Tag Archives: Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich

‘No kiln’ ceramics

Sometimes it’s hard to believe what one reads and this piece about ceramics made without kilns  (for me) fits into that category (from a Feb. 28, 2017 ETH Zurich [English: Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich] [German: Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich]) press release (also on EurekAlert) by Fabio Bergamin),

The manufacture of cement, bricks, bathroom tiles and porcelain crockery normally requires a great deal of heat: a kiln is used to fire the ceramic materials at temperatures well in excess of 1,000°C. Now, material scientists from ETH Zurich have developed what seems at first glance to be an astonishingly simple method of manufacture that works at room temperature. The scientists used a calcium carbonate nanopowder as the starting material and instead of firing it, they added a small amount of water and then compacted it.

“The manufacturing process is based on the geological process of rock formation,” explains Florian Bouville, a postdoc in the group of André Studart, Professor of Complex Materials. Sedimentary rock is formed from sediment that is compressed over millions of years through the pressure exerted by overlying deposits. This process turns calcium carbonate sediment into limestone with the help of the surrounding water. As the ETH researchers used calcium carbonate with an extremely fine particle size (nanoparticles) as the starting material, their compacting process took only an hour. “Our work is the first evidence that a piece of ceramic material can be manufactured at room temperature in such a short amount of time and with relatively low pressures,” says ETH professor Studart.

Stronger than concrete

As tests have shown, the new material can withstand about ten times as much force as concrete before it breaks, and is as stiff as stone or concrete. In other words, it is just as hard to deform.

So far, the scientists have produced material samples of about the size of a one-franc piece using a conventional hydraulic press such as those normally used in industry. “The challenge is to generate a sufficiently high pressure for the compacting process. Larger workpieces require a correspondingly greater force,” says Bouville. According to the scientists, ceramic pieces the size of small bathroom tiles should theoretically be feasible.

Energy-efficient and environmentally benign

“For a long time, material scientists have been searching for a way to produce ceramic materials under mild conditions, as the firing process requires a large amount of energy,” says Studart. The new room-temperature method – which experts refer to as cold sintering — is much more energy-efficient and also enables the production of composite materials containing, for example, plastic.

The technique is also of interest with a view to a future CO2-neutral society. Specifically, the carbonate nanoparticles could conceivably be produced using CO2 captured from the atmosphere or from waste gases from thermal power stations. In this scenario, the captured CO2 is allowed to react with a suitable rock in powder form to produce carbonate, which could then be used to manufacture ceramics at room temperature. The climate-damaging CO2 would thus be stored in ceramic products in the long term. These would constitute a CO2 sink and could help thermal power stations to operate on a carbon-neutral basis.

According to the scientists, in the long term, the new approach of cold sintering even has the potential to lead to more environmentally friendly substitutes for cement-based materials. However, great research efforts are needed to reach this goal. Cement production is not only energy-intensive, but it also generates large amounts of CO2 – unlike potential cold-sintered replacement materials.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Geologically-inspired strong bulk ceramics made with water at room temperature by Florian Bouville & André R. Studart. Nature Communications 8, Article number: 14655 (2017) doi:10.1038/ncomms14655 Published online: 06 March 2017

This paper is open access.

Florian Bouville’s work in ceramics was last mentioned here in a March 25, 2014 posting.

Slaughterhouse yarn (scientists looking for business investment)

Not everyone is going to feel comfortable with the idea of using gelatine to create fibres for yarn. Nonetheless, here’s a July 29, 2015 ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, [Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich]) press release (also on EurekAlert) describes the research (a plea for business investment follows),

Some 70 million tonnes of fibres are traded worldwide every year. Man-made fibres manufactured from products of petroleum or natural gas account for almost two-thirds of this total. The most commonly used natural fibres are wool and cotton, but they have lost ground against synthetic fibres.

Despite their environmental friendliness, fibres made of biopolymers from plant or animal origin remain very much a niche product. At the end of the 19th century, there were already attempts to refine proteins into textiles. For example, a patent for textiles made of gelatine was filed in 1894. After the Second World War, however, the emerging synthetic fibres drove biological protein fibres swiftly and thoroughly from the market.

Over the past few years, there has been increased demand for natural fibres produced from renewable resources using environmentally friendly methods. Wool fibre in particular has experienced a renaissance in performance sportswear made of merino wool. And a few years ago, a young entrepreneur in Germany started making high-quality textiles from the milk protein casein.

New use for waste product

Now Philipp Stössel, a 28-year-old PhD student in Professor Wendelin Stark’s Functional Materials Laboratory (FML), is presenting a new method for obtaining high-quality fibres from gelatine. The method was developed in cooperation with the Advanced Fibers Laboratory at Empa St. Gallen. Stössel was able to spin the fibres into a yarn from which textiles can be manufactured.

Gelatine consists chiefly of collagen, a main component of skin, bone and tendons. Large quantities of collagen are found in slaughterhouse waste and can be easily made into gelatine. For these reasons, Stark and Stössel decided to use this biomaterial for their experiments.

Coincidence helps provide a solution

In his experiments, Stössel noticed that when he added an organic solvent (isopropyl) to a heated, aqueous gelatine solution, the protein precipitated at the bottom of the vessel. He removed the formless mass using a pipette and was able to effortlessly press an elastic, endless thread from it. This was the starting point for his unusual research work.

As part of his dissertation, Stössel developed and refined the method, which he has just recently presented in an article for the journal Biomacromolecules.

The refined method replaces the pipette with several syringe drivers in a parallel arrangement. Using an even application of pressure, the syringes push out fine endless filaments, which are guided over two Teflon-coated rolls. The rolls are kept constantly moist in an ethanol bath; this prevents the filaments from sticking together and allows them to harden quickly before they are rolled onto a conveyor belt. Using the spinning machine he developed, Stössel was able to produce 200 metres of filaments a minute. He then twisted around 1,000 individual filaments into a yarn with a hand spindle and had a glove knitted from the yarn as a showpiece.

Attractive luster

Extremely fine, the individual fibres have a diameter of only 25 micrometres, roughly half the thickness of a human hair. With his first laboratory spinning machines, the fibre thickness was 100 micrometres, Stössel recalls. That was too thick for yarn production.

Whereas natural wool fibres have tiny scales, the surface of the gelatine fibres is smooth. “As a result, they have an attractive luster,” Stössel says. Moreover, the interior of the fibres is filled with cavities, as shown by the researchers’ electron microscope images. This might also be the reason for the gelatine yarn’s good insulation, which Stössel was able to measure in comparison with a glove made of merino wool.

Water-resistant fibres

Gelatine’s major drawback is that it its water-solubility. Stössel had to greatly improve the water resistance of the gelatine yarn through various chemical processing stages. First he treated the glove with an epoxy in order to bond the gelatine components more firmly together. Next, he treated the material with formaldehyde so that it would harden better. Finally, he impregnated the yarn with lanolin, a natural wool grease, to make it supple.

As he completes his dissertation over the coming months, Stössel will research how to make the gelatine fibres even more water-resistant. Sheep’s wool is still superior to the gelatine yarn in this respect. However, Stössel is convinced that he is very close to his ultimate goal: making a biopolymer fibre from a waste product.

It’s been a few months since I’ve seen one of these pleas for commercial interest/partnership (from the press release),

Three years ago, the researchers applied for a patent on their invention. Stössel explains that they have reached the point where their capacity in the laboratory is at its limit, but commercial production will only be possible if they can find partners and funding.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the researchers’ latest published paper (there are also two previous paper listed in the press release),

Porous, Water-Resistant Multifilament Yarn Spun from Gelatin by Philipp R. Stoessel, Urs Krebs, Rudolf Hufenus, Marcel Halbeisen, Martin Zeltner, Robert N. Grass, and Wendelin J. Stark. Biomacromolecules, 2015, 16 (7), pp 1997–2005 DOI: 10.1021/acs.biomac.5b00424 Publication Date (Web): June 2, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

How do you know that’s extra virgin olive oil?

Who guarantees that expensive olive oil isn’t counterfeit or adulterated? An invisible label, developed by ETH researchers, could perform this task. The tag consists of tiny magnetic DNA particles encapsulated in a silica casing and mixed with the oil.

So starts Barbara Vonarburg’s April 24, 2014 ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology or Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich) news release (also on EurekAlert). She goes on to describe the scope of the situation regarding counterfeit foods,

The worldwide need for anti-counterfeiting labels for food is substantial. In a joint operation in December 2013 and January 2014, Interpol and Europol confiscated more than 1,200 tonnes of counterfeit or substandard food and almost 430,000 litres of counterfeit beverages. The illegal trade is run by organised criminal groups that generate millions in profits, say the authorities. The confiscated goods also included more than 131,000 litres of oil and vinegar.

Jon Henley’s Jan. 4, 2012 article for the UK’s Guardian provides more insight into the specifics of counterfeit olive oil (Note: A link has been removed),

Last month [December 2011], the Olive Oil Times reported that two Spanish businessmen had been sentenced to two years in prison in Cordoba for selling hundreds of thousands of litres of supposedly extra virgin olive oil that was, in fact, a mixture of 70-80% sunflower oil and 20-30% olive.

… So with a litre of supermarket extra virgin costing up to £4, and connoisseurs willing to pay 10 times that sum for a far smaller bottle of seasonal, first cold stone pressed, single estate, artisan-milled oil from Italy or Greece, can we be sure of getting what we’re paying for?

The answer, according to Tom Mueller in a book out this month [January 2012], is very often not. In Extra Virginity: the Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, Mueller, an American who lives in Italy, lays bare the workings of an industry prey, he argues, to hi-tech, industrial-scale fraud. The problem, he says, is that good olive oil is difficult, time-consuming and expensive to make, but easy, quick and cheap to doctor.

Most commonly, it seems, extra virgin oil is mixed with a lower grade olive oil, often not from the same country. Sometimes, another vegetable oil such as colza or canola is used. The resulting blend is then chemically coloured, flavoured and deodorised, and sold as extra-virgin to a producer. Almost any brand can, in theory, be susceptible: major names such as Bertolli (then owned by Unilever [see Henley’s article for details about the 2008 Italian olive oil scandal]) have found themselves in court having to argue, successfully in this instance, that they had themselves been defrauded by their supplier.

Meanwhile, the chemical tests that should by law be performed by exporters of extra virgin oil before it can be labelled and sold as such can often fail to detect adulterated oil, particularly when it has been mixed with products such as deodorised, lower-grade olive oil in a sophisticated modern refinery.

Given the benefits claimed for olive oil, I imagine lower grade olive oil which is more highly processed or, worse yet, a completely different kind of oil would diminish or, possibly, eliminate any potential health benefit.

Getting back to the ETH Zurich news release, here’s more about the anti-counterfeiting ‘label’,

Just a few grams of the new substance are enough to tag [label] the entire olive oil production of Italy. If counterfeiting were suspected, the particles added at the place of origin could be extracted from the oil and analysed, enabling a definitive identification of the producer. “The method is equivalent to a label that cannot be removed,” says Robert Grass, lecturer in the Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences at ETH Zurich.

A forgery-proof label should not only be invisible but also safe, robust, cheap and easy to detect. To fulfil these criteria ETH researchers used nanotechnology and nature’s information storehouse, DNA. A piece of artificial genetic material is the heart of the mini-label. “With DNA, there are millions of options that can be used as codes,” says Grass. Moreover, the material has an extremely low detection limit, so tiny amounts are sufficient for labelling purposes.

However, DNA also has some disadvantages. If the material is used as an information carrier outside a living organism, it cannot repair itself and is susceptible to light, temperature fluctuations and chemicals. Thus, the researchers used a silica coating to protect the DNA, creating a kind of synthetic fossil. The casing represents a physical barrier that protects the DNA against chemical attacks and completely isolates it from the external environment – a situation that mimics that of natural fossils, write the researchers in their paper, which has been published in the journal ACS Nano. To ensure that the particles can be fished out of the oil as quickly and simply as possible, Grass and his team employed another trick: they magnetised the tag by attaching iron oxide nanoparticles.

Experiments in the lab showed that the tiny tags dispersed well in the oil and did not result in any visual changes. They also remained stable when heated and weathered an ageing trial unscathed. The magnetic iron oxide, meanwhile, made it easy to extract the particles from the oil. The DNA was recovered using a fluoride-based solution and analysed by PCR, a standard method that can be carried out today by any medical lab at minimal expense. “Unbelievably small quantities of particles down to a millionth of a gram per litre and a tiny volume of a thousandth of a litre were enough to carry out the authenticity tests for the oil products,” write the researchers. The method also made it possible to detect adulteration: if the concentration of nanoparticles does not match the original value, other oil – presumably substandard – must have been added. The cost of label manufacture should be approximately 0.02 cents per litre.

The researchers have plans for other products that could benefit from this technology and answers to questions about whether or not people would be willing to ingest a label/tag along with their olive oil,

Petrol could also be tagged using this method and the technology could be used in the cosmetics industry as well. In trials the researchers also successfully tagged expensive Bergamot essential oil, which is used as a raw material in perfumes. Nevertheless, Grass sees the greatest potential for the use of invisible labels in the food industry. But will consumers buy expensive ‘extra-virgin’ olive oil when synthetic DNA nanoparticles are floating around in it? “These are things that we already ingest today,” says Grass. Silica particles are present in ketchup and orange juice, among other products, and iron oxide is permitted as a food additive E172.

To promote acceptance, natural genetic material could be used in place of synthetic DNA; for instance, from exotic tomatoes or pineapples, of which there are a great variety – but also from any other fruit or vegetable that is a part of our diet. Of course, the new technology must yield benefits that far outweigh any risks, says Grass. He concedes that as the inventor of the method, he might not be entirely impartial. “But I need to know where food comes from and how pure it is.” In the case of adulterated goods, there is no way of knowing what’s inside. “So I prefer to know which particles have been intentionally added.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the researchers’ paper,

Magnetically Recoverable, Thermostable, Hydrophobic DNA/Silica Encapsulates and Their Application as Invisible Oil Tags by Michela Puddu , Daniela Paunescu , Wendelin J. Stark , and Robert N. Grass. ACS Nano, 2014, 8 (3), pp 2677–2685 DOI: 10.1021/nn4063853 Publication Date (Web): February 25, 2014

Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

This article is behind a paywall.

The Swiss aren’t the only ones interested in tagging petrol (gas), they’re already tagging petrol with nanoparticles in Malaysia with as per my Oct. 7, 2011 posting on the topic.

Needles not needed for blood tests with implantable lab-on-a-chip

Swiss Nano-Tera program researchers have developed an implantable lab-on-a-chip which can test blood and convey the results to your doctor (once they take the device out of the laboratory) according to a Mar. 19, 2013 news release on EurekAlert,

Humans are veritable chemical factories – we manufacture thousands of substances and transport them, via our blood, throughout our bodies. Some of these substances can be used as indicators of our health status. A team of EPFL (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) scientists has developed a tiny device that can analyze the concentration of these substances in the blood. Implanted just beneath the skin, it can detect up to five proteins and organic acids simultaneously, and then transmit the results directly to a doctor’s computer. This method will allow a much more personalized level of care than traditional blood tests can provide. Health care providers will be better able to monitor patients, particularly those with chronic illness or those undergoing chemotherapy. The prototype, still in the experimental stages, has demonstrated that it can reliably detect several commonly traced substances. The research results will be published and presented March 20, 2013 in Europe’s largest electronics conference, DATE 13.

Design,  Automation, and Test in Europe (DATE) 2013 can be found here. For those of us who won’t be at the DATE 13 conference, this EPFL video highlights some of the research being presented there,

The EPFL Mar. 20, 2013 news release provides more information about the technology and potential applications,

The device was developed by a team led by EPFL scientists Giovanni de Micheli and Sandro Carrara. The implant, a real gem of concentrated technology, is only a few cubic millimeters in volume but includes five sensors, a radio transmitter and a power delivery system. Outside the body, a battery patch provides 1/10 watt of power, through the patient’s skin – thus there’s no need to operate every time the battery needs changing.

Information is routed through a series of stages, from the patient’s body to the doctor’s computer screen. The implant emits radio waves over a safe frequency. The patch collects the data and transmits them via Bluetooth to a mobile phone, which then sends them to the doctor over the cellular network.

Great care was taken in developing the sensors. To capture the targeted substance in the body – such as lactate, glucose, or ATP – each sensor’s surface is covered with an enzyme. “Potentially, we could detect just about anything,” explains De Micheli. “But the enzymes have a limited lifespan, and we have to design them to last as long as possible.” The enzymes currently being tested are good for about a month and a half; that’s already long enough for many applications. “In addition, it’s very easy to remove and replace the implant, since it’s so small.”

The electronics were a considerable challenge as well. “It was not easy to get a system like this to work on just a tenth of a watt,” de Micheli explains. The researchers also struggled to design the minuscule electrical coil that receives the power from the patch.

The implant could be particularly useful in chemotherapy applications. Currently, oncologists use occasional blood tests to evaluate their patients’ tolerance to a particular treatment dosage. In these conditions, it is very difficult to administer the optimal dose. …

In patients with chronic illness, the implants could send alerts even before symptoms emerge, and anticipate the need for medication. “In a general sense, our system has enormous potential in cases where the evolution of a pathology needs to be monitored or the tolerance to a treatment tested.”

The prototype has already been tested in the laboratory for five different substances, and proved as reliable as traditional analysis methods. The project brought together eletronics experts, computer scientists, doctors and biologists from EPFL, the Istituto di Ricerca di Bellinzona, EMPA (Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology) and ETHZ (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich). It is part of the Swiss Nano-Tera program, whose goal is to encourage interdisciplinary research in the environmental and medical fields. Researchers hope the system will be commercially available within 4 years. [emphases mine]

“Making this technology commercially available within four years” seems rather optimistic since the news release mentions laboratory testing only. Optimistic that is, unless the researchers are already running human clinical trials not mentioned in the news release.

One last thought, objects implanted into the body tend to break down over time as per hip and knee replacements. I wonder if this lab-on-a-chip could be subject to some of the same drawbacks.

Almost bombed in 2010, the IBM nanotechnology center in Zurich receives a William Tell Award in 2013

It certainly seems likely that IBM’s Binnig and Rohrer Nanotechnology Center in Zurich is the same center that suffered an attempted bombing in 2010. Here’s more about the 2010 incident, from my July 25, 2011 posting about what happened to the bombers after they got caught,

I hoped to get this final update about the trio who tried to bomb an IBM nanotechnology facility in Switzerland posted sooner. The three individuals who were held and tried last week were sentenced to three years in jail. From the July 22, 2011 news article by Jessica Dacey on swissinfo.ch,

A 26-year-old Swiss-Italian from Ticino and an Italian couple aged 29 and 34 were found guilty by the Federal Criminal Court of conspiring to destroy the IBM centre in Rüschlikon, near Zurich, while it was under construction.

They were also found guilty of importing explosives into Switzerland, then illegally hiding and transporting them.

The three detainees were caught last year [April 2010] about 3km from the IBM facility in possession of 476 grams of explosives and other components needed to build an improvised explosive device.

This group does not appear to be affiliated or associated with the group that has been sending bombs to nanoscientists in Mexico. My Mar. 14, 2013 posting is the latest information I have on that situation.

Here’s more about Switzerland’s William Tell Award and IBM’s nanotechnology center from the Mar. 17, 2013 news item on Nanowerk,

The Switzerland Trade and Investment Promotion, the Swiss federal agency that assists companies expanding internationally, bestowed its annual Tell Awards to IBM, Intermune, Kayak, Maxwell Technologies and Procter & Gamble. The awards, named for legendary Swiss hero William Tell, honor U.S. companies for significant recent investment projects in Switzerland. IBM received the award for the Binnig and Rohrer Nanotechnology Center.

…  the Binnig and Rohrer Nanotechnology Center is the latest extension to IBM’s research lab in Zurich. The facility is the centerpiece of a 10-year strategic partnership in nanoscience between IBM and ETH Zurich [Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich] where scientists research novel nanoscale structures and devices to advance energy and information technologies. The building represents an investment of $60 million in infrastructure costs and an additional $30 million for tooling and equipment which, including the operating costs, are shared by the partners. As the laudation states: The center demonstrates IBM’s “magnitude of innovation and reinvestment in Switzerland”.

So, those folks wanted to blow up a facility which cost, according to this news item, approximately $90 million for infrastructure and equipment alone. The level of investment certainly explains the interest from the bombers (success would have meant major mainstream news coverage and notice) and this recent award fro IBM’s investment. Here’s a bit more about the center (from the news item),

The Binnig and Rohrer Nanotechnology Center offers a cutting-edge, collaborative infrastructure for advancing nanoscience. It is part of IBM Research – Zurich, which was opened in 1956 as IBM’s first research laboratory outside the U.S. The nanotechnology center features a cutting-edge exploratory 950 m2 cleanroom fabrication facility and six uniquely designed so-called “noise-free labs” which shield extremely sensitive experiments from any disturbances, such as mechanical vibrations, electro-magnetic fields, temperature fluctuations and acoustic noise.

The news item also offers some information about why the center bears the Binnig and Rohrer names,

The center is named for Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer, the two IBM scientists and Nobel laureates who invented the scanning tunneling microscope at IBM Research – Zurich in 1981, thus enabling researchers to see atoms on a surface for the first time. In 1986 Binnig and Rohrer received the Nobel Prize in Physics for this achievement, widely acknowledged for laying the foundation for nanotechnology research.

The Binnig and Rohrer Nanotechnology Center opened in 2011 and there’s more information about that,  Binnig and Rohrer, and their work with scanning tunneling microscopes in my May 26, 2011 posting which also features a link to an audio interview with the two Nobel Laureates.

Phone up a kidney cell—scientists at ETH Zurich create a mammalian ‘cell phone’

The Sept. 17, 2012 news item on Nanowerk lays out the standard telephoning process, then applies it to mammalian cells (Note: I have removed a link),

Telephoning is a mutual exchange of information: A phones B and they both agree what B should do. Once this is done, Party B phones Party A to let him or her know. A no longer phones B. During this two-way communication, electrical signals are sent, and for their transmission suitable devices are necessary.

Based on this formula, a team of bioengineers headed by Martin Fussenegger and Jörg Stelling at ETH Zurich’s Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering in Basel has programmed mammalian cells in such a way that two cells can communicate via chemical signals (“Synthetic two-way communication between mammalian cells”).

Peter Ruegg’s Sept. 17, 2012 ETH Life article, (ETH is a science and technology university; in German: Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich) which originated the news item, outlines the research,

The researchers used suitable signal molecules and constructed “devices” out of biological components that receive, process and respond accordingly to the signals. The devices consist of suitable genes and their products, proteins, which are linked to each other logically.

An enzyme produces the amino acid L-tryptophan from indole, which has been introduced into the sender cell from outside. This little molecule enters the receiver cell, which processes the signal. The response to L-tryptophan is that the receiver produces acetaldehyde, which the sender cell can receive. If, after a certain time, a particular concentration of acetaldehyde has been attained or the indole is depleted, the sender cell stops producing L-tryptophan and the system switches itself off again.

Here are the specifics (from the Ruegg article),

For their experiment, the Basel-based researchers used so-called HEK cells – human kidney cells, in other words, which are often used in research. Moreover, the biological components necessary to construct the signal network can be used in a modular way. With these modules, the researchers were also able to connect other signal paths, including a signal cascade leading from the sender cell, through the information processing cell to the performing receiver cell without any feedback.

Thanks to their “cell phone”, the ETH-Zurich biotechnologists were able to simulate the latter accurately in a cell culture. They placed the sender and receiver module in the culture dish along with a population of endothelial cells, which line the blood-vessel walls. In response to the tryptophan signal, the receiver module formed the messenger VEGF [vascular endothelial growth factor, a signal protein] as well as acetaldehyde. This increases the permeability of the endothelial cells, which is a key prerequisite for blood-vessel growth.

Due to the acetaldehyde response, the sender module ultimately produced the signal molecule Ang1, which stops the permeability of the endothelial cells to inhibit blood-vessel growth.

At least one future application for this research is medical (from the Ruegg article),

This signal system is also found in the human body. If VEGF spirals out of control, however, too many blood vessels form, which ultimately feeds a growing tumour. The “cell phone” could therefore be a plausible strategy to halt the pathological formation of new blood vessels. “Communication is extremely important in controlling blood vessels,” says Fussenegger, “and we hope to be able to use synthetic ‘cell phones’ to correct or even cure disease-related cell communication systems precisely in the future with a ‘therapeutic call’.”

The scientists have found a way to illustrate their ‘cell phone’ research,

Researchers from ETH Zurich designed a “cell phone” made of biological components. A “therapeutical call” halts the pathological formation of new blood vessels. (Image: Andrea Lingk / ETH Zurich)

I have written for telecommunications companies and I think it’s safe to include my colleagues when I  say that neither I nor any of them imagined the possibility of making therapeutic calls to our cells.