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How the brain’s wiring leads to cognitive control

The human brain resembles a flock of birds
October 5, 2015

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How does the brain determine which direction its thoughts travel? Looking for the mechanisms behind cognitive control of thought, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, University of California, Riverside and Santa Barbara and United States Army Research Laboratory have used brain scans to shed new light on this question.

By using structural imaging techniques to convert brain scans into “wiring diagrams”… read more

First two-qubit logic gate built in silicon

Overcomes crucial hurdle in quantum computing, making silicon quantum computers a reality
October 5, 2015

This is an artist's impression of the two-qubit logic gate device developed at UNSW. Each electron qubit (red and blue in the image) has a 'spin', or magnetic field, indicated by the arrows. Metal electrodes on the surface are used to manipulate the qubits, which interact to create an 'entangled' quantum state. (credit: Tony Melov/UNSW)

University of New South Wales (UNSW) and Keio University engineers have built the first quantum logic gate in silicon, making calculations between two qubits* of information possible and clearing the final hurdle to making silicon quantum computers a reality.

The significant advance appears today (Oct. 5, 2015) in the journal Nature.

“What we have is a game changer,” said team leader Andrewread more

Fusion reactors ‘economically viable’ in a few decades, say experts

Could replace nuclear reactors and fossil fuels
October 5, 2015

An illustration of a tokamak with plasma (credit: ITER Organization)

Fusion reactors could become an economically viable means of generating electricity within a few decades, replacing conventional nuclear power stations, according to new research at Durham University and Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire, U.K.

The research, published in the journal Fusion Engineering and Design, builds on earlier findings that a fusion power plant could generate electricity at a price similar to that of a fission plant… read more

How to grow a functional 3-D mini-brain for 25 cents

An easy-to-make 3-D testbed for biomedical research such as drug testing, testing neural tissue transplants, or experimenting with how stem cells work
October 2, 2015

A bioengineering team at Brown University has grown 3-D “mini-brains” of neurons and supporting cells that form networks and are electrically active. This reconstruction of confocal images of a 21 day-in-vitro 3D cortical neural spheroid shows β-III-butulin+ neurons in red, GFAP+ astrocytes in green, and DAPI-stained nuclei in blue. (credit: Hoffman-Kim lab/Brown University)

Brown University scientists have developed a “mini-brain” — an accessible method for making a working sphere of central nervous system tissue and providing an inexpensive, easy-to-make 3-D testbed for biomedical research such as drug testing, testing neural tissue transplants, or experimenting with how stem cells work. (No, they don’t think. Yet.)

Mini-brains (cortical neural spheroids) produce electrical signals and form their own synapses. “We think of this… read more

Vertical ‘light antennas’ grown from organic semiconductor crystals

Could absorb light from all directions, improving solar cells and photosensors
October 2, 2015

In full bloom: A scanning electron microscopy image produced by Jessica Wang of a vertical tetraanaline semiconductor crystal (credit: Jessica Wang)

Materials scientists from the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA have discovered a way to make organic (carbon-based) semiconductors more powerful and efficient by creating “light antennas.” The thin, pole-like devices could absorb light from all directions, an improvement over today’s wide, flat panels that can only absorb light from one surface.

The breakthrough was in creating an improved structure for one type of organic semiconductor: a building… read more

Method to replace silicon with carbon nanotubes developed by IBM Research

Could work down to the 1.8 nanometer node in the future
October 2, 2015

Schematic of a set of molybdenum end-contacted nanotube transistors (Qing Cao et al./Science)

IBM Research has announced a “major engineering breakthrough” that could lead to carbon nanotubes replacing silicon transistors in future computing technologies.

As transistors shrink in size, electrical resistance increases within the contacts, which impedes performance. So IBM researchers invented a metallurgical process similar to microscopic welding that chemically binds the contact’s metal (molybdenum) atoms to the carbon atoms at the ends of nanotubes.

The new method promises… read more

Study of protein folds adds to evidence that viruses are alive and ancient

Scientists estimate there are more than a million viral species, but less than 4,900 viruses have been identified and sequenced
October 1, 2015


Viruses are actually living entities that share a long evolutionary history with cells, researchers report in a study that traces viral evolution back to a time when neither viruses nor cells existed in the forms recognized today.

The new findings appear in an open-access paper in the journal Science Advances.

Some scientists have argued that viruses are nonliving entities, bits of DNA and RNA shed by… read more

New test detects almost all viruses that infect people, animals

Additional research needed to validate the test accuracy
October 1, 2015

A new test developed at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis can detect virtually any virus that infects people and animals, including the Ebola virus (above). (credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

A new test that detects virtually any virus that infects people and animals has been developed at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Current tests aren’t sensitive enough to detect low virus levels or are limited to detecting only those viruses suspected of being responsible for a patient’s illness.

“With this test, you don’t have to know what you’re looking for,” said the study’s… read more

Invisibility cloak may enhance efficiency of solar cells

October 1, 2015

A special invisibility cloak (right) guides sunlight past the contacts for current removal to the active surface area of the solar cell. (credit: Graphics: Martin Schumann, KIT)

A new approach to increasing solar-cell panel efficiency using an “invisibility cloak” has been developed by scientists at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany.

Up to one tenth of the surface area of solar cells is typically covered by “contact fingers” that extract current generated by solar cells. The fingers block some of the light from the active area of the solar cell, decreasing cell efficiency. By guiding… read more

A promising new 2-D semiconductor material

Berkeley Lab researchers produce first ultrathin sheets of perovskite hybrids
September 30, 2015

Ultrathin sheets of a new 2-D hybrid perovskite are square-shaped and relatively large in area, properties that should facilitate their integration into future electronic devices. (credit: Peidong Yang, Berkeley Lab)

The first atomically thin 2D sheets of organic-inorganic hybrid perovskites have been created by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) researchers, adding to the growing list of two-dimensional semiconductors, such as graphene, boron nitride, and molybdenum disulfide, whose unique electronic properties make them potential successors to silicon in future devices.

However, unlike the other contenders, which are covalent semiconductors,… read more

‘Designless’ nanoscale logic circuits resemble Darwinian evolution and neural networks

September 30, 2015

Schematic of a nanoparticle network (about 200 nanometres in diameter). By applying electrical signals at the electrodes (yellow), and using artificial evolution, this disordered network can be configured into useful electronic circuits. (credit: University of Twente)

Researchers at the University of Twente in The Netherlands have designed and demonstrated working electronic logic circuits produced using methods that resemble Darwinian evolution and neural networks like the human brain.

In a radical “designless” approach, the researchers used a 200-nanometer-wide cluster of 20-nanometer gold nanoparticles. They applied a series of voltages to eight electrodes and determined the resulting set of 16 different two-input Boolean logic gates.… read more

Living implants

September 29, 2015

Development of a CB[8]-addressable bacterial strain (credit: Shrikrishnan Sankaran et al./ACS Nano)

A method for merging bacteria in human cells as “living implants” has been developed by University of Twente researchers. The implants could include stents equipped with bacteria on which endothelial cells (cells that form the lining of blood vessels) can grow, or bacteria that can release medicines in specific parts of the body.

They achieved this by supramolecular assembly, modifying the DNA of E. coli bacteria in such a… read more

A biomimetic dental prosthesis

September 29, 2015

Cross section of the artificial tooth under an electron microscope (false colour): Ceramic platelets in the enamel are orientated vertically. In the dentin, they are aligned horizontally. (credit: Hortense Le Ferrand/ETH Zürich)

A new procedure that can mimic the complex fine structure of biological composite materials, such as teeth or seashells, has been developed by ETH Zurich researchers. It could allow for creating synthetic materials that are as hard and tough as their natural counterparts.

The secret of these hard natural biomaterials is in their unique fine structure: they are composed of different layers in which numerous micro-platelets are… read more

First optical ‘rectenna’ converts light to DC current

As an array of billions of carbon nanotubes, they could efficiently capture solar energy
September 28, 2015

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Using nanometer-scale components, Georgia Institute of Technology researchers have demonstrated the first optical rectenna, a device that combines the functions of an antenna and a rectifier diode to convert light directly into DC current.

Based on multiwall carbon nanotubes and tiny rectifiers fabricated onto them, the optical rectennas could provide a new technology for energy harvesters, including photodetectors that would operate without the need for… read more

Ultrafast lasers enable 3-D micropatterning of biocompatible hydrogels

Allows for high-resolution and scalability for engineering tissue scaffolds and implants
September 28, 2015

Illustration of laser-based micropatterning of silk hydrogels. The transparent gels enable the laser's photons to be absorbed more than 10 times deeper than with other materials, without damaging the cells surrounding the "Tufts" pattern. (credit: M.B. A)

Tufts University biomedical engineers have developed low-energy, ultrafast laser technology for micropatterning high-resolution, 3-D structures in silk-protein hydrogels.

Micropatterning is used to bring oxygen and nutrients to rapidly proliferating cells in an engineered tissue scaffold. The goal is “to controllably guide cell growth and create an artificial vasculature (blood vessel system) within an already densely seeded silk hydrogel,” said Fiorenzo G. Omenetto, Ph.D., senior author… read more

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