science + technology news

Holographic sonic tractor beam lifts and moves objects using soundwaves

Another science-fiction idea realized
October 27, 2015

Holograms are tridimensional light-fields that can be projected from a two-dimensional surface (credit: Asier Marzo, Bruce Drinkwater and Sriram Subramanian © 2015)

British researchers have built a working Star-Trek-style “tractor beam” — a device that can attract or repel one object to another from a distance. It uses high-amplitude soundwaves to generate an acoustic hologram that can grasp and move small objects.

The technique, published in an open-access paper in Nature Communications October 27, has a wide range of potential applications, the researchers say. A sonic production line could… read more

Longer-lasting, lighter lithium-ion batteries from silicon anodes

October 27, 2015

electrode made of SiNP SG PAN-ft

Zhongwei Chen, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Waterloo, and a team of graduate students have created a new low-cost battery design using silicon instead of graphite, boosting the performance and life of lithium-ion batteries.

Waterloo’s silicon battery technology promises a 40 to 60 per cent increase in energy density (energy storage per unit volume), which is important for consumers with smartphones, smart… read more

Up to 27 seconds of inattention after talking to your car or smartphone

Distraction rated "high" for most devices while driving
October 26, 2015

Mazda 2015 dashboard, allowing GPS audio and video display (credit: Landmark MAZDA)

If you think it is okay to talk to your car infotainment system or smartphone while driving or even when stopped at a red light, think again. It takes up to 27 seconds to regain full attention after issuing voice commands, University of Utah researchers found in two new studies for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

One of the studies showed that it is highly distracting to use… read more

How to fall gracefully if you’re a robot

October 26, 2015

Robot braces its fall based on new algorithm (credit: Georgia Institute of Technology)

Georgia Tech | Algorithm allows robot to fall gracefully

Researchers at Georgia Tech are teaching robots how to fall with grace and without serious damage.

This is becoming important as costly robots become more common in manufacturing, healthcare, and domestic tasks.

Ph.D. graduate Sehoon Ha and Professor Karen Liu developed a new algorithm that tells a robot how to react to a wide variety of falls, from… read more

A drug-delivery technique to bypass the blood-brain barrier

Could benefit a large population of patients with neurodegenerative disorders
October 26, 2015


Researchers at Massachusetts Eye and Ear/Harvard Medical School and Boston University have developed a new technique to deliver drugs across the blood-brain barrier and have successfully tested it in a Parkinson’s mouse model (a line of mice that has been genetically modified to express the symptoms and pathological features of Parkinson’s to various extents).

Their findings, published in the journal Neurosurgery, lend hope to patients with… read more

Creating an artificial sense of touch by electrical stimulation of the brain

DARPA-funded study may lead to building prosthetic limbs for humans using a direct brain-electrode interface to recreate the sense of touch
October 26, 2015

(credit: DARPA)

Neuroscientists in a project headed by the University of Chicago have determined some of the specific characteristics of electrical stimuli that should be applied to the brain to produce different sensations in an artificial upper limb intended to restore natural motor control and sensation in amputees.

The research is part of Revolutionizing Prosthetics, a multi-year Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).… read more

Cobalt atoms on graphene: a low-cost catalyst for producing hydrogen from water

Rice University catalyst may lead to clean, inexpensive hydrogen production for fuel cells
October 23, 2015

A new catalyst just 15 microns thick has proven nearly as effective as platinum-based catalysts but at a much lower cost, according to scientists at Rice University. The catalyst is made of nitrogen-doped graphene with individual cobalt atoms that activate the process. (credit: Tour Group/Rice University)

Graphene doped with nitrogen and augmented with cobalt atoms has proven to be an effective, durable catalyst for the production of hydrogen from water, according to scientists at Rice University.

The Rice University lab of chemist James Tour and colleagues has developed a robust, solid-state catalyst that shows promise to replace expensive platinum for hydrogen generation. (Catalysts can split water into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen atoms, a process… read more

How to 3-D print a heart

October 23, 2015

Coronary artery structure being 3-D bioprinted (credit: Carnegie Mellon University College of Engineering)

Carnegie Mellon scientists are creating cutting-edge technology that could one day solve the shortage of heart transplants, which are currently needed to repair damaged organs.

“We’ve been able to take MRI images of coronary arteries and 3-D images of embryonic hearts and 3-D bioprint them with unprecedented resolution and quality out of very soft materials like collagens, alginates and fibrins,” said Adam Feinberg, an… read more

This microrobot could be a model for a future dual aerial-aquatic vehicle

It flies. It dives. It swims. It's a flapping-wing insect-size microbot. It's ... RobotBee!
October 23, 2015

The Harvard RoboBee: a potential dual aerial-aquatic vehicle (credit: Harvard Microrobotics Lab)

In 1939, Russian engineer Boris Ushakov proposed a “flying submarine” — a cool James Bond-style vehicle that could seamlessly transition from air to water and back again. Ever since, engineers have been trying to design one, with little success. The biggest challenge: aerial vehicles require large airfoils like wings or sails to generate lift, while underwater vehicles need to minimize surface area to reduce drag.

Engineers at the … read more

Mass extinctions linked to comet and asteroid showers

October 22, 2015

Mass extinctions occurring over the past 260 million years were likely caused by comet and asteroid showers, a new study concludes. An artist's illustration of a major asteroid impact on Earth. (credit: NASA/Don Davis)

Mass extinctions occurring over the past 260 million years were likely caused by comet and asteroid showers, scientists conclude in a new study published in an open-access paper in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

For more than 30 years, scientists have argued about a controversial hypothesis relating to periodic mass extinctions and impact craters — caused by comet and asteroid showers — on Earth.

In… read more

Largest astronomical image to date contains 46 billion pixels

Accessible for online viewing
October 22, 2015

A small section of the Milky Way photo showing Eta Carinae (credit: Lehrstuhl für Astrophysik, RUB)

Astronomers at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany have compiled the largest astronomical image to date: a picture of the Milky Way containing 46 billion pixels, viewable here (you can enter an object name, such as “Eta Carinae,” in the lower-left box).

The image was generated over a period of five years of astronomical observations by two telescopes at Bochum’s university observatory in the Atacama Desert… read more

Custom 3-D printed ear models help surgeons carve new ears

October 21, 2015

Children with under-formed or missing ears can undergo surgeries to fashion a new ear from rib cartilage, as shown in the above photo. But aspiring surgeons lack lifelike practice models. (credit: University of Washington)

A University of Washington (UW) otolaryngology resident and a bioengineering student have used 3-D printing to create a low-cost pediatric rib cartilage model that more closely resembles the feel of real cartilage, which is used in an operation called auricular reconstruction (ear replacement).

The innovation could make it possible for aspiring surgeons to become proficient in the sought-after but challenging procedure. And because the UW… read more

Is your thinking chaotic? There’s a model for that.

How the mind processes sequential memory may help understand psychiatric disorders
October 21, 2015

Limitless (credit: CBS)

Try to remember a phone number. You’re now using “sequential memory,” in which your mind processes a sequence of numbers, events, or ideas. It underlies how people think, perceive, and interact as social beings. To understand how sequential memory works, researchers have built mathematical models that mimic this process.

Cognitive modes

Taking this a step further, Mikhail Rabinovich, a physicist and neurocognitive scientist at the University of California,… read more

A powerful new ‘tool’ for assembling biomolecules

Replaces the existing expensive and complex process needed when synthesizing new chemicals --- could revolutionize pharmaceutical and biomaterials manufacturing
October 21, 2015

Proposed new simplified chemical reaction for assembling biomolecules in a single step (credit: Tiffany Piou & Tomislav Rovis/Nature)

Colorado State University chemists have invented a single chemical reaction that couples two constituent chemicals into a carbon-carbon bond, while simultaneously introducing a nitrogen component. The process promises to replace a multi-step, expensive, and complex process needed when synthesizing new chemicals — for drug creation and testing, for example.

The researchers were able to control this reaction to make the nitrogen atoms go exactly where they want them to,… read more

Most Earth-like worlds have yet to be born, says new NASA study

October 20, 2015

This is an artist's impression of innumerable Earth-like planets that have yet to be born over the next trillion years in the evolving universe. (credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI); Science: NASA, ESA, P. Behroozi and M. Peeples (STScI))

When our solar system was born 4.6 billion years ago, only eight percent of the potentially habitable planets that will ever form in the universe existed, according to an assessment of data collected by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and Kepler space observatory and published today (Oct. 20) in an open-access paper in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

In… read more

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