the best for a specific use.

Laser-induced heating of nanoparticles on micropillars for carbon nanotube growth

When utilizing traditional methods to identify new materials, we have barely scratched the surface of what is possible,” said Northwestern’s Chad A. Mirkin, the study’s corresponding author and a world leader in nanotechnology research and its applications. “This research provides proof-of-concept—that this powerful approach to discovery science works.”

The novel tool utilizes a combinatorial library, or megalibrary, of nanoparticles in a very controlled way. (A combinatorial library is a collection of systematically varied structures encoded at specific sites on a surface). The libraries are created using Mirkin’s Polymer Pen Lithography (PPL) technique, which relies on arrays (sets of data elements) with hundreds of thousands of pyramidal tips to deposit individual polymerdots” of various sizes and composition, each loaded with different metal salts of interest, onto a surface. Once heated, these dots are reduced to metal atoms forming a single nanoparticle at fixed composition and size.

By going small, we create two advantages in high throughput materials discovery,” said Mirkin, the executive director of Northwestern’s International Institute for Nanotechnology (IIN). “First, we can pack millions of features into square-centimeter areas, creating a path for making the largest and most complex libraries, to date. Second, by working at the sub-100 nanometer-length scale, size can become a library parameter, and much of the action, for example, in the field of catalysis, is on this length scale.”

Source: https://news.northwestern.edu/

 

Jell-O To Make Powerful New Hydrogen Fuel Catalyst

A cheap and effective new catalyst developed by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, can generate hydrogen fuel from water just as efficiently as platinum, currently the best — but also most expensivewater-splitting catalyst out there.

The catalyst, which is composed of nanometer-thin sheets of metal carbide, is manufactured using a self-assembly process that relies on a surprising ingredient: gelatin, the material that gives Jell-O its jiggle.

Two-dimensional metal carbides spark a reaction that splits water into oxygen and valuable hydrogen gas. Berkeley researchers have discovered an easy new recipe for cooking up these nanometer-thin sheets that is nearly as simple as making Jell-O from a box

Platinum is expensive, so it would be desirable to find other alternative materials to replace it,” said senior author Liwei Lin, professor of mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley. “We are actually using something similar to the Jell-O that you can eat as the foundation, and mixing it with some of the abundant earth elements to create an inexpensive new material for important catalytic reactions.

The work appears in the print edition of the journal Advanced Materials.

Source: https://news.berkeley.edu/

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How To Shrink Objects To The Nanoscale

MIT researchers have invented a way to fabricate nanoscale 3-D objects of nearly any shape. They can also pattern the objects with a variety of useful materials, including metals, quantum dots, and DNA.

MIT engineers have devised a way to create 3-D nanoscale objects by patterning a larger structure with a laser and then shrinking it. This image shows a complex structure prior to shrinking.

It’s a way of putting nearly any kind of material into a 3-D pattern with nanoscale precision,” says Edward Boyden, the Y. Eva Tan Professor in Neurotechnology and an associate professor of biological engineering and of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT. Using the new technique, the researchers can create any shape and structure they want by patterning a polymer scaffold with a laser. After attaching other useful materials to the scaffold, they shrink it, generating structures one thousandth the volume of the original.

These tiny structures could have applications in many fields, from optics to medicine to robotics, the researchers say. The technique uses equipment that many biology and materials science labs already have, making it widely accessible for researchers who want to try it. Boyden, who is also a member of MIT’s Media Lab, McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, is one of the senior authors of the paper, which appears in the Dec. 13 issue of Science. The other senior author is Adam Marblestone, a Media Lab research affiliate, and the paper’s lead authors are graduate students Daniel Oran and Samuel Rodriques.

As they did for expansion microscopy, the researchers used a very absorbent material made of polyacrylate, commonly found in diapers, as the scaffold for their nanofabrication process. The scaffold is bathed in a solution that contains molecules of fluorescein, which attach to the scaffold when they are activated by laser light.

Using two-photon microscopy, which allows for precise targeting of points deep within a structure, the researchers attach fluorescein molecules to specific locations within the gel. The fluorescein molecules act as anchors that can bind to other types of molecules that the researchers add.

You attach the anchors where you want with light, and later you can attach whatever you want to the anchors,” Boyden says. “It could be a quantum dot, it could be a piece of DNA, it could be a gold nanoparticle.” “It’s a bit like film photography — a latent image is formed by exposing a sensitive material in a gel to light. Then, you can develop that latent image into a real image by attaching another material, silver, afterwards. In this way implosion fabrication can create all sorts of structures, including gradients, unconnected structures, and multimaterial patterns,” Oran explains.

Source: http://news.mit.edu/

 

How To Fight Against Weakened Immune System When Getting Older

Scientists pinpoint metabolic pathway behind age-related immunity lossThe elderly suffer more serious complications from infections and benefit less from vaccination than the general population. Researchers have long known that a weakened immune system is to blame but the exact mechanisms behind this lagging immunity have remained largely unknownNow research led by investigators at Harvard Medical School suggests that weakened metabolism of immune T cells may be partly to blame.

The findings, published Dec. 10 in PNAS and based on experiments in mouse immune cells, pinpoint a specific metabolic pathway called one-carbon metabolism that is deficient in the aged T cells of rodents. The work also suggests possible ways to restore weakened immune function with the use of small-molecule compounds that boost T cell performance.

We believe our findings may help explain the basic malfunction that drives loss of immune defenses with age,” said senior study author Marcia Haigis, professor of cell biology in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School. “If affirmed in further studies, we hope that our findings can set the stage for the development of therapies to improve immune function.

Source: https://scienmag.com/

Chinese ‘Death Star’ For Submarines

China is developing a satellite with a powerful laser for anti-submarine warfare that researchers hope will be able to pinpoint a target as far as 500 metres below the surface. It is the latest addition to the country’s expanding deep-sea surveillance programme, and aside from targeting submarines – most operate at a depth of less than 500 metres – it could also be used to collect data on the world’s oceansProject Guanlan, meaning “watching the big waves”, was officially launched in May at the Pilot National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology in Qingdao, Shandong. It aims to strengthen China’s surveillance activities in the world’s oceans, according to the laboratory’s website.

Scientists are working on the satellite’s design at the laboratory, but its key components are being developed by more than 20 research institutes and universities across the country. Song Xiaoquan, a researcher involved in the project, said if the team can develop the satellite as planned, it will make the upper layer of the seamore or less transparent”. “It will change almost everything,” Song said.

While light dims 1,000 times faster in water than in the air, and the sun can penetrate no more than 200 metres below the ocean surface, a powerful artificial laser beam can be 1 billion times brighter than the sun. But this project is ambitious – naval researchers have tried for more than half a century to develop a laser spotlight for hunting submarines using technology known as light detection and ranging (lidar). In theory, it works like this – when a laser beam hits a submarine, some pulses bounce back. They are then picked up by sensors and analysed by computer to determine the target’s location, speed and three-dimensional shape.

But in real life, lidar technology can be affected by the device’s power limitations, as well as cloud, fog, murky water – and even marine life such as fish and whales. Added to that, the laser beam deflects and scatters as it travels from one body of water to another, making it more of a challenge to get a precise calculation. Experiments carried out by the United States and former Soviet Union achieved maximum detection depths of less than 100 metres, according to openly available information. That range has been extended in recent years by the US in research funded by Nasa and the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Source: https://www.scmp.com/

How To Nullify Proteins That Allow Cancer Cells To Grow

A physicist in the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University hopes to improve cancer detection with a new and novel class of nanomaterials. Liviu Movileanu, professor of physics, creates tiny sensors that detect, characterize and analyze protein-protein interactions (PPIs) in blood serum. Information from PPIs could be a boon to the biomedical industry, as researchers seek to nullify proteins that allow cancer cells to grow and spread.

Movileanu’s findings are the subject of a paper in Nature Biotechnology (Springer Nature, 2018), co-authored by Ph.D. student Avinash Kumar Thakur. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has supported their work with a four-year, $1.17 million grant award.

 

A digital illustration of a cancer cell undergoing mitosis

Detailed knowledge of the human genome has opened up a new frontier for the identification of many functional proteins involved in brief physical associations with other proteins,” Movileanu says. “Major perturbations in the strength of these PPIs lead to disease conditions. Because of the transient nature of these interactions, new methods are needed to assess them.”

Enter Movileanu’s lab, which designs, creates and optimizes a unique class of biophysical tools called nanobiosensors. These highly sensitive, pore-based tools detect mechanistic processes, such as PPIs, at the single-molecule level.

Source: https://news.syr.edu/

Could Spruce Forests Offset Global Warming?

Researchers from the University of Lund in Sweden,  are measuring terpene particles emitted by spruce/fir forests, which are believed to have a cooling effect on the climate. They believe that planting more of this type of forest could help offset global warmingPlanting spruce forests could increase the carbon uptake. They would release aerosol particles which have a cooling effect on the earth.

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We saw that in the 1990s there was a big eruption of a volcano called Mount Pinatubo. It released an enormous amount of atmospheric particles into the air. Then the global climate was cooled for two years. And that’s how the atmospheric particles are acting on the climate. That’s one example of how the terpenes can cool the climate via atmospheric particles,” says Adam Kristensson, Nuclear physicist at the Lund University. Various of air samples  are being tested through solution reacting with carbon to find out if carbon comes from natural sources or fossil fuel burning.

Source: https://www.reuters.com/

Artificial Synapses Made from Nanowires

Scientists from Jülich together with colleagues from Aachen and Turin have produced a memristive element made from nanowires that functions in much the same way as a biological nerve cell. The component is able to both save and process information, as well as receive numerous signals in parallel. The resistive switching cell made from oxide crystal nanowires is thus proving to be the ideal candidate for use in building bioinspired “neuromorphic” processors, able to take over the diverse functions of biological synapses and neurons.

Image captured by an electron microscope of a single nanowire memristor (highlighted in colour to distinguish it from other nanowires in the background image). Blue: silver electrode, orange: nanowire, yellow: platinum electrode. Blue bubbles are dispersed over the nanowire. They are made up of silver ions and form a bridge between the electrodes which increases the resistance.

Computers have learned a lot in recent years. Thanks to rapid progress in artificial intelligence they are now able to drive cars, translate texts, defeat world champions at chess, and much more besides. In doing so, one of the greatest challenges lies in the attempt to artificially reproduce the signal processing in the human brain. In neural networks, data are stored and processed to a high degree in parallel. Traditional computers on the other hand rapidly work through tasks in succession and clearly distinguish between the storing and processing of information. As a rule, neural networks can only be simulated in a very cumbersome and inefficient way using conventional hardware.

Systems with neuromorphic chips that imitate the way the human brain works offer significant advantages. Experts in the field describe this type of bioinspired computer as being able to work in a decentralised way, having at its disposal a multitude of processors, which, like neurons in the brain, are connected to each other by networks. If a processor breaks down, another can take over its function. What is more, just like in the brain, where practice leads to improved signal transfer, a bioinspired processor should have the capacity to learn.

With today’s semiconductor technology, these functions are to some extent already achievable. These systems are however suitable for particular applications and require a lot of space and energy,” says Dr. Ilia Valov from Forschungszentrum Jülich. “Our nanowire devices made from zinc oxide crystals can inherently process and even store information, as well as being extremely small and energy efficient,” explains the researcher from Jülich’s Peter Grünberg Institute.

Source: http://www.fz-juelich.de/

AI and Big Data To Fight Eye Diseases

In future, it will be possible to diagnose diabetes from the eye using automatic digital retinal screening, without the assistance of an ophthalmologist‘: these were the words used by Ursula Schmidt-Erfurth, Head of MedUni Vienna‘s Department of Ophthalmology and Optometrics. The scientist has opened the press conference about the ART-2018 Specialist Meeting on new developments in retinal therapy. The automatic diabetes screening, has been recently implemented at MedUni Vienna.
Patients flock to the Department to undergo this retinal examination to detect any diabetic changes. It takes just a few minutes and is completely non-invasive

Essentially this technique can detect all stages of diabetic retinal diseasehigh-resolution digital retinal images with two million pixels are taken and analyzed within seconds – but Big Data offers even more potential: nowadays it is already possible to diagnose an additional 50 other diseases in this way. Diabetes is just the start. And MedUni Vienna is among the global leaders in this digital revolution.

The Division of Cardiology led by Christian Hengstenberg within the Department of Medicine II is working on how digital retinal analysis can also be used in future for the early diagnosis of cardiovascular diseases.

This AI medicine is ‘super human’,” emphasizes Schmidt-Erfurth. “The algorithms are quicker and more accurate. They can analyze things that an expert cannot detect with the naked eye.” And yet the commitment to Big Data and Artificial Intelligence is not a plea for medicine without doctors, which some experts predict for the not-to-distant future. “What we want are ‘super doctors’, who are able to use the high-tech findings to make the correct, individualized therapeutic decision for their patients, in the spirit of precision medicine, rather than leaving patients on their own.”

However, it is not only in the diagnosis of diseases that Artificial Intelligence and Big Data, plus virtual reality, provide better results. “We are already performing digitized operations with support from Artificial Intelligence. This involves projecting a virtual and precise image of the area of the eye being operated on onto a huge screen – and the surgeon then performs the operation with a perfect viewon screen” as it were, while actually operating on the patient with a scalpel.”

Source: https://www.news-medical.net/