Tag Archives: Singapore

Barnacle footprints could be useful

An Aug. 18, 2016 news item on Nanowerk describes efforts by scientists at the University of Twente (The Netherlands) and A*STAR (Singapore) to trace a barnacle’s footprints (Note: A link has been removed),

Barnacle’s larvae leave behind tiny protein traces on a ship hull: but what is the type of protein and what is the protein-surface interaction? Conventional techniques can only identify dissolved proteins, and in large quantities. Using a modified type of an Atomic Force Microscope, scientists of the University of Twente in The Netherlands and A*STAR in Singapore, can now measure protein characteristics of even very small traces on a surface. They present the new technique in Nature Nanotechnology (“Measuring protein isoelectric points by AFM-based force spectroscopy using trace amounts of sample”).

An Aug. 16, 2016 University of Twente press release, which originated the news item, explains how the ‘footprints’ could lead to new applications for ships and boats and briefly describes the technical aspects of the research,

In infection diseases, membrane fouling, interaction with bacteria, as well as in rapid healing of wounds for example, the way proteins interact with a surface plays an important role. On a surface, they function in a different way than in solution. On a ship hull, the larvae of the barnacle will leave tiny traces of protein to test if the surface is attractive for long-term attachment. If we get to know more about this interaction, it will be possible to develop surface conditions that are less attractive for the barnacle. Large amounts of barnacles on a ship will have a destructive effect on flow resistance and will lead to more fuel consumption. The new measuring method makes use of a modified Atomic Force Microscope: a tiny ball glued to the cantilever of the microscope will attract protein molecules.

Modified AFM tip with a tiny ball that can attract protein molecules

FORCE MEASUREMENTS

An amount of just hundreds of protein molecules will be sufficient to determine a crucial value, called the iso-electric point (pI): this is the pH-value at which the protein has net zero electric charge. The pI value says a lot about the surroundings a protein will ‘feel comfortable’ in, and to which it preferably moves. Using the AFM microscope, of which the modified tip has collected protein molecules, it is possible to perform force measurements for different pH values. The tip will be attracted or repelled, or show no movement when the pI point is reached. For these measurement, the researchers made a special reference material consisting of several layers. Using this, the effect of a number of pH-values can be tested until the pI value is found.

The traces the larve leaves behind (left) and force measurements (right)

PAINT CHANGE

The tests have been successfully performed for a number of known proteins like fibrinogen, myoglobine and bovine albumin. And returning to the barnacle: the tiny protein footprint will contain enough molecules to determine the pI value. This quantifies the ideal surface conditions, and using this knowledge, new choices can be made for e.g. the paint that is used on a ship hull.

The research has been done within the group Materials Science and Technology of Polymers of Professor Julius Vancso, in close collaboration with colleagues of A*STAR in Singapore – Prof Vancso is a Visiting Professor there as well. His group is part of UT’s MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology.

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

Measuring protein isoelectric points by AFM-based force spectroscopy using trace amounts of sample by Shifeng Gu, Xiaoying Zhu, Dominik Jańczewski, Serina Siew Chen Lee, Tao He, Serena Lay Ming Teo, & G. Julius Vancso.  Nature Nanotechnology (2016) doi:10.1038/nnano.2016.118 Published online 25 July 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

Robots judge a beauty contest

I have a lot of respect for good PR gimmicks and a beauty contest judged by robots (or more accurately, artificial intelligence) is a provocative idea wrapped up in a good public relations (PR) gimmick. A July 12, 2016 In Silico Medicine press release on EurekAlert reveals more,

Beauty.AI 2.0, a platform,” a platform, where human beauty is evaluated by a jury of robots and algorithm developers compete on novel applications of machine intelligence to perception is supported by Ernst and Young.

“We were very impressed by E&Y’s recent advertising campaign with a robot hand holding a beautiful butterfly and a slogan “How human is your algorithm?” and immediately invited them to participate. This slogan captures the very essence of our contest, which is constantly exploring new ideas in machine perception of humans”, said Anastasia Georgievskaya, Managing Scientist at Youth Laboratories, the organizer of Beauty.AI.

Beauty.AI contest is supported by the many innovative companies from the US, Europe, and Asia with some of the top cosmetics companies participating in collaborative research projects. Imagene Labs, one of the leaders in linking facial and biological information from Singapore operating across Asia, is a gold sponsor and research partner of the contest.

There are many approaches to evaluating human beauty. Features like symmetry, pigmentation, pimples, wrinkles may play a role and similarity to actors, models and celebrities may be used in the calculation of the overall score. However, other innovative approaches have been proposed. A robot developed by Insilico Medicine compares the chronological age with the age predicted by a deep neural network. Another team is training an artificially-intelligent system to identify features that contribute to the popularity of the people on dating sites.

“We look forward to collaborating with the Youth Laboratories team to create new AI algorithms. These will eventually allow consumers to objectively evaluate how well their wellness interventions – such as diet, exercise, skincare and supplements – are working. Based on the results they can then fine tune their approach to further improve their well-being and age better”, said Jia-Yi Har, Vice President of Imagene Labs.

The contest is open to anyone with a modern smartphone running either Android or iOS operating system, and Beauty.AI 2.0 app can be downloaded for free from either Google or Apple markets. Programmers and companies can participate by submitting their algorithm to the organizers through the Beauty.AI website.

“The beauty of Beauty.AI pageants is that algorithms are much more impartial than humans, and we are trying to prevent any racial bias and run the contest in multiple age categories. Most of the popular beauty contests discriminate by age, gender, marital status, body weight and race. Algorithms are much less partial”, said Alex Shevtsov, CEO of Youth Laboratories.

Very interesting take on beauty and bias. I wonder if they’re building change into their algorithms. After all, standards for beauty don’t remain static, they change over time.

Unfortunately, that question isn’t asked in Wency Leung’s July 4, 2016 article on the robot beauty contest for the Globe and Mail but she does provides more details about the contest and insight into the world of international cosmetics companies and their use of technology,

Teaching computers about aesthetics involves designing sophisticated algorithms to recognize and measure features like wrinkles, face proportions, blemishes and skin colour. And the beauty industry is rapidly embracing these high-tech tools to respond to consumers’ demand for products that suit their individual tastes and attributes.

Companies like Sephora and Avon, for instance, are using face simulation technology to provide apps that allow customers to virtually try on and shop for lipsticks and eye shadows using their mobile devices. Skincare producers are using similar technologies to track and predict the effects of serums and creams on various skin types. And brands like L’Oréal’s Lancôme are using facial analysis to read consumers’ skin tones to create personalized foundations.

“The more we’re able to use these tools like augmented reality [and] artificial intelligence to provide new consumer experiences, the more we can move to customizing and personalizing products for every consumer around the world, no matter what their skin tone is, no matter where they live, no matter who they are,” says Guive Balooch, global vice-president of L’Oréal’s technology incubator.

Balooch was tasked with starting up the company’s tech research hub four years ago, with a mandate to predict and invent solutions to how consumers would choose and use products in the future. Among its innovations, his team has come up with the Makeup Genius app, a virtual mirror that allows customers to try on products on a mobile screen, and a device called My UV Patch, a sticker sensor that users wear on their skin, which informs them through an app how much UV exposure they get.

These tools may seem easy enough to use, but their simplicity belies the work that goes on behind the scenes. To create the Makeup Genius app, for example, Balooch says the developers sought expertise from the animation industry to enable users to see themselves move onscreen in real time. The developers also brought in hundreds of consumers with different skin tones to test real products in the lab, and they tested the app on some 100,000 images in more than 40 lighting conditions, to ensure the colours of makeup products appeared the same in real life as they did onscreen, Balooch says.

The article is well worth reading in its entirety.

For the seriously curious, you can find Beauty AI here, In Silico Medicine here, and Imagene Labs here. I cannot find a website for Youth Laboratories featuring Anastasia Georgievskaya.

I last wrote about In Silico Medicine in a May 31, 2016 post about deep learning, wrinkles, and aging.

Oil spill cleanups with supergelators

Researchers in Singapore have proposed a new technology for cleaning up oil spills, according to a June 17, 2016 news item on Nanowerk,

Large-scale oil spills, where hundreds of tons of petroleum products are accidentally released into the oceans, not only have devastating effects on the environment, but have significant socio-economic impact as well [1].

Current techniques of cleaning up oil spills are not very efficient and may even cause further pollution or damage to the environment. These methods, which include the use of toxic detergent-like compounds called dispersants or burning of the oil slick, result in incomplete removal of the oil. The oil molecules remain in the water over long periods and may even be spread over a larger area as they are carried by wind and waves. Further, burning can only be applied to fresh oil slicks of at least 3 millimeters thick, and this process would also cause secondary environmental pollution.

In a bid to improve the technology utilized by cleanup crews to manage and contain such large spills, researchers from the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) of A*STAR [located in Singapore] have invented a smart oil-scavenging material or supergelators that could help clean up oil spills efficiently and rapidly to prevent secondary pollution.

These supergelators are derived from highly soluble small organic molecules, which instantly self-assemble into nanofibers to form a 3D net that traps the oil molecules so that they can be removed easily from the surface of the water.

A June 17, 2016 IBN A*STAR media release, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

“Marine oil spills have a disastrous impact on the environment and marine life, and result in an enormous economic burden on society. Our rapid-acting supergelators offer an effective cleanup solution that can help to contain the severe environmental damage and impact of such incidents in the future,” said IBN Executive Director Professor Jackie Y. Ying.

Motivated by the urgent need for a more effective oil spill control solution, the IBN researchers developed new compounds that dissolve easily in environmentally friendly solvents and gel rapidly upon contact with oil. The supergelator molecules arrange themselves into a 3D network, entangling the oil molecules into clumps that can then be easily skimmed off the water’s surface.

“The most interesting and useful characteristic of our molecules is their ability to stack themselves on top of each other. These stacked columns allow our researchers to create and test different molecular constructions, while finding the best structure that will yield the desired properties,” said IBN Team Leader and Principal Research Scientist Dr Huaqiang Zeng. (Animation: Click to see how the supergelators stack themselves into columns.)

IBN’s supergelators have been tested on various types of weathered and unweathered crude oil in seawater, and have been found to be effective in solidifying all of them. The supergelators take only minutes to solidify the oil at room temperature for easy removal from water. In addition, tests carried out by the research team showed that the supergelator was not toxic to human cells, as well as zebrafish embryos and larvae. The researchers believe that these qualities would make the supergelators suitable for use in large oil spill areas.

The Institute is looking for industrial partners to further develop its technology for commercial use. [emphasis mine]

Video: Click to watch the supergelators in action

  1. The well documented BP Gulf of Mexico oil well accident in 2010 was a catastrophe on an unprecedented scale, with damages amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars. Its wide-ranging effects on the marine ecosystem, as well as the fishing and tourism industries, can still be felt six years on.

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

Instant Room-Temperature Gelation of Crude Oil by Chiral Organogelators by Changliang Ren, Grace Hwee Boon Ng, Hong Wu, Kiat-Hwa Chan, Jie Shen, Cathleen Teh, Jackie Y. Ying, and Huaqiang Zeng. Chem. Mater., 2016, 28 (11), pp 4001–4008 DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemmater.6b01367 Publication Date (Web): May 10, 2016

Copyright © 2016 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

I have featured other nanotechnology-enabled oil spill cleanup solutions here. One of the more recent pieces is my Dec. 7, 2015 post about boron nitride sponges. The search terms: ‘oil spill’ and ‘oil spill cleanup’ will help you unearth more.

There have been some promising possibilities and I hope one day these clean up technologies will be brought to market.

Testing technology for a global quantum network

This work on quantum networks comes from a joint Singapore/UK research project, from a June 2, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily,

You can’t sign up for the quantum internet just yet, but researchers have reported a major experimental milestone towards building a global quantum network — and it’s happening in space.

With a network that carries information in the quantum properties of single particles, you can create secure keys for secret messaging and potentially connect powerful quantum computers in the future. But scientists think you will need equipment in space to get global reach.

Researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the University of Strathclyde, UK, have become the first to test in orbit technology for satellite-based quantum network nodes.

They have put a compact device carrying components used in quantum communication and computing into orbit. And it works: the team report first data in a paper published 31 May 2016 in the journal Physical Review Applied.

A June 2, 2016 National University of Singapore press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

The team’s device, dubbed SPEQS, creates and measures pairs of light particles, called photons. Results from space show that SPEQS is making pairs of photons with correlated properties – an indicator of performance.

Team-leader Alexander Ling, an Assistant Professor at the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT) at NUS said, “This is the first time anyone has tested this kind of quantum technology in space.”

The team had to be inventive to redesign a delicate, table-top quantum setup to be small and robust enough to fly inside a nanosatellite only the size of a shoebox. The whole satellite weighs just 1.65-kilogramme.

Towards entanglement

Making correlated photons is a precursor to creating entangled photons. Described by Einstein as “spooky action at a distance”, entanglement is a connection between quantum particles that lends security to communication and power to computing.

Professor Artur Ekert, Director of CQT, invented the idea of using entangled particles for cryptography. He said, “Alex and his team are taking entanglement, literally, to a new level. Their experiments will pave the road to secure quantum communication and distributed quantum computation on a global scale. I am happy to see that Singapore is one of the world leaders in this area.”

Local quantum networks already exist [emphasis mine]. The problem Ling’s team aims to solve is a distance limit. Losses limit quantum signals sent through air at ground level or optical fibre to a few hundred kilometers – but we might ultimately use entangled photons beamed from satellites to connect points on opposite sides of the planet. Although photons from satellites still have to travel through the atmosphere, going top-to-bottom is roughly equivalent to going only 10 kilometres at ground level.

The group’s first device is a technology pathfinder. It takes photons from a BluRay laser and splits them into two, then measures the pair’s properties, all on board the satellite. To do this it contains a laser diode, crystals, mirrors and photon detectors carefully aligned inside an aluminum block. This sits on top of a 10 centimetres by 10 centimetres printed circuit board packed with control electronics.

Through a series of pre-launch tests – and one unfortunate incident – the team became more confident that their design could survive a rocket launch and space conditions. The team had a device in the October 2014 Orbital-3 rocket which exploded on the launch pad. The satellite containing that first device was later found on a beach intact and still in working order.

Future plans

Even with the success of the more recent mission, a global network is still a few milestones away. The team’s roadmap calls for a series of launches, with the next space-bound SPEQS slated to produce entangled photons. SPEQS stands for Small Photon-Entangling Quantum System.

With later satellites, the researchers will try sending entangled photons to Earth and to other satellites. The team are working with standard “CubeSat” nanosatellites, which can get relatively cheap rides into space as rocket ballast. Ultimately, completing a global network would mean having a fleet of satellites in orbit and an array of ground stations.

In the meantime, quantum satellites could also carry out fundamental experiments – for example, testing entanglement over distances bigger than Earth-bound scientists can manage. “We are reaching the limits of how precisely we can test quantum theory on Earth,” said co-author Dr Daniel Oi at the University of Strathclyde.

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

Generation and Analysis of Correlated Pairs of Photons aboard a Nanosatellite by Zhongkan Tang, Rakhitha Chandrasekara, Yue Chuan Tan, Cliff Cheng, Luo Sha, Goh Cher Hiang, Daniel K. L. Oi, and Alexander Ling. Phys. Rev. Applied 5, 054022 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevApplied.5.054022 Published 31 May 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

An atom without properties?

There’s rather intriguing Swiss research into atoms and so-called Bell Correlations according to an April 21, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily,

The microscopic world is governed by the rules of quantum mechanics, where the properties of a particle can be completely undetermined and yet strongly correlated with those of other particles. Physicists from the University of Basel have observed these so-called Bell correlations for the first time between hundreds of atoms. Their findings are published in the scientific journal Science.

Everyday objects possess properties independently of each other and regardless of whether we observe them or not. Einstein famously asked whether the moon still exists if no one is there to look at it; we answer with a resounding yes. This apparent certainty does not exist in the realm of small particles. The location, speed or magnetic moment of an atom can be entirely indeterminate and yet still depend greatly on the measurements of other distant atoms.

An April 21, 2016 University of Basel (Switzerland) press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides further explanation,

With the (false) assumption that atoms possess their properties independently of measurements and independently of each other, a so-called Bell inequality can be derived. If it is violated by the results of an experiment, it follows that the properties of the atoms must be interdependent. This is described as Bell correlations between atoms, which also imply that each atom takes on its properties only at the moment of the measurement. Before the measurement, these properties are not only unknown – they do not even exist.

A team of researchers led by professors Nicolas Sangouard and Philipp Treutlein from the University of Basel, along with colleagues from Singapore, have now observed these Bell correlations for the first time in a relatively large system, specifically among 480 atoms in a Bose-Einstein condensate. Earlier experiments showed Bell correlations with a maximum of four light particles or 14 atoms. The results mean that these peculiar quantum effects may also play a role in larger systems.

Large number of interacting particles

In order to observe Bell correlations in systems consisting of many particles, the researchers first had to develop a new method that does not require measuring each particle individually – which would require a level of control beyond what is currently possible. The team succeeded in this task with the help of a Bell inequality that was only recently discovered. The Basel researchers tested their method in the lab with small clouds of ultracold atoms cooled with laser light down to a few billionths of a degree above absolute zero. The atoms in the cloud constantly collide, causing their magnetic moments to become slowly entangled. When this entanglement reaches a certain magnitude, Bell correlations can be detected. Author Roman Schmied explains: “One would expect that random collisions simply cause disorder. Instead, the quantum-mechanical properties become entangled so strongly that they violate classical statistics.”

More specifically, each atom is first brought into a quantum superposition of two states. After the atoms have become entangled through collisions, researchers count how many of the atoms are actually in each of the two states. This division varies randomly between trials. If these variations fall below a certain threshold, it appears as if the atoms have ‘agreed’ on their measurement results; this agreement describes precisely the Bell correlations.

New scientific territory

The work presented, which was funded by the National Centre of Competence in Research Quantum Science and Technology (NCCR QSIT), may open up new possibilities in quantum technology; for example, for generating random numbers or for quantum-secure data transmission. New prospects in basic research open up as well: “Bell correlations in many-particle systems are a largely unexplored field with many open questions – we are entering uncharted territory with our experiments,” says Philipp Treutlein.

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

Bell correlations in a Bose-Einstein condensate by Roman Schmied, Jean-Daniel Bancal, Baptiste Allard, Matteo Fadel, Valerio Scarani, Philipp Treutlein, Nicolas Sangouard. Science  22 Apr 2016: Vol. 352, Issue 6284, pp. 441-444 DOI: 10.1126/science.aad8665

This paper is behind a paywall.

Artificial intelligence used for wildlife protection

PAWS (Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security), an artificial intelligence (AI) program, has been tested in Uganda and Malaysia. according to an April 22, 2016 US National Science Foundation (NSF) news release (also on EurekAlert but dated April 21, 2016), Note: Links have been removed,

A century ago, more than 60,000 tigers roamed the wild. Today, the worldwide estimate has dwindled to around 3,200. Poaching is one of the main drivers of this precipitous drop. Whether killed for skins, medicine or trophy hunting, humans have pushed tigers to near-extinction. The same applies to other large animal species like elephants and rhinoceros that play unique and crucial roles in the ecosystems where they live.

Human patrols serve as the most direct form of protection of endangered animals, especially in large national parks. However, protection agencies have limited resources for patrols.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Army Research Office, researchers are using artificial intelligence (AI) and game theory to solve poaching, illegal logging and other problems worldwide, in collaboration with researchers and conservationists in the U.S., Singapore, Netherlands and Malaysia.

“In most parks, ranger patrols are poorly planned, reactive rather than pro-active, and habitual,” according to Fei Fang, a Ph.D. candidate in the computer science department at the University of Southern California (USC).

Fang is part of an NSF-funded team at USC led by Milind Tambe, professor of computer science and industrial and systems engineering and director of the Teamcore Research Group on Agents and Multiagent Systems.

Their research builds on the idea of “green security games” — the application of game theory to wildlife protection. Game theory uses mathematical and computer models of conflict and cooperation between rational decision-makers to predict the behavior of adversaries and plan optimal approaches for containment. The Coast Guard and Transportation Security Administration have used similar methods developed by Tambe and others to protect airports and waterways.

“This research is a step in demonstrating that AI can have a really significant positive impact on society and allow us to assist humanity in solving some of the major challenges we face,” Tambe said.

PAWS puts the claws in anti-poaching

The team presented papers describing how they use their methods to improve the success of human patrols around the world at the AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence in February [2016].

The researchers first created an AI-driven application called PAWS (Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security) in 2013 and tested the application in Uganda and Malaysia in 2014. Pilot implementations of PAWS revealed some limitations, but also led to significant improvements.

Here’s a video describing the issues and PAWS,

For those who prefer to read about details rather listen, there’s more from the news release,

PAWS uses data on past patrols and evidence of poaching. As it receives more data, the system “learns” and improves its patrol planning. Already, the system has led to more observations of poacher activities per kilometer.

Its key technical advance lies in its ability to incorporate complex terrain information, including the topography of protected areas. That results in practical patrol routes that minimize elevation changes, saving time and energy. Moreover, the system can also take into account the natural transit paths that have the most animal traffic – and thus the most poaching – creating a “street map” for patrols.

“We need to provide actual patrol routes that can be practically followed,” Fang said. “These routes need to go back to a base camp and the patrols can’t be too long. We list all possible patrol routes and then determine which is most effective.”

The application also randomizes patrols to avoid falling into predictable patterns.

“If the poachers observe that patrols go to some areas more often than others, then the poachers place their snares elsewhere,” Fang said.

Since 2015, two non-governmental organizations, Panthera and Rimbat, have used PAWS to protect forests in Malaysia. The research won the Innovative Applications of Artificial Intelligence award for deployed application, as one of the best AI applications with measurable benefits.

The team recently combined PAWS with a new tool called CAPTURE (Comprehensive Anti-Poaching Tool with Temporal and Observation Uncertainty Reasoning) that predicts attacking probability even more accurately.

In addition to helping patrols find poachers, the tools may assist them with intercepting trafficked wildlife products and other high-risk cargo, adding another layer to wildlife protection. The researchers are in conversations with wildlife authorities in Uganda to deploy the system later this year. They will present their findings at the 15th International Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems (AAMAS 2016) in May.

“There is an urgent need to protect the natural resources and wildlife on our beautiful planet, and we computer scientists can help in various ways,” Fang said. “Our work on PAWS addresses one facet of the problem, improving the efficiency of patrols to combat poaching.”

There is yet another potential use for PAWS, the prevention of illegal logging,

While Fang and her colleagues work to develop effective anti-poaching patrol planning systems, other members of the USC team are developing complementary methods to prevent illegal logging, a major economic and environmental problem for many developing countries.

The World Wildlife Fund estimates trade in illegally harvested timber to be worth between $30 billion and $100 billion annually. The practice also threatens ancient forests and critical habitats for wildlife.

Researchers at USC, the University of Texas at El Paso and Michigan State University recently partnered with the non-profit organization Alliance Vohoary Gasy to limit the illegal logging of rosewood and ebony trees in Madagascar, which has caused a loss of forest cover on the island nation.

Forest protection agencies also face limited budgets and must cover large areas, making sound investments in security resources critical.

The research team worked to determine the balance of security resources in which Madagascar should invest to maximize protection, and to figure out how to best deploy those resources.

Past work in game theory-based security typically involved specified teams — the security workers assigned to airport checkpoints, for example, or the air marshals deployed on flight tours. Finding optimal security solutions for those scenarios is difficult; a solution involving an open-ended team had not previously been feasible.

To solve this problem, the researchers developed a new method called SORT (Simultaneous Optimization of Resource Teams) that they have been experimentally validating using real data from Madagascar.

The research team created maps of the national parks, modeled the costs of all possible security resources using local salaries and budgets, and computed the best combination of resources given these conditions.

“We compared the value of using an optimal team determined by our algorithm versus a randomly chosen team and the algorithm did significantly better,” said Sara Mc Carthy, a Ph.D. student in computer science at USC.

The algorithm is simple and fast, and can be generalized to other national parks with different characteristics. The team is working to deploy it in Madagascar in association with the Alliance Vohoary Gasy.

“I am very proud of what my PhD students Fei Fang and Sara Mc Carthy have accomplished in this research on AI for wildlife security and forest protection,” said Tambe, the team lead. “Interdisciplinary collaboration with practitioners in the field was key in this research and allowed us to improve our research in artificial intelligence.”

Moreover, the project shows other computer science researchers the potential impact of applying their research to the world’s problems.

“This work is not only important because of the direct beneficial impact that it has on the environment, protecting wildlife and forests, but on the way that it can inspire other to dedicate their efforts into making the world a better place,” Mc Carthy said.

The curious can find out more about Panthera here and about Alliance Vohoary Gasy here (be prepared to use your French language skills). Unfortunately, I could not find more information about Rimbat.

Sinagpore’s new chip could make low-powered wireless neural implants a possibility and Australians develop their own neural implant

Singapore

This research from Singapore could make neuroprosthetics and exoskeletons a little easier to manage as long as you don’t mind having a neural implant. From a Feb. 11, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily,

A versatile chip offers multiple applications in various electronic devices, report researchers, suggested that there is now hope that a low-powered, wireless neural implant may soon be a reality. Neural implants when embedded in the brain can alleviate the debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease or give paraplegic people the ability to move their prosthetic limbs.

Caption: NTU Asst Prof Arindam Basu is holding his low-powered smart chip. Credit: NTU Singapore

Caption: NTU Asst Prof Arindam Basu is holding his low-powered smart chip. Credit: NTU Singapore

A Feb. 11, 2016 Nanyang Technological University (NTU) press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail,

Scientists at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) have developed a small smart chip that can be paired with neural implants for efficient wireless transmission of brain signals.

Neural implants when embedded in the brain can alleviate the debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease or give paraplegic people the ability to move their prosthetic limbs.

However, they need to be connected by wires to an external device outside the body. For a prosthetic patient, the neural implant is connected to a computer that decodes the brain signals so the artificial limb can move.

These external wires are not only cumbersome but the permanent openings which allow the wires into the brain increases the risk of infections.

The new chip by NTU scientists can allow the transmission of brain data wirelessly and with high accuracy.

Assistant Professor Arindam Basu from NTU’s School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering said the research team have tested the chip on data recorded from animal models, which showed that it could decode the brain’s signal to the hand and fingers with 95 per cent accuracy.

“What we have developed is a very versatile smart chip that can process data, analyse patterns and spot the difference,” explained Prof Basu.

“It is about a hundred times more efficient than current processing chips on the market. It will lead to more compact medical wearable devices, such as portable ECG monitoring devices and neural implants, since we no longer need large batteries to power them.”

Different from other wireless implants

To achieve high accuracy in decoding brain signals, implants require thousands of channels of raw data. To wirelessly transmit this large amount of data, more power is also needed which means either bigger batteries or more frequent recharging.

This is not feasible as there is limited space in the brain for implants while frequent recharging means the implants cannot be used for long-term recording of signals.

Current wireless implant prototypes thus suffer from a lack of accuracy as they lack the bandwidth to send out thousands of channels of raw data.

Instead of enlarging the power source to support the transmission of raw data, Asst Prof Basu tried to reduce the amount of data that needs to be transmitted.

Designed to be extremely power-efficient, NTU’s patented smart chip will analyse and decode the thousands of signals from the neural implants in the brain, before compressing the results and sending it wirelessly to a small external receiver.

This invention and its findings were published last month [December 2015] in the prestigious journal, IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Circuits & Systems, by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the world’s largest professional association for the advancement of technology.

Its underlying science was also featured in three international engineering conferences (two in Atlanta, USA and one in China) over the last three months.

Versatile smart chip with multiple uses

This new smart chip is designed to analyse data patterns and spot any abnormal or unusual patterns.

For example, in a remote video camera, the chip can be programmed to send a video back to the servers only when a specific type of car or something out of the ordinary is detected, such as an intruder.

This would be extremely beneficial for the Internet of Things (IOT), where every electrical and electronic device is connected to the Internet through a smart chip.

With a report by marketing research firm Gartner Inc predicting that 6.4 billion smart devices and appliances will be connected to the Internet by 2016, and will rise to 20.8 billion devices by 2020, reducing network traffic will be a priority for most companies.

Using NTU’s new chip, the devices can process and analyse the data on site, before sending back important details in a compressed package, instead of sending the whole data stream. This will reduce data usage by over a thousand times.

Asst Prof Basu is now in talks with Singapore Technologies Electronics Limited to adapt his smart chip that can significantly reduce power consumption and the amount of data transmitted by battery-operated remote sensors, such as video cameras.

The team is also looking to expand the applications of the chip into commercial products, such as to customise it for smart home sensor networks, in collaboration with a local electronics company.

The chip, measuring 5mm by 5mm can now be licensed by companies from NTU’s commercialisation arm, NTUitive.

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

A 128-Channel Extreme Learning Machine-Based Neural Decoder for Brain Machine Interfaces by Yi Chen, Enyi Yao, Arindam Basu. IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Circuits and Systems, 2015; 1 DOI: 10.1109/TBCAS.2015.2483618

This paper is behind a paywall.

Australia

Earlier this month there was a Feb. 9, 2016 announcement about a planned human clinical trial in Australia for a new brain-machine interface (neural implant). Before proceeding with the news, here’s what this implant looks like,

Caption: This tiny device, the size of a small paperclip, is implanted in to a blood vessel next to the brain and can read electrical signals from the motor cortex, the brain's control centre. These signals can then be transmitted to an exoskeleton or wheelchair to give paraplegic patients greater mobility. Users will need to learn how to communicate with their machinery, but over time, it is thought it will become second nature, like driving or playing the piano. The first human trials are slated for 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. Credit: The University of Melbourne.

Caption: This tiny device, the size of a small paperclip, is implanted in to a blood vessel next to the brain and can read electrical signals from the motor cortex, the brain’s control centre. These signals can then be transmitted to an exoskeleton or wheelchair to give paraplegic patients greater mobility. Users will need to learn how to communicate with their machinery, but over time, it is thought it will become second nature, like driving or playing the piano. The first human trials are slated for 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. Credit: The University of Melbourne.

A Feb. 9, 2016 University of Melbourne press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail,

Melbourne medical researchers have created a new minimally invasive brain-machine interface, giving people with spinal cord injuries new hope to walk again with the power of thought.

The brain machine interface consists of a stent-based electrode (stentrode), which is implanted within a blood vessel next to the brain, and records the type of neural activity that has been shown in pre-clinical trials to move limbs through an exoskeleton or to control bionic limbs.

The new device is the size of a small paperclip and will be implanted in the first in-human trial at The Royal Melbourne Hospital in 2017.

The results published today in Nature Biotechnology show the device is capable of recording high-quality signals emitted from the brain’s motor cortex, without the need for open brain surgery.

Principal author and Neurologist at The Royal Melbourne Hospital and Research Fellow at The Florey Institute of Neurosciences and the University of Melbourne, Dr Thomas Oxley, said the stentrode was revolutionary.

“The development of the stentrode has brought together leaders in medical research from The Royal Melbourne Hospital, The University of Melbourne and the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health. In total 39 academic scientists from 16 departments were involved in its development,” Dr Oxley said.

“We have been able to create the world’s only minimally invasive device that is implanted into a blood vessel in the brain via a simple day procedure, avoiding the need for high risk open brain surgery.

“Our vision, through this device, is to return function and mobility to patients with complete paralysis by recording brain activity and converting the acquired signals into electrical commands, which in turn would lead to movement of the limbs through a mobility assist device like an exoskeleton. In essence this a bionic spinal cord.”

Stroke and spinal cord injuries are leading causes of disability, affecting 1 in 50 people. There are 20,000 Australians with spinal cord injuries, with the typical patient a 19-year old male, and about 150,000 Australians left severely disabled after stroke.

Co-principal investigator and biomedical engineer at the University of Melbourne, Dr Nicholas Opie, said the concept was similar to an implantable cardiac pacemaker – electrical interaction with tissue using sensors inserted into a vein, but inside the brain.

“Utilising stent technology, our electrode array self-expands to stick to the inside wall of a vein, enabling us to record local brain activity. By extracting the recorded neural signals, we can use these as commands to control wheelchairs, exoskeletons, prosthetic limbs or computers,” Dr Opie said.

“In our first-in-human trial, that we anticipate will begin within two years, we are hoping to achieve direct brain control of an exoskeleton for three people with paralysis.”

“Currently, exoskeletons are controlled by manual manipulation of a joystick to switch between the various elements of walking – stand, start, stop, turn. The stentrode will be the first device that enables direct thought control of these devices”

Neurophysiologist at The Florey, Professor Clive May, said the data from the pre-clinical study highlighted that the implantation of the device was safe for long-term use.

“Through our pre-clinical study we were able to successfully record brain activity over many months. The quality of recording improved as the device was incorporated into tissue,” Professor May said.

“Our study also showed that it was safe and effective to implant the device via angiography, which is minimally invasive compared with the high risks associated with open brain surgery.

“The brain-computer interface is a revolutionary device that holds the potential to overcome paralysis, by returning mobility and independence to patients affected by various conditions.”

Professor Terry O’Brien, Head of Medicine at Departments of Medicine and Neurology, The Royal Melbourne Hospital and University of Melbourne said the development of the stentrode has been the “holy grail” for research in bionics.

“To be able to create a device that can record brainwave activity over long periods of time, without damaging the brain is an amazing development in modern medicine,” Professor O’Brien said.

“It can also be potentially used in people with a range of diseases aside from spinal cord injury, including epilepsy, Parkinsons and other neurological disorders.”

The development of the minimally invasive stentrode and the subsequent pre-clinical trials to prove its effectiveness could not have been possible without the support from the major funding partners – US Defense Department DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] and Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council.

So, DARPA is helping fund this, eh? Interesting but not a surprise given the agency’s previous investments in brain research and neuroprosthetics.

For those who like to get their news via video,

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

Minimally invasive endovascular stent-electrode array for high-fidelity, chronic recordings of cortical neural activity by Thomas J Oxley, Nicholas L Opie, Sam E John, Gil S Rind, Stephen M Ronayne, Tracey L Wheeler, Jack W Judy, Alan J McDonald, Anthony Dornom, Timothy J H Lovell, Christopher Steward, David J Garrett, Bradford A Moffat, Elaine H Lui, Nawaf Yassi, Bruce C V Campbell, Yan T Wong, Kate E Fox, Ewan S Nurse, Iwan E Bennett, Sébastien H Bauquier, Kishan A Liyanage, Nicole R van der Nagel, Piero Perucca, Arman Ahnood et al. Nature Biotechnology (2016)  doi:10.1038/nbt.3428 Published online 08 February 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

I wish the researchers in Singapore, Australia, and elsewhere, good luck!

2015 Mustafa prize winners (two nanoscientists) announced

The $500,000US Mustafa Prize was started in 2013 according to the information on prize website’s homepage,

The Mustafa Prize is a top science and technology award granted to the top researchers and scientists of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states biennially.

The Prize seeks to encourage education and research and is set to play the pioneering role in developing relations between science and technology institutions working in the OIC member countries.

It also aims to improve scientific relation between academics and researchers to facilitate the growth and perfection of science in the OIC member states.

The laureates in each section will be awarded 500,000 USD which is financed through the endowments made to the Prize. The winners will also be adorned with a special medal and certificate.

The Mustafa Prize started its job in 2013. The Policy making Council of the Prize which is tasked with supervising various procedures of the event is comprised of high-profile universities and academic centers of OIC member states.

The prize will be granted to the works which have improved the human life and have made tangible and cutting-edge innovations on the boundaries of science or have presented new scientific methodology.

The 2015 winners were announced in a Dec. 23, 2015 news item on merhnews.com,

Dr. Hossein Zohour, Chairman of the science committee of Mustafa Scientific Prize, has announced the laureates on Wednesday [Dec. 16, 2015].

According to the Public Relations Department of Mustafa (PBUH) Prize, Professor Jackie Y. Ying from Singapore and Professor Omar Yaghi from Jordan won the top science and technology award of the Islamic world.

Zohour cited that the Mustafa (PBUH) Prize is awarded in four categories including, Life Sciences and Medicine, Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, Information and Communication Technologies and Top Scientific Achievement in general fields. “In the first three categories, the nominees must be citizens of one of the 57 Islamic countries while in the fourth category the nominee must be Muslim but being citizen of an Islamic country is not mandatory,” he added.

Professor Jackie Y. Ying, CEO and faculty member of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology of Singapore and Professor Omar Yaghi, president of Kavli Nano-energy Organization and faculty member of University of California, Berkeley are the laureates in the fields of Nano-biotechnology sciences and Nanoscience and Nanotechnology respectively.

Zohour continued, “Professor Ying is awarded in recognition of her efforts in development of ‘stimulus response systems in targeted delivery of drugs’ in the field of Nano-biotechnology.”

These systems are consisted of polymeric nanoparticles, which auto-regulate the release of insulin therapeutic depending on the blood glucose levels without the need for sampling. The technology was first developed in her knowledge-based company and now being commercialized in big pharmaceutical firms to be at the service of human health.

Professor Omar Yaghi, prominent Jordanian chemist, has also been selected for his extensive research in the field of metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) in the category of nanoscience and nanotechnology.

It’s worth noting that this [sic] MOFs have a wide range of applications in clean energy technologies, carbon dioxide capturing and hydrogen and methane storage systems due to their extremely high surface areas.

The Mustafa (PBUH) Prize Award Ceremony will take place on Friday December 25 [2015] at Vahdat Hall to honor the laureates.

Unfortunately, I’ve not profiled Dr. Yaghi’s work here. Dr. Ying has been mentioned a few times (a March 2, 2015 posting, a May 12, 2014 posting, and an Aug. 22, 2013 posting) but not for the work for which she is being honoured.

Congratulations to both Dr. Yaghi and Dr. Ying!

International NanoCar race: 1st ever to be held in Autumn 2016

They have a very intriguing set of rules for the 1st ever International NanoCar Race to be held in Toulouse, France in October 2016. From the Centre d’Élaboration de Matériaux et d’Études Structurales (CEMES) Molecule-car Race International page (Note: A link has been removed),

1) General regulations

The molecule-car of a registered team has at its disposal a runway prepared on a small portion of the (111) face of the same crystalline gold surface. The surface is maintained at a very low temperature that is 5 Kelvin = – 268°C (LT) in ultra-high vacuum that is 10-8 Pa or 10-10 mbar 10-10 Torr (UHV) for at least the duration of the competition. The race itself last no more than 2 days and 2 nights including the construction time needed to build up atom by atom the same identical runway for each competitor. The construction and the imaging of a given runway are obtained by a low temperature scanning tunneling microscope (LT-UHV-STM) and certified by independent Track Commissioners before the starting of the race itself.

On this gold surface and per competitor, one runway is constructed atom by atom using a few surface gold metal ad-atoms. A molecule-car has to circulate around those ad-atoms, from the starting to the arrival lines, each line being delimited by 2 gold ad-atoms. The spacing between two metal ad-atoms along a runway is less than 4 nm. A minimum of 5 gold ad-atoms line has to be constructed per team and per runway.

The organizers have included an example of a runway,

A preliminary runway constructed by C. Manzano and We Hyo Soe (A*Star, IMRE) in Singapore, with the 2 starting gold ad-atoms, the 5 gold ad-atoms for the track and the 2 gold ad-atoms had been already constructed atom by atom.

A preliminary runway constructed by C. Manzano and We Hyo Soe (A*Star, IMRE) in Singapore, with the 2 starting gold ad-atoms, the 5 gold ad-atoms for the track and the 2 gold ad-atoms had been already constructed atom by atom.

A November 25, 2015 [France] Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) press release notes that five teams presented prototypes at the Futurapolis 2015 event preparatory to the upcoming Autumn 2016 race,

The French southwestern town of Toulouse is preparing for the first-ever international race of molecule-cars: five teams will present their car prototype during the Futurapolis event on November 27, 2015. These cars, which only measure a few nanometers in length and are propelled by an electric current, are scheduled to compete on a gold atom surface next year. Participants will be able to synthesize and test their molecule-car until October 2016 prior to taking part in the NanoCar Race organized at the CNRS Centre d’élaboration des matériaux et d’études structurales (CEMES) by Christian Joachim, senior researcher at the CNRS and Gwénaël Rapenne, professor at Université Toulouse III-Paul Sabatier, with the support of the CNRS.

There is a video describing the upcoming 2016 race (English, spoken and in subtitles),


NanoCar Race, the first-ever race of molecule-cars by CNRS-en

A Dec. 14, 2015 Rice University news release provides more detail about the event and Rice’s participation,

Rice University will send an entry to the first international NanoCar Race, which will be held next October at Pico-Lab CEMES-CNRS in Toulouse, France.

Nobody will see this miniature grand prix, at least not directly. But cars from five teams, including a collaborative effort by the Rice lab of chemist James Tour and scientists at the University of Graz, Austria, will be viewable through sophisticated microscopes developed for the event.

Time trials will determine which nanocar is the fastest, though there may be head-to-head races with up to four cars on the track at once, according to organizers.

A nanocar is a single-molecule vehicle of 100 or so atoms that incorporates a chassis, axles and freely rotating wheels. Each of the entries will be propelled across a custom-built gold surface by an electric current supplied by the tip of a scanning electron microscope. The track will be cold at 5 kelvins (minus 450 degrees Fahrenheit) and in a vacuum.

Rice’s entry will be a new model and the latest in a line that began when Tour and his team built the world’s first nanocar more than 10 years ago.

“It’s challenging because, first of all, we have to design a car that can be manipulated on that specific surface,” Tour said. “Then we have to figure out the driving techniques that are appropriate for that car. But we’ll be ready.”

Victor Garcia, a graduate student at Rice, is building what Tour called his group’s Model 1, which will be driven by members of Professor Leonhard Grill’s group at Graz. The labs are collaborating to optimize the design.

The races are being organized by the Center for Materials Elaboration and Structural Studies (CEMES) of the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).

The race was first proposed in a 2013 ACS Nano paper by Christian Joachim, a senior researcher at CNRS, and Gwénaël Rapenne, a professor at Paul Sabatier University.

Joining Rice are teams from Ohio University; Dresden University of Technology; the National Institute for Materials Science, Tsukuba, Japan; and Paul Sabatier [Université Toulouse III-Paul Sabatier].

I believe there’s still time to register an entry (from the Molecule-car Race International page; Note: Links have been removed),

To register for the first edition of the molecule-car Grand Prix in Toulouse, a team has to deliver to the organizers well before March 2016:

  • The detail of its institution (Academic, public, private)
  • The design of its molecule-vehicle including the delivery of the xyz file coordinates of the atomic structure of its molecule-car
  • The propulsion mode, preferably by tunneling inelastic effects
  • The evaporation conditions of the molecule-vehicles
  • If possible a first UHV-STM image of the molecule-vehicle
  • The name and nationality of the LT-UHV-STM driver

Those information are used by the organizers for selecting the teams and for organizing training sessions for the accepted teams in a way to optimize their molecule-car design and to learn the driving conditions on the LT-Nanoprobe instrument in Toulouse. Then, the organizers will deliver an official invitation letter for a given team to have the right to experiment on the Toulouse LT-Nanoprobe instrument with their own drivers. A detail training calendar will be determined starting September 2015.

The NanoCar Race website’s homepage notes that it will be possible to view the race in some fashion,

The NanoCar Race is a race where molecular machines compete on a nano-sized track. A NanoCar is a single molecule-car that has wheels and a chassis… and is propelled by a small electric shock.

The race will be invisible to the naked eye: a unique microscope based in Toulouse, France, will make it possible to watch the competition.

The NanoCar race is mostly a fantastic human and scientific adventure that will be broadcast worldwide. [emphasis mine]

Good luck to all the competitors.

Not the same old gold: there’s a brand new phase

A Dec. 7, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily announces a new phase for gold has been identified,

A new and stable phase of gold with different physical and optical properties from those of conventional gold has been synthesized by Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) researchers [1], Singapore, and promises to be useful for a wide range of applications, including plasmonics and catalysis.

Many materials exist in a variety of crystal structures, known as phases or polymorphs. These different phases have the same chemical composition but different physical structures, which give rise to different properties. For example, two well-known polymorphs of carbon, graphite and diamond, arranged differently, have radically different physical properties, despite being the same element.

Gold has been used for many purposes throughout history, including jewelry, electronics and catalysis. Until now it has always been produced in one phase ― a face-centered cubic structure in which atoms are located at the corners and the center of each face of the constituent cubes.

Now, Lin Wu and colleagues at the Institute of the A*STAR Institute of High Performance Computing have modeled the optical and plasmonic properties of nanoscale ribbons of a new phase of gold — the 4H hexagonal phase (…) — produced and characterized by collaborators at other institutes in Singapore, China and the USA. The team synthesized nanoribbons of the new phase by simply heating the gold (III) chloride hydrate (HAuCl4) with a mixture of three organic solvents and then centrifuging and washing the product. This gave a high yield of about 60 per cent.

Here’s an image supplied by the researchers,

The atomic structure of the new phase of gold synthesized by A*STAR researchers. Reproduced from Ref. 1 and licensed under CC BY 4.0 © 2015 Z. Fan et al.

The atomic structure of the new phase of gold synthesized by A*STAR researchers. Reproduced from Ref. 1 and licensed under CC BY 4.0 © 2015 Z. Fan et al.

A Dec. 2, 2015 A*STAR news release, which originated the news item, provides more details,

The researchers also produced 4H hexagonal phases of the precious metals silver, platinum and palladium by growing them on top of the gold 4H hexagonal phase.

The cubic phase looks identical when viewed front on, from one side or from above. In contrast, the new 4H hexagonal phase lacks this cubic symmetry and hence varies more with direction — a property known as anisotropy. This lower symmetry gives it more directionally varying optical properties, which may make it useful for plasmonic applications. “Our finding is not only is of fundamental interest, but it also provides a new avenue for unconventional applications of plasmonic devices,” says Wu.

The team is keen to explore the potential of their new phase. “In the future, we hope to leverage the unconventional anisotropic properties of the new gold phase and design new devices with excellent performances not achievable with conventional face-centered-cubic gold,” says Wu. The synthesis method also gives rise to the potential for new strategies for controlling the crystalline phase of nanomaterials made from the noble metals.

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

Stabilization of 4H hexagonal phase in gold nanoribbons by Zhanxi Fan, Michel Bosman, Xiao Huang, Ding Huang, Yi Yu, Khuong P. Ong, Yuriy A. Akimov, Lin Wu, Bing Li, Jumiati Wu, Ying Huang, Qing Liu, Ching Eng Png, Chee Lip Gan, Peidong Yang & Hua Zhang. Nature Communications 6, Article number: 7684 doi:10.1038/ncomms8684 Published 28 July 2015

This is an open access paper.