Published on Apr 29, 2017
Turning saltwater into clean drinking water is an expensive, energy-intensive process, but could the wonder material graphene make it more accessible?
New Discovery Could Unlock Graphene’s Full Potential
Watch the Video:
Published on Apr 29, 2017
Turning saltwater into clean drinking water is an expensive, energy-intensive process, but could the wonder material graphene make it more accessible?
New Discovery Could Unlock Graphene’s Full Potential
Watch the Video:
“Thou canst not touch the freedom of my mind,” ~ John Milton in 1634.
Four Hundred years later however, technological advances in machines that can read our thoughts mean the privacy of our brain is under threat.
Now two biomedical ethicists are calling for the creation of new human rights laws to ensure people are protected, including “the right to cognitive liberty” and “the right to mental integrity”.
Scientists have already developed devices capable of telling whether people are politically right-wing or left-wing. In one experiment, researchers were able to read people’s minds to tell with 70 per cent accuracy whether they planned to add or subtract two numbers.
Facebook also recently revealed it had been secretly working on technology to read people’s minds so they could type by just thinking.
And medical researchers have managed to connect part of a paralysed man’s brain to a computer to allow him to stimulate muscles in his arm so he could move it and feed himself.
The ethicists, writing in a paper in the journal Life Sciences, Society and Policy, stressed the “unprecedented opportunities” that would result from the “ubiquitous distribution of cheaper, scalable and easy-to-use neuro-applications” that would make neurotechnology “intricately embedded in our everyday life”.
However, such devices are open to abuse on a frightening degree, as the academics made clear.
They warned that “malicious brain-hacking” and “hazardous uses of medical neurotechnology” could require a redefinition of the idea of mental integrity.
“We suggest that in response to emerging neurotechnology possibilities, the right to mental integrity should not exclusively guarantee protection from mental illness or traumatic injury but also from unauthorised intrusions into a person’s mental wellbeing performed through the use of neurotechnology, especially if such intrusions result in physical or mental harm to the neurotechnology user,” the ethicists wrote.
“The right to mental privacy is a neuro-specific privacy right which protects private or sensitive information in a person’s mind from unauthorised collection, storage, use, or even deletion in digital form or otherwise.”
And they warned that the techniques were so sophisticated that people’s minds might be being read or interfered with without their knowledge.
“Illicit intrusions into a person’s mental privacy may not necessarily involve coercion, as they could be performed under the threshold of a persons’ conscious experience,” they wrote in the paper.
“The same goes for actions involving harm to a person’s mental life or unauthorised modifications of a person’s psychological continuity, which are also facilitated by the ability of emerging neurotechnologies to intervene into a person’s neural processing in absence of the person’s awareness.”
They proposed four new human rights laws:
Professor Roberto Andorno, an academic at Zurich University’s law school and a co-author of the paper, said: “Brain imaging technology has already reached a point where there is discussion over its legitimacy in criminal court, for example as a tool for assessing criminal responsibility or even the risk of re-offending.
“Consumer companies are using brain imaging for ‘neuromarketing’ to understand consumer behaviour and elicit desired responses from customers.
“There are also tools such as ‘brain decoders’ which can turn brain imaging data into images, text or sound.
“All of these could pose a threat to personal freedom which we sought to address with the development of four new human rights laws.”
What are YOUR thoughts? (promise we won’t share them with Facebook or the NSA)
“The Best trick the Old Devil ever played, was convincing the World that he did not exist!”
Tesla will double the number of its Superchargers and Destination Charging connectors in urban centers and on long distance routes in 2017. This is part of the company’s ongoing commitment to clean energy.
On the heels of announcements about a more affordable Model 3 and a Tesla pickup truck, Tesla has begun to prepare for the mass-market in earnest for the first time by making more charging stations for available for their vehicles. To that end, Tesla’s blog announced on Monday, April 24, that the company would be doubling the Tesla charging network in 2017. This includes expanding existing sites in city centers and along highways so drivers need never wait to charge before getting back on the road.
Since the charging network began in 2012, Tesla has constructed more than 5,400 Superchargers to make long distance travel possible and even convenient for Tesla owners. They’ve also built more than 9,000 Destination Charging connectors equipped with Wall Connectors at restaurants, hotels, and other locations.
By the end of 2017 Tesla plans to have more than 10,000 Superchargers and 15,000 Destination Chargers in place around the world. Superchargers will increase by 150 percent in North America, and 1,000 additional Superchargers will be built in California alone. Site selection is underway now so many will open before summer travel season begins. Tesla will place charging sites in urban centers for quicker charging. Larger sites, which will accommodate simultaneous charging for several dozen drivers, will be constructed along the most-used travel routes for Tesla drivers.
Tesla’s investment in infrastructure represents a vote of confidence in the success of its newest products as well as the potential for the auto industry to continue shifting toward electric vehicles. Tesla’s overall plan is to change the way we think about power and energy. Experts are already acknowledging that Tesla will be disrupting the auto industry, and the energy industry is next.
Tesla’s newest solar panels integrate seamlessly with the Tesla Powerwall battery system and will be available this summer. By 2018, the Tesla Gigafactory will reach full capacity; when it does, it will be producing more lithium ion batteries than the rest of the world combined. These tools will allow Tesla owners to power their homes — and their vehicles — with solar power, greatly reducing their carbon footprints.
With the ability to harness and store enough renewable energy, we could end our reliance on fossil fuels once and for all — and Musk thinks that’s something Earth urgently needs.
Researchers at the University of California, Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering are using waste glass bottles and a low-cost chemical process to create nanosilicon anodes for lithium-ion batteries that will extend the battery life of electric vehicles and personal electronics.
UC Riverside Research Teams have developed a low-cost way of turning discarded glass bottles into lithium-ion batteries that can store almost 4 times more energy and last much longer than conventional batteries.
The three-step process of producing the anodes starts by crushing and grounding glass bottles into fine white powder, silicon dioxide is then converted into nanostructured silicon, followed by coating the silicon nanoparticles with carbon.
This could mean significantly fewer charges for laptops, cell phones and electric cars, while reducing waste.
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A new system developed by engineers at MIT could make it possible to control the way water moves over a surface, using only light. This advance may open the door to technologies such as microfluidic diagnostic devices whose channels and valves could be reprogrammed on the fly, or field systems that could separate water from oil at a drilling rig, the researchers say.
The system, reported in the journal Nature Communications (“Visible light guided manipulation of liquid wettability on photoresponsive surfaces”), was developed by MIT associate professor of mechanical engineering Kripa Varanasi, School of Engineering Professor of Teaching Innovation Gareth McKinley, former postdoc Gibum Kwon, graduate student Divya Panchanathan, former research scientist Seyed Mahmoudi, and Mohammed Gondal at the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Saudi Arabia.
By creating surfaces whose interactions with water — a property known as wettability — can be activated by light, the researchers found they could directly separate oil from water. The process causes individual droplets of water to coalesce and spread across the surface. (Image courtesy of the researchers)
The initial goal of the project was to find ways of separating oil from water, for example, to treat the frothy mixture of briny water and crude oil produced from certain oil wells. The more thoroughly these mixtures are intermingled — the finer the droplets are — the harder they are to separate. Sometimes electrostatic methods are used, but these are energy-intensive and don’t work when the water is highly saline, as is often the case. Instead, the team explored the use of “photoresponsive” surfaces, whose responses to water can be altered by exposure to light.
By creating surfaces whose interactions with water — a property known as wettability — could be activated by light, the researchers found they could directly separate the oil from the water by causing individual droplets of water to coalesce and spread across the surface. The more the water droplets fuse together, the more they separate from the oil.
Photoresponsive materials have been widely studied and used; one example is the active ingredient in most sunscreens, titanium dioxide, also known as titania. But most of these materials, including titania, respond primarily to ultraviolet light and hardly at all to visible light. Yet only about 5 percent of sunlight is in the ultraviolet range. So the researchers figured out a way to treat the titania surface to make it responsive to visible light.
Driving droplets of water across a surface with light
The method also be used to drive droplets of water across a surface, as the team demonstrated in a series of experiments. By selectively changing the material’s wettability using a moving beam of light, a droplet can be directed toward the more wettable area, propelling it in any desired direction with great precision. (Image courtesy of the researchers)
They did so by first using a layer-by-layer deposition technique to build up a film of polymer-bound titania particles on a layer of glass. Then they dip-coated the material with a simple organic dye. The resulting surface turned out to be highly responsive to visible light, producing a change in wettability when exposed to sunlight that is much greater than that of the titania itself.
When activated by sunlight, the material proved very effective at “demulsifying” the oil-water mixture — getting the water and oil to separate from each other.
“We were inspired by the work in photovoltaics, where dye sensitization was used to improve the efficiency of absorption of solar radiation,” says Varansi. “The coupling of the dye to titania particles allows for the generation of charge carriers upon light illumination. This creates an electric potential difference to be established between the surface and the liquid upon illumination, and leads to a change in the wetting properties.”
“Saline water spreads out on our surface under illumination, but oil doesn’t,” says Kwon, who is now an assistant professor at the University of Kansas. “We found that virtually all the seawater will spread out on the surface and get separated from crude oil, under visible light.”
The same effect could also be used to drive droplets of water across a surface, as the team demonstrated in a series of experiments. By selectively changing the material’s wettability using a moving beam of light, a droplet can be directed toward the more wettable area, propelling it in any desired direction with great precision.
Such systems could be designed to make microfluidic devices without built-in boundaries or structures. The movement of liquid — for example a blood sample in a diagnostic lab-on-a-chip — would be entirely controlled by the pattern of illumination being projected onto it.
“By systematically studying the relationship between the energy levels of the dye and the wettability of the contacting liquid, we have come up with a framework for the design of these light-guided liquid manipulation systems,” Varanasi says. “By choosing the right kind of dye, we can create a significant change in droplet dynamics. It’s light-induced motion – a touchless motion of droplets.”
The switchable wettability of these surfaces has another benefit: They can be largely self-cleaning. When the surface is switched from water-attracting (hydrophilic) to water-repelling (hydrophobic), any water on the surface gets driven off, carrying with it any contaminants that may have built up.
Since the photoresponsive effect is based on the dye coating, it can be highly tuned by selecting from among the thousands of available organic dyes. All of the materials involved in the process are widely available, inexpensive, commodity materials, the researchers say, and the processes for making them are commonplace.
Source: By David L. Chandler, MIT
Solar cells convert the sun’s energy into electricity by converting photons into electrons. A new solar cell design could raise the energy conversion efficiency to over 50% by absorbing the spectral components of longer wavelengths that are usually lost during transmission through the cell.
These findings were published in Nature Communications (“Two-step photon up-conversion solar cells”).
Theoretical prediction of conversion efficiency
Theoretical prediction of conversion efficiency. The efficiency changes in response to the use of two different bandgaps in a hetero-interface. The highest conversion efficiency is 63%. (Image: Kobe University)
This research was carried out by a team led by Professor KITA Takashi and Project Assistant Professor ASAHI Shigeo at the Kobe University Graduate School of Engineering.
In theory, 30% energy-conversion efficiency is the upper limit for traditional single-junction solar cells, as most of the solar energy that strikes the cell passes through without being absorbed, or becomes heat energy instead.
Experiments have been taking place around the world to create various solar cell designs that can lift these limitations on conversion efficiency and reduce the loss of energy.
The current world record is at 46% percent for a 4-junction solar cell. If the energy-conversion efficiency of solar cells surpasses 50%, it would have a big impact on the cost of producing electricity.
In order to reduce these large energy losses and raise efficiency, Professor Kita’s research team used two small photons from the energy transmitted through a single-junction solar cell containing a hetero-interface formed from semiconductors with different bandgaps. Using the photons, they developed a new solar cell structure for generating photocurrents.
As well as demonstrating theoretical results of up to 63% conversion efficiency, it experimentally achieved up-conversion based on two photons, a mechanism unique to this solar cell. The reduction in energy loss demonstrated by this experiment is over 100 times more effective compared to previous methods that used intermediate bands.
The team will continue to design solar cells, and assess their performance based on conversion efficiency, working towards a highly efficient solar cell for low-cost energy production.
Source: Kobe University
The nanovaccine consists of tumor antigens – tumor proteins that can be recognized by the immune system – inside a synthetic polymer nanoparticle. Nanoparticle vaccines deliver minuscule particulates that stimulate the immune system to mount an immune response. The goal is to help people’s own bodies fight cancer.
“What is unique about our design is the simplicity of the single-polymer composition that can precisely deliver tumor antigens to immune cells while stimulating innate immunity. These actions result in safe and robust production of tumor-specific T cells that kill cancer cells,” said Dr. Jinming Gao, a Professor of Pharmacology and Otolaryngology in UT Southwestern’s Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center.
A study outlining this research, published online today in Nature Nanotechnology (“A STING-activating nanovaccine for cancer immunotherapy”), reported that the nanovaccine had anti-tumor efficacy in multiple tumor types in mice.
Laser light can be seen scattered by nanoparticles in a solution of the UTSW-developed nanovaccine. (Image: UT Southwestern)
The research was a collaboration between the laboratories of study senior authors Dr. Gao and Dr. Zhijian “James” Chen, Professor of Molecular Biology and Director of the Center for Inflammation Research.
The Center was established in 2015 to study how the body senses infection and to develop approaches to exploit this knowledge to create new treatments for infection, immune disorders, and autoimmunity.
Typical vaccines require immune cells to pick up tumor antigens in a “depot system” and then travel to the lymphoid organs for T cell activation, Dr. Gao said. Instead, nanoparticle vaccines can travel directly to the body’s lymph nodes to activate tumor-specific immune responses.
“For nanoparticle vaccines to work, they must deliver antigens to proper cellular compartments within specialized immune cells called antigen-presenting cells and stimulate innate immunity,” said Dr. Chen, also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and holder of the George L. MacGregor Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Science. “Our nanovaccine did all of those things.”
In this case, the experimental UTSW nanovaccine works by activating an adaptor protein called STING, which in turn stimulates the body’s immune defense system to ward off cancer.
The scientists examined a variety of tumor models in mice: melanoma, colorectal cancer, and HPV-related cancers of the cervix, head, neck, and anogenital regions. In most cases, the nanovaccine slowed tumor growth and extended the animals’ lives.
Other vaccine technologies have been used in cancer immunotherapy. However, they are usually complex – consisting of live bacteria or multiplex biological stimulants, Dr. Gao said. This complexity can make production costly and, in some cases, lead to immune-related toxicities in patients.
With the emergence of new nanotechnology tools and increased understanding of polymeric drug delivery, Dr. Gao said, the field of nanoparticle vaccines has grown and attracted intense interest from academia and industry in the past decade.
“Recent advances in understanding innate and adaptive immunity have also led to more collaborations between immunologists and nanotechnologists,” said Dr. Chen. “These partnerships are critical in propelling the rapid development of new generations of nanovaccines.”
The investigative team is now working with physicians at UT Southwestern to explore clinical testing of the STING-activating nanovaccines for a variety of cancer indications.
Combining nanovaccines with radiation or other immunotherapy strategies such as “checkpoint inhibition” can further augment their anti-tumor effectiveness.
Source: UT Southwestern Medical Center
With a potential lifespan of 10 to 20 years, Professor Zhongwei Chen’s next-generation rechargeable batteries are set to put the Energizer Bunny to shame.
“This battery could last 10 years, or even more than 20 years.”
Dr. Chen and his team are developing next-generation batteries and fuel cells. They are working on two types of batteries that are destined to be longer lasting and more efficient. One of these batteries is a rechargeable zinc battery that uses renewable energy, such as solar and wind. It could also be cost effective, which means that everyone could use it in the future.
Dr. Chen and his team are using novel materials to upgrade the traditional battery. He says that the key is to use silicon-based materials instead of graphite materials, which are currently being used in the commercial battery. Why? Silicon’s energy density is 10 times higher.
The result is a potential 150% energy density increase compared to its graphite-based lithium battery counterpart, which is currently being used to power electric cars and our cell phones. With the popularity of electric cars on the rise, companies such as Tesla and Panasonic are already looking to move beyond the limitations of the lithium battery.
Dr. Chen explains how he plans to solve the problems associated with the traditional battery as we move forward to meet the increased energy demands of the future.
MORE: Watch Our Current Battery Technology Project Video
A new company has been formed to exploit and commercialize the Next Generation Super-Capacitors and Batteries. The opportunity is based on Technology & Exclusive IP Licensing Rights from Rice University, discovered/ curated by Dr. James M. Tour, named “One of the Fifty (50) most influential scientists in the World today”
The Silicon Nanowires & Lithium Cobalt Oxide technology has been further advanced to provide a New Generation Battery that is:
High Specific Power
Low Manufacturing Cost
Rapid Charge/ Re-Charge
Flexible Form Factor
Long Warranty Life
Key Markets & Commercial Applications
Motor Cycle/ EV Batteries
Drone Batteries and
Estimated $112B Market for Rechargeable Batteries by 2025
Prof. Karen Gleason has come up with a low-cost, environmentally friendly way to make solar cells on ordinary tracing paper. Photo: Len RubensteinSpring 2012
Solar Cells on Paper
Chemical engineer Karen K. Gleason would like to paper the world with solar cells. Glued to laptops, tacked onto roof tiles, tucked into pockets, lining window shades, she envisions ultrathin, ultra-flexible solar cells going where no solar cells have gone before.
Silvery blue solar cells seem to magically generate electricity from sunlight the way Rumpelstiltskin spun straw into gold but in their present form, they’re more akin to gold than straw.
Karen Gleason develops a low-cost, environmentally friendly way to make solar cells on tracing paper, which one day might charge a cell phone.
The cost of manufacturing crystalline and thin-film solar cells with silicon, glass, and rare earth materials like tellurium and indium is high.
Gleason, the Alexander and I. Michael Kasser Professor of Chemical Engineering, has collaborated with Vladimir Bulovic, professor of electrical engineering; former chemical engineering graduate student Miles C. Barr; and others to come up with a low-cost, environmentally friendly way to make practically indestructible solar cells on ordinary tracing paper.
One day, a paper solar cell might help us charge a cell phone. “A paper substrate is a thousand times cheaper than silicon and glass. What’s more, these solar cells can be scrunched up, folded a thousand times, and weatherproofed,” she says.
Using abundant, inexpensive organic elements like carbon, oxygen, and copper — “nothing exotic,” she says — in a vacuum chamber, layers are “printed” through a process called vapor deposition, similar to frost forming on a window. At less than 120 degrees Celsius, the method is gentler and cooler than that normally used to manufacture photovoltaic materials, allowing it to be used on delicate paper, cloth, or plastic. “We repeat that five times and you end up with a solar cell,” she says; tweaking the composition of the five layers of materials determines the cells’ energy output.
The research is funded by MITEI founding member Eni SpA, Italy’s biggest energy company, which is pursuing new advances in biofuels, solar, and other forms of alternative energy.
“The challenge of the project appealed to me,” she says. “I also thought it would be fun.” Her students display a prototype solar cell (a sheet of paper embossed with a pinstripe and chain-link design) folded into a paper airplane as a power source for an LCD clock.
Gleason would like to see the first commercial solar paper devices hit the market in five years, but first the cells’ efficiency has to be ramped up from nearly 4 percent to at least 10 percent. (Commercial solar cells have an efficiency of around 15 percent.) MIT engineers believe this is doable.
Then, the sky’s the limit — solar cells could power iPads, generate lighting inside tents, keep ski clothing toasty.
“The paper cells’ portability could have a big impact in developing countries, where the cost of transporting solar cells has been prohibitive.
“Rather than confining solar power to rooftops or solar farms, paper photovoltaics can be used virtually anywhere, making energy ubiquitous,” Gleason says.
About one in four older adults suffers from chronic pain. Many of those people take medication, usually as pills. But this is not an ideal way of treating pain: Patients must take medicine frequently, and can suffer side effects, since the contents of pills spread through the bloodstream to the whole body.
Now researchers at MIT have refined a technique that could enable pain medication and other drugs to be released directly to specific parts of the body — and in steady doses over a period of up to 14 months. The method uses biodegradable, nanoscale “thin films” laden with drug molecules that are absorbed into the body in an incremental process.
“It’s been hard to develop something that releases [medication] for more than a couple of months,” says Paula Hammond, the David H. Koch Professor in Engineering at MIT, and a co-author of a new paper on the advance. “Now we’re looking at a way of creating an extremely thin film or coating that’s very dense with a drug, and yet releases at a constant rate for very long time periods.”
In the paper, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers describe the method used in the new drug-delivery system, which significantly exceeds the release duration achieved by most commercial controlled-release biodegradable films.
“You can potentially implant it and release the drug for more than a year without having to go in and do anything about it,” says Bryan Hsu PhD ’14, who helped develop the project as a doctoral student in Hammond’s lab. “You don’t have to go recover it. Normally to get long-term drug release, you need a reservoir or device, something that can hold back the drug. And it’s typically nondegradable. It will release slowly, but it will either sit there and you have this foreign object retained in the body, or you have to go recover it.”
Layer by layer
The paper was co-authored by Hsu, Myoung-Hwan Park of Shamyook University in South Korea, Samantha Hagerman ’14, and Hammond, whose lab is in the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT.
The research project tackles a difficult problem in localized drug delivery: Any biodegradable mechanism intended to release a drug over a long time period must be sturdy enough to limit hydrolysis, a process by which the body’s water breaks down the bonds in a drug molecule. If too much hydrolysis occurs too quickly, the drug will not remain intact for long periods in the body. Yet the drug-release mechanism needs to be designed such that a drug molecule does, in fact, decompose in steady increments.
To address this, the researchers developed what they call a “layer-by-layer” technique, in which drug molecules are effectively attached to layers of thin-film coating. In this specific case, the researchers used diclofenac, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug that is often prescribed for osteoarthritis and other pain or inflammatory conditions. They then bound it to thin layers of poly-L-glutamatic acid, which consists of an amino acid the body reabsorbs, and two other organic compounds. The film can be applied onto degradable nanoparticles for injection into local sites or used to coat permanent devices, such as orthopedic implants.
In tests, the research team found that the diclofenac was steadily released over 14 months. Because the effectiveness of pain medication is subjective, they evaluated the efficacy of the method by seeing how well the diclofenac blocked the activity of cyclooxygenase (COX), an enzyme central to inflammation in the body.
“We found that it remains active after being released,” Hsu says, meaning that the new method does not damage the efficacy of the drug. Or, as the paper notes, the layer-by-layer method produced “substantial COX inhibition at a similar level” to pills.
The method also allows the researchers to adjust the quantity of the drug being delivered, essentially by adding more layers of the ultrathin coating.
A viable strategy for many drugs
Hammond and Hsu note that the technique could be used for other kinds of medication; an illness such as tuberculosis, for instance, requires at least six months of drug therapy.
“It’s not only viable for diclofenac,” Hsu says. “This strategy can be applied to a number of drugs.”
Indeed, other researchers who have looked at the paper say the potential medical versatility of the thin-film technique is of considerable interest.
“I find it really intriguing because it’s broadly applicable to a lot of systems,” says Kathryn Uhrich, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Rutgers University, adding that the research is “really a nice piece of work.”
To be sure, in each case, researchers will have to figure out how best to bind the drug molecule in question to a biodegradable thin-film coating. The next steps for the researchers include studies to optimize these properties in different bodily environments and more tests, perhaps with medications for both chronic pain and inflammation.
A major motivation for the work, Hammond notes, is “the whole idea that we might be able to design something using these kinds of approaches that could create an [easier] lifestyle” for people with chronic pain and inflammation.
Hsu and Hammond were involved in all aspects of the project and wrote the paper, while Hagerman and Park helped perform the research, and Park helped analyze the data.
The research described in the paper was supported by funding from the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force.