June 10, 2006

Einstein Researchers Take the Pulse of a Gene in Living Cells: real time gene activity

Scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have observed for the first time that gene expression can occur in the form of discrete “pulses” of gene activity. There are pulses of gene activity and it can be observed in real time. The researchers used pioneering microscopy techniques, developed by Dr. Robert Singer and colleagues at Einstein, that for the first time allow scientists to directly watch the behavior of a single gene in real time. Their findings appeared in the current issue of Current Biology.
When a gene is expressed or “turned on,” genetic information is transferred from DNA into RNA. This process, known as transcription, is crucial for translating the gene’s message into a functional protein. Diseases such as cancer can result when genes turn on at the improper time or in the wrong part of the body.

Researchers customarily use microarrays (also known as “gene chips”) to assess gene expression in tumors and other tissues. But with millions of cells involved, microarrays reflect only “average” gene expression. Just how a gene is transcribed in a single cell—continuously, intermittently or some other way—has largely been a mystery.

Now, in observing a gene that plays a major role in how an organism develops, the Einstein researchers observed a phenomenon that until now has been indirectly observed and only in bacteria: pulses of transcription that turn on and off at irregular intervals. Dr. Singer and his co-workers used a fluorescent marker that sticks to the gene only when it is active. Under a microscope, this fluorescent marker appears when the gene turns on, then disappears (gene “off”) and then appears again (gene “on”).

Korean robotic military vehicles

Korea also making military robots A battery powered surveillance XAV weighs in at 1.2-tons and is designed for patrol and information gathering. Top speed of about 19MPH. A gasoline powered combat XAV weighs 0.9 tons and has a top speed of 28 mph and has 5.56-millimeter machine guns. The units are being tested and will be upgraded before deployment between 2013 and 2020.

More on korean police and military robot plans

Robotic work at the Korea institute of science and technology

The bio-mimetic control system lab in south korea is working on walking robots, intelligent robots and home service robots

US military robotic vehicles

June 09, 2006

other tech: Robotics and Intelligent Systems in Support of Society

A survey of recent robotics and robotics related AI being used in applications Advances in robotics and intelligent systems have led to systems and solutions that will profoundly affect society. This article provides several examples of the use of such ecotechnologies in the service of humanity, in robotics, speech, vision, human-computer interaction, and natural language processing.

IEEE Intelligency Systems look at the Future of AI

IEEE Intelligent Systems looks at the Future of AI (Artificial Intelligence)

A PDF of 10 AI Researchers to watch

One of the top 10 researchers: Eyal Amir starts: The three challenges to achieving human-level AI are merging knowledge representation with machine learning, scaling up reasoning with logical and probabilistic knowledge to real-world-size problems, and developing a theory of human-level AI.

An essay by Josh Hall on whether AI is near a takeoff point

other tech: Wireless communication

other tech: hybrid SUVs

Finding better designs for Nuclear reactors using genetic algorithms

Nuclear reactor designers use genetic algorithms to better explore a complex design space Simulated evolution will come up with some systems that were not thought of before. It won't replace the experts or come up with a finished design, but it makes it possible to consider options they wouldn't have had otherwise. For very complex problems, such as nuclear reactor design it is important to combine genetic algorithms with sophisticated methods of simulation and analysis. Research is now focused on integrating genetic algorithms with other techniques and more powerful computation.

Exhaustive automated searches and automated initial evaluations will improve the searches for optimal designs. The optimization can be adjusted quickly by changing the evaluation parameters.

Nanoscale Research Letters will have open access July 2006

Springer and the Nano Research Society have announced a new partnership to publish Nanoscale Research Letters (NRL), which will be the first nanotechnology journal from a major commercial publisher to publish articles with open access. Look for it at springerlink July 2006

Physicists Report Advance toward a Nanotechnology Approach to Protein Engineering

Unlike the previous article about nanoscale medicine, this is leading to the real deal by taking control of proteins and eventually ribosomes.

The functioning of the enzyme is determined by its current shape and they have added springs which they control at the right spots to turn it on and off. It is like forcing a flower to bloom by taking hold of the petals and opening it up.

UCLA physicists report a significant step toward a new approach to protein engineering in the June 8 online edition, and in the July print issue, of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

"We are learning to control proteins in a new way," said Giovanni Zocchi, UCLA associate professor of physics and co-author of the study. Zocchi said the new approach could lead ultimately to "smart medicines that can be controlled" and could have reduced side effects. Mimicking one essential cellular control mechanism, Zocchi's laboratory has completed an important preliminary step.

In the above picture: UCLA physicists controlled enzyme complex Protein Kinase A PKA’s regulatory subunit (green & red) through a molecular spring (light blue). Under tension (lower part) the spring leads to a change in the regulatory unit, causing the catalytic subunit (purple, left) to separate, activating the enzyme.

Zocchi and UCLA physics graduate student Brian Choi report one representative example where the chemical mechanism by which the cell controls the function of its proteins can be effectively replaced, in vitro, by mechanical control. Specifically, they show how an enzyme complex called Protein Kinase A (PKA) — which plays a fundamental role in the cell's signaling and metabolic pathways, and is controlled in the cell by a ubiquitous messenger molecule called cyclic AMP — can instead be controlled mechanically by a nanodevice that the researchers attached to the enzyme complex. The nanodevice is essentially a molecular spring made of DNA.

Proteins, the molecular machines that perform all tasks in the living cell, are switched on and off in living cells by a mechanism called allosteric control; proteins are regulated by other molecules that bind to their surface, inducing a change of conformation, or distortion in the shape, of the protein, making the protein either active or inactive, Zocchi explained.

Cyclic AMP (cAMP) binds to PKA's regulatory subunit and induces a change of conformation that leads to the catalytic subunit's detaching from the regulatory subunit; this separation of the two subunits is how the enzyme complex is turned on in the cell, Zocchi said.

"We can activate the enzyme mechanically, while leaving intact the natural activation mechanism by cAMP," said Zocchi, a member of the California NanoSystems Institute. "We believe this approach to protein control can be applied to virtually any protein or protein complex."

Zocchi's group first demonstrated mechanical control of protein conformation last year, when the physicists attached a controllable molecular spring, made of a short piece of DNA, to a protein and used it to inhibit its function. In the new research, the group succeeded in activating the enzyme PKA through the same principle, by using the molecular spring to induce the change in conformation that, in the cell, is induced by the natural activator of PKA (the signaling molecule cAMP).

Zocchi's group can mimic with mechanical tension the natural allosteric mechanism by which PKA is regulated by cAMP. PKA is significantly more complex than the protein that Zocchi's group used last year.

What are Zocchi's future research plans?

"I want to see whether we can make molecules which kill a cell based on the genetic signature of the cell," Zocchi said. "Cancer cells would be an obvious application. This will however require many further steps. So far, we have only worked in vitro. The exciting part is, from the outside, cancer cells can look like normal cells, but inside they carry a genetic mark.

"In the future, perhaps we can control more complicated molecular machines such as ribosomes. Many antibiotics work by blocking the ribosome of bacteria."

MEMS and nanoscale medicine report

Note: this report follows the Josh Wolfe/Lux Capital/NNI approach of redefining a term used to describe future technology to claim that something is already here and making a lot of money. About 7 years ago, Lux Capital and then National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI was announced Jan, 2000 redefined nanotechnology from how it was used for 15 years. Advanced nanoscale medicine is starting by putting drugs into nanoscale containers and directing them to the site of cancer tumors. Nanomedicine as has been established as using molecular nanotechnology for the purposes of medicine

Market report on current and projected micromedicine (MEMS) and nanoscale medicine $1bn exists for these technologies, predominantly in MEMS (microelectromechanical systems), but steady growth is building toward hundred-fold larger markets by 2015, with nanoscale tech applications contributing a lion's share.

Currently established MEMS applications include pacemakers, glucose monitoring, biochips (genechips), OTC tests, insulin pumps, nebulizers, needleless injectors, hearing aids, activity monitors, blood pressure, medical flow sensors, and drug delivery systems.

In nanoscale medicine, current applications include cancer chemotherapy, a new generation of drug delivery systems, wound dressings that exploit the antimicrobial properties of nanocrystalline silver, and others.

other tech: life extension, criticism of SENS

Three submissions that qualified for consideration according to the terms of the Challenge have been posted at Technology Review. Aubrey de Grey has responded. The critics have added rebuttals to Aubrey. The results of the judges' deliberations (with their reasoning) will be announced on this website on July 11, 2006 and published in the July/August issue of Technology Review magazine.

June 08, 2006

other tech: Error Checking for superconducting quantum computing

Scientist at the University of California in Santa Barbra, US, have discovered a new way to check how much the information stored inside a superconducting quantum computer has decayed. This is an impressive feat since measuring the state of a qubit normally destroys its quantum properties.

There are several competing approaches to quantum computing, the most advanced of which involves using ions trapped in an electromagnetic field. An error-checking method for this approach already exists but some researchers doubt it will ever successfully scale up to make a practical device

The error-checking method developed by the University of California team involves a competing approach, which experts say could have far greater potential to scale up.

In their set-up, a qubit is created using two superconducting metals separated by an insulating barrier. Passing a current through this component produces a qubit in the form of two energy levels in superposition, or both states simultaneously

Reducng the energy barrier used to maintain this state of superposition "collapses its quantum waveform" into one of the two energy levels. But Katz's team has found it can lower the energy barrier to a point just above the highest of the two energy levels, only partially collapsing the waveform. This is called a partial measurement

Scanning the qubit using microwave radiation then reveals its state of superposition without making it collapse. In a functional quantum computer this could be used to confirm that a qubit can still be used for a quantum computation. Past article summarizing the state of research into quantum computing

other tech: New Sensor Technology Detects Chemical, Biological, Nuclear And Explosive Materials

There has been an advance in detecting nuclear operations from a distance of 9 kilometers (30,000 feet, the height that planes often fly) using millimeter radar and terahertz radiation which could be important in determining targets in Iran. There is also new fast detection at a distance of chemicals and explosives, which is clearly useful for anti-terrorism.

The potential of a militarily useful remote nuke and nuclear materials detection means that the US could first strike N Korea or Iran (or anyone else for that matter). If there detector could 100% identify nuclear weapons and material (even with false positives of 10 times.) that would be good enough.
The opposition response would be to arms race and to get and distribute nuclear material to every location maybe not the weaponized uranium but the pre-centrifuged stuff. If the US could tell those apart with reasonable accuracy. The planes/drones with detectors fly over at 9 km height and drop bombs and missiles, taking out every positive reading. They can check the quality of the detectors against their own weapons stockpile.

Successful version of this tech means the US lets you stay in the nuclear club at their discretion.

If you have thousands of weapons, (Soviets and China, UK, France) where you could counter punch as the first strike is launching. Those with many weapons would stay in the club. But if you just got a handful of weapons it would be game over.

A good remote nuclear weapons/weapons material detector = first strike target finder.

Engineers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory, using an emerging sensing technology, have developed a suite of sensors for national security applications that can quickly and effectively detect chemical, biological, nuclear and explosive materials. Argonne engineers have successfully performed the first-ever remote detection of chemicals and identification of unique explosives spectra using a spectroscopic technique that uses the properties of the millimeter/terahertz frequencies between microwave and infrared on the electromagnetic spectrum. The researchers used this technique to detect spectral "fingerprints" that uniquely identify explosives and chemicals.

They accomplished three important goals:

* Detected and measured poison gas precursors 60 meters away in the Nevada Test Site to an accuracy of 10 parts per million using active sensing.
* Identified chemicals related to defense applications, including nuclear weapons, from 600 meters away using passive sensing at the Nevada Test Site.
* Built a system to identify the spectral fingerprints of trace levels of explosives, including DNT, TNT, PETN, RDX and plastics explosives semtex and C-4.

Operating at frequencies between 0.1 and 10 terahertz, the sensitivity is four to five orders of magnitude higher and imaging resolution is 100 to 300 times more than possible at microwave frequencies.

To remotely detect radiation from nuclear accidents or reactor operations, Argonne researchers are testing millimeter-wave radars and developing models to detect and interpret radiation-induced effects in air that cause radar reflection and scattering. Preliminary results of tests, in collaboration with AOZT Finn-Trade of St. Peterspurg, Russia, with instruments located 9 km from a nuclear power plant showed clear differences between when the plant was operating and when it was idling.

June 07, 2006

MEMS tech: implantable sensors to measure blood flow

Other Tech: Before Invisibility, really good camouflage

A form of electro-optical camouflage (referred to also as optical camouflage, adaptive camouflage, active camouflage, chameleonic camouflage, and cloaking technology) is said to be 85-100% invisible to the naked eye from 20 feet away. The system is low weight and relatively cheap. Advanced American Enterprises (AAE) AAE uses the tem "invisibility stealth" to describe the effect of their tech, which, according to them renders an object, person, or vehicle 85-100% invisible to the human eye or video camera in the visible spectrum (visible light) as soon as you flip the switch to "on", even while the cloaked item is moving.

The technology does have limitations. AAE states in their literature that the Stealth Technology System's minimum effective distance is 20 ft for both Visibility Stealth and IR Stealth. In other words, the observer or detection device has to be at least 20 feet away from the cloaked object. 20" is still awfully close for someone not to be able to spot an APC or MBT (Main Battle Tank).

Previously on this site we indicated that metamaterials are being developed for invisibility

Possible replacement for transistors: Ovonic Quantum Control

ECD Ovonics a 1.6 billion dollar company that trades on the german and nasdaq (symbol ENER) exchanges.

Has announced a fundamentally new device with the potential to open a new field of semiconducting control devices The Ovonic Quantum Control, based on Stan Ovshinsky's invention of a unique proprietary all thin-film control device, is based on new physics and has multifunctionality beyond that of transistors. Its nanostructure size, great speed and very high current carrying capacity together with unusual modulation including gain, provide advantages over transistors.

Its multifunctional operational modes include the ability to be turned on by using a small pulse applied to a third terminal in either a latching or non-latching manner. This Ovonic device can scale to sizes smaller than a transistor. These unusual extra degrees of freedom make possible new generations of devices not based upon conventional crystalline physics.

"We believe the functionality of the Ovonic Quantum Control device will enable it to replace transistors and result in new circuitry. It will also be used in the Ovonic Cognitive processor, positioning it to augment and increase performance of today's computers and potentially become the preferred computational system, either binary or nonbinary. It can also be used in combination with the Ovonic phase change memory, Ovonic threshold switch and the Ovonic cognitive computer device. Therefore all thin-film computers would be made possible." Stan Ovshinsky said.
The Ovonic Quantum Control -- a proprietary thin-film control device that relies on solid plasma -- is based on new physics and provides big advantages over transistors, he said. It is expected to be smaller, faster and cheaper to produce than transistors and can handle significantly more current than today's transistors, he said. A scientific journal article on the physics is expected in coming months, said Ovshinsky, president and chief scientist of Energy Conversion Devices Inc. in Rochester Hills, Mich.
He called the development ``quite unexpected'' and admitted that most people will not comprehend what it is all about. Ovshinsky said he was unable to predict when his device might be available. That depends on building partnerships and investing money, he said. (His company already has partnerships with Intel and GE for his previously developed ovonics unified memory or phase change memory.)
The device is going to be in the news a lot in the near future and that's why Tuesday's news conference was held, said Robert C. Stempel, the company chairman and chief executive officer.
Better explanations of the device and how it works will be developed ``as we go along,'' said Stempel, a former chairman of General Motors.
The California-based Semiconductor Industry Association was not familiar with Ovshinsky's announcement, said spokesman John Greenagel. The American semiconducting industry is changing but it's ``not going to be revolutionized overnight,'' he said.
The industry is changing, with products getting ever smaller, but the next sweeping changes will be implemented over the next 15 years, not overnight, he said
Stan_Ovshinsky is the real deal as an inventor.

He was recognized by time magazine for his inventions like better batteries

Other tech: Gliding and climbing like batman

The lightweight carbon fibre mono-wings will allow them to jump from high altitudes and then glide 120 miles or more before landing - making them almost impossible to spot, as their aircraft can avoid flying anywhere near the target. The technology was demonstrated three years ago when Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner - a pioneer of freefall gliding 'flew' across the English Channel, leaping out of an aircraft 30,000ft above Dover and landing safely near Calais 12 minutes later. Wearing an aerodynamic suit, and with a 6ft wide wing strapped to his back, he soared across the sea at 220mph, moving six feet forward through the air for every one foot he fell vertically - and opened his parachute 1,000ft above the ground before landing safely. The devices should allow a parachutist to glide up to 120miles (in development, current range is 24 miles or 40 kilometers), carrying 200lb of equipment.(German company ESG)

Fitted with oxygen supply, stabilisation and navigation aides, troops wearing the wings will jump from a high-altitude transport aircraft which can stay far away from enemy territory - or on secret peacetime missions could avoid detection or suspicion by staying close to commercial airliner flight paths.

The manufacturers claim the ESG wing is '100 per cent silent' and 'extremely difficult' to track using radar. The integration of small turbo jet drives for UAVs in the second development stage will make it possible to carry persons over long distances without the need to jump from an extreme height.

The PowerQuick® Personal lifting device is a battery-operated work positioning device that makes working at heights quicker, safer, and less expensive. Think of it as a personal elevator that climbs a standard rope. Military version can climb at a rate of 1 m/s or faster. Commericial version about 0.27m/s (1 foot/sec). The PowerQuick® Powered Ascender was originally designed as a tool to allow Special Forces personnel to safely and quickly ascend buildings, ships, etc for tactical applications. Depending upon charge can last for up to 200 meters.

K9 Kalmer Dog calmer emits a stream of music (audible only to canine ears), which the manufacturers claim will calm dogs and stop them from barking.

Innerpace Dolphin Personal Watercraft is able to submerge several feet underwater, this "watercraft" is powered by a 110 hp engine and can reach speeds of up to 30 mph.

June 06, 2006

other tech: More than Moore's law

By 2010, the "More Than Moore's Law" movement—which focuses on system integration rather than transistor density—will lead to revolutionary megafunction electronics Moore's Law Integrated Circuits deal with only 10 percent of the system. The other 90 percent is still there, showing up as an array of bulky discrete passive components—such as resistors, capacitors, inductors, antennas, filters, and switches—interconnected over a printed-circuit board or two. System-on-package (SOP) approach combines ICs with micrometer-scale thin-film versions of discrete components, and it embeds everything in a new type of package so small that eventually handhelds will become anything from multi- to megafunction devices. SOP products will be developed not just for wireless communications, computing, and entertainment. Outfitted with sensors, SOPs could be used to detect all manner of substances, toxic and benign, including chemicals in the environment, in food, and in the human body.

Other analysis could be combined with material grown on an AFM tip

other tech: Magnetically inflated gadgets

Sony's Tokyo lab is looking to introduce magnetically inflatable gadgets. The body and screen of folding gadgets would be made from a flexible polymer containing conductive rubber bracing struts filled with a gel of aluminosilicate particles suspended in silicone oil. When a current is passed through the struts, the particles clump together and harden the gel, making the gadget solid enough to use. Sony has found that it would take very little power to make such a folding device harden, so the drain on its battery should be low.

This is similar to a NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts idea to use superconducting wire to magnetically inflate large structures and ships in space

Diamond semiconductors, semiconductor economics and the improvement logjam

During the past year, scientists have mastered the ability to grow 10-carat single crystals with a color and clarity that surpass mined diamonds. Within a decade, they'll also be cheaper. Expect to see the first diamond semiconductors hit the market in 2011. Diamond semiconductors could operate at 81GHz. This would be 8-20 times faster than where semiconductor is at and where semiconductors are having heat problems.

This would be great but I think it will initially be a niche market. It may stay a niche market, depending upon costs and competing tech. The new plants will gradually replace regular silicon plants. Diamond semiconductors will have to scale up their processes (wafer size). Wafer size drives costs and efficiency.

If the processes can be performed at low enough temperature and integrated with silicon then it could be possible to make some hybrid chips. Having some diamond cells that perform some high frequency work and calcs. It would allow faster rollout.

So 8-20 times performance boost but over how many years is that impact spread ?

If it is 10 years (optimistic) that is 5 iterations of Moore's law. Instead of 32 times faster it ends up at 256 or 600 times. So 3-4 more iterations of Moore's law.

Other tech being developed could also provide substantial boosts in speed: carbon nanotube electronics, advanced spintronics, laser interconnect etc...

All together it is a lot of new tricks to master. Some of them will be competing. Probably some will be in different niches. It also means that the end game for when Moore's law runs out of steam keeps getting pushed out decades until all the tricks get mastered at low cost.

Diamond semi looks good for military and space apps where you want resistance to high temp and don't care as much about price.

Something that I think looks good for boosting high end computing is taking the cheap and what will be high volume Cell chips (Sony PS3) making slight modification to one cell for double precision and getting 10-40 times more speed. Cell+ are about 20 times faster, 2 times faster again going to match 65nm process and then keeping pace with smaller process lithography. 2-4 years to ramp up the Cell chip volumes.

Semicon industry has resisted getting out of their silicon comfort zone (for valid economic reasons and for rapid scaling). If they can use tricks with silicon to get a pretty close speed boost (better strained silicon, substrate tricks, etc...) then they will use those instead of bringing in an entirely new process.

There are a lot of interesting ways to speed things up. I think advancement should get faster than Moore's law even without MNT [MNT is Molecular Nanotechnology].

Obviously if we get good MNT then a lot of the economic road blocks to integrating and rolling out new materials and shortening the gap from lab to product could get removed. The technology improvement logjam could get broken. We could get maybe 19-26 iterations of Moore's law when we were expecting 1 to 5.

4 from Diamond/carbon nanotubes, 4 from laser interconnects between chips (plus there is a Sun microsystems process for put chips end to end for communication), 5 from advanced cell architectures, 6 from smaller size processes. Maybe 5 from going early 3d. (processing cube instead of chip.), 2 from better cooling.

I would be surprised if even with MNT that we could rollout MNT simulaneously with a fully realized computing process with all of the optimal tricks at once. So not over a few months but a few years. Still probably a big impact quite fast. 50 years of rapid Moore's law progress in say 6-9 years.

Plus the boost to quantum computing, superconductors, etc...

Moore's law is also a cost thing, so MNT could also throw in some extra iterations by making things cheaper faster.

A lot better supercomputers accelerate the simulation and R&D. We learn new tricks faster.
The increase in the rate of progress even after the initial burst I think gets sustained. (if we don't screw it up). 6-9 month cycles instead of 24 months. That is without strong AI or strong intelligence enhancement.

I think the new thing (post-MNT) would be to push out products that were say 4-X times better every year. Doubling speed would not be worth switching for in most cases.

Growing nanotubes on AFM tip will speed research and development of nanotubes

Refining this technique so that nanotubes can be grown and weighed at the same time, then the process can be scaled up to many (thousands/millions) of parallel analysis. Like computational chemistry or gene chip arrays it will accelerate the rate of progress in the mastery of nanotubes. Plus it shows that if other nanoscale structures can be grown and measured on AFM tips that it would be a pathway to accelerating trial and error learning of chemical vapor deposition, self-assembly and other currently poorly understood processes, which require fine tuning of optimal conditions.

Instead of a large furnace that is normally used to grow nanotubes as part of the chemical vapor deposition process, the Georgia Institute of Technology researchers grew bundles of nanotubes on a micro-heater built into an atomic force microscope (AFM) tip. The tiny device provided highly-localized heating for only the locations where researchers wanted to grow the nanostructures.

Using arrays of cantilevers operating at different temperatures would allow researchers to accelerate the process for mapping the kinetics of nanostructure growth. Because the cantilevers can be heated and cooled more rapidly than a traditional furnace, batches of nanostructures can be produced in just 10 minutes – compared to two hours or more for traditional processing.

By demonstrating that carbon nanotubes can be growth on an AFM cantilever, the technique also provides a new way to integrate nanometer-scale structures with microdevices.

From the change in the resonance frequency, the researchers were able to calculate the mass of the carbon nanotubes they had grown as approximately four picograms (4 x 10-14) kg.

"We are working on integrating the growing and weighing of the nanotubes so we can do both of them at the same time," said King. "That would allow us to monitor the materials growth as it happens."

Once the two processes are integrated, the researchers expect to increase the number of cantilevers operating simultaneously. Cantilever arrays could allow many different growth temperatures and conditions to be measured in parallel, accelerating the task of charting the growth kinetics to determine the optimal settings.

"This is a platform for materials discovery, so we could test tens or even thousands of different chemistry or growth conditions in a very short period of time," King said. "With a thousand cantilevers, we could do in a single day experiments that would take years using conventional growth techniques. Once the right conditions were found, the production process could be scaled up."

June 05, 2006

Other tech: heavy duty trucks and buses use half of fuel in the US a good target for efficiency

Hybrid buses consume about 20 percent less fuel.Fuel consumption in electrical utility trucks can be reduced by 50 percent with hybrid technology, in large part because, rather than idling the engine at a worksite to power the hydraulic lift used by linemen, the system can be run by batteries, which is much more efficient than idling a large engine. Eaton, based in Cleveland, OH, has already built and tested such a truck, and expects to have 24 of them in operation this year.

An even more immediate impact could come from retrofitting vehicles such as garbage trucks and delivery trucks with hydraulic hybrid systems. While conventional hybrids capture energy from braking and store it in a battery or ultracapacitor, these systems store energy produced by braking by using hydraulic fluid to compress nitrogen gas. The energy in the compressed gas can then be released to power acceleration. Van Amburg says these can be relatively easy and inexpensive to install -- an important consideration for a system to be fitted into an already depreciated vehicle.

Self-assembly advance: copying sponges

Now researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), using clues gleaned from marine sponges, have developed a method of synthesizing semiconducting materials with useful structures and novel electronic properties. The first applications could be ways to make materials for more powerful batteries and highly efficient solar cells at a lower price.

They are accessing structures that in some cases had never been achieved before. And in some cases have discovered electronic properties that had never been known before for that class of materials. Daniel Morse, professor of molecular genetics and biochemistry at UCSB, led the project. The method works with a wide variety of materials. So far, he says, the group has made 30 different kinds of oxides, hydroxides, and phosphates.

The scientists developed a synthesis method that uses the basic principles behind the natural assembly method: slow catalysis and the use of a physical template. They found they were able to assemble not only glass, but also a variety of semiconducting materials that could be useful in devices.

The method begins with a solution of molecular precursors. The researchers then expose the solution to ammonia vapor, which, as it slowly diffuses into the solution, acts as a catalyst. The physical template for the material is the surface of the solution. At this surface, where the vapor concentration is greatest, the material forms a thin film.

The method works at low temperatures, about room temperature, whereas conventional techniques for making semiconducting thin films require a high temperatures -- 400 degrees Celsius. It also does not require oft-used harsh acids and bases. In addition to making the process cheaper and easier, the mild conditions could lead to devices that incorporate materials (like dopants that would be destroyed with higher temperatures) that would be impossible to use with conventional processes

On the way to nanomedicine essay

Another essay of mine On the way to Nanomedicine: Decisions and technology past and future is pubilshed in nanonewsnow In it I make the case that society already has widespread internal and external devices that enhance are capabilities both physical and mental. The cases that are made for the rejection of superior performance or finer grained modifications are inconsistent and harmful to individuals, individual rights and the productivity of society.

A recent conference the Human Enhancement Technologies and Human Rights conference presented by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies had discussions on many of the topics in the essay. Excellent coverage of the conference discussions is at the rational longevity blog.
Part 1 of coverage, Part 2 of coverage,
Part 3 of coverage, Part 4 of coverage,Part 5 of coverage.

Other small but not nano tech: micro molding advance

John Fourkas and his group report the development of a new technique that promises to make the mass production of complex plastic microstructures a routine, one-step process. “The problem with microtransfer molding comes when the original object contains closed loops,” says Fourkas. “Imagine that you want to mass produce a microscopic version of the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge is anchored to the surface at its towers, forming a closed loop. Once the PDMS has been cured, the original bridge model will therefore be stuck inside of it.”

Up to now, the closed loop problem has been addressed by molding in layers. “This layer-by-layer technique can only be used to mold a limited range of structures, and it requires precise alignment of each mold,” says Fourkas. “We realized that we could take advantage of a property of PDMS that is usually viewed as a problem, which is that it likes to stick to itself.”

The Fourkas team created a thin wall of PDMS in the original structures, effectively removing any closed loops. “For instance, on the Golden Gate, we would create a thin wall underneath the entire length of the bridge model. That would make it possible to remove the mold from the original object,” says Fourkas. Then, once the mold is free, the wall region in the mold can be closed off by gentle pressure, making it possible to create copies of the bridge that do not contain a wall.

“One of the exciting things about this technique,” says Fourkas, “is that it vastly increases the range of microscopic structures that can be created in a single molding step. This represents an important step towards the mass production of micromachines made from plastic.”

The Fourkas team also recently invented a successful method to incorporate a broad range of materials, including metal, into micro structures fabricated by multiphoton absorption polymerization (MAP).

June 04, 2006

More on synthetic biology, gene sequencing and costs

Gene Sequencing: Seven thousand dollars will buy you a million base pairs of DNA [using conventional technology], which is one-6,000th of your diploid (6 billion base pairs genome. Polony sequencing [a method developed by Church and colleagues] is about a hundred times less expensive ($3425 for 30 million bases per run as of June 2006). So you can sequence about 1 percent of the genome [for $10,000].You could focus on likely places you're going to have problems. We got a factor-of-ten improvement in the last six months, so if we could get another 10 times improvement in the next year, that would give us 10 percent of the genome. If we could pick 10 percent of the genome for which we have lifestyle, nutritional, or synthetic solutions, that would be a good deliverable for a $10,000 investment.

[See some other advanced sequencing approaches]

Synthetic biology and gene synthesis:
George Church and his Harvard lab recently developed a new way to synthesize DNA. They are reducing costs for genetic synthesis with a reasonable accuracy. Right now the cost of synthesizing a base [using conventional technology] is about 10 cents. That's the current street price for raw oligonucleotides. For synthesizing simple genes, it's more like $1.30 a base. George Church and his team can manufacture oligonucleotides at .01 cent per base. It means many more genetic constructs can be made. The method also allows longer stretches of DNA to be made. The implications are that we are getting closer to being able to arbitrarily "program" the millions of base pairs in microbes or billions of base pairs in plants and animal genomes similar to the way that we program computers.

Future pundit also discusses the falling costs of DNA sequencing

Follow up more cancer treatment and gene therapy progress

Results of a multi-center clinical study of a drug (Pfizer's oral drug, sunitinib malate) currently approved for treatment of kidney cancer indicate that it may also be effective for people with recurrent and advanced lung cancer.

University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine researchers have successfully used gene therapy to accelerate muscle regeneration in experimental animals with muscle damage, suggesting this technique may be a novel and effective approach for improving skeletal muscle healing, particularly for serious sports-related injuries. Skeletal muscle injuries are the most common injuries encountered in sports medicine. Although such injuries can heal spontaneously, scar tissue formation, or fibrosis, can significantly impede this process, resulting in incomplete functional recovery. gene-therapy treated cells will continue to overproduce myostatin propeptide for at least two years. This could significantly reduce the amount of time an athlete needs to recover and result in a more complete recovery.

University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine researchers have successfully protected mice against the damaging effects that radiation can have on bone marrow using gene therapy. Based on these results, the researchers believe this approach may be able to protect first responders in the event of a radiological accident or the detonation of a crude radiological weapon, or "dirty bomb." I note that it could also help people who would travel in space and have higher radiation exposure.

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