innovation

Jul 252017
 

Credit: John Emerson
Gaurav Gupta, MD, assistant professor of neurosurgery at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (left) with patient Chris Cahill who received a 3-D printed skull.

After two months in a coma, Chris Cahill, 35, of New Brunswick, New Jersey woke up confused about where he was and what had happened to him. Cahill was found unconscious from unknown trauma resulting in severe injuries to his frontal lobe, with brain swelling so dramatic it was life threatening, explained to Gaurav Gupta, MD, assistant professor of neurosurgery at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. Dr. Gupta performed emergent surgery on Cahill to relieve the brain swelling with the intent of replacing the skull after the swelling subsided. However, the patient’s own skull was infected and as a result was unusable. At that point, Dr. Gupta decided the best solution to replace the missing skull bone was to use 3-D printing.

3-D printing is making three-dimensional objects from a two-dimensional digital file. It has become popular among medical devices because of its precision and accuracy. For Cahill, 3-D printing was used to create a model of his skull, and also a custom implant to replace the missing piece using his CT scan. “The model was used for practice,” said Dr. Gupta, director, Cerebrovascular and Endovascular Neurosurgery at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. “Once the skull implant was printed, millimeter by millimeter, we matched the new implant to the skull model, ensuring a perfect fit.”  Two separate implants were printed because the area of the skull was so large, which Dr. Gupta then bonded together. When Cahill learned part of his skull would be replaced via 3-D printing, his first reaction was disbelief. “I wondered, ‘can they really do this?’ But Dr. Gupta saved my life once and I trusted him completely.”

Dr. Gupta then collaborated with a medical device company – DeputSynthese CMS to 3-D print a custom cranial skull implant for Cahill. The implant is made of PEEK (polyetheretherketone), which is chosen for its strength, stability and biocompatibility. Prior to 3-D printing, surgeons used metal mesh to replace pieces of the skull, but it was not as strong or as precise. The 3-D printed model is an exact and custom fit because it is created using the patient’s CT scan.  Because Cahill’s skull damage was significant and irregular, 3-D printing was the best choice. According to the company, these 3-D printed implants have a better anatomic fit, reduce operating time and have more satisfying aesthetic results than traditional models. The implants are also impact and fracture resistant.

Before the surgery, the patient needed to grow additional skin to cover the implant. To ensure the best possible aesthetic result, Dr. Gupta enlisted the help of Tushar Patel, MD, plastic and reconstructive surgeon and partner at The Plastic Surgery Center, to insert a tissue expander which enabled Cahill to have enough skin for surgery. March 28, Gupta and Patel inserted the skull implant during a four-hour surgery, shorter than a traditional procedure due to the precise and custom fit of the implant, which allowed for fewer modifications during the process. The surgery went smoothly and Cahill recovered well. Because the incision is behind the hair line, the scars cannot be seen. “I was nervous about what I would look like after the surgery,” said Cahill. “I was happy I looked exactly the same and felt like myself again.”

Learn more: Patient Receives 3-D Printed Skull after Traumatic Brain Injury

 

The Latest on: 3D printed medical implant

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Jul 252017
 

Di?erences of the movement of oil through the micro channels of the addition of surfactant in the presence of silica nanoparticles as compared to the surfactant alone showing how the nano-sand alters the extraction of the oil. An effective formula for EOR applications, according to the scientists at Swansea University. (Credit: Goshtasp Cheraghian /Azad University/Iran).

A new class of materials which are suitable agents for oil displacing in enhanced oil recovery have been developed by scientists in the Energy Safety Research Institute (ESRI) at Swansea University and scientists at Islamic Azad University in Iran.

The new nanoparticle-surfactant complexes, composed of sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) surfactant and fumed silica nanoparticles (Si-NPs) have important applications in enhanced oil recovery (EOR). The materials are shown to improve the oil recovery by 58% compared to 45% recovery in the presence of surfactant alone.

The researchers led by Goshtasp Cheraghian and Professor Andrew R. Barron reported their find in the American Chemical Society journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.iecr.7b01675).

Fabrication and testing of these materials were carried out by Goshtasp Cheraghian (Member of Young Researchers at Azad University) and Sajad Kiani, (a PhD student at the Energy Safety Research Institute at the Swansea University Bay Campus).

There, they used a 5-spot glass micromodel to evaluate the suitable agents for oil displacing in EOR. Such micromodel experiments have been used to investigate the mechanism of the fluid flow on porous mediums via flow visualization, pore space geometry, topology and heterogeneity effects, which are not possible to assess using traditional core-flood experiments.

“It is a surprise that the addition of silica nanoparticles, essentially nano-sand, to the surfactant solution leads to such a large ?ow modi?cation,” said Barron, “the changes are due to an alteration of the viscosity as well as effective wettability alteration, which effects the sweeping of the oil towards the recovery point.”

The results of this work support an improved insight into the role of NPs and surfactants in enhanced oil recovery and future use in EOR formulations. Barron described the multinational team as “a great example of international collaboration across boarders aimed at developing new materials for minimizing the impact of oil production through maximizing recovery.”

Learn more:New materials discovered by Swansea University and Islamic Azad University scientists have important applications in enhanced oil recovery

 

The Latest on: Enhanced oil recovery

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Jul 252017
 

Nanoparticles of a perovskite that can be used as an efficient catalyst for electrolysers. The inset shows a magnification. (Photo: Paul Scherrer Institute/Emiliana Fabbri)

Field trials show that new catalyst material for electrolysers is reliable

Efficient storage technologies are necessary if solar and wind energy is to help satisfy increased energy demands. One important approach is storage in the form of hydrogen extracted from water using solar or wind energy. This process takes place in a so-called electrolyser. Thanks to a new material developed by researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and Empa, these devices are likely to become cheaper and more efficient in the future. The material in question works as a catalyst accelerating the splitting of water molecules: the first step in the production of hydrogen. Researchers also showed that this new material can be reliably produced in large quantities and demonstrated its performance capability within a technical electrolysis cell—the main component of an electrolyser. The results of their research have been published in the current edition of the scientific journal Nature Materials.

Since solar and wind energy is not always available, it will only contribute significantly to meeting energy demands once a reliable storage method has been developed. One promising approach to this problem is storage in the form of hydrogen. This process requires an electrolyser, which uses electricity generated by solar or wind energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen serves as an energy carrier. It can be stored in tanks and later transformed back into electrical energy with the help of fuel cells. This process can be carried out locally, in places where energy is needed such as domestic residences or fuel cell vehicles, enabling mobility without the emission of CO2.

Inexpensive and efficient

Researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI have now developed a new material that functions as a catalyst within an electrolyser and thus accelerates the splitting of water molecules: the first step in the production of hydrogen. There are currently two types of electrolysers on the market: one is efficient but expensive because its catalysts contain noble metals such as iridium. The others are cheaper but less efficient, explains Emiliana Fabbri, researcher at the Paul Scherrer Institute. We wanted to develop an efficient but less expensive catalyst that worked without using noble metals.

Exploring this procedure, researchers were able to use a material that had already been developed: an intricate compound of the elements barium, strontium, cobalt, iron and oxygen – a so-called perovskite. But they were the first to develop a technique enabling its production in the form of miniscule nanoparticles. This is the form required for it to function efficiently since a catalyst requires a large surface area on which many reactive centres are able to accelerate the electrochemical reaction. Once individual catalyst particles have been made as small as possible, their respective surfaces combine to create a much larger overall surface area.

Researchers used a so-called flame-spray device to produce this nanopowder: a device operated by Empa that sends the material’s constituent parts through a flame where they merge and quickly solidify into small particles once they leave the flame. We had to find a way of operating the device that reliably guaranteed the solidifying of the atoms of the various elements in the right structure, emphasizes Fabbri. We were also able to vary the oxygen content where necessary, enabling the production of different material variants.

Successful Field Tests

Researchers were able to show that these procedures work not only in the laboratory but also in practice. The production method delivers large quantities of the catalyst powder and can be made readily available for industrial use. We were eager to test the catalyst in field conditions. Of course, we have test facilities at PSI capable of examining the material but its value ultimately depends upon its suitability for industrial electrolysis cells that are used in commercial electrolysers, says Fabbri. Researchers tested the catalyst in cooperation with an electrolyser manufacturer in the US and were able to show that the device worked more reliably with the new PSI-produced perovskite than with a conventional iridium-oxide catalyst.

Examining in Milliseconds

Researchers were also able to carry out precise experiments that provided accurate information on what happens in the new material when it is active. This involved studying the material with X-rays at PSI’s Swiss Light Source SLS. This facility provides researchers with a unique measuring station capable of analysing the condition of a material over successive timespans of just 200 milliseconds. This enables us to monitor changes in the catalyst during the catalytic reaction: we can observe changes in the electronic properties or the arrangement of atoms,says Fabbri. At other facilities, each individual measurement takes about 15 minutes, providing only an averaged image at best. These measurements also showed how the structures of particle surfaces change when active – parts of the material become amorphous which means that the atoms in individual areas are no longer uniformly arranged. Unexpectedly, this makes the material a better catalyst.

Use in the ESI Platform

Working on the development of technological solutions for Switzerland’s energy future is an essential aspect of the research carried out at PSI. To this end, PSI makes its ESI (Energy System Integration) experimental platform available to research and industry, enabling promising solutions to be tested in a variety of complex contexts. The new catalyst provides an important base for the development of a new generation of water electrolysers.

Learn more: Nanomaterial helps store solar energy: efficiently and inexpensively

 

The Latest on: Solar energy storage
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Jul 252017
 
File 20170612 3809 17j4mj1
Computers may play an important role in preparing us for the next viral outbreak – whether flu or Ebola.
UW Institute for Protein Design, CC BY-ND

Ian Haydon, University of Washington

As Bill Gates sees it, there are three main threats to our species: nuclear war, climate change and the next global pandemic.

Speaking on pandemic preparedness at the Munich Security Conference earlier this year, Gates reminded us that “the fact that a deadly global pandemic has not occurred in recent history shouldn’t be mistaken for evidence that a deadly pandemic will not occur in the future.”

If we want to be prepared for the worst, Gates says, “first and most importantly, we have to build an arsenal of new weapons – vaccines, drugs and diagnostics.”

Some scientists are now using computers to do just that.

Going beyond the immune system

Despite the availability of the flu shot, the World Health Organization reports that seasonal influenza is still responsible for millions of serious illnesses and as many as half a million deaths per year globally. The partial efficacy of each year’s flu shot, coupled with long manufacturing times and limited global availability, suggests new flu-fighting methods are still needed.

And that’s just for the seasonal flu. Pandemic influenza, like the devastating 1918 Spanish flu, could again kill tens of millions of people in a single year.

Antibodies, a natural part of the immune system, are front-line soldiers in the war against viruses. The job of an antibody is to recognize and physically adhere to a foreign invader like influenza. Human antibodies are bivalent, meaning they have two hands with which they can grab onto their target.

A glass model of an influenza virus hanging in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
Tim Evanson, CC BY-SA

Under a microscope, influenza looks like a tiny ball with spikes. It uses some of its surface spikes to break into human cells. By grabbing tightly to those spikes using one or both hands, antibodies can prevent flu particles from infecting human cells. But every year the rapidly evolving influenza picks up mutations in its spike proteins, causing the sticky hands of our antibodies to no longer recognize the virus.

Researchers have long sought a universal flu vaccine – one that doesn’t need to be readministered every year. Efforts to produce one tend to involve injecting noninfectious flu lookalikes in hopes that it will prime the immune system to mount a proper attack on whatever real strain of flu it sees next. Despite some progress, researchers have not yet been able to coax the immune system to defend against all strains of influenza, and the threat of a global pandemic still looms.

Transmission electron microscopic image of an influenza virus particle.
CDC/ Erskine. L. Palmer, Ph.D.; M. L. Martin
Software to beat the flu

Computational protein design offers another way. Rather than relying on the immune system to generate an antibody protein capable of shutting down a virus like the flu, computer modeling can now help quickly create custom antiviral proteins programmed to shut down a deadly virus.

Unlike a vaccine, this class of drug could be administered to treat an existing infection or given days prior to exposure to prevent one. And because these designer proteins work independently of the immune system, their potency does not depend on having an intact immune system – a useful trait, as those with weaker immune systems are at high risk for viral infection.

Computer-generated antiviral proteins work the same way some natural proteins in our immune system do. By having surfaces that are chemically complementary to their targets, antiviral proteins can stick tightly to a specific virus. If a protein sticks to a virus in just the right way, it can physically block how that virus moves, ultimately preventing infection.

By designing an antiviral protein on a computer, building it in the laboratory and then administering it into the body, you effectively digitize part of the immune system.

In 2016, computer-generated proteins were shown to be more effective than oseltamivir (Tamiflu) in warding off death in influenza-infected mice. One dose of designer protein given intranasally was more effective than 10 doses of Tamiflu, a drug considered an “essential medicine” by the WHO due to its antiflu activity. What’s more, these new computer-generated antiflu proteins protected mice against diverse strains of the flu. Efforts to turn these promising results into FDA-approved drugs are underway.

In a just published paper in Nature Biotechnology, scientists here at the Institute for Protein Design at the University of Washington went a step further and demonstrated a new way to shut down the flu: They used computer modeling to build a completely new kind of antiviral protein with three sticky hands.

Why three? It turns out many deadly envelope viruses – like influenza, Ebola and HIV – build their spike proteins out of three symmetric parts.

A single antiviral drug with three properly spaced hands should be able to symmetrically grab each part of a spike protein, leading to tighter binding and overall better antiviral activity. This geometric feat is beyond what the human immune system can naturally do.

Left: The tips of many viral spike proteins are built out of three symmetric parts, with one part highlighted in pink. Right: A new three-handed antiflu protein (blue) bound to influenza’s HA spike.
UW Institute for Protein Design, CC BY-ND

The design strategy worked. The best three-handed protein, called Tri-HSB.1C, was able to bind tightly to diverse strains of influenza. When given to mice, it also afforded complete protection against a lethal flu infection with only minimal associated weight loss – a trait commonly used to diagnose flu severity in mice. Researchers are now applying the same tools to the Ebola spike protein.

It will be many years before this new technology is approved for use in humans, for any virus. But we may not have to wait long to see some lifesaving benefits.

Viral diagnostics

By coating a strip of paper with a three-handed flu binder and applying influenza samples on top, the same team was able to detect the presence of viral surface protein even at very low concentrations. This proof-of-concept detection system could be transformed into a reliable and affordable on-site diagnostic tool for a variety of viruses by detecting them in saliva or blood. Like a pregnancy test, a band on a test strip could indicate flu. Or Ebola. Or the next rapidly spreading global pandemic.

In a 2015 letter to the New England Journal of Medicine on lessons learned from the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, Bill Gates describes the lack of preparation by the global community as “a global failure.”

“Perhaps the only good news from the tragic Ebola epidemic,” Gates says, “is that it may serve as a wake-up call.” (The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funds work on protein design at the University of Washington.)

The ConversationWhen a global viral pandemic like the 1918 Spanish flu strikes again, antivirus software of the biological kind may play an important role in saving millions of lives.

Ian Haydon, Doctoral Student in Biochemistry, University of Washington

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

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Jul 242017
 

The electric current from a flexible battery placed near the knuckle flows through the conductor and powers the LED just below the fingernail.
CREDIT
2017 Someya Laboratory.

New nanomesh structure lets skin breathe, prevents inflammation

A hypoallergenic electronic sensor can be worn on the skin continuously for a week without discomfort, and is so light and thin that users forget they even have it on, says a Japanese group of scientists. The elastic electrode constructed of breathable nanoscale meshes holds promise for the development of noninvasive e-skin devices that can monitor a person’s health continuously over a long period.

Wearable electronics that monitor heart rate and other vital health signals have made headway in recent years, with next-generation gadgets employing lightweight, highly elastic materials attached directly onto the skin for more sensitive, precise measurements. However, although the ultrathin films and rubber sheets used in these devices adhere and conform well to the skin, their lack of breathability is deemed unsafe for long-term use: dermatological tests show the fine, stretchable materials prevent sweating and block airflow around the skin, causing irritation and inflammation, which ultimately could lead to lasting physiological and psychological effects.

“We learned that devices that can be worn for a week or longer for continuous monitoring were needed for practical use in medical and sports applications,” says Professor Takao Someya at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Engineering whose research group had previously developed an on-skin patch that measured oxygen in blood.

In the current research, the group developed an electrode constructed from nanoscale meshes containing a water-soluble polymer, polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), and a gold layer–materials considered safe and biologically compatible with the body. The device can be applied by spraying a tiny amount of water, which dissolves the PVA nanofibers and allows it to stick easily to the skin–it conformed seamlessly to curvilinear surfaces of human skin, such as sweat pores and the ridges of an index finger’s fingerprint pattern.

The researchers next conducted a skin patch test on 20 subjects and detected no inflammation on the participants’ skin after they had worn the device for a week. The group also evaluated the permeability, with water vapor, of the nanomesh conductor–along with those of other substrates like ultrathin plastic foil and a thin rubber sheet–and found that its porous mesh structure exhibited superior gas permeability compared to that of the other materials.

Furthermore, the scientists proved the device’s mechanical durability through repeated bending and stretching, exceeding 10,000 times, of a conductor attached on the forefinger; they also established its reliability as an electrode for electromyogram recordings when its readings of the electrical activity of muscles were comparable to those obtained through conventional gel electrodes.

“It will become possible to monitor patients’ vital signs without causing any stress or discomfort,” says Someya about the future implications of the team’s research. In addition to nursing care and medical applications, the new device promises to enable continuous, precise monitoring of athletes’ physiological signals and bodily motion without impeding their training or performance.

Learn more: Breathable, wearable electronics on skin for long-term health monitoring

 

The Latest on: Noninvasive e-skin devices
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Jul 242017
 

via Universitat Rovira i Virgili

A team of researchers has patented a mobile device that can monitor cancer quickly, cheaply, effectively and non-invasively

Researchers at the URV’s Department of Physical and Inorganic Chemistry, led by the ICREA researcher, Ramon Álvarez Puebla, and the professor of Applied Physics, Francesc Díaz, and the Department of Clinical Oncology of the HM Torrelodones University Hospital, have patented a portable device that can detect tumour cells in blood.

The device counts the number of tumour cells in a blood sample in real time and is thus a highly effective tool for improving the monitoring, treatment and diagnosis of cancer.

Very useful for clinical use

The system has been successfully tested on patients in various stages of breast cancer and could be used to determine the presence of other tumours by analysing different antibodies in the blood sample.

Patients with cancer, particularly if it has metastasised, need to be constantly monitored during treatment to assess the progress of the disease. This is currently done using imaging techniques and biopsies which are invasive and not always possible. In contrast, the device designed by the URV researchers is highly sensitive and requires no surgery or treatment involving radiation. It is thus a highly useful clinical method because it improves patient quality of life by removing the need for the more invasive traditional procedures.

The device will be a useful tool for accurately determining a patient’s level of health because it can monitor cancer quickly, cheaply, effectively and non-invasively. Furthermore, it can assist in the early diagnosis of the disease and monitor tumours more effectively and in a manner that has a less negative effect on patients’ bodies.

Two integrated systems

The new device uses two systems in miniature: a flow system and an optical system. The first causes the blood cells to flow in alignment, while the second uses two optic fibres (a laser diode and a photodetector) to analyse the cells and count those which are cancerous and those which are not. The ratio between the two gives an understanding as to how the cancer is progressing.

The device in operation: a fibre optic shines a blue light on the sample, highlighting the cells as they flow from left to right.

Learn more: Researchers develop a device that detects tumour cells in blood

 

The Latest on: Cancer detection

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Jul 242017
 

Professor Merlin Crossley

A UNSW Sydney-led team of scientists has made an advance that could eventually lead to a cure for sickle cell anaemia and other blood disorders.

By introducing a beneficial natural mutation into blood cells using the gene-editing technique CRISPR, a UNSW Sydney-led team of scientists has been able to switch on production of foetal haemoglobin – an advance that could eventually lead to a cure for sickle cell anaemia and other blood disorders.

People with thalassaemia or sickle cell anaemia have damaged adult haemoglobin – the vital molecule that picks up oxygen in the lungs and transports it around the body – and they require life-long treatment with blood transfusions and medication.

However, people with these diseases who also carry the beneficial natural mutation – known as British-198 – have reduced symptoms, because the mutation switches on the foetal haemoglobin gene that is normally turned off after birth.

The extra foetal haemoglobin in their blood, which has a very strong affinity for oxygen, does the work of the defective adult haemoglobin.

“With CRISPR gene-editing we can now precisely cut and alter single genes within our vast genome,” says study senior author and UNSW molecular biologist Professor Merlin Crossley.

“Our laboratory has shown that introducing the beneficial mutation British-198 into blood cells using this technology substantially boosts their production of foetal haemoglobin.

“Because this mutation already exists in nature and is benign, this ‘organic gene therapy’ approach should be effective and safe to use to treat, and possibly cure serious blood disorders. However, more research is still needed before it can be tested in people,” he says.

The study by scientists from UNSW, the Japanese Red Cross Society and the RIKEN BioResource Centre in Japan, is published in the journal Blood.

The beneficial British-198 mutation, which was first identified in a large British family in 1974, involves a change in just a single letter of the genetic code.

Carriers of this mutation have foetal haemoglobins levels as high as 20% of total haemoglobin, while most people’s foetal haemoglobin levels fall to about 1% of total haemoglobin after birth.

The researchers also discovered how this British-198 mutation works. They found it creates a new binding site for a protein called KLF1 that turns blood genes on.

Mutations affecting adult haemoglobin production are among the most common of all genetic variations, with about 5% of the world’s population carrying a defective gene.

“To turn the new gene editing approach into a therapy for blood disorders, the British-198 mutation would have to be introduced into blood-forming stem cells from the patient,” says Professor Crossley.

“A large number of stem cells would have to be edited in order to repopulate the patients’ blood with genetically enhanced cells.”

Learn more: Genome therapy with beneficial natural mutation could lead to new treatment for life-threatening blood disorders

 

The Latest on: Genome therapy

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Jul 242017
 

Researchers?from?the?lab?of?Barbara?Block?at?Stanford?University?and?the?Monterey?Bay?Aquarium?have?discovered?a?bio-hydraulic?system?in?fins?of?tunas.

The unique system of hydraulic control of fins discovered in tuna indicates a new role for the lymphatic system in vertebrates. This natural mechanism may inspire designs for new “smart” control surfaces with changeable shape and stiffness for both air and underwater unmanned vehicles.

Cutting through the ocean like a jet through the sky, giant bluefin tuna are built for performance, endurance and speed. Just as the fastest planes have carefully positioned wings and tail flaps to ensure precision maneuverability and fuel economy, bluefin tuna need the utmost control over their propulsive and stabilizing structures as they speed through the ocean. The outstanding maneuverability and precision locomotion of these powerful fish are supported by a vascular specialization that is unique among vertebrates, according to new research from Stanford University and the Monterey Bay Aquarium: pressurized hydraulic fin control.

Through studying the anatomy, physiology, locomotion and fin movements of Pacific bluefin and yellowfin tuna swimming in tanks, researchers have found evidence of a biological hydraulic system in the large sickle-shaped fins centered above and below the tuna’s body, called the median fins.

“Animals are exciting sources of elegant engineering solutions in aero- and hydrodynamics. What we have discovered in these tunas is unlike other animal hydraulic systems. It’s a musculo-vascular complex that is integrating the lymphatic system, the skeletal muscles and fin bones,” said Vadim Pavlov, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford and a lead author of the research, published in the July 21 issue of Science. “We’ve shown that in tunas and their fast-swimming relatives this complex functions to generate hydraulic pressure that provides fine adjustment of the shape of their fins. By expanding or retracting their dorsal and anal fins, they alter the physical forces generated by fins, allowing for maneuverability.”

The tuna’s ability to move these median fins quickly and precisely with a hydrodynamic mechanism may be an advantage in turning maneuvers undertaken during prey search, feeding and long-distance swimming, where careful energy expenditure is vital. This system of hydraulic control could enhance the design used in sailing vessels and autonomous vehicles, many of which already mimic the sleek design of the tuna’s body shape.

A special system

Over a decade ago, Barbara Block, the Charles and Elizabeth Prothro Professor in Marine Sciences at Stanford, and colleagues from the Monterey Bay Aquarium introduced Pacific bluefin tuna into the aquarium’s million-gallon Open Sea exhibit.

“We were all mesmerized by watching the beauty of form and function of these majestic fish through the glass of the Monterey Bay Aquarium,” said Block, whose Tuna Research and Conservation Center (TRCC) partnership with the Monterey Bay Aquarium has been maintaining tuna in captivity at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Stationfor more than 20 years.

During her observations of these fish, Block noticed that the Pacific bluefin tuna, which grew to be giants in the exhibit with some reaching over 300 pounds, were making fine adjustments to their pectoral, median and tail fins. These traits became the focus of several Stanford undergraduate internship projects, which involved filming the Pacific bluefin tuna swimming and foraging at the aquarium’s spectacular main exhibit. But it wasn’t until the arrival of Pavlov at the Block lab that the mystery of the median fins was finally solved.

Pavlov, working with Stanford undergraduate Nate Hansen, identified an unusual sinus, or cavity, filled with liquid beneath the base of both the dorsal and anal median fins. The structure seemed enigmatic until they realized that this system of vascular channels, muscles and bones appears to be a biological analog of a canonical hydraulic system. The muscles pressurize the liquid, which helps change the fins’ shape and position for swimming and maneuvering control. Figuring out what fluid was driving the pressurization required expertise from a different field.

“The finding was unexpected. Pavlov found this sinus area in the fin and associated structures and invited me to see if it was associated with the lymphatic system,” said Benyamin Rosental, a postdoctoral research fellow in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine and a co-lead author of the paper. “I think we realized pretty early that this is a novel finding and a unique system.”

To identify the origin of the vascular input into the hydraulic system and its connection to the lymphatic system, the team took a multidisciplinary approach. The researchers recorded videos of Pacific bluefin and yellowfin tuna swimming in the facilities at the TRCC where close proximity to the fish enabled them to see the subtle changes in angle of attack of the median fins. The footage allowed the researchers to establish how the tuna changed the area and shape of these fins in order to execute different maneuvers. Paired with computer model simulations, the team also showed how fluid flowed across the tuna, impacting the forces generated by the fin at different swimming speeds.

Confirming that the hydraulic system was part of the tuna’s lymphatic system was another challenging task. Although lymphatic systems are critical for immune function, lymphatic fluid has previously not been found to be used as a hydraulic fluid in locomotion. The researchers conducted detailed examinations of the pathways of the vasculature within the fins, studied the microscopic structure of the tissues and tested the cellular makeup of the fluid within this vasculature, which demonstrated it was lymph fluid.

Lymphatic vessels are normally small and difficult to distinguish by the naked eye, but in tuna they are transformed into a specialized system of large vessels and channels in median fins. With lymph acting as hydraulic fluid, increased pressure in these channels affects the fin’s position and, probably, the stiffness that together alters hydrodynamic properties of fins. The capacity to rapidly adjust the fin positions affects the lift to drag forces on the fins and prevents the tuna from rolling and yawing during  active swimming, limiting energy loss during long migrations.

Tuna have numerous morphological, physiological and behavioral adaptations to move rapidly through the water column and a sophisticated physiology that includes elevated metabolism, a unique cardiovascular system and a warm body temperature. These features require a well-developed lymphatic system to maintain water balance in tissues and protect organisms from infection. Now, the evolution of tuna physiology can also include this unique hydraulic function.

“The primary examples of bio-hydraulics are in invertebrate animals like mollusks, crustaceans and jellyfish,” Block said. “It’s unusual to observe bio-hydraulic locomotion in vertebrate animals, which involves the integration of muscle, fluid and bone structures. To our knowledge, this evolutionary mechanism of fishes has never before been reported and might have remained hidden if it weren’t for the ability to see these fish in action in captivity. It illuminates how nontransparent our ocean realm is and how much is left to discover.”

From tuna to tech

The dorsal and anal fins are typically oriented straight up and down and are involved in the control of body posture and swimming trajectories. In this way, these median fins are analogous to hydrofoils and generate lift forces, sideways, as the fin plane makes an angle to the water the fish is swimming through. The team found that the biomechanics of tuna’s median fins closely align with the three elements of a canonical hydraulic system: muscles that serve as a hydraulic pump to create pressure in the fluid, vascular vessels to guide and control the system, and fin rays acting as actuators to convert pressure energy into mechanical energy.

“The natural mechanism of hydraulic control of fins could be very attractive in designing of new ‘smart’ control surfaces with changeable shape and stiffness,” Pavlov said. “This could, for example, enhance the maneuverability of the air and underwater unmanned vehicles.”

Rosental hopes to continue researching this lymphatic network to see if structures within it serve the same immunological purpose as lymph nodes in mammals. As part of their ongoing research on the physiology and biomechanics of tuna, the Block lab and the TRCC are currently placing high-tech camera tags with motion sensors on tuna to better understand their swimming kinematics.

Learn more: Stanford researchers discover biological hydraulic system in tuna fins

 

The Latest on: Smart control surfaces
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  • Smart flight control surfaces with microelectromechanical systems
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Jul 242017
 

© Martin Winkler
A: The H-cluster catalyzes the reaction of electrons (e-) and protons (H+) into molecular hydrogen (H2), or vice versa the cleavage of hydrogen into electrons and protons. B: Researchers have for a long time assumed that four catalytic intermediates of the hydrogenase must exist (numbers 1 to 4), intermediate 2 being the most important one: Hydrogen (H2) is unevenly cleaved into H+ and H-. The hydride ion (H-) is bound to the enzyme. Since intermediate 2 is highly unstable, it immediately transforms into intermediates 3 and 4. Unlike intermediates 1, 3 and 4, it has thus not been experimentally proven up to now. C: In order to verify that intermediate 2 does exist, the researchers shifted the chemical balance in favor of this intermediate. For this purpose, they increased the concentrations of hydrogen and protons (red arrows).

For years, researchers had assumed that a highly unstable intermediate state had to exist in the reaction. No one was able to verify this. Until now.

Researchers at Ruhr-Universität Bochum and the Freie Universität Berlin have clarified the crucial catalytic step in the production of hydrogen by enzymes. The enzymes, called [FeFe]-hydrogenases, efficiently turn electrons and protons into hydrogen. They are thus a candidate for the biotechnological production of the potential energy source. “In order to produce hydrogen on an industrial scale with the aid of enzymes, we must precisely understand how they work,” says Prof Dr Thomas Happe, one of the authors of the study.

The team led by Happe and Dr Martin Winkler from the Bochum-based Photobiotechnology Working Group reports on the results with Berlin-based colleagues led by Dr Sven Stripp in the journal Nature Communications.

Enzyme works in two directions

Hydrogenases can work in two directions: they turn protons and electrons into hydrogen, and also split hydrogen into protons and electrons. These reactions take place at the active centre of the hydrogenase, which is a complex structure comprising six iron and six sulphur atoms, called the H-cluster. During the catalytic process, this cluster passes through numerous intermediate states.

When molecular hydrogen (H2) is split, the hydrogen molecule initially bonds to the H-cluster. “Hydrogenase researchers were always convinced that H2 had to split unevenly in the first step of the reaction,” explains Martin Winkler. The idea: A positively charged proton (H+) and a negatively charged hydride ion (H) are created, which then continue to react quickly to form two protons and two electrons. “The hydride state of the active enzyme, in which the hydride ion is thus bonded to the active centre, is highly unstable – so far no one has been able to verify this,“ says Winkler. This is precisely what the researchers have now achieved.

Trick makes unstable state visible

Using a trick, they augmented the H-cluster state with the hydride ion, so that it could be verified spectroscopically. When hydrogen is split, a chemical equilibrium is achieved between the reaction partners involved – protons, hydride ions and hydrogen molecules. The concentrations of the three hydrogen states are determined by a dynamic equilibrium of catalytic H-cluster states. When the researchers added large quantities of protons and hydrogen to the mixture from outside, they tipped the balance – in favour of the hydride state. The active centre with the negatively charged hydride ion accumulated in a larger quantity; enough to be measurable.

The team also demonstrated the hydride intermediate state, which also occurs during hydrogen production, in further experiments with hydrogenases that had been altered in a specific manner.

“We were thus able to demonstrate the catalytic principle of these hydrogenases in an experiment for the first time,” summarises Thomas Happe. “This provides a crucial basis for reproducing the highly effective catalytic mechanism of the H-cluster for the industrial production of hydrogen.” The enzymes can convert up to 10,000 hydrogen molecules per second.

Learn more:How enzymes produce hydrogen

 

The Latest on: Hydrogen production
  • German team clarifies key catalytic step in enzymatic production of hydrogen
    on July 25, 2017 at 7:36 am

    Enzymes, called [FeFe]-hydrogenases, efficiently turn electrons and protons into hydrogen; they are thus a candidate for the biotechnological production of the potential energy source. For years, researchers had assumed that a highly unstable intermediate ... […]

  • Hyster-Yale Materials Handling, (NYSE:HY) Experiences Light Trading Volume
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  • How enzymes produce hydrogen
    on July 24, 2017 at 9:29 am

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  • Hydrogen Production in a Confined Space
    on July 23, 2017 at 7:22 am

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  • Hydrogen production in a confined space
    on July 21, 2017 at 3:30 am

    Figure 1: The encapsulation of noble metal nanoparticles in MoS2 by an in-situ reduction strategy. National University of Singapore chemists have developed a method to confine noble metal nanoparticles in layered, quasi-two-dimensional (2-D) materials for ... […]

  • McPhy Energy : McPhy enjoys further success on the rapidly developing on-site hydrogen production market for Power Plant Cooling applications
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Jul 232017
 

UBC Okanagan professor Mina Hoorfar at work in her Advanced Thermo-Fluidic lab.

Inexpensive and tiny devices inspect water quality in the distribution system

Researchers at UBC’s Okanagan campus have designed a tiny device —built using a 3D printer—that can monitor drinking water quality in real time and help protect against waterborne illness.

Prof. Mina Hoorfar, Director of the School of Engineering, says new research proves their miniaturized water quality sensors are cheap to make, can operate continuously and can be deployed anywhere in the water distribution system.

“Current water safety practice involves only periodic hand testing, which limits sampling frequency and leads to a higher probability of disease outbreak,” says Hoorfar. “Traditional water quality sensors have been too expensive and unreliable to use across an entire water system.”

Until now, that is. Tiny devices created in her Advanced Thermo-Fluidic lab at UBC’s Okanagan campus, are proving reliable and sturdy enough to provide accurate readings regardless of water pressure or temperature. The sensors are wireless, reporting back to the testing stations, and work independently—meaning that if one stops working, it does not bring down the whole system. And since they’re made using 3D printers, they are fast, inexpensive and easy to produce.

“This highly portable sensor system is capable of constantly measuring several water quality parameters such as turbidity, pH, conductivity, temperature, and residual chlorine, and sending the data to a central system wirelessly,” she adds. “It is a unique and effective technology that can revolutionize the water industry.”

While many urban purification plants have real-time monitoring sensors, they are upstream of the distribution system. Often, Hoorfar notes, the pressure at which water is supplied to the customer is much higher than what most sensors can tolerate. But her new sensors can be placed right at or within a customer’s home, providing a direct and precise layer of protection against unsafe water.

And when things go wrong, they can end tragically. More than 17 years ago, four people died, and hundreds became ill, after drinking E.coli-affected water in Walkerton, Ontario.

“Although the majority of water-related diseases occur in lower- or middle-income countries, water quality events in Walkerton, for example, raise serious questions about consistent water safety in even developed countries like Canada,” says Hoorfar. “Many of these tragedies could be prevented with frequent monitoring and early detection of pathogens causing the outbreak.”

Learn more: UBC researchers test 3D-printed water quality sensor

 

The Latest on: Water quality sensors
  • UBC researchers design 3D printed device for water safety monitoring
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  • Researchers Test Inexpensive 3D-Printed Miniature Water Quality Sensor
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  • UBC Researchers Test 3D-Printed Water Quality Sensor
    on July 20, 2017 at 8:46 am

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  • Researchers test 3-D-printed water quality sensor
    on July 19, 2017 at 6:34 am

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Jul 232017
 

3-D scanning using Dip Transform. The object is dipped in water (left) using a robot arm, acquiring a dip transform by which the object is reconstructed (right). The team’s method produces a complete reconstruction of the complex shape, including its hidden and inner regions.
CREDIT
Courtesy of ACM SIGGRAPH 2017

3-D shape acquisition using water displacement as the shape sensor for the reconstruction of complex objects

A global team of computer scientists and engineers have developed an innovative technique that more completely reconstructs challenging 3D objects. An ancient scientific breakthrough serves as the foundation for the team’s modern, innovative solution to remaining challenges in current 3D shape reconstruction. This new approach to 3D shape acquisition is based on the well-known fluid displacement discovery by Archimedes and turns modeling surface reconstruction into a volumetric problem. Most notably, their method accurately reconstructs even hidden parts of an object that typical 3D laser scanners are not able to capture.

The research, “Dip Transform for 3D Shape Reconstruction,” is authored by a team from Tel-Aviv University, Shandong University, Ben-Gurion University and University of British Columbia. They will present their work at SIGGRAPH 2017 in Los Angeles, 30 July to 3 August. An annual conference, SIGGRAPH spotlights the most innovative in computer graphics research and interactive techniques worldwide.

Traditional 3D shape acquisition or reconstruction methods are based on optical devices, most commonly, laser scanners and cameras that successfully sample the visible shape surface. But this common approach tends to be noisy and incomplete. Most devices can only scan what is visible to them but hidden parts of an object remain inaccessible to the scanner’s line of sight. For instance, a typical laser scanner cannot accurately capture the belly or underside of an elephant statue, which is hidden from its line of sight.

The team’s dip transform to reconstruct complex 3D shapes utilizes liquid, computing the volume of a 3D object versus its surface. By following this method, a more complete acquisition of an object, including hidden details, can be reconstructed in 3D. Liquid has no line of sight; it can penetrate cavities and hidden parts, and it treats transparent and glossy materials identically to opaque materials, thus bypassing the visibility and optical limitations of optical and laser-based scanning devices.

For the study, the team implemented a low-cost 3D dipping apparatus–objects in the water tank were dipped via a robotic arm. By dipping an object in the liquid along an axis, they were able to measure the displacement of the liquid volume and form that into a series of thin volume slices of the shape. By repeatedly dipping the object in the water at various angles, the researchers were able to capture the geometry of the given object, including the parts that would have normally been hidden by a laser or optical 3D scanner.

The team’s dip transform technique is related to computed tomography–an imaging method that uses optical systems for accurate scanning or to produce detailed pictures. However, the challenge with this more traditional method is that tomography-based devices are bulky and expensive and can only be used in a safe, customized environment. The team’s approach is both safe and inexpensive, and a much more appealing alternative for generating a complete shape at a low-computational cost using an innovative data collection method.

In the study, they demonstrated the new technique on 3D shapes with a range of complexity, including a hand balled up into a fist, a mother-child hugging and a DNA double helix. Their results show that the dip reconstructions are nearly as accurate as the original 3D model, paving the way to a new world of non-optical 3D shape acquisition techniques.

Learn more: 3-D scanning with water

 

The Latest on: 3D shape reconstruction
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  • 3-D scanning with water
    on July 21, 2017 at 11:18 am

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  • 3-D shape acquisition using water displacement as the shape sensor for the reconstruction of complex objects
    on July 21, 2017 at 10:23 am

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Jul 232017
 

via Rush University Medical Center

‘We’re not taking away the arthritis, just the arthritis pain’

Pain medicine specialists at Rush have helped develop, and are among the first in the country to provide, a noninvasive treatment for knee arthritis that uses cooled radio energy to target and interrupt pain signals.

Known as “Coolief,” the procedure can provide several months of relief from chronic arthritis pain for patients for whom surgery is not an option. It also decreases the need for a daily regimen of prescription medication and other over-the-counter pain-relieving drugs.

We’re not taking away the arthritis, just the arthritis pain,” said Dr. Amin Sandeep, a pain specialist at Rush University Medical Center and chairperson of the Department of Anesthesiology at Rush Oak Park Hospital. “We’re changing the wiring of the knee to interrupt the pain signal.”

For several years, Rush pain medicine physicians have treated many types of chronic pain with radiofrequency (RF) ablation technology, which uses the heat from radio wave energy to temporarily neutralize specific nerves that cause chronic pain. The innovative Coolief RF technology combines cold and heat energy to extend the pain-free period much longer.

During the Coolief procedure, minimallyinvasive needles and water-cooled electrodes inserted into the knee target three nerves responsible for sending pain signals to the brain. RF energy passes through the needle and ablates (heats) nerve tissue, greatly reducing those nerves’ ability to send pain signals to the brain for extended periods of time.

By also cooling the targeted area with the water-cooled electrodes, the Coolief procedure creates a treatment area that is larger than what occurs via conventional, heat-only RF treatments. That larger treatment area in turn extends the time the nerves need to resume sending pain signals.

This May, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Coolief as the first RF treatment specifically to alleviate chronic knee pain due to osteoarthritis. That was based primarily on a 2016 clinical study showing that the Coolief system was safe and provided higher levels of pain relief for much longer time periods than intra-articular corticosteroids (cortisone injections).  Dr. Asokumar Buvanendran, Rush’s director of orthopedic anesthesia, helped lead that study, and other physicians at Rush participated in it, as did several Rush patients.

Grandmother freed from pain, able to play with grandchildren

One of those patients is Felicia McLoden. For this 65-year-old grandmother, Coolief meant nearly instant relief from the excruciating pain in her right knee that for years had made simple tasks like grocery shopping or playing with her grandchildren impossible.

“The arthritis was so bad that I could barely step down without severe pain. I thought I was going to limp for the rest of my life,” McLoden said.

She felt nearly immediate relief after receiving Coolief treatment in May. “I can do things now. I don’t even know what I want to do, I just know it’s everything,” McLoden said.

Knee osteoarthritis afflicts 20 million in U.S.

Osteoarthritis is a painful condition in which the cartilage that cushions joints loses its elasticity and wears away in places. This loss makes bones rub together, causing pain, stiffness and swelling.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 million people in the United States suffer from osteoarthritis of the knee, with treatments ranging from increased activity to medication to knee joint replacement surgery for the most severe cases.  Each year, an estimated 700,000 of those people have knee joint replacement surgery.

While total knee joint replacement remains the best long term option for those with severe osteoarthritis of the knee, some people may not be candidates for surgery due to medical conditions such as diabetes, weight, other surgical risks, or are or are so young that a second knee replacement would be likely. “This procedure is proving to be a great option for those patients.” Amin said.

Learn more: Tuning Out Arthritis Pain With Radio Energy

 

The Latest on: Cooled radio energy

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Jul 232017
 

Plumes water ice and vapor spray from many locations near the south pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, as documented by the Cassini-Huygens mission.
Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Engineers explore ways to sample and identify living microbes in the outer solar system

We may be capable of finding microbes in space—but if we did, could we tell what they were, and that they were alive?

This month the journal Astrobiology is publishing a special issue dedicated to the search for signs of life on Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus. Included is a paper from Caltech’s Jay Nadeau and colleagues offering evidence that a technique called digital holographic microscopy, which uses lasers to record 3-D images, may be our best bet for spotting extraterrestrial microbes.

No probe since NASA’s Viking program in the late 1970s has explicitly searched for extraterrestrial life—that is, for actual living organisms. Rather, the focus has been on finding water. Enceladus has a lot of water—an ocean’s worth, hidden beneath an icy shell that coats the entire surface. But even if life does exist there in some microbial fashion, the difficulty for scientists on Earth is identifying those microbes from 790 million miles away.

“It’s harder to distinguish between a microbe and a speck of dust than you’d think,” says Nadeau, research professor of medical engineering and aerospace in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science. “You have to differentiate between Brownian motion, which is the random motion of matter, and the intentional, self-directed motion of a living organism.”

Enceladus is the sixth-largest moon of Saturn, and is 100,000 times less massive than Earth. As such, Enceladus has an escape velocity—the minimum speed needed for an object on the moon to escape its surface—of just 239 meters per second. That is a fraction of Earth’s, which is a little over 11,000 meters per second.


Professor Jay Nadeau describes her lab’s work and proposal to use new microscopes on spacecraft that could visit the icy moons of Enceladus (Saturn) and Europa (Jupiter) and to collect and search water samples for life.

Enceladus’s minuscule escape velocity allows for an unusual phenomenon: enormous geysers, venting water vapor through cracks in the moon’s icy shell, regularly jet out into space. When the Saturn probe Cassini flew by Enceladus in 2005, it spotted water vapor plumes in the south polar region blasting icy particles at nearly 2,000 kilometers per hour to an altitude of nearly 500 kilometers above the surface. Scientists calculated that as much as 250 kilograms of water vapor were released every second in each plume. Since those first observations, more than a hundred geysers have been spotted. This water is thought to replenish Saturn’s diaphanous E ring, which would otherwise dissipate quickly, and was the subject of a recent announcement by NASA describing Enceladus as an “ocean world” that is the closest NASA has come to finding a place with the necessary ingredients for habitability.

Water blasting out into space offers a rare opportunity, says Nadeau. While landing on a foreign body is difficult and costly, a cheaper and easier option might be to send a probe to Enceladus and pass it through the jets, where it would collect water samples that could possibly contain microbes.

Assuming a probe were to do so, it would open up a few questions for engineers like Nadeau, who studies microbes in extreme environments. Could microbes survive a journey in one of those jets? If so, how could a probe collect samples without destroying those microbes? And if samples are collected, how could they be identified as living cells?

The problem with searching for microbes in a sample of water is that they can be difficult to identify. “The hardest thing about bacteria is that they just don’t have a lot of cellular features,” Nadeau says. Bacteria are usually blob-shaped and always tiny—smaller in diameter than a strand of hair. “Sometimes telling the difference between them and sand grains is very difficult,” Nadeau says.

Some strategies for demonstrating that a microscopic speck is actually a living microbe involve searching for patterns in its structure or studying its specific chemical composition. While these methods are useful, they should be used in conjunction with direct observations of potential microbes, Nadeau says.

“Looking at patterns and chemistry is useful, but I think we need to take a step back and look for more general characteristics of living things, like the presence of motion. That is, if you see an E. coli, you know that it is alive—and not, say, a grain of sand—because of the way it is moving,” she says. In earlier work, Nadeau suggested that the movement exhibited by many living organisms could potentially be used as a robust, chemistry-independent biosignature for extraterrestrial life. The motion of living organisms can also be triggered or enhanced by “feeding” the microbes electrons and watching them grow more active.

To study the motion of potential microbes from Enceladus’s plumes, Nadeau proposes using an instrument called a digital holographic microscope that has been modified specifically for astrobiology.

In digital holographic microscopy, an object is illuminated with a laser and the light that bounces off the object and back to a detector is measured. This scattered light contains information about the amplitude (the intensity) of the scattered light, and about its phase (a separate property that can be used to tell how far the light traveled after it scattered). With the two types of information, a computer can reconstruct a 3-D image of the object—one that can show motion through all three dimensions.

“Digital holographic microscopy allows you to see and track even the tiniest of motions,” Nadeau says. Furthermore, by tagging potential microbes with fluorescent dyes that bind to broad classes of molecules that are likely to be indicators of life—proteins, sugars, lipids, and nucleic acids—”you can tell what the microbes are made of,” she says.

To study the technology’s potential utility for analyzing extraterrestrial samples, Nadeau and her colleagues obtained samples of frigid water from the Arctic, which is sparsely populated with bacteria; those that are present are rendered sluggish by the cold temperatures.

With holographic microscopy, Nadeau was able to identify organisms with population densities of just 1,000 cells per milliliter of volume, similar to what exists in some of the most extreme environments on Earth, such as subglacial lakes.  For comparison, the open ocean contains about 10,000 cells per milliliter and a typical pond might have 1–10 million cells per milliliter. That low threshold for detection, coupled with the system’s ability to test a lot of samples quickly (at a rate of about one milliliter per hour) and its few moving parts, makes it ideal for astrobiology, Nadeau says.

Next, the team will attempt to replicate their results using samples from other microbe-poor regions on Earth, such as Antarctica.

Learn more: Holographic Imaging Could Be Used to Detect Signs of Life in Space

 

The Latest on: Holographic microscopy
  • Scientists create a holographic microscope to find aliens
    on July 24, 2017 at 7:32 am

    Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) are creating a new microscope technology they hope will empirically determine if life exists beyond our planet. The device is called a Digital Holographic Microscope and it’s designed to ... […]

  • 3D holography may help spot alien life
    on July 24, 2017 at 4:44 am

    To study the motion of potential microbes from Enceladus's plumes, Nadeau proposed using an instrument called a digital holographic microscope that has been modified specifically for astrobiology. In digital holographic microscopy, an object is illuminated ... […]

  • Caltech scientists working on new microscope in search for alien life
    on July 24, 2017 at 2:31 am

    Called digital holographic microscopy (DHM), it is, according to their publication, a technique that has a much better output when compared to traditional microscopes. The device, currently in development, has no moving parts, so it can be put to use in ... […]

  • Holographic imaging could be used to detect signs of life in space
    on July 23, 2017 at 8:58 am

    Engineers say a method called digital holographic microscopy could be used to detect living microbes in space. We may be capable of finding microbes in space -- but if we did, could we tell what they were, and that they were alive? This month the journal ... […]

  • How Best to Spot Extraterrestrial Microbes?
    on July 22, 2017 at 7:04 am

    Use of digital holographic microscopy, using lasers to record 3-D images, may be our best bet for spotting extraterrestrial microbes. The technique is being advocated by Caltech’s Jay Nadeau and colleagues as a way to sample and identify living microbes ... […]

  • New NASA Alien-Life Search --"1st Probe Since Viking Mission to Search for Actual Living Organisms"
    on July 22, 2017 at 1:00 am

    Included is a paper from Caltech's Jay Nadeau and colleagues offering evidence that a technique called digital holographic microscopy, which uses lasers to record 3-D images, may be our best bet for spotting extraterrestrial microbes. Enceladus is the ... […]

  • NASA says Digital Holographic Microscopy may aid in detecting Life on another Planet
    on July 21, 2017 at 11:33 pm

    Pasadena, CA – If a space probe detected microbial life on another planet, would scientists know it when they saw it? Identifying bacteria by sight is challenging enough on Earth, even for experts. To the naked eye, bacteria look like featureless blobs ... […]

  • Holographic Microscope Might Be Able To Detect Life On Icy Moons
    on July 21, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    A new research article out of California University of Technology suggests that holographic imaging could be the key to finding extraterrestrial life on Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, and others like it. The moon is covered in ice, but under that crust is a ... […]

  • Caltech Professor: Holographic Imaging Could Be Used to Detect Signs of Life in Space
    on July 21, 2017 at 6:52 am

    Included is a paper from Caltech’s Jay Nadeau and colleagues offering evidence that a technique called digital holographic microscopy, which uses lasers to record 3-D images, may be our best bet for spotting extraterrestrial microbes. No probe since NASA ... […]

  • Space probes with digital holographic microscopes could be used to detect alien organisms
    on July 20, 2017 at 8:54 pm

    coli, you know that it is alive—and not, say, a grain of sand—because of the way it is moving. Digital holographic microscopy allows you to see and track even the tiniest of motions.” To demonstrate the technique, Nadeau used samples of water from ... […]

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Jul 222017
 

Transmission electron microscope image showing the ultrathin layers of black phosphorus used in the energy harvesting device An angstrom (Å) is about the width of a single atom and is one tenth of a nanometer (nm). (Nanomaterials and Energy Devices Laboratory / Vanderbilt)

Imagine slipping into a jacket, shirt or skirt that powers your cell phone, fitness tracker and other personal electronic devices as you walk, wave and even when you are sitting down.

A new, ultrathin energy harvesting system developed at Vanderbilt University’s Nanomaterials and Energy Devices Laboratory has the potential to do just that. Based on battery technology and made from layers of black phosphorus that are only a few atoms thick, the new device generates small amounts of electricity when it is bent or pressed even at the extremely low frequencies characteristic of human motion.

“In the future, I expect that we will all become charging depots for our personal devices by pulling energy directly from our motions and the environment,” said Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Cary Pint, who directed the research.

The new energy harvesting system is described in a paper titled “Ultralow Frequency Electrochemical Mechanical Strain Energy Harvester using 2D Black Phosphorus Nanosheets” published Jul. 21 online by the journal ACS Energy Letters.

“This is timely and exciting research given the growth of wearable devices such as exoskeletons and smart clothing, which could potentially benefit from Dr. Pint’s advances in materials and energy harvesting,” observed Karl Zelik, assistant professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering at Vanderbilt, an expert on the biomechanics of locomotion who did not participate in the device’s development.

Graduate student Kathleen Moyer holds up the guts of the ultrathin energy harvesting device in a glove box. It is so thin it can be embedded in fabric. (John Russell / Vanderbilt)

Currently, there is a tremendous amount of research aimed at discovering effective ways to tap ambient energy sources. These include mechanical devices designed to extract energy from vibrations and deformations; thermal devices aimed at pulling energy from temperature variations; radiant energy devices that capture energy from light, radio waves and other forms of radiation; and, electrochemical devices that tap biochemical reactions.

“Compared to the other approaches designed to harvest energy from human motion, our method has two fundamental advantages,” said Pint. “The materials are atomically thin and small enough to be impregnated into textiles without affecting the fabric’s look or feel and it can extract energy from movements that are slower than 10 Hertz—10 cycles per second—over the whole low-frequency window of movements corresponding to human motion.”

“When you look at Usain Bolt, you see the fastest man on Earth. When I look at him, I see a machine working at 5 Hertz,”Doctoral students Nitin Muralidharan and Mengya Lico-led the effort to make and test the devices. “When you look at Usain Bolt, you see the fastest man on Earth. When I look at him, I see a machine working at 5 Hertz,” said Muralidharan.

Extracting usable energy from such low frequency motion has proven to be extremely challenging. For example, a number of research groups are developing energy harvesters based on piezoelectric materials that convert mechanical strain into electricity. However, these materials often work best at frequencies of more than 100 Hertz. This means that they don’t work for more than a tiny fraction of any human movement so they achieve limited efficiencies of less than 5-10 percent even under optimal conditions.

“Our harvester is calculated to operate at over 25 percent efficiency in an ideal device configuration, and most importantly harvest energy through the whole duration of even slow human motions, such as sitting or standing,” Pint said.

The Vanderbilt lab’s ultrathin energy harvester is based on the group’s research on advanced battery systems. Over the past 3 years, the team has explored the fundamental response of battery materials to bending and stretching. They were the first to demonstrate experimentally that the operating voltage changes when battery materials are placed under stress. Under tension, the voltage rises and under compression, it drops.

Graduate students Mengya Li and Nitin Muralidharan adjust the energy harvesting device on the arm of undergraduate Thomas Metke while Professor Cary Pint looks on. (John Russell / Vanderbilt)

The team collaborated with Greg Walker, associate professor of mechanical engineering, who used computer models to validate these observations for lithium battery materials. Results of the study were published Jun. 27 in the journal ACS Nano in an article titled “The MechanoChemistry of Lithium Battery Electrodes.”

These observations led Pint’s team to reconstruct the battery with both positive and negative electrodes made from the same material. Although this prevents the device from storing energy, it allows it to fully exploit the voltage changes caused by bending and twisting and so produce significant amounts of electrical current in response to human motions.

The lab’s initial studies were published in 2016. They were further inspired by a parallel breakthrough by a group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who produced a postage-stamp-sized device out of silicon and lithium that harvested energy via the effect Pint and his team were investigating.

In response, the Vanderbilt researchers decided to go as thin as possible by using black phosphorus nanosheets: A material has become the latest darling of the 2D materials research community because of its attractive electrical, optical and electrochemical properties.

Graph showing the operating ranges of different types of energy harvesting devices. The red stars denote piezoelectric devices that use crystals which produce electricity when deformed. The blue circle represents another solid-state device called an ionic diode that generates electricity when compressed. The orange triangles depict triboelectric nanogenerators that produce electricity by sliding friction. The purple circles show the performance of the ultrathin strain harvester developed at Vanderbilt. (Nanomaterials and Energy Devices Laboratory / Vanderbilt)

Because the basic building blocks of the harvester are about 1/5000th the thickness of a human hair, the engineers can make their devices as thin or as thick as needed for specific applications. They have found that bending their prototype devices produces as much as 40 microwatts per square foot and can sustain current generation over the full duration of movements as slow as 0.01 Hertz, one cycle every 100 seconds.

The researchers acknowledge that one of the challenges they face is the relatively low voltage that their device produces. It’s in the millivolt range. However, they are applying their fundamental insights of the process to step up the voltage. They are also exploring the design of electrical components, like LCD displays, that operate at lower than normal voltages.

“One of the peer reviewers for our paper raised the question of safety,” Pint said. “That isn’t a problem here. Batteries usually catch on fire when the positive and negative electrodes are shorted, which ignites the electrolyte. Because our harvester has two identical electrodes, shorting it will do nothing more than inhibit the device from harvesting energy. It is true that our prototype will catch on fire if you put it under a blowtorch but we can eliminate even this concern by using a solid-state electrolyte.”

Engineering undergraduate Thomas Metke demonstrates the ultrathin energy harvesting device. The device is taped across his elbow. The electrical current that it generates when he pumps his arm is displayed on the computer monitor. (John Russell / Vanderbilt)

One of the more futuristic applications of this technology might be electrified clothing. It could power clothes impregnated with liquid crystal displays that allow wearers to change colors and patterns with a swipe on their smartphone. “We are already measuring performance within the ballpark for the power requirement for a medium-sized low-power LCD display when scaling the performance to thickness and areas of the clothes we wear.” Pint said.

Pint also believes there are potential applications for their device beyond power systems. “When incorporated into clothing, our device can translate human motion into an electrical signal with high sensitivity that could provide a historical record of our movements. Or clothes that track our motions in three dimensions could be integrated with virtual reality technology. There are many directions that this could go.”

Learn more: Ultrathin device harvests electricity from human motion

 

The Latest on: Energy harvesting device
  • Transducers and Secondary Batteries to Hold a Larger Share of the Energy Harvesting System Market by 2023
    on July 25, 2017 at 6:55 am

    The major factors driving the growth of the energy harvesting system market include the growing demand for safe, power-efficient, and durable systems that require minimum or no maintenance, extensive implementation of IoT devices in automation and energy ... […]

  • Now Charge Your Smartphone By Walking, Moving; Amazon Patents Robots Which Will Charge Your Phone
    on July 25, 2017 at 6:41 am

    The power roundup: New developments in the battery space (Vanderbilt undergraduate Thomas Metke demonstrates the ultrathin energy harvesting device which is taped across his elbow. As he flexes his arm the current the device generates is displayed on the ... […]

  • Energy-harvesting bracelet could power wearable electronics
    on July 25, 2017 at 6:32 am

    (Left) Broken-out sectional view of the energy-harvesting bracelet, in which magnets moving through ... lifetime of personal electronics or even fully power some of these devices. The researchers, Zhiyi Wu and coauthors at Chongqing University of ... […]

  • Jennova Inc. Discusses Energy Harvesting at Methods & Opportunities at IDTechEx Sensors Conference in Berlin, Germany
    on July 25, 2017 at 4:32 am

    Where other energy harvesting methods are limited due to their size or positioning in the application, rotational EH devices can be cost-effectively installed to gather energy that would otherwise be lost in physical motion. This includes the operation of ... […]

  • Device could use your motion to charge phone
    on July 25, 2017 at 3:07 am

    Researchers have made an ultrathin energy harvesting system that can generate small amounts of electricity when it is bent or pressed, even at the very low frequencies that characterize human motion. The device could lead to clothing that uses motion to ... […]

  • Tapping Energy Out of Human Movement
    on July 24, 2017 at 7:38 am

    Transmission electron microscope image showing the ultrathin layers of black phosphorus used in the energy harvesting device. An angstrom (Å) is about the width of a single atom and is one tenth of a nanometer (nm). CREDIT: Nanomaterials and Energy ... […]

  • Energy Harvesting Market Could Farm $645.8 Million
    on July 24, 2017 at 7:31 am

    The growing demand for safe, power-efficient, and durable systems that require minimum or no maintenance and extensive implementation of IoT devices in automation and energy harvesting technology in building and home automation are expected to generate a ... […]

  • Vanderbilt’s Ultrathin Energy Device Harvests Electricity from Human Motion
    on July 24, 2017 at 7:14 am

    Vanderbilt University scientists have built a new ultrathin energy harvesting system that powers itself when ... layers of black phosphorus that are only a few atoms thick, the new device generates small amounts of electricity when it is bent or pressed ... […]

  • Device that can harvest electricity from human motion
    on July 23, 2017 at 5:20 am

    Researchers from Nanomaterials and Energy Devices Laboratory of US-based Vanderbilt University have developed an ultra-thin energy harvesting system that can generate small amounts of electricity when the system is bent or pressed even at extremely low ... […]

  • Ultrathin device harvests electricity from human motion
    on July 20, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    A new electrochemical energy harvesting device can generate electrical current from the full range of human motions and is thin enough to embed in clothing. Imagine slipping into a jacket, shirt or skirt that powers your cell phone, fitness tracker and ... […]

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Jul 222017
 

via BBC

Decades before people with Alzheimer’s disease develop memory loss and confusion, their brains become dotted with plaques made of a sticky protein – called amyloid beta – that is thought to contribute to the disease and its progression.

Currently, the only way to detect amyloid beta in the brain is via PET scanning, which is expensive and not widely available, or a spinal tap, which is invasive and requires a specialized medical procedure. But now, a study led by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggests that measures of amyloid beta in the blood have the potential to help identify people with altered levels of amyloid in their brains or cerebrospinal fluid.

Ideally, a blood-based screening test would identify people who have started down the path toward Alzheimer’s years before they could be diagnosed based on symptoms.

“Our results demonstrate that this amyloid beta blood test can detect if amyloid has begun accumulating in the brain,” said Randall J. Bateman, MD, the Charles F. and Joanne Knight Distinguished Professor of Neurology and the study’s senior author. “This is exciting because it could be the basis for a rapid and inexpensive blood screening test to identify people at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.”

The findings will be announced July 19 at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London and published online in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

As the brain engages in daily tasks, it continually produces and clears away amyloid beta. Some is washed into the blood, and some floats in the cerebrospinal fluid, for example. If amyloid starts building up, though, it can collect into plaques that stick to neurons, triggering neurological damage.

A blood test would be cheaper and less invasive than PET scans or spinal taps, but previous studies have found that measures of total levels of amyloid beta in the blood don’t correlate with levels in the brain.

So Bateman and colleagues measured blood levels of three amyloid subtypes – amyloid beta 38, amyloid beta 40 and amyloid beta 42 — using highly precise measurement by mass spectrometry to see if any correlated with levels of amyloid in the brain.

The researchers studied 41 people ages 60 and older. Twenty-three were amyloid-positive, meaning they had signs of cognitive impairment. PET scans or spinal taps in these patients also had detected the presence of amyloid plaques in the brain or amyloid alterations in the cerebrospinal fluid. The researchers also measured amyloid subtypes in 18 people who had no buildup of amyloid in the brain.

To measure amyloid levels, production and clearance over time, the researchers drew 20 blood samples from each person over a 24-hour period. They found that levels of amyloid beta 42 relative to amyloid beta 40 were consistently 10 to 15 percent lower in the people with amyloid plaques.

“Amyloid plaques are composed primarily of amyloid beta 42, so this probably means that it is being deposited in the brain before moving into the bloodstream,” Bateman said.

“The differences are not big, but they are highly consistent,” he explained. “Our method is very sensitive, and particularly when you have many repeated samples as in this study — more than 500 samples overall — we can be highly confident that the difference is real. Even a single sample can distinguish who has amyloid plaques.”

By averaging the ratio of amyloid beta 42 to amyloid beta 40 over each individual’s 20 samples, the researchers could classify people accurately as amyloid-positive or -negative 89 percent of the time.  On average, any single time point was also about 86 percent accurate.

Amyloid plaques are one of the two characteristic signs of Alzheimer’s disease; the other sign is the presence of tangles of a brain protein known as tau. David Holtzman, MD, the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and head of the Department of Neurology at the School of Medicine, is developing a blood-based test for tau that could complement the amyloid test.

“If we had a blood test for tau as well, we could combine them to get an even better idea of who is most at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease,” Bateman said. “That would be a huge step forward in our ability to predict, and maybe even prevent, Alzheimer’s disease.”

The Latest on: Alzheimer’s

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