Bacteria Bots Light Up, Talk to Each Other
An artist's rendering of a bacterial cell engineered to produce nanofibers that incorporate particles such as quantum dots (red and green spheres) or gold nanoparticles.
This week, tech delves deep into the microscopic and then soars high into space.
NET SCULPTURE ABOVE:
Inspired years ago by the traditional, hand-tied nets Indian fishermen made, artist Janet Echelman has taken the idea of netting to another level. Her latest net sculpture, called Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks, hangs in Vancouver and is a giant, billowing beauty that, like her previous works, combines tradition with technology.
Custom 3-D software as well as NASA-grade fiber make this lightweight, floating sculpture 15 times stronger than steel by weight. At night, visitors can influence an interactive light-show, designed in collaboration with Aaron Koblin of Google’s Creative Lab, by using their mobile devices.
Most balls bounce, but this one hovers. Japanese engineer Jun Rekimoto developed a drone-powered ball that floats at a variety of speeds and can move in any direction -- even dodging other players. Such an "anti-gravity" ball could drastically change sporting events as we know them.
Baxter by Rethink Robotics and REEM-C by Pal Robotics became friends at Innorobo 2014, the 4th international trade show on service robotics.
John C. Mankins
As the price of solar power comes down, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory wants to take it out of this world. Spacecraft engineer Paul Jaffe is working on solar modules that could be launched into space, where a ring of reflectors would concentrate solar power onto a giant, orbiting array. The structure could power an entire city.
Most musicians use sheet music to play a song. But Moscow-born Dmitry Morozov uses an instrument that plays a tattoo on his skin. As part of his project, called Reading My Body, Morozov designed an electronic instrument embedded with sensors to produce sound when it detected dark ink. See the instrument in actionhere
Bao Lab/Stanford University
For the first time, scientists have designed a superflexible circuit from carbon nanotubes that can both withstand electrical fluctuations and consume low power.
Zhenan Bao of Stanford University and his colleagues figured out a way to sort nanotubes in a way that separated those that conduct electrons from those that didn't. The results could one day lead to circuits that outperform ones made from rigid silicon, while at the same being flexible and strong.
If we can embed technology into humans to improve function, why not do it to plants? When chemical engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology injected plant cells with single-walled carbon nanotubes, chloroplasts -- which absorb light from the sun and convert it into chemical energy -- were coaxed to photosynthesize more efficiently than normal.
With this and other plant-augmenting techniques, chemical engineers may one day develop plants that function as pollution detectors.
With so many people crowded together in one place, subways are a haven for bacteria and viruses. But a new strap concept called Cyclean could make hanging on germ-free. The strap, which was designed by Li Jiyang, Liu Tao, Qiu Zhen, Zeng Jiayu and Zhou Shen, rotates through a small plastic chamber that contains a rough sponge, a cleaning and disinfecting agent and rollers. The team recently won a Red Dot Award for their clean idea.
Christopher Christophi and Lucas Mazarrasa
This far-out concept for public transportation could save space and increase rider capacity. The Hyper-Speed Vertical Train Hub, comes from British designers Christopher Christophi and Lucas Mazarrasa and is designed to park trains vertically on a skyscraper. When it comes time to make the rounds, a train shoots down the side of a building into an underground tunnel. The seats pivot like those on a Ferris wheel to keep riders level. Hang on for the ride!
Once just a rumor, Sony finally unveiled the virtual reality headset for the PlayStation 4. The hardware, called "Project Morpheus," has a 1080p display, just over a 90-degree field of view and positional head tracking. Although still in a prototype stage, the headset should be available soon for gamers.
Nearly four decades ago, researchers managed to coax the bacterium Escherichia coli (E. coli) into producing a protein. Now researchers at MIT have devised a way to combine a living E. coli cell with inanimate building blocks, like gold nanoparticles and quantum dots, to create a hybrid “living material.”
The MIT researchers have managed to get the bacterium to produce a biofilm that is able to attach to different nanoparticles, resulting in a hybrid living material that responds to its environment, produces complex biological molecules, and spans multiple length scales. The properties that these living materials take on include the ability to conduct electricity and emit light.
The research, which was published in the journal Nature Materials ("Synthesis and patterning of tunable multiscale materials with engineered cells"), is expected to serve as a demonstration of the new approach's potential to produce larger devices such as solar cells, self-healing materials, or diagnostic sensors.
“Our idea is to put the living and the nonliving worlds together to make hybrid materials that have living cells in them and are functional,” said Timothy Lu, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and biological engineering at MIT, in a press release. “It’s an interesting way of thinking about materials synthesis, which is very different from what people do now, which is usually a top-down approach.”
The researchers chose to use E. coli since it naturally produces a biofilm. This biofilm contains something dubbed “curli fibers,” which are amyloid proteins that help the bacteria attach to surfaces. The researchers modify the repeating protein chain of the curli fibers (called CsgA) by adding protein fragments called peptides. By modifying the curli fibers that attach to different substances, it’s possible to create a range of hybrid materials. They can create gold nanowires that behave like a conducting film or tiny crystals that exhibit quantum mechanical properties.
Perhaps the most significant property of these hybrid materials is that they can communicate with each other. “It’s a really simple system but what happens over time is you get curli that’s increasingly labeled by gold particles. It shows that indeed you can make cells that talk to each other and they can change the composition of the material over time,” Lu said in the release. “Ultimately, we hope to emulate how natural systems, like bone, form. No one tells bone what to do, but it generates a material in response to environmental signals,” said Lu.
Early application ideas for the hybrid materials include batteries and solar cells, but the researchers are also investigating the potential of coating the biofilms with enzymes to catalyze the breakdown of cellulose, which could be useful for converting agricultural waste to biofuel.
Get more from IEEE Spectrum
‘Borophene’ Might Be Joining Graphene in the 2-D Material C
How to Make a Better Invisibility Cloak—With Lasers
Nanopillars Could be Key to Efficient Thermoelectric Materials
This article originally appeared on IEEE Spectrum; all rights reserved.