Tag Archives: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MIT.nano building update

A few years ago I featured a story (my May 6, 2014 posting) about a new building, the MIT.nano, being constructed on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus. Now at about 1/2 way through the construction (the building is due to open in 2018) MIT has issued an update in an April 20, 2016 news release by Leda Zimmerman,

A spectacular show has been going on outside the windows of central-campus buildings all spring. An enormous steel structure has been growing — piece by piece, and bolt by bolt — out of a giant hole in the ground formerly occupied by Building 12. At a March 24 [2016] “tool talk” information session for the MIT community on the construction of MIT.nano, representatives from MIT Facilities and the contractors who are building the new 200,000 square foot nanoscale characterization and fabrication facility gave an overview not only of where things stand with the project, but how they got stood up.

“In our structural-steel erection progress log, we’ve been averaging around 23 tons per day,” said Peter Johnson of Turner Construction. “We’re putting up 2,101 tons total, and we’re 22 percent complete.”

There is a Canadian connection,

Working with Ontario-based steel fabricator, Canatal, Johnson and his colleagues at Turner developed a four-dimensional plan for steel engineering, delivery, and installation. “We went through a painstaking process to maximize efficiency of this sequence,” says Johnson. “This allows us to avoid times when a crane is down because it’s waiting” for a delivery of steel.

There are some very interesting details in the news release but if you don’t have the time, there is this picture,

MIT.nano steel structure, looking northwest. Photo: Lillie Paquette/School of Engineering

MIT.nano steel structure, looking northwest. Photo: Lillie Paquette/School of Engineering

The colours are quite striking (I suspect they have been enhanced).

New kind of long-range particle interactions found by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) team

A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found unexpected long-range interactions amongst particles in a liquid medium according to an April 12, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily,

Moving bodies can be attracted to each other, even when they’re quite far apart and separated by many other objects: That, in a nutshell, is the somewhat unexpected finding by a team of researchers at MIT.

Scientists have known for a long time that small particles of matter, from the size of dust to sand grains, can exert influences on each other through electrical, magnetic, or chemical effects. Now, this team has found a new kind of long-range interaction between particles, in a liquid medium, that is based entirely on their motions. And these interactions should apply to any kind of particles that move, whether they be living cells or metal particles whirled by magnetic fields.

An April 11, 2016 MIT news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the work in more detail,

The discovery, which holds for both living and nonliving particles, is described in a paper by Alfredo Alexander-Katz, the Walter Henry Gale Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT, and his co-researchers, in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.

Alexander-Katz describes the kind of interactions his team found as being related to the research field of active matter. Example of active systems are the flocking behavior of birds or the schooling of fish. Each individual member of the system may be responding just to others in its vicinity, but the result is a coherent overall pattern of movement that can span a large region. Cells in a fluid medium, or even tiny structures moving within a cell, exhibit similar kinds of motion, he says.

The researchers studied magnetic particles a few micrometers (millionths of a meter) across, comparable to the size of some cells. A small number of these magnetic metal microparticles were interspersed with a much larger quantity of inert particles of comparable size, all suspended in water. When a rotating magnetic field was applied, the metal particles would begin to spin, simulating the movements of living cells in the midst of nonliving or relatively inert objects — such as when cells migrate through tissues or move in a crowded environment.

They found that the spinning particles, even when separated by distances tens of times their size, would ultimately migrate toward each other. Though that attraction progressed through a slow and apparently random series of motions, the particles would in the end almost always come together.

While there has been a lot of research on interactions among active particles, Alexander-Katz says, this is one of the few studies that has looked at the way such particles interact when they are surrounded by inactive particles. “In the absence of the inactive particles there are essentially no interactions,” he says.

The unexpected finding might ultimately lead to a better understanding of the behavior of some natural biological systems or new methods for creating synthetic active materials which could be useful for selectively delivering drugs into certain parts of the body, Alexander-Katz suggests. It could also end up finding applications in electronics or energy-harvesting systems, for example providing a way to flip a crystal structure between two different configurations.

“What we’re addressing is collective excitations of the system, or coherent excitations,” he explains. “What we’re looking at is, what are the interactions as a function of activity” of the individual particles.

The faster the particles spin, the greater the attraction between them, the team found. Below a certain speed the effect stops altogether. But the amount of inert matter also makes a difference, they found.

With no inert particles — if the moving particles are suspended in clear water — there is no motion-based attraction. But when the nonspinning particles are added and their concentration reaches a certain point, “there is attraction!” Alexander-Katz says.

One unexpected aspect of the findings was how far the effect extended. “What was really surprising was that the range of the interactions is gigantic,” he says. By way of comparison, he says, imagine you’re in a crowd, and you start to move a bit, and someone else also starts to move, while everyone else tries to stand still. “I would be able to sense, even 20 people away or more, that that person is also active — assuming that the other folks around us are not active.”

The attraction, he says, “is not chemical, it is not magnetic, it is not electrostatic, it’s just based on activity.” And because the range is so long, these interactions could not be modeled in simulations but required physical experiments to be uncovered. The tests by Alexander-Katz and his team used two-dimensional films, similar to particle sediments that form on a rock surface, he says.

He speculates that some biological organisms may use this phenomenon as a way of sensing parts of their environment, though this has not yet been tested.

There is an MIT video illustrating the work,

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

Emergent ultra–long-range interactions between active particles in hybrid active–inactive systems by Joshua P. Steimel, Juan L. Aragones, Helen Hu, Naser Qureshi, and Alfredo Alexander-Katz. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,  2016; 201520481 doi: 10.1073/pnas.1520481113

This paper is behind a paywall.

Split some water molecules and save solar and wind (energy) for a future day

Professor Ted Sargent’s research team at the University of Toronto has a developed a new technique for saving the energy harvested by sun and wind farms according to a March 28, 2016 news item on Nanotechnology Now,

We can’t control when the wind blows and when the sun shines, so finding efficient ways to store energy from alternative sources remains an urgent research problem. Now, a group of researchers led by Professor Ted Sargent at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering may have a solution inspired by nature.

The team has designed the most efficient catalyst for storing energy in chemical form, by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, just like plants do during photosynthesis. Oxygen is released harmlessly into the atmosphere, and hydrogen, as H2, can be converted back into energy using hydrogen fuel cells.

Discovering a better way of storing energy from solar and wind farms is “one of the grand challenges in this field,” Ted Sargent says (photo above by Megan Rosenbloom via flickr) Courtesy: University of Toronto

Discovering a better way of storing energy from solar and wind farms is “one of the grand challenges in this field,” Ted Sargent says (photo above by Megan Rosenbloom via flickr) Courtesy: University of Toronto

A March 24, 2016 University of Toronto news release by Marit Mitchell, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

“Today on a solar farm or a wind farm, storage is typically provided with batteries. But batteries are expensive, and can typically only store a fixed amount of energy,” says Sargent. “That’s why discovering a more efficient and highly scalable means of storing energy generated by renewables is one of the grand challenges in this field.”

You may have seen the popular high-school science demonstration where the teacher splits water into its component elements, hydrogen and oxygen, by running electricity through it. Today this requires so much electrical input that it’s impractical to store energy this way — too great proportion of the energy generated is lost in the process of storing it.

This new catalyst facilitates the oxygen-evolution portion of the chemical reaction, making the conversion from H2O into O2 and H2 more energy-efficient than ever before. The intrinsic efficiency of the new catalyst material is over three times more efficient than the best state-of-the-art catalyst.

Details are offered in the news release,

The new catalyst is made of abundant and low-cost metals tungsten, iron and cobalt, which are much less expensive than state-of-the-art catalysts based on precious metals. It showed no signs of degradation over more than 500 hours of continuous activity, unlike other efficient but short-lived catalysts. …

“With the aid of theoretical predictions, we became convinced that including tungsten could lead to a better oxygen-evolving catalyst. Unfortunately, prior work did not show how to mix tungsten homogeneously with the active metals such as iron and cobalt,” says one of the study’s lead authors, Dr. Bo Zhang … .

“We invented a new way to distribute the catalyst homogenously in a gel, and as a result built a device that works incredibly efficiently and robustly.”

This research united engineers, chemists, materials scientists, mathematicians, physicists, and computer scientists across three countries. A chief partner in this joint theoretical-experimental studies was a leading team of theorists at Stanford University and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory under the leadership of Dr. Aleksandra Vojvodic. The international collaboration included researchers at East China University of Science & Technology, Tianjin University, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Canadian Light Source and the Beijing Synchrotron Radiation Facility.

“The team developed a new materials synthesis strategy to mix multiple metals homogeneously — thereby overcoming the propensity of multi-metal mixtures to separate into distinct phases,” said Jeffrey C. Grossman, the Morton and Claire Goulder and Family Professor in Environmental Systems at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “This work impressively highlights the power of tightly coupled computational materials science with advanced experimental techniques, and sets a high bar for such a combined approach. It opens new avenues to speed progress in efficient materials for energy conversion and storage.”

“This work demonstrates the utility of using theory to guide the development of improved water-oxidation catalysts for further advances in the field of solar fuels,” said Gary Brudvig, a professor in the Department of Chemistry at Yale University and director of the Yale Energy Sciences Institute.

“The intensive research by the Sargent group in the University of Toronto led to the discovery of oxy-hydroxide materials that exhibit electrochemically induced oxygen evolution at the lowest overpotential and show no degradation,” said University Professor Gabor A. Somorjai of the University of California, Berkeley, a leader in this field. “The authors should be complimented on the combined experimental and theoretical studies that led to this very important finding.”

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

Homogeneously dispersed, multimetal oxygen-evolving catalysts by Bo Zhang, Xueli Zheng, Oleksandr Voznyy, Riccardo Comin, Michal Bajdich, Max García-Melchor, Lili Han, Jixian Xu, Min Liu, Lirong Zheng, F. Pelayo García de Arquer, Cao Thang Dinh, Fengjia Fan, Mingjian Yuan, Emre Yassitepe, Ning Chen, Tom Regier, Pengfei Liu, Yuhang Li, Phil De Luna, Alyf Janmohamed, Huolin L. Xin, Huagui Yang, Aleksandra Vojvodic, Edward H. Sargent. Science  24 Mar 2016: DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf1525

This paper is behind a paywall.

Solar cells and soap bubbles

The MIT team has achieved the thinnest and lightest complete solar cells ever made, they say. To demonstrate just how thin and lightweight the cells are, the researchers draped a working cell on top of a soap bubble, without popping the bubble. Photo: Joel Jean and Anna Osherov

The MIT team has achieved the thinnest and lightest complete solar cells ever made, they say. To demonstrate just how thin and lightweight the cells are, the researchers draped a working cell on top of a soap bubble, without popping the bubble. Photo: Joel Jean and Anna Osherov

That’s quite a compelling image and it comes to us courtesy of researchers at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). From a Feb. 25, 2016 MIT news release (also on EurekAlert),

Imagine solar cells so thin, flexible, and lightweight that they could be placed on almost any material or surface, including your hat, shirt, or smartphone, or even on a sheet of paper or a helium balloon.

Researchers at MIT have now demonstrated just such a technology: the thinnest, lightest solar cells ever produced. Though it may take years to develop into a commercial product, the laboratory proof-of-concept shows a new approach to making solar cells that could help power the next generation of portable electronic devices.

Bulović [Vladimir Bulović ], MIT’s associate dean for innovation and the Fariborz Maseeh (1990) Professor of Emerging Technology, says the key to the new approach is to make the solar cell, the substrate that supports it, and a protective overcoating to shield it from the environment, all in one process. The substrate is made in place and never needs to be handled, cleaned, or removed from the vacuum during fabrication, thus minimizing exposure to dust or other contaminants that could degrade the cell’s performance.

“The innovative step is the realization that you can grow the substrate at the same time as you grow the device,” Bulović says.

In this initial proof-of-concept experiment, the team used a common flexible polymer called parylene as both the substrate and the overcoating, and an organic material called DBP as the primary light-absorbing layer. Parylene is a commercially available plastic coating used widely to protect implanted biomedical devices and printed circuit boards from environmental damage. The entire process takes place in a vacuum chamber at room temperature and without the use of any solvents, unlike conventional solar-cell manufacturing, which requires high temperatures and harsh chemicals. In this case, both the substrate and the solar cell are “grown” using established vapor deposition techniques.

One process, many materials

The team emphasizes that these particular choices of materials were just examples, and that it is the in-line substrate manufacturing process that is the key innovation. Different materials could be used for the substrate and encapsulation layers, and different types of thin-film solar cell materials, including quantum dots or perovskites, could be substituted for the organic layers used in initial tests.

But already, the team has achieved the thinnest and lightest complete solar cells ever made, they say. To demonstrate just how thin and lightweight the cells are, the researchers draped a working cell on top of a soap bubble, without popping the bubble. The researchers acknowledge that this cell may be too thin to be practical — “If you breathe too hard, you might blow it away,” says Jean [Joel Jean, doctoral student] — but parylene films of thicknesses of up to 80 microns can be deposited easily using commercial equipment, without losing the other benefits of in-line substrate formation.

A flexible parylene film, similar to kitchen cling-wrap but only one-tenth as thick, is first deposited on a sturdier carrier material – in this case, glass. Figuring out how to cleanly separate the thin material from the glass was a key challenge, explains Wang [Annie Wang, research scientist], who has spent many years working with parylene.

The researchers lift the entire parylene/solar cell/parylene stack off the carrier after the fabrication process is complete, using a frame made of flexible film. The final ultra-thin, flexible solar cells, including substrate and overcoating, are just one-fiftieth of the thickness of a human hair and one-thousandth of the thickness of equivalent cells on glass substrates — about two micrometers thick — yet they convert sunlight into electricity just as efficiently as their glass-based counterparts.

No miracles needed

“We put our carrier in a vacuum system, then we deposit everything else on top of it, and then peel the whole thing off,” explains Wang. Bulović says that like most new inventions, it all sounds very simple — once it’s been done. But actually developing the techniques to make the process work required years of effort.

While they used a glass carrier for their solar cells, Jean says “it could be something else. You could use almost any material,” since the processing takes place under such benign conditions. The substrate and solar cell could be deposited directly on fabric or paper, for example.

While the solar cell in this demonstration device is not especially efficient, because of its low weight, its power-to-weight ratio is among the highest ever achieved. That’s important for applications where weight is important, such as on spacecraft or on high-altitude helium balloons used for research. Whereas a typical silicon-based solar module, whose weight is dominated by a glass cover, may produce about 15 watts of power per kilogram of weight, the new cells have already demonstrated an output of 6 watts per gram — about 400 times higher.

“It could be so light that you don’t even know it’s there, on your shirt or on your notebook,” Bulović says. “These cells could simply be an add-on to existing structures.”

Still, this is early, laboratory-scale work, and developing it into a manufacturable product will take time, the team says. Yet while commercial success in the short term may be uncertain, this work could open up new applications for solar power in the long term. “We have a proof-of-concept that works,” Bulović says. The next question is, “How many miracles does it take to make it scalable? We think it’s a lot of hard work ahead, but likely no miracles needed.”

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

In situ vapor-deposited parylene substrates for ultra-thin, lightweight organic solar cells by Joel Jean, Annie Wang, Vladimir Bulović. Organic Electronics Volume 31, April 2016, Pages 120–126 doi:10.1016/j.orgel.2016.01.022

This paper is behind a paywall.

Viewing quantum entanglement with the naked eye

A Feb. 18, 2016 article by Bob Yirka for phys.org suggests there may be a way to see quantum entanglement with the naked eye,

A trio of physicists in Europe has come up with an idea that they believe would allow a person to actually witness entanglement. Valentina Caprara Vivoli, with the University of Geneva, Pavel Sekatski, with the University of Innsbruck and Nicolas Sangouard, with the University of Basel, have together written a paper describing a scenario where a human subject would be able to witness an instance of entanglement—they have uploaded it to the arXiv server for review by others.
Entanglement, is of course, where two quantum particles are intrinsically linked to the extent that they actually share the same existence, even though they can be separated and moved apart. The idea was first proposed nearly a century ago, and it has not only been proven, but researchers routinely cause it to occur, but, to date, not one single person has every actually seen it happen—they only know it happens by conducting a series of experiments. It is not clear if anyone has ever actually tried to see it happen, but in this new effort, the research trio claim to have found a way to make it happen—if only someone else will carry out the experiment on a willing volunteer.

A Feb. 17, 2016 article for the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Technology Review describes this proposed project in detail,

Finding a way for a human eye to detect entangled photons sounds straightforward. After all, the eye is a photon detector, so it ought to be possible for an eye to replace a photo detector in any standard entanglement detecting experiment.

Such an experiment might consist of a source of entangled pairs of photons, each of which is sent to a photo detector via an appropriate experimental setup.

By comparing the arrival of photons at each detector and by repeating the detecting process many times, it is possible to determine statistically whether entanglement is occurring.

It’s easy to imagine that this experiment can be easily repeated by replacing one of the photodetectors with an eye. But that turns out not to be the case.

The main problem is that the eye cannot detect single photons. Instead, each light-detecting rod at the back of the eye must be stimulated by a good handful of photons to trigger a detection. The lowest number of photons that can do the trick is thought to be about seven, but in practice, people usually see photons only when they arrive in the hundreds or thousands.

Even then, the eye is not a particularly efficient photodetector. A good optics lab will have photodetectors that are well over 90 percent efficient. By contrast, at the very lowest light levels, the eye is about 8 percent efficient. That means it misses lots of photons.

That creates a significant problem. If a human eye is ever to “see” entanglement in this way, then physicists will have to entangle not just two photons but at least seven, and ideally many hundreds or thousands of them.

And that simply isn’t possible with today’s technology. At best, physicists are capable of entangling half a dozen photons but even this is a difficult task.

But the researchers have come up with a solution to the problem,

Vivoli and co say they have devised a trick that effectively amplifies a single entangled photon into many photons that the eye can see. Their trick depends on a technique called a displacement operation, in which two quantum objects interfere so that one changes the phase of another.

One way to do this with photons is with a beam splitter. Imagine a beam of coherent photons from a laser that is aimed at a beam splitter. The beam is transmitted through the splitter but a change of phase can cause it to be reflected instead.

Now imagine another beam of coherent photons that interferes with the first. This changes the phase of the first beam so that it is reflected rather than transmitted. In other words, the second beam can switch the reflection on and off.

Crucially, the switching beam needn’t be as intense as the main beam—it only needs to be coherent. Indeed, a single photon can do this trick of switching more intense beam, at least in theory.

That’s the basis of the new approach. The idea is to use a single entangled photon to switch the passage of more powerful beam through a beam splitter. And it is this more powerful beam that the eye detects and which still preserves the quantum nature of the original entanglement.

… this experiment will be hard to do. Ensuring that the optical amplifier works as they claim will be hard, for example.

And even if it does, reliably recording each detection in the eye will be even harder. The test for entanglement is a statistical one that requires many counts from both detectors. That means an individual would have to sit in the experiment registering a yes or no answer for each run, repeated thousands or tens of thousands of times. Volunteers will need to have plenty of time on their hands.

Of course, experiments like this will quickly take the glamor and romance out of the popular perception of entanglement. Indeed, it’s hard to see why anybody would want to be entangled with a photodetector over the time it takes to do this experiment.

There is a suggestion as to how to make this a more attractive proposition for volunteers,

One way to increase this motivation would be to modify the experiment so that it entangles two humans. It’s not hard to imagine a people wanting to take part in such an experiment, perhaps even eagerly.

That will require a modified set up in which both detectors are human eyes, with their high triggering level and their low efficiency. Whether this will be possible with Vivoli and co’s setup isn’t yet clear.

Only then will volunteers be able to answer the question that sits uncomfortably with most physicists. What does it feel like to be entangled with another human?

Given the nature of this experiment, the answer will be “mind-numbingly boring.” But as Vivoli and co point out in their conclusion: “It is safe to say that probing human vision with quantum light is terra incognita. This makes it an attractive challenge on its own.”

You can read the arXiv paper,

What Does It Take to See Entanglement? by Valentina Caprara Vivoli, Pavel Sekatski, Nicolas Sangouard arxiv.org/abs/1602.01907 Submitted Feb. 5, 2016

This is an open access paper and this site encourages comments and peer review.

One final comment, the articles reminded me of a March 1, 2012 posting which posed this question Can we see entangled images? a question for physicists in the headline for a piece about a physicist’s (Geraldo Barbosa) challenge and his arXiv paper. Coincidentally, the source article was by Bob Yirka and was published on phys.org.

Graphene like water

This is graphene research from Harvard University and Raytheon according to a Feb. 11, 2016 news item on phys.org (Note: Links have been removed),

It’s one atom thick [i.e., two-dimensional], stronger than steel, harder than diamond and one of the most conductive materials on earth.

But, several challenges must be overcome before graphene products are brought to market. Scientists are still trying to understand the basic physics of this unique material. Also, it’s very challenging to make and even harder to make without impurities.

In a new paper published in Science, researchers at the [sic] Harvard and Raytheon BBN Technology have advanced our understanding of graphene’s basic properties, observing for the first time electrons in a metal behaving like a fluid.

A Feb. 11, 2016 Harvard University press release by Leah Burrows (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail,

In order to make this observation, the team improved methods to create ultra-clean graphene and developed a new way measure its thermal conductivity. This research could lead to novel thermoelectric devices as well as provide a model system to explore exotic phenomena like black holes and high-energy plasmas.

An electron super highway

In ordinary, three-dimensional metals, electrons hardly interact with each other. But graphene’s two-dimensional, honeycomb structure acts like an electron superhighway in which all the particles have to travel in the same lane. The electrons in graphene act like massless relativistic objects, some with positive charge and some with negative charge. They move at incredible speed — 1/300 of the speed of light — and have been predicted to collide with each other ten trillion times a second at room temperature.  These intense interactions between charge particles have never been observed in an ordinary metal before.

The team created an ultra-clean sample by sandwiching the one-atom thick graphene sheet between tens of layers of an electrically insulating perfect transparent crystal with a similar atomic structure of graphene.

“If you have a material that’s one atom thick, it’s going to be really affected by its environment,” said Jesse Crossno, a graduate student in the Kim Lab [Philip Kim, professor of physics and applied physics] and first author of the paper.  “If the graphene is on top of something that’s rough and disordered, it’s going to interfere with how the electrons move. It’s really important to create graphene with no interference from its environment.”

The technique was developed by Kim and his collaborators at Columbia University before he moved to Harvard in 2014 and now have been perfected in his lab at SEAS [Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences].

Next, the team set up a kind of thermal soup of positively charged and negatively charged particles on the surface of the graphene, and observed how those particles flowed as thermal and electric currents.

What they observed flew in the face of everything they knew about metals.

A black hole on a chip

Most of our world — how water flows or how a curve ball curves —  is described by classical physics. Very small things, like electrons, are described by quantum mechanics while very large and very fast things, like galaxies, are described by relativistic physics, pioneered by Albert Einstein.

Combining these laws of physics is notoriously difficult but there are extreme examples where they overlap. High-energy systems like supernovas and black holes can be described by linking classical theories of hydrodynamics with Einstein’s theories of relativity.

But it’s difficult to run an experiment on a black hole. Enter graphene.

When the strongly interacting particles in graphene were driven by an electric field, they behaved not like individual particles but like a fluid that could be described by hydrodynamics.

“Instead of watching how a single particle was affected by an electric or thermal force, we could see the conserved energy as it flowed across many particles, like a wave through water,” said Crossno.

“Physics we discovered by studying black holes and string theory, we’re seeing in graphene,” said Andrew Lucas, co-author and graduate student with Subir Sachdev, the Herchel Smith Professor of Physics at Harvard. “This is the first model system of relativistic hydrodynamics in a metal.”

Moving forward, a small chip of graphene could be used to model the fluid-like behavior of other high-energy systems.

Industrial implications

So we now know that strongly interacting electrons in graphene behave like a liquid — how does that advance the industrial applications of graphene?

First, in order to observe the hydrodynamic system, the team needed to develop a precise way to measure how well electrons in the system carry heat.  It’s very difficult to do, said co-PI Kin Chung Fong, scientist with Raytheon BBN Technology.

Materials conduct heat in two ways: through vibrations in the atomic structure or lattice; and carried by the electrons themselves.

“We needed to find a clever way to ignore the heat transfer from the lattice and focus only on how much heat is carried by the electrons,” Fong said.

To do so, the team turned to noise. At finite temperature, the electrons move about randomly:  the higher the temperature, the noisier the electrons. By measuring the temperature of the electrons to three decimal points, the team was able to precisely measure the thermal conductivity of the electrons.

“This work provides a new way to control the rate of heat transduction in graphene’s electron system, and as such will be key for energy and sensing-related applications,” said Leonid Levitov, professor of physics at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology].

“Converting thermal energy into electric currents and vice versa is notoriously hard with ordinary materials,” said Lucas. “But in principle, with a clean sample of graphene there may be no limit to how good a device you could make.”

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

Observation of the Dirac fluid and the breakdown of the Wiedemann-Franz law in graphene by Jesse Crossno, Jing K. Shi, Ke Wang, Xiaomeng Liu, Achim Harzheim, Andrew Lucas, Subir Sachdev, Philip Kim, Takashi Taniguchi, Kenji Watanabe, Thomas A. Ohki, Kin Chung Fong.Science  11 Feb 2016: pp. DOI: 10.1126/science.aad0343

This paper is behind a paywall.

Here’s an image illustrating the research,

Caption: In a new paper published in Science, researchers at the Harvard and Raytheon BBN Technology have advanced our understanding of graphene's basic properties, observing for the first time electrons in a metal behaving like a fluid. Credit: Peter Allen/Harvard SEAS

Caption: In a new paper published in Science, researchers at the Harvard and Raytheon BBN Technology have advanced our understanding of graphene’s basic properties, observing for the first time electrons in a metal behaving like a fluid. Credit: Peter Allen/Harvard SEAS

Handling massive digital datasets the quantum way

A Jan. 25, 2016 news item on phys.org describes a new approach to analyzing and managing huge datasets,

From gene mapping to space exploration, humanity continues to generate ever-larger sets of data—far more information than people can actually process, manage, or understand.

Machine learning systems can help researchers deal with this ever-growing flood of information. Some of the most powerful of these analytical tools are based on a strange branch of geometry called topology, which deals with properties that stay the same even when something is bent and stretched every which way.

Such topological systems are especially useful for analyzing the connections in complex networks, such as the internal wiring of the brain, the U.S. power grid, or the global interconnections of the Internet. But even with the most powerful modern supercomputers, such problems remain daunting and impractical to solve. Now, a new approach that would use quantum computers to streamline these problems has been developed by researchers at [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] MIT, the University of Waterloo, and the University of Southern California [USC}.

A Jan. 25, 2016 MIT news release (*also on EurekAlert*), which originated the news item, describes the theory in more detail,

… Seth Lloyd, the paper’s lead author and the Nam P. Suh Professor of Mechanical Engineering, explains that algebraic topology is key to the new method. This approach, he says, helps to reduce the impact of the inevitable distortions that arise every time someone collects data about the real world.

In a topological description, basic features of the data (How many holes does it have? How are the different parts connected?) are considered the same no matter how much they are stretched, compressed, or distorted. Lloyd [ explains that it is often these fundamental topological attributes “that are important in trying to reconstruct the underlying patterns in the real world that the data are supposed to represent.”

It doesn’t matter what kind of dataset is being analyzed, he says. The topological approach to looking for connections and holes “works whether it’s an actual physical hole, or the data represents a logical argument and there’s a hole in the argument. This will find both kinds of holes.”

Using conventional computers, that approach is too demanding for all but the simplest situations. Topological analysis “represents a crucial way of getting at the significant features of the data, but it’s computationally very expensive,” Lloyd says. “This is where quantum mechanics kicks in.” The new quantum-based approach, he says, could exponentially speed up such calculations.

Lloyd offers an example to illustrate that potential speedup: If you have a dataset with 300 points, a conventional approach to analyzing all the topological features in that system would require “a computer the size of the universe,” he says. That is, it would take 2300 (two to the 300th power) processing units — approximately the number of all the particles in the universe. In other words, the problem is simply not solvable in that way.

“That’s where our algorithm kicks in,” he says. Solving the same problem with the new system, using a quantum computer, would require just 300 quantum bits — and a device this size may be achieved in the next few years, according to Lloyd.

“Our algorithm shows that you don’t need a big quantum computer to kick some serious topological butt,” he says.

There are many important kinds of huge datasets where the quantum-topological approach could be useful, Lloyd says, for example understanding interconnections in the brain. “By applying topological analysis to datasets gleaned by electroencephalography or functional MRI, you can reveal the complex connectivity and topology of the sequences of firing neurons that underlie our thought processes,” he says.

The same approach could be used for analyzing many other kinds of information. “You could apply it to the world’s economy, or to social networks, or almost any system that involves long-range transport of goods or information,” says Lloyd, who holds a joint appointment as a professor of physics. But the limits of classical computation have prevented such approaches from being applied before.

While this work is theoretical, “experimentalists have already contacted us about trying prototypes,” he says. “You could find the topology of simple structures on a very simple quantum computer. People are trying proof-of-concept experiments.”

Ignacio Cirac, a professor at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Munich, Germany, who was not involved in this research, calls it “a very original idea, and I think that it has a great potential.” He adds “I guess that it has to be further developed and adapted to particular problems. In any case, I think that this is top-quality research.”

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

Quantum algorithms for topological and geometric analysis of data by Seth Lloyd, Silvano Garnerone, & Paolo Zanardi. Nature Communications 7, Article number: 10138 doi:10.1038/ncomms10138 Published 25 January 2016

This paper is open access.

ETA Jan. 25, 2016 1245 hours PST,

Shown here are the connections between different regions of the brain in a control subject (left) and a subject under the influence of the psychedelic compound psilocybin (right). This demonstrates a dramatic increase in connectivity, which explains some of the drug’s effects (such as “hearing” colors or “seeing” smells). Such an analysis, involving billions of brain cells, would be too complex for conventional techniques, but could be handled easily by the new quantum approach, the researchers say. Courtesy of the researchers

Shown here are the connections between different regions of the brain in a control subject (left) and a subject under the influence of the psychedelic compound psilocybin (right). This demonstrates a dramatic increase in connectivity, which explains some of the drug’s effects (such as “hearing” colors or “seeing” smells). Such an analysis, involving billions of brain cells, would be too complex for conventional techniques, but could be handled easily by the new quantum approach, the researchers say. Courtesy of the researchers

*’also on EurekAlert’ text and link added Jan. 26, 2016.

Swallow your technology and wear it inside (wearable tech: 2 of 3)

While there are a number of wearable and fashionable pieces of technology that monitor heart rate and breathing, they are all worn on the outside of your body. Researchers are working on an alternative that can be swallowed and will monitor vital signs from within the gastrointestinal tract. I believe this is a prototype of the device,

This ingestible electronic device invented at MIT can measure heart rate and respiratory rate from inside the gastrointestinal tract. Courtesy: MIT

This ingestible electronic device invented at MIT can measure heart rate and respiratory rate from inside the gastrointestinal tract. Image: Albert Swiston/MIT Lincoln Laboratory Courtesy: MIT

From a Nov. 18, 2015 news item on phys.org,

This type of sensor could make it easier to assess trauma patients, monitor soldiers in battle, perform long-term evaluation of patients with chronic illnesses, or improve training for professional and amateur athletes, the researchers say.

The new sensor calculates heart and breathing rates from the distinctive sound waves produced by the beating of the heart and the inhalation and exhalation of the lungs.

“Through characterization of the acoustic wave, recorded from different parts of the GI tract, we found that we could measure both heart rate and respiratory rate with good accuracy,” says Giovanni Traverso, a research affiliate at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and one of the lead authors of a paper describing the device in the Nov. 18 issue of the journal PLOS One.

A Nov. 18, 2015 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) news release by Anne Trafton, which originated the news item, further explains the research,

Doctors currently measure vital signs such as heart and respiratory rate using techniques including electrocardiograms (ECG) and pulse oximetry, which require contact with the patient’s skin. These vital signs can also be measured with wearable monitors, but those are often uncomfortable to wear.

Inspired by existing ingestible devices that can measure body temperature, and others that take internal digestive-tract images, the researchers set out to design a sensor that would measure heart and respiratory rate, as well as temperature, from inside the digestive tract.

The simplest way to achieve this, they decided, would be to listen to the body using a small microphone. Listening to the sounds of the chest is one of the oldest medical diagnostic techniques, practiced by Hippocrates in ancient Greece. Since the 1800s, doctors have used stethoscopes to listen to these sounds.

The researchers essentially created “an extremely tiny stethoscope that you can swallow,” Swiston says. “Using the same sensor, we can collect both your heart sounds and your lung sounds. That’s one of the advantages of our approach — we can use one sensor to get two pieces of information.”

To translate these acoustic data into heart and breathing rates, the researchers had to devise signal processing systems that distinguish the sounds produced by the heart and lungs from each other, as well as from background noise produced by the digestive tract and other parts of the body.

The entire sensor is about the size of a multivitamin pill and consists of a tiny microphone packaged in a silicone capsule, along with electronics that process the sound and wirelessly send radio signals to an external receiver, with a range of about 3 meters.

In tests along the GI tract of pigs, the researchers found that the device could accurately pick up heart rate and respiratory rate, even when conditions such as the amount of food being digested were varied.

“The authors introduce some interesting and radically different approaches to wearable physiological status monitors, in which the devices are not worn on the skin or on clothing, but instead reside, in a transient fashion, inside the gastrointestinal tract. The resulting capabilities provide a powerful complement to those found in wearable technologies as traditionally conceived,” says John Rogers, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois who was not part of the research team.

Better diagnosis

The researchers expect that the device would remain in the digestive tract for only a day or two, so for longer-term monitoring, patients would swallow new capsules as needed.

For the military, this kind of ingestible device could be useful for monitoring soldiers for fatigue, dehydration, tachycardia, or shock, the researchers say. When combined with a temperature sensor, it could also detect hypothermia, hyperthermia, or fever from infections.

In the future, the researchers plan to design sensors that could diagnose heart conditions such as abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias), or breathing problems including emphysema or asthma. Currently doctors require patients to wear a harness (Holter) monitor for up to a week to detect such problems, but these often fail to produce a diagnosis because patients are uncomfortable wearing them 24 hours a day.

“If you could ingest a device that would listen for those pathological sounds, rather than wearing an electrical monitor, that would improve patient compliance,” Swiston says.

The researchers also hope to create sensors that would not only diagnose a problem but also deliver a drug to treat it.

“We hope that one day we’re able to detect certain molecules or a pathogen and then deliver an antibiotic, for example,” Traverso says. “This development provides the foundation for that kind of system down the line.”

MIT has provided a video with two of the researchers describing their work and and plans for its future development,

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

Physiologic Status Monitoring via the Gastrointestinal Tract by G. Traverso, G. Ciccarelli, S. Schwartz, T. Hughes, T. Boettcher, R. Barman, R. Langer, & A. Swiston. PLOS DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0141666 Published: November 18, 2015

This paper is open access.

Note added Nov. 25, 2015 at 1625 hours PDT: US National Public Radio (NPR) has a story on this research. You can find Nov. 23, 2015 podcast (about six minutes) and a series of textual excerpts featuring Albert Swiston, biomaterials scientist at MIT, and Stephen Shankland, senior writer for CNET covering digital technology, from the podcast here.

Royal Institution, science, and nanotechnology 101 and #RE_IMAGINE at the London College of Fashion

I’m featuring two upcoming events in London (UK).

Nanotechnology 101: The biggest thing you’ve never seen

 Gold Nanowire Array Credit: lacomj via Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/40137058@N07/3790862760

Gold Nanowire Array
Credit: lacomj via Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/40137058@N07/3790862760 [downloaded from http://www.rigb.org/whats-on/events-2015/october/public-nanotechnology-101-the-biggest-thing-you]

Already sold out, this event is scheduled for Oct. 20, 2015. Here’s why you might want to put yourself on a waiting list, from the Royal Institution’s Nanotechnology 101 event page,

How could nanotechnology be used to create smart and extremely resilient materials? Or to boil water three times faster? Join former NASA Nanotechnology Project Manager Michael Meador to learn about the fundamentals of nanotechnology—what it is and why it’s unique—and how this emerging, disruptive technology will change the world. From invisibility cloaks to lightweight fuel-efficient vehicles and a cure for cancer, nanotechnology might just be the biggest thing you can’t see.

About the speaker

Michael Meador is currently Director of the U.S. National Nanotechnology Coordination Office, on secondment from NASA where he had been managing the Nanotechnology Project in the Game Changing Technology Program, working to mature nanotechnologies with high potential for impact on NASA missions. One part of his current job is to communicate nanotechnology research to policy-makers and the public.

Here’s some logistical information from the event page,

7.00pm to 8.30pm, Tuesday 20 October
The Theatre

Standard £12
Concession £8
Associate £6
Free to Members, Faraday Members and Fellows

For anyone who may not know offhand where the Royal Institution and its theatre is located,

The Royal Institution of Great Britain
21 Albemarle Street
London
W1S 4BS

+44 (0) 20 7409 2992
(9.00am – 6.00pm Mon – Fri)

Here’s a description of the Royal Institution from its Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

The Royal Institution of Great Britain (often abbreviated as the Royal Institution or RI) is an organisation devoted to scientific education and research, based in London.

The Royal Institution was founded in 1799 by the leading British scientists of the age, including Henry Cavendish and its first president, George Finch, the 9th Earl of Winchilsea,[1] for

diffusing the knowledge, and facilitating the general introduction, of useful mechanical inventions and improvements; and for teaching, by courses of philosophical lectures and experiments, the application of science to the common purposes of life.
— [2]

Much of its initial funding and the initial proposal for its founding were given by the Society for Bettering the Conditions and Improving the Comforts of the Poor, under the guidance of philanthropist Sir Thomas Bernard and American-born British scientist Sir Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford. Since its founding it has been based at 21 Albemarle Street in Mayfair. Its Royal Charter was granted in 1800. The Institution announced in January 2013 that it was considering sale of its Mayfair headquarters to meet its mounting debts.[3]

#RE_IMAGINE

While this isn’t a nanotechnology event, it does touch on topics discussed here many times: wearable technology, futuristic fashion, and the integration of technology into the body. The Digital Anthropology Lab (of the  London College of Fashion, which is part of the University of the Arts London) is being officially launched with a special event on Oct. 16, 2015. Before describing the event, here’s more about the Digital Anthropology Lab from its homepage,

Crafting fashion experience digitally

The Digital Anthropology Lab, launching in Autumn 2015, London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London is a research studio bringing industry and academia together to develop a new way of making smarter with technology.

The Digital Anthropology Lab, London College of Fashion, experiments with artefacts, communities, consumption and making in the digital space, using 3D printing, body scanning, code and electronics. We focus on an experimental approach to digital anthropology, allowing us to practically examine future ways in which digital collides with the human experience. We connect commercial partners to leading research academics and graduate students, exploring seed ideas for fashion tech.

Now

WEARABLES
We radically re-imagine this emerging fashion- tech space, exploring both the beautification of technology for wearables and critically explore the ‘why.’

Near

IoT BIG DATA
Join us to experiment with, ‘The Internet of Fashion Things.’ Where the Internet of Things, invisible big data technologies, virtual fit and meta-data collide.

Future

DESIGN FICTIONS
With the luxury of the imagination, we aim to re- wire our digital ambitions and think again about designing future digital fashion experiences for generation 2050.

Here’s information I received from the Sept. 30, 2015 announcement I received via email,

The Digital Anthropology Lab at London College of Fashion, UAL invites you to #RE_IMAGINE: A forum exploring the now, near and future of fashion technology.

#RE_IMAGINE, the Digital Anthropology Lab’s launch event, will present a fantastically diverse range of digital speakers and ask them to respond to the question – ‘Where are our digital selves heading?’

Join us to hear from pioneers, risk takers, entrepreneurs, designers and inventors including Ian Livingston CBE, Luke Robert Mason from New Bionics, Katie Baron from Stylus, J. Meejin Yoon from MIT among others. Also come to see what happened when we made fashion collide with the Internet of Things, they are wearable but not as you know it…

#RE_IMAGINE aims to be an informative, networked and enlightening brainstorm of a day. To book your place please follow this link.

To coincide with the exhibition Digital Disturbances, Fashion Space Gallery presents a late night opening event. Alongside a curator tour will be a series of interactive demonstrations and displays which bring together practitioners working across design, science and technology to investigate possible human and material futures. We’d encourage you to stay and enjoy this networking opportunity.

Friday 16th October 2015

9.30am – 5pm – Forum event 

5pm – 8.30pm – Digital Disturbances networking event

London College of Fashion

20 John Princes Street
London
W1G 0BJ 

Ticket prices are £75.00 for a standard ticket and £35.00 for concession tickets (more details here).

For more #RE_IMAGINE specifics, there’s the event’s Agenda page. As for Digital Disturbances, here’s more from the Fashion Space Gallery’s Exhibition homepage,

Digital Disturbances

11th September – 12th December 2015

Digital Disturbances examines the influence of digital concepts and tools on fashion. It provides a lens onto the often strange effects that emerge from interactions across material and virtual platforms – information both lost and gained in the process of translation. It presents the work of seven designers and creative teams whose work documents these interactions and effects, both in the design and representation of fashion. They can be traced across the surfaces of garments, through the realisation of new silhouettes, in the remixing of images and bodies in photography and film, and into the nuances of identity projected into social and commercial spaces.

Designers include: ANREALAGE, Bart Hess, POSTmatter, Simone C. Niquille and Alexander Porter, Flora Miranda, Texturall and Tigran Avetisyan.

Digital Disturbances is curated by Leanne Wierzba.

Two events—two peeks into the future.