Looking at Nanotechnology in Biotechnology


For some time, the difference between a biotechnology company and a pharmaceutical company was straightforward.

A biotechnology focused on developing drugs with a biological basis. Pharmaceutical companies focused on drugs with a chemical basis.

It was sort of an artificial distinction, and is even more so now because pharmaceutical companies haven’t excluded biologics from their portfolios.

At one time there were even distinctions in the definitions related to small molecules versus large molecules, but those are largely in the dustbin of biopharma vocabulary. It’s one reason why “biopharma” itself is a useful word to bridge the two, and really, biotech and pharma are largely interchangeable.

Nanotechnology Versus Biotechnology

But what about nanotechnology? Is that biotechnology?

The answer to that seems to be … yes and no.

Nanotechnology typically refers to technology that is less than 100 nanometers in size. Although not horribly useful for differentiating things on the microscopic—or smaller—scale, there are 25,400,000 nanometers in an inch. So … small. Really small.

Wouldn’t that refer to many drugs? Yes, probably.

But nanotechnology typicallyrefers to tech made of manmade and inorganic materials in that size range. Again, the key word is “typically.”

There is overlap.  Liji Thomas, writing for Azo Nano, says, “Nanobiotechnology deals with technology which incorporates nanomolecules into biological systems, or which miniaturizes biotechnology solutions to nanometer size to achieve greater reach and efficacy….

Bionanotechnology, on the other hand, deals with new nanostructures that are created for synthetic applications, the difference being that these are based upon biomolecules.”

Clear? Probably not. Here are some examples of biotechnology companies utilizing nanotechnology, along with whatever tools they need to develop their compounds.

PEEL Therapeutics. PEEL Therapeutics is a small biotech company, largely in stealth mode, founded by Joshua Schiffman, an associate professor of Pediatrics at the University of Utah and Avi Schroeder, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. 

Schiffman was doing work on a tumor suppressor gene, p53, which shows up at very high numbers in elephants. Elephants have significantly lower rates of cancer than humans, who normally have two normal copies of p53. Humans with a disease called Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, have only one, and they have a 100 percent change of getting cancer, or very close to it.

What PEEL is attempting to do is build a synthetic version of p53 and insert them into a novel drug delivery system using nanotechnology. “Peel,” by the way, is the phonetic spelling of the Hebrew word for elephants. eP53 has been successfully encapsulated in nanoparticles, and at least in petri dishes, has demonstrated proof of concept. Elephants are not being experimented upon.

Exicure. Based in Skokie, Illinois, Exicure (formerly known as AuraSense) is a clinical stage biotechnology company that’s working on a new class of immunomodulatory and gene regulating drugs that uses proprietary three-dimensional, spherical nucleic acid architecture.

The SNA technology came out of the laboratory of Chad Mirkin at the Northwestern University International Institute for Nanotechnology.

The company has received financing from the likes of Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Aonfounder Pat Ryan, David Walt, co-founder of Illumina, and Boon Hwee Koh, director of Agilent Technologies. 

The technology platform is complex, but it is essentially various single and double-stranded nucleic acids stuck on the outside of a nanosphere.

They are able to easily penetrate cells, which then trigger immune responses.

SpyBiotech. Headquartered in Oxford, UK, SpyBiotech focuses on the so-called “super glue” that combines two parts of the bacteria that causes strep throat. It was spun out of Oxford University, and was based on research performed by its Department of Biochemistry and the Jenner Institute. When the bacteria that cause step throat are separated, they are attracted to each other and attempt to reattach.

The company is working to use this principle to develop vaccines that, instead of using virus-causing bacteria, will bind onto viral infections.

One of the bacteria that can cause strep throat, impetigo and other infections, Streptococcus pyogenes, is often shortened to Spy, hence the name of the company. When Spy is split into a peptide (SpyTag) and its protein partner (SpyCatcher), they are attracted to each other. The researchers isolated the “glue” that creates the attraction, and believe it can be used to bond vaccines together.

The company has backing from GV,formerly Google Ventures, the venture fund backed by Alphabet/Google.

One of the company’s founders is Mark Howarth, professor of Protein Nanotechnology at the University of Oxford. The fact that he’s working on protein nanotechnology undercuts a traditional definition of nanotechnology as not using biological materials. On his website, Howarth notes that SpyTag and SpyCatcher “is the strongest protein interaction yet measured and is being applied around the world for diverse areas of basic research and biotechnology. We are extending this new class of protein interaction, to create novel possibilities for synthetic biology.”

Ultimately, when researchers are developing drugs, they are using whatever tools are necessary to find effective treatments for diseases. Biotechnology may more accurately be thought of as a set of tools and a philosophical approach to solving biological problems, compared to pharmaceuticals, and nanotechnology is yet another tool.

In the wider world of drug discovery and development, there is also increasing use of artificial intelligence, data science and computational algorithms as well. And who knows what will be used tomorrow.

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Light and nanotechnology prevent bacterial infections on medical implants – Reducing Costs and Recurring Surgeries


Image of the surgical implants, covered with gold nanoparticles (pile of meshes on the left) compared to the original surgical meshes previous to the treatment (pile of meshes on the right). Credit: ICFO

Invented approximately 50 years ago, surgical medical meshes have become key elements in the recovery procedures of damaged-tissue surgeries, the most common being hernia repair.

When implanted within the tissue of the patient, the flexible and conformable design of these meshes hold muscles securely and allows quicker recovery than conventional surgical procedures of sewing and stitching.

However, the insertion of a medical implant in a patient’s body carries the risk of bacterial contamination during surgery and subsequent formation of an infectious biofilm over the surface of the surgical .

Such biofilms tend to act like a plastic coating, preventing any sort of antibiotic agent from reaching and attacking the formed on the film in order to stop the infection. Thus, antibiotic therapies, which are time-limited, could fail against super-resistant bacteria and the patient could end up in recurring or never-ending surgeries that could even lead to death.

In fact, according to the European Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance Network (EARS-Net), in 2015, more than 30,000 deaths in Europe were linked to infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Physicians have used several approaches to prevent implant contamination during surgery. Post-surgery aseptic protocols have been established and implemented to fight these antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but none have entirely fulfilled the role of solving this issue.

SEM micrographs of the S. aureus biofilm formed on the surgical mesh surface. Credit: ICFO

In a recent study published in Nano Letters and highlighted in Nature Photonics, ICFO researchers Dr. Ignacio de Miguel, Arantxa Albornoz, led by ICREA Prof. at ICFO Romain Quidant, in collaboration with researchers Irene Prieto, Dr. Vanesa Sanz, Dr. Christine Weis and Dr. Pau Turon from the B. Braun and pharmaceutical device company, have devised a novel technique that uses nanotechnology and photonics to dramatically improve the performance of medical meshes for surgical implants.

In collaboration since 2012, the team of researchers at ICFO and B. Braun Surgical, S.A., developed a medical mesh with a particular feature: The surface of the mesh was chemically modified to anchor millions of gold nanoparticles.

Why? Because gold nanoparticles have been proven to convert light into heat highly efficiently at localized regions.

The technique of using gold nanoparticles in light-heat conversion processes had already been tested in cancer treatments in previous studies.

Knowing that more than 20 million hernia repair operations take place every year around the world, the researchers believed this method could reduce the medical costs in recurrent operations while eliminating the expensive and ineffective antibiotic treatments that are currently being employed to tackle this problem.

Schematic view of plasmon-enabled biofilm prevention on surgical meshes. Credit: ICFO

Thus, in their in-vitro experiment and through a thorough process, the team coated the surgical mesh with millions of , uniformly spreading them over the entire structure. They tested the meshes to ensure the long-term stability of the particles, the non-degradation of the material, and the non-detachment or release of nanoparticles into the surrounding environment (flask). They were able to observe a homogenous distribution of the nanoparticles over the structure using a scanning electron microscope.

Once the modified mesh was ready, the team exposed it to S. aureus bacteria for 24 hours until they observed the formation of a biofilm on the surface. Subsequently, they began exposing the mesh to short, intense pulses of near  (800 nm) over 30 seconds to ensure  was reached, before repeating this treatment 20 times with four seconds of rest intervals between each pulse.

They discovered the following: First, they saw that illuminating the mesh at the specific frequency would induce localized surface plasmon resonances in the nanoparticles—a mode that results in the efficient conversion of light into heat, burning the bacteria at the surface.

Second, by using a fluorescence confocal microscope, they observed how much of the bacteria had died or was still alive. They observed that the remaining living biofilm bacteria became planktonic cells, recovering their sensitivity or weakness toward antibiotic therapy and to immune system response. They observed that upon increasing the amount of light delivered to the surface of the mesh, the dead bacteria would lose their adherence and peel off the surface. 

Third, they confirmed that operating at near infrared light ranges was completely compatible with in-vivo settings, meaning that such a technique would most probably not damage the surrounding healthy tissue. Finally, they repeated the treatment and confirmed that the recurrent heating of the mesh had not affected its conversion efficiency capabilities.

ICREA Prof at ICFO Romain Quidant says, “The results of this study have paved the way towards using plasmon nanotechnologies to prevent the formation of bacterial biofilm at the surface of surgical implants. There are still several issues that need to be addressed but it is important to emphasize that such a technique will indeed signify a radical change in operation procedures and further patient post recovery.”

Director of Research and Development of B. Braun Surgical, S.A. Dr. Pau Turon, says, “Our commitment to help healthcare professionals to avoid hospital related infections pushes us to develop new strategies to fight bacteria and biofilms. Additionally, the research team is exploring to extend such technology to other sectors where biofilms must be avoided.”

More information: Ignacio de Miguel et al, Plasmon-Based Biofilm Inhibition on Surgical Implants, Nano Letters(2019).  DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.9b00187

Journal information: Nano Letters , Nature Photonics

Provided by ICFO

DARPA Wants Soldiers To Control Machines With Their Minds


Future machines, including weapons, won’t need handheld controls.

The Department of Defense’s research and development wing, DARPA, is working on technology to read and write to the human brain.

The focus isn’t on mind control but rather machine control, allowing the human brain to directly send instructions to machines.

The goal of the process is to streamline thought control of machines to the point where humans could control them with a simple helmet or head-mounted device, making operating such systems easier. 

The brain makes physical events happen by turning thoughts into action, sending instructions through the nervous system to organs, limbs, and other parts of the body.

It effortlessly sends out a constant stream of commands to do everything from drive a car to make breakfast. To operate today’s machines, humans being need a middleman of sorts, a physical control system manipulated by hands, fingers, and feet. 

What if human beings could cut out the middleman, operating a machine simply by thinking at it? So DARPA is funding the Next Generation Nonsurgical Neurotechnology (N3) initiative. N3’s goal is to create a control system for machines—including weapons—that can directly interact with the human brain.

According to IEEE Spectrum, DARPA is experimenting with “magnetic fields, electric fields, acoustic fields (ultrasound) and light” as a means of controlling machines. 

The implications of such a technology are huge. Instead of designing complicated controls and control systems for every machine or weapon devised, engineers could instead just create a thought-operated control system.

Wearable technology becomes easier to operate as it doesn’t require a separate control system. This could also apply to notifications and data: as IEEE Spectrum points out, network administrators could feel intrusions into computer networks. DAPRA is, of course, an arm of the Pentagon, and a neurotechnological interface would almost certainly find its way into weapons. 

DARPA has awarded development contracts to six groups for amounts of up to $19.48 million each. Each group has one year to prove their ability to read and write to brain tissue with an 18-month animal testing period to follow. 

The next and final step of the N3 project will involve human trials. 

Source: IEEE Spectrum

The Tesla Effect is Reaching Critical Mass – Could it Really Put Big Oil on the Defensive … Really?


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*** This article appeared in TESLARATI and was re-posted in Fully Charged. We have Followed and Written a LOT about the ‘Coming EV Revolution’, about Advances in Charging Stations and Battery Technology. Most recently we posted an article ‘What If Green Energy Isn’t the Future?’

So maybe … just maybe, ‘Green Energy’ might NOT be able to meet the current Projected Carbon Fuel Replacement Schedule …. However, could the EV/ Hydrogen Fuel Cell Revolution replace forever the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE)?  (Hint: We Think So!)

Let Us Know What YOU think! Leave us your thoughts and comments. (below)

Headed by vehicles like the Tesla Model 3, the electric car revolution is showing no signs of stopping. The auto landscape today is very different from what it was years ago. Before, only Tesla and a few automakers were pushing electric cars, and the Model S was proving to the industry that EVs could be objectively better than internal combustion vehicles. Today, practically every automaker has plans to release electric cars. EV startup Bollinger Motors CEO Robert Bollinger summed it up best: “If you want to start a (car company) now, it has to be electric.”

CATALYSTS FOR A TRANSITION

A critical difference between then and now is that veteran automakers today are coming up with decent electric vehicles. No longer were EVs glorified golf carts and compliance cars; today’s electric vehicles are just as attractive, sleek, and powerful than their internal combustion peers. The auto industry has warmed up to electric vehicles as well. The Jaguar I-PACE has been collecting awards left and right since its release, and more recently, the Kia Niro EV was dubbed by Popular Mechanics as the recipient of its Car of the Year award.

A survey by CarGurus earlier this year revealed that 34% of car buyers are open to purchasing an electric car within the next ten years. A survey among young people in the UK last year revealed even more encouraging results, with 50% of respondents stating that they want electric cars. Amidst the disruption being brought about by the Tesla Model 3, which has all but dominated EV sales since production ramped last year, experienced automakers have responded in kind. Volkswagen recently debuted the ID.3, Audi has the e-tron, Hyundai has the Kona EV, and Mercedes-Benz has the EQC. Even Porsche, a low-volume car manufacturer, is attracting the high-end legacy market with the Taycan.

At this point, it appears that Tesla’s mission is going well underway. With the market now open to the idea of electric vehicles, there is an excellent chance that EV adoption will only increase from this point on.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveils the Tesla Semi. (Credit: Tesla)

BIG OIL FEELS A CHANGE IN THE WIND

Passenger cars are the No.1 source of demand for oil, and with the potential emergence of a transportation industry whose life and death does not rely on a gas pump, Big Oil could soon find itself on the defensive. Depending on how quickly the auto industry could shift entirely to sustainable transportation and how seriously governments handle issues like climate change, “peak oil” could happen a couple of decades or a few years from now. This could adversely affect investors in the oil industry, who might be at risk of losing their investments if peak oil happens faster than expected. JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade, described this potential scenario in a statement to CNN. “Look at what happened to the coal industry. You have to keep that in the back of your mind and be vigilant. It can turn very, very quickly,” the strategist said.

Paul Sankey of Mizuho Securities previously mentioned that a “Tesla Effect” is starting to be felt in the oil markets. According to the analyst, the Tesla Effect is an increasingly prevalent concept today which states that while the 20th century was driven by oil, the 21st century will be driven by electricity. This, together with the growing movements against climate change today, does not bode well for the oil industry. Adam White, an equity strategist at SunTrust Advisory, stated that investors might not be looking at the oil market with optimism anymore. “A lot of damage has already been done. People are jaded towards the industry,” he said.

Prospective oil developments have been fraudulently overvalued, as claimed by a Complaint filed against Exxon. (Photo: Pixabay)

An analysis from Barclays points to the world’s reliance on oil peaking somewhere between 2030 and 2035, provided that countries keep to their low-carbon goals. The investment bank also noted that peak oil could happen as early as 2025 if more aggressive climate change initiatives are adopted on a wider scale. This all but makes investments in oil stocks very risky in the 2020s, and this risk gets amplified if electric vehicles become more mainstream. Sverre Alvik of research firm DNV GL described this concern. “By 2030, oil shareholders will feel the impact. Electric vehicles are likely to cause light vehicle oil demand to plunge by nearly 50% by 2040,” Alvik said.

Some of today’s prolific oil producers appear to be making the necessary preparations for peak oil’s inevitable decline. Amidst pressures from shareholders, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and Total have expanded their operations into solar, wind, and electric charging, seemingly as a means to future-proof themselves. On the flipside, there are also big oil players that are ramping their activities. Earlier this month, financial titan Warren Buffet, who recently expressed his skepticism towards Elon Musk’s plan of introducing an insurance service for Tesla’s electric cars, committed $10 billion to Occidental Petroleum, one of the largest oil and gas exploration companies in the United States.

A POINT OF NO RETURN

The auto industry is now at a point where a real transition towards electrification is happening. Tesla’s efforts over the years, from the original Roadster to the Model 3, have played a huge part in this transition. Tesla, as well as its CEO, Elon Musk, have awakened the public’s eye about the viability of electric cars, while showing the auto industry that there is a demand for good, well-designed EVs. Nevertheless, Tesla still has a long journey ahead of it, as the company ramps its activities in the energy storage sector. If Tesla Energy mobilizes and becomes as disruptive as the company’s electric car division, it would deal yet another blow to the oil industry.

At this point, it is pertinent for veteran automakers that have released their own electric cars to ensure that they do not stop. Legacy car makers had long talked the talk when it came to electric vehicles, but today, it is time to walk the walk. German automaker Volkswagen could be a big player in this transition, as hinted at by the reception of its all-electric car, the ID.3. The ID.3 launch was successful, with Volkswagen getting 10,000 preorders for the vehicle in just 24 hours. The German carmaker should see this as writing on the wall: the demand for EVs is there.

The Volkswagen ID.3. (Credit: Volkswagen)

The Volkswagen ID.3 is not as quick or sleek as a Tesla Model 3, nor does it last as long on the road between charges. But considering its price point and its badge, it does not have to be. Volkswagen states that the ID.3 will be priced below 40,000 euros ($45,000) in Germany, which should make it attainable for car buyers in the country.  If done right, the ID.3 could be the second coming of the Beetle, ultimately becoming a car that redeems the company from the stigma of the Dieselgate scandal. Thus, it would be a great shame if Volkswagen drops the ball on the ID.3.

Tesla will likely remain a divisive company for years to come; Elon Musk, even more so. Nevertheless, Tesla and what it stands for is slowly becoming an idea, one that connotes hope for something better and cleaner for the future. And if history’s victories and tragedies are any indication, once something becomes an idea, an intangible concept, it becomes impossible to kill.

Watch and Learn More

Mobility Disruption | Tony Seba

Tony Seba, Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Author and Thought Leader, Lecturer at Stanford University, Keynote The reinvention and connection between infrastructure and mobility will fundamentally disrupt the clean transport model.

Nano-Enabled Batteries and Super Capacitors

Researchers Discover New Material that Could Unlock the Potential for Hydrogen Powered Vehicle Revolution


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Scientists have discovered a new material that could hold the key to unlocking the potential of hydrogen powered vehicles.

As the world looks towards a gradual move away from fossil fuel powered cars and trucks, greener alternative technologies are being explored, such as electric battery powered vehicles.

Another ‘green’ technology with great potential is hydrogen power. However, a major obstacle has been the size, complexity, and expense of the fuel systems – until now.

An international team of researchers, led by Professor David Antonelli of Lancaster University, has discovered a new material made from manganese hydride that offers a solution. The new material would be used to make molecular sieves within fuel tanks – which store the hydrogen and work alongside fuel cells in a hydrogen powered ‘system’.

The material, called KMH-1 (Kubas Manganese Hydride-1), would enable the design of tanks that are far smaller, cheaper, more convenient and energy dense than existing hydrogen fuel technologies, and significantly out-perform battery-powered vehicles.

Professor Antonelli, Chair in Physical Chemistry at Lancaster University and who has been researching this area for more than 15 years, said: “The cost of manufacturing our material is so low, and the energy density it can store is so much higher than a lithium ion battery, that we could see hydrogen fuel cell systems that cost five times less than lithium ion batteries as well as providing a much longer range – potentially enabling journeys up to around four or five times longer between fill-ups.”

The material takes advantage of a chemical process called Kubas binding. This process enables the storage of hydrogen by distancing the hydrogen atoms within a H2 molecule and works at room temperature. This eliminates the need to split, and bind, the bonds between atoms, processes that require high energies and extremes of temperature and need complex equipment to deliver.

The KMH-1 material also absorbs and stores any excess energy so external heat and cooling is not needed. This is crucial because it means cooling and heating equipment does not need to be used in vehicles, resulting in systems with the potential to be far more efficient than existing designs.

The sieve works by absorbing hydrogen under around 120 atmospheres of pressure, which is less than a typical scuba tank. It then releases hydrogen from the tank into the fuel cell when the pressure is released.

The researchers’ experiments show that the material could enable the storage of four times as much hydrogen in the same volume as existing hydrogen fuel technologies. This is great for vehicle manufactures as it provides them with flexibility to design vehicles with increased range of up to four times, or allowing them to reducing the size of the tanks by up to a factor of four.

Although vehicles, including cars and heavy goods vehicles, are the most obvious application, the researchers believe there are many other applications for KMH-1.

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“This material can also be used in portable devices such as drones or within mobile chargers so people could go on week-long camping trips without having to recharge their devices,” said Professor Antonelli. “The real advantage this brings is in situations where you anticipate being off grid for long periods of time, such as long haul truck journeys, drones, and robotics. It could also be used to run a house or a remote neighbourhood off a fuel cell.”

The technology has been licenced by the University of South Wales to a spin-out company part owned by Professor Antonelli, called Kubagen.

The research, which is detailed in the paper ‘A Manganese Hydride Molecular Sieve for Practical Hydrogen’ is being published on the cover and within the printed version of the academic journal Energy and Environmental Science, has been funded by Chrysler (FCA), Hydro-Quebec Research Institute, the University of South Wales, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Welsh Government and the University of Manchester.

Tarek Abel-Baset, Senior Technical Engineer-Advanced Development Engineering at FCA US, said: “Hydrogen storage poses a formidable challenge. For nearly 15 years, we have collaborated with Professor Antonelli and numerous academia and government funding agencies, and we are proud of the result. The development of the KMH-1 material shows genuine promise.”

Researchers on the project include: Leah Morris, University of South Wales; James Hales and Nikolas Kaltsoyannis, University of Manchester; Michel Trudeau, Hydro-Quebec Research Institute; Peter Georgiev, University of Sofia; Jan Embs, Paul Scherrer Institut; Juergen Eckert, Texas Tech University; and David Antonelli, Lancaster University.

Source: http://www.lancs.ac.uk/

‘Nano-Spidey senses’ could help autonomous machines (EV’s, Drones) see better


spideysenses (1)Researchers are building spider-inspired sensors into the shells of autonomous drones and cars so that they can detect objects better. Credit: Taylor Callery

What if drones and self-driving cars had the tingling “spidey senses” of Spider-Man?

They might actually detect and avoid objects better, says Andres Arrieta, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, because they would process  faster.

Better sensing capabilities would make it possible for drones to navigate in dangerous environments and for cars to prevent accidents caused by human error. Current state-of-the-art sensor technology doesn’t process data fast enough—but nature does.

And researchers wouldn’t have to create a radioactive spider to give autonomous machines superhero sensing abilities.

Instead, Purdue researchers have built  inspired by spiders, bats, birds and other animals, whose actual spidey senses are  linked to special neurons called mechanoreceptors.

The nerve endings—mechanosensors—only detect and process information essential to an animal’s survival. They come in the form of hair, cilia or feathers.

“There is already an explosion of data that  can collect—and this rate is increasing faster than what conventional computing would be able to process,” said Arrieta, whose lab applies principles of nature to the design of structures, ranging from robots to aircraft wings.

“Nature doesn’t have to collect every piece of data; it filters out what it needs,” he said.

Many biological mechanosensors filter data—the information they receive from an environment—according to a threshold, such as changes in pressure or temperature.

'Spidey senses' could help autonomous machines see better
In nature, ‘spidey-senses’ are activated by a force associated with an approaching object. Researchers are giving autonomous machines the same ability through sensors that change shape when prompted by a predetermined level of force. Credit: ETH Zürich images/Hortense Le Ferrand

A spider’s hairy mechanosensors, for example, are located on its legs. When a spider’s web vibrates at a frequency associated with prey or a mate, the mechanosensors detect it, generating a reflex in the spider that then reacts very quickly. The mechanosensors wouldn’t detect a lower frequency, such as that of dust on the web, because it’s unimportant to the spider’s survival.

The idea would be to integrate similar sensors straight into the shell of an autonomous machine, such as an airplane wing or the body of a car. The researchers demonstrated in a paper published in ACS Nano that engineered mechanosensors inspired by the hairs of spiders could be customized to detect predetermined forces. In real life, these forces would be associated with a certain object that an autonomous machine needs to avoid.

But the sensors they developed don’t just sense and filter at a very fast rate—they also compute, and without needing a power supply.

“There’s no distinction between hardware and software in nature; it’s all interconnected,” Arrieta said. “A sensor is meant to interpret data, as well as collect and filter it.”

In nature, once a particular level of force activates the mechanoreceptors associated with the hairy mechanosensor, these mechanoreceptors compute information by switching from one state to another.

Purdue researchers, in collaboration with Nanyang Technology University in Singapore and ETH Zürich, designed their sensors to do the same, and to use these on/off states to interpret signals. An intelligent machine would then react according to what these sensors compute.

These artificial mechanosensors are capable of sensing, filtering and computing very quickly because they are stiff, Arrieta said. The sensor material is designed to rapidly change shape when activated by an external force. Changing shape makes conductive particles within the material move closer to each other, which then allows electricity to flow through the sensor and carry a signal. This signal informs how the autonomous system should respond.

“With the help of machine learning algorithms, we could train these sensors to function autonomously with minimum energy consumption,” Arrieta said. “There are also no barriers to manufacturing these sensors to be in a variety of sizes.”


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Engineers create new design for ultra-thin capacitive sensors


More information: Hortense Le Ferrand et al, Filtered Mechanosensing Using Snapping Composites with Embedded Mechano-Electrical Transduction, ACS Nano (2019). DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.9b01095

Journal information: ACS Nano
Provided by Purdue University

What if Green Energy Isn’t the Future?


Green W not future ED-AY628_Mills_GR_20190515162804A gas-filtration system atop a well, managed by Anadarko in Pennsylvania, Sept. 8, 2012.Photo: Robert Nicklesberg /Getty Images

What’s Warren Buffett doing with a $10 billion bet on the future of oil and gas, helping old-school Occidental Petroleum buy Anadarko, a U.S. shale leader? For pundits promoting the all-green future, this looks like betting on horse farms circa 1919.

Meanwhile, broad market sentiment is decidedly bearish on hydrocarbons. The oil and gas share of the S&P 500 is at a 40-year low, and the first quarter of 2019 saw the Nasdaq Clean Edge Green Energy Index and “clean tech” exchange-traded funds outperform the S&P.

A week doesn’t pass without a mayor, governor or policy maker joining the headlong rush to pledge or demand a green energy future.

Some 100 U.S. cities have made such promises. Hydrocarbons may be the source of 80% of America’s and the world’s energy, but to say they are currently out of favor is a dramatic understatement.

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Yet it’s both reasonable and, for contrarian investors, potentially lucrative to ask: What happens if renewables fail to deliver?

The prevailing wisdom has wind and solar, paired with batteries, adding 250% more energy to the world over the next two decades than American shale has added over the past 15 years.

Is that realistic? The shale revolution has been the single biggest addition to the world energy supply in the past century. And even bullish green scenarios still see global demand for oil and gas rising, if more slowly.

Q: If the favored alternatives fall short of delivering what growing economies need, will markets tolerate energy starvation? Not likely. Nations everywhere will necessarily turn to hydrocarbons.

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And just how big could the call on oil and natural gas—and coal, for that matter—become if, say, only half as much green-tech energy gets produced as is now forecast? Keep in mind that a 50% “haircut” would still mean unprecedented growth in green-tech.

If the three hydrocarbons were each to supply one-third of such a posited green shortfall, global petroleum output would have to increase by an amount equal to doubling the production of the Permian shale field (Anadarko’s home). And the world supply of liquid natural gas would need to increase by an amount equal to twice Qatar’s current exports, plus coal would have to almost double what the top global exporter, Australia, now ships.

Green forecasters are likely out over their skis. All the predictions assume that emerging economies—the least wealthy nations—will account for more nearly three-fourths of total new spending on renewables. That won’t happen unless the promised radical cost reductions occur.

For a bellwether reality-check, note that none of the wealthy nations that are parties to the Paris Accord—or any of the poor ones, for that matter—have come close to meeting the green pledges called for. In fact, let’s quote the International Energy Agency on what has actually happened: “Energy demand worldwide [in 2018] grew by . . . its fastest pace this decade . . . driven by a robust global economy . . . with fossil fuels meeting nearly 70% of the growth for the second year running.”

The reason? Using wind, solar and batteries as the primary sources of a nation’s energy supply remains far too expensive. You don’t need science or economics to know that. Simply propose taking away subsidies or mandates, and you’ll unleash the full fury of the green lobby.

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Meanwhile, there are already signs that the green vision is losing luster. Sweden’s big shift to wind power has not only created alarm over inadequate electricity supplies; it’s depressing economic growth and may imperil that nation’s bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics. China, although adept at green virtue-signaling, has quietly restarted massive domestic coal-power construction and is building hundreds of coal plants for emerging economies around the world.

In the U.S., utilities, furiously but without fanfare, have been adding billions of dollars of massive oil- and natural-gas-burning diesel engines to the grid. Over the past two decades, three times as much grid-class reciprocating engine capacity has been added to the U.S. grid as in the entire half-century before. It’s the only practical way to produce grid-scale electricity fast enough when the wind dies off. Sweden will doubtless be forced to do the same.

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A common response to all of the above: Make more electric cars. But mere arithmetic reveals that even the optimists’ 100-fold growth in electric vehicles wouldn’t displace more than 5% of global oil demand in two decades. Tepid growth in gasoline demand would be more than offset by growing economies’ appetites for air travel and manufactured goods. Goodness knows what would happen if Trump-like economic growth were to take hold in the rest of the developed world. As Mr. Buffett knows, the IEA foresees the U.S. supplying nearly three-fourths of the world’s net new demand for oil and gas.

Green advocates can hope to persuade governments—and thus taxpayers—to deploy a huge tax on hydrocarbons to ensure more green construction. But there’s no chance that wealthy nations will agree to subsidize expensive green tech for the rest of the world.

And we know where the Oracle of Omaha has placed a bet.

Re-Posted from the Wall Street Journal – Mr. Mills is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a partner in Cottonwood Venture Partners, an energy-tech venture fund, and author of the recent report, “The ‘New Energy Economy’: An Exercise in Magical Thinking.”

 

Say What? U.S. cancer institute (NCI) cancels nanotech research centers – Why?


The U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Maryland, will halt funding next year for its long-running Centers of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence (CCNEs), which are focused on steering advances in nanotechnology to detect and treat cancer.

The shift marks nanotechnology’s “natural transition” from an emerging field requiring dedicated support to a more mature enterprise able to compete head to head with other types of cancer research, says Piotr Grodzinski, who heads NCI’s Nanodelivery Systems and Devices Branch, which oversees the CCNEs. “This doesn’t mean NCI’s interest in nanotechnology is decreasing.”

Nevertheless, cancer nanotechnology experts see the decision as a blow. “It’s disappointing and very shortsighted given the emergence of nanotechnology and medicine,” says Chad Mirkin, who directs a CCNE at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

CCNEs have spawned dozens of clinical trials for new drugs and drug delivery devices, as well as novel technologies for diagnosing disease, he says. “Cancer research needs new ways of making new types of medicines. Nanotechnology represents a way to do that,” he says.

Nanotechnology also has a unique place in cancer research, where making advances requires multiple disciplines, including chemistry, physics, cell biology, and patient care, to design novel drugs and drug carriers that can navigate the body and seek out and destroy tumors.

“We’re talking about a different beast here,” says Michelle Bradbury, a radiologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, who co-directs the Sloan Kettering-Cornell University CCNE. “The center format is perfect for that.”

NCI launched eight CCNEs in 2005 for an initial 5-year term. Nine received funding in 2010 for the project’s second phase, and six in 2015 for phase three. In total, CCNEs received about $330 million over 15 years, Grodzinski says, with an additional $70 million in funding for training and other types of nanotechnology research centers.

That, he says, represents between 10% to 20% of NCI’s funding for nanotechnology research, depending on the specific 5-year phase. NCI will continue to support nanotechnology through R01 and other grant mechanisms, Grodzinski says. But Bradbury and others are concerned that a more piecemeal funding approach might be less successful. “You might not see the integration between disciplines,” she says.

Army research may be used to treat cancer, Heal combat wounds


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Army research is the first to develop computational models using a microbiology procedure that may be used to improve novel cancer treatments and treat combat wounds.

Using the technique, known as electroporation, an electrical field is applied to cells in order to increase the permeability of the cell membrane, allowing chemicals, drugs, or DNA to be introduced into the cell.

For example, electro-chemotherapy is a cutting-edge cancer treatment that uses electroporation as a means to deliver chemotherapy into cancerous cells.

The research, funded by the U.S. Army and conducted by researchers at University of California, Santa Barbara and Université de Bordeaux, France, has developed a computational approach for parallel simulations that models the complex bioelectrical interaction at the tissue scale.

Previously, most research has been conducted on individual cells, and each cell behaves according to certain rules.

“When you consider a large number of them together, the aggregate exhibits novel coherent behaviors,” said Pouria Mistani, a researcher at UCSB. “It is this emergent phenomenon that is crucial for developing effective theories at the tissue-scale — novel behaviors that emerge from the coupling of many individual elements.”

This new research, published in the Journal of Computational Physics, is funded by the U.S. Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Lab, the Army’s corporate research laboratory known as ARL, through its Army Research Office.

“Mathematical research enables us to study the bioelectric effects of cells in order to develop new anti-cancer strategies,” said Dr. Joseph Myers, Army Research Office mathematical sciences division chief.

“This new research will enable more accurate and capable virtual experiments of the evolution and treatment of cells, cancerous or healthy, in response to a variety of candidate drugs.”

Researchers said a crucial element in making this possible is the development of advanced computational algorithms.

“There is quite a lot of mathematics that goes into the design of algorithms that can consider tens of thousands well-resolved cells,” said Frederic Gibou, a faculty member in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science at UCSB.

Another potential application is accelerating combat wound healing using electric pulsation.

“It’s an exciting, but mainly unexplored area that stems from a deeper discussion at the frontier of developmental biology, namely how electricity influences morphogenesis,” — or the biological process that causes an organism to develop its shape — Gibou said. “In wound healing, the goal is to externally manipulate electric cues to guide cells to grow faster in the wounded region and accelerate the healing process.”

The common factor among these applications is their bioelectric physical nature. In recent years, it has been established that the bioelectric nature of living organisms plays a pivotal role in the development of their form and growth.

To understand bioelectric phenomena, Gibou’s group considered computer experiments on multicellular spheroids in 3-D. Spheroids are aggregates of a few tens of thousands of cells that are used in biology because of their structural and functional similarity with tumors.

“We started from the phenomenological cell-scale model that was developed in the research group of our colleague, Clair Poignard, at the Université de Bordeaux, France, with whom we have collaborated for several years,” Gibou said.

This model, which describes the evolution of transmembrane potential on an isolated cell, has been compared and validated with the response of a single cell in experiments.

“From there, we developed the first computational framework that is able to consider a cell aggregate of tens of thousands of cells and to simulate their interactions,” he said. “The end goal is to develop an effective tissue-scale theory for electroporation.”

One of the main reasons for the absence of an effective theory at the tissue scale is the lack of data, according to Gibou and Mistani. Specifically, the missing data in the case of electroporation is the time evolution of the transmembrane potential of each individual cell in a tissue environment. Experiments are not able to make those measurements, they said.

“Currently, experimental limitations prevent the development of an effective tissue-level electroporation theory,” Mistani said. “Our work has developed a computational approach that can simulate the response of individual cells in a spheroid to an electric field as well as their mutual interactions.”

Each cell behaves according to certain rules. 

“But when you consider a large number of them together, the aggregate exhibits novel coherent behaviors,” Mistani said. “It is this emergent phenomenon that is crucial for developing effective theories at the tissue-scale — novel behaviors that emerge from the coupling of many individual elements.”

The effects of electroporation used in cancer treatment, for example, depend on many factors, such as the strength of the electric field, its pulse and frequency.

“This work could bring an effective theory that helps understand the tissue response to these parameters and thus optimize such treatments,” Mistani said. “Before our work, the largest existing simulations of cell aggregate electroporation only considered about one hundred cells in 3-D, or were limited to 2-D simulations. Those simulations either ignored the real 3-D nature of spheroids or considered too few cells for tissue-scale emergent behaviors to manifest.”

The researchers are currently mining this unique dataset to develop an effective tissue-scale theory of cell aggregate electroporation.

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The CCDC Army Research Laboratory (ARL) is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. As the Army’s corporate research laboratory, ARL discovers, innovates and transitions science and technology to ensure dominant strategic land power. Through collaboration across the command’s core technical competencies, CCDC leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more effective to win our Nation’s wars and come home safely. CCDC is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command.

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Niagara Falls goes electric — US-built all-electric vessels coming to Maid of the Mist tour this yearu


Niagara Falls’ famous Maid of the Mist boat tour is getting the first two all-electric passenger vessels constructed in the US. The new zero-emission boats are expected to debut in mid-September this year.

The catamaran-style electric vessels (pictured above) were designed by Propulsion Data Systems and are being built by Burger Boat Company of Manitowoc, Wisc. They will be transported to Niagara Falls this month, where they will be lowered onto the dry dock and maintenance facility to be assembled.

ABB is supplying the power and propulsion system for the new vessels, including lithium-ion batteries and an onshore charging system. After each trip to the Falls and back, the electric boats will receive a seven-minute charge to bring the batteries to 80 percent capacity.

The artist’s rendering above the headline shows what the new Maid of the Mist vessels are expected to look like, with a green-blue color scheme and a nod to their electric power on the hull.

Maid of the Mist first launched in 1846 and has been running continuously ever since, making it one of the longest-running tourist attractions in North America. Maid of the Mist President Christopher M. Glynn said,

“It makes perfect sense for Maid of the Mist to be a world leader with the implementation of this green technology. The new vessels will carry our guests to the base of Niagara Falls, one of the world’s largest sources of clean hydroelectric power.”

Electrek’s Take

Niagara Falls has a history of electrification. It was an early pioneer of large-scale hydroelectric power, thanks to the help of Nikola Tesla. So Maid of the Mist going all-electric makes sense on a number of levels.

I’ve personally gone on the Maid of the Mist tour several times, and would recommend it to anyone visiting Niagara Falls. The new Maid of the Mist won’t just be better for the environment — it will be an even more immersive way to experience Niagara Falls, without the diesel fumes and noises.

Furthermore, a seven-minute charge after each trip means tourists should see no delays, as it takes at least that long for hundreds of passengers to get off the boat and a new group to get on board.