Monthly Archives: September 2018
The research team of Prof. Massimiliano Esposito of the University of Luxembourg studied the thermodynamics of nanomachines. All machines convert one form of energy into another form – for example a car engine turns the energy stored in fuel into motion energy. Those processes of energy conversion, described by the theory called thermodynamics, don’t only take place on the macro-level of big machines, but also at the micro-level of molecular machines that drive muscles or metabolic processes and even on the atomic level. The research team of Prof. Massimiliano Esposito of the University of Luxembourg studies the thermodynamics of nanomachines only consisting of a few atoms.
In a paper published in the prestigious scientific journal Physical Review X, they outline how these small machines behave in concert. Their insights could be used to improve the energy efficiency of all kinds of machines, big or small.
Recent progress in nanotechnology has enabled researchers to understand the world in ever-smaller scales and even allows for the design and manufacture of extremely small artificial machines.
“There is evidence that these machines are far more efficient than large machines, such as cars. Yet in absolute terms, the output is low compared to the needs we have in daily life applications,” explains Tim Herpich, PhD student at Esposito’s research group and main author of the paper. “That is why we studied how the nanomachines interact with each other and looked at how ensembles of those small machines behave. We wanted to see if there are synergies when they act in concert.”
The researchers found that the nanomachines under certain conditions start to arrange in “swarms” and synchronise their movements. “We could show that the synchronisation of the machines triggers significant synergy effects, so that the overall energy output of the ensemble is far greater than the sum of the individual outputs,” said Prof. Esposito. While this is basic research, the principles outlined in the paper could potentially be used to improve the efficiency of any machine in the future, the researcher explains.
In order to simulate and study the energetic behaviour of swarms of nanomachines, the scientists created mathematical models that are based on existing literature and outcomes of experimental research.
Rice University scientists have developed micron-sized calcium silicate spheres that could lead to stronger and greener concrete, the world’s most-used synthetic material. To Rice materials scientist Rouzbeh Shahsavari and graduate student Sung Hoon Hwang, the spheres represent building blocks that can be made at low cost and promise to mitigate the energy-intensive techniques now used to make cement, the most common binder in concrete.
The researchers formed the spheres in a solution around nanoscale seeds of a common detergent-like surfactant. The spheres can be prompted to self-assemble into solids that are stronger, harder, more elastic and more durable than ubiquitous Portland cement.
Packed, micron-scale calcium silicate spheres developed at Rice University are a promising material that could lead to stronger and more environmentally friendly concrete
“Cement doesn’t have the nicest structure,” said Shahsavari, an assistant professor of materials science and nanoengineering. “Cement particles are amorphous and disorganized, which makes it a bit vulnerable to cracks. But with this material, we know what our limits are and we can channel polymers or other materials in between the spheres to control the structure from bottom to top and predict more accurately how it could fracture.”
He said the spheres are suitable for bone-tissue engineering, insulation, ceramic and composite applications as well as cement.
From the safety of their research vessel, scientists are exploring one of Earth’s last frontiers – the sea floor – to discover more about valuable minerals vital in the manufacture of smartphones. The researchers, from the University of Bergen in Norway, are sending robots 2,500m down into the waters between Norway and Greenland, to try to understand the environments potentially rich with rare earth minerals.
“The ocean sea floor on Earth is, for the most part, unknown,” scientist Thibaut Barreyre said. “It’s totally fair to say that we know much more about the surface of the moon and Mars – mapped by satellites and different devices – than we know about our own planet.”
The international team is using technology including autonomous robots and human-piloted submarines to explore the sea’s dark depths where zinc, gold and copper are also found. The scientists hope the explorations will reveal why some areas have minerals and others do not, how much is down there and what damage mining them would have on the environment. A viable new source of rare earths, a group of 17 elements used in the production of smartphone screens, magnets, camera lenses and X-ray machines could be highly lucrative. But it is not that simple, Barreyre explained. “Some of them (waters) are rich in gold, copper, zinc and rare earths. And others have almost none of those. And that’s why it’s very important to us as scientists to understand it,”he commented. The team, which began exploring the area last year, will spend the next five years searching.
The promise of wearables, functional fabrics, the Internet of Things, and their “next-generation” technological cohort seems tantalizingly within reach. But researchers in the field will tell you a prime reason for their delayed “arrival” is the problem of seamlessly integrating connection technology — namely, antennas — with shape-shifting and flexible “things.”
But a breakthrough by researchers in Drexel’s College of Engineering, could now make installing an antenna as easy as applying some bug spray. In research recently published in Science Advances, the group reports on a method for spraying invisibly thin antennas, made from a type of two-dimensional, metallic material called MXene, that perform as well as those being used in mobile devices, wireless routers and portable transducers.
Spray-applied MXene antennas could open the door for new applications in smart technology, wearables and IoT devices
“This is a very exciting finding because there is a lot of potential for this type of technology,” said Kapil Dandekar, PhD, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the College of Engineering, who directs the Drexel Wireless Systems Lab, and was a co-author of the research. “The ability to spray an antenna on a flexible substrate or make it optically transparent means that we could have a lot of new places to set up networks — there are new applications and new ways of collecting data that we can’t even imagine at the moment.”
Carmat (Paris:ALCAR), the designer and developer of the world’s most advanced total artificial heart project, aiming to provide a therapeutic alternative for people suffering from end-stage biventricular heart failure, has announced the certification of its new manufacturing site situated in Bois-d’Arcy, near Paris. In line with the schedule, the recently opened automated site is perfectly aligned with Carmat’s strategic transformation into an industrial company.
The newly available space will allow the production of up to 800 units per year at full capacity to meet the demands of industrial-pace manufacturing as well as the enrollment ramp up in the ongoing PIVOTAL study. Furthermore, this facility will enable the use of new tools, such as robots, to assemble hybrid membranes on the device and a fully-automated software station to set up the prosthesis parameters. This project has been conducted by a dedicated team with the aim to implement best industrial practices in regards to the organization, processes, and IT systems for maximum efficiency and quality.
Stéphane Piat, Chief Executive Officer of Carmat, commented: “We are delighted to announce the certification of our new manufacturing site based in Bois-d’Arcy, near Paris, which is a true accomplishment as we have achieved it in less than a year from the start of the building construction. Carmat will now be able to manufacture products in both Vélizy and Bois-d’Arcy. In line with our strategy, the new automated site will enable Carmat to become an industrial company with the ability to manufacture up to 800 units a year at full capacity in order to support the demand. Thanks to new processes, we will increase production throughput and more importantly, reinforce the quality of our prostheses to better serve patients across the world.”
A test kit that can fit into the palm of a hand could be changing the face of disease screening and diagnosis. Developed by a multidisciplinary team of the National University of Singapore (NUS) researchers, the device named enVision (enzyme-assisted nanocomplexes for visual identification of nucleic acids) is a versatile platform that can conduct specific and sensitive screening and detection for a range of diseases, from infectious diseases and high-prevalence infections, to various types of cancers and genetic diseases.
More effective and less costly than existing infection diagnostic methods, enVision, which took about one-and-a-half years to develop, takes between 30 minutes to one hour to detect diseases — two to four times faster — and each test kit costs under $1 — about 100 times cheaper.
“The enVision platform is extremely sensitive, accurate, fast, and low-cost. It works at room temperature and does not require heaters or special pumps, making it very portable. With this invention, tests can be done at the point-of-care, for instance in community clinics or hospital wards, so that disease monitoring or treatment can be administered in a timely manner to achieve better health outcomes,” said team leader Assistant Professor Shao Huilin from the Biomedical Institute for Global Health Research and Technology (BIGHEART) at NUS and NUS Biomedical Engineering.
A variety of nanomaterials have been used over the years in loudspeakers and microphones. Nanoparticles have replaced permanent magnets in loudspeakers and a thin film of carbon nanotubes has done pretty much the same. And, of course, someone tried to use graphene to reproduce sound for microphones.
Now researchers at Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) in South Korea have made a nanomembrane out of silver nanowires to serve as flexible loudspeakers or microphones. The researchers even went so far as to demonstrate their nanomembrane by making it into a loudspeaker that could be attached to skin and used it to play the final movement of a violin concerto—namely, La Campanella by Niccolo Paganini.
In research described in the journal Science Advances, the Korean researchers embedded a silver nanowire network within a polymer-based nanomembrane. The decision to use silver nanowires rather than the other types of nanomaterials that have been used in the past was based on the comparative ease of hybridizing the nanowires into the polymer. In addition, the researchers opted for nanowires because the other materials like graphene and carbon nanotubes are not as mechanically strong at nanometer-scale thickness when in freestanding form, according to Hyunhyub Ko, an associate professor at UNIST and coauthor of the research. It is this thickness that is the critical element of the material.
“The biggest breakthrough of our research is the development of ultrathin, transparent, and conductive hybrid nanomembranes with nanoscale thickness, less than 100 nanometers,” said Ko. “These outstanding optical, electrical, and mechanical properties of nanomembranes enable the demonstration of skin-attachable and imperceptible loudspeaker and microphone.”
The nanomembrane loudspeaker operates by emitting thermoacoustic sound through the oscillation of the surrounding air brought on by temperature differences. The periodic Joule heating that occurs when an electric current passes through a conductor and produces heat leads to these temperature oscillations.
A new technique developed by neuroscientists at the University of Toronto can reconstruct images of what people perceive based on their brain activity. The technique developed by Dan Nemrodov, a postdoctoral fellow in Assistant Professor Adrian Nestor’s lab at U of T Scarborough, is able to digitally reconstruct images seen by test subjects based on electroencephalography (EEG) data.
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“When we see something, our brain creates a mental percept, which is essentially a mental impression of that thing. We were able to capture this percept using EEG to get a direct illustration of what’s happening in the brain during this process,” says Nemrodov.
For the study, test subjects hooked up to EEG equipment were shown images of faces. Their brain activity was recorded and then used to digitally recreate the image in the subject’s mind using a technique based on machine learning algorithms. It’s not the first time researchers have been able to reconstruct images based on visual stimuli using neuroimaging techniques. The current method was pioneered by Nestor, who successfully reconstructed facial images from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data in the past, but this is the first time EEG has been used.
Robotic surgery and robotically-assisted surgery have become increasingly widespread in recent years. At the cutting edge of this technology is Eindhoven Medical Robotics, a Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) related start-up.
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Robotics pioneer Maarten Steinbuch, a mechanical engineer by training, is building Eindhoven Medical Robotics with a Jeff Bezos-like 20-year vision … as an enduring business that could redefine this global semiconductor center while revolutionizing the medical world. And he’s hiring with a goal of building EMR into a 1,000-employee company over the next 10 years … but more about that in a minute. At HighTechXL Beyond tech conference and demo day, Steinbuch was one of 10 presenters. His talk was titled “The Future of Medical Robotics,” but he touched on multiple topics including Moore’s Law, emerging technology that will make it illegal for humans to drive cars and the reality of the Robot Revolution. (A hint: The tech behind personal robots is way too expensive right now to be practical, and it’ll be 10 years before you have a robot in your home.) Which was all interesting until he started laying out his vision for building his business.
Steinbuch is a bit like Silicon Valley legend Jim Clark, who founded multiple landmark tech businesses including Netscape and Silicon Graphics. Developing the technology as a professor at Technical University of Eindhoven (TU/e), Steinbuch and his teams of researchers and engineers created Eindhoven’s first startup robotic surgery company back in 2010. TU/e’s Sofie robotic surgery technology competed with da Vinci Surgical Systems, a global phenomenon owned by a Silicon Valley firm, Intuitive Surgical.
He found out quickly that da Vinci “has all the patents” as well as a huge staff dedicated to specifically trying to thwart competitors, Steinbuch told the crowd.
His painful takeaway from that venture: “To do a medical robotics startup, the amount of money you need is beyond imagination if you’re a professor at a university,” at least 10 million to 20 million euros, Steinbuch said. To get back in the game, he had to first figure out which technology could become a viable business. Rather than taking on da Vinci directly, he came up with was a master-slave system that could assist surgeons in operating on the retina, filtering out surgeon’s hand tremors. There are only a few doctors who can suture lymph nodes, for example, at 3 millimetres, “and only in the morning,” Steinbuch said. “We make super surgeons – that’s what we do.”