. Scientific Frontline: Engineering
Showing posts with label Engineering. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Engineering. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

World’s first smart breathing tube for mechanically ventilated patients set for human trials

Professor Steve Morgan
Photo Credit: Courtesy of University of Nottingham

The University of Nottingham has secured £1.1 million in funding from the Medical Research Council to undertake human trials for the world’s first optical fiber sensor-equipped endotracheal tube (iTraXS).

Seriously ill or anaesthetized patients are unable to breathe naturally, so clinicians often use endotracheal tubes (ETTs), which are placed in the trachea (windpipe) to maintain an open airway and allow the patient to breathe through a mechanical ventilator. To do this, the tube is placed into the airway and a cuff (balloon) is inflated at the trachea to create a gas seal that allows air to be delivered to the lungs effectively. However, incorrect cuff inflation pressure can cause two main problems.

If pressure is too low, it can risk fluid getting past the cuff and causing ventilator-associate pneumonia (VAP). VAP increases the likelihood of death, affecting up to 20% of people in intensive care, and costs the NHS between £10,000 and £20,000 per patient. Conversely, if pressure is too high it can cause a pressure injury in the trachea, ranging from moderate to severe sore throats through to permanent scarring and narrowing of the windpipe.

Monday, October 30, 2023

To advance space colonization, WVU research explores 3D printing in microgravity

WVU engineering students and Microgravity Research Team members Renee Garneau, Trenton Morris and Ronan Butts test a 3D printer the MRT lab has designed to operate in weightless environments like a spaceship, the moon or Mars.
Photo Credit: Brian Persinger / West Virginia University

Research from West Virginia University students and faculty into how 3D printing works in a weightless environment aims to support long-term exploration and habitation on spaceships, the moon or Mars.

Extended missions in outer space require the manufacture of crucial materials and equipment onsite, rather than transporting those items from Earth. Members of the Microgravity Research Team said they believe 3D printing is the way to make that happen.

The team’s recent experiments focused on how a weightless microgravity environment affects 3D printing using titania foam, a material with potential applications ranging from UV blocking to water purification. ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces published their findings.

“A spacecraft can’t carry infinite resources, so you have to maintain and recycle what you have and 3D printing enables that,” said lead author Jacob Cordonier, a doctoral student in mechanical and aerospace engineering at the WVU Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. “You can print only what you need, reducing waste. Our study looked at whether a 3D-printed titanium dioxide foam could protect against ultraviolet radiation in outer space and purify water. 

Using lasers to ‘heat and beat’ 3D-printed steel could help reduce costs

Retrieval of a stainless steel part made by 3D printing 
Photo Credit: Jude E. Fronda

The method, developed by a research team led by the University of Cambridge, allows structural modifications to be ‘programmed’ into metal alloys during 3D printing, fine-tuning their properties without the ‘heating and beating’ process that’s been in use for thousands of years.

The new 3D printing method combines the best qualities of both worlds: the complex shapes that 3D printing makes possible, and the ability to engineer the structure and properties of metals that traditional methods allow. The results are reported in the journal Nature Communications.

3D printing has several advantages over other manufacturing methods. For example, it’s far easier to produce intricate shapes using 3D printing, and it uses far less material than traditional metal manufacturing methods, making it a more efficient process. However, it also has significant drawbacks.

“There’s a lot of promise around 3D printing, but it’s still not in wide use in industry, mostly because of high production costs,” said Dr Matteo Seita from Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, who led the research. “One of the main drivers of these costs is the amount of tweaking that materials need after production.”

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Mechanics of breast cancer metastasis discovered, offering target for treatment

A human breast cancer cell, adenocarcinoma MDA-MB-231, demonstrates metastatic-like adhesion, spreading and migrating in a collagen matrix designed to mimic soft tissue. New research led by Penn State reveals for the first time the mechanics behind how breast cancer cells may invade healthy tissues. The discovery, showing that a motor protein called dynein powers the movement of cancer cells in soft tissue models, offers new clinical targets against metastasis and has the potential to fundamentally change how cancer is treated. 
Image Credit: Erdem Tabdanov / Pennsylvania State University

The most lethal feature of any cancer is metastasis, the spread of cancer cells throughout the body. New research led by Penn State reveals for the first time the mechanics behind how breast cancer cells may invade healthy tissues. The discovery, showing that a motor protein called dynein powers the movement of cancer cells in soft tissue models, offers new clinical targets against metastasis and has the potential to fundamentally change how cancer is treated.

“This discovery marks a paradigm shift in many ways,” said Erdem Tabdanov, assistant professor of pharmacology at Penn State and a lead co-corresponding author on the study, recently published in the journal Advanced Science. “Until now, dynein has never been caught in the business of providing the mechanical force for cancer cell motility, which is their ability to move themselves. Now we can see that if you target dynein, you could effectively stop motility of those cells and, therefore, stop metastatic dissemination.”

The project began as a collaboration between Penn State’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Penn State’s College of Medicine, before growing into a multi-institution partnership with researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center, Georgia Institute of Technology, Emory University, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Binghamton computer scientists program robotic seeing-eye dog to guide the visually impaired

Associate Professor of Computer Science Shiqi Zhang and his students have programmed a robot guide dog to assist the visually impaired. The robot responds to tugs on its leash.
Photo Credit: Stephen Folkerts

Last year, the Computer Science Department at the Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science went trick-or-treating with a quadruped robotic dog. This year, they are using the robot for something that Assistant Professor Shiqi Zhang calls “much more important” than handing out candy, as fun as that can be.

Zhang and PhD students David DeFazio and Eisuke Hirota have been working on a robotic seeing-eye dog to increase accessibility for visually impaired people. They presented a demonstration in which the robot dog led a person around a lab hallway, confidently and carefully responding to directive input.

Zhang explained some of the reasons behind starting the project.

“We were surprised that throughout the visually impaired and blind communities, so few of them are able to use a real seeing-eye dog for their whole life. We checked the statistics, and only 2% of them are able to do that,” he said.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Breakthrough synthesis method improves solar cell stability

Jin Hou is a Rice University graduate student and lead author on a study published in Nature Synthesis. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jin Hou

Solar cell efficiency has soared in recent years due to light-harvesting materials like halide perovskites, but the ability to produce them reliably at scale continues to be a challenge.

A process developed by Rice University chemical and biomolecular engineer Aditya Mohite and collaborators at Northwestern University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Rennes yields 2D perovskite-based semiconductor layers of ideal thickness and purity by controlling the temperature and duration of the crystallization process.

Known as kinetically controlled space confinement, the process could help improve the stability and reduce the cost of halide perovskite-based emerging technologies like optoelectronics and photovoltaics.

Machine can quickly produce needed cells for cancer treatment

WSU researchers have developed a minifridge-sized bioreactor that is able to manufacture the cells, called T cells, at 95% of the maximum growth rate – about 30% faster than current technologies.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Washington State University

A new tool to rapidly grow cancer-killing white blood cells could advance the availability of immunotherapy, a promising therapy which harnesses the power of the body’s immune response to target cancer cells.

Washington State University researchers have developed a minifridge-sized bioreactor that is able to manufacture the cells, called T cells, at 95% of the maximum growth rate – about 30% faster than current technologies. The researchers report on their work in the journal Biotechnology Progress. They developed it using T cells from cattle, developed by co-author Bill Davis of WSU’s Veterinary College, and anticipate it will perform similarly on human cells.

In 2022, there were over 1,400 different types of therapies using T cells in development, with seven approved by the FDA for a variety of cancer treatments. Use of the therapy, called chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CAR-T), is limited, however, because of the cost and time needed to grow T cells. Each infusion treatment for a cancer patient requires up to 250 million cells.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

No more big needles: scientists develop a skin patch that painlessly delivers drugs into the body

An affordable microneedle skin patch that delivers a controlled dosage of medicine directly into the body, eliminating the need for injections or oral medication, has been developed by a team led by scientists at the University of Bath.

It is hoped that the patches, which are described in the journal Biomaterials Advances, will be ready for use within the next five to 10 years.

What makes the microneedle patches unique is that they are made from a hydrogel (a gel-like substance in which water forms the liquid component), with the active ingredient encapsulated inside the hydrogel microneedle structure rather than in a separate reservoir.

They are also more affordable than other commercially available microneedle patches, as they are produced from 3D printed molds. Molds produced this way are easy to customize, which keeps the costs down.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Decontamination method zaps pollutants from soil

Yi Cheng (from left), James Tour and Bing Deng
Photo Credit: Gustavo Raskosky/Rice University

Filtration systems are designed to capture multiple harmful substances from water or air simultaneously, but pollutants in soil can only be tackled individually or a few at a time ⎯ at least for now.

A method developed by Rice University scientists and collaborators at the United States Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) could help turn soil remediation processes from piecemeal to wholesale.

A team of Rice scientists led by chemist James Tour and researchers from the geotechnical structures and environmental engineering branches of the ERDC showed that mixing polluted soil with nontoxic, carbon-rich compounds that propel electrical current, such as biochar, then zapping the mix with short bursts of electricity flushes out both organic pollutants and heavy metals without using water or generating waste.

New Polymer Membranes, AI Predictions Could Dramatically Reduce Energy, Water Use in Oil Refining

A sample of a DUCKY polymer membrane researchers created to perform the initial separation of crude oils using significantly less energy.
Photo Credit: Candler Hobbs

A new kind of polymer membrane created by researchers at Georgia Tech could reshape how refineries process crude oil, dramatically reducing the energy and water required while extracting even more useful materials.

The so-called DUCKY polymers — more on the unusual name in a minute — are reported in Nature Materials. And they’re just the beginning for the team of Georgia Tech chemists, chemical engineers, and materials scientists. They also have created artificial intelligence tools to predict the performance of these kinds of polymer membranes, which could accelerate development of new ones.

The implications are stark: the initial separation of crude oil components is responsible for roughly 1% of energy used across the globe. What’s more, the membrane separation technology the researchers are developing could have several uses, from biofuels and biodegradable plastics to pulp and paper products.

“We’re establishing concepts here that we can then use with different molecules or polymers, but we apply them to crude oil because that’s the most challenging target right now,” said M.G. Finn, professor and James A. Carlos Family Chair in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Monday, October 16, 2023

MIT design would harness 40 percent of the sun’s heat to produce clean hydrogen fuel

MIT engineers have developed a design for a system that efficiently harnesses the sun’s heat to split water and generate hydrogen.
Credit: Courtesy of the researchers

MIT engineers aim to produce totally green, carbon-free hydrogen fuel with a new, train-like system of reactors that is driven solely by the sun.

In a study appearing today in Solar Energy Journal, the engineers lay out the conceptual design for a system that can efficiently produce “solar thermochemical hydrogen.” The system harnesses the sun’s heat to directly split water and generate hydrogen — a clean fuel that can power long-distance trucks, ships, and planes, while in the process emitting no greenhouse gas emissions.

Today, hydrogen is largely produced through processes that involve natural gas and other fossil fuels, making the otherwise green fuel more of a “grey” energy source when considered from the start of its production to its end use. In contrast, solar thermochemical hydrogen, or STCH, offers a totally emissions-free alternative, as it relies entirely on renewable solar energy to drive hydrogen production. But so far, existing STCH designs have limited efficiency: Only about 7 percent of incoming sunlight is used to make hydrogen. The results so far have been low-yield and high-cost.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

A New Method for Assessing the Microbiome of the Human Gut

A technique called 'bead beating.'
Photo Credit: Courtesy of California Institute of Technology

The gut microbiome—the population and variety of bacteria within the intestine—is thought to influence a number of behavioral and disease traits in humans. Most obviously, it affects intestinal health. Cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and celiac disease, for example, are all affected by the gut microbiome. But recent research at Caltech and other research centers has identified connections between the gut microbiome and diseases such as Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis as well as links between the gut microbiome and the presence of autistic behaviors, anxious behaviors, and a propensity to binge-eat sweets. (Most of this work has been done in the laboratory of Sarkis Mazmanian, Caltech's Luis B. and Nelly Soux Professor of Microbiology, who works mainly on mouse models.)

Looking directly at the human gut and the bacteria that make this space their home is often performed with sequencing—a process that analyzes the DNA sequences that make up each organism. However, this process is difficult in the intestine largely because the amount of microbial DNA in the gut is miniscule in comparison to the amount of host DNA. In intestinal tissue, roughly 99.99 percent of the DNA present is from the host organism; only 0.01 percent is microbial DNA.

However powerful the effects of these microbes, it is hard to understand their role without knowing their composition. Microbiome studies often rely on studies of feces and saliva, but these are quite different from the ecosystem of the gut itself.

Friday, October 13, 2023

Ultrahigh-sensitivity microprobe optimizes detection of molecular fingerprints

Illustration of a whispering-gallery-mode (WGM) microprobe scanning across a sample substrate to collect 2D mapping of molecular fingerprints of substances.
Illustration Credit: Yang lab

Being a good detective requires top-notch evidence gathering, going where the clues are and recognizing their meaning. The same holds true in the realm of sensing technology, where the quest for the perfect balance between ultrahigh sensitivity and a large detection area has been an ongoing challenge. These properties are crucial for a wide range of applications, from biomedical monitoring and chemical imaging to magnetic sensing and vibration detection.

Optical whispering-gallery-mode microsensors, characterized by their ability to trap light in tiny spherical cavities, have emerged as a promising platform for various sensing applications. However, they have historically struggled to achieve both ultrahigh sensitivity and a substantial detection area simultaneously.

Breaking new ground in the field, researchers working with Lan Yang, the Edwin H. & Florence G. Skinner Professor in the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, have developed a scanning whispering-gallery-mode (WGM) microprobe. This novel device represents a shift in the world of microsensors, offering a remarkable solution to the sensitivity-detection area trade-off conundrum. The findings were published in Light: Science & Applications.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Drug-filled nanocapsule helps make immunotherapy more effective in mice

Image illustrates the effect of lactate oxidase (LOx) nanocapsules (depicted in orange) within solid tumors. By reducing lactate concentrations and generating hydrogen peroxide in the tumor microenvironment, these nanocapsules promote the infiltration and activation of T cells (depicted in blue and green).
Image Credit: Courtesy of the Jing Wen laboratory.

UCLA researchers have developed a new treatment method using a tiny nanocapsule to help boost the immune response, making it easier for the immune system to fight and kill solid tumors.

The investigators found the approach, described in the journal Science Translational Medicine, increased the number and activity of immune cells that attack the cancer, making cancer immunotherapies work better.

“Cancer immunotherapy has reshaped the landscape of cancer treatment,” said senior author of the study Jing Wen, assistant adjunct professor of microbiology, immunology, & molecular genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a scientist at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. “However, not all patients with solid tumors respond well to immunotherapy, and the reason seems to be related to the way the cancer cells affect their surroundings.”

Cancer cells produce a lot of lactate, Wen explained, which creates an environment around the solid tumor that makes it difficult for the immune system to work effectively against the cancer.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Rice-engineered material can reconnect severed nerves

Rice University doctoral alum Joshua Chen is lead author on a study published in Nature Materials.
 Photo Credit: Gustavo Raskosky/Rice University

Researchers have long recognized the therapeutic potential of using magnetoelectrics ⎯ materials that can turn magnetic fields into electric fields ⎯ to stimulate neural tissue in a minimally invasive way and help treat neurological disorders or nerve damage. The problem, however, is that neurons have a hard time responding to the shape and frequency of the electric signal resulting from this conversion.

Rice University neuroengineer Jacob Robinson and his team designed the first magnetoelectric material that not only solves this issue but performs the magnetic-to-electric conversion 120 times faster than similar materials. According to a study published in Nature Materials, the researchers showed the material can be used to precisely stimulate neurons remotely and to bridge the gap in a broken sciatic nerve in a rat model.

The material’s qualities and performance could have a profound impact on neurostimulation treatments, making for significantly less invasive procedures, Robinson said. Instead of implanting a neurostimulation device, tiny amounts of the material could simply be injected at the desired site. Moreover, given magnetoelectrics’ range of applications in computing, sensing, electronics and other fields, the research provides a framework for advanced materials design that could drive innovation more broadly.

Monday, October 9, 2023

Predicting prostate cancer recurrence 15 months faster

Hector Gomez, a professor in Purdue University’s School of Mechanical Engineering, and his international collaborators have developed a patent-pending method and algorithm to predict the recurrence of prostate cancer in patients treated by radiation therapy.
Photo Credit: Purdue University/Vincent Walter

A Purdue University mechanical engineer and his international collaborators have developed a patent-pending method and algorithm to predict the recurrence of prostate cancer in patients treated by radiation therapy.­

Hector Gomez, a professor in Purdue University’s School of Mechanical Engineering, said data indicates the model-based predictors can identify relapsing patients a median of 14.8 months earlier than the current clinical practice.

Gomez said radiation is an effective treatment for patients of all ages to treat tumors ranging in risk from low to very high. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, between 20% to 30% of patients will experience a recurrence after the five-year period, post-therapy.

“The detection of prostate cancer recurrence after radiation relies on the measurement of a sustained rise of the serum levels of a substance called prostate-specific antigen, or PSA,” Gomez said. “However, the recurrence may take years to occur, which delays the delivery of a secondary treatment to patients with recurring tumors.”

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Scorpius images to test nuclear stockpile simulations

Two cathode inductive voltage-adder cells on the electrical test stand are aligned at Sandia National Laboratories. After thousands of tests, each holding 50 kilovolts across the insulating gap, they are ready to be mounted on seven-cell modules.
Photo Credit: Craig Fritz

One thousand feet below the ground, three national defense labs and a remote test site are building Scorpius — a machine as long as a football field — to create images of plutonium as it is compressed with high explosives, creating conditions that exist just prior to a nuclear explosion.

These nanosecond portraits will be compared with visuals of the same events generated by supercomputer codes to check how accurately the computed images replicate the real thing.

“It’s clear we need to know that the stockpile will work if required,” said Jon Custer, Sandia National Laboratories project lead. “Before President Bush’s testing moratorium in 1992, we knew it did since we were physically testing. Now we have computer codes. How well do they predict what really happens? Do we have accurate data we put into the codes? To answer these questions with higher fidelity, we need better experimental tools, and Scorpius is a major new experimental tool.”

The $1.8 billion project, combining the expertise of researchers from Sandia, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national labs with support from the Nevada National Security Site — a test area bigger than the state of Rhode Island — is expected to be up and running by late 2027.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Laser system to defend space assets from debris in Earth’s orbit

Earth’s lower orbit is filling up with junk that poses a threat to space assets. New WVU research explores whether space-based lasers can zap even tiny particles or large fields of debris off potential collision courses with objects like satellites or space stations.
Illustration Credit: Savanna Leech | West Virginia University

If West Virginia University research pays off, debris that litters the planet’s orbit and poses a threat to spacecraft and satellites could get nudged off potential collision courses by a coordinated network of space lasers.

Hang Woon Lee, director of the Space Systems Operations Research Laboratory at WVU, said a junkyard of human-made debris, including defunct satellites, is accumulating around Earth. The more debris in orbit, the higher the risk that some of that debris will collide with manned and unmanned space assets. He said he believes the best chance for preventing those collisions is an array of multiple lasers mounted to platforms in space. The artificial intelligence-powered lasers could maneuver and work together to respond rapidly to debris of any size.

Lee, an assistant professor in mechanical and aerospace engineering at the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, is a 2023 recipient of NASA’s prestigious Early Career Faculty award for potentially breakthrough research. NASA is supporting Lee’s rapid-response debris removal study with $200,000 in funding per year for up to three years. 

New dog, old tricks: New AI approach yields ‘athletically intelligent’ robotic dog

A doglike robot can navigate unknown obstacles using a simple algorithm that encourages forward progress with minimal effort.
Video Credit: Shanghai Qi Zhi Institute/Stanford University

With a simplified machine learning technique, AI researchers created a real-world “robodog” able to leap, climb, crawl, and squeeze past physical barriers as never before.

Someday, when quakes, fires, and floods strike, the first responders might be packs of robotic rescue dogs rushing in to help stranded souls. These battery-powered quadrupeds would use computer vision to size up obstacles and employ doglike agility skills to get past them.

Toward that noble goal, AI researchers at Stanford University and Shanghai Qi Zhi Institute say they have developed a new vision-based algorithm that helps robodogs scale high objects, leap across gaps, crawl under thresholds, and squeeze through crevices – and then bolt to the next challenge. The algorithm represents the brains of the robodog.

“The autonomy and range of complex skills that our quadruped robot learned is quite impressive,” said Chelsea Finn, assistant professor of computer science and senior author of a new peer-reviewed paper announcing the teams’ approach to the world, which will be presented at the upcoming Conference on Robot Learning. “And we have created it using low-cost, off-the-shelf robots – actually, two different off-the-shelf robots.”

Insect Cyborgs: Towards Precision Movement

Image Credit: ©Dai Owaki

Insect cyborgs may sound like science fiction, but it's a relatively new phenomenon based on using electrical stimuli to control the movement of insects. These hybrid insect computer robots, as they are scientifically called, herald the future of small, high mobile and efficient devices.

Despite significant progress being made, however, further advances are complicated by the vast differences between different insects' nervous and muscle systems.

In a recent study published in the journal eLife, an international research group has studied the relationship between electrical stimulation in stick insects' leg muscles and the resultant torque (the twisting force that makes the leg move).

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