science + technology news

Intelligent handheld robots could make is easier for people to learn new skills

May 27, 2015

An intelligent handheld robot assisting a user in placing the correct colored tiles (credit: University of Bristol)

What if your handheld tools knew what needs to be done and were even able to guide and help you complete jobs that require skills? University of Bristol researchers are finding out by building and testing intelligent handheld robots.

Think of them as smart power tools that “know” what they’re doing — and could even help you use them.

The robot tools would have three levels of autonomy,… read more

A chip implanted under the skin allows for precise, real-time medical monitoring

May 27, 2015

Under-the-skin chip (credit: EPFL)

A tiny (one-centimeter-square) biosensor chip developed at EPFL is designed to be implanted under your skin to continuously monitor concentrations of pH, temperature, and metabolism-related molecules like glucose, lactate and cholesterol, as well as some drugs.

The chip would replace blood work, which may take  hours — or even days — for analysis and is a limited snapshot of conditions at the moment the blood is drawn.

Developer… read more

Dynamically reprogramming matter

Engineering switchable reconfigurations in DNA-controlled nanoparticle arrays could lead to dynamic energy-harvesting or responsive optical materials
May 26, 2015

phase change ft

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have developed the capability of creating dynamic nanomaterials — ones whose structure and associated properties can be switched, on-demand. In a paper appearing in Nature Materials, they describe a way to selectively rearrange nanoparticles in three-dimensional arrays to produce different configurations, or “phases,” from the same nano-components.

“One of the goals in nanoparticle self-assembly has been to create structures by… read more

Creating complex structures using DNA origami and nanoparticles

Could create new molecular structures to harvest solar energy, deliver biomolecules, or manipulate light for telecommunications
May 26, 2015

Cluster assembled from DNA-functionalized gold nanoparticles on vertices of a octahedral DNA origami structure (credit: Ye Tian et al./Nature Nanotechnology)

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and collaborators have developed a method using DNA for designing new customized materials with complex structures for applications in energy, optics, and medicine.

They used ropelike configurations of DNA to form a rigid geometrical framework and then added dangling pieces of single-stranded DNA to glue nanoparticles in place.

The method, described in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, produced predictable… read more

One step closer to a single-molecule device

One possible route after Moore's law expires
May 25, 2015

Molecular diode (credit: Columbia Engineering)

Columbia Engineering researchers have created the first single-molecule diode — the ultimate in miniaturization for electronic devices — with potential for real-world applications in electronic systems.

The diode that has a high (>250) rectification and a high “on” current (~ 0.1 microamps), says Latha Venkataraman, associate professor of applied physics. “Constructing a device where the active elements are only a single molecule … which has been… read more

Fly-catching robot speeds biomedical research

Good news for overworked graduate students and for researchers of human aging, cancer, diabetes, and other diseases
May 25, 2015

A fruit fly hangs unharmed at the end of the robot's suction tube. The robot uses machine vision to inspect and analyze the captured fly. (credit: Stanforf Bio-X)

Stanford Bio-X scientists have created a robot that speeds and extends biomedical research with a common laboratory organism — fruit flies (Drosophila).

The robot can visually inspect awake flies and carry out behavioral experiments that were impossible with anesthetized flies. The work is described today (May 25) in the journal Nature Methods.

“Robotic technology offers a new prospect for automated experiments and enables fly researchers to do… read more

Converting blood stem cells to sensory neural cells to predict and treat pain

Allows for discovering new pain drugs and predicting effects for individual patients
May 25, 2015

stem cell to neuron

Stem-cell scientists at McMaster University have developed a way to directly convert adult human blood cells to sensory neurons, providing the first objective measure of how patients may feel things like pain, temperature, and pressure, the researchers reveal in an open-access paper in the journal Cell Reports.

Currently, scientists and physicians have a limited understanding of the complex issue of pain and how to treat it. “The problem is that… read more

Combining light and sound to create nanoscale optical waveguides

Could lead to chips that combine optical and electronic components
May 24, 2015

Researchers have shown that a DC voltage applied to layers of graphene and boron nitride can be used to control light emission from a nearby atom. Here, graphene is represented by a maroon-colored top layer; boron nitride is represented by yellow-green lattices below the graphene; and the atom is represented by a grey circle. A low concentration of DC voltage (in blue) allows the light to propagate inside the boron nitride, forming a tightly confined waveguide for optical signals. (Credit: Anshuman Kumar Srivastava and Jose Luis Olivares/MIT)

In a new discovery that could lead to chips that combine optical and electronic components, researchers at MIT, IBM and two universities have found a way to combine light and sound with far lower losses than when such devices are made separately and then interconnected, they say.

Light’s interaction with graphene produces vibrating electron particles called plasmons, while light interacting with hexagonal boron nitride (hBN) produces phonons (sound “particles”).… read more

Light-emitting, transparent flexible paper developed in China

New environmentally safe paper could lead to light, flexible portable and wearable displays
May 24, 2015

A new, environmentally-friendly paper that glows could lead to sustainable, roll-up electronics (credit: American Chemical Society)

The first light-emitting, transparent, flexible paper made from environmentally friendly materialshas been developed by scientists at Sichuan University in China, the scientists report in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

Most current flexible electronics paper designs rely on petroleum-based plastics and toxic materials.

The researchers developed a thin, clear nanocellulose paper made from wood flour and infused it with biocompatible quantum dots — tiny semiconducting… read more

Printing low-cost, flexible radio-frequency antennas with graphene ink

Graphene can now be printed on materials like paper and plastic to create ubiquitous uses such as in RFID tags, wireless sensors, and wearable electronics
May 24, 2015

graphene antenna ft

The first low-cost, flexible, environmentally friendly radio-frequency antenna using compressed graphene ink has been printed by researchers from the University of Manchester and BGT Materials Limited. Potential uses of the new process include radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, wireless sensors, wearable electronics, and printing on materials like paper and plastic.

Commercial RFID tags are currently made from metals like silver (very expensive) or aluminum or copper (both prone… read more

Robots master skills with ‘deep learning’ technique

UC Berkeley researchers' new algorithms enable robots to learn motor tasks by trial and error
May 22, 2015

Robot learns to put a cap on a bottle by trial and error (credit: UC Berkeley)

UC Berkeley researchers have developed new algorithms that enable robots to learn motor tasks by trial and error, using a process that more closely approximates the way humans learn.

They demonstrated their technique, a type of reinforcement learning, by having a robot complete various tasks — putting a clothes hanger on a rack, assembling a toy plane, screwing a cap on a water bottle, and more — without pre-programmed… read more

Robotic arm precisely controlled by thought

New neuroprosthetic implant captures intent to move, not the movement directly
May 22, 2015

(Credit: Spencer Kellis and Christian Klaes /Caltech)

Paralyzed from the neck down, Erik G. Sorto now can smoothly move a robotic arm just by thinking about it, thanks to a clinical collaboration between Caltech, Keck Medicine of USC and Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center,

Previous neural prosthetic devices, such as Braingate, were implanted in the motor cortex, resulting in delayed, jerky movements. The new device was implanted in the posterior parietal cortex (PPC),… read more

Tunable liquid-metal antennas

May extend frequency ranges for mobile devices
May 21, 2015

This image shows the antenna, feed, and reservoir (credit: Jacob Adams)

Using electrochemistry, North Carolina State University (NCSU) researchers have created a reconfigurable, voltage-controlled liquid metal antenna that may play a role in future mobile devices and the coming Internet of Things.

By placing a positive or negative electrical voltage across the interface between the liquid metal and an electrolyte, they found that they could cause the liquid metal to spread (flow into a capillary) or contract, changing… read more

How to make continuous rolls of graphene for volume production

May 21, 2015

graphene process ft

A new graphene roll-to-roll continuous manufacturing process developed by MIT and University of Michigan researchers could finally take wonder-material graphene out of the lab and into practical commercial products.

The new process is an adaptation of a chemical vapor deposition method widely used to make graphene, using a small vacuum chamber into which a vapor containing carbon reacts on a horizontal substrate, such as a copper foil.… read more

New technology could fundamentally improve future wireless communications

Could increase data rates and network capacity, reduce power consumption, create cheaper devices, and enable global roaming
May 21, 2015

Novel full-duplex transceiver in the anechoic chamber (Credit: Sam Duckerin)

A new electronics technique that could allow a radio device to transmit and receive on the same channel at the same time (“full duplex,” or simultaneous, two-way transmission) has been developed by researchers at the University of Bristol’s Communication Systems and Networks research group. The technique can estimate and cancel out the interference from a device’s own transmission.

Today’s cell phones and other communication devices use twice as much of the radio… read more

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