June 16, 2006

Other tech: Active camouflage

Active camouflage or adaptive camouflage, is a group of camouflage technologies which allow an object to blend into its surroundings by use of panels or coatings capable of altering their appearance, color, luminance and reflective properties Current systems began with a United States Air Force program which placed low-intensity blue lights on aircraft. As night skies are not pitch black, a 100 percent black-colored aircraft might be rendered visible. By emitting a small amount of blue light, the aircraft blends more effectively into the night sky. Boeing's Bird of Prey was a technology demonstrator for visual stealth technology. Active camouflage is poised to develop at a rapid pace with the development of organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) and other technologies which allow for images to be projected onto irregularly-shaped surfaces.

Slingatron and magnetic launchers

The US army has some small funding for a Slingatron.

Initial studies have demonstrated the fundamental feasibility of the Slingatron concept. This program will explore the concept’s bounding limits and seek to develop uses for the technology within those limits. Included in this program will be studies of the key technologies that will allow the accelerator to achieve very high projectile energies.
The idea is a giant spiral Hula Hoop, somewhat bigger than a football stadium and oscillating at about nine revolutions a second.

I notice that the longer path for the object to travel would allow for less extreme acceleration. (ie fewer G's)

The program plans are nothing if not ambitious, aiming to:
- Fabricate experimental launchers.
- Demonstrate mass launchers that range in capabilities over three to four orders of magnitude.
- Demonstrate mass velocities on the order of several km/s and perhaps higher than 10km/s.

The Air force and Launchpoint are working on magnetic sled launch systems.

The first magnetic launch systems are expected to propel payloads into orbit at a cost of roughly $750 / lb. (Current rocket-launched cost 4,000 / lb or more). Launchpoint hopes to get the cost below $100 / lb.

Related Articles:
Latest advanced space technology studies
Space elevator update
Thoughts on colonizing space
Magnetically inflated cables for making big and useful structures in space
Nanotechnology enhanced space propulsion
Background information for space related predictions


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Nano Technology
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Future Predictions

Precursor tech: Military omniscience and persistent surveillance

The US military is developing Camouflaged Long Endurance Nano-Sensors (CLENS) that would be an order of magnitude smaller than previous surveillance gear of its type -- just 60 milimeters long, and 150 grams. Darpa wants the monitors to take up a 10,000th of the power of previous sensors. That would give the CLENS enough juice to keep watch over an area for up to 180 days. The military is trying to develop military omniscience, persistent surveillance and city wide networks of cameras

Other tech: concealed weapons

Simple concealed weapons are discussed at defencetech.org A sharpened credit card shaped knife made of G10 laminate This and other items from Anthony Taylor, who is from a company which makes weapons which can be hidden in plain sight. You see it, but do not know it is a weapon.

Secret plasma aerodynamics offers efficiency, already in use

other tech: Cray plans petaflop computer for 2008

Discussion: Limit access to dangerous information

other tech: Model plane electric ducted jet fans for cooling computer servers

HP is using electric-ducted fans (EDFs), originally developed by model airplane hobbyists to power radio-controlled jets, to cool its next generation of servers

The fans consume just one-third the power of traditional computer fans; and they're smaller than regular fans, which means engineers can make the servers thinner and pack more electronics into them. The prototype HP fans are built from sturdier, more reliable parts than today's computer fans.

HP and rivals are also working on other ways to solve the problem of excessive heat. There's water cooling, in which heat sinks are replaced by "water blocks" with channels for flowing water; phase-change cooling, which is similar to traditional refrigeration; and Peltier cooling, based on the Peltier effect, in which a current passing through two types of metal causes one to heat up and the other to cool. But a flow of air is still the simplest way to disperse heat.

More on Wimax

More discussion of Wimax. It is noted that the channels will be split up so that users would see slower speeds going to a central service Therefore, mesh networks would be important to utilize more of the speed that is possible.

There is a deployment happening in Muskegon County which should be finished in 2007 The company has committed to providing high-speed Internet access at speeds of 3 Mbit/s at a cost of $18.99 a month. Faster, higher-priced versions of the service will be available to residents and businesses in the area, providing mobile broadband at bandwidths of 10 Mbit/s and up.

Here is a discussion on the economics and quality of service of the various wireless technologies.

Other tech: Alternatives to Cable, DSL: broadband over powerlines, Wireless

Here is a survey of some new communication alternatives that are being pushed out now and over the next few years.

Broadband over powerlines is supported by Earthlink, Google, General Electric, Goldman Sachs and others. They have significant trials in Cincinnati, Maryland, Southern California, Hawaii and Texas

Most broadband over powerline services are capable of delivering between 512kbps and 3mbps of throughput, which is comparable to most DSL offerings. The costs are about $30/month.

Broadband over powerlines can be used by utilities to create smart power grids Smart grids include services and products that can enhance grid reliability, direct load control, provide automatic meter reading and enable grid management products.

Motorola is one of the earliest of the major telecom companies to place all of its WiMax bets on the 802.16e version of the technology, instead of the 802.16d standard for fixed WiMax. Motorola last year announced its "MotoWi4" umbrella brand for an array of broadband wireless technologies that includes mesh WiFi networks, WiMax, and the Canopy wireless technology for unlicensed spectrum. It also launched a partnership with Sprint Nextel Corp. in which Motorola will develop WiMax handsets and infrastructure for the broadband wireless network that Sprint plans to build over the next couple of years. Field trials are expected to start later this year. Widespread availability of Wimax is not expected until 2009. Wimax speeds are expecting to be about 15mbps for mobile system and 40mbps for fixed position systems.

Upgrades of cellphone EVDO technology could allow average download speeds starting in 2007 of between 1.3mbps and 2.4mbps and upload speeds between 210kbps and 432kbps This is three times better than what is available today.

Mediaflo is a proprietary system over UHF frequencies that can get 2.8 to 11mbps over one channel. There are other RF broadcasting to cellphone technologies.

June 15, 2006

Other tech: new NASA advanced concept studies

11 new studies have been funded

Bioelectric space exploration will be studied by Matthew Silver This is work at the intersection of synthetic biology, space systems design, space operations, and electrical engineering. Proteins such as Prestin in the inner ear, or mechanosensitive ion channels found in almost all living organisms, translate nanometer movements into milli-volts of electricity. Scaling such ultra-sensitive piezo-electric mechanisms opens the door to space suits or bases covered in electricity generating Power Skins, charged by the Martian winds or the movement of astronauts through the Martian air. In a different direction, microorganisms such as Rhodoferax have been shown to convert Glucose or waste into electric potential, leading to the possibility for microbial fuel cells. One can imagine modifying such bacteria for integration in Electric Greenhouses that produce electricity and food while treating waste on space vehicles or exploration bases.

Roger Angel investigates the feasability of a 2000 kilometer solar shield at L1 to counter global warming (if global warming problems become serious enough to justify it this megascale intervention

Preliminary concept of free flyer solar shield

Photonic Muscle Telescopes: laser actuated material to control large (20-40m) aperture telescopes like the Terrestrial Planet Imager.

Module spacecraft held in place with superconductors This would blur the distinction between modules and formation flying.

Superconductors holding modules in place in orbit

Exploring the use of high voltage structures to protect against orbital radiation. This could protect solar panels on orbiting spacecraft and solar power satellites from degradation

Inflated bubble structures that could make very large structures in space. The bubbles would be lighter than prior balloon inflation proposals

Ponderomotive propulsion using high energy particles generated by lasers It could make high thrust,high ISP propulsion. Here is a description of a previously proposed ponderomotive plasma thruster.

Plasma magnetic shield for lightweight protection for crews on spaceships

other tech: superior prosthetics

Professor Hugh Herr, director of the Biomechatronics Group at MIT's Media Lab, has created a superior prosthetic knee with artificial intelligence software A prosthetic ``Rheo Knee" that uses artificial intelligence to replicate the workings of a biological human joint. The group builds artificial limbs, robotic limbs that wrap around impaired ones, and a goal is technology that augments healthy limbs, making them more efficient. Herr and his group are developing machines called bio-hybrids, surgical implants that are a mix of biological and synthetic material. Herr believes that we live in a time where three key disciplines -- tissue engineering, machine-learning, and robotics -- have advanced to the point where biomechatronics is poised for a huge leap forward. Herr thinks that, within his lifetime, amputees will run faster than people with biological legs.

Biosingularity blog

Quantum dots device counts single electrons

A device capable of counting the individual electrons in an electric current, by feeding them through a pair of quantum dots, has been developed by scientists in Japan. The device can spot the "backscattering" that occurs when electrons travel the wrong way through a circuit. Previous work in Sweden could not thje direction of the current.

Toshima Fujisawa and colleagues at NTT Basic Research Laboratories in Atsugi, Japan, created a circuit incorporating a two quantum dots - semiconducting crystals just a few nanometres in diameter - which only let a single electron pass through at a time.

After switching the current on, they used another nanoscale device, called a quantum point contact, to measure the charge contained within each quantum dot.

other tech: Carbon dioxide glass

Under extreme pressures (400,000 to 500,000 atmospheres which is 40-50 gigapascals) the researchers found that CO2 forms a crystalline solid, dubbed "amorphous carbonia" (a-CO2). At present a-CO2 cannot exist outside of a pressure chamber as it reverts to normal CO2 with decompression. If it can somehow be made to remain solid under normal conditions, however, experts predict amorphous carbonia could have a range of applications. It could lead to a new, less environmentally harmful ways to dispose of CO2. The material's unusual optical properties could be useful in a laser.

Carbon nanotubes can be made to collapse with a force of 40 gigapascals when bombarded with electrons. This seems like an efficient way to produce a-CO2. We still need to determine how to keep them solid.

Software tracks proteins inside living cells

The computer system, called CellTracker,automatically tracks the movements of proteins within a living cell has been developed by a team of biologists and computer vision experts. . It could save researchers the hours often spent analysing microscope images by hand, to determine the way a cell works. The system automatically analyses a series of still digital images captured through a microscope.

Other tech: Review of Harder than Diamond Material

Beta carbon nitride (β-C3N4) is a theoretical material, derived from theories on crystalline structure. It has not been made yet. It is expected to be harder than diamond but not as hard as Ultrahard fullerite.

Ultrahard fullerite (C60) is a form of carbon found to be harder than diamond, and which can be used to create even harder materials. A Type IIa diamond (111) has a hardness value of 167±6 gigapascals (GPa) when scratched with an ultrahard fullerite tip. A Type IIa diamond (111) has a hardness value of 231±5 GPa when scratched with a diamond tip; this leads to hypothetically inflated values.

Ultrahard fullerite has a hardness value of 310 GPa, though the actual value may range ±40 GPa, since testing done using an ultrahard fullerite tip on ultrahard fullerite will lead to, like diamond on diamond, distorted values.

Ultrahard fullerite can be made into Aggregated diamond nanorods. aggregated diamond nanorods have a modulus of 491 gigapascals (GPa), while a conventional diamond has a modulus of 442 GPa. ADNRs are also 0.3% denser than regular diamond. The ADNR material is also harder than type IIa diamond and ultrahard fullerite. ADNRs are made by compressing allotropic Carbon buckyballs molecules (generally 60 Carbon atoms per molecule) to a pressure of 20 GPa, while at the same time heating to 2500 kelvins, using a unique 5000 metric tonne multi anvil press. The resulting substance is a series of interconnected diamond nanorods, with diameters of between 5 and 20 nanometres and lengths of around 1 micrometre each.

June 14, 2006

More on Synthetic Biology: Thomas Knight and others

Thomas Knight of MIT is a leader in synthetic biology. He is engineering novel life with DNA that performs electronic functions such as communication and placing them into bacteria.

Others have reengineered bacteria by total synthesis and testing of a refactored version of a bacteria They changed over 30% of the bacteria's genome but the bacteria could still replicate and perform many of its original functions and the new capabilities that they added.

Here are various project with Thomas Knight involvement

A survey of some robotic work. Tom Knight is mentioned. He is building microbial robots, where he splices standard "parts" into a DNA string, so that the normal RNA transcription mechanism effectively allows a program to have digital control over protein production inside the cell. His "robots," based on E. Coli as their chassis, can communicate with each other, move about, signal the outside world, and sense their environments.

Thomas Knight is making computers in cells

Thomas reinvention of life is featured in wired magazine in 2005

A 2004 summary of some synthetic biology work

other tech: Progress in figuring out Embryonic Stem Cells

Ultimately the goal is to directly reprogram an adult cell into embryonic stem cells , and from these obtain the cells needed to treat diseases. Nanog is a protein that acts in embryonic stem cells and in the early embryo to keep cells pluripotent.

Silva's team fused embryonic mouse stem cells with nerve-cell stem cells and with ordinary cells from the thymus -- a technology called "cell fusion." During this process, the hybrid cell that is produced is essentially "reprogrammed" with a different set of instructions, including just what type of cell it can develop into once it divides.

Suspecting that Nanog was key to this process, the U.K. team genetically engineered the new cells to produce extra Nanog. The result: "Up to 200 times more hybrid cells were formed," Silva said.

Towards precise DNA modification

Until recently modifying the DNA in people has been a mostly random process. Homologous recombination has been the main technique, where repair enzymes splice in DNA. This is a 1 in 100,000 chance event for mice embryonic sytem cells. It is less likely in other types of cells like human cells. The splicing occurs at random points. A second generation of transgenics techniques are being developed which will provide more control

New techniques have a 1 in 5 chance of inserting DNA. New techniques are allowing more precise control of where the DNA goes.

Site specific DNA insertion can be done using enzyme recombinases (what viruses do to bacteria You get a specific target DNA taken up into an animal that you want to genetically modify. You wait until one of the animals gets it in the right location. Then you breed that animal. You can then add new DNA at the right spot. This is like randomly get a tape cassette in the right spot and being able to put in different cassettes to play.

Michele Calos of Stanford University has used bacteriophage phiC31 to be able to splice in DNA This can be done at 101 sites (19 main sites and 82 less likely). There was still no control over which one of those sites that the DNA you wanted to splice in went. 101 sites is still better than completely random, where the DNA could go to unsafe spots.

By modifying the phiC31, specific sites can be targeted

There is also the creation of molecular scissors using zinc fingers and DNA cutting enzyme nuclease.

Sangamo Biosciences of Richmond, CA has created custom zinc fingers which can target specific locations

The modified zinc fingers have been used to make human cells resistant to HIV This will be going to first stage clinical trials in the second half of 2006.

Modifying recombinase and modified zinc fingers could allow DNA to be inserted exactly where you want in people.

Computer Modeling Provides more details for nanoscale

Taking issue with the perception that computer models lack realism, a Sandia National Laboratories researcher told his audience that simulations of the nanoscale provide researchers more detailed results — not less — than experiments alone Fang derided the pejorative “garbage in, garbage out” description of computer modeling — the belief that inputs for computer simulations are so generic that outcomes fail to generate the unexpected details found only by actual experiment.

This change in the position of simulations in science — from weak sister to an ace card — is a natural outcome of improvements in computing, Fang says. “Fifteen years ago, the Cray YMP [supercomputer] was the crown jewel; it’s now equivalent to a PDA we have in our pocket.”

No one denies that experiments are as important as simulations — “equal partners, in fact,” says Julia Phillips, director of Sandia’s Physical, Chemical, and Nanosciences Center.

But the Labs’ current abilities to run simulations with thousands, millions, and even billions of atoms have led to insights that would otherwise not have occurred, Fang says.

For example, one simulation demonstrated that a tiny but significant amount of material had transferred onto the tip of an atomic force microscope (AFM) as it examined the surface of a microsystem.

Modeling tools include: meso-scale (an intermediate resolution capability functioning between the atomic and macro scales), classical atomistics (classical force-field theory), Density Functional Theory (a one-electron approximation of quantum theory, where an electron interacts with atoms but not with another electron), and the full quantum model (electrons interacting with other electrons and four or five ions).

June 13, 2006

other tech: Sulfur removed: High efficiency fuel cells are coming

A simple, inexpensive new technique to remove sulfur has been found which will remove an obstacle to wider use of fuel cells They use new materials: rare earth oxides, known to be stable and able to absorb hydrogen sulfide at high temperatures. And, instead of filtering gas through a thick sorbent bed, they pass it over the surface of a thin sorbent layer.
Rare earth oxides are inexpensive and easy to obtain. The system could be added to a SOFC using two small boxes -- one for fresh sorbents, the other for spent ones. Sulfur-free gases generated by the fuel cell would sweep the spent sorbents clean, allowing the same sorbents to be used over and over. "You don't need valves or pumps," she says, because all gases would diffuse naturally through the system. She adds that her sorbents could also outperform those used for in low-temperature fuel cells.

Solid oxide and other fuel cell types are compared here SOFCs are expected to be around 50-60 percent efficient at converting fuel to electricity. In applications designed to capture and utilize the system's waste heat (co-generation), overall fuel use efficiencies could top 80-85 percent.

There is work being done in many places to improve solid oxide fuel cell performance

A laptop using SOFC could run for about 12 hours from a single fueling versus regular batteries that last about 1-3 hours

The best applications for the fuel cells would be in cars and for back up power.

Other: Murders stats in the US, Comparing US and Iraq dangers

Nationally in the USA, murders rose 4.8 percent, meaning there were more than 16,900 victims in 2005 (this is from FBI crime statistics)

USA ware casualties in Iraq in 2005 were 846 dead which was about the same as in 2004. (This is from icasualties.org which gets statistics from news reports for civilians and from US military releases for military casualties)

Adding up all Iraq police, military and civilian deaths gets close the US murder total

The Iraq death rates are higher than the US murder rate since the US has ten times the population. The national US murder rate is 5.6 per 100,000. (FBI statistics 2005 again)

The Iraqi death rates appear to comparable to the US cities with the highest murder rates (from wikipedia US cities by crime rate)

Statistics show that Iraq appears to be safer than pre-Katrina New Orleans (From the Hawaii Reporter)

Crime statistics from 1960 to 2004 (Disaster center)

One is almost three times more like to die in a traffic accident than to be murdered (Victoria Transport Policy Institute is an independent research organization)
transportation risk statistics, motor vehicle safety (Bureau of Transportation statistics 2002)), and fatality rates by statefrom NHTSA's Research and Development site. Louisiana still seems to have the worst rate of combined murders and traffic fatalities.

Louisiana was more dangerous than Iraq for the general population. (based on the above statistics and population from wikipedia and algebra)

In Louisiana:
50 or so per 100,000 murder
16 or so per 100,000 traffic fatality (16-20 years old 33 per 100,000..in some states as high as 59)
35 or so per 100,000 katrina

US soldier death rates
500 per 100,000 (projected 2006, 700 out of 132000)
600 per 100,000 (2005, 850 out of 132000)

Therefore, it was still more dangerous to be a US soldier in Iraq than someone who lived in Louisiana in 2005 by 5 times. (unless you drove a motorcycle a lot)

Motorcycles are about 17 times more dangerous than cars. (Bureau of Transportation statistics 2002)

Related Articles:
An online analysis of world murder rates from various sources by Ben Best

Ben Best has an analysis of causes of death other than murder

National Safety Council table of what are the odds of dying

Page 7 and 8 of the National Vital Statistics report has the fourth column with the number who would die at that age out of 100,000. eg. at age 59, 835 out of 100,000 die before reaching 60

other tech: Korean advance on reversing cellular senescence

As noted by Harold Brenner:
The importance of recent Korean research on cell death
1. Cellular Senescence is reversible
2. DNA damage induces senescence
3. Rather than interfering with the DNA damage signaling pathway we should be looking at increasing the rate and ability to repair DNA damage to bring about the reversal of senescence.

New paper posted at Eric Drexler's site

The paper is Robust Composition: Towards a Unified Approach to Access Control and Concurrency Control by MS Miller.

Drexler description of the paper and its significance:
Describes how to structure object-oriented programming to enable software components to work together without mutual interference—a way to escape from fragile thread-based concurrency and the threat of viruses, and a way to enable safe use of potentially malicious software components written by un-trusted or unknown parties. A must-read document for anyone attempting to build a reliable, user-friendly, programmer-friendly, cooperation-enabling, virus-proof computing infrastructure: that is to say, large-scale software systems that can tolerate errors and enemies and actually work.

The paper is by Mark Samuel Miller

other tech: widespread stability control would save 10,000 lives in the US per year

A study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said the technology, electronic stability control, reduced the risk of single-vehicle rollovers involving sport utility vehicles by 80 percent, and 77 percent for passenger cars.

Rollovers are extremely dangerous, accounting for only 3 percent of all crashes but leading to more than 10,000 deaths (23% of all deaths) a year. An estimated 43,200 people died on highways in 2005.

If the stability technology and the rate of lives saved were applied globally (all cars in the world) to prevent some of the 1.2 million vehicle deaths per year, then almost 280,000 lives per year could be saved in the world.

Lab-on-a-chip transports liquids without pipes or valves

other tech: Flying and ground independent robots team up for search task

A team of autonomous flying and ground-based robots have successfully cooperated to search for and locate targets in the streets of an urban warfare training ground in the US. The system could help in search and rescue efforts and military operations – and even has the potential to include humans in the team. They hid bright orange boxes in the streets between buildings. An autonomous robot aircraft with a wingspan of 2.5 metres, and four autonomous ground vehicles in the form of modified model monster trucks, called Clodbusters, then set out to pinpoint the boxes’ locations.

"If the air vehicle sees something, then the ground vehicles are aware of it and will decide whether to investigate," explains Grocholsky. "Each robot has an idea of what it thinks is going on, in terms of probabilities of a target being in a particular place."

The researchers hope this distributed model will scale up easily, so that large networks of many different robots, sensors and even humans could be patched into a team.

"A key advantage of this approach is the way the information available to the robots is anonymised," says Grocholsky. There is no need for complicated coordination of the different elements of the team – each just uses any information it gets to help with its own goals.

Program automatically generates 3-D models from a single photograph

Generating a 3 dimensional model from a 2 dimensional picture could ultimately find application in vision systems used to guide robotic vehicles, monitor security cameras and archive photos.

Using machine learning techniques, Robotics Institute researchers Alexei Efros and Martial Hebert, along with graduate student Derek Hoiem, have taught computers how to spot the visual cues that differentiate between vertical surfaces and horizontal surfaces in photographs of outdoor scenes. They've even developed a program that allows the computer to automatically generate 3-D reconstructions of scenes based on a single image.

Using 300 images gleaned from a Google search, Hoiem showed the computer numerous examples of vertical and horizontal surfaces, allowing a machine learning program to develop statistical associations between certain shapes, shadings and other characteristics typical of each orientation.

The program also takes advantage of the constraints of the real world -- skies are blue, horizons are horizontal and most objects sit on the ground.

Animations are here

Evidence of RNA in structures essential to cell division

There is now evidence for the first time that centrosomes, which play a key role in cell division, may carry their own genetic machinery, answering a controversial question of long standing. Using a technique he developed, Dr. Palazzo isolated relatively large quantities of centrosomes from the clam eggs. The Alliegros, using highly sophisticated techniques they developed, extracted a set of RNAs called cnRNAs, demonstrating their association with centrosomes biochemically and in situ. Exhaustive database analysis revealed no matches to known nucleotides, translated nucleotide, or predicted protein sequences, founding the conclusion that they are unique and intrinsic to the centrosome.

Centrosome irregularities have been linked to malignancies, so the discovery may also be applicable to cancer research.

"The next step will be to determine what role these RNAs might play in centrosome replication, the cell cycle, or the development of organisms," concludes Dr. Alliegro.

Supercurrent in quantum dots and electron control in nanowires

Researcher have places quantum dots on semiconducting nanowire. He can achieve supercurrent in the dots. He can precisely control the electrons in the quantum dot using an external charge. Low temperature and pure nanowires are needed. Improved nanowire quality was also part of the research.

Jorden van Dam, researcher at the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience Delft, has succeeded in largely controlling the transportation of electrons in semiconductor nanowires. He was able to make a quantum dot in a semiconductor nanowire. Van Dam moreover discovered how to observe a divergent type of supercurrent in these wires. Nanowires have superior electronic properties which in time could improve the quality of our electronics In recent years, many possible applications for semiconductor nanowires have emerged, such as in lasers, transistors, LEDs and bio-chemical sensors.

Van Dam has enabled total control over the number of electrons that can be confined in a quantum dot. He can control this number by means of an externally introduced charge. A crucial factor for the extreme degree of control that Van Dam has achieved is the quality (for example the purity) of the nanowires, which were supplied by Philips. It is above all the quality of the material used (wires and electrodes) that was greatly improved during Van Dam's research.

In the improved nanowires, Van Dam achieved for the first time the realisation and observation of a (theoretically already predicted) divergent type of supercurrent (a supercurrent is the current that occurs in superconductivity). In a quantum dot, the electrons normally pass through one by one. In superconductivity, the passage of electrons occurs in pairs. Van Dam, with the help of superconductor electrodes, has now achieved a supercurrent in the quantum dot, whereby the pairs of electrons pass through one by one.

Van Dam has also - under specific conditions - achieved a reversal in the direction of the supercurrent. He is able to control this reversal by varying the number of electrons confined in the quantum dot. With this, the Delft University of Technology researcher has achieved a largely controllable superconductor connection in semiconductor nanowires.

June 12, 2006

other tech: We are happier as we get older

We have already posted about the economic benefits to society for longevity / life extension

A new study shows that we get happier as we get older

This goes against another of the arguments against life extension, that if we lived longer we would not be happy.

Better ceramics could make radically more fuel efficient cars

Previously we had posted that carbon nanotube forests could be integrated to make composite materials 3-5 times more durable.

Others including Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute have noted that being able to make cars out of lightweight composites would save a lot of fuel.

Futurepundit notes that
replacing half the ferrous metals in current automobiles could reduce a vehicle's weight by 60 percent and fuel consumption by 30 percent, according to some studies. The resulting gains in fuel efficiency, made in part because smaller engines could be used with lighter vehicles, would also reduce greenhouse gas and other emissions by 10 percent to 20 percent..

All of this would come with no sacrifice in safety, as preliminary results of computer crash simulations show that cars made from carbon fiber would be just as safe - perhaps even safer - than today's automobiles. Today's Formula 1 racers are required by mandate to be made from carbon fiber to meet safety requirements.

We noted here the current most fuel efficient SUVs

Lightweight ceramics combined with better batteries would make for fantastic plug in hybrids that could get 330 mpg or more

Other forms of transportation:
Segways can get the equivalent of 450mpg based on the amount of gas it would take to create the electricity needed to run it

Folding electric bikes do even better and can be taken onto public transit at all times One could use composites or magnesium for the body and lithium ion for the batteries and get the bikes down to 15 lbs or less. You also would not need a 10 pound lock since you could fold the bike and take it to your office or whereever you are going.

other tech: Smart paper may put lighter, smaller UAVs in the sky

Paper aeroplanes could fly by flapping their wings thanks to smart paper that bends when bathed in an electric field. The material raises the prospect of swarms of tiny lightweight aircraft carrying sensors that act as the eyes and ears of a surveillance network.

Electroactive paper (EAPap) is ordinary cotton-based paper, similar to the material used to make US bank notes, coated on each side with a thin layer of gold. The smart paper has been made by researchers from Inha University, South Korea, and Texas A & M University, US

Unlike ordinary paper, EAPap bends as a result of two effects working together. When a voltage is applied, the gold coating on one side of the paper becomes a positively charged while the other side becomes negatively charged. Sodium ions in the paper move towards the negative electrode, taking water molecules with them. This makes that side of the paper expand, causing it to bend.

Genetic tweak boosts stiffness of spider silk

Medical researchers have come up with a novel way to stiffen the spider silk – using glass. The discovery could make it easier to grow replacement parts for human bodies by improving the silk scaffolds on which human cells are grown. Spider silk is stiffened by reinforcing it with the same microscopic glass beads that single-celled marine algae (called diatoms) use to reinforce their protein shells. To fuse silk and glass, the engineers combined a silk gene from the golden orb-weaver spider (Nephila clavipes) with a gene for a peptide called R5 that encourages the formation of silica beads in the shells of diatoms.

The engineers inserted the resulting combination gene into bacterial cells, which then produced a "chimeric" protein that had the properties of silk married with the unique chemistry of R5.

Now the team is trying to fuse silk genes with genes for proteins that capture other minerals, such as hydroxyaptite, which is found in human bone.

CVD diamond and Steve Jurvetson

I was pleased find out that Steve Jurvetson reads this blog. He posted a comment on my diamond semiconductor article and links to a picture of his own CVD produced diamond

Congrats to Draper Fisher Jurvetson on the sale of Arryx, company that manipulates small things with lasers, to Haemonetics. A successful investment and exit with an interesting company working at the nanoscale.

Other Applications for Extreme Origami, Robert Lang folding software

other tech: Memory steroids

Seen by some ambitious students as the winner's edge -- the difference between a 3.8 average and a 4.0, maybe their ticket to Harvard Law -- these "brain steroids" can be purchased on many campuses for as little as $3 to $5 per pill, though they are often obtained free from friends with legitimate prescriptions, students report.

These drugs represent only the first primitive, halting generation of cognitive enhancers. Memory drugs will soon make it to market if human clinical trials continue successfully.

There are lots of the first-generation drugs around. Total sales have increased by more than 300 percent in only four years, topping $3.6 billion last year, according to IMS Health, a pharmaceutical information company. They include Adderall, which was originally aimed at people with attention-deficit disorder, and Provigil, which was aimed at narcoleptics, who fall asleep uncontrollably. In the healthy, this class of drugs variously aids concentration, alertness, focus, short-term memory and wakefulness -- useful qualities in students working on complex term papers and pulling all-nighters before exams. Adderall sales are up 3,135.6 percent over the same period. Provigil is up 359.7 percent.

Adderall helps memory in mice by about 20-50%.

Genetic engineering, gene therapy could replace steroids for muscle enhancement without side effects and that could be possible for memory and intelligence enhancement as well.

French-German Group Verifies High-Temperature Superconductivity Theory Proposed by UCR Physicist

Experimental results could point the way to fabricating room temperature superconductors and a move to resolving the fundamental physics of superconductivity and emergent states of matter.

A 1996 theory by UCR’s Chandra Varma notes that in copper oxide materials superconductivity is associated with the formation of a new state of matter in which electric current loops form spontaneously, going from copper to oxygen atoms and back to copper. Recently, a French-German team of experimental scientists directly observed the current loops.

A microscopic theory of high temperature superconductivity might also suggest ways of fabricating room temperature superconductors, possibly with materials more amenable to industrial fabrication than the cuprates.

The results of the specific approach needs to be checked by another neutron group. More refined experiments need to be designed to improve the data and verify the theory in more detail.

if too much interfering RNA was put into a cell, it could overtax the cell's ability to process its own microRNA

New research shows that if too much interfering RNA is put into a cell, then it could overtax the cell's ability to process its own microRNA. RNA is the chemical cousin of DNA, which encodes hereditary instructions in genes. RNA was once thought to be a mere messenger in the cell. But in a rush of discoveries over the last few years, scientists have found that RNA plays a more active role in controlling gene activity. They have found that cells make tiny snippets of RNA, called microRNA, that silence particular genes. And they have learned how to harness that natural mechanism to turn off any gene of their choosing by inserting the proper piece of RNA into cells.

The findings were "not a showstopper by any means" for the field of RNAi. "It's like any drug," Mark Kay (Stanford University School of Medicine) said. "The toxicity depends on the dose."

Carbon nanotube forest integrated with composite materials for Significant Performance Improvements

Through a novel approach, researchers have created a CNT-based composite material that exhibits significant improvements in fracture performance and structural damping. The researchers use CNTs to influence and increase the 3D composite interlaminar properties, using unique reinforced laminae with carbon-nanotube forests grown on cloth fibers present in adjacent plies. A series of tests showed that the new 3-D nanocomposite material exhibits four times better fracture performance and five-fold increase in their ability to dissipate energy by structural damping in comparison to the original ceramic composites without nanotubes forests. The new nanocomposite material has three times better dimensional stability compared to the base material without CNTs. This could well be the most preferred composite structure for the future structural applications, the researchers say. They applied a major concept called hierarchical manufacturing, in which they start from a nano manufacturing process to build up a structural composite material.

Schematic diagram of the steps involved in the hierarchical nanomanufacturing of a 3D composite. (1) Aligned nanotubes grown on the fibre cloth. (2) Stacking of matrix-infiltrated CNT-grown fibre cloth. (3) 3D nanocomposite plate fabrication by hand lay-up.

The findings of the research group, led by Professor Mehrdad Ghasemi Nejhad, director of the Hawaii Nanotechnology Laboratory at the University of Hawaii, and Professor Pulickel Ajayan at Rensselaer were published in the May 7, 2006 online edition of Nature Materials ("Multifunctional composites using reinforced laminae with carbon-nanotube forests"). Vinod P. Veedu was the lead author

The new 3-D nanocomposite material improves structural mechanical properties by several folds, but at the same time they impart multifunctionality to the same structure. They demonstrated that the novel 3-D nanocomposite performs much better in terms of thermal and electrical conductivities as well.

An upcoming conference for multifunctional nanocomposites Sept 20-22, 2006

More precise gene therapy

Synthetic biology: Artificial chromosomes correct a genetic defect

Artificial chromosomes could be the future of gene therapy as it allows large amounts of DNA to be introduced into a cell without disrupting the existing genome. Researchers in Tottori University in Japan took an artificial chromosome containing the gene to correct a serious disease, put it in a stem cell, and transplanted it into a body. They are part of Japans 21st century COE (centers of excellence) program. Mitsuo Oshimura's team has now proved that the concept works by correcting a genetic defect in mouse stem cells. "It's a significant step forward," says Bruce Bunnell, who heads a competing group at Tulane University in New Orleans.

Artificial chromosomes can carry large amounts of DNA, even multiple genes, but don’t insert themselves into the existing genome. Instead, the artificial chromosomes sit inside the cell’s nucleus expressing their genes alongside the original genome.

Previously researchers at Chromos Molecular Systems of Burnaby in British Columbia, Canada, used artificial chromosomes to add an extra gene to cells grown in the lab, and showed that the gene functioned when the cells were transplanted into mice (New Scientist, 19 June 2004, p 10). Now, Oshimura has actually corrected a genetic defect in stem cells.

Oshimura’s team worked with stem cells from the testes of newborn mice in which the p53 gene had been knocked out – p53 makes a protein that prevents tumour growth. Adding an artificial chromosome carrying a copy of p53 restored production of the protein in the stem cells, and activated another gene that is normally controlled by p53.

At the same meeting, Chromos announced that its researchers have inserted artificial chromosomes into human embryonic stem cells. Company vice-president Harry Lebedur claims that Chromos’s chromosomes have the advantage that they can be more easily purified from the cell cultures in which they are grown and can be transferred to stem cells with greater efficiency. “Oshimura’s work, combined with ours, is paving the way for using artificial chromosomes as vectors for gene therapy,” he says.

There is much work to do before the technique is used in the clinic. For example, the chromosomes must be shown to be stable in stem cells over long periods.

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