A new way to print, and modify, nanoscale molecular samples could mean faster drug discovery and scientific experimentation. Combinatorial chemistry—exposing a huge array of slightly different molecules to sample in parallel—is an extremely fast way to screen drug molecules, or to test the way certain molecules affect biological cells. Researchers at the International Institute for Nanotechnology at Northwestern University, in Chicago, led by director Chad Mirkin, have devised a way to rapidly prepare the smallest type of combinatorial chemistry array. They tested the approach by exposing stem cells to different-sized samples of fibronectin, a protein that plays an important role in cell adhesion, growth, and differentiation. The researchers used a nanoprinting technique previously developed by Mirkin’s group, called polymer pen lithography, that delivers samples to a substrate in parallel via the tips of millions of pyramid-shaped “pens.” The innovation was to tilt the array slightly as these molecules were deposited, so that the pyramids closest to the surface make more contact and leave more material, while those farthest away leave less. Mirkin and colleagues found that, by tilting an array just 0.01 degrees, they could create 25 million fibronectin deposits of different size and structure.
In brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, neurons degenerate and die. Autopsy reveals that something is visibly wrong with the brain. Yet for many mental disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia, a clear and consistent pathology of the brain has not been found. Why? Researchers have conjectured that the individual neurons are healthy, but they are connected with each other in an abnormal pattern. Unfortunately, such “miswirings” or “connectopathies” have remained merely hypothetical, because our technologies for mapping neural connections have been too primitive. Imagine what it was like to study infectious diseases before the microscope was invented. You could observe symptoms, but not the microbes that caused disease. Similarly, most mental disorders are still defined only by their symptoms. We need to uncover their causes in the brain, and the new field of connectomics will be important for that.
Rather than looking up at the stars, I believe the Pirate Bay should be looking down at the sewers. Their robot minions would be better modelled on the humble sewer rat than on the soaring seagull.
In the city, you are never more than three metres away from a rat. They’re spectacularly successful. We’ve built them a wonderful habitat replete with high-speed autoroutes — storm drains and sewers — and convenience stores to snack from in the shape of dumpsters and trash. And ground level is where most of us wifi users happen to be, most of the time.
Small ground-traversing robots would not be subject to the same weight penalties as airborn drones. The wifi range would be shorter, but their power consumption would be lower and they’d be far more concealable — it’s quite easy to imagine a ratbot that is, literally, no larger than a real rat.
Powering ratbot would be easier, too. In suitably hospitable environments Pirate Bay operatives could lay down inconspicuous inductive charging mats plumbed into power outlets. Alternatively, SlugBot shows the way towards a truly autonomous ground-dwelling robot—one that hunts for biological prey, digests it, and uses an on-board microbial fuel cell to provide electricity. In an urban environment ratbot need not hunt and kill moluscs to survive; instead, it could subsist on pizza rinds and the dregs from Mountain Dew cans, which would doubtless be easier to stalk and kill. Indeed, the rich pickings behind any fast food outlet would attract ratbots to the very same location where bittorrent users might congregate to furtively use their provided bandwidth.
Finally, if ratbot detects the presence of Police ferretbots in the neighbourhood, it can make its escape in a number of ways — climbing a nearby wall, clinging to the underside of an automobile (an especially efficient way of spreading the mesh network to other cities), diving into a storm drain (better hope the waterproof seals hold!), or asking a friendly Pirate Bay user for a ride.
On 15 March, the 192 laser beams of the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, fired a record 1.875-megajoule shot into the laser’s target chamber, surpassing its 1.8-megajoule design specification. The shot, which was just a demonstration and did not incorporate a target, nonetheless represents a milepost in an effort to get past the break-even point — ignition — in coaxing fusion energy from a tiny frozen fuel pellet.
The purpose is to understand Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease better, for example.
Nitrocellulose (microfibrillated cellulose) is obtained from plant materials, such as woodpulp.
‟Pores can be created in nanocellulose, which allows nerve cells to grow in a three-dimensional matrix. This makes it extra comfortable for the cells and creates a realistic cultivation environment that is more like a real brain compared with a three-dimensional cell cultivation well,” says Paul Gatenholm, Professor of Biopolymer Technology at Chalmers. The researchers found in their experiments that neurons began to develop and generate synapses (contacts with one another) and a neural network of hundreds of cells was produced. The researchers could then use electrical impulses and chemical signal substances to generate nerve impulses that spread through the network in much the same way as they do in the brain. They could also study how nerve cells react with other molecules, such as pharmaceuticals.
Designing a car can take years, but Ford has been able to cut the process in half, from six years to three years, by using virtual reality. “We are able to cheat reality,” says Elizabeth Baron, a VR technical specialist at Ford. She says virtual reality enables the automaker to do all kinds of tests in a short period of time, though there are limitations to the technology too.
Navigating the confines of a damaged U.S. Navy ship to extinguish fires while at sea sounds like the ultimate torture test for a humanoid robot, and that metal man above — called SAFFiR — is designed to take on the task. We first heard about SAFFiR when we visited Virginia Tech’s RoMeLa laboratory, which is working on the project in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania with $2.6 million in funding from the U.S. Navy Research Laboratory. Since then we’ve heard a few more details about the robot, but this is the first time we’ve actually seen the firefighting ‘bot pictured. It looks all-legs to us at this point — arms are going to come into play at a later point to help it climb up ladders — but you can clearly see the aluminum core that’s designed to help SAFFiR conquer the heavy load of the firefighting equipment and fire-retardant suit it’ll have to carry.
Researchers from Clemson University have found a way to create temporary holes in the membranes of live cells using a standard inkjet printer. The method will be published in JoVE, the Journal of Visualized Experiments, on March 16.
“We first had the idea for this method when we wanted to be able to visualize changes in the cytoskeleton arrangement due to applied forces on cells,” said paper-author Dr. Delphine Dean. She said other researchers have been using this method to print cells onto slides, but that they have only recently discovered that printing the cells causes the disruption in their membranes for a few hours.
Creating temporary pores allow researchers to put molecules inside of cells that wouldn’t otherwise fit, and study how the cells react.
More and more personal and household devices are connecting to the internet, from your television to your car navigation systems to your light switches. CIA Director David Petraeus cannot wait to spy on you through them.
Earlier this month, Petraeus mused about the emergence of an “Internet of Things” — that is, wired devices — at a summit for In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital firm. “‘Transformational’ is an overused word, but I do believe it properly applies to these technologies,” Petraeus enthused, “particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft.”
The 3D printing process uses a liquid resin, which is hardened at precisely the correct spots by a focused laser beam. The focal point of the laser beam is guided through the resin by movable mirrors and leaves behind a hardened line of solid polymer a few hundred nanometers wide.
This fine resolution enables the creation of intricately structured sculptures as tiny as a grain of sand. “Until now, this technique used to be quite slow”, says Professor Jürgen Stampfl from the Institute of Materials Science and Technology at the TU Vienna. “The printing speed used to be measured in millimeters per second — our device can do five meters in one second.” In two-photon lithography, this is a world record.
This progress was made possible by combining several new ideas. “It was crucial to improve the steering mechanism of the mirrors,” says Jan Torgersen (TU Vienna). The mirrors are continuously in motion during the printing process. The acceleration and deceleration-periods have to be tuned very precisely to achieve high-resolution results at a record-breaking speed.
Computer scientists have teamed up with an electronics company in Ireland to create a glove that could improve the diagnosis and treatment of arthritis.
Kevin Curran and Joan Condell from the Faculty of Computing and Engineering at the University of Ulster are working with Cork-based Tyndall to create a “data glove”, which will measure hand stiffness and movement. It includes pressure rotation sensors on the thumb, single pressure sensors on each fingertip and bend sensors on the finger joints.
“Patients will be able to wear the glove at home and this would allow joint stiffness to be dynamically monitored,” Condell explained. “The rate of movement of joints at different times of the day can be measured offline from the clinic. This will help quantify and better understand ‘early morning stiffness’ which is almost universal in patients with inflammatory arthritis.
“The system will also be able provide a live 3D stimulation model of joint movement programmed with finger exercises to help with rehabilitation, which will assist clinicians assess the quantifiable benefits of the exercise programme.”
Curran says that the glove could replace the current “labour intensive” ways in which patients’ progress is recorded. Ultimately it is hoped to lead to better treatment as well as savings for medical services.
Scientists from Tel Aviv university have managed to make a transistor out of some of the same building blocks that we are made from: proteins. After gathering proteins from blood, mucus and breast milk, the researchers went about trying to make a silicon-free circuit that performs the same tasks as it’s metallic brethren. And they succeeded.
Biological circuits could well be the next major step forward for technology. Basing circuits off of biology means that they should be cheaper, as the parts can be farmed, rather than mined. It also means that the circuits are biodegradable, so leftover parts will just melt back into the ground when we recycle them. Also, being able to base circuits off of biology means that biocompatibility will be improved.
When we eventually start having electronics embedded into our body they could be made from ourselves, so our bodies won’t react like the circuits are foreign intruders. That means that the circuits can be far more stable and, in the far, far future, repaired by our own bodies when damaged.
Right now, the researchers have only managed to make transistors. They are hoping that they can use their transistors to power a display, but complete circuits are still quite a ways off.