Monthly Archives: July 2018
Researchers from Wayve, a company founded by a team from the Cambridge University engineering department, have developed a neural network sophisticated enough to learn how to drive a car in 15 to 20 minutes using nothing but a computer and a single camera. The company showed off its robust deep learning methods last week in a company blog post showcasing the no-frills approach to driverless car development. Where companies like Waymo and Uber are relying on a variety of sensors and custom-built hardware, Wayve is creating the world’s first autonomous vehicles based entirely on reinforcement learning.
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The AI powering Wayve’s self-driving system is remarkable for its simplicity. It’s a four layer convolutional neural network (learn about neural networks here) that performs all of its processing on a GPU inside the car. It doesn’t require any cloud connectivity or use pre-loaded maps – Wayve’s vehicles are early-stage level five autonomous. There’s a lot of work to be done before Wayve’s AI can drive any car under any circumstances. But the idea that driverless cars will require tens of thousands of dollars worth of extraneous hardware is taking a serious blow in the wake of the company’s amazing deep learning techniques. According to Wayve, these algorithms are only going to get smarter.
A team headed by Manuel Serrano at IRB Barcelona has designed a drug encapsulation system that selectively targets senescent cells. The study paves the way for therapeutic approaches to eliminate senescent cells in many diseases, such as pulmonary fibrosis and cancer.
Senescent cells are damaged cells that do not perform their normal roles anymore but that are not dead –hence they are commonly known as zombi cells. These cells interfere with the functioning of the tissue in which they accumulate. Senescence is a cell program that is triggered by many types of damage and senescent cells are present in many diseases. They accumulate in diverse types of tissues during aging, thus contributing to the progressive deterioration associated to aging. Eliminating these zombi cells is one of the challenges facing science today.
In the Cellular Plasticity and Disease lab headed by the ICREA researcher Manuel Serrano at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) and supported by “la Caixa” Banking Foundation, the researchers devise strategies to eliminate senescent cells. In a study published in EMBO Molecular Medicine, they present a proof of principle of a drug delivery system with selectivity for tissues that harbour senescent cells.
In collaboration with a team headed by Ramón Martínez-Máñez at the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, the IRB Barcelona scientists have exploited a particular hallmark of senescent cells in order to design a delivery system that specifically targets them. They have demonstrated its efficacy in cells in vitro and in two experimental mouse models, namely pulmonary fibrosis and cancer. These diseases are characterized by the presence of damaged cells, and in the case of cancer this is particularly true after treatment with chemotherapy.
The figure shows two views, frontal and lateral, of the image obtained by CT of the lungs of a mouse with fibrosis (grey areas) before and after receiving nano-therapy directed at senescent cells
In these models, the senescent cells take up the carrier more efficiently than other cells and once inside the cell the casing of the carrier degrades to release the drug cargo. When the nano-vehicles contained cytotoxic compounds, the senescent cells were killed and this resulted in therapeutic improvements in mice with pulmonary fibrosis or with cancer.
“This nano-carrier may pave the way for new therapeutic approaches for serious conditions, such as pulmonary fibrosis or to eliminate chemotherapy-induced senescent cells,” explains Manuel Serrano. Another outcome of this study is that these nano-carriers could be used for diagnostic tests of senescence as they can transport a fluorescent compound or marker.
Following the isolation of graphene in 2004, a race began to synthesize new two-dimensional materials. 2D materials are single-layer substances with a thickness of between one atom and a few nanometers (billionths of a meter). They have unique properties linked to their reduced dimensionality and play a key role in the development of nanotechnology and nanoengineering.
An international group of researchers including Brazilian scientists affiliated with the University of Campinas (UNICAMP) have succeeded in producing a new material with these characteristics.
The researchers extracted a 2D material they call hematene from ordinary iron ore like that mined in many parts of the world, including Brazil. The material is only three atoms thick and is thought to have enhanced photocatalytic properties.
International group of researchers including Brazilian scientists obtain new material from iron ore with application as a photocatalyst
The research was conducted at the Center for Computational Engineering and Sciences (CCES), one of the Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers (RIDCs) funded by FAPESP, and during a research internship abroad that was also supported by FAPESP via a specific scholarship.
Douglas Soares Galvão, a researcher at CCES and one of the authors of the study, told Agência FAPESP about the discovery. “The material we synthesized can act as a photocatalyst to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, so that electricity can be generated from hydrogen, for example, as well as having several other potential applications,” he said.
The new material was exfoliated from hematite, one of the most common minerals on earth and the main source of iron, which is the cheapest metal, used in many products and above all to make steel.
Unlike carbon and its 2D form graphene, hematite is a non-van der Waals material, meaning it is held together by 3D bonding networks rather than by nonchemical and comparatively weaker atomic van der Waals interactions, which are noncovalent (they do not involve the sharing of one or more pairs of electrons by the atoms that participate in the bond).
Because it is a naturally occurring mineral, has highly oriented, large crystals and is a non-van der Waals material, the researchers believe that hematite is an excellent precursor for the exfoliation of novel 2D materials.
Most of the 2D materials synthesized to date were derived from samples of van der Waals solids. Non-van der Waals 2D materials with highly ordered atomic layers and large grains are still rare,” Galvão said.
Hematene was synthesized by the liquid-phase exfoliation of hematite ore in an organic solvent, N,N-dimethylformamide (DMF). Transmission electron microscopy confirmed the exfoliation and formation of hematene in single sheets with a thickness of only three iron and oxygen atoms (monolayer) and in randomly stacked sheets (bilayer).
The innovation is described in an article published in Nature Nanotechnology.
From liquid laundry detergent packaged in cardboard to compostable plastic cups, consumer products these days are increasingly touting their sustainable and renewable origins. Now researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology have created a material derived from crab shells and tree fibers that has the potential to replace the flexible plastic packaging used to keep food fresh. The new material, which is described in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering, is made by spraying multiple layers of chitin from crab shells and cellulose from trees to form a flexible film similar to plastic packaging film.
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“The main benchmark that we compare it to is PET, or polyethylene terephthalate, one of the most common petroleum-based materials in the transparent packaging you see in vending machines and soft drink bottles,” said J. Carson Meredith, a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. “Our material showed up to a 67 percent reduction in oxygen permeability over some forms of PET, which means it could in theory keep foods fresher longer.”
Cellulose, which comes from plants, is the planet’s most common natural biopolymer, followed next by chitin, which is found in shellfish, insects and fungi.
In a “proof of concept” study, scientists at Johns Hopkins Medicine say they have successfully delivered nano-size packets of genetic code called microRNAs to treat human brain tumors implanted in mice. The contents of the super-small containers were designed to target cancer stem cells, a kind of cellular “seed” that produces countless progeny and is a relentless barrier to ridding the brain of malignant cells.
Nanoparticles releasing microRNAs (light blue) inside a human brain cancer cell
“Brain cancer is one of the most widely understood cancers in terms of its genetic makeup, but we have yet to develop a good treatment for it,” says John Laterra, MD, PhD, professor of neurology, oncology and neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a research scientist at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. “The resilience of cancer stem cells and the blood-brain barrier are major hurdles.”
Blood that enters the brain is filtered through a series of vessels that act as a protective barrier. But this blood-brain barrier blocks molecular medicines that have the potential to revolutionize brain cancer therapy by targeting cancer stem cells, says Laterra.
“To modernize brain tumor treatments, we need tools and methods that bypass the blood-brain barrier,” says Jordan Green, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering, ophthalmology, oncology, neurosurgery, materials science and engineering and chemical and biomolecular engineering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “We need technology to safely and effectively deliver sensitive genetic medicines directly to tumors without damaging normal tissue.”
A case in point, Green says, is glioblastoma, the form of brain cancer that Arizona Sen. John McCain is battling, which often requires repeated surgeries. Doctors remove the brain tumor tissue that they can see, but the malignancy often returns quickly, says Laterra. Most patients with glioblastoma live less than two years after diagnosis.
Results of the experiments were published online in Nano Letters.
Five years ago, 25-year-old radical libertarian Cody Wilson stood on a remote central Texas gun range and pulled the trigger on the world’s first fully 3-D-printed gun. When, to his relief, his plastic invention fired a .380-caliber bullet into a berm of dirt without jamming or exploding in his hands, he drove back to Austin and uploaded the blueprints for the pistol to his website, Defcad.com.
He’d launched the site months earlier along with an anarchist video manifesto, declaring that gun control would never be the same in an era when anyone can download and print their own firearm with a few clicks. In the days after that first test-firing, his gun was downloaded more than 100,000 times. Wilson made the decision to go all in on the project, dropping out of law school at the University of Texas, as if to confirm his belief that technology supersedes law.
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Instead, Wilson has spent the last years on an unlikely project for an anarchist: Not simply defying or skirting the law but taking it to court and changing it. In doing so, he has now not only defeated a legal threat to his own highly controversial gunsmithing project. He may have also unlocked a new era of digital DIY gunmaking that further undermines gun control across the United States and the world—another step toward Wilson’s imagined future where anyone can make a deadly weapon at home with no government oversight.
Two months ago, the Department of Justice quietly offered Wilson a settlement to end a lawsuit he and a group of co-plaintiffs have pursued since 2015 against the United States government. Wilson and his team of lawyers focused their legal argument on a free speech claim: They pointed out that by forbidding Wilson from posting his 3-D-printable data, the State Department was not only violating his right to bear arms but his right to freely share information. By blurring the line between a gun and a digital file, Wilson had also successfully blurred the lines between the Second Amendment and the First.
The law caught up. Less than a week later, Wilson received a letter from the US State Department demanding that he take down his printable-gun blueprints or face prosecution for violating federal export controls. Under an obscure set of US regulations known as the International Trade in Arms Regulations (ITAR), Wilson was accused of exporting weapons without a license, just as if he’d shipped his plastic gun to Mexico rather than put a digital version of it on the internet. He took Defcad.com offline, but his lawyer warned him that he still potentially faced millions of dollars in fines and years in prison simply for having made the file available to overseas downloaders for a few days. “I thought my life was over,” Wilson says.
“If code is speech, the constitutional contradictions are evident,” Wilson explained when he first launched the lawsuit in 2015. “So what if this code is a gun?” The Department of Justice‘s surprising settlement, confirmed in court documents earlier this month, essentially surrenders to that argument.
The ISS Progress 56 resupply spacecraft, packed with almost three tons of cargo, automatically docked to the International Space Station’s Pirs docking compartment at 11:31 p.m. EDT Wednesday, less than six hours after its launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. At the time of docking, the station was soaring 259 miles over the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of South America. The Soyuz rocket carrying Progress 56 launched from Baikonur at 5:44 p.m. (3:44 a.m., Baikonur time) to send the cargo ship on its expedited, 4-orbit trek to the station.
Usually it takes 4 days to complete the same task.
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The new Progress is loaded with 1,764 pounds of propellant, 48 pounds of oxygen, 57 pounds of air, 926 pounds of water and 2,910 pounds of spare parts, experiment hardware and other supplies for the Expedition 38 crew. Expedition 40 Flight Engineers Alexander Skvortsov and Max Suraev will open the hatch to Progress Thursday morning to begin unloading the cargo.
The ISS Progress 55 cargo craft, which undocked from Pirs on Monday, is now a safe distance from the complex for a series of engineering tests prior to being sent to a destructive re-entry over the Pacific Ocean on July 31.
The station’s crew began the workday at 6 a.m. Wednesday, four hours later than the usual 2 a.m. reveille to accommodate the late-night arrival of Progress.
It is known that the onset of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is associated with the accumulation of Amyloid beta (Aβ) peptides in small molecular clusters known as oligomers. These trigger the formation of so-called ‘neurofibrillary tangles’ within neurons hamper their workings, ultimately causing cell death and so significant cognitive decline. Very large Aβ oligomers which form plaques outside neurons, alongside neuroinflammation have also been found to play a key part in the progression of the disease.
The EU-funded iRhom2 in AD project took as its starting point the protein iRhom2, which has been identified as a genetic risk factor for AD due to its pro-inflammatory properties. The team were able to explore further the influence of iRhom2 on neuroinflammation in mice. iRhom2 recently emerged as a protein of note in AD as it aids the maturation of an enzyme called TACE (tumor necrosis factor-α converting enzyme) guiding it towards a cell’s plasma membrane where the enzyme releases a cell-signalling cytokine (TNFα), implicated in the regulation of inflammatory processes. While mice studies have shown that TNFα-dependent inflammation can lead to sepsis and rheumatoid arthritis, it is also thought that the process contributes to neuroinflammatory signalling events, which can cause harm in the brain.
The EU-funded iRhom2 in AD project worked with mice that are prone to develop the hallmarks of AD, amyloid plaques and memory deficits. The team genetically altered iRhom2 in the mice then analysed the progression of the pathology using an array of biochemical and histological methods, together with a number of behavioural tests to assess cognitive decline. The results were somewhat surprising.
“We initially hypothesised that iRhom2 would affect one specific aspect of neuroinflammation in AD. What we discovered was even more exciting as it actually affects several different aspects of neuroinflammation simultaneously. So modulating iRhom2 appears particularly well suited to interfere with AD,” explains project coordinator Prof. Dr. Stefan Lichtenthaler.
In 2010, the Nobel Prize in Physics went to the discoverers of graphene. A single layer of carbon atoms, graphene possesses properties that are ideal for a host of applications. Among researchers, graphene has been the hottest material for a decade. In 2017 alone, more than 30,000 research papers on graphene were published worldwide.
Now, two researchers from the University of Kansas (KU), Professor Hui Zhao and graduate student Samuel Lane, both of the Department of Physics & Astronomy, have connected a graphene layer with two other atomic layers (molybdenum diselenide and tungsten disulfide) thereby extending the lifetime of excited electrons in graphene by several hundred times. The finding will be published on Nano Futures, a newly launched and highly selective journal.
The work at KU may speed development of ultrathin and flexible solar cells with high efficiency.
For electronic and optoelectronic applications, graphene has excellent charge transport property. According to the researchers, electrons move in graphene at a speed of 1/30 of the speed of light — much faster than other materials. This might suggest that graphene can be used for solar cells, which convert energy from sunlight to electricity. But graphene has a major drawback that hinders such applications – its ultrashort lifetime of excited electrons (that is, the time an electron stays mobile) of only about one picosecond (one-millionth of one-millionth of a second, or 10-12 second).
“These excited electrons are like students who stand up from their seats — after an energy drink, for example, which activates students like sunlight activates electrons,” Zhao said. “The energized students move freely in the classroom — like human electric current.”
The KU researcher said one of the biggest challenges to achieving high efficiency in solar cells with graphene as the working material is that liberated electrons — or, the standing students — have a strong tendency to losing their energy and become immobile, like students sitting back down.
“The number of electrons, or students from our example, who can contribute to the current is determined by the average time they can stay mobile after they are liberated by light,” explains Zhao. “In graphene, an electron stays free for only one picosecond. This is too short for accumulating a large number of mobile electrons. This is an intrinsic property of graphene and has been a big limiting factor for applying this material in photovoltaic or photo-sensing devices. In other words, although electrons in graphene can become mobile by light excitation and can move quickly, they only stay mobile too short a time to contribute to electricity.”
In their new paper, Zhao and Lane report this issue could be solved by using the so-called van der Waals materials. The principle of their approach is rather simple to understand. “We basically took the chairs away from the standing students so that they have nowhere to sit,” Zhao said. “This forces the electrons to stay mobile for a time that is several hundred times longer than before.”
To achieve this goal, working in KU’s Ultrafast Laser Lab, they designed a tri-layer material by putting single layers of MoSe2, WS2 and graphene on top of each other.