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

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

New Algorithm Disentangles Intrinsic Brain Patterns from Sensory Inputs

Image Credit: Omid Sani, Using Generative Ai

Maryam Shanechi, Dean’s Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and founding director of the USC Center for Neurotechnology, and her team have developed a new machine learning method that reveals surprisingly consistent intrinsic brain patterns across different subjects by disentangling these patterns from the effect of visual inputs.

The work has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

When performing various everyday movement behaviors, such as reaching for a book, our brain has to take in information, often in the form of visual input — for example, seeing where the book is. Our brain then has to process this information internally to coordinate the activity of our muscles and perform the movement. But how do millions of neurons in our brain perform such a task? Answering this question requires studying the neurons’ collective activity patterns, but doing so while disentangling the effect of input from the neurons’ intrinsic (aka internal) processes, whether movement-relevant or not.

That’s what Shanechi, her PhD student Parsa Vahidi, and a research associate in her lab, Omid Sani, did by developing a new machine-learning method that models neural activity while considering both movement behavior and sensory input.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Artificial cartilage with the help of 3D printing

The spheroids in which living cells are grown, can be assembled into almost any shape.
Image Credit: Technische Universität Wien

A new approach to producing artificial tissue has been developed at TU Wien: Cells are grown in microstructures created in a 3D printer.

Is it possible to grow tissue in the laboratory, for example to replace injured cartilage? At TU Wien (Vienna), an important step has now been taken towards creating replacement tissue in the lab - using a technique that differs significantly from other methods used around the world.

A special high-resolution 3D printing process is used to create tiny, porous spheres made of biocompatible and degradable plastic, which are then colonized with cells. These spheroids can then be arranged in any geometry, and the cells of the different units combine seamlessly to form a uniform, living tissue. Cartilage tissue, with which the concept has now been demonstrated at TU Wien, was previously considered particularly challenging in this respect.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Blue PHOLEDs: Final color of efficient OLEDs finally viable in lighting

Jaesang Lee, Electrical Engineering PhD Student, demonstrates use of an earlier blue PHOLED innovation by University of Michigan professor Steve Forrest’s research group in 2014. Forrest’s lab introduced PHOLEDs to the world in the early 2000s and has been trying to improve the lifetime of blue PHOLEDs ever since. Now, they might finally be hardy enough to use in lighting applications. Image credit: Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing The blue LEDs were developed in EECS Professor Stephen Forrest’s lab groups and are for use in cell phones, tablets, and other electronics. The LEDs’ lifetime has been enhanced by a factor of ten, allowing for more efficient use.
Photo Credit: Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing

Lights could soon use the full color suite of perfectly efficient organic light-emitting diodes, or OLEDs, that last tens of thousands of hours, thanks to an innovation from physicists and engineers at the University of Michigan.

The U-M team’s new phosphorescent OLEDs, commonly referred to as PHOLEDs, can maintain 90% of the blue light intensity for 10-14 times longer than other designs that emit similar deep blue colors. That kind of lifespan could finally make blue PHOLEDs hardy enough to be commercially viable in lights that meet the Department of Energy’s 50,000-hour lifetime target. Without a stable blue PHOLED, OLED lights need to use less-efficient technology to create white light.

The lifetime of the new blue PHOLEDs currently is only long enough to use as lighting, but the same design principle could be combined with other light-emitting materials to create blue PHOLEDs hardy enough for TVs, phone screens and computer monitors. Display screens with blue PHOLEDs could potentially increase a device’s battery life by 30%.

Shock wave photographed passing through a single cell

Images of an underwater shock wave moving through a HeLa cell.
Using this new technology, the researchers could see the difference between how the shock wave moved inside and outside of a cell submerged in water. They noted that the results suggested that the cell structure shifts with the visualized wavefront position (shown in the red/ orange line in the image).
 Image Credit: © 2023 Saiki et al. University of Tokyo

A microscopic shock wave has been photographed passing through a single biological cell, thanks to a new photography technique. Nanosecond photography uses ultrafast electronic cameras to take images at the speed of a billionth of a second. However, image quality and exposure time are typically limited. Now, a team led by researchers at the University of Tokyo has achieved superfine images taken over multiple timescales at high-speed using a system they named spectrum circuit. Spectrum circuit bridges the gap between optical imaging and conventional electronic cameras, enabling photography at ultrafast speeds with less blur and more accuracy. This technology has potential applications for science, medicine and industry.

You’re waiting with your camera for just the right moment. Suddenly, your subject speeds by and you’ve barely clicked the shutter. Missed it. Timing can be everything in photography and capturing images at high speed poses a particular challenge. But thanks to advances in camera technology, these days we can see the world like never before. Whether it’s the sweat on a racing cyclist’s brow, the focus in the eyes of a swooping falcon or, with this latest improvement in nanosecond photography, the movement of a shock wave passing through a microscopic single cell at high speed.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

How technology and economics can help save endangered species

The gray wolf is among the animals protected by the Endangered Species Act.
Image Credit: Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife
(CC BY-SA 2.0)

A lot has changed in the world since the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was enacted 50 years ago in December 1973.

Two researchers at The Ohio State University were among a group of experts invited by the journal Science to discuss how the ESA has evolved and what its future might hold.

Tanya Berger-Wolf, faculty director of Ohio State’s Translational Data Analytics Institute, led a group that wrote on “Sustainable, trustworthy, human-technology partnership.”  Amy Ando, professor and chair of the university’s Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics, wrote on “Harnessing economics for effective implementation.”

Berger-Wolf and her colleagues wrote, “We are in the middle of a mass extinction without even knowing all that we are losing and how fast.” But technology can help address that.

For example, they note the value of tools like camera traps that survey animal species and smartphone apps that allow citizen scientists to count insects, identify bird songs and report plant observations.

New brain-like transistor mimics human intelligence

An artistic interpretation of brain-like computing.
Illustration Credit: Xiaodong Yan/Northwestern University

Taking inspiration from the human brain, researchers have developed a new synaptic transistor capable of higher-level thinking.

Designed by researchers at Northwestern University, Boston College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the device simultaneously processes and stores information just like the human brain. In new experiments, the researchers demonstrated that the transistor goes beyond simple machine-learning tasks to categorize data and is capable of performing associative learning.

Although previous studies have leveraged similar strategies to develop brain-like computing devices, those transistors cannot function outside cryogenic temperatures. The new device, by contrast, is stable at room temperatures. It also operates at fast speeds, consumes very little energy and retains stored information even when power is removed, making it ideal for real-world applications.

“The brain has a fundamentally different architecture than a digital computer,” said Northwestern’s Mark C. Hersam, who co-led the research. “In a digital computer, data moves back and forth between a microprocessor and memory, which consumes a lot of energy and creates a bottleneck when attempting to perform multiple tasks at the same time. On the other hand, in the brain, memory and information processing are co-located and fully integrated, resulting in orders of magnitude higher energy efficiency. Our synaptic transistor similarly achieves concurrent memory and information processing functionality to more faithfully mimic the brain.”

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Aerogel can become the key to future terahertz technologies

Aerogel can obtain high hydrophobicity by simple chemical modifications.
Photo Credit: Thor Balkhed

High-frequency terahertz waves have great potential for a number of applications including next-generation medical imaging and communication. Researchers at Linköping University, Sweden, have shown, in a study published in the journal Advanced Science, that the transmission of terahertz light through an aerogel made of cellulose and a conducting polymer can be tuned. This is an important step to unlock more applications for terahertz waves.

The terahertz range covers wavelengths that lie between microwaves and infrared light on the electromagnetic spectrum. It has a very high frequency. Thanks to this, many researchers believe that the terahertz range has great potential for use in space exploration, security technology and communication systems, among other things. In medical imaging, it can also be an interesting substitute for X-ray examinations as the waves can pass through most non-conductive materials without damaging any tissue.

However, there are several technological barriers to overcome before terahertz signals can be widely used. For example, it is difficult to create terahertz radiation in an efficient way and materials that can receive and adjust the transmission of terahertz waves are needed.

Friday, December 15, 2023

Using a fiber optic cable to study Arctic seafloor permafrost

A permafrost-created pingo or “ice pimple” in the North Slope of Alaska. Scientists from Sandia National Laboratories have been using a fiber optic cable to study permafrost in the Arctic seafloor to improve the understanding of global climate change.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories

The Arctic is remote, with often harsh conditions, and its climate is changing rapidly — warming four times faster than the rest of the Earth. This makes studying the Arctic climate both challenging and vital for understanding global climate change.

Scientists at Sandia National Laboratories are using an existing fiber optic cable off Oliktok Point on the North Slope of Alaska to study the conditions of the Arctic seafloor up to 20 miles from shore. Christian Stanciu, project lead, will present their latest findings on Friday, Dec. 15 at AGU’s Fall Meeting in San Francisco.

Their goal is to determine the seismic structure of miles of Arctic seafloor. Using an emerging technique, they can spot areas of the seafloor where sound travels faster than on the rest of the seafloor, typically because of more ice. They have identified several areas with lots of ice, said Stanciu, a Sandia geophysicist.

The scientists also used the cable to determine temperatures over the stretch of seafloor and monitored temperature changes over seasons. "This data, unlike any collected before, was inserted into a computer model to infer the distribution of submarine permafrost," said Jennifer Frederick, a computational geoscientist.

“One of the innovations of this project is that we can now use a single fiber to get acoustic and temperature data,” Stanciu said. “We developed a new system to remotely collect both types of data using one fiber strand. We’re getting some interesting results.”

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Quantum batteries break causality

Charging quantum batteries in indefinite causal order.
In the classical world, if you tried to charge a battery using two chargers, you would have to do so in sequence, limiting the available options to just two possible orders. However, leveraging the novel quantum effect called ICO opens the possibility to charge quantum batteries in a distinctively unconventional way. Here, multiple chargers arranged in different orders can exist simultaneously, forming a quantum superposition.
Illustration Credit: ©2023 Chen et al.
CC BY-ND 4.0 DEED

Batteries that exploit quantum phenomena to gain, distribute and store power promise to surpass the abilities and usefulness of conventional chemical batteries in certain low-power applications. For the first time, researchers including those from the University of Tokyo take advantage of an unintuitive quantum process that disregards the conventional notion of causality to improve the performance of so-called quantum batteries, bringing this future technology a little closer to reality.

When you hear the word “quantum,” the physics governing the subatomic world, developments in quantum computers tend to steal the headlines, but there are other upcoming quantum technologies worth paying attention to. One such item is the quantum battery which, though initially puzzling in name, holds unexplored potential for sustainable energy solutions and possible integration into future electric vehicles. Nevertheless, these new devices are poised to find use in various portable and low-power applications, especially when opportunities to recharge are scarce.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

VR users need an emotional connection to virtual worlds, not better graphics

Realistic graphics are only important when the virtual world triggers a sense of threat
Image Credit: Sara Kurig

Being wowed by powerful graphics is not enough for a person to feel fully immersed in a virtual-reality (VR) world – a strong emotional response to the simulated environment is essential too, according to a new study from the University of Bath.

Indeed, field of view and visual realism – achieved through cutting-edge graphics and usually powered by high-end headsets – can be relatively unimportant in creating a believable VR experience. Far more important is the way a user is made to feel (e.g. happy or scared) within the virtual environment, the study found.

Dr Crescent Jicol, principal investigator of the study, said: “A lot of money goes into making headsets and screens better and into rendering virtual worlds more realistic, but more effort needs to be centered on improving the user’s emotional experience.”

Though the findings of this Bath study may ultimately reduce the pressure on gamers to overspend on high-end VR equipment, the implications of this work extend beyond entertainment: in the years ahead, VR is expected to play an ever-growing role in many areas of life, from workplace training to medical rehabilitation programs.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Advanced MRI technology detects changes in the brain after COVID-19

Ida Blystad and her colleagues examine the brain using MRI. 
Photo Credit: Emma Busk Winquist

Researchers at LiU have examined the brains of 16 patients previously hospitalized for COVID-19 with persisting symptoms. They have found differences in brain tissue structure between patients with persisting symptoms after COVID-19 and healthy people. Their findings can bring insights into the underlying mechanisms of persisting neurological problems after COVID-19.

Several previous studies of persisting problems after COVID have involved MRI brain scanning. Although researchers have found differences compared with healthy brains, these differences are not specific to COVID-19.

“It can be frustrating for me as a doctor when I understand that the patients have problems, but I can’t find an explanation because there’s nothing in the MRI scan to explain it. To me, this underlines the importance of trying other examination technologies to understand what’s happening in the brain in patients with persisting symptoms after COVID-19,” says Ida Blystad, neuroradiologist in the Department of Radiology at Linköping University Hospital and researcher affiliated with the Department of Health, Medicine and Caring Sciences at Linköping University and the Centre for Medical Image Science and Visualization (CMIV).

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Scientists are taking major steps towards completing the world’s first synthetic yeast.

Photo Credit: Karyna Panchenko

A UK-based team of Scientists, led by experts from the University of Nottingham and Imperial College London, have completed construction of a synthetic chromosome as part of a major international project to build the world’s first synthetic yeast genome.

The work, which is published today in Cell Genomics, represents completion of one of the 16 chromosomes of the yeast genome by the UK team, which is part of the biggest project ever in synthetic biology; the international synthetic yeast genome collaboration.

The collaboration, known as 'Sc2.0' has been a 15-year project involving teams from around the world (UK, US, China, Singapore, UK, France and Australia), working together to make synthetic versions of all of yeast's chromosomes. Alongside this paper, another 9 publications are also released today from other teams describing their synthetic chromosomes. The final completion of the genome project - the largest synthetic genome ever - is expected next year.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Under Pressure: Seeing the Squeeze in Living Organisms

Double emulsion droplet (pink and cyan) located in between cells (yellow) of a living zebrafish embryo. Monitoring the changes in droplet size allows scientists to measure the osmotic pressure in the tissue.
Image Credit: © PoL / Antoine Vian

In order to survive, organisms must control the pressure inside them, from the single-cell level to tissues and organs. Measuring these pressures in living cells and tissues in physiological conditions has been very challenging. Now, researchers from the Cluster of Excellence Physics of Life (PoL) at the Technical University in Dresden (TU Dresden), Germany, report in the journal Nature Communications a new technique to ‘visualize’ these pressures as organisms develop. These measurements can help understand how cells and tissues survive under pressure, and reveal how problems in regulating pressures lead to disease. 

When molecules dissolved in water are separated into different compartments, water has the tendency to flow from one compartment to another to equilibrate their concentrations, a process known as osmosis. If some molecules cannot cross compartments, a pressure imbalance, known as osmotic pressure, builds up across them. This principle is the basis for many technical applications, such as the desalination of seawater or the development of moisturizing creams. It turns out that maintaining a healthy functioning organism makes the list too. 

Ural Scientists Have Modernized the Process of Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing

The uranium obtained after reprocessing spent nuclear fuel can be reused.
Photo Credit: Lukas Lehotsk

UrFU scientists have discovered that the use of gallium and indium can make the process of pyrochemical reprocessing of nuclear fuel cheaper while maintaining its efficiency. This technology uses molten salts and liquid gallium to separate components of spent nuclear fuel (SNF). To make the process cheaper, the physicists added indium: the technology remained as effective, but the cost of reprocessing itself decreased. The results of the study will help modernize current SNF reprocessing methods and make them more efficient. Full details of the study are published in Alloys.

"This method has many advantages, in particular it focuses on the reprocessing of high-activity, low-life nuclear fuel with a high burn-up depth, which cannot be achieved by other methods such as water technology. It is also environmentally safer, as the amount of radioactive waste after reprocessing is reduced. Gallium can be used in fuel reprocessing by this method, but we have found that by adding indium, the reprocessing efficiency remains as high, but the cost of the process is reduced," explains Alexander Dedyukhin, senior engineer at the Department of Rare Metals and Nanomaterials at UrFU.

Monday, November 6, 2023

Detecting nuclear materials using light

Sandia National Laboratories researcher Patrick Feng, left, and Former Sandian Joey Carlson, right, hold Organic Glass Scintillators they helped create to detect radioactive materials.
Photo Credit: Randy Wong

Blueshift Optics, owned by former Sandia employee Joey Carlson, is working to shift the way radioactive materials are detected, using technology that he helped create at Sandia National Laboratories.

Radiation detection has long been a critical aspect of national security and efforts to make the world safer.

“Agencies are trying to cast this wide net to catch nuclear smuggling, and this is one aspect of that effort,” said Sandia materials scientist Patrick Feng. “You could use this technology at a border crossing, in a handheld detector as someone enters a facility or fly it on a drone to map an area.”

However, the uses of this technology extend far beyond border security.

“It has the potential to provide us with better data from nuclear physics experiments, enhance national security applications both at home and abroad and has applications in fusion energy,” Carlson said.

Feng and Carlson collaborated to develop the state-of-the-art technology known as Organic Glass Scintillators for radiation detection. Sandia recently licensed the technology to Blueshift Optics, paving the way for potential commercial production.

Monday, October 30, 2023

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

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.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Carbon copy: new method of recycling carbon fiber shows huge potential

UNSW Canberra researcher Di He with a sample of carbon fiber recycled using a method he developed.
 Photo Credit: UNSW Canberra

Ultra-light cars made from recycled carbon fiber are a step closer, thanks to a new method of recycling developed at UNSW Canberra. 

As manufacturing and technology continually take steps forward, products are using more advanced materials and becoming more sophisticated, but also more complicated.

This presents a problem when these products reach the end of their useable life, because they’re either difficult or expensive to recycle, or both.

For example, as the world transitions to electric vehicles, disposing of their used batteries, some made with highly toxic materials, will be a challenge.

As it stands, many advanced products either end up in landfill or incinerated, which is a waste of valuable resources and harmful to the planet.

One material that has been difficult to recycle is carbon fiber.

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.

Unlocking Sugar to Generate Biofuels and Bioproducts

Chang-Jun Liu (left) and Nidhi Dwivedi (right) in the Brookhaven Lab greenhouse with rice plants like those used in this study.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory

Plant biologists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have engineered enzymes to modify grass plants so their biomass can be more efficiently converted into biofuels and other bioproducts. As described in a paper just published in Plant Biotechnology Journal, these enzymes modify molecules that make up plant cell walls to provide access to fuel-generating sugars normally locked within complex structures. 

“The concept of biomass to biofuel seems simple, but it is technically very difficult to release the sugars,” noted Chang-Jun Liu, a senior plant biologist at Brookhaven Lab who led the study.

Plant biomass is full of energy-rich complex sugar molecules generated from photosynthesis. Each plant cell is surrounded by a rigid cell wall made of sugars and a material called lignin that provides structural support. Reducing lignin to gain access to the sugars has been the focus of research aimed at using plants to generate fuels and other products commonly made from petroleum.

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