innovation

Sep 152017
 

via ResearchGate

Almost a century ago, scientists discovered that cutting calorie intake could dramatically extend lifespan in certain animal species. Despite numerous studies since, however, researchers have been unable to explain precisely why. Now, investigators at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM) have broken past that barrier. In new work published online September 14 in Nature Communications, they are the first to show that the speed at which the epigenome changes with age is associated with lifespan across species and that calorie restriction slows this process of change, potentially explaining its effects on longevity.

“Our study shows that epigenetic drift, which is characterized by gains and losses in DNA methylation in the genome over time, occurs more rapidly in mice than in monkeys and more rapidly in monkeys than in humans,” explains Jean-Pierre Issa, MD, Director of the Fels Institute for Cancer Research at LKSOM, and senior investigator on the new study. The findings help to explain why mice live only about two to three years on average, rhesus monkeys about 25 years, and humans 70 or 80 years.

Chemical modifications such as DNA methylation control mammalian genes, serving as bookmarks for when a gene should be used – a phenomenon known as epigenetics. “Methylation patterns drift steadily throughout life, with methylation increasing in some areas of the genome, and decreasing in others,” says Dr. Issa. Previous studies had shown that these changes occur with age, but whether they were also related to lifespan was unknown.

Dr. Issa’s team made their discovery after first examining methylation patterns on DNA in blood collected from individuals of different ages for each of three species – mouse, monkey, and human. Mice ranged in age from a few months to almost three years, monkeys from less than one year to 30 years, and humans from age zero to 86 years (cord blood was used to represent age zero). Age-related variations in DNA methylation were analyzed by deep sequencing technology, which revealed distinct patterns, with gains in methylation in older individuals occurring at genomic sites that were unmethylated in young individuals, and vice versa.

In subsequent analyses, striking losses in gene expression were observed in genomic regions that had become increasingly methylated with age, whereas regions that had become less methylated showed increases in gene expression. Investigation of a subset of genes affected by age-related changes in methylation revealed an inverse relationship between methylation drift and longevity. In other words, the greater the amount of epigenetic change – and the more quickly it occurred – the shorter the species’ lifespan.

“Our next question was whether epigenetic drift could be altered to increase lifespan,” says Dr. Issa. One of the strongest factors known to increase lifespan in animals is calorie restriction, in which calories in the diet are reduced while still maintaining intake of essential nutrients. To examine its effects, the researchers cut calorie intake by 40 percent in young mice and by 30 percent in middle-aged monkeys. In both species, significant reductions in epigenetic drift were observed, such that age-related changes in methylation in old animals on the calorie-restricted diets were comparable to those of young animals.

With the latest findings, Dr. Issa and colleagues are able to propose a new mechanism – the slowing of epigenetic drift – to explain how calorie restriction prolongs life in animals. “The impacts of calorie restriction on lifespan have been known for decades, but thanks to modern quantitative techniques, we are able to show for the first time a striking slowing down of epigenetic drift as lifespan increases,” he says.

The findings have important implications in health research, where recent studies have suggested that greater amounts of epigenetic drift increase the risk of age-related diseases, including cancer. “Our lab was the first to propose the idea of modifying epigenetic drift as a way of modifying disease risk,” says Dr. Issa. “But why epigenetic drift occurs faster in some people and slower in others is still unclear.”

Dr. Issa’s team hopes to soon identify additional factors that impact methylation drift. Such factors could potentially be altered to slow drift, having major impacts on age-related disease prevention.

Learn more: Temple Researchers Uncover Mechanism Behind Calorie Restriction and Lengthened Lifespan

 

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    (Philadelphia, PA) - Almost a century ago, scientists discovered that cutting calorie intake could dramatically extend lifespan in certain animal species. Despite numerous studies since, however, researchers have been unable to explain precisely why. […]

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Sep 152017
 

Stuart Wolpert/UCLA
By working in extremely controlled conditions, Eric Hudson and his colleagues could observe properties of atoms and molecules that have previously been hidden from view.

UCLA study paves the way for creating on and off buttons for chemical reactions

UCLA physicists have pioneered a method for creating a unique new molecule that could eventually have applications in medicine, food science and other fields. Their research, which also shows how chemical reactions can be studied on a microscopic scale using tools of physics, is reported in the journal Science.

For the past 200 years, scientists have developed rules to describe chemical reactions that they’ve observed, including reactions in food, vitamins, medications and living organisms. One of the most ubiquitous is the “octet rule,” which states that each atom in a molecule that is produced by a chemical reaction will have eight outer orbiting electrons. (Scientists have found exceptions to the rule, but those exceptions are rare.)

But the molecule created by UCLA professor Eric Hudson and colleagues violates that rule. Barium-oxygen-calcium, or BaOCa+, is the first molecule ever observed by scientists that is composed of an oxygen atom bonded to two different metal atoms.

Normally, one metal atom (either barium or calcium) can react with an oxygen atom to produce a stable molecule. However, when the UCLA scientists added a second metal atom to the mix, a new molecule, BaOCa+, which no longer satisfied the octet rule, had been formed.

Other molecules that violate the octet rule have been observed before, but the UCLA study is among the first to observe such a molecule using tools from physics — namely lasers, ion traps and ultra-cold atom traps.

Hudson’s laboratory used laser light to cool tiny amounts of the reactant atoms and molecules to an extremely low temperature — one one-thousandth of a degree above absolute zero — and then levitate them in a space smaller than the width of a human hair, inside of a vacuum chamber. Under these highly controlled conditions, the scientists could observe properties of the atoms and molecules that are otherwise hidden from view, and the “physics tools” they used enabled them to hold a sample of atoms and observe chemical reactions one molecule at a time.

The ultra-cold temperatures used in the experiment can also be used to simulate the reaction as it would occur in outer space. That could help scientists understand how certain complex molecules, including some that could be precursors to life, came to exist in space, Hudson said.

The researchers found that when they brought together calcium and barium methoxide inside of their system under normal conditions, they would not react because the atoms could not find a way to rearrange themselves to form a stable molecule. However, when the scientists used a laser to change the distribution of the electrons in the calcium atom, the reaction quickly proceeded, producing a new molecule, CaOBa+.

The approach is part of a new physics-inspired subfield of chemistry that uses the tools of ultra-cold physics, such as lasers and electromagnetism, to observe and control how and when single-particle reactions occur.

UCLA graduate student Prateek Puri, the project’s lead researcher, said the experiment demonstrates not only how these techniques can be used to create exotic molecules, but also how they can be used to engineer important reactions. The discovery could ultimately be used to create new methods for preserving food (by preventing unwanted chemical reactions between food and the environment) or developing safer medications (by eliminating the chemical reactions that cause negative side effects).

“Experiments like these pave the way for developing new methods for controlling chemistry,” Puri said. “We’re essentially creating ‘on buttons’ for reactions.”

Hudson said he hopes the work will encourage other scientists to further narrow the gap between physics and chemistry, and to demonstrate that increasingly complex molecules can be studied and controlled. He added that one key to the success of the new study was the involvement of experts from various fields: experimental physicists, theoretical physicists and a physical chemist.

A key player in the research is already making a name for itself in Hollywood. A device called the integrated ion-trap-time-of-flight mass spectrometer, which was invented by Hudson’s lab and which was used to discover the reaction — was featured on a recent episode of the sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.”

“The device enables us to detect and identify the products of reactions on the single-particle level, and for us, it has really been a bridge between chemistry and physics,” said Michael Mills, a UCLA graduate student who worked on the project. “We were delighted to see it picked up by the show.”

Learn more: In step toward ‘controlling chemistry,’ physicists create a new type of molecule, atom by atom

 

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via Google News and Bing News

Sep 152017
 

Research led by Cunjiang Yu, Bill D. Cook Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering, has created an artificial skin that allows a robotic hand to sense hot and cold.

UH Researchers Discover New Form of Stretchable Electronics, Sensors and Skins

A team of researchers from the University of Houston has reported a breakthrough in stretchable electronics that can serve as an artificial skin, allowing a robotic hand to sense the difference between hot and cold, while also offering advantages for a wide range of biomedical devices.

The work, reported in the journal Science Advances, describes a new mechanism for producing stretchable electronics, a process that relies upon readily available materials and could be scaled up for commercial production.

Cunjiang Yu, Bill D. Cook Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering and lead author for the paper, said the work is the first to create a semiconductor in a rubber composite format, designed to allow the electronic components to retain functionality even after the material is stretched by 50 percent.

The work is the first semiconductor in rubber composite format that enables stretchability without any special mechanical structure, Yu said.

He noted that traditional semiconductors are brittle and using them in otherwise stretchable materials has required a complicated system of mechanical accommodations. That’s both more complex and less stable than the new discovery, as well as more expensive, he said.

“Our strategy has advantages for simple fabrication, scalable manufacturing, high-density integration, large strain tolerance and low cost,” he said.

Yu and the rest of the team – co-authors include first author Hae-Jin Kim, Kyoseung Sim and Anish Thukral, all with the UH Cullen College of Engineering – created the electronic skin and used it to demonstrate that a robotic hand could sense the temperature of hot and iced water in a cup. The skin also was able to interpret computer signals sent to the hand and reproduce the signals as American Sign Language.

“The robotic skin can translate the gesture to readable letters that a person like me can understand and read,” Yu said.

The artificial skin is just one application. Researchers said the discovery of a material that is soft, bendable, stretchable and twistable will impact future development in soft wearable electronics, including health monitors, medical implants and human-machine interfaces.

The stretchable composite semiconductor was prepared by using a silicon-based polymer known as polydimethylsiloxane, or PDMS, and tiny nanowires to create a solution that hardened into a material which used the nanowires to transport electric current.

“We foresee that this strategy of enabling elastomeric semiconductors by percolating semiconductor nanofibrils into a rubber will advance the development of stretchable semiconductors, and … will move forward the advancement of stretchable electronics for a wide range of applications, such as artificial skins, biomedical implants and surgical gloves,” they wrote.

Learn more: Artificial ‘Skin’ Gives Robotic Hand a Sense of Touch

 

The Latest on: Stretchable electronics

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Sep 152017
 

via Georgia Tech

Parasites that ulcerate the skin, can disfigure the face, and can fatally mutilate internal organs are creeping closer to the southern edges of the United States.

No vaccine is available against Leishmania yet, but researchers have now come closer to changing that. A new experimental vaccine, made with a proprietary biological particle developed at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has immunized laboratory mice that were genetically altered to mimic the human immune system.

The vaccine exploits a weakness in Leishmania’s tricky chemical camouflage, which normally hides it from the victim’s disease-fighting cells, to trigger a forceful immune response against the parasite, according to a new study.

Second-deadliest parasite

Leishmania are the second-deadliest parasites in the world, topped only by malaria, according to the World Health Organization. There are some 30 strains of Leishmania.

They are transmitted mainly through the bite of a phlebotomine sand fly, which feeds on blood, and global warming is expanding the insect’s potential habitat northward from Latin America. The outbreak regions closest to the United States of leishmaniasis, the disease caused by the parasite, have come within roughly 300 miles of the border.

As with many diseases, many people who contract Leishmania, the parasite, may develop leishmaniasis, the disease, with varying symptoms, or perhaps even show no outward signs of the disease. But when it breaks out, it can cause large skin boils, and some forms severely eat away at the nose and lips, even removing parts of them.

If another form of the parasite gets into the bloodstream, it can damage the liver and spleen in a deadly form of the disease called visceral leishmaniasis, also known as black fever.

“If you don’t treat it, within 20 to 40 days visceral leishmaniasis very often kills the victim,” said Alexandre Marques, a professor in the parasitology department of the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Brazil, and one of the lead researchers on the new experimental vaccine. Conventional treatment, though mostly effective, can leave behind small numbers of the parasite, which can lead the patient to relapse or act as a carrier, in a similar manner as malaria.

A vaccine could be better at halting or averting outbreaks.

Long-awaited vaccine

Leishmania, which are single-cell organisms about the size of large bacteria, have been a scourge in about 90 countries in South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and southern Europe. For decades, researchers have worked to find a vaccine against them and similar parasites without success.

“In comparison to viruses and bacteria, these are much more complex organisms and more difficult to crack,” said M. G. Finn, who also led work on the new vaccine. Finn is a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Biological Sciences and in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, which he also chairs.

The new vaccine leverages intimate knowledge that Marques’s team has gained living and working on the edge of leishmaniasis outbreak regions. “Alex’s (Marques’s) students collect the sand flies, then they extract the parasites in the lab and do complex mass spectrometry and other tests to study their molecular makeup in impressive detail,” Finn said.

The team has uncovered minute details on the outer surface of Leishmania that make it vulnerable to a human immune reaction. The potential new vaccine, invented at Georgia Tech, employs a fake virus as bait to attract major immune system forces to these weaknesses to attack them.

The fake virus, or virus-like particle, is not infectious, and the body destroys it after use. Finn’s lab has developed many variations of such particles in recent years, and other products containing it have already been through phase II human clinical trials.

Marques and Finn published the results of their vaccination development and testing on September 13, 2017, in the journal ACS Central Science. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and Brazil’s National Council for Scientific and Technological Development.

Leishmaniasis vaccine Q & A

Here are some questions and answers to help readers better understand how the vaccine would leverage Leishmania’s chemical camouflage.

What’s so tricky about Leishmania’s chemical camouflage?

The parasites cover themselves in carbohydrates, which look like food and also cover all other cells in the body. So, to the body, the Leishmania cells look inoffensive, and the immune system mostly leaves them alone.

What’s the chink in the camouflage?

Some of those carbohydrates do actually trigger a mild human immune response. It’s not strong enough to really battle leishmaniasis, but it gives Marques and Finn’s vaccine a foot in the door.

It’s lucky that humans, and some other primates, have this particular immune reaction, because other mammals don’t, so this vaccine wouldn’t work on them. Incidentally, that’s why, to test the new vaccine, the laboratory mice have to be genetically altered to make their immune systems react to the carbohydrates the way ours does.

How does the fake virus work?

“We use the virus-like particle to highlight a key carbohydrate on the surface of Leishmania clearly to the body. This coaxes its immune system into reacting strongly against it as a foreign structure,” Finn said.

The immune system goes after the fake virus like guard dogs after an invader. The researchers attach the odd carbohydrate to the fake virus, and that makes the immune system recognize that carbohydrate as a serious threat. Immune cells then hunt it down, and, in the process, destroy the parasite that produces it.

When could a vaccine be on the market?

It’s too early to stoke hopes because a lot has to happen before any drug or vaccine can hit the market. But the researchers have some interesting arguments for moving on to human testing.

“Normally, in medical testing, you would test next in rabbits or infected cats or dogs,” Finn said. “But they don’t have the right immune system. The only other possibilities are genetically altered pigs, or certain primates, or humans.”

As mentioned, the fake virus is a biological nanoparticle that has been tested in humans before without showing toxicity. Also, the researchers want to add some more kinds of Leishmania camouflage carbohydrates to the fake virus to give the vaccine even more punch.

Isn’t leishmaniasis limited to poverty regions with poor hygiene?

Absolutely not.

It can take hold anywhere people and animals live in high density and certain species of sand flies, and some other insects, can thrive. The insects like warmer weather, which is why climate change is causing the sand fly’s habitat to spread north.

“People in developed countries in climates that were cooler will have to start caring about this, as global warming encourages this to spread to them,” Marques said.

Another potentially deadly insect-borne tropical disease called Chagas disease has already made it to three southern U.S. states, and the same researchers are working on a vaccine against it, too.

Learn more: As ‘Flesh-Eating’ Leishmania Come Closer, a Vaccine Against Them Does, Too

 

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via Google News and Bing News

Sep 142017
 

A material with random irregularities scatters an incident light wave into all directions.

The material is irradiated with a specially designed pattern, the wave from the left can pass through the object completely unperturbed.

A new cloaking technology has been developed at TU Wien: a special kind of material is irradiated from above in such a way that another beam of light can pass completely uninhibited.

How do we make an object invisible? Researchers from TU Wien (Vienna), together with colleagues from Greece and the USA, have now developed a new idea for a cloaking technology. A completely opaque material is irradiated from above with a specific wave pattern – with the effect that light waves from the left can now pass through the material without any obstruction. This surprising result opens up completely new possibilities for active camouflage. The idea can be applied to different kinds of waves, it should work with sound waves just as well as with light waves. Experiments are already in the planning.

Outwitting the Scattering of Light

“Complex materials such as a sugar cube are opaque, because light waves inside them are scattered multiple times”, says Professor Stefan Rotter (TU Wien). “A light wave can enter and exit the object, but will never pass through the medium on a straight line. Instead, it is scattered into all possible directions.”

For years many different attempts have been made to outwit this kind of scattering, creating a “cloak of invisibility”. Special materials have been worked out, for example, which are able to guide light waves around an object. Alternatively, also experiments have been performed with objects that can emit light by themselves. When an electronic display sends out exactly the same light as it absorbs in the back, it can appear invisible, at least when looked at in the right angle.

At TU Wien a more fundamental approach has now been chosen. “We did not want to reroute the light waves, nor did we want to restore them with additional displays. Our goal was to guide the original light wave through the object, as if the object was not there at all”, says Andre Brandstötter, one of the authors of the study. “This sounds strange, but with certain materials and using our special wave technology, it is indeed possible.”

The Laser Material

The team at TU Wien has spent years working on optically active materials, which are used for building lasers. To make the laser shine, energy has to be supplied by means of a pump beam. Otherwise, the laser material behaves just like any other material – it absorbs part of the incident light.

“The crucial point is to pump energy into the material in a spatially tailored way such that light is amplified in exactly the right places, while allowing for absorption at other parts of the material”, says Professor Konstantinos Makris from the University of Crete (previously TU Wien). “To achieve this, a beam with exactly the right pattern has to be projected onto the material from above – like from a standard video projector, except with much higher resolution.”

If this pattern perfectly corresponds to the inner irregularities of the material which usually scatter the light, then the projection from above can effectively switch off the scattering, and another beam of light travelling through the material from one side can pass without any obstruction, scattering or loss.

“Mathematically, it is not immediately obvious that it is at all possible to find such a pattern”, says Rotter. “Every object we want to make transparent has to be irradiated with its own specific pattern – depending on the microscopic details of the scattering process inside. The method we developed now allows us to calculate the right pattern for any arbitrary scattering medium.”

Light or Sound

Computer simulations have shown that the method works. Now the idea should be confirmed in experiments. Stefan Rotter is confident that this will be successful: “We are already discussing with experimentalists how this could be done. As a first step, we may test this technology with sound instead of light waves. Experimentally, they are easier to handle, and from a mathematical point of view, the difference does not matter significantly.”

Learn more: The Beam of Invisibility

 

The Latest on: Cloaking technology
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  • The Beam of Invisibility: New cloaking technology has been developed
    on September 13, 2017 at 9:09 pm

    A special kind of material is irradiated from above in such a way that another beam of light can pass completely uninhibited How do we make an object invisible? Researchers from TU Wien (Vienna), together with colleagues from Greece and the USA, have now ... […]

  • Researchers develop cloaking technology
    on September 12, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    Using a completely opaque material irradiated from above with a specific wave pattern has the effect, according to the research team, that light waves from the left can now pass through the material without any obstruction, opening up new possibilities for ... […]

  • Here’s Your Best Look Yet at the KITH x Nike LeBron 15 “King’s Cloak”
    on September 10, 2017 at 4:07 am

    Key Features: The upper is composed of Nike’s new BattleKnit technology, with embroidery details, a gold zip, and embossed text reading “LONG LIVE THE KING” completing the show-stopping look. Editor’s Notes: Last week’s saw the LeBron 15 make its ... […]

  • Android Toast Overlay Attack: “Cloak and Dagger” with No Permissions
    on September 8, 2017 at 1:06 pm

    The research was inspired by the paper “Cloak and Dagger: From Two Permissions to Complete Control of the UI Feedback Loop” by Yanick Fratantonio of UC Santa Barbara and Chenxiong Qian, Simon P. Chung, Wenke Lee of Georgia Tech (PDF Link). This paper ... […]

  • BlackRidge Technology to Participate at The Cyber Security for Healthcare Exchange Conference on September 13-15, 2017
    on September 7, 2017 at 6:28 am

    BlackRidge's patented First Packet Authentication™ technology was developed for the military to cloak and protect servers and segment networks. BlackRidge Transport Access Control authenticates user and device identity and enforces security policy on ... […]

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Sep 142017
 

TU/e professor of Cryptology Tanja Lange. Photo: Bart van Overbeeke

Researchers are in a race against time to prepare new cryptographic techniques before the arrival of quantum computers, as cryptographers Tanja Lange (Eindhoven University of Technology) and Daniel J. Bernstein (University of Illinois at Chicago, USA) describe today in the journal Nature. In their publication they analyze the options available for this so-called post-quantum cryptography.

The expectation is that quantum computers will be built some time after 2025. Such computers make use of quantum-mechanical properties and can therefore solve some particular problems much faster than our current computers. This will be useful for calculating models for weather forecasts or developing new medicine. However, these operations also affect protection of data using RSA and ECC. With today’s technologies these systems will not be broken in a hundred years but a quantum computer will break these within days if not hours.

Sensitive data in the open

Without protection a lot of sensitive information will be out in the open, even data from years back. “An attacker can record our secure communication today and break it with a quantum computer years later. All of today’s secrets will be lost,” warns Tanja Lange, professor of Cryptology at Eindhoven University of Technology. This concerns private data, bank and health records, but also state secrets. Lange saw the importance of alternative systems already back in 2006 and is busy with creating awareness and developing new systems. “Fairly recently we’re seeing an uptake of post-quantum cryptography in the security agencies, e.g., the NSA, and companies start demanding solutions.”

Research consortium

Lange leads the research consortium PQCRYPTO consisting of eleven universities and companies. PQCRYPTO started in 2015 with 3.9 million euro funding from the European Commission to develop new cryptographic techniques. “This might seem like a lot of money, but is a factor of 100 less than what goes into building quantum computers.” says Lange. She cautions that it is important to strengthen research in cryptography. “Bringing cryptographic techniques to the end user takes often another 15 to 20 years, after development and standardization.”

Shor’s algorithm

In their Nature publication Lange and Bernstein explain that a certain quantum algorithm, namely Shor’s algorithm, breaks all cryptographic techniques that are currently used to establish secure connections on the Internet. Candidates for post-quantum cryptography can roughly be categorized into two types: they are either very well understood and confidence-inspiring but require a lot of bandwidth or they are more convenient to use but provide more questionable security.

Nature

The publication appears in an issue of Nature with special attention to topics related to quantum computers: from different candidates of elementary building blocks of quantum computers till, e.g., the development of new algorithms. The journal invited Lange to write the article on post-quantum cryptography.

Learn more: ‘The dark side’ of quantum computers

 

The Latest on: Quantum computers
  • IBM’s quantum computer conducts record breaking chemistry simulation
    on September 14, 2017 at 8:00 pm

    Quantum computing, at its most basic, takes the idea of binary computing (ones and zeros) and turns it 3D then tangles it up with itself and – through magical computational anarchy – defies physics in order to provide a more accurate representation of ... […]

  • The Morning Download: Quantum Computing May Compound Today’s Cybersecurity Risks
    on September 14, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    Sign up here for The Morning Download, and get the most important news in business technology emailed to you each weekday morning. Good morning. Given the uproar over the massive breach at Equifax Inc. and the Department of Homeland Security’s federal ... […]

  • Quantum computers reach deeper, find ground state of simple hydrides
    on September 14, 2017 at 11:33 am

    Every time we discuss quantum computers, the headline tends to be that someone, somewhere is going to use the quantum to break your encryption and steal your student loan. If only that were true. But it is probably more realistic to think about quantum ... […]

  • The quest for a silicon quantum computer
    on September 14, 2017 at 11:03 am

    Andrea Morello is not what you expect when you think of quantum computing. Tall, lizard-thin and sporting a luxuriant ponytail and greying goat-patch beneath his lower lip, in skin-tight pants and a pendant, he has an intense gaze that could almost hold ... […]

  • IBM Quantum Computer Does Record-Breaking Chemistry
    on September 14, 2017 at 8:10 am

    As cool as they sound, quantum computers will probably not be best suited for designing websites or making pretty word processors. Instead, their quirky bits may one day be used to solve special algorithms, for artificial intelligence applications, or to ... […]

  • How to measure a molecule's energy using a quantum computer
    on September 14, 2017 at 7:11 am

    IBM scientists have developed a new approach to simulate molecules on a quantum computer that may one day help revolutionize chemistry and materials science. The scientists successfully used six qubits on a purpose-built seven-qubit quantum processor to ... […]

  • IBM Has Used Its Quantum Computer to Simulate a Molecule—Here’s Why That’s Big News
    on September 14, 2017 at 5:13 am

    We just got a little closer to building a computer that can disrupt a large chunk of the chemistry world, and many other fields besides. A team of researchers at IBM have successfully used their quantum computer, IBM Q, to precisely simulate the molecular ... […]

  • IBM Makes Breakthrough in Race to Commercialize Quantum Computers
    on September 13, 2017 at 2:00 pm

    Researchers at International Business Machines Corp. have developed a new approach for simulating molecules on a quantum computer. The breakthrough, outlined in a research paper to be published in the scientific journal Nature Thursday, uses a technique ... […]

  • Flip-Flop Qubit Could Make Silicon the King of Quantum Computing
    on September 13, 2017 at 5:55 am

    Photo: Quentin Jones Dr. Guilherme Tosi and Professor Andrea Morello at the University of New South Wales quantum computing labs with a dilution refrigerator, which cools silicon chips down to 0.01 ̊ above absolute zero. Headline-grabbing quantum ... […]

  • 'The dark side' of quantum computers
    on September 12, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    The era of fully fledged quantum computers threatens to destroy internet security as we know it. Researchers are in a race against time to prepare new cryptographic techniques before the arrival of quantum computers, as cryptographers now describe. […]

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Sep 142017
 

Illustration of an ATOMS microchip localized within the gastrointestinal tract. The chip, which works on principles similar to those used in MRI machines, is embodied with the properties of nuclear spin.
Credit: Ella Marushchenko for Caltech

Caltech researchers have developed microscale devices that relay their location in the body

Researchers at Caltech have developed a prototype miniature medical device that could ultimately be used in “smart pills” to diagnose and treat diseases. A key to the new technology—and what makes it unique among other microscale medical devices—is that its location can be precisely identified within the body, something that proved challenging before.

“The dream is that we will have microscale devices that are roaming our bodies and either diagnosing problems or fixing things,” says Azita Emami, the Andrew and Peggy Cherng Professor of Electrical Engineering and Medical Engineering and Heritage Medical Research Institute Investigator, who co-led the research along with Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering and Heritage Medical Research Institute Investigator Mikhail Shapiro. “Before now, one of the challenges was that it was hard to tell where they are in the body.”

A paper describing the new device appears in the September issue of the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering. The lead author is Manuel Monge (MS ’10, PhD ’17), who was a doctoral student in Emami’s lab and a Rosen Bioengineering Center Scholar at Caltech, and now works at a company called Neuralink. Audrey Lee-Gosselin, a research technician in Shapiro’s lab, is also an author.

Called ATOMS, which is short for addressable transmitters operated as magnetic spins, the new silicon-chip devices borrow from the principles of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), in which the location of atoms in a patient’s body is determined using magnetic fields. The microdevices would also be located in the body using magnetic fields—but rather than relying on the body’s atoms, the chips contain a set of integrated sensors, resonators, and wireless transmission technology that would allow them to mimic the magnetic resonance properties of atoms.

“A key principle of MRI is that a magnetic field gradient causes atoms at two different locations to resonate at two different frequencies, making it easy to tell where they are,” says Shapiro. “We wanted to embody this elegant principle in a compact integrated circuit. The ATOMS devices also resonate at different frequencies depending on where they are in a magnetic field.”

“We wanted to make this chip very small with low power consumption, and that comes with a lot of engineering challenges,” says Emami. “We had to carefully balance the size of the device with how much power it consumes and how well its location can be pinpointed.”

The researchers say the devices are still preliminary but could one day serve as miniature robotic wardens of our bodies, monitoring a patient’s gastrointestinal tract, blood, or brain. The devices could measure factors that indicate the health of a patient—such as pH, temperature, pressure, sugar concentrations—and relay that information to doctors. Or, the devices could even be instructed to release drugs.

“You could have dozens of microscale devices traveling around the body taking measurements or intervening in disease. These devices can all be identical, but the ATOMS devices would allow you to know where they all are and talk to all of them at once,” says Shapiro. He compares it to the 1966 sci-fi movie Fantastic Voyage,in which a submarine and its crew are shrunk to microscopic size and injected into the bloodstream of a patient to heal him from the inside—but, as Shapiro says, “instead of sending a single submarine, you could send a flotilla.”

The idea for ATOMS came about at a dinner party. Shapiro and Emami were discussing their respective fields—Shapiro engineers cells for medical imaging techniques, such as MRI, and Emami creates microchips for medical sensing and performing actions in the body—when they got the idea of combining their interests into a new device. They knew that locating microdevices in the body was a long-standing challenge in the field and realized that combining Shapiro’s knowledge in MRI technology with Emami’s expertise in creating microdevices could potentially solve the problem. Monge was enlisted to help realize the idea in the form of a silicon chip.

“This chip is totally unique: there are no other chips that operate on these principles,” says Monge. “Integrating all of the components together in a very small device while keeping the power low was a big task.” Monge did this research as part of his PhD thesis, which was recently honored with the Charles Wilts Prize by Caltech’s Department of Electrical Engineering.

The final prototype chip, which was tested and proven to work in mice, has a surface area of 1.4 square millimeters, 250 times smaller than a penny. It contains a magnetic field sensor, integrated antennas, a wireless powering device, and a circuit that adjusts its radio frequency signal based on the magnetic field strength to wirelessly relay the chip’s location.

“In conventional MRI, all of these features are intrinsically found in atoms,” says Monge. “We had to create an architecture that functionally mimics them for our chip.”

Learn more: Medicine of the Future: New Microchip Technology Could Be Used to Track Smart Pills

 

The Latest on: Microscale medical devices

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Sep 132017
 

One proposed application of the firebrick-based thermal storage system is depicted in this hypothetical configuration, where it is coupled to a nuclear power plant to provide easily dispatchable power.
Courtesy of the researchers

Ancient technology could be used to level electricity prices for renewables.

Firebricks, designed to withstand high heat, have been part of our technological arsenal for at least three millennia, since the era of the Hittites. Now, a proposal from MIT researchers shows this ancient invention could play a key role in enabling the world to switch away from fossil fuels and rely instead on carbon-free energy sources.

The researchers’ idea is to make use of excess electricity produced when demand is low — for example, from wind farms when strong winds are blowing at night — by using electric resistance heaters, which convert electricity into heat. These devices would use the excess electricity to heat up a large mass of firebricks, which can retain the heat for long periods if they are enclosed in an insulated casing. At a later time, the heat could be used directly for industrial processes, or it could feed generators that convert it back to electricity when the power is needed.

The technology itself is old, but its potential usefulness is a new phenomenon, brought about by the rapid rise of intermittent renewable energy sources, and the peculiarities of the way electricity prices are set. Technologically, the system “could have been developed in the 1920s, but there was no market for it then,” says Charles Forsberg, a research scientist in MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering and lead author of a research paper describing the plan, that appears this week in the Electricity Journal.

Forsberg points out that the demand for industrial heat in the U.S. and most industrialized regions is actually larger than the total demand for electricity. And unlike the demand for electricity, which varies greatly and often unpredictably, the demand for industrial heat is constant and can make use of an extra heat source whenever it’s available, providing an almost limitless market for the heat provided by this firebrick-based system.

The system, which Forsberg calls FIRES (for FIrebrick Resistance-heated Energy Storage), would in effect raise the minimum price of electricity on the utilities market, which currently can plunge to almost zero at times of high production, such as the middle of a sunny day when solar plant outputs are at their peak.

Electricity prices are determined a day in advance, with a separate price for each one-hour segment of the day. This is done through an auction system between the producers and the distributors of power. Distributors determine how much power they expect to need during each hour, and suppliers bid based on their expected costs for producing that power. Depending on the needs at a given time, these prices can be low, if only baseload natural gas plants are needed, for example, or they can be much higher if the demand requires use of much more expensive “peaking” power plants. At the end of each auction, the distributors figure out how many of the bids will be needed to meet the projected demand, and the price to be paid to all of the suppliers is then determined by the highest-priced bid of all those accepted for that hour.

But that system can lead to odd outcomes when power that is very cheap to produce — solar, wind and nuclear power, whose actual operating costs are vanishingly small — can supply enough to meet the demand. Then, the price the suppliers get for the power can be close to zero, rendering the plants uneconomical.

But by diverting much of that excess output into thermal storage by heating a large mass of firebrick, then selling that heat directly or using it to drive turbines and produce power later when it’s needed, FIRES could essentially set a lower limit on the market price for electricity, which would likely be about the price of natural gas. That, in turn, could help to make more carbon-free power sources, such as solar, wind, and nuclear, more profitable and thus encourage their expansion.

The collapse of electricity prices due to expansion of nonfossil energy is already happening and will continue to increase as renewable energy installations increase. “In electricity markets such as Iowa, California, and Germany, the price of electricity drops to near zero at times of high wind or solar output,” Forsberg says. Once the amount of generating capacity provided by solar power reaches about 15 percent of the total generating mix, or when wind power reaches 30 percent of the total, building such installations can become unprofitable unless there is a sufficient storage capacity to absorb the excess for later use.

At present, the options for storing excess electricity are essentially limited to batteries or pumped hydroelectric systems. By contrast, the low-tech firebrick thermal storage system would cost anywhere from one-tenth to one-fortieth as much as either of those options, Forsberg says.

Firebrick itself is just a variant of ordinary bricks, made from clays that are capable of withstanding much higher temperatures, ranging up to 1,600 degrees Celsius or more. Virtually dirt cheap to produce — clay is, after all, just a particular kind of dirt — such high-temperature bricks have been found in archeological sites dating back to around 3,500 years ago, such as in iron-smelting kilns built by the Hittites in what is now Turkey. The fact that these bricks have survived until now testifies to their durability.

Nowadays, by varying the chemical composition of the clay, firebrick can be made with a variety of properties. For example, bricks to be placed in the center of the assemblage could have high thermal conductivity, so that they can easily take in heat from the resistance heaters. These bricks could easily give up that heat to cold air being blown through the mass to carry away the heat for industrial use. But the bricks used for the outer parts of the structure could have very low thermal conductivity, thus creating an insulating shell to help retain the heat of the central stack.

The current limit on FIRES is the resistance heaters. Existing low-cost, reliable heaters only go to about 850 C. Ultimately, Forsberg suggests, the bricks themselves could be made electrically conductive, so that they could act as low-cost resistance heaters on their own, both producing and storing the heat. A promising material for these firebricks is silicon carbide, which is already produced at massive scales for uses such as sandpaper. China currently produces about a million tons of it per year, Forsberg says.

Turning that heat back into electricity is a bigger technical challenge, so that would likely be a next-generation version of the FIRES system, he says. That’s because producing electricity with the conventional turbines used for natural gas power plants requires a much higher temperature. While industrial process heat is viable at about 800 C, he says, the turbines need compressed air heated to at least 1,600 C. Ordinary resistance heaters can’t go that high, and such systems will also need an enclosing pressure vessel to handle the needed air pressure. But the advantage would be great: Doubling the operating temperature would cut in half the cost of the heat produced, Forsberg says.

The next step, Forsberg says, will be to set up some full-scale prototype units to prove the principles in real-world conditions, something he expects will happen by 2020. “We’re finding the right customers for those initial units,” he says, which would probably be a company such as an ethanol refinery, which uses a lot of heat, located near a sizable wind-turbine installation.

“I believe that FIRES is an innovative approach to solve a real power grid problem,” says Regis Matzie, the now-retired Chief Technical Officer at Westinghouse Electric, who was not involved in this work. The way prices for electricity are determined in this country produces a “skewed electricity market [that] produces low or even negative market prices when a significant fraction of electrical energy on the grid is provided by renewables,” he says. “A very positive way to correct this trend would be to deploy an economical way of storing the energy generated during low electricity market prices, e.g., when the renewables are generating a large amount of electricity, and then releasing this stored energy when the market prices are high… FIRES provides a potentially economic way to do this, but would probably need a demonstration to establish the operability and the economics.”

Learn more: Firebricks offer low-cost storage for carbon-free energy

 

The Latest on: Energy storage

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Sep 132017
 

(Image of superomniphobic property of different types of liquid)

A joint research team led by Professor Hee Tak Kim and Shin-Hyun Kim in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at KAIST developed a fabrication technology that can inexpensively produce surfaces capable of repelling liquids, including water and oil.

The team used the photofluidization of azobenzene molecule-containing polymers to generate a superomniphobic surface which can be applied for developing stain-free fabrics, non-biofouling medical tubing, and corrosion-free surfaces.

Mushroom-shaped surface textures, also called doubly re-entrant structures, are known to be the most effective surface structure that enhances resistance against liquid invasion, thereby exhibiting superior superomniphobic property.

However, the existing procedures for their fabrication are highly delicate, time-consuming, and costly. Moreover, the materials required for the fabrication are restricted to an inflexible and expensive silicon wafer, which limits the practical use of the surface.

To overcome such limitations, the research team used a different approach to fabricate the re-entrant structures called localized photofludization by using the peculiar optical phenomenon of azobenzene molecule-containing polymers (referred to as azopolymers). It is a phenomenon where an azopolymer becomes fluidized under irradiation, and the fluidization takes place locally within the thin surface layer of the azopolymer.

With this novel approach, the team facilitated the localized photofluidization in the top surface layer of azopolymer cylindrical posts, successfully reconfiguring the cylindrical posts to doubly re-entrant geometry while the fluidized thin top surface of an azopolymer is flowing down.

The structure developed by the team exhibits a superior superomniphobic property even for liquids infiltrating the surface immediately.

Moreover, the superomniphobic property can be maintained on a curved target surface because its surficial materials are based on high molecules.

Furthermore, the fabrication procedure of the structure is highly reproducible and scalable, providing a practical route to creating robust omniphobic surfaces.

Professor Hee Tak Kim said, “Not only does the novel photo-fluidization technology in this study produce superior superomniphobic surfaces, but it also possesses many practical advantages in terms of fab-procedures and material flexibility; therefore, it could greatly contribute to real uses in diverse applications.”

Professor Shin-Hyun Kim added, “The designed doubly re-entrant geometry in this study was inspired by the skin structure of springtails, insects dwelling in soil that breathe through their skin. As I carried out this research, I once again realized that humans can learn from nature to create new engineering designs.”

The paper (Jaeho Choi as a first author) was published in ACS Nano, an international journal for Nano-technology, in August.

(Schematic diagram of mushroom-shaped structure fabrication)

Learn more: A Novel and Practical Fab-route for Superomniphobic Liquid-free Surfaces

The Latest on: Superomniphobic
  • A Cheap Way To Make Materials Repel Both Water And Oil
    on September 14, 2017 at 12:16 am

    The resulting structure exhibits a superior superomniphobic property even for liquids infiltrating the surface immediately. Furthermore, the fabrication procedure of the structure is highly reproducible and scalable, providing a practical route to creating ... […]

  • A novel and practical fab-route for superomniphobic liquid-free surfaces
    on September 11, 2017 at 11:47 am

    A joint research team led by Professor Hee Tak Kim and Shin-Hyun Kim in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at KAIST developed a fabrication technology that can inexpensively produce surfaces capable of repelling liquids, including ... […]

  • Image of Superomniphobic Property of Different Types of Liquid (image)
    on September 11, 2017 at 9:22 am

    Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system. […]

  • Enhancing CO 2 Capture using Robust Superomniphobic Membranes.
    on September 5, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    Superomniphobic membranes for post-combustion CO2 capture are introduced. Concentrated aqueous amine solutions stay on the topmost part of the membranes, providing a large liquid/CO2 interface. Wetting of the membrane, which reduces the capture efficiency ... […]

  • The design and applications of superomniphobic surfaces
    on March 3, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    Correspondence: Professor A Tuteja, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Michigan, 2800 plymouth Road, Building 10, Room A185, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA. E-mail: [email protected] 5 These authors contributed equally to this work. […]

  • New Stent Material Could End Blood-Clot Drugs
    on January 20, 2017 at 5:17 am

    The new surface (dubbed superomniphobic) gets its start with titanium but is chemically altered with nanotubes, which are lab-grown, organic compounds. The interdisciplinary collaboration occurred between the Colorado State University labs of Arun Kota ... […]

  • Superomniphobic tape adheres to any surface
    on October 20, 2016 at 5:01 am

    Arun Kota, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Colorado State University, has made a superomniphobic tape that, when adhered to any surface, gives the surface liquid-repelling properties. This recent breakthrough has been published by ACS ... […]

  • 13 Emerging Nanotechnologies And Materials That Will Change The World
    on May 15, 2014 at 7:40 am

    Superomniphobic materials: Inspired by water bugs that float on liquid surfaces, these materials repel both oily and watery fluids. Scientifically viable today; mainstream and financially viable in 2015. Auxetic materials: When stretched, auxetic materials ... […]

  • Scientists Made Superomniphobic Material That Even Repels Blood
    on January 18, 2013 at 3:22 am

    Scientists have developed a so-called "superomniphobic" surface that allows for the production of absolutely stain-proof, spill-proof clothing, protective garments, and other products that shrug off virtually every liquid - from blood and ketchup to ... […]

  • Superomniphobic Material Repels Any Liquid You Can Think Of
    on January 16, 2013 at 11:53 am

    We've seen lots of hydrophobic materials before, but these water- and liquid-repelling materials often work within constraints. Some liquids bounce or wick away, while others--based on properties like viscosity or surface tension, or whether the substance ... […]

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Sep 132017
 

A highly magnified view of the striatum of a mouse brain reveals a relatively rare type of cell called the fast-spiking interneuron (purple), which orchestrates the brain circuits that control our habits. Credit: Justin O’Hare, Duke University

One powerful cell makes or breaks your habits

Some habits are helpful, such as automatically washing your hands before a meal or driving the same route to work every day. They accomplish an important task while freeing up valuable brain space.

But other habits — like eating a cookie every day after work — seem to stick around even when the outcomes aren’t so good.

Duke University neuroscientists have pinpointed a single type of neuron deep within the brain that serves as a “master controller” of habits.

The team found that habit formation boosts the activity of this influential cell, and that shutting it down with a drug is enough to break habits in sugar-seeking mice. Though rare, this cell exerts its control through a web of connections to more populous cells that are known to drive habitual behavior.

“This cell is a relatively rare cell but one that is very heavily connected to the main neurons that relay the outgoing message for this brain region,” said Nicole Calakos, an associate professor of neurology and neurobiology at the Duke University Medical Center. “We find that this cell is a master controller of habitual behavior, and it appears to do this by re-orchestrating the message sent by the outgoing neurons.”

The findings, published Sept. 5 in eLife, may point towards new treatments for addiction or compulsive behavior in humans.

The team got their first glimpse into the neurological underpinnings of habit in a 2016 study that explored how habits can leave enduring marks on the brain. The research was a collaborative effort between Calakos’ lab and Henry Yin, an associate professor in Duke’s department of psychology and neuroscience.

The team trained otherwise healthy mice to receive a tasty treat every time they pressed a lever. Many mice developed a lever-pressing habit, continuing to press the lever even when it no longer dispensed treats, and despite having had an opportunity to eat all the treats they wanted beforehand.

The team then compared the brain activity of mice who had developed a lever-pressing habit with those who hadn’t. They focused on an area deep within the brain called the striatum, which contains two sets of neural pathways: a “go” pathway, which incites an action, and a “stop” pathway, which inhibits action.

They found that both the go and stop pathways were stronger in habit-driven mice. Habit formation also shifted the relative timing of the two pathways, making the go pathway fire before the stop.

In the current study, the team wanted to understand the circuitry that coordinates these various long lasting changes in the brain. They had a hunch that a single type of rare cell in the striatum called the fast-spiking interneuron (FSI) might serve as master conductor of the widespread changes in the outgoing neurons’ activity.

The FSI belongs to a class neurons responsible for relaying messages locally between other types of neurons in a particular brain region. Though FSIs make up about only one percent of the cells in the striatum, they grow long branch-like tendrils that link them up to the 95 percent of neurons that trigger the stop and go pathways.

“We were trying to put these pieces of the puzzle into a mechanism,” Calakos said. “And we thought because of the way that fast-spiking interneurons are connected up to the other cells, it could be the one cell that is driving these changes in all of them. That is what we set about testing.”

To test whether FSIs are truly the conductors of this cellular orchestra when it comes to habit, a graduate student in Calakos’ lab, Justin O’Hare led the effort to take a closer look at the brain activity in lever-pressing mice. He found that forming a habit appeared to make the FSIs more excitable. He then gave the mice a drug that decreases the firing of FSIs, and found that the stop and go pathways reverted to their “pre-habit” brain activity patterns, and the habit behavior disappeared.

“Some harmful behaviors like compulsion and addiction in humans might involve corruption of the normally adaptive habit-learning mechanisms.” Calakos said, “Understanding the neurological mechanisms underlying our habits may inspire new ways to treat these conditions.”

“I firmly believe that to develop new therapies to help people, we need to understand how the brain normally works, and then compare it to what the ‘broken’ brain looks like,” Calakos said.

Learn more: ONE POWERFUL CELL MAKES OR BREAKS YOUR HABITS

 

The Latest on: Habitual behavior
  • 7 secrets that will make you build good habits
    on September 15, 2017 at 3:43 am

    Here’s what BJ says: Make it tiny. To create a new habit, you must first simplify the behavior. Make it tiny, even ridiculous. A good tiny behavior is easy to do — and fast. And this works. Focus on small steps, not big dreams and you’ll make progress. […]

  • Can behavior mapping help teachers more effectively address challenging students?
    on September 14, 2017 at 1:00 am

    Embracing a habit of mapping behavior can help educators adopt less punitive approaches to handling and correcting the actions of challenging students, an Edutopia article suggests. With mapping behavior, educators draw a map of their classroom and trace ... […]

  • How to Build Habit-Forming Mobile Apps
    on September 12, 2017 at 9:20 pm

    It is a four-step process embedded into the products of many successful companies to subtly encourage consumer behavior. He will share best practices for anyone looking to build a mobile app that is both habit forming and popular with users. […]

  • So You Were Inspired By revitalize. Here's How To Turn That Into A Habit
    on September 11, 2017 at 12:10 am

    "We find that habit change is easiest when people move house or undergo ... "This is perhaps why people often report that they started a new, healthy behavior when on vacation. Away from familiar cues to bad habits, people are freed to act in new ways. […]

  • 'Bad habit' neurons identified
    on September 8, 2017 at 1:00 am

    "We find that this cell is a master controller of habitual behavior, and it appears to do this by re-orchestrating the message sent by the outgoing neurons," says Prof. Calakos. "Some harmful behaviors like compulsion and addiction in humans might involve ... […]

  • Habit rolls out nationwide: The timing was right for us, says CSO
    on September 7, 2017 at 8:31 am

    And the second big thing is on the behavior side – there is a lot of dietary advice out there but we had to make it easier to follow, and that’s where the counseling and meal plans come in.” Habit’s $299 nutrition test kit includes a cheek swab for ... […]

  • Energy Adviser: Change behavior, trim bills
    on September 7, 2017 at 6:05 am

    Ask anyone who’s tried to lose weight, stop smoking, start an exercise program, or change a habit. It isn’t easy ... have opportunities to reduce wasted energy with simple, no-cost behavior changes. But the first step is to monitor your energy use ... […]

  • Image of the Day: Make or Break a Habit
    on September 7, 2017 at 5:08 am

    “We find that this cell is a master controller of habitual behavior, and it appears to do this by re-orchestrating the message sent by the outgoing neurons.” See J.K. O’Hare et al., “Striatal fast-spiking interneurons selectively modulate circuit ... […]

  • Neurons Responsible for Orchestrating Habitual Behavior Identified
    on September 6, 2017 at 1:00 am

    Summary: Fast spiking interneurons in the striatum appear to be responsible for habitual behavior, a new study in eLife reports. Source: Duke University. Some habits are helpful, such as automatically washing your hands before a meal or driving the same ... […]

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Sep 122017
 

Gernot Müller-Putz, head of TU Graz’ Institute of Neural Engineering and expert on brain-computer interfaces. via Lunghammer – TU Graz

TU Graz researchers develop new brain-computer interface application which allows music to be composed by the power of thought. How this works is shown in the current issue of the journal PLOS ONE.

Brain-computer interfaces, known as BCI, can replace bodily functions to a certain degree. Thanks to BCI, physically impaired persons can control special prostheses through the power of their minds, surf in internet and write emails.

Under the title of “Brain Composer”, a group led by BCI expert Gernot Müller-Putz from TU Graz’s Institute of Neural Engineering shows that experiences of quite a different tone can be sounded from the keys of brain-computer interfaces. Derived from an established BCI method which mainly serves to spell – more accurately – write by means of BCI, the team has developed a new application by which music can be composed and transferred onto a musical score – just through the power of thought. All you need is a special cap which measures brain waves, the adapted BCI, a software for composing music, and of course a bit of musical knowledge.

The basic principle of the BCI method used, which is called P300, can be briefly described: various options, such as letters or notes, pauses, chords, etc. flash by one after the other in a table. If you’re trained and can focus on the desired option while it lights up, you cause a minute change in your brain waves. The BCI recognises this change and draws conclusions about the chosen option.

The short video “Sheet Music by Mind” gives an impression of composing music using BCI.

Musical test persons

18 test persons chosen for the study by Gernot Müller-Putz, Andreas Pinegger and Selina C. Wriessnegger from TU Graz’s Institute of Neural Engineering as well as Hannah Hiebel, meanwhile at the Institute of Cognitive Psychology & Neuroscience at the University of Graz, had to “think” melodies onto a musical score. All test subjects were of sound bodily health during the study and had a certain degree of basic musical and compositional knowledge since they all played musical instruments to some degree. Among the test persons was the late Graz composer and clarinettist, Franz Cibulka. “The results of the BCI compositions can really be heard. And what is more important: the test persons enjoyed it. After a short training session, all of them could start composing and seeing their melodies on the score and then play them. The very positive results of the study with bodily healthy test persons are the first step in a possible expansion of the BCI composition to patients,” stresses Müller-Putz.

Sideshow of BCI research

This little-noticed sideshow of the lively BCI research at TU Graz, with its distinct focus on disabled persons, shows us which other avenues may yet be worth exploring. Meanwhile there are some initial attempts at BCI systems on smart phones. This makes it easier for people to use BCI applications, since the smart phone as powerful computer is becoming part of the BCI system. It is thus conceivable, for instance, to have BCI apps which can analyse brain signals for various applications. “20 years ago, the idea of composing a piece of music using the power of the mind was unimaginable. Now we can do it, and at the same time have tens of new, different ideas which are in part, once again, a long way from becoming reality. We still need a bit more time before it is mature enough for daily applications. The BCI community is working in many directions at high pressure.

Learn more: Brain composer: Thinking Melodies on to a musical score

 

The Latest on: Brain-computer interface

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Sep 122017
 

Many people could benefit from this type of blood test in the future

In the largest and most conclusive study of its kind, researchers have analysed blood samples to create a novel and non-invasive way of helping to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease and distinguish between different types of neurodegenerative disorders.

Following this breakthrough discovery, Alzheimer’s sufferers may now have an additional test to improve the accuracy of diagnosis in order to better tailor appropriate treatment.

The research also offers a valuable opportunity to monitor the progression of the disease.

The international study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA used sensor-based technology with a diamond core to analyse approximately 550 blood samples.

By passing light through the diamond and observing its interactions with the blood plasma, researchers were able to identify specific chemical bonds within the blood. This biochemical data was used to compare blood samples from cases of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases with those from healthy controls.

The ground-breaking scientific investigation was carried out by researchers at Lancaster University, the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), the University of Manchester and the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil.

Professor David Allsop from Lancaster University has been collaborating for many years withProfessor David Mann from the University of Manchester in searching for diagnostic markers for neurodegenerative disease in blood plasma.

They provided all of the plasma samples for the study, along with supporting clinical and genetic information, and expertise in Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative conditions.

Professor Allsop said: “A particularly exciting aspect of the study was the ability to distinguish accurately between Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy body dementia, which are conditions that both result in dementia and can be difficult to separate from each other based on clinical information and symptoms. By reduction of misdiagnosed cases and administration of appropriate treatment, many people could benefit from this type of blood test in the future.”

Alzheimer’s diagnosis currently involves careful medical evaluation including clinical history, memory testing and brain scans, yet the only conclusive diagnosis is determined by post-mortem examination. This new blood test offers a non-invasive, more accurate and relatively cost-effective method of diagnosis, which will ensure the correct management of the condition.

Professor Francis Martin, principal investigator of the study and Biosciences theme lead at UCLan, said: “We have an aging population, meaning that the incidence and prevalence of Alzheimer’s is increasing, as is the need for accurate diagnosis. The ability to identify different neurodegenerative diseases through the analysis of blood offers a faster and accurate way of establishing the most effective treatment plan as well as disease monitoring.”

This new approach could also offer potential for carrying out tests to identify and monitor early signs of mild cognitive impairment, meaning that the onset of Alzheimer’s and other types of neurodegenerative diseases could be detected early and intervention measures could be put in place earlier to slow the progress of these diseases.

Professor Martin added: “For those suffering with Alzheimer’s disease, the damage is already well advanced once conventionally diagnosed, but this new method offers a potentially effective early screening tool when patients are only demonstrating signs of mild cognitive impairment. This is a potentially significant breakthrough for the prevention of different debilitating and chronic neurological diseases.”

Learn more: Breakthrough study reveals new diagnosis for Alzheimer’s

 

The Latest on: Alzheimer’s
  • Weekend Events In The Norton Area
    on September 14, 2017 at 8:52 pm

    Join Wingate at Haverhill for the 2017 Walk to End Alzheimers on Sunday, Sept. 17. Registration is at 8:30 a.m., the opening ceremony begins at 9:45 a.m. and the walk starts at 10 a.m. All proceeds benefit The Alzheimers Association and help fund research ... […]

  • Missing man from NW Albuquerque possibly in danger, police say
    on September 14, 2017 at 6:03 pm

    Officer Tanner Tixier said Roy Anderson, 69 was last seen at his home in northwest Albuquerque and possibly suffers from dementia or Alzheimers. Anderson is described as 5 feet 8 inches, 130 pounds, with brown eyes and gray hair. If located please call ... […]

  • What is neural lace?
    on September 14, 2017 at 5:05 am

    Neuroscience startup Kernel hopes to produce widely available implants that sufferers of neurological conditions such as Parkinsons and Alzheimers's disease can buy. Engineers at Kernel, which was founded in 2016, want to better understand the human brain ... […]

  • Memory walk to create awareness in South Canterbury
    on September 13, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    A national annual walk to create awareness for those with Alzheimers disease, got its start in Timaru. The Alzheimers South Canterbury Memory Walk will be held at the Timaru Botanic Gardens on Saturday, an event the organisation's office manager says the ... […]

  • Alzheimer's: Her own memories vanished, we'll remember her always
    on September 13, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    But we won't forget. Not ever. Check out this story on theadvertiser.com: http://www.theadvertiser.com/story/opinion/2017/09/13/alzheimers-her-own-memories-vanished-well-remember-her-always/663956001/ […]

  • Deaths from Alzheimers disease in Scotland increase by 33.4% in one year
    on September 13, 2017 at 10:54 am

    Deaths from Alzheimer’s in Scotland have soared by 33.4% in a year, according to new statistics released by the National Records of Scotland today. Provisional quarterly figures for deaths in the country show that 1,506 people died from Alzheimer’s and ... […]

  • 18th Annual Conference on Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Showcases Non-Amyloid Research
    on September 13, 2017 at 7:52 am

    View original content:http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/18th-annual-conference-on-alzheimers-drug-discovery-showcases-non-amyloid-research-300518861.html SOURCE Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation […]

  • Edward Jones funding of Alzheimer’s Association
    on September 13, 2017 at 7:17 am

    ST. LOUIS, Mo. _The diagnosis of Dementia or Alzheimers is more than a health scare, it's also a frightening financially. How can a family best prepare for the personal financial impact? Last year, St. Louis-based Edward Jones teamed up with the Alzheimer ... […]

  • What do you know about Alzheimer's?
    on September 11, 2017 at 7:56 am

    She was just kind of slipping." The group's efforts extended to the Walk to End Alzheimers, where they recruited 20 of their peers and raised about $2,000. They'll continue that work with an Oct. 25 event to be held in Rochester, where researchers and ... […]

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Sep 122017
 

via Fudan University

Men build dams and huge turbines to turn the energy of waterfalls and tides into electricity. To produce hydropower on a much smaller scale, Chinese scientists have now developed a lightweight power generator based on carbon nanotube fibers suitable to convert even the energy of flowing blood in blood vessels into electricity.

They describe their innovation in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

For thousands of years, people have used the energy of flowing or falling water for their purposes, first to power mechanical engines such as watermills, then to generate electricity by exploiting height differences in the landscape or sea tides. Using naturally flowing water as a sustainable power source has the advantage that there are (almost) no dependencies on weather or daylight. Even flexible, minute power generators that make use of the flow of biological fluids are conceivable. How such a system could work is explained by a research team from Fudan University in Shanghai, China. Huisheng Peng and his co-workers have developed a fiber with a thickness of less than a millimeter that generates electrical power when surrounded by flowing saline solution—in a thin tube or even in a blood vessel.

The construction principle of the fiber is quite simple. An ordered array of carbon nanotubes was continuously wrapped around a polymeric core. Carbon nanotubes are well known to be electroactive and mechanically stable; they can be spun and aligned in sheets. In the as-prepared electroactive threads, the carbon nanotube sheets coated the fiber core with a thickness of less than half a micron. For power generation, the thread or “fiber-shaped fluidic nanogenerator” (FFNG), as the authors call it, was connected to electrodes and immersed into flowing water or simply repeatedly dipped into a saline solution. “The electricity was derived from the relative movement between the FFNG and the solution,” the scientists explained. According to the theory, an electrical double layer is created around the fiber, and then the flowing solution distorts the symmetrical charge distribution, generating an electricity gradient along the long axis.

The power output efficiency of this system was high. Compared with other types of miniature energy-harvesting devices, the FFNG was reported to show a superior power conversion efficiency of more than 20%. Other advantages are elasticity, tunability, lightweight, and one-dimensionality, thus offering prospects of exciting technological applications. The FFNG can be made stretchable just by spinning the sheets around an elastic fiber substrate. If woven into fabrics, wearable electronics become thus a very interesting option for FFNG application. Another exciting application is the harvesting of electrical energy from the bloodstream for medical applications. First tests with frog nerves proved to be successful.

Learn more: How To Draw Electricity from the Bloodstream: A one-dimensional fluidic nanogenerator with a high power-conversion efficiency

 

The Latest on: Nanogenerator

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Sep 112017
 

Schematic of a quantum network: single photons transmit quantum information between the network nodes, where they are stored in an atomic gas. (Illustration: University of Basel, Department of Physics)

Physicists from the University of Basel have developed a memory that can store photons. These quantum particles travel at the speed of light and are thus suitable for high-speed data transfer. The researchers were able to store them in an atomic vapor and read them out again later without altering their quantum mechanical properties too much. This memory technology is simple and fast and it could find application in a future quantum Internet.

The journal Physical Review Letters has published the results.

Even today, fast data transfer in telecommunication networks employs short light pulses. Ultra broadband technology uses optical fiber links through which information can be transferred at the speed of light. At the receiver’s end, the transmitted information has to be stored quickly and without errors so that it can be processed further electronically on computers. To avoid transmission errors, each bit of information is encoded in relatively strong light pulses that each contain at least several hundreds of photons.

For several years, researchers all over the world have been working on operating such networks with single photons. Encoding one bit per photon is not only very efficient, but it also allows for a radically new form of information processing based on the laws of quantum physics. These laws allow a single photon to encode not only the states 0 or 1 of a classic bit, but also to encode a superposition of both states at the same time. Such quantum bits are the basis for quantum information processing that could make unconditionally secure communication and super fast quantum computers possible in the future. The ability to store and retrieve single photons from a quantum memory is a key element for these technologies, which is intensively investigated.

Simple and fast

A team of physicists led by the professors Philipp Treutlein and Richard Warburton from the University of Basel has now developed a particularly simple and fast quantum memory that stores photons in a gas of rubidium atoms. A laser controls the storage and retrieval processes. The technology used does not require cooling devices or complicated vacuum equipment and can be implemented in a highly compact setup. The researchers were also able to verify that the memory has a very low noise level and is suitable for single photons.

One step closer to the quantum internet

“The combination of a simple setup, high bandwidth and low noise level is very promising for future application in quantum networks,” says Janik Wolters, first author of the study. The development of such quantum networks is one of the goals of the National Center of Competence in Quantum Science and Technology (NCCR QSIT) and of the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation that have funded this study. In the future, quantum networks could lead to unconditionally secure communication, the networking of different quantum computers and the simulation of complex physical, chemical and biological systems.

The Latest on: Quantum internet
  • The Report Primarily Includes a Comprehensive Analysis of the Quantum Cryptography Market, 2025
    on September 14, 2017 at 8:15 pm

    The growing demand of bring your own device (BYOD) across several organizations is the primary driver of the global quantum cryptography market. With growing popularity of the Internet, which has turned into a necessity in the past decade, and the ubiquity ... […]

  • Quantum computers will threaten Internet security
    on September 14, 2017 at 8:14 pm

    Quantum computers promise unparalleled computer power and data analysis. However, they also pose a significant risk to how the Internet is currently configure din terms of security and privacy according to the Eindhoven University of Technology. The ... […]

  • Disruptive Cryptography: Post-Quantum & Machine Learning With Encrypted Data
    on September 14, 2017 at 11:34 am

    But in general, I’d like to say: Don’t lose any sleep over the threat of quantum computers; it will happen gradually. There is still time to prepare. RP: I agree; but do start thinking about it. First get Internet of Things right; then worry about the ... […]

  • High-Speed Quantum Memory Retrieves Photons on Demand
    on September 14, 2017 at 9:57 am

    2017 — A quantum memory that offers relatively fast and simple retrieval could someday be used for building a “quantum internet.” The technology stores photons in a gas of rubidium (RB) atoms and uses a laser to control the storage and retrieval ... […]

  • How future quantum computers will threaten today's encrypted data
    on September 14, 2017 at 4:13 am

    The era of full-fledged quantum computers threatens to destroy internet security as we know it. Researchers are in a race against time to prepare new cryptographic techniques before the arrival of quantum computers, as cryptographers Tanja Lange (Eindhoven ... […]

  • Improving data storage for the quantum internet
    on September 13, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    Scientists at The Australian National University (ANU) have discovered a new way to store quantum data, thus taking a major leap forward to providing the building blocks for a global quantum internet. The team was led by Associate Professor Matthew Sellars ... […]

  • Australian Scientists Just Made A Quantum Internet Breakthrough
    on September 12, 2017 at 11:00 am

    We are one step closer to a quantum internet, thanks to a team of Aussie researchers who have worked out how to dramatically improve the storage time of a vital component: telecom-compatible quantum memory. Here's what that means. The technology operates ... […]

  • ANU brings 10-year-old quantum internet theory to life
    on September 11, 2017 at 8:01 am

    Dr Rose Ahlefeldt and Matthew Sellars operating a high-resolution dye laser, used to study rare earth crystals. A team of researchers at the Australian National University (ANU) has announced a quantum development, proving that an erbium-doped crystal is ... […]

  • Connecting up the quantum internet
    on September 10, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    Major leap for practical building blocks of a quantum internet: New research demonstrates how to dramatically improve the storage time of a telecom-compatible quantum memory, a vital component of a global quantum network. The technology operates in the ... […]

  • Here's How You'll Use the Quantum Internet of the Future
    on September 6, 2017 at 11:03 am

    The quantum internet is coming. China, leaps and bounds ahead of the United States and the rest of the world, has vastly expanded the scope of quantum signaling. As recently as 2014, laboratory quantum effects maxed out at distances of just meters or ... […]

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Sep 112017
 

Nature Communications/Anil Rana
Fruit flies’ mitochondria (in green) at 10 days (top left), 28 days (top right) and 37 days old (both bottom images). At bottom right, the mitochondria have returned to a more youthful state after UCLA biologists increased the fly’s level of a protein called Drp1.

Cellular time machine’ could eventually benefit humans, too

UCLA biologists have developed an intervention that serves as a cellular time machine — turning back the clock on a key component of aging.

In a study on middle-aged fruit flies, the researchers substantially improved the animals’ health while significantly slowing their aging. They believe the technique could eventually lead to a way to delay the onset of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, stroke, cardiovascular disease and other age-related diseases in humans.

The approach focuses on mitochondria, the tiny power generators within cells that control the cells’ growth and determine when they live and die. Mitochondria often become damaged with age, and as people grow older, those damaged mitochondria tend to accumulate in the brain, muscles and other organs. When cells can’t eliminate the damaged mitochondria, those mitochondria can become toxic and contribute to a wide range of age-related diseases, said David Walker, a UCLA professor of integrative biology and physiology, and the study’s senior author.

Reed Hutchinson/UCLA
David Walker

In the new research, Walker and his colleagues found that as fruit flies reach middle age — about one month into their two-month lifespan — their mitochondria change from their original small, round shape.

“We think the fact that the mitochondria become larger and elongated impairs the cell’s ability to clear the damaged mitochondria,” Walker said. “And our research suggests dysfunctional mitochondria accumulate with age, rather than being discarded.”

The study, published Sept. 6 in the journal Nature Communications, reports that the UCLA scientists removed the damaged mitochondria by breaking up enlarged mitochondria into smaller pieces — and that when they did, the flies became more active and more energetic and had more endurance. Following the treatment, female flies lived 20 percent longer than their typical lifespan, while males lived 12 percent longer, on average.

The research highlights the importance of a protein called Drp1 in aging. At least in flies and mice, levels of Drp1 decline with age.

To break apart the flies’ mitochondria, Anil Rana, a UCLA project scientist and the study’s lead author, increased their levels of Drp1. This enabled the flies to discard the smaller, damaged mitochondria, leaving only healthy mitochondria. Drp1 levels were increased for one week starting when the flies were 30 days old.

At essentially the same time, Rana demonstrated that the flies’ Atg1 gene also plays an essential role in turning back the clock on cellular aging. He did this by “turning off” the gene, rendering the flies’ cells unable to eliminate the damaged mitochondria. This proved that Atg1 is required to reap the procedure’s anti-aging effects: While Drp1 breaks up enlarged mitochondria, the Atg1 gene is needed to dispose of the damaged ones.

“It’s like we took middle-aged muscle tissue and rejuvenated it to youthful muscle,” said Walker, a member of UCLA’s Molecular Biology Institute. “We actually delayed age-related health decline. And seven days of intervention was sufficient to prolong their lives and enhance their health.”

One specific health problem the treatment addressed was the onset of leaky intestines, which previous research by Walker’s team found commonly occurs about a week before fruit flies die. Subsequent research in other laboratories has determined that an increase in intestines’ permeability is a hallmark of aging in worms, mice and monkeys. In the UCLA study, the condition was delayed after flies were given more Drp1.

Fruit flies are often used for studies on aging because their short lifespan enables scientists to track the effects of specific treatments within a manageable period of time, and many of the features of aging at the cellular level are similar to those of humans. In addition, scientists have identified all of the fruit fly’s genes and know how to switch individual ones on and off.

Walker hopes that a technique similar to the one his team developed for fruit files could eventually help humans by slowing aging and delaying aging-related diseases. He said the fact that the new approach was effective even after a short time is especially significant because long-term use of nearly any drug can have harmful side effects in humans.

Walker said one of the long-term goals of his research is to develop pharmaceuticals that would mimic the effects of Drp1, in order to extend people’s lives and lengthen what he calls people’s “health spans,” meaning the number of healthy years in their lives.

Courtesy of Anil Rana
Anil Rana

In another part of the experiment, also involving middle-aged fruit flies, the scientists turned off a protein called Mfn that enables mitochondria to fuse together into larger pieces. Doing so also extended the flies’ lives and improved their health.

“You can either break up the mitochondria with Drp1 or prevent them from fusing by inactivating Mfn,” Rana said. “Both have the same effect: making the mitochondria smaller and extending lifespan.”

Drp1’s function in animals was discovered by Alexander van der Bliek, a UCLA professor of biological chemistry, in the early 2000s.

Learn more: UCLA biologists slow aging, extend lifespan of fruit flies

 

The Latest on: Cellular time machine

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