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Credit: Image courtesy of Ahmad Rafsanjani/Harvard SEAS

Bioinspired soft actuator crawls without rigid parts

Who needs legs? With their sleek bodies, snakes can slither up to 14 miles-per-hour, squeeze into tight space, scale trees and swim. How do they do it? It’s all in the scales. As a snake moves, its scales grip the ground and propel the body forward — similar to how crampons help hikers establish footholds in slippery ice. This so-called friction-assisted locomotion is possible because of the shape and positioning of snake scales. Now, a team of researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) has developed a soft robot that uses those same principles of locomotion to crawl without any rigid components. The soft robotic scales are made using... more read more

Credit: David Baillot/UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering

A team led by engineers at the University of California San Diego has used data mining and computational tools to discover a new phosphor material for white LEDs that is inexpensive and easy to make.

Researchers built prototype white LED light bulbs using the new phosphor. The prototypes exhibited better color quality than many commercial LEDs currently on the market. Researchers published the new phosphor on Feb. 19 in the journal Joule. Phosphors, which are substances that emit light, are one of the key ingredients to make white LEDs. They are crystalline powders that absorb energy from blue or near-UV light and emit light in the visible spectrum. The combination of the different colored light creates white light. The phosphors used in many commercial white LEDs have several disadvantages, however. Many are made of rare-earth elements, which are expensive, and some are difficult... more read more

Credit: WMG, University of Warwick

Researchers at WMG at the University of Warwick have developed a new direct, precise test of Lithium-ion batteries’ internal temperatures and their electrodes potentials and found that the batteries can be safely charged up to five times faster than the current recommended charging limits.

The new technology works in-situ during a battery’s normal operation without impeding its performance and it has been tested on standard commercially available batteries. Such new technology will enable advances in battery materials science, flexible battery charging rates, thermal and electrical engineering of new battery materials/technology and it has the potential to help the design of energy storage systems for high performance applications such as motor racing and grid balancing. If a battery becomes over heated it risks severe damage particularly to its electrolyte and can even lead to dangerous situations where the electrolyte breaks down to form gases than are both flammable and... more read more

Credit: National University of Science and Technology MISIS

A group of NUST MISIS’s young scientists, for the very first time in Russia, has presented a new therapeutic material based on nanofibers made of polycaprolactone modified with a thin-film antibacterial composition and plasma components of human blood.

Biodegradable bandages made from these fibers will accelerate the growth of tissue cells twice as quickly, contributing to the normal regeneration of damaged tissues, as well as preventing the formation of scars in cases of severe burns. In regenerative medicine, and particularly in burn therapy, the effective regeneration of damaged skin tissue and the prevention of scarring are usually the main goals. Scars form when skin is badly damaged, whether through a cut, burn, or a skin problem such as acne or fungal infection. Scar tissue mainly consists of irreversible collagen and significantly differs from the tissue it replaces, having reduced functional properties. For example, scars on... more read more

Credit: Dennis R. Wise/University of Washington

University of Washington engineers have turned tissue paper – similar to toilet tissue – into a new kind of wearable sensor that can detect a pulse, a blink of an eye and other human movement.

The sensor is light, flexible and inexpensive, with potential applications in health care, entertainment and robotics. The technology, described in a paper published in January in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies, shows that by tearing tissue paper that’s loaded with nanocomposites and breaking the paper’s fibers, the paper acts as a sensor. It can detect a heartbeat, finger force, finger movement, eyeball movement and more, said Jae-Hyun Chung, a UW associate professor of mechanical engineering and senior author of the research. “The major innovation is a disposable wearable sensor made with cheap tissue paper,” said Chung. “When we break the specimen, it will work... more read more

Credit: Rob Wolfs

3D-printed materials commonly are soft and flexible during printing, leaving printed walls susceptible to collapse or falling over. Akke Suiker, professor in Applied Mechanics at Eindhoven University of Technology, had a Eureka moment and saw the solution to this structural problem.

He developed a model with which engineers can now easily determine the dimensions and printing speeds for which printed wall structures remain stable. His formulae are so elementary that they can become commonplace in the fast growing field of 3D printing. Conventional concrete deposited in formwork typically is allowed to harden over period of several weeks. But 3D-printed concrete is not. With no supporting formwork, it almost immediately has to bear the weight of the subsequent layers of concrete that are printed on top of it. Everybody can feel the tension rising in their body as the structure gets higher. Is it already stiff and strong enough to add yet another layer on top? It is one... more read more

Credit: Cockrell School of Engineering

A team of chemical engineers at The University of Texas at Austin has developed a new, cost-effective method for synthetically producing a biorenewable platform chemical called triacetic acid lactone (TAL) that can be used to produce innovative new drugs and sustainable plastics at an industrial scale, as described this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Led by Hal Alper, professor in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering in the Cockrell School of Engineering, the team’s new method involves engineering the yeast Y. lipolytica to increase production of TAL, a polyketide, to levels that far exceed current bioproduction methods. This was accomplished by rewiring metabolism in the yeast through synthetic biology and genetic engineering. Ultimately, the research team increased production capacity tenfold, enabling polyketides to be mass-produced for incorporation into a variety of new applications in industry. Polyketides are an important class of naturally derived molecules that can be used to make many useful products such as nutritional... more read more

Credit: Greer Lab

Synthesizing organic scaffolds that contain metal ions enables 3-D printing of metallic structures that are orders of magnitude smaller than previously possible

For the first time, it is possible to create complex nanoscale metal structures using 3-D printing, thanks to a new technique developed at Caltech. The process, once scaled up, could be used in a wide variety of applications, from building tiny medical implants to creating 3-D logic circuits on computer chips to engineering ultralightweight aircraft components. It also opens the door to the creation of a new class of materials with unusual properties that are based on their internal structure. The technique is described in a study that will be published in Nature Communications on February 9. In 3-D printing—also known as additive manufacturing—an object is built layer by layer, allowing... more read more

Credit: Jianliang Xiao / University of Colorado Boulder

CU Boulder researchers have developed a new type of malleable, self-healing and fully recyclable “electronic skin” that has applications ranging from robotics and prosthetic development to better biomedical devices.

Electronic skin, known as e-skin, is a thin, translucent material that can mimic the function and mechanical properties of human skin. A number of different types and sizes of wearable e-skins are now being developed in labs around the world as researchers recognize their value in diverse medical, scientific and engineering fields. The new CU Boulder e-skin has sensors embedded to measure pressure, temperature, humidity and air flow, said Jianliang Xiao, an assistant professor in CU Boulder's Department of Mechanical Engineering who is leading the research effort with Wei Zhang, an associate professor in CU Boulder's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry as well as a faculty... more read more

Credit: American Chemical Society

ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces:

In nature, colors can serve as a form of communication, but they can also hide animals and plants, camouflaging them from sight. Researchers now report in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces that they have developed polymers that can better mimic nature’s color-changing abilities than existing polymers. They say the materials could enable smart decorations, camouflage textiles and improved anti-counterfeiting measures. Most of the colors that people are familiar with, such as hues on a piece of paper, are made with pigments. But another type, called structural color, exists, in which the color is produced by periodically arranged microscopic structures that interfere with visible light... more read more

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