Special Coverage


Imaging System Inspired by Human Eye Can Diagnose Disease

Optical devices like telescopes and microscopes have relied on solid lenses that slide up and down to magnify and to focus. To tune how much light is received, conventional devices use mechanical contraptions like the blades that form the adjustable aperture in cameras. Engineers from the University of Freiburg in Germany have built a novel type of imaging system inspired by the elegance and relative mechanical simplicity of the human eye. The technology may one day lead to new imaging instruments and microscopes for use in medicine and scientific research, such as devices for detecting early signs of skin cancer or early visual cues for food spoilage. The new imaging system is the first to demonstrate the imaging capabilities of some of these unusual focusing techniques by replacing conventional, solid lenses with the combination of a malleable lens and a liquid iris-like component. And the device focuses light almost as well as its biological counterpart in people. For their new device, the researchers used two imaging elements that they had demonstrated previously but had never combined into a single system. They made a lens of silicone surrounded by several miniaturized motors that adjust the focus by deforming the lens. The cylindrical device is roughly three centimeters in diameter and five centimeters long, and although the researchers plan to shrink the design a bit more, making a miniature version isn't their primary goal, since optical quality is inherently limited with smaller sizes. Instead, the researchers hope to add more functionality. Source

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Inexpensive Nano-Camera Operates at the Speed of Light

A $500 nano-camera that can operate at the speed of light has been developed by researchers in the MIT Media Lab. The three-dimensional cameracould be used in medical imaging and collision-avoidance detectors for cars, and to improve the accuracy of motion tracking and gesture-recognition devices used in interactive gaming. The camera is based on “time of flight” technology like that used in Microsoft’s recently launched second-generation Kinect device, in which the location of objects is calculated by how long it takes a light signal to reflect off a surface and return to the sensor. However, unlike existing devices based on this technology, the new camera is not fooled by rain, fog, or even translucent objects. In a conventional time of flight camera, a light signal is fired at a scene, where it bounces off an object and returns to strike the pixel. Since the speed of light is known, it is then simple for the camera to calculate the distance the signal has travelled and therefore the depth of the object it has been reflected from. Unfortunately though, changing environmental conditions, semitransparent surfaces, edges, or motion all create multiple reflections that mix with the original signal and return to the camera, making it difficult to determine which is the correct measurement. Instead, the new device uses an encoding technique commonly used in the telecommunications industry to calculate the distance a signal has traveled. The idea is similar to existing techniques that clear blurring in photographs. The new model, which the team has dubbed nanophotography, unsmears the individual optical paths. The camera probes the scene with a continuous-wave signal that oscillates at nanosecond periods. This allows the team to use inexpensive hardware — off-the-shelf light-emitting diodes (LEDs) can strobe at nanosecond periods, for example — meaning the camera can reach a time resolution within one order of magnitude of femtophotography while costing just $500. Source

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Funding Opportunity: Develop Advanced Biomass Supply Chain Technologies

The Department of Energy has announced about $6 million in funding for projects that will develop and demonstrate supply chain technologies to deliver commercial-scale lignocellulosic biomass feedstocks to biorefineries across the country.

Posted in: News, News, Biomass, Energy Efficiency, Energy Harvesting, Renewable Energy, Alternative Fuels


Can Cobalt-Graphene Beat Out Platinum As Catalyst in Hydrogen Fuel Cells?

Platinum works well as a catalyst in hydrogen fuel cells, but it is expensive and degrades over time. Brown University chemist Shouheng Sun and his students have developed a new material — a graphene sheet covered by cobalt and cobalt-oxide nanoparticles — that can catalyze the oxygen reduction reaction nearly as well as platinum does and is substantially more durable.

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'Nanoflowers' for Energy Storage and Solar Cells

North Carolina State University researchers have created flower-like structures out of germanium sulfide (GeS) – a semiconductor material – that have extremely thin petals with an enormous surface area. The GeS flowers hold promise for next-generation energy storage devices and solar cells.

Posted in: News, News, Batteries, Energy Storage, Renewable Energy, Solar Power


Harnessing the Power of Spinach

Vanderbilt University researches have developed a way to combine Photosystem 1 (PS1), the photosynthetic protein that converts light into electrochemical energy in spinach with silicon (the material used in solar cells), in a fashion that produces substantially more electrical current than has been reported by previous biohybrid solar cells.

Posted in: News, News, Electronics, Energy Harvesting, Renewable Energy, Solar Power


Starting Point for Overcoming Barrier to Fusion Power

The accuracy of a new model for predicting the size of a key barrier to fusion power, which was developed by physicist Robert Goldston of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), has been confirmed. Goldston’s model predicts the width of what physicists call the “scrape-off layer” in tokamaks, the most widely used fusion facilities.

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