Tag Archives: Caltech

How To Levitate Objects With Light

Researchers at Caltech have designed a way to levitate and propel objects using only light, by creating specific nanoscale patterning on the objects’ surfaces. Though still theoretical, the work is a step toward developing a spacecraft that could reach the nearest planet outside of our solar system in 20 years, powered and accelerated only by light. The research was done in the laboratory of Harry Atwater, Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science in Caltech’s Division of Engineering and Applied Science.

Decades ago, the development of so-called optical tweezers enabled scientists to move and manipulate tiny objects, like nanoparticles, using the radiative pressure from a sharply focused beam of laser light. This work formed the basis for the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics. However, optical tweezers are only able to manipulate very small objects and only at very short distances. Ognjen Ilic, postdoctoral scholar and the study’s first author, gives an analogy: “One can levitate a ping pong ball using a steady stream of air from a hair dryer. But it wouldn’t work if the ping pong ball were too big, or if it were too far away from the hair dryer, and so on.”

With this new research, objects of many different shapes and sizes—from micrometers to meters—could be manipulated with a light beam. The key is to create specific nanoscale patterns on an object’s surface. This patterning interacts with light in such a way that the object can right itself when perturbed, creating a restoring torque to keep it in the light beam. Thus, rather than requiring highly focused laser beams, the objects’ patterning is designed to “encode” their own stability. The light source can also be millions of miles away.

“We have come up with a method that could levitate macroscopic objects,” says Atwater, who is also the director of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis. “There is an audaciously interesting application to use this technique as a means for propulsion of a new generation of spacecraft. We’re a long way from actually doing that, but we are in the process of testing out the principles.”

In theory, this spacecraft could be patterned with nanoscale structures and accelerated by an Earth-based laser light. Without needing to carry fuel, the spacecraft could reach very high, even relativistic speeds and possibly travel to other stars.

Atwater also envisions that the technology could be used here on Earth to enable rapid manufacturing of ever-smaller objects, like circuit boards.

A paper describing the research appears online in the journal Nature Photonics.

Source: https://www.caltech.edu/

Molecular Nanocomputers

Computer scientists at Caltech have designed DNA molecules that can carry out reprogrammable computations, for the first time creating so-called algorithmic self-assembly in which the same “hardware” can be configured to run differentsoftware.”

A team headed by Caltech‘s Erik Winfree (PhD ’98), professor of computer science, computation and neural systems, and bioengineering, showed how the DNA computations could execute six-bit algorithms that perform simple tasks. The system is analogous to a computer, but instead of using transistors and diodes, it uses molecules to represent a six-bit binary number (for example, 011001) as input, during computation, and as output. One such algorithm determines whether the number of 1-bits in the input is odd or even, (the example above would be odd, since it has three 1-bits); while another determines whether the input is a palindrome; and yet another generates random numbers.

Think of them as nano apps,” says Damien Woods, professor of computer science at Maynooth University near Dublin, Ireland, and one of two lead authors of the study. “The ability to run any type of software program without having to change the hardware is what allowed computers to become so useful. We are implementing that idea in molecules, essentially embedding an algorithm within chemistry to control chemical processes.”

The system works by self-assembly: small, specially designed DNA strands stick together to build a logic circuit while simultaneously executing the circuit algorithm. Starting with the original six bits that represent the input, the system adds row after row of molecules—progressively running the algorithm. Modern digital electronic computers use electricity flowing through circuits to manipulate information; here, the rows of DNA strands sticking together perform the computation. The end result is a test tube filled with billions of completed algorithms, each one resembling a knitted scarf of DNA, representing a readout of the computation. The pattern on each “scarf” gives you the solution to the algorithm that you were running. The system can be reprogrammed to run a different algorithm by simply selecting a different subset of strands from the roughly 700 that constitute the system.

We were surprised by the versatility of programs we were able to design, despite being limited to six-bit inputs,” says David Doty, fellow lead author and assistant professor of computer science at the University of California, Davis. “When we began experiments, we had only designed three programs. But once we started using the system, we realized just how much potential it has. It was the same excitement we felt the first time we programmed a computer, and we became intensely curious about what else these strands could do. By the end, we had designed and run a total of 21 circuits.”

The findings have been reported in the journal Nature.

Source: https://www.caltech.edu/

Immunotherapy Technique Specifically Targets Tumor Cells

A new immunotherapy screening prototype developed by University of California, Irvine (UCI) researchers can quickly create individualized cancer treatments that will allow physicians to effectively target tumors without the side effects of standard cancer drugsUCI’s Weian Zhao and Nobel laureate David Baltimore with Caltech led the research team that developed a tracking and screening system that identifies T cell receptors with 100-percent specificity for individual tumors within just a few days.

In the human immune system, T cells have molecules on their surfaces that bind to antigens on the surface of foreign or cancer cells. To treat a tumor with T cell therapy, researchers must identify exactly which receptor molecules work against a specific tumor’s antigens. UCI researchers have sped up that identification process.

This technology is particularly exciting because it dismantles major challenges in cancer treatments,” said Zhao, an associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences. “This use of droplet microfluidics screening significantly reduces the cost of making new cancer immunotherapies that are associated with less systemic side effects than standard chemotherapy drugs, and vastly speeds up the timeframe for treatment.

Zhao added that traditional cancer treatments have offered a one-size-fits-all disease response, such as chemotherapy drugs which can involve systemic and serious side effects.

Research findings appear in Lab on a Chip.

Source: https://news.uci.edu/