Faster super-resolution microscope can see virus particles moving through a cell

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This image taken by the new microscope shows a living bone cancer cell with nucleus (blue), mitochondria (green) and cytoskeleton (magenta).

When you want to look at something small up close, you use a microscope. And when you want to look at something really really small, you use a super-resolution microscope. These tools can look in resolutions of a millionth of a millimeter, but they work slowly due to the volume of image data that they need to record. Now, researchers have developed a way to speed up the process by creating a method which can record data at this microscopic scale in real-time.

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Graphene nanoribbons lay the groundwork for ultrapowerful computers

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Graphene nanoribbons on silicon wafers could help lead the way toward super fast computer chips. Image courtesy of Mike Arnold.

 Smaller, better semiconductors have consistently allowed computers to become faster and more energy-efficient than ever before.

But the 18-month cycle of exponential increases in computing power that has held since the mid 1960s now has leveled off. That’s because there are fundamental limits to integrated circuits made strictly from silicon—the material that forms the backbone of our modern computer infrastructure.

As they look to the future, however, engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are turning to new materials to lay down the foundations for more powerful computers.

They have devised a method to grow tiny ribbons of graphene—the single-atom-thick carbon material—directly on top of silicon wafers.

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What makes Silicon Valley different?

Google, Larry Page, Sergey Brin

The home in Menlo Park, California, where Sergey Brin and Larry Page founded Google in 1998. Paul Sakuma/AP

Like Detroit with automobiles or Pittsburgh with steel, Silicon Valley is synonymous with technology. In her new book The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America, Margaret O’Mara casts a historian’s eye on the contradictions of this pivotal place in modern American history.

Although it is known as a hotbed of entrepreneurship, O’Mara shows the important role played in Silicon Valley by government spending, funneled through research universities such as Stanford or dispensed as federal contracts to tech firms. She charts how the Valley continually remakes itself, creating cutting-edge industry after industry—from semiconductor chips and personal computers to biotech, mobile devices, the Internet, and social media. She traces it from its birth in the military buildup of the 1940s and the Cold War, to the rise of entrepreneurs steeped in the Bay Area counter-culture of the 1960s and 1970s, to now, and the backlash against tech.

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This honeycomb-shaped bike helmet folds to fit in your bag

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Made from recycled plastic, the Cyclo is designed to make it easier to carry a helmet with you.

 

This honeycomb-shaped bike helmet folds to fit in your bag

If you commute on a bike-share bike, you probably don’t wear a helmet—one recent study in Seattle found that only one in five riders using bike-share services wore helmets, versus more than 90% of riders with a bike of their own. It’s largely about convenience; most people don’t want to lug a bulky helmet around all day, particularly if they’ve left home on foot and might not necessarily ride later.

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Materials science may be the most important technology of the next decade. Here’s why:

 

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Think of just about any major challenge we will face over the next decade and materials are at the center of it. To build a new clean energy future, we need more efficient solar panels, wind turbines and batteries. Manufacturers need new materials to create more advanced products. We also need to replace materials subject to supply disruptions, like rare earth elements.

Traditionally, developing new materials has been a slow, painstaking process. To find the properties they’re looking for, researchers would often have to test hundreds — or even thousands — of materials one by one. That made materials research prohibitively expensive for most industries.

Yet today, we’re in the midst of a materials revolution. Scientists are using powerful simulation techniques, as well as machine learning algorithms, to propel innovation forward at blazing speed and even point them toward possibilities they had never considered. Over the next decade, the rapid advancement in materials science will have a massive impact.

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The first robot for scrubbing dishes will check each plate for dirt

It won’t be coming to your kitchen any time soon, though (sorry).

The news: A startup called Dishcraft has launched a new robotic dish-scrubber system. Yes, it’s different from a dishwasher! It’s a huge machine that can clean 100 or so plates per go, aimed at commercial kitchens.

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Experimental brain-controlled hearing aid decodes, identifies who you want to hear

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Engineers develop new AI technology that amplifies correct speaker from a group; breakthrough could lead to better hearing aids

Our brains have a remarkable knack for picking out individual voices in a noisy environment, like a crowded coffee shop or a busy city street. This is something that even the most advanced hearing aids struggle to do. But now engineers are announcing an experimental technology that mimics the brain’s natural aptitude for detecting and amplifying any one voice from many.

Powered by artificial intelligence, this brain-controlled hearing aid acts as an automatic filter, monitoring wearers’ brain waves and boosting the voice they want to focus on.

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This desalination device delivers cheap, clean water with just solar power

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In a coastal city in Namibia, a small shipping container near the beach sits surrounded
by solar panels. Inside, new technology uses that solar power
to turn ocean water from the Atlantic into drinking water.

Namibia is in the middle of a prolonged drought. The president recently declared the second state of emergency in three years because the lack of rain is leading to severe food shortages. But if scaled up, this technology could help supply households and agriculture with fresh water. The basic tech that it uses for desalination, called reverse osmosis, isn’t new. But because the system can run on solar power, without the use of batteries, it avoids the large carbon footprint of a typical energy-hungry desalination plant. It’s also significantly cheaper over the lifetime of the system.

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Wound dressing uses electricity to bust up antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections

91DE5F96-6C2F-4B42-8698-374E98381391Scientists have developed a wound dressing that can generate a weak electrical field to break down slimy bacterial biofilms that can infect wounds

An incredible new study has demonstrated the potential of a wound dressing that can fight bacterial infections using a weak electrical field. Offering a novel way to battle antibiotic resistant infections, the dressing has been approved by the FDA and is currently being tested in human burn patients.

The National Institutes of Health estimates up to 80 percent of all bacterial infections are caused by a phenotype known as a bacterial biofilm. These biofilms occur when bacterial cells adhere together to form a slimy substance, often around wounds or implanted medical devices. Bacterial biofilms can be difficult to eradicate at the best of times, a task made even more challenging with the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

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Just 10% of U.S. plastic gets recycled. A new kind of plastic could change that

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Most plastics have a chemical history that makes starting a new life a challenge. The dyes and flame retardants that make them perfect for say, a couch cushion or a bottle of detergent, make them tough to transform into a desirable end product—one of the reasons just 10% of plastic in the United States gets recycled. Now, researchers have created a plastic with a special chemical bond that helps it separate out from those additives, turning it back into a pure, valuable product that can be reused again and again.

To make the new material, researchers tweaked a type of vitrimer, a glasslike plastic developed in 2011, by adding molecules that change the chemical bonds holding it together. These new bonds, called dynamic covalent diketoenamine bonds, require less energy to break than those in traditional plastics.

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German inventors develop bracelet to test drinks for date-rape drugs

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Inventors in Germany have developed a bracelet aimed at combatting a fear of many clubbers — drink spiking.

Kim Eisenmann and Sven Häuser’s “Xantus” bracelet only needs a drop of liquid to be applied to tell if it contains traces of “date rape drugs” — substances put in a person’s drink to incapacitate them.

The band, which is already available at German healthcare shop dm-drogerie markt, is white and resembles the ribbon used to enter many clubs.

It has two green circles that turn blue if the wearer applies some of their drink and the result is positive for the drugs.

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Near-perfect performance in low-cost semiconductors

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Researchers redefine what it means for low-cost semiconductors, called quantum dots, to be near-perfect and find that quantum dots meet quality standards set by more expensive alternatives.

Tiny, easy-to-produce particles, called quantum dots, may soon take the place of more expensive single crystal semiconductors in advanced electronics found in solar panels, camera sensors and medical imaging tools. Although quantum dots have begun to break into the consumer market — in the form of quantum dot TVs — they have been hampered by long-standing uncertainties about their quality. Now, a new measurement technique developed by researchers at Stanford University may finally dissolve those doubts.

“Traditional semiconductors are single crystals, grown in vacuum under special conditions. These we can make in large numbers, in flask, in a lab and we’ve shown they are as good as the best single crystals,” said David Hanifi, graduate student in chemistry at Stanford and co-lead author of the paper written about this work, published March 15 in Science.

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