Neuroprosthetics, brain-computer interfaces and optogenetics

Our experience of reality is constrained by our biology. Our brain cells in combination with our sensory organs (i.e., eyes, ears), create systems that shape how we perceive the world. This system has a very limited range. We only see 'less than a 10-trillionth' of the world and of what’s happening around us at all times.

According to neuroscientist David Eagleman this doesn't have to be the case anymore. Eagleman recently pointed out at a TED talk that it is truly possible to add new senses using sensory substitution.

Sensory substitution is a non-invasive technique for circumventing the loss of one sense by feeding sensory data through other unusual sensory channels.  Eagleman noted that the brain can learn to extract the meaning of such information streams. "We are leveraging this technique to develop a non-invasive, low-cost vibratory vest to allow those with deafness or severe hearing impairments to perceive auditory information through small vibrations on their torso."

We could develop wireless, brain-to-brain communication, something called synthetic telepathy, and send messages to each other by thinking them.  

Mealworms can safely biodegrade various types of plastic

Stanford and Beihang University researchers have discovered that the common mealworm can biodegrade Styrofoam and other types of polystyrene, thanks to microorganisms in its guts that break down the plastic. This research opened a new door to solve the global plastic pollution problem. 

Image credit: Yu Yang......... Mealworms (larvae of the darkling beetle) munch on Styrofoam, a hopeful sign that solutions to plastics pollution exist. 

Image credit: Yu Yang......... Mealworms (larvae of the darkling beetle) munch on Styrofoam, a hopeful sign that solutions to plastics pollution exist. 

The key is the microorganisms in the worms’ digestive system. These “bugs-within-the-bugs” produce an enzyme that breaks down the foam into organic compounds. What the mealworms don’t digest, they expel as biodegradable substances that return to nature.

Not only can the mealworms biodegrade plastic that we previously thought was non-biodegradable, but the Styrofoam-munching mealworms were as healthy as those that ate a normal diet, and their waste is even safe enough to use as crop soil.

Why it's important: 
33 million tons of plastic are being discarded every year in the U.S. alone, and sadly less than 10 percent gets recycled. Mealworms could take care of a significant chunk of that non-recycled plastic. The researchers will next focus on whether the mealworms can digest other waste like polypropylene, microbeads and bioplastics. 

The papers, published in 'Environmental Science and Technology', are the first to provide detailed evidence of bacterial degradation of plastic in an animal's gut. Understanding how bacteria within mealworms carry out this feat could potentially enable new options for safe management of plastic waste. The researchers now plan to study the foam-degrading gut bacteria more closely and find out whether it’ll eat other environmental menaces. Read More

3D printed Fashion

3D scanners and printers could revolutionise the way we order our clothes in the future. Not only would this revolutionise fashion for the consumer but also for the designers and the manufacturers. Imagine what it would be like if we could have our own body scan and just order clothes that fit us perfectly?

3D printing fashion could possibly fill up the gap between Haute Couture, which is costume made and perfectly tailored for one single person, and the mass produced and limited sizing within Ready-to-Wear. 

The first printable material that is flexible, durable enough to be worn – and to be put in the washing machine. 

New possibility for reducing greenhouse gas in the environment

Nanoengineers at the University of California, San Diego have designed enzyme-functionalized micromotors the size of red blood cells that would be powered by the environment itself,

The micromotors can rapidly zoom around in water,  using enzymes to move around the sea, converting carbon dioxide into a usable solid form as they swim. The micromotors rapidly decarbonated water solutions that were saturated with carbon dioxide. Within five minutes, the micromotors removed 90 percent of the carbon dioxide from a solution of deionized water.

(credit: Laboratory for Nanobioelectronics, UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering)..... In the future, we could potentially use these micromotors as part of a water treatment system, like a water decarbonation plant.

(credit: Laboratory for Nanobioelectronics, UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering)..... In the future, we could potentially use these micromotors as part of a water treatment system, like a water decarbonation plant.

Ultrasound waves cleaning power

Can you imaging what it would be like if you could wash your hands thoroughly and effectively with nothing more than cold water? What it would be like if you could clean countertops, floors, or even medical tools without using any harsh chemicals?  

A new device called StarStream creates a whole new kind of cleaning solution by infusing H2O with ultrasonic bubbles. The device brings micro-scrubbing power to regular tap water or increasing the cleaning power of detergents.

StarStream gives tap water incredible cleaning power. This innovative technology has won The Royal Society’s prestigious Brian Mercer Award for Innovation 2011

As ultrasonic waves activate the stream of water from a single StarStream nozzle - the regular water is imbued with cleaning power.  The oscillation of the sound waves turns every bubble into a tiny micro-scrubber that can clean all kinds of complex surfaces (cracks, crevices, and practically any tough-to-reach spot) without bleach and chemical detergents. 

StarStream has also been used for cleaning surgical instruments and removing biological contaminants from medical appliances and surgical steel. It can also be used to remove dental bacteria that lead to common mouth, tongue, and tooth diseases, and the separation of soft tissue from bone, which is a crucial step to successful surgical transplants. In hospitals, StarStream could play a crucial role in maintaining a sterile environment without contributing to humanity’s ever decreasing antibiotic and anti-microbial resistance levels.


In the near future with further funding, the team will be able to shrink down the current design to a more readily-installable system. “If you can clean effectively, as we’re doing here, then you can stop the bugs ever entering the body. And if the bugs never enter the body the person doesn’t get an infection and you don’t have to use these antibiotics, anti-microbial agents. And you’ve got a whole different pathway for tackling this anti-microbial resistance catastrophe,” said Professor Leighton. In the future,  modifiable StarStreams could be attached to hand-washing stations in hospitals, or even regular sinks in public bathrooms everywhere.

The world's smallest cardiac pacemaker

Researchers have developed the world's smallest, minimally invasive pacemaker. New cardiac devices are small enough to be delivered through blood vessels into the heart, via an incision in the thigh. It's delivered via a catheter through the femoral vein and then positioned inside the right ventricle of the heart.

The findings also showed that the Micra TPS—about the size of a large vitamin—met safety and effectiveness endpoints with wide margins. In a recent international clinical trial, it was successfully implanted in 99.2 percent of the 725 patients, and 96 percent of patients experienced zero complications -- 51 percent less than normal procedures. Read More>

Artificial Intelligence (AI) & medical diagnoses

Can Artificial Intelligence (AI) help make better medical diagnoses?

Enlitic is building a computer system to help doctors make faster, more accurate diagnoses. Enlitic is using what’s known as “deep learning,”a system to help doctors diagnose problems with “every affliction in every part of the body". The AI can help detect and prevent cancer, pushing medicine firmly into the 21st century. Their deep-learning algorithms can be better at diagnosing tumors than doctors.

How does it work? Enlitic's technology uses a version of artificial intelligence. It takes medical information from one patient -- whether it's a CT scan, an X-ray or details about, say, a tumor -- and then converts it into a mathematical representation. It's then added to a large pool of data and compared to other patients who have experienced similar issues.


Spray On Solar Cells On Flexible Surfaces

A revolutionary innovation in solar technology was recently announced by researchers at the University of Toronto, that could lead to reducing the manufacturing costs of solar power.

Illan Kramer and a team of researchers at the university are working on portable solar generators that can be transported in a spray can and then sprayed anywhere where power is needed. "My dream is that one day you’ll have two technicians with Ghostbusters backpacks come to your house and spray your roof,” says Kramer. The team has invented a new small light-sensitive material called colloidal quantum dots (CQDs). Until now, CQDs could only be put on surfaces through a chemical coating batch process which is a slow, expensive assembly-line approach. They needed a new delivery system for the CQDs.

See a video demonstration of the SprayLD system below.

Kramer's research has been published across a series of journal articles, initially in Applied Physics Letters, then in Advanced Materials and most recently in ACS Nano.

According to Dr. Kramer, being able to spray on solar cells onto flexible surface means you can put an energy source on just about any object or shape. Imagine what it would be like if you could coat your outdoor furniture, bicycle helmets, your mobile phone or the wing of an airplane with solar cells. 


Wireless Hearable Headphones

The Dash is the World’s first completely wireless hearable: smart headphones offering freedom of movement, maximum comfort and high quality sound – all while audibly coaching, tracking movement and capturing key biometric data. Listen. Track. Communicate. The market launch is planned for Q1 2015. Read More

These wireless in-ear headphones will not only put an end to your tangled wire woes, they'll also measure your heart rate, body temperature, speed, number of steps and number of calories burned, and they play music pretty well, too. They'll sit in your ear. Price: $299 (pre-order)

Molecular Scanner - a future of endless possibilities.

“Futuristic” Molecular Scanner - SCiO is a small handheld scanner that you can use to scan your food to see how many calories are in your meal, the amount of fat or sugars, how ripe a fruit is, and even how pure a cooking oil is. It can tell you whether your plant needs more water and what’s in the pills your doctor prescribed.

Imagine what it would be like to being able to tell whether the soil or food contains harmful chemicals or nutrient deficiencies. Wouldn't it be amazing to be able to know for sure the foods you are eating have the vitamins and minerals they say they do?

Printing human body parts using 3D printing

The use of 3D printers outside the fields of product engineering and manufacturing and to print off a kidney or another human organ may sound like something out of a   science fiction story. But now this science fiction is a reality. 

Unlike normal printers, Bioprinters use a "bio-ink" made of living cell mixtures to form human tissue. Basically, the bio-ink is used to build a 3D structure of cells, layer by layer, to form tissue.  Organovo, with the help of the Australian company Invetech, was the first company to launch a commercial 3D bioprinter. The company originally intended to sell its printer, which is called the NovoGen MMX bio-printer, to other companies for use. 

According to researchers, 3D printing will make organ transplants easier because organs and tissues can be generated on demand. It can also lessen organ rejection among patients because the living cells used in engineering these organs can be harvested from the patient’s body itself. Organovo , a San Diego-based company that focuses on regenerative medicine, is one company using 3D bio-printers to print functional human tissue for medical research and regenerative therapies.


Australian scientists have found a way to grow human body parts using 3D printing technology. Instead of using traditional materials such as plastics or metals however, the team hopes that the printers will be able to create new body parts out of the patient’s own skin cells – a concept that Professor Mark Cook, director of neuroscience, has described as “quite incredible and limitless”. This will become invaluable for doctors because these machines help them do their jobs with a higher degree of precision. 


University of Wollongong researchers are leading the way in this area using a 3D bio-plotter, the first of its kind in Australia. This machine is able to use bio-materials to print material in a sterile environment that more accurately represents human tissue. It's possible to print devices and structures that can be implanted in human bodies, and these devices can have cells grown on them so that bodily functions can be replicated on these very tiny devices.

Whilst similar projects are being conducted globally to recreate body parts, the Australian partnership between St. Vincents and ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science have sought government assistance to accelerate proceedings, in order to position Melbourne in the forefront of this area of research.


Is your business investing in 3D printing?

Is your organization investing in 3D printing technology? If your business isn't already investing in 3D printing, you must ask yourself  "Why not?"

3D printing – also known as additive manufacturing – is part of a rapidly growing market whereby a print head deposits very thin layers of resin on top of each other in a specified fashion to create a 3D object based on a digital model. 

3D printing is achieved using additive processes, in which an object is created by laying down successive layers of material such as plastic, ceramics, glass or metal to print an object.  The unforeseen possibilities that 3D printers could offer are endless. The ability to create higher quality products or parts more efficiently is attracting more and more industries to the technology. Companies including Boeing, General Electric and Honeywell use this type of 3D printing to manufacture parts.


The 3D printing technology is not only limited to the industries of Product Design and Development but is also ideal for other industries such a metal casting, jewelery and dental. 3D printers are already in use among many businesses, from manufacturing to pharmaceuticals to consumers goods, and have generated a diverse set of use cases.

A recent Gartner report says "Early Adopters of 3D Printing Technology Could Gain an Innovation Advantage Over Rivals". The report predicting that enterprise-class 3D printers will be available for less than $2,000 by 2016. Check out the Gartner Report


Virtual and Real world experience

IBM Research thinks that in the next five years our mobile devices will bring together virtual and real world experiences to not just shop, but feel the surface of produce, and get feedback on data such as freshness or quality.

In 5 years, you will be able to touch through your phone. IBM is working on bringing a sense of touch to mobile devices, and bringing together virtual and real world experiences for a number of industries including retail. Shoppers will be able to "feel" the texture and weave of a fabric or product by brushing their finger over the item's image on a device's screen.