Tag Archives: Tech

The Artificial Leaf: Copying Nature to Fight Climate Change

ACS ChemMatters Magazine

An ancient chemical process enabled Earth to become a lush place teeming with life. Now researchers are replicating this process in an attempt to slow global warming.

Every plant, animal, and person owes their life to one sequence of chemical reactions: photosynthesis. The process, which converts water and carbon dioxide into food using sunlight, first evolved in cyanobacteria more than 2 billion years ago.

That’s right. Plants weren’t the first organisms to develop photosynthesis, though they are better known for it. Cyanobacteria are the ones that originally filled the atmosphere with photosynthesis’s gaseous by-product, oxygen (O2), which set the stage for more diverse life on Earth.

As beneficiaries of photosynthesis, humans depend on plants in a sort of carbon seesaw. Plants take in CO2 and release O2. They store that carbon as sugar. Hanging vines, grass, and trees all grow by pulling carbon atoms out of the air. We do the reverse, taking in O2 and releasing CO2. Finally, everything we eat completes the handoff: Human eats plant (or the animal who already did), human exhales, plant stores carbon, and the cycle continues.

This seesaw is part of the much broader carbon cycle that has affected the radiation balance of our planet. Cutting down huge swaths of forests and the burning of carbon-based fossil fuels causes the levels of CO2, a major greenhouse gas, to rise. And plants on Earth along with other natural parts of the carbon cycle can’t restore the balance on their own.

But what if we could copy what plants do to grab some of that excess CO2 to make fuels sustainably, instead of relying so heavily on fossilized carbon?

Read the full story in the October 2021 issue of ChemMatters

This Barnacle-Inspired Glue Seals Bleeding Organs in Seconds

WIRED

The paste sticks onto wet tissue firmly by repelling blood. Surgeons hope it can save time—and lives.

EXCESSIVE BLEEDING IS, in some sense, an engineering problem.

“For us, everything is a machine, even a human body,” says Hyunwoo Yuk, a research scientist in mechanical engineering at MIT. “They are malfunctioning and breaking, and we have some mechanical way to solve it.”

About 1.9 million people die every year from blood loss, sometimes from trauma, sometimes on the operating table. Bleeding bodies are wet, prone to infection, and need urgent care. Yet it’s hard to create a seal on wet tissue, and most commercial products used to stop dangerous bleeding rely on coagulants which take minutes to work. Some people don’t have minutes.

Read the full story in WIRED

The Race to Put Silk in Nearly Everything

WIRED

The fiber has been considered a “miracle material” for anything from body parts to food. Has the revolution finally arrived?

ALI ALWATTARI STILL remembers the day he met the goats. It was mid-May, 19 years ago, in Quebec. The sun was lighting up the old maple sugar farm—and small huts where the goats were living. Alwattari, a materials scientist, had spent his career tinkering with chemistry equipment for Procter & Gamble, developing fibers used in Pampers and Swiffers. But the startup Nexia Biotechnologies was aiming to use an entirely different kind of polymer producer—and it was gazing back at him with its rectangular pupils.

Read the full story in WIRED

Watch a Drone Swarm Fly Through a Fake Forest Without Crashing

WIRED

Each copter doesn’t just track where the others are. It constantly predicts where they’ll go.

ENRICA SORIA NEEDED soft trees. The mathematical engineer and robotics PhD student from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, or EPFL, had already built a computer model to simulate the trajectories of five autonomous quadcopters flying through a dense forest without hitting anything. But an errant copter wouldn’t survive a tête-à-tête with a physical tree.

So Soria built a fake forest the size of a bedroom. Motion-capture cameras lined a rail hanging above the space to track the movement of the quadcopters. And for “trees,” Soria settled on a grid of eight green collapsible kids’ play tunnels from Ikea, made of a soft fabric. “Even if the drones crash into them,” Soria recalls thinking, “they won’t break.”

Read the full story in WIRED

This Brain-Controlled Robotic Arm Can Twist, Grasp—and Feel

WIRED

Nathan Copeland learned to move a robotic arm with his mind, but it was kind of slow. Then researchers gave him touch feedback.

NATHAN COPELAND WAS 18 years old when he was paralyzed by a car accident in 2004. He lost his ability to move and feel most of his body, although he does retain a bit of sensation in his wrists and a few fingers, and he has some movement in his shoulders. While in the hospital, he joined a registry for experimental research. About six years ago, he got a call: Would you like to join our study?

Read the full story in WIRED

This Sticker Absorbs Sweat—and Might Diagnose Cystic Fibrosis

WIRED

The device may make it easier to quickly test newborns and could open the door to at-home monitoring.

IN THE MIDDLE Ages, a grim adage sometimes turned up in European folklore and children’s stories: Woe to that child which when kissed on the forehead tastes salty. He is bewitched and soon must die. A salty-headed newborn was a frightful sign of a mysterious illness. The witchcraft diagnosis didn’t hold, of course, but today researchers think that the salty taste warned of the genetic disease we now know as cystic fibrosis.

Read the full story in WIRED

A New Way to Restore Mobility–With an Electrified Patch

WIRED

In a clinical trial, wearing a small stimulator on their necks helped people with quadriplegia build back movement they had lost years ago.

THE PROVERBIAL STORY of overcoming paralysis tends to start with the legs: Superman vows to walk again; a soap opera character steps out of their wheelchair. “I think society has a tendency to focus solely on the walking aspect of disability,” says Ian Ruder, a magazine editor with the United Spinal Association, a nonprofit advocacy group for people with spinal cord injuries and disorders. But Ruder, who has used a wheelchair following an injury 23 years ago, says even restoring just a fraction of his hand function would improve his quality of life more than walking. “The difference between being able to pinch with my thumb and not be able to pinch with my thumb is hard to understand for most people,” Ruder says. “That would unlock a whole new level of independence.”

Read the full story in WIRED

Bioethics experts call on GoFundMe to ban unproven medical treatments

THE VERGE

The authors worry about the spread of medical misinformation

A bioethics study published on December 8th calls on crowdfunding platform GoFundMe to ditch campaigns for unproven and unsafe medical procedures.

People turn to GoFundMe for help paying for all sorts of medical interventions. These campaigns have brought in over $650 million since 2010. But a subset of the money raised is spent on unproven and even illegal operations. Unregulated “stem cell therapies,” for example, attract harsh condemnation from the Food and Drug Administration, and Google even banned ads for the procedures. But the public fundraisers still appear on GoFundMe.

In the new paper, published in the peer-reviewed bioethics journal The Hastings Center Report, the authors argue that GoFundMe enables misinformation that enriches bad actors and can harm patients sick with cancer or other serious conditions. Between November 2017 and November 2018, GoFundMe campaigns raised over $5 million for unregulated neurological stem cell procedures, according to a recent study. Those campaigns were shared over 200,000 times on social media.

“They know this is happening. It can’t happen without their involvement,” says Jeremy Snyder, a bioethics researcher at Simon Fraser University and co-author of the report. “I think they should be ashamed of themselves for taking part in it.”

Read the full story in The Verge