Tag Archives: Star Trek

Cloaking devices made from DNA and gold nanoparticles using top-down lithography

This new technique seems promising but there’ve been a lot of ‘cloaking’ devices announced in the years I’ve been blogging and, in all likelihood, I was late to the party so I’m exercising a little caution before getting too excited. For the latest development in cloaking devices, there’s a January 18, 2018 news item on Nanowerk,

Northwestern University researchers have developed a first-of-its-kind technique for creating entirely new classes of optical materials and devices that could lead to light bending and cloaking devices — news to make the ears of Star Trek’s Spock perk up.

Using DNA [deoxyribonucleic acid] as a key tool, the interdisciplinary team took gold nanoparticles of different sizes and shapes and arranged them in two and three dimensions to form optically active superlattices. Structures with specific configurations could be programmed through choice of particle type and both DNA-pattern and sequence to exhibit almost any color across the visible spectrum, the scientists report.

A January 18, 2018 Northwestern University news release (also on EurekAlert) by Megan Fellman, which originated the news item, delves into more detail (Note: Links have been removed),

“Architecture is everything when designing new materials, and we now have a new way to precisely control particle architectures over large areas,” said Chad A. Mirkin, the George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern. “Chemists and physicists will be able to build an almost infinite number of new structures with all sorts of interesting properties. These structures cannot be made by any known technique.”

The technique combines an old fabrication method — top-down lithography, the same method used to make computer chips — with a new one — programmable self-assembly driven by DNA. The Northwestern team is the first to combine the two to achieve individual particle control in three dimensions.

The study was published online by the journal Science today (Jan. 18). Mirkin and Vinayak P. Dravid and Koray Aydin, both professors in Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering, are co-corresponding authors.

Scientists will be able to use the powerful and flexible technique to build metamaterials — materials not found in nature — for a range of applications including sensors for medical and environmental uses.

The researchers used a combination of numerical simulations and optical spectroscopy techniques to identify particular nanoparticle superlattices that absorb specific wavelengths of visible light. The DNA-modified nanoparticles — gold in this case — are positioned on a pre-patterned template made of complementary DNA. Stacks of structures can be made by introducing a second and then a third DNA-modified particle with DNA that is complementary to the subsequent layers.

In addition to being unusual architectures, these materials are stimuli-responsive: the DNA strands that hold them together change in length when exposed to new environments, such as solutions of ethanol that vary in concentration. The change in DNA length, the researchers found, resulted in a change of color from black to red to green, providing extreme tunability of optical properties.

“Tuning the optical properties of metamaterials is a significant challenge, and our study achieves one of the highest tunability ranges achieved to date in optical metamaterials,” said Aydin, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at McCormick.

“Our novel metamaterial platform — enabled by precise and extreme control of gold nanoparticle shape, size and spacing — holds significant promise for next-generation optical metamaterials and metasurfaces,” Aydin said.

The study describes a new way to organize nanoparticles in two and three dimensions. The researchers used lithography methods to drill tiny holes — only one nanoparticle wide — in a polymer resist, creating “landing pads” for nanoparticle components modified with strands of DNA. The landing pads are essential, Mirkin said, since they keep the structures that are grown vertical.

The nanoscopic landing pads are modified with one sequence of DNA, and the gold nanoparticles are modified with complementary DNA. By alternating nanoparticles with complementary DNA, the researchers built nanoparticle stacks with tremendous positional control and over a large area. The particles can be different sizes and shapes (spheres, cubes and disks, for example).

“This approach can be used to build periodic lattices from optically active particles, such as gold, silver and any other material that can be modified with DNA, with extraordinary nanoscale precision,” said Mirkin, director of Northwestern’s International Institute for Nanotechnology.

Mirkin also is a professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and professor of chemical and biological engineering, biomedical engineering and materials science and engineering in the McCormick School.

The success of the reported DNA programmable assembly required expertise with hybrid (soft-hard) materials and exquisite nanopatterning and lithographic capabilities to achieve the requisite spatial resolution, definition and fidelity across large substrate areas. The project team turned to Dravid, a longtime collaborator of Mirkin’s who specializes in nanopatterning, advanced microscopy and characterization of soft, hard and hybrid nanostructures.

Dravid contributed his expertise and assisted in designing the nanopatterning and lithography strategy and the associated characterization of the new exotic structures. He is the Abraham Harris Professor of Materials Science and Engineering in McCormick and the founding director of the NUANCE center, which houses the advanced patterning, lithography and characterization used in the DNA-programmed structures.

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

Building superlattices from individual nanoparticles via template-confined DNA-mediated assembly by Qing-Yuan Lin, Jarad A. Mason, Zhongyang, Wenjie Zhou, Matthew N. O’Brien, Keith A. Brown, Matthew R. Jones, Serkan Butun, Byeongdu Lee, Vinayak P. Dravid, Koray Aydin, Chad A. Mirkin. Science 18 Jan 2018: eaaq0591 DOI: 10.1126/science.aaq0591

This paper is behind a paywall.

As noted earlier, it could be a while before cloaking devices are made available. In the meantime, you may find this image inspiring,

Caption: Northwestern University researchers have developed a new method to precisely arrange nanoparticles of different sizes and shapes in two and three dimensions, resulting in optically active superlattices. Credit: Northwestern University

Neuristors and brainlike computing

As you might suspect, a neuristor is based on a memristor .(For a description of a memristor there’s this Wikipedia entry and you can search this blog with the tags ‘memristor’ and neuromorphic engineering’ for more here.)

Being new to neuristors ,I needed a little more information before reading the latest and found this Dec. 24, 2012 article by John Timmer for Ars Technica (Note: Links have been removed),

Computing hardware is composed of a series of binary switches; they’re either on or off. The other piece of computational hardware we’re familiar with, the brain, doesn’t work anything like that. Rather than being on or off, individual neurons exhibit brief spikes of activity, and encode information in the pattern and timing of these spikes. The differences between the two have made it difficult to model neurons using computer hardware. In fact, the recent, successful generation of a flexible neural system required that each neuron be modeled separately in software in order to get the sort of spiking behavior real neurons display.

But researchers may have figured out a way to create a chip that spikes. The people at HP labs who have been working on memristors have figured out a combination of memristors and capacitors that can create a spiking output pattern. Although these spikes appear to be more regular than the ones produced by actual neurons, it might be possible to create versions that are a bit more variable than this one. And, more significantly, it should be possible to fabricate them in large numbers, possibly right on a silicon chip.

The key to making the devices is something called a Mott insulator. These are materials that would normally be able to conduct electricity, but are unable to because of interactions among their electrons. Critically, these interactions weaken with elevated temperatures. So, by heating a Mott insulator, it’s possible to turn it into a conductor. In the case of the material used here, NbO2, the heat is supplied by resistance itself. By applying a voltage to the NbO2 in the device, it becomes a resistor, heats up, and, when it reaches a critical temperature, turns into a conductor, allowing current to flow through. But, given the chance to cool off, the device will return to its resistive state. Formally, this behavior is described as a memristor.

To get the sort of spiking behavior seen in a neuron, the authors turned to a simplified model of neurons based on the proteins that allow them to transmit electrical signals. When a neuron fires, sodium channels open, allowing ions to rush into a nerve cell, and changing the relative charges inside and outside its membrane. In response to these changes, potassium channels then open, allowing different ions out, and restoring the charge balance. That shuts the whole thing down, and allows various pumps to start restoring the initial ion balance.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the research paper described in Timmer’s article,

A scalable neuristor built with Mott memristors by Matthew D. Pickett, Gilberto Medeiros-Ribeiro, & R. Stanley Williams. Nature Materials 12, 114–117 (2013) doi:10.1038/nmat3510 Published online 16 December 2012

This paper is behind a paywall.

A July 28, 2017 news item on Nanowerk provides an update on neuristors,

A future android brain like that of Star Trek’s Commander Data might contain neuristors, multi-circuit components that emulate the firings of human neurons.

Neuristors already exist today in labs, in small quantities, and to fuel the quest to boost neuristors’ power and numbers for practical use in brain-like computing, the U.S. Department of Defense has awarded a $7.1 million grant to a research team led by the Georgia Institute of Technology. The researchers will mainly work on new metal oxide materials that buzz electronically at the nanoscale to emulate the way human neural networks buzz with electric potential on a cellular level.

A July 28, 2017 Georgia Tech news release, which originated the news item, delves further into neuristors and the proposed work leading to an artificial retina that can learn (!). This was not where I was expecting things to go,

But let’s walk expectations back from the distant sci-fi future into the scientific present: The research team is developing its neuristor materials to build an intelligent light sensor, and not some artificial version of the human brain, which would require hundreds of trillions of circuits.

“We’re not going to reach circuit complexities of that magnitude, not even a tenth,” said Alan Doolittle, a professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “Also, currently science doesn’t really know yet very well how the human brain works, so we can’t duplicate it.”

Intelligent retina

But an artificial retina that can learn autonomously appears well within reach of the research team from Georgia Tech and Binghamton University. Despite the term “retina,” the development is not intended as a medical implant, but it could be used in advanced image recognition cameras for national defense and police work.

At the same time, it would significantly advance brain-mimicking, or neuromorphic, computing. The research field that takes its cues from what science already does know about how the brain computes to develop exponentially more powerful computing.

The retina would be comprised of an array of ultra-compact circuits called neuristors (a word combining “neuron” and “transistor”) that sense light, compute an image out of it and store the image. All three of the functions would occur simultaneously and nearly instantaneously.

“The same device senses, computes and stores the image,” Doolittle said. “The device is the sensor, and it’s the processor, and it’s the memory all at the same time.” A neuristor itself is comprised in part of devices called memristors inspired by the way human neurons work.

Brain vs. PC

That cuts out loads of processing and memory lag time that are inherent in traditional computing.

Take the device you’re reading this article on: Its microprocessor has to tap a separate memory component to get data, then do some processing, tap memory again for more data, process some more, etc. “That back-and-forth from memory to microprocessor has created a bottleneck,” Doolittle said.

A neuristor array breaks the bottleneck by emulating the extreme flexibility of biological nervous systems: When a brain computes, it uses a broad set of neural pathways that flash with enormous data. Then, later, to compute the same thing again, it will use quite different neural paths.

Traditional computer pathways, by contrast, are hardwired. For example, look at a present-day processor and you’ll see lines etched into it. Those are pathways that computational signals are limited to.

The new memristor materials at the heart of the neuristor are not etched, and signals flow through the surface very freely, more like they do through the brain, exponentially increasing the number of possible pathways computation can take. That helps the new intelligent retina compute powerfully and swiftly.

Terrorists, missing children

The retina’s memory could also store thousands of photos, allowing it to immediately match up what it sees with the saved images. The retina could pinpoint known terror suspects in a crowd, find missing children, or identify enemy aircraft virtually instantaneously, without having to trawl databases to correctly identify what is in the images.

Even if you take away the optics, the new neuristor arrays still advance artificial intelligence. Instead of light, a surface of neuristors could absorb massive data streams at once, compute them, store them, and compare them to patterns of other data, immediately. It could even autonomously learn to extrapolate further information, like calculating the third dimension out of data from two dimensions.

“It will work with anything that has a repetitive pattern like radar signatures, for example,” Doolittle said. “Right now, that’s too challenging to compute, because radar information is flying out at such a high data rate that no computer can even think about keeping up.”

Smart materials

The research project’s title acronym CEREBRAL may hint at distant dreams of an artificial brain, but what it stands for spells out the present goal in neuromorphic computing: Cross-disciplinary Electronic-ionic Research Enabling Biologically Realistic Autonomous Learning.

The intelligent retina’s neuristors are based on novel metal oxide nanotechnology materials, unique to Georgia Tech. They allow computing signals to flow flexibly across pathways that are electronic, which is customary in computing, and at the same time make use of ion motion, which is more commonly know from the way batteries and biological systems work.

The new materials have already been created, and they work, but the researchers don’t yet fully understand why.

Much of the project is dedicated to examining quantum states in the materials and how those states help create useful electronic-ionic properties. Researchers will view them by bombarding the metal oxides with extremely bright x-ray photons at the recently constructed National Synchrotron Light Source II.

Grant sub-awardee Binghamton University is located close by, and Binghamton physicists will run experiments and hone them via theoretical modeling.

‘Sea of lithium’

The neuristors are created mainly by the way the metal oxide materials are grown in the lab, which has advantages over building neuristors in a more wired way.

This materials-growing approach is conducive to mass production. Also, though neuristors in general free signals to take multiple pathways, Georgia Tech’s neuristors do it much more flexibly thanks to chemical properties.

“We also have a sea of lithium, and it’s like an infinite reservoir of computational ionic fluid,” Doolittle said. The lithium niobite imitates the way ionic fluid bathes biological neurons and allows them to flash with electric potential while signaling. In a neuristor array, the lithium niobite helps computational signaling move in myriad directions.

“It’s not like the typical semiconductor material, where you etch a line, and only that line has the computational material,” Doolittle said.

Commander Data’s brain?

“Unlike any other previous neuristors, our neuristors will adapt themselves in their computational-electronic pulsing on the fly, which makes them more like a neurological system,” Doolittle said. “They mimic biology in that we have ion drift across the material to create the memristors (the memory part of neuristors).”

Brains are far superior to computers at most things, but not all. Brains recognize objects and do motor tasks much better. But computers are much better at arithmetic and data processing.

Neuristor arrays can meld both types of computing, making them biological and algorithmic at once, a bit like Commander Data’s brain.

The research is being funded through the U.S. Department of Defense’s Multidisciplinary University Research Initiatives (MURI) Program under grant number FOA: N00014-16-R-FO05. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of those agencies.

Fascinating, non?

Quantum device provides capabilities of Dr. Who’s sonic screwdriver and Star Trek’s tricorder

I think these Australian scientists are bigger fans of Dr. Who than Star Trek if I read this March 8, 2017 news item on Nanowerk rightly (Note: A link has been removed),

Physicists have designed a handheld device inspired by the sonic screwdriver in Doctor Who and the tricorder in Star Trek that will use the power of MRI and mass spectrometry to perform a chemical analysis of objects (Nano Letters, “Nanomechanical Sensing Using Spins in Diamond”).

The sonic screwdriver is a tool used in Doctor Who to scan and identify matter, among other functions, while the multi-purpose tricorder in Star Trek can provide a detailed analysis of living things.

This video confirms the scientists’ Dr. Who fanhood,

A March 8, 2017 Australian National University (ANU) news release, which originated the news item, provides more technical detail about the research,

Lead researcher Dr Marcus Doherty from ANU said the team had proven the concept of a diamond-based quantum device to perform similar functions to these science fiction tools and would now develop a prototype.

“Laboratories and hospitals will have the power to do full chemical analyses to solve complex problems with our device that they can afford and move around easily,” said Dr Doherty from the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering (RSPE).

“This device is going to enable many people to use powerful instruments like molecular MRI machines and mass spectrometers much more readily.”

Dr Doherty said medical researchers could use the device to weigh and identify complex molecules such as proteins, which drive diseases, such as cancer, and cures for those diseases.

“Every great advance for microscopy has driven scientific revolution,” he said.

“Our invention will help to solve many complex problems in a wide range of areas, including medical, environmental and biosecurity research.”

Molecular MRI is a form of the common medical imaging technology that is capable of identifying the chemical composition of individual molecules, while mass spectrometers measure the masses within a sample.

Co-researcher Michael Barson said the device would use tiny defects in a diamond to measure the mass and chemical composition of molecules with advanced quantum techniques borrowed from atomic clocks and gravitational wave detectors.

“For the mass spectrometry, when a molecule attaches to the diamond device, its mass changes, which changes the frequency, and we measure the change in frequency using the defects in the diamond,” said Mr Barson, a PhD student from RSPE.

“For the MRI, we are looking at how the magnetic fields in the molecule will influence the defects as well.”

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

Nanomechanical Sensing Using Spins in Diamond by Michael S. J. Barson, Phani Peddibhota, Preeti Ovartchaiyapong, Kumaravelu Ganesan, Richard L. Taylor, Matthew Gebert, Zoe Mielens, Berndt Koslowski, David A. Simpson, Liam P. McGuinness, Jeffrey McCallum, Steven Prawer, Shinobu Onoda, Takeshi Ohshima, Ania C. Bleszynski Jayich, Fedor Jelezko, Neil B. Manson, and Marcus W. Doherty. Nano Lett., 2017, 17 (3), pp 1496–1503 DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.6b04544 Publication Date (Web): February 1, 2017

Copyright © 2017 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Teleportation of a classic object (Star Trek’s teleportation)

A March 4, 2016 Friedrich-Schiller-Universitaet Jena press release (also on EurekAlert) describes the work in terms of Star Trek,

“Beam me up, Scotty” – even if Captain Kirk supposedly never said this exact phrase, it remains a popular catch-phrase to this day. Whenever the chief commander of the television series starship USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) wanted to go back to his control centre, this command was enough to take him back to the control centre instantly – travelling through the infinity of outer space without any loss of time.

But is all of this science fiction that was thought up in the 1960s? Not quite: Physicists are actually capable of beaming–or “teleporting” as it is called in technical language – if not actual solid particles at least their properties.

“Many of the ideas from Star Trek that back then appeared to be revolutionary have become reality,” explains Prof. Dr Alexander Szameit from the University of Jena (Germany). “Doors that open automatically, video telephony or flip phones–all things we have first seen on the starship USS Enterprise,” exemplifies the Juniorprofessor of Diamond-/Carbon-Based Optical Systems. So why not also teleporting? “Elementary particles such as electrons and light particles exist per se in a spatially delocalized state,” says Szameit. For these particles, it is with a certain probability thus possible to be in different places at the same time. “Within such a system spread across multiple locations, it is possible to transmit information from one location to another without any loss of time.” This process is called quantum teleportation and has been known for several years.

The team of scientists lead by science fiction fan Szameit has now for the first demonstrated in an experiment that the concept of teleportation does not only persist in the world of quantum particles, but also in our classical world. …

They used a special form of laser beams in the experiment. “As can be done with the physical states of elementary particles, the properties of light beams can also be entangled,” explains Dr Marco Ornigotti, a member of Prof. Szameit’s team. For physicists, “entanglement” means a sort of codification. “You link the information you would like to transmit to a particular property of the light,” clarifies Ornigotti who led the experiments for the study that was now presented.

In their particular case, the physicists have encoded some information in a particular polarisation direction of the laser light and have transmitted this information to the shape of the laser beam using teleportation. “With this form of teleportation, we can, however, not bridge any given distance,” admits Szameit. “On the contrary, classic teleportation only works locally.” But just like it did at the starship USS Enterprise or in quantum teleportation, the information is transmitted fully and instantly, without any loss of time. And this makes this kind of information transmission a highly interesting option in telecommunication for instance, underlines Szameit.

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

Demonstration of local teleportation using classical entanglement by Diego Guzman-Silva, Robert Brüning, Felix Zimmermann, Christian Vetter, Markus Gräfe, Matthias Heinrich, Stefan Nolte, Michael Duparré, Andrea Aiello, Marco Ornigotti and Alexander Szameit. Laser & Photonics Reviews DOI: 10.1002/lpor.201500252 Article first published online: 11 JAN 2016

© 2016 by WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This paper is behind a paywall.

Quantum teleportation

It’s been two years (my Aug. 16, 2013 posting features a German-Japanese collaboration) since the last quantum teleportation posting here. First, a little visual stimulation,

Captain James T Kirk (credit: http://www.comicvine.com/james-t-kirk/4005-20078/)

Captain James T Kirk (credit: http://www.comicvine.com/james-t-kirk/4005-20078/)

Captain Kirk, also known as William Shatner, is from Montréal, Canada and that’s not the only Canadian connection to this story which is really about some research at York University (UK). From an Oct. 1, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now,

Mention the word ‘teleportation’ and for many people it conjures up “Beam me up, Scottie” images of Captain James T Kirk.

But in the last two decades quantum teleportation – transferring the quantum structure of an object from one place to another without physical transmission — has moved from the realms of Star Trek fantasy to tangible reality.

A Sept. 30, 2015 York University (UK) press release, which originated the news item, describes the quantum teleportation research problem and solution,

Quantum teleportation is an important building block for quantum computing, quantum communication and quantum network and, eventually, a quantum Internet. While theoretical proposals for a quantum Internet already exist, the problem for scientists is that there is still debate over which of various technologies provides the most efficient and reliable teleportation system. This is the dilemma which an international team of researchers, led by Dr Stefano Pirandola of the Department of Computer Science at the University of York, set out to resolve.

In a paper published in Nature Photonics, the team, which included scientists from the Freie Universität Berlin and the Universities of Tokyo and Toronto [emphasis mine], reviewed the theoretical ideas around quantum teleportation focusing on the main experimental approaches and their attendant advantages and disadvantages.

None of the technologies alone provide a perfect solution, so the scientists concluded that a hybridisation of the various protocols and underlying structures would offer the most fruitful approach.

For instance, systems using photonic qubits work over distances up to 143 kilometres, but they are probabilistic in that only 50 per cent of the information can be transported. To resolve this, such photon systems may be used in conjunction with continuous variable systems, which are 100 per cent effective but currently limited to short distances.

Most importantly, teleportation-based optical communication needs an interface with suitable matter-based quantum memories where quantum information can be stored and further processed.

Dr Pirandola, who is also a member of the York Centre for Quantum Technologies, said: “We don’t have an ideal or universal technology for quantum teleportation. The field has developed a lot but we seem to need to rely on a hybrid approach to get the best from each available technology.

“The use of quantum teleportation as a building block for a quantum network depends on its integration with quantum memories. The development of good quantum memories would allow us to build quantum repeaters, therefore extending the range of teleportation. They would also give us the ability to store and process the transmitted quantum information at local quantum computers.

“This could ultimately form the backbone of a quantum Internet. The revised hybrid architecture will likely rely on teleportation-based long-distance quantum optical communication, interfaced with solid state devices for quantum information processing.”

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

Advances in quantum teleportation by S. Pirandola, J. Eisert, C. Weedbrook, A. Furusawa, & S. L. Braunstein. Nature Photonics 9, 641–652 (2015) doi:10.1038/nphoton.2015.154 Published online 29 September 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.

 

I sing the Hubble (space telescope)

Thanks to David Bruggeman and his Nov. 30, 2013 posting on the Pasco Phronesis blog for some fascinating information about  the Hubble space telescope and its upcoming  30th anniversary in 2015 (Note: Links have been removed),

Bay Chamber Concerts commissioned a piece in advance of the 30th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope (H/T The Atlantic).  Called Hubble Cantata, it is currently in two forms – a 22 minute version which can be heard online at the composer’s website (and is available for download), and a multimedia version that has been performed in public by soprano Jessica Rivera and the International Contemporary Ensemble.  The goal is to develop a full cantata for two voices and instruments, which would include the same kinds of multimedia interludes focused on the Hubble Telescope and what it’s been able to see.

David has embedded a video (approximately 20 mins. running time) of the July 2013 premiere of the Hubble Cantata, a work, that is still in progress.

I have dug up a bit of information about Bay Chamber Concerts which is located in the US state of Maine and is both a school and a concert production company as per the About Us webpage on their website,

Bay Chamber has a rich history of presenting the best in performing arts in Midcoast Maine.

ALL YEAR, ALL-AROUND OUTSTANDING.
Founded in 1961 by brothers Andrew and Thomas Wolf, Bay Chamber Concerts features world-renowned artists year-round. Our Summer Concert Series and Music Festival in July and August feature over 30 events that redefine the standards for chamber music. From September to June the Performing Arts Series features classical, jazz, world music and dance events in a variety of venues throughout the region.

EXCELLENCE IN EDUCATION.
The Bay Chamber Music School, located in the village of Rockport, offers private instruction, ensemble opportunities, group classes and other music education programming to local musicians and community members of all ages and abilities.

As part of our Community Engagement program, Bay Chamber presents concerts in alternative settings to audiences who might otherwise not have the ability to attend live performances. Concerts and workshops featuring Bay Chamber Concerts professional roster of musicians are presented at no charge in prisons, hospitals, assisted living facilities and more.

The composer for this cantata is Paola Prestini and here’s more about the project and her collaborators from her (eponymous) website’s Projects page,

Hubble Cantata

in collaboration with artists

filmmaker CARMEN KORDAS & librettist ROYCE VAVREK

with soprano Jessica Rivera &

International Contemporary Ensemble

violinist and improviser, Cornelius Dufallo

texts inspired by astrophysicist Mario Livio

a Bay Chamber Concerts Commission

The Hubble is a contemporary multimedia cantata for the mezzo soprano Jessica Rivera, and the renowned International Contemporary Ensemble. Commissioned by Bay Chamber Concerts, the cantata is inspired by Hubble Telescope images. The work is a collaboration with librettist Royce Vavrek, filmmaker Carmen Kordas, and the famed astrophysicist, Mario Livio, of the Space Telescope Science Institute. The work is leading towards a full length cantata for soprano and baritone, for the Hubble’s 25th anniversary in 2015. This work is supported by the Space Telescope Science Institute.

The work exists in two versions, as a 22 minute work, and an evening length cantata that features music, electronics, filmed sequences with rare seen photographs and footage from the Hubble telescope, interlaced with sung poetic movements.

Prestini provides this compelling description of the work written Mario Livio on the website homepage,

By incorporating Mario Livio’s strong and poignant themes with music, visual art/film, and advanced technology, the Hubble Cantata promises to be one of the most exciting forays into the interdisciplinary dance of science and art, to date.

“We decided to symbolically anchor the Earth-based part of the lyrics on the agonizing experiences of a young woman struggling with a harsh reality. As Vavrek states in the introduction to the libretto: “Her footsteps tell stories.” The music and imagery for this section were partly inspired by the Japanese mythology-rich forest Aokigahara. Sadly, the historic association of this forest with demons has led to numerous suicides on the site. To connect the life (and death) experience of the young woman to the heavens, we used the ancient Peruvian geoglyphs known as the Nazca Lines. Again in Vavrek’s words: “The woman walks in patterns, pictures emerge in the soil… She creates her own private Nazca lines, tattooing the Earth with her history.” The Nazca lines in Peru are believed to have been created between the fifth and seventh centuries, and they are thought (at least by some researchers) to point to places on the horizon where certain celestial bodies rose or set. In other words, they truly marked a direct astronomical connection between the surface of the Earth and the heavens. In its conclusion, the Cantata completely intermingles the fate of the young woman with the ultimate fate of the stars. The shapes in the sand and the constellations in the sky become one, mirroring the tortuous path of human life in the dramatic Hubble images of outbursts that simultaneously mark stellar deaths and the promise for a new generation of stars, planets, and life.”

-Mario Livio

While this is somewhat off topic; it is related. Today (Dec. 2, 2013), Google is commemorating the 90th anniversary of opera singer. Maria Callas’ birth with a doodle as per this Dec. 2, 2013 news item on the Guardian website (Note: Links have been removed),

The birth of singer Maria Callas 90 years ago has been celebrated in a new Google doodle.

The animation shows the legendary soprano performing on stage. Callas, who died in 1977, was a colourful figure who was renowned as a prima donna.

Last month, the actor Faye Dunaway said she was determined to finish a film – which she is also directing and producing – telling Callas’s life story. The Independent quoted Dunaway as saying: “That woman changed an art form and not many people can say that. Callas is to opera what Fellini is to cinema.”

google doodle of maria callas

Getting back to music and outer space, I was reminded of an episode in the classic Star Trek series that featured Nichelle Nichols as Uhura, the communications officer, singing a song about space,loneliness, and love,


For anyone as ignorant as I am about the difference between a cantata and an opera, here’s a definition for a cantata from Wikipedia (Note: Links have been removed),

A cantata (literally “sung”, derived from the Italian word “cantare”) is a vocal composition with an instrumental accompaniment, typically in several movements, often involving a choir.

The meaning of the term changed over time, from the simple single voice madrigal of the early 17th century, to the multi-voice “cantata da camera” and the “cantata da chiesa” of the later part of that century, from the more substantial dramatic forms of the 18th century (including the 200-odd sacred and secular cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach) to the usually sacred-texted 19th-century cantata, which was effectively a type of short oratorio.[1] Several cantatas were written for special occasions, such as Christmas cantatas.

I wish the principals good luck with their Hubble Cantata project and look forward to hearing more about it as the Hubble’s 30th anniversary in 2015 rears.

Bloodless blood tests

In the foreseeable future there’ll be no need to stick needles/syringes into your arm (or other body part) to draw blood for testing if these Israeli scientists have their way. Instead, someone can take an image of your blood, from the Aug. 31, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

An Israeli team has demonstrated a non-invasive technique for imaging blood cells in vivo that could eliminate the need to extract blood from many patients. Powered by the Andor Newton Electron Multiplying EMCCD camera, their high-resolution Spectrally Encoded Flow Cytometry (SEFC) probe offers primary care physicians the capability to detect directly a wide range of common medical disorders, such as anaemia and bacterial infection, and potentially life threatening conditions, including sepsis, thrombosis and sickle cell crisis.

As well as enabling an immediate medical response to be offered, SEFC could also allow large-scale screening for common blood disorders. Vitally, its ability to directly and continuously visualise blood cells flowing inside patients could also provide an early warning of a medical emergency, such as internal bleeding, in post-operative and critical-care conditions.

SEFC was developed by the Biomedical Optics Laboratory, headed by Dr. Dvir Yelin, at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. Their focus is the application of advanced optics to address some of today’s clinical challenges, particularly the development of non- or minimally-invasive diagnostic tools.

Here’s a description of the difficulties (and how they were solved) with imaging blood that’s beneath skin. From the Aug. 31, 2012 Andor news release,

According to Lior Golan, one of the researchers at the Biomedical Optics Laboratory, two major challenges needed to be solved. “SEFC Images of fast-moving blood cells are acquired from deep under the surface of the skin through tissue that scatters the light. This means that very little light is available and necessitates the use of a spectrometer equipped with a high-speed line camera. The Andor Newton DU970N-BV camera provided our team with a combination of high sensitivity and the required line rate for imaging physiological blood flow. Switching between 2-D image and full vertical binning mode on the Newton camera also made the alignment of the spectrometer very easy and the ability to customise the Labview software development kit to control the camera was very convenient.”

Having demonstrated the clinical potential of SEFC, the team believes that miniaturization of the probe’s optics is feasible to produce a compact, hand-held SEFC probe, free of moving parts and connected to the main system console by just a pair of optical fibers. This would allow the application of SEFC for minimally invasive applications, either as a standalone device or through the instrument channel of an endoscope.

Antoine Varagnat, Product Specialist at Andor, notes that “Overcoming the challenges of meaningful bio-parameters measurement in vivo while maximizing patient comfort has been an increasing research focal point in recent years. Golan’s team has been very successful in that regards with their innovative technique, taking full advantage of the ultra low-light detection capability and acquisition speed capabilities of Andor’s Newton EMCCD detector and also opening the door to routine in vivo, non-invasive blood diagnosis equipment in the near future”.

I always liked it when the ‘Star Trek’ doctors diagnosed problems non-invasively by moving a ‘tricorder’ or other device over the body and with this work in Israel we seem to be moving closer to making that fiction a reality.

David Koepsell: nanotechnology brings the intellectual property regime to an end

David Koepsell, author of Innovation and Nanotechnology: Converging Technologies and the End of Intellectual Property, is a philosopher, attorney, and educator who teaches at the Delft University of Technology (the Netherlands). He is also author of Who Owns You? The Corporate Gold Rush to Patent Your Genes.

In a Feb. 27, 2012 interview with Dr. J (James Hughes, executive director of the Institute of Ethics for Emerging Technologies [IEET] and producer/interviewer for Changesurfer radio), Koepsell discussed his book about nanotechnology and the disappearance of intellectual property regimes in a 28 min. 51 sec. podcast.

Koepsell and Dr. J provided a good description of converging technologies so I’m going to plunge in without much introduction.

I wasn’t expecting to hear about Marxism and the means of production but there it was, mentioned in the context of a near future society where manufacturing can be done by anyone, anywhere by means of molecular manufacturing or by means of 3D fabrication, or etc. The notion is that production will be democratized as will the intellectual property regime. There were several mentions of the state (government) no longer having control in the future over intellectual property, specifically patents and copyrights, and some discussion of companies that guard their intellectual property jealously. (I have commented on the intellectual property topic, most recently,  in my Patents as weapons and obstacles posting in October 2011. Koepsell is mentioned in this posting.)

Both Koepsell and the interviewer (Dr. J) mentioned the possibility of widespread economic difficulty as jobs disappear due to the disappearance of manufacturing and other associated jobs as people can produce their own goods (much like you can with Star Trek’s replicators). But it did seem they mentioned job loss somewhat blithely, secure in their own careers as academics who as a group are not known for their manufacturing prowess or, for that matter, the production of any goods whatsoever.

It seems to me this future bears a remarkable resemblance to the past, where people had to create their own products by raising their own food, spinning, weaving, and sewing their own clothes, etc. The Industrial Revolution changed all that and turned most folks into ‘wage slaves’. As I recall, that’s from Marx and it’s a description of a loss of personal agency/autonomy, i.e., being a slave to wages (no longer producing your own food, clothing, etc.) and not a reference to poor wages as many believe (including me until I got a somewhat snotty professor for one of my courses).

The podcast is definitely worth your time if you don’t mind the references to Marx (there aren’t many) as the ideas are provocative even if you don’t agree. Koepsell describes how his interest in this area was awakened (he wrote about software, which is both copyrightable as writing and patentable as a machine).

The book is available as a free download or you can purchase it here. Here’s a brief excerpt from the book’s introduction (I removed a citation number),

Science demands unfettered inquiry into the workings of nature, and replaces the confidence previously demanded over rote knowledge with a practiced skepticism, and ongoing investigation. With the rise of the age of science came the need to develop new means of treating information. Scientific investigations conducted by ‘natural philosophers’ could only be conducted in full view, out in the open, with results published in meetings of scientific societies and their journals. Supplanting secret-keeping and obscurantism, the full sunlight of public and peer scrutiny could begin to continually cleanse false assumptions and beliefs, and help to perfect theories about the workings of the world. Science demanded disclosure, where trades and arts often encouraged secrets. And so as natural philosophers began to disseminate the results of their investigations into nature, new forms of trade, art, and industry began to emerge, as well as the demand for new means of protection in the absence of secrecy. Thus, as the scientific age was dawning, and helping to fuel a new technological revolution, modern forms of IP [intellectual property] protection such as patents and copyrights emerged as states sought to encourage the development of the aesthetic and useful arts. By granting to authors and inventors a monopoly over the practice of their art, as long as they brought forth new and useful inventions (or for artistic works, as long as they were new), nation states helped to attract productive and inventive artisans and trades into their borders. These forms of state monopoly also enabled further centralization of trades and industries, as technologies now could become immune from the possibility of ‘reverse-engineering’ and competitors could be kept at bay by the force of law. This sort of state-sanctioned centralization and monopoly helped build the industrial revolution (by the account of many historians and economists, although this assumption has lately been challenged) as investors now could commodify new technologies free from the threat of direct competition, secure in the safe harbor of a state-supported monopoly over the practice of a useful art for a period of time.

In many ways, traditional IP [intellectual property] was (and is) deemed vital to the development of large industries and their infrastructures, and to the centralized, assembly-line factory mode of production that dominated the twentieth century. With the benefit of a state-sanctioned monopoly, industry could build sufficient infrastructure to dominate a market with a new technology for the duration of a patent. This confidence assured investors that there would be some period of return on the investment in which other potential competitors are held at bay, at least from practicing the art as claimed in the patent. Factories could be built, supply chains developed, and a market captured and profited from, and prices will not be subject to the ruthless dictates of supply and demand. Rather, because of the luxury of a protected market during the period of protection, innovators can inflate prices to not only recoup the costs of investment, but also profit as handsomely as the captive market will allow.

For most of the twentieth century, IP allowed the concentration of industrial production into the familiar factory, assembly-line model. Even while the knowledge behind new innovation moved eventually into the public domain as patents lapsed, during the course of the term of patent protection, strictly monopolized manufacturing processes and their products could be heavily capitalized, and substantial profits realized, before a technique or technology lost its protection. But the modes and methods of manufacturing are now changing, and the necessity of infrastructural investment is also being altered by the emergence of new means of production, including what we’ll call ‘micromanufacturing’, which is a transitional technology on the way to true MNT (molecular nanotechnology), and is included in our discussions of ‘nanowares’. Essentially, assembly-lines and supply chains that supported the huge monopolistic market dominance models of the industrial revolution, well into the twentieth century, are becoming obsolete. If innovation and production can be linked together with modern and futuristic breakthroughs in micromanufacturing (in which small components can be fabricated and produced en mass, cheaply) and eventually molecular manufacturing (in which items are built on the spot, from the ground up, molecule by molecule), then we should consider whether the IP regimes that helped fuel the industrial revolution are still necessary, or even whether they were ever necessary at all. Do they promote new forms of innovation and production, or might they instead stifle potentially revolutionary changes in our manners of creation and distribution?

Amusingly, towards the end of the interview Dr. J plugs Koepsell’s ‘nanotechnology’ book by noting it’s available for free downloads then saying ‘we’re hoping you’ll buy it’ (at the publisher’s site).

Are we creating a Star Trek world? T-rays and tricorders

There’s been quite a flutter online (even the Huffington Post has published a piece) about ‘Star Trek-hand-held medical scanners’ becoming possible due to some recent work in the area of T-rays. From the Jan. 20, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

Scientists who have developed a new way to create a type of radiation known as Terahertz (THz) or T-rays – the technology behind full-body security scanners – say their new, stronger and more efficient continuous wave T-rays could be used to make better medical scanning gadgets and may one day lead to innovations similar to the “tricorder” scanner used in Star Trek.

In a study published recently in Nature Photonics (“Greatly enhanced continuous-wave terahertz emission by nano-electrodes in a photoconductive photomixer” [behind a paywall]), researchers from the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE), a research institute of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore and Imperial College London in the UK have made T-rays into a much stronger directional beam than was previously thought possible and have efficiently produced T-rays at room-temperature conditions. This breakthrough allows future T-ray systems to be smaller, more portable, easier to operate, and much cheaper.

For anyone who’s not familiar with ‘Star Trek world’ and tricorders, here’s a brief description from a Wikipedia essay about tricorders,

In the fictional Star Trek universe, a tricorder is a multifunction handheld device used for sensor scanning, data analysis, and recording data.

David Freeman in his Jan. 21, 2012 article for the Huffington Post about the research puts it this way,

Trekkies, take heart. A scientific breakthrough involving a form of infrared radiation known as terahertz (THz) waves could lead to handheld medical scanners reminiscent of the “tricorder” featured on the original Star Trek television series.

What’s the breakthrough? Using nanotechnology, physicists in London and Singapore found a way to make a beam of the”T-rays”–which are now used in full-body airport security scanners–stronger and more directional.

Here’s how the improved T-ray technology works (from the Jan. 20, 2012 news item on Nanowerk),

In the new technique, the researchers demonstrated that it is possible to produce a strong beam of T-rays by shining light of differing wavelengths on a pair of electrodes – two pointed strips of metal separated by a 100 nanometre gap on top of a semiconductor wafer. The unique tip-to-tip nano-sized gap electrode structure greatly enhances the THz field and acts like a nano-antenna that amplifies the THz wave generated. The waves are produced by an interaction between the electromagnetic waves of the light pulses and a powerful current passing between the semiconductor electrodes from the carriers generated in the underlying semiconductor. The scientists are able to tune the wavelength of the T-rays to create a beam that is useable in the scanning technology.

Lead author Dr Jing Hua Teng, from A*STAR’s IMRE, said: “The secret behind the innovation lies in the new nano-antenna that we had developed and integrated into the semiconductor chip.” ….

Research co-author Stefan Maier, a Visiting Scientist at A*STAR’s IMRE and Professor in the Department of Physics at Imperial College London, said: “T-rays promise to revolutionise medical scanning to make it faster and more convenient, potentially relieving patients from the inconvenience of complicated diagnostic procedures and the stress of waiting for accurate results. Thanks to modern nanotechnology and nanofabrication, we have made a real breakthrough in the generation of T-rays that takes us a step closer to these new scanning devices. …”

It’s another story about handheld (or point-of-care) diagnostic devices and I have posted on this topic previously:

  • Jan. 4, 2012 about work in Alberta;
  •  Dec. 22, 2011 on grants to scientists in the US and Canada working on these devices;
  •  Aug. 4, 2011 about a diagnostic device the size of a credit card;
  •  Mar. 1, 2011 about nanoLAB from Stanford University (my last sentence in that posting “It’s not quite Star Trek yet but we’re getting there.”); and,
  •  Feb. 5, 2011 about the Argento and PROOF initiatives.

I see I had four articles last year and this year (one month old), I already have two articles on these devices. It reflects my own interest, as well as, the amount work being done in this area.