Plants Engineered To Produce Insect Perfume Could Be Pesticide Alternative
by Michael Keller
Swedish and American researchers have successfully engineered plants to produce chemical attractants like those released by insects to find mates. They say their plant factories could be used to lure and trap nuisance bugs as an environmentally friendly alternative to pesticides and synthetically produced attractants.
Using a multistep process to genetically modify a close relative of the tobacco plant, the researchers pushed the plant to produce a molecule that mimics sex pheromones released by females of two moth species that feed on orchard trees. They then deployed traps spiked with the plant-made musk and found that they efficiently caught males of both species.
Generator Harvests Energy From The Smallest Motions
by Michael Keller
Researchers have built an electricity generator that can harvest energy from the most gentle movements. They say their device can produce a steady current to power consumer electronics using a gentle breeze, flowing water from a tap or normal body movement.
The Georgia Tech and Chinese Academy of Sciences team, led by materials science and engineering professor Zhong Lin Wang, report the generator creates electricity by harvesting static from a rotating disc that rubs against another stationary one. This static electricity generation, a phenomenon called the triboelectric effect, is the same that causes people who have shuffled their shoes across a carpet to get a shock when they touch something else.
Their work is reported in the journal Nature Communications today. In it, Wang’s team demonstrates the hand-sized triboelectric generator (TEG) recharging a smartphone and powering LEDs, a digital alarm clock and a wireless transmitter. They say the four-inch-diameter device is already sufficiently low-cost and energy-dense to operate electronics and could be ratcheted up to large-scale power generation.
Click through for more images and to see how much power the device puts out.
Graphene With Nanosized Holes Could Make Dramatically Better Water Filters
by Txchnologist staff
Tiny filters measuring just one-atom thick might be the next generation of technology that efficiently separates salt and impurities from water. Researchers report that they have successfully punched subnanoscale holes in graphene, the sheets of bound carbon atoms known to be one of the strongest materials on Earth.
They fired metal ions at the graphene to disrupt the bonds between carbon atoms, which naturally form into hexagonal rings that look like chicken wire. The graphene was then etched with a solution that dissolved the weakened bonds and formed densely packed pores.
“We bombard the graphene with gallium ions at high energy,” said Sean O’Hern, an MIT graduate student who led the research, in a university statement. “That creates defects in the graphene structure, and these defects are more chemically reactive.”
When the body gets wounded, it naturally generates molecules known as growth factors that are critical to helping it heal. Now researchers have engineered new versions of these growth factors that can help repair wounds and bone defects in mice faster and more effectively than their own natural versions.
Scientists have long sought to use growth factors to help the body regenerate. These chemicals have led to therapies that help promote new blood vessel and bone formation.
However, low healthy doses of growth factors are often not as useful as one might like, while larger doses “have the potential to be harmful, by generating tissue like bone where you don’t want bone or by inducing cancer,” says Jeffrey Hubbell, a bioengineer at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne. “Growth factors have gotten, as a class, a bit of a black eye.”
With some cute food science innovations, martinis are made even better with tiny alcohol-powered boats that can navigate the high seas of a glass. Chemical and Engineering News visited celebrity chef Jose Andres’ culinary lab to see what other gadgets were adding flare to cocktails.
Engraving microscopic cracks in glass sheets can make it 200 times tougher than normal, McGill University mechanical engineers say. The insight could lead to improvements in regular glass objects like wine glasses or jars that don’t shatter when dropped, instead only deforming on impact.
Researchers took a clue from nature to uncover the fact that etching wavy lines in test glass slides prevented stress-induced cracks from spreading into the material’s failure. Their muse was the seemingly simple mother-of-pearl coating inside the shells of some mollusks.
This material is called nacre, and it is mostly composed of chalk, a brittle substance that normally disintegrates under the slightest pressure. But the organism constructs a biomaterial that is 3,000 times tougher than the weak chalk from which it is composed, writes François Barthelat, who runs McGill’s biomimetic materials lab and led the research. The secret is in how the creature builds nacre out of tiny tablets of chalk that are laid down in offset rows. This architecture, which is also seen in teeth and bones, counters a propagating crack by deflecting it and diffusing energy to surrounding tiles.
Advanced Flooring Turns Whole Rooms Into Touchscreens For Monitoring Movement
by Michael Keller
Growing older comes with a few nice things. Knowledge evolves into wisdom. Context informs perspective. A long life’s ups and downs are woven into a rich tapestry of memories.
But it also comes with a number of consequences that almost everyone would just as soon avoid. Footing becomes unsure. Bones grow fragile. A task as simple as rising from bed or navigating a room becomes fraught with danger when a fall could mean a broken hip or being unable to get up again.
Such a fall is among the great fears of caretakers, whether it’s a relative or a nursing home. What if no one is home when the accident happens? How will a nurse know if the injured person has tumbled to the ground on the far side of the bed?
A German startup is offering a high-tech monitoring system for this problem, which is set to grow more urgent as the developed world begins dealing with a spike in senior citizens. The company has developed an advanced, conductive textile floor covering they call SensFloor that detects when people are walking or lying on it. The innovation is already alerting European nursing homes when a senior has fallen.
“The floor is the best place to discover what a person is doing,” says Axel Steinhage, research and development director of Future-Shape. “Except when you’re sleeping, you’re always in contact with this surface called the floor. I feel it’s strange that people don’t use this surface for more sensor information input.”
Researchers Double Lithium-Ion Battery Life, Speed Charge Time
by Jonathan Keane
Over the last three years, electric vehicle sales in the US have been steadily increasing but only adding a small number of new buyers every year, according to the Electric Drive Transportation Association. In Europe, meanwhile, countries like Germany have seen numbers stagnate. One of the biggest issues facing the wider uptake of electric cars is the still-lagging battery technology.
If engineers could increase batteries’ energy storage capacity and decrease the time needed to charge them, the lithium-ion batteries used in modern electric vehicles would become much more efficient. This improvement is just what the University of Limerick (UL) in Ireland is targeting. Researchers there are working with the elements germanium and silicon, which they say could double battery life even after being charged and discharged more than 1,000 times.
Fishing-Line Muscles Could Make Superstrong Robots
by Charles Q. Choi
Artificial muscles that drive the powerful limbs or subtle facial expressions of robots can be made using nothing more than fishing line and sewing thread, researchers say. Such components work essentially the same way as toy airplanes powered by rubber bands.
"We can take a very inexpensive material that you can find at your local store and convert it to a powerful muscle that outperforms very complicated technologies," says Ray Baughman, a materials scientist and director of the University of Texas at Dallas NanoTech Institute.
The scientists imagine their new technology will find use in applications where superhuman strength is desired, such as in robots, exoskeletons and prosthetic limbs. For example, by twisting a bundle of polyethylene fishing lines, each about 10 times the width of a human hair, a coiled polymer muscle results that can lift 16 pounds, and 100 of these muscles operating in parallel much like natural muscles could lift about 1,600 pounds, Baughman says.
Click through to read more and see additional gifs.
Curling Up With A Good Model: Simulating Hair And Rod Bending For Better Animation And Engineering
by Petti Fong
It’s a standard request at barbershops across the land for little boys: a buzz cut, close and clean. The clippers fly and hair is trimmed close enough to the head that it stands up straight. But in what seems like no time at all, the hair is sprouting out again and a curl begins to form.
It’s the simple effect of gravity, and hair isn’t the only rod-shaped object that succumbs to the force. While the similarities between a strand growing out of your head and a 6-mile-long steel pipe might not be immediately apparent, the two have some things in common. They both have one dimension, the diameter, that is significantly smaller than their lengths, and both have intrinsic curves that make them behave in unpredictable ways.
Now researchers at MIT and the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris have provided the first detailed model for the 3-D shape of a strand of curly hair, a step in understanding waviness that could have major implications for industrial and graphics applications.
A few years ago, Ileana Hancu, a young physicist at GE Global Research, left her lab for a routine physical exam and came back with troubling news: the doctor apparently felt a lump in Hancu’s breast. What followed was an odyssey through the achievements of modern medicine, from mammography, to ultrasound and near biopsy.
Txch This Week: New Device May Put Diagnoses In The Palm Of Your Hand
by Norman Rozenberg
This week on Txchnologist, we looked at discoveries from the distant past and innovations driving us into the future. First, D. J. Pisano, an astronomer at West Virginia University, discovered a river of hydrogen flowing through space, which may help explain star formation in spiral galaxies.
Next, new insights into falcons’ hunting techniques are helping humans build structures that may save half-a-million birds from crashing into wind turbines per year. Researchers are using a novel combination of video footage and computer simulation models to better understand hunting patterns.
Finally, we followed an advance that may bring us closer to fusion power. Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National University have reported results showing more power was generated than used in their fusion reaction.
Now we’re bringing you the news and trends we’ve been following this week in the world of science, technology, and innovation.
Whether you’re planning on sweeping someone off his or her feet today or toasting the single life, it helps to know the reason for the season.
And for Valentine’s Day, that reason is hormones and neurotransmitters. The folks at the American Chemical Society have helpfully put together this short video primer on the chemistry of love and attraction. They spoke with Abigail Marsh, assistant professor of psychology at Georgetown University, to get a little insight into the biochemical mysteries of the heart.
Click through to see a bonus ACS video on pheromones and the scent of love.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists announced they have made a significant step towards achieving ignition, a process needed to make fusion energy viable. For the first time ever, researchers say they have gotten more energy out of fusion fuel than what they poured into it to start a reaction.
Shaving hundredths of a second off 2014 Winter Olympics speed skaters’ times isn’t just the job of the athlete on the ice. Polymer and textile scientists were called in to create suits that minimize drag across skaters’ bodies while they’re in motion.
The National Science Foundation and NBC Learn took a look at these state-of-the-art materials. They found that elite U.S. athletes are sporting uniforms capable of helping them bring home gold.
Top Image: Gif made from Youtube video. Courtesy NSF/NBC Learn.
After Luke Skywalker gets his hand cut off during a duel with Darth Vader in “Star Wars,” young Skywalker is fitted with an artificial hand that allows him to both grip and feel again. Now scientists are making science fiction real with a new bionic hand that has helped a patient feel the sensation of touch in real-time through his prosthetic.
"The sensory feedback was incredible," says 36-year-old amputee Dennis Aabo Sørensen from Denmark. "I could feel things that I hadn’t been able to feel in over nine years."
During lab tests in which he was wearing a blindfold and earplugs, Sørensen detected how firmly he grasped objects. He could also tell the differences in items’ shape and consistency, such as the distinctions between an orange and a baseball.
"When I held an object, I could feel if it was soft or hard, round or square," Sørensen says.
Falcons are particularly astute hunters, able to use a wide visual field to track and attack targets. Their pursuit strategy has evolved so they can hunt fast and erratically moving prey in complex environments.
The wide-angle vision system that makes them such good predators, however, also make them particularly prone to collisions with buildings, wind turbines and power lines.
Now a new understanding of how falcons track and capture their prey may open up future possibilities in designing structures that are more visible to large birds.
Researchers working in GE labs have used special magnetic material to achieve temperatures cold enough to freeze water. The breakthrough system, which is projected to be 20 percent more efficient than current refrigeration technology, could be inside your fridge by the end of the decade.
Energy Teleport Study Could Unlock Quantum Computer, Black Hole Secrets
by Charles Q. Choi
Energy could in theory be teleported over any distance, researchers in Japan say. The science team behind the discovery said such quantum energy transfer could help advance quantum computers and shed light on the mysteries of black holes.
Teleporting an object from one point in the universe to another without it traveling through the space in between might sound like part of a Star Trek episode, but scientists have actually been doing it since the 1990s. The current long-distance record for teleportation is roughly 89 miles, a feat that was announced in 2012 between the two Canary Islands of La Palma and Tenerife off the northwest coast of Africa.
Can iPod-Powered Scarecrows Protect Africa's Farms?
by Wynne Parry
At a study site in Kasigau, Kenya, subsistence farmers scratch out a living on dry, nutrient-depleted soil. The small farms, called shambas, rely on rain and methods in use since the beginning of agriculture to produce corn, lentils and cowpeas.
Wildlife —from elephants to monkeys and small antelope — raid these crops. By doing so, they take food off farmers’ tables or, in extreme cases, cost a grower his or her livelihood for a full season.
The problem and the basic solution are ancient. Farmers plant crops, animals raid them, and farmers put up scarecrows to frighten off the marauders. Now, researchers are combining common technologies with insight into animal behavior to update the ancient scarecrow in the hopes of helping the most vulnerable of growers.
Carbon Nanofibers Give Charge To Broken Heart Repair
by Charles Q. Choi
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Scientists working to bring down those numbers have found that carbon nanofibers could improve artificially grown heart muscle to help people’s damaged hearts recover.
Roughly 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year, accounting for one in every four deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cardiovascular diseases cost the country more than $312 billion annually, a bill that is expected to surpass $1.5 trillion per year by 2030, according to a 2013 American Heart Association report.
Cardiovascular disease can lead to a heart attack, which blocks blood flow to the organ and starves it of oxygen. This leads to heart muscle cell death. Every year, about 715,000 people in the United States have a heart attack. With scarce hearts available for transplantation, half the people who live through an attack but suffer a damaged organ die within five years.
Scientists have known for decades that muddy coastal sediments absorb the power of waves as they roll toward beaches. The result is a free service courtesy of soft ocean bottoms that diminishes the sea’s energy before it reaches the communities living beyond them.
Now an engineering team is working to expand the muddy seafloor’s portfolio of services to include power generation. They are building a “carpet” system meant to be installed underwater on coastlines that would harvest power from waves.
"Mud basically moves up and down under the action of the waves and small-scale motions called turbulence occurs within the mud layer and that converts the wave energy into heat," says Reza Alam, a University of California, Berkeley assistant mechanical engineering professor who is leading the effort. "Our idea was to design a carpet that sits on the seafloor and acts like a mud layer to extract energy from ocean waves and convert it into useful energy."
MIT biological engineering, materials science and energy researcher Angela Belcher takes her cues from nature to create amazing things. Among her portfolio of important work, she has created batteries powered by a combination of biological and inorganic components. Her team has selected viruses that can grab onto carbon nanotubes to grow electrodes in solution. When dried out and refined, these nanotube-coated viruses are turned into batteries that can power small electronics.
She won the university’s 2013 Lemelson-MIT Prize for harnessing nature to design environmentally friendly solar cells, clean transportation fuel and viral batteries. There is still much more work to do, but Belcher says she hopes to one day drive around in a virus-powered electric car.