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Txch This Week: Smart Shoes And Gut Bacteria? There’s An App For That


by Annie Epstein

This week on Txchnologist, we celebrated Robocup 2014, an international robotics competition that was held July 21-24. The event’s long-term goal is to create a robotic soccer team by 2050 that can beat the FIFA World Cup winners. The real question here is what country’s colors the robots will wear.

American and Chinese chemists have discovered that boron forms 40-atom cage structures similar to the way carbon makes soccer-ball-shaped spheres referred to as buckyballs. Boron cages may one day be useful in storing hydrogen or a still unknown range of potential new applications.

In the land down under, researchers at Australia’s Monash University and the University of Melbourne used an advanced imaging sensor taken from a missile called a focal plane array to detect malaria. The sensor detects infrared energy and researchers couple it with an infrared imaging microscope to analyze heat signatures of fatty acids within the parasite.

Learn more about the science week that was below.

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New Technology Could Boost Solar Cell Efficiency By 30 Percent

by Ker Than, Inside Science

Scientists looking to boost the efficiency of solar panels are taking a fresh look at an exotic physics phenomenon first observed nearly 50 years ago in glowing crystals.

Called singlet fission, the process can enable a single photon of light to generate two electrons instead of just one. This one-to-two conversion, as the process is known, has the potential to boost solar cell efficiency by as much as 30 percent above current levels, according to a new review paper published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters.

Singlet fission “was originally proposed to explain some weird results that were observed in fluorescent organic crystals,” said the study’s first author Christopher Bardeen, a chemist at the University of California, Riverside. “It received a lot of attention in the 1960s and 1970s, but then it was mostly forgotten.”

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Flow Masters

by Michael Keller

Over the last decade, materials scientists have been trying really hard to keep from getting wet. To that end, they’ve made huge strides developing coatings that so thoroughly repel dirt and water, they seem almost magic. Their secret? Recreating the nanoscale structures that some organisms employ to stay clean and dry and to redirect liquid flow. 

Among researchers’ muses from the natural world are the stenocara beetle, lotus and nasturtium leaves, and the wings of butterflies. The National Science Foundation has compiled some compelling visual examples of natural and synthesized superhydrophobic surfaces. See the full video below. 

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A Physician In Every Pocket

by Michael Keller

In a subterranean lab at the far corner of Columbia University’s main New York City campus, a couple of men in lab coats and safety glasses discuss a problem in their research. Across the hall, a woman attired similarly is at work in the machine shop. Glassware, chemicals in jugs, tubing and various equipment cover what seems like every corner of bench space.

These people are part of Samuel Sia’s 30-member crack team of chemists, biologists and engineers. Sia, a biomedical engineer, has gathered them together to help foment a medical revolution.

Their idea: to outsource to individuals and family doctors the tests that are now the exclusive domain of centralized labs and hospitals. Their weapons are a new crop of coming diagnostic technologies that are smaller, cheaper and smarter than anything on the market today. Inherent to this change in the business model is the jailbreak of patients’ medical data from healthcare facilities and insurance companies back to the patient and doctor from where it came.

“Whenever we want to know about our own body, we have to go through the healthcare system,” Sia tells Txchnologist. “You shouldn’t have to do that. Are you vitamin deficient? Do you have the flu? Are you trying to get pregnant? What is that new Mediterranean diet doing to your body? You should be able to monitor your own body, but right now it’s out of your hands.”

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