Our Environment: An Underwater Irish Canyon Is Sucking CO2 Out of the Atmosphere (We heard the Irish were good at “drinking” but … )


Porcupine_Bank_and_Seabight,_NE_Atlantic

Northeast Atlantic bathymetry, with Porcupine Bank and the Porcupine Seabight labelled.

A research expedition to a huge underwater canyon off the Irish coast has shed light on a hidden process that sucks the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere.

Researchers led by a team from the University College Cork (UCC) took an underwater research drone by boat out to Porcupine Bank Canyon — a massive, cliff-walled underwater trench where Ireland’s continental shelf ends — to build a detailed map of its boundaries and interior. Along the way, the researchers reported in a statement, they noted a process at the edge of the canyon that pulls CO2 from the atmosphere and buries it deep under the sea.

ColdWaterCoral_largeAll around the rim of the canyon live cold-water corals, which thrive on dead plankton raining down from the ocean surface. Those tiny, surface-dwelling plankton build their bodies out of carbon extracted from CO2 in the air. Then, when they die, the coral on the seafloor consume them and build their bodies out of the same carbon. Over time, as the coral die and the cliff faces shift and crumble, which sends the coral   falling deep into the canyon. There, the carbon pretty much stays put for long periods. [ In Photos: ROV Explores Deep-Sea Marianas Trench

There’s evidence that a lot of carbon is moving this way; the researchers said they found “significant” dead coral buildup at the canyon bottom.

This process doesn’t move nearly enough carbon dioxide to prevent climate change, the researchers said. But it does shed light on yet another mechanism that keeps the planet’s CO2 levels regulated when human industry doesn’t interfere.

“Increasing CO2 concentrations in our atmosphere are causing our extreme weather,” Andy Wheeler, a UCC geoscientist and one of the researchers on the expedition, said in the statement. “Oceans absorb this CO2 and canyons are a rapid route for pumping it into the deep ocean where it is safely stored away.”

The mapping expedition covered an area about the size of Chicago and revealed places where the canyon has moved and shifted significantly in the past.

“We took cores with the ROV, and the sediments reveal that although the canyon is quiet now, periodically it is a violent place where the seabed gets ripped up and eroded,” Wheeler said.

The expedition will return to shore today (Aug. 10).

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MIT: Introducing the latest in textiles: Soft hardware


MIT-Fiber-Diodes-01_0For the first time, the researchers from MIT and AFFOA have produced fibers with embedded electronics that are so flexible they can be woven into soft fabrics and made into wearable clothing.: Courtesy of the researchers

Researchers incorporate optoelectronic diodes into fibers and weave them into washable fabrics.

The latest development in textiles and fibers is a kind of soft hardware that you can wear: cloth that has electronic devices built right into it.

Researchers at MIT have now embedded high speed optoelectronic semiconductor devices, including light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and diode photodetectors, within fibers that were then woven at Inman Mills, in South Carolina, into soft, washable fabrics and made into communication systems. This marks the achievement of a long-sought goal of creating “smart” fabrics by incorporating semiconductor devices — the key ingredient of modern electronics — which until now was the missing piece for making fabrics with sophisticated functionality.

This discovery, the researchers  say, could unleash a new “Moore’s Law” for fibers — in other words, a rapid progression in which the capabilities of fibers would grow rapidly and exponentially over time, just as the capabilities of microchips have grown over decades.

The findings are described this week in the journal Nature in a paper by former MIT graduate student Michael Rein; his research advisor Yoel Fink, MIT professor of materials science and electrical engineering and CEO of AFFOA (Advanced Functional Fabrics of America); along with a team from MIT, AFFOA, Inman Mills, EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland, and Lincoln Laboratory.

A spool of fine, soft fiber made using the new process shows the embedded LEDs turning on and off to demonstrate their functionality. The team has used similar fibers to transmit music to detector fibers, which work even when underwater. (Courtesy of the researchers)

Optical fibers have been traditionally produced by making a cylindrical object called a “preform,” which is essentially a scaled-up model of the fiber, then heating it. Softened material is then drawn or pulled downward under tension and the resulting fiber is collected on a spool.

The key breakthrough for producing  these new fibers was to add to the preform light-emitting semiconductor diodes the size of a grain of sand, and a pair of copper wires a fraction of a hair’s width. When heated in a furnace during the fiber-drawing process, the polymer preform partially liquified, forming a long fiber with the diodes lined up along its center and connected by the copper wires.

In this case, the solid components were two types of electrical diodes made using standard microchip technology: light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and photosensing diodes. “Both the devices and the wires maintain their dimensions while everything shrinks around them” in the drawing process, Rein says. The resulting fibers were then woven into fabrics, which were laundered 10 times to demonstrate their practicality as possible material for clothing.

“This approach adds a new insight into the process of making fibers,” says Rein, who was the paper’s lead author and developed the concept that led to the new process. “Instead of drawing the material all together in a liquid state, we mixed in devices in particulate form, together with thin metal wires.”

One of the advantages of incorporating function into the fiber material itself is that the resulting  fiber is inherently waterproof. To demonstrate this, the team placed some of the photodetecting fibers inside a fish tank. A lamp outside the aquarium transmitted music (appropriately, Handel’s “Water Music”) through the water to the fibers in the form of rapid optical signals. The fibers in the tank converted the light pulses — so rapid that the light appears steady to the naked eye — to electrical signals, which were then converted into music. The fibers survived in the water for weeks.

Though the principle sounds simple, making it work consistently, and making sure that the fibers could be manufactured reliably and in quantity, has been a long and difficult process. Staff at the Advanced Functional Fabric of America Institute, led by Jason Cox and Chia-Chun Chung, developed the pathways to increasing yield, throughput, and overall reliability, making these fibers ready for transitioning to industry. At the same time, Marty Ellis from Inman Mills developed techniques for weaving these fibers into fabrics using a conventional industrial manufacturing-scale loom.

“This paper describes a scalable path for incorporating semiconductor devices into fibers. We are anticipating the emergence of a ‘Moore’s law’ analog in fibers in the years ahead,” Fink says. “It is already allowing us to expand the fundamental capabilities of fabrics to encompass communications, lighting, physiological monitoring, and more. In the years ahead fabrics will deliver value-added services and will no longer just be selected for aesthetics and comfort.”

He says that the first commercial products incorporating this technology will be reaching the marketplace as early as next year — an extraordinarily short progression from laboratory research to commercialization. Such rapid lab-to-market development was a key part of the reason for creating an academic-industry-government collaborative such as AFFOA in the first place, he says. These initial applications will be specialized products involving communications and safety. “It’s going to be the first fabric communication system. We are right now in the process of transitioning the technology to domestic manufacturers and industry at an unprecendented speed and scale,” he says.

In addition to commercial applications, Fink says the U.S. Department of Defense — one of AFFOA’s major supporters — “is exploring applications of these ideas to our women and men in uniform.”

Beyond communications, the fibers could potentially have significant applications in the biomedical field, the researchers say. For example, devices using such fibers might be used to make a wristband that could measure pulse or blood oxygen levels, or be woven into a bandage to continuously monitor the healing  process.

The research was supported in part by the MIT Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) through the MRSEC Program of the National Science Foundation, by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the U.S. Army Research Office through the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies. This work was also supported by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.

Sodium-ion Batteries Could Get Better Thanks to Graphene and Lasers


You hear a lot about the shortcomings of lithium-ion batteries, mostly related to the slow rate of capacity improvements. However, they’re also pretty expensive because of the required lithium for cathodes. Sodium-ion batteries have shown some promise as a vastly cheaper alternative, but the performance hasn’t been comparable. With the aid of lasers and graphene, researchers may have developed a new type of sodium-ion battery that works better and could reduce the cost of battery technology by an order of magnitude.

The research comes from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia. Much of the country’s water comes from desalination, so there’s a lot of excess sodium left over. Worldwide, sodium is about 30 times cheaper than lithium, so it would be nice if we could use that as a battery cathode. The issue is that standard graphite anodes don’t hold onto sodium ions as well as they do lithium.

The KAUST team looked at a way to create a material called hard carbon to boost sodium-ion effectiveness. Producing hard carbon usually requires a complex multi-step process that involves heating samples to more than 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit (1,000 Celsius). That effectively eliminates the cost advantage of using sodium in batteries. The KAUST team managed to create something like hard carbon with relative ease using graphene and lasers.

It all starts with a piece of copper foil. The team applied a polymer layer composed of urea polymides. Researchers blasted this material with a high-intensity laser to create graphene by a process called carbonization. Regular graphene isn’t enough, though. While the laser fired, nitrogen was added to the reaction chamber. Nitrogen atoms end up integrated into the material, replacing some of the carbon atoms. In the end, the material is about 13 percent nitrogen with the remainder carbon.

Making anodes out of this “3D graphene” material offers several advantages. For one, it’s highly conductive. The larger atomic spacing makes it better for capturing sodium ions in a sodium-ion battery, too. Finally, the copper base can be used as a current collector in the battery, saving additional fabrication steps.

The researchers tested a sodium-ion battery with 3D graphene anodes, finding the system outperformed existing sodium-ion systems.

It’s still not as potent as lithium-ion, but these lower cost cells could become popular for applications where high-performance lithium-ion tech isn’t necessary. Your phone will run on lithium batteries for a bit longer.

GNT US Tenka Energy

 

Watch a YouTube Video for Nano Enabled Batteries from GNT US-Tenka Energy

MIT Uses Nanotech to Miniaturize Electronics Into Spray Form


The ‘aerosolized electronics’ are so small they can be sprayed through the air. MIT researchers say the tiny devices could be used to in oil and gas pipelines or even in the human digestive system to detect problems.

Researchers at MIT have built electronics so small they can be sprayed out like a mist.

The electronics are about the size of a human egg cell, and can act as tiny manmade indicators with the ability to sense their surroundings and store data.

On Monday, the team of MIT researchers published their findings, which involve grafting microscopic circuits on “colloidal particles.” These particles are so tiny —from 1 to 1000 nanometers in diameter— that they can suspend themselves indefinitely in a liquid or air.

To create the tiny machines, the MIT researchers used graphene and other compounds to form circuits that can chemically detect when certain particles, say some poisonous ammonia, are nearby and conductive. The circuits were then grafted on colloidal particles made out of a polymer called SU-8. For power, the machines rely on a photodiode that converts light into electrical current.

“What we created is a state machine that can be in two states. We start with OFF and if both light AND a chemical is detected, the particle changes its state to ON,” said Volodymyr Koman, one of the researchers, in an email. “So, there are two inputs, one output (1-bit memory) and one logical statement.”

In their experiments, the researchers successfully used the tiny electronics to identify whether toxic ammonia was present in a pipeline by spraying the machines in aerosolized form. In another experiment, the electronics were able to detect the presence of soot. As a result, the researchers say the technology could be handy in factories or gas pipelines to detect potential problems.

Another use case is for medical care. The tiny machines could be sent through someone’s digestive system to scan for evidence of diseases.

However, one big limitation with the “aerosolized electronics” is they can’t communicate wirelessly. All data is stored on the tiny machines, which can be scooped out from a liquid or caught in air, and then scanned to access the results.

To make them easy to spot (at least under a microscope), the electronics are fitted with tiny reflectors. But in the future, the MIT researchers hope to add some communication capabilities to the machines, so that all data can be fetched remotely.

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“We are excited about this, because on-board electronics has modular nature, i.e. we will be able to extend number of components in the future, increasing complexity,” Koman said.

The researchers published their findings in Nature Nanotechnology on Monday.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comment from one of the researchers.

Self-heating, fast-charging batteries could speed up EV adoption


Image above] Researchers at Penn State have developed a fast-charging battery for all outside temperatures that rapidly heats up internally prior to charging battery materials. Credit: Chao-Yang Wang, Penn State University

A barrier to universal adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) has to do with charging the battery. It can take anywhere from a half hour up to 12 hours, depending on the charging point used and the EV’s battery capacity.

And of course, there needs to be a massive charging infrastructure in place so that drivers will feel confident driving long distances on a single charge.

One factor that significantly impacts EV driving range is the outside temperature. According to the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, cold weather can affect the driving range of plug-in EVs by more than 25%. In a project at Idaho National Laboratory, researchers found that plug-in hybrid electric Chevy Volts driven in winter in Chicago had 29% less range than those driven in spring in Chicago.

It’s common knowledge that batteries, in general, don’t do well in freezing temperatures. But if we’re ever to move beyond gas-powered vehicles, we need a battery that can charge quickly, hold its charge in cold weather, and not cost an arm and a leg.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have been thinking about this for a while. A little over two years ago, William E. Diefenderfer Chair of mechanical engineering, professor of chemical engineering, and professor of materials science and engineering and director of the Electrochemical Engine Center,  Chao-Yang Wang and his team developed a self-heating lithium battery that uses thin nickel foil with one end attached to the negative terminal and the other end extending outside the battery, creating a third terminal.

The foil serves as a heater of sorts. A temperature sensor sets off electron flow through the foil—heating it up and warming the battery. The sensor switches off after the battery reaches 32oF, allowing electric current to continue flowing normally.

Now, Wang and his team have taken their technology a step further by enabling the battery to charge itself in 15 minutes at temperatures as low as –45oF.

When the battery’s internal temperature reaches room temperature and above, the switch opens to allow electric current to flow in and quickly charge the battery.

“One unique feature of our cell is that it will do the heating and then switch to charging automatically,” Wang explains in a Penn State news release.

He says their battery would not affect the current charging infrastructure. “Also, the stations already out there do not have to be changed,” he adds. “Control of heating and charging is within the battery, not the chargers.”

According to the researchers, charging a lithium-ion battery quickly at temperatures under 50 degrees contributes to its degradation and lithium plating—which can make a battery unsafe. Long, slow charging at 50oF, they say, can avoid lithium plating.

And Wang says their technology can work for other batteries as well.

“The self-heating battery structure is also essential for all solid-state ceramic batteries because it thermally stimulates uniform lithium deposition at the lithium metal anode and compensates for insufficient ionic conductivity of ceramic or glass electrolytes,” he explains in an email. “Plus, solid-state batteries are inherently safe and more efficient to operate at high temperatures. Indeed, a solid state battery would be much inferior without the self-heating battery structure.”

He also says their technology is “pretty mature and readily commercialized by auto OEMs and battery manufacturers.”

That’s good news for those of us who have been hesitant to trade in our gas-powered vehicles for electric ones.

The paper, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, is “Fast charging of lithium-ion batteries at all temperatures” (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1807115115).

 

We’re Close to a Universal Quantum Computer, Here’s Where We’re At: YouTube Video


Quantum Computer II p0193ctw

Quantum computers are just on the horizon as both tech giants and startups are working to kickstart the next computing revolution.

 

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U.S. Nuclear Missiles Are Still Controlled By Floppy Disks – https://youtu.be/Y8OOp5_G-R4

Read More: Quantum Computing and the New Space Race http://nationalinterest.org/feature/q… “In January 2017, Chinese scientists officially began experiments using the world’s first quantum-enabled satellite, which will carry out a series of tests aimed at investigating space-based quantum communications over the course of the next two years.”

Quantum Leap in Computer Simulation https://pursuit.unimelb.edu.au/articl… “Ultimately it will help us understand and test the sorts of problems an eventually scaled-up quantum computer will be used for, as the quantum hardware is developed over the next decade or so.”

How Quantum Computing Will Change Your Life https://www.seeker.com/quantum-comput… “The Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics kicked off a new season of live-

Exploring Nanotechnology to Enhance Treatment, Diagnosis & Drug Discovery


What can you do with a liberal arts degree? Native New Yorker Daniel Heller, PhD, majored in history, added in some basic science courses, and started his working life as a middle school science teacher. After taking some additional chemistry coursework during non-teaching hours, Heller parlayed it all into a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Illinois.

Today he is a biomedical engineer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), New York City, where his Cancer Nanomedicine Laboratory team invents new technologies that can assist health care in helping human kind.

Heller chuckled when mentioning his circuitous life path and some of the stops along the way: performing as a wizard at a Renaissance Fair (“…liquid nitrogen turns into a pretty impressive potion…”), trying to master the Argentine tango, appreciating his brother’s equally non-traditional path as a drummer in heavy metal bands, and happily settling into married life with his wife who is a primary care physician.

In recent years, he has also managed to garner solid industry credentials in the form of awards, including the NSF CAREER Award (2018), Pershing Square Sohn Prize for Young Innovators in Cancer Research (2017), and NIH Director’s New Innovator Award (2012), among others.

“I like inventing,” Heller stated simply. “In my lab, we often think of ourselves as biomedical engineers whose primary goal is invent new technologies to improve cancer research, diagnosis, and therapy.

Only when I arrived at MSKCC did I realize how far that is from the way biologists think. I was trained that our goal is to invent, and to learn new science along the way, while a biologist’s goal is to understand nature and develop tools mainly as a means to an end. I didn’t have a huge biomedical background coming in, but by talking to the people around me at Sloan Kettering and Weill Cornell Medicine [where he is an Assistant Professor], I have learned a great deal.”

As detailed on his laboratory website (www.mskcc.org/research-areas/labs/daniel-heller), Heller and team are “… developing nanomedicines to target precision agents to disease sites, including to metastatic cancers. We are also addressing the problem of the early detection of cancer and other diseases by building implantable nanosensors.

To enable the discovery of new medicines, we also are inventing new nanosensors and imaging tools to accelerate drug development and biomedical research.”

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Nanoparticles in Treatment

Heller told Oncology Times that it all begins with interaction and collaboration. “We are lucky because we get to dig deep with the clinicians, clinician/scientists, and biologists to understand exactly what might be wrong with a particular mode of therapy,” said Heller of his development process. “An oncologist might talk to us about a drug or class of therapies that have particular problems and specific side effects, such as dose-limiting toxicity that prevents people from getting enough of a therapy to adequately inhibit the target in the tumor.”

He added that problems often stem from the fact that a drug negatively affects tissue that is not part of the tumor. “Can we avoid that one vulnerable tissue that will really mess up the use of this drug for treating the tumor? Can we prevent the drug from getting into that tissue?” asked Heller rhetorically. Clearly, he believes it is possible with the help of nanoparticles.

He noted that people erroneously think of nanoparticles as being “the smallest of the small.” But small molecule drugs, and even protein drugs, are much smaller than nanoparticles. Most drugs can diffuse all over the body. “But if we put the drug into a larger nanoparticle, we can keep it from spraying out over all the tissues,” detailed Heller.

His team also must consider how to deliver the nanoparticle containing the drug to a precise location in the tumor site, and whether there is a target that can lead it to that tumor site. “Most of the targets we are looking for are not on the tumor cells themselves, but on the blood vessels that are feeding the tumor,” said Heller. “Our targets are not drug targets, but rather gateways to the tumor, molecules on blood vessels in tumors sites, or sites of inflammation. Then we make sure that the nanoparticle has a molecule on the outside of it that can stick to those targets.”

The research takes the engineering team into the realms of vascular biology, vascular transport, and an understanding of how materials can get across the blood, across the blood/brain barrier, across the tumor barrier. “We are also exploring signaling pathways,” said Heller. “When trying to deliver a kinase inhibitor, for example, we must consider the target we are hitting, where else that target is in the body, and if there any other off-target proteins elsewhere in the body that the drug will hit. We also have to think about resistance mechanisms and compensatory pathways. So as a team we have been learning a lot of physiology.”

Heller says his 5-year-old laboratory contains requisite benches, a tissue culture room, and a studio equipped with lasers and optics for work on sensors. In the basement reside the all-important mice, critical to preclinical development and testing. Looking at target proteins in the body of a mouse, the team is able to determine if a drug encased in a nanoparticle hits the target, if it works better in a nanoparticle, and if it has the same side effects.

The eventual goal is to translate this understanding and these emerging technologies to clinical use and human patients. But it is a long row to hoe. “Once a technology is developed, it must go through the full ‘investigational new drug’ FDA process,” Heller lamented. “Even if a known compound is inside the particle, the whole particle is treated as a new drug.

That means we can’t just give it to clinicians to trial in patients; first the FDA must allow us to start a clinical trial.” Though regulatory delays are a frustration, the researcher said enthusiasm remains high because the potential of the new technologies is so powerful.

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Nanoparticles in Detection

The Cancer Nanomedicine Laboratory also maintains an interest in developing innovative approaches to cancer detection that is “… easier and more predictive. We found that we can detect some cancers earlier by measuring certain biomarkers in a person without having to take blood or biofluids to do it,” said Heller.

Instead, a tiny sensor made of carbon nanotubes is inserted inside a person. The nanotubes give off infrared light that can pass through tissues. “We can implant nanomaterial in a body, shoot light into it from outside the body, and then get a reading externally,” detailed Heller. “These nanomaterials are very sensitive to certain stimuli. We can put an antibody onto the surface of the nanotube and when it binds to an antigen we can see a signal change—a shift in the wavelength of the nanotube fluorescence—through the tissue.” (The team successfully detected ovarian cancer signaling changes in a mouse model. This work was detailed in a paper, Non-Invasive Ovarian Cancer Biomarker Detection via an Optical Nanosensor Implant, coauthored by Heller in Science Advances [2018;4(4):eaaq1090]).

Implications for future use of this technology in humans are significant. Heller said the first possible application could be in people with risk factors for certain diseases. “We could implant a biomarker or panel of biomarkers in people to detect early stage cancer, to measure cancer recurrence, or to monitor treatment and have earlier warning when therapy stops working.”

Asked how early the signaling changes would become apparent, Heller said it depends on the level of a given marker in the tissue. “With ovarian cancer, we would look at the technology as an intrauterine device, placed near the source of the cancer. If we were to wait for biomarkers to reach a high enough level to be detected in the blood, we likely would be dealing with late-stage cancer. If we can measure that biomarker right next to the ovaries or fallopian tube, we would see signal changes at an even earlier point in the life cycle of the cancer.”

Looking downstream of this work, Heller said the team is already questioning if it might be possible to insert a small sensor under the skin, in the blood, or even in a tattoo to measure all kinds of biomarkers, then report a whole panel in real time, at early stages, back to a wearable Fitbit-like device. “The long-term hope is to find super easy ways to measure lots of biomarkers in real time,” said Heller.

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Nanoparticles in Discovery

A third aspect of the work underway in Heller’s lab focuses on making research tools, specifically using carbon nanotubes as sensors in drug discovery assays. Heller believes the sensors will be able to measure things that have not been measurable before, or measured in ways that could not be accomplished before, such as in living cells and living tissue. “By measuring an analyte inside living cells or living tissue in mice, we gain the ability to do studies that cannot be done otherwise. This will allow us to address new hypotheses, and it will be helpful for drug development and for basic researchers at institutions such as MSKCC.”

Heller stressed that it is exactly institutions like MSKCC that can lead the way in helping biomedical engineers interact more fully with biomedical researchers. “Even though both of these concepts have the word ‘biomedical’ in them, ‘biomedical engineering’ departments come from engineering schools, while ‘biomedical research’ comes from places that often do not have engineering schools.

So there is a disconnect,” said Heller. “I realize how valuable it is to me as an engineering researcher to be in a biomedical institution and come in contact with the people who study biomedical questions and understand the medical problems. Biomedical institutions would benefit greatly from organized efforts to bring in engineering researchers whose goal it is to understand and make new technologies to address their problems.”

Heller laughed at the suggestion that some of the things he makes sound like cinematic props from the vintage sci-fi flick, The Incredible Voyage. “Sometimes people think we are the science fiction lab of Memorial Sloan Kettering,” he admitted with humor. And when asked if the younger history student/middle school teacher/or physical scientist in him ever thinks, “I can’t believe I am doing this kind of stuff,” he answered without hesitation, “Yeah, all the time. I think I have gotten to where I am by not defining myself. It’s important to be flexible. Where does it stop? It doesn’t. If you keep changing you can aspire to do anything you want.”

Valerie Neff Newitt is a contributing writer.

Quantum dots could aid in fight against Parkinson’s


A large team of researchers with members from several institutions in the U.S., Korea and Japan has found that injecting quantum dots into the bloodstreams of mice led to a reduction in fibrils associated with Parkinson’s disease. In their paper published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, the group describes their studies of the impact of quantum dots made of graphene on synuclein and what they found.

Quantum dots are particles that exist at the nanoscale and are made of semiconducting materials. Because they exhibit quantum properties, scientists have been conducting experiments to learn more about changes they cause to organisms when embedded in their cells. In this new effort, the researchers became interested in the idea of embedding quantum dots in synuclein cells.

Synucleins make up a group or family of proteins and are typically found in neural tissue.

One type, an alpha-synuclein, has been found to be associated with the formation of fibrils as part of the development of Parkinson’s disease. To see how such a protein might react when exposed to quantum dots, the researchers combined the two in a petri dish and watched what happened. They found that the quantum dots became bound to the protein, and in so doing, prevented it from clumping into fibrils. They also found that doing so after fibrils had already formed caused them to come apart. Impressed with their findings, the team pushed their research further.

Noting that quantum dots are small enough to pass through the blood/brain barrier, they injected quantum dots into mice with induced Parkinson’s disease and monitored them for several months. They report that after six months, the mice showed improvements in symptoms.

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Quantum dots in brain could treat Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases

The researchers suggest that quantum dots might have a similar impact on multiple ailments where fibrilization occurs, noting that another team had found that injecting them into Alzheimer’s mouse models produced similar results.

It is still not known if injecting similar or different types of quantum dots into human patients might have the same effect, they note. Nor is it known if doing so would have any undesirable side effects. Still, the researchers are optimistic about the idea of using quantum dots for treatment of such diseases and because of that, have initiated plans for testing with other animals—and down the road they are looking at the possibility of conducting clinical trials in humans.

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A Failed Car Company Gave Rise to a Revolutionary New Battery – “Fisker’s Folly” Or “Henrik’s Home-Run”?


Fisker’s solid-state battery powers electric vehicles–and drones and flying taxis.

Since Alessandro Volta created the first true battery in 1800, improvements have been relatively incremental.

When it comes to phones and especially electric vehicles, lithium-ion batteries have resisted a slew of efforts to increase their power and decrease the time it takes to charge them.

Henrik Fisker, known for his high-end sports-car design, says his Los Angeles-based company, Fisker Inc., is on the verge of a breakthrough solid-state battery that will give EVs like his sleek new EMotion an extended range and a relatively short charging period.

Fisker Inc. founder Henrik Fisker and his new EMotion electric vehicle CREDIT: Courtesy Company

“With the size of battery pack we have made room for, we could get as much as a 750-kilometer [466-mile] range,” he says. The same battery could reduce charging time to what it currently takes to fill your car with gas.

Traditional lithium-ion batteries, like all others, use a “wet” chemistry– involving liquid or polymer electrolytes–to generate power.

But they also generate resistance when working hard, such as when they are charging or quickly discharging, which creates heat. When not controlled, that heat can become destructive, which is one reason EVs have to charge slowly.

Solid-state batteries, as the name implies, contain no liquid. Because of this, they have very low resistance, so they don’t overheat, which is one of the keys to fast recharging, says Fisker.

But their limited surface area means they have a low electrode-current density, which limits power. Practically speaking, existing solid-state batteries can’t generate enough juice to push a car. Nor do they work well in low temperatures. And they can’t be manufactured at scale.

CREDIT: Courtesy Company

Fisker’s head battery scientist, Fabio Albano, solved these problems by essentially turning a one-story solid-state battery into a multistory one.

“What our scientists have created is the three-dimensional solid-state battery, which we also call a bolt battery,” says Fisker. “They’re thicker, and have over 25 times the surface that a thin-film battery has.

That has allowed us to create enough power to move a vehicle.” The upside of 3-D is that Fisker’s solid-state battery can produce 2.5 times the energy density that lithium-ion batteries can, at perhaps a third of the cost.

Fisker was originally aiming at 2023 production, but its scientists are making such rapid advances that the company is now targeting 2020.

“We’re actually ahead of where we expected to be,” Fisker says. “We have built batteries with better results quicker than we thought.” The company is setting up a pilot plant near its headquarters.

Solid state, however, isn’t problem free. Lower resistance aids in much faster charging, up to a point. “We can create a one-minute charge up to 80 percent,” Fisker says. “It all depends on what we decide the specific performance and chemistry of the battery should be.”

If a one- or two- or five-minute charge gives a driver 250 miles and handles the daily commute, that can solve the range-anxiety issue that has held back EV sales.

Solid-state-battery technology can go well beyond cars. Think about people having a solid-state battery in their garage that could charge from the grid when demand is low, so they don’t pay for peak energy, and then transfer that energy to their car battery. It could also act as an emergency generator if their power goes down. “This is nonflammable and very light,” says Fisker. “It’s more than twice as light as existing lithium-ion batteries. It goes into drones and electric flying taxis.”

Like many designers, Fisker is a bit of dreamer. But he’s also a guy with a track record of putting dreams into motion.

Joy ride.

Henrik Fisker’s car company crashed in the Great Recession, but one of the industry’s flashiest designers quickly got in gear again. His latest piece of automotive art: the EMotion.

Fisker has never created an automobile that didn’t evoke a response. He’s one of the best-known designers in the industry, with mobile masterpieces such as the Fisker Karma, the Aston Martin DB9, and the BMW Z8. It’s only appropriate his latest vehicle has been christened the EMotion.

The curvy, carbon fiber and aluminum all-wheel-drive EV, with its too-cool butterfly doors and cat’s-eye headlights, debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. It will be the first passenger-vehicle offering of the new Fisker Inc.–the previous Fisker Automotive shuttered in 2013, in the aftermath of the Great Recession. (Reborn as Karma Automotive, that company makes the Revero, based on a Fisker design.)

Fisker ran out of funding but not ideas. He quickly got the new company going and has described the EMotion as having “edgy, dramatic, and emotionally charged design/ proportions–complemented with technological innovation that moves us into the future.” The car will come equipped with a Level 4 autonomous driving system, meaning it’s one step away from being completely autonomous.

You might want to drive this one yourself, though. The EMotion sports a 575-kw/780-hp- equivalent power plant that delivers a 160-mph top speed, and goes from 0 to 60 in three seconds. The sticker price is $129,000; the company is currently taking refundable $2,000 deposits.

Though designed to hold the new solid-state battery, the EMotion that will hit the road in mid-2020 has a proprietary battery module from LG Chem that promises a range of 400 miles — Tesla Model S boasts 335. About his comeback car, Fisker says he felt free to be “radically innovative.” For a niche car maker, it might be the only way to remain competitive.

OSTP Forms New Subcommittee to Focus on Quantum Technologies


A close-up of a superconducting qubit chip, about 6mm square. (Michael T. Fang, Martinis Group, UC Santa Barbara / image via National Science Foundation)

The White House honed its focus on quantum information science Friday, forming a new subcommittee tasked with coordinating a national agenda on the role of the emerging technology.

Officials said the Office of Science and Technology Policy will charter a QIS subcommittee within the National Science and Technology Council to help dovetail quantum technology initiatives across the federal government.

“Quantum information science has the potential to revolutionize all manner of industries, open up new fields of discovery and accelerate scientific breakthroughs,” said Michael Kratsios, deputy assistant to the president for technology policy, in a statement. “Now is the time to build upon and expand that leadership if we are going to realize the true potential of this technology, which will be critical to our future economic growth and national security.”

The move is similar to an anticipated bill from House Science, Space and Technology Committee chair Lamar Smith, R-Texas, that he said would coordinate disparate public and private sector research on quantum technologies.

The White House subcommittee will be chaired by experts from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Department of Energy, National Science Foundation and Jacob Taylor, OSTP’s assistant director for QIS.

The departments of Agriculture, Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Interior and State, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, NASA and the National Security Agency also would reportedly have representation on the subcommittee.

Officials said the new panel’s goal will be to create a national agenda on QIS, address U.S. economic and national security implications from the technology and coordinate federal policy.

The incipient potential of the quantum computing has drawn a lot of attention recently, mostly because its processors work with quantum bits, or qubits, that exist as both a one and a zero at the same time, providing significantly more computing power than current technology and posing a threat to modern cryptography systems.

Congressional leaders have also turned their focus to quantum tech’s potential, especially as nations like China and Russia have invested heavily in it, signaling a potential new global arms race.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., recently introduced legislation directing the Department of Defense to form a Quantum Computing Research Consortium to address the development of quantum communication and quantum computing technology.

The QIS subcommittee will next meet on June 28, officials said in a statement.