miércoles, 29 de julio de 2015

NASA rocket could defy laws of physics and fly to moon in 4hrs

German scientists have confirmed that the so-called "EMDrive" rocket created by NASA could defy the known laws of physics and be capable of flying to the moon in just four hours.

While the invention doesn't create Star Trek "warp drive," it has been calculated that it could generate speeds sufficient to reach Mars in 70 days, travel beyond the Solar System in 18 months or so — it took New Horizon nine years to get to Pluto — and make a round trip to explore alien life on all of Saturn's moons in only three years.

These latest tests appear to confirm that we could be on the verge of an epoch-making leap forward in space travel — a breakthrough which might make intergalactic space exploration, encounters with alien life and colonization of distant planets a real possibility.

Originally, NASA scientists doubted the validity of their own results from the rocket tests, as the EMDrive (electromagnetic propulsion drive,) seemed to defy the laws of physics.

Back in April, NasaSpaceFlight.com reported that; "Thrust measurements of the EMDrive defy classical physics’ expectations that such a closed (microwave) cavity should be unusable for space propulsion because of the law of conservation of momentum."

However, The Mail Online explains that;

"The concept of an EmDrive engine is relatively simple. It provides thrust to a spacecraft by bouncing microwaves around in a closed container. Solar energy provides the electricity to power the microwaves, which means that no propellant is needed."

Science Alert says that the drive creates huge amounts of propulsion without the need for rocket fuel;
"Instead, it's apparently propelled forward by microwaves bouncing back and forth inside an enclosed chamber."
EMDrive rocket
Roger Sawyer
In doing so, the journal explains, "it defies one of the fundamental concepts of physics - the conservation of momentum, which states that for something to be propelled forward, some kind of propellant needs to be pushed out in the opposite direction."

For this reason, the concept was ignored or ridiculed by scientists, when it was first put forward in the early 2000s by British scientist, Roger Shawyer, and there are still many skeptics looking to find other reasons to explain why the rocket cannot be feasible.

However, Chinese scientists later built their own version, which worked. So NASA's Eagleworks Laboratories also set about testing Shawyer's rocket.

To everyone's amazement, it seemed to work, and NASA's experiments have now been confirmed by rigorous tests carried out by professor Martin Tajmar, at Dresden University of Technology in Germany, who presented his results at the 2015 American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics' Propulsion and Energy Forum and Exposition in Florida two days ago.

Commenting on Tajmar's experiments, Wired.com says that;
"The obvious sources of error -- air currents, leaking microwaves, ionisation -- have long ago been ruled out. But this is the first time that someone with a well-equipped lab and a strong background in tracking experimental error has been involved, rather than engineers who may be unconsciously influenced by a desire to see it work."

The problem is, however, nobody can yet explain this "impossible thrust" which is generated – something Shawyer estimated to be several thousand times greater than a normal photon rocket.

According to Hacked.com, Dr. Harold G. “Sonny” White at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) has suggested that;
"The EM Drive’s thrust is due to virtual particles in the quantum vacuum that behave like propellant ions in magneto-hydrodynamical propulsion systems, extracting "fuel" from the very fabric of space-time and eliminating the need to carry propellant."

From Tajmar's Propulsion and Energy Forum paper, 
co-authored by G. Fiedler Martin Tajmar

This would overturn some fundamental tenants of quantum physics because particles in the quantum vacuum cannot be ionised, so therefore you cannot push against it, says the Mail Online.

But as Wired.com commented;
"Some damage to our theories of physics is an acceptable payoff if we get a working space drive."

Tajmar concluded his studies by saying;
"Additional tests need to be carried out to study the magnetic interaction of the power feeding lines used for the liquid metal contacts."

"Nevertheless, we do observe thrusts close to the magnitude of the actual predictions after eliminating many possible error sources that should warrant further investigation into the phenomena."

A Romanian engineer, Berca Lulian, has also carried out similar experiments which he has published, and which tend to confirm the current findings. Indeed, the new site EmDrive Wiki lists over a dozen other projects which are currently trying to replicate the results.

Commenting on the findings, NASA officials said online that: "There are many 'absurd' theories that have become reality over the years of scientific research."

Until there is a theoretical explanation for what is happening, some skepticism in the scientific community is bound to continue. However, as Wired.com adds in another article;
"There is no accepted theoretical explanation of how high-temperature superconductors work either, but because the effect has been replicated so many times, nobody doubts that it happens."

ORIGINAL: Digital Journal}

Cecil and the conservation of lions

At the WildCRU, in the Recanati-Kaplan Centre at Oxford, we are studying lions in various parts of Africa to uncover the science that will inform and underpin their conservation. This is urgent, because lion numbers are precariously low, estimated at fewer than 30,000 across the continent and we have evidence that there are actually fewer. We have worked on the lions of Hwange National Park, with the support and collaboration of the excellent Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. Our goal is to understand the threats that lions face, and to use cutting-edge science to develop solutions to those threats. Our work is scientific, we have satellite-tracked the movements of over a hundred lions and monitored every detail of the lives of more than 500 individuals, but WildCRU’s work is also highly practical – we run a courageous anti-poaching team, a local conservation theatre group, and education campaign that gets information into every school in the district, and we work with local farmers to help them live alongside lions and improve their livelihoods.

Cecil was one of our study lions. We had followed his movements in minute detail since 2008 – these are remarkable data. Of course, as people devoted to wildlife, and having known Cecil personally, we are deeply saddened by his death, and insofar as this happened allegedly illegally we consider it deeply reprehensible (and we are working closely with the National Parks authorities to support their meticulous work in prosecuting this case). We support all efforts to prevent illegal and unscrupulous hunts.

Despite our sadness, as scientists, we seek to learn from this event, and to find some benefit from it. A very important aspect of lion conservation is what we call the perturbation effect: namely the cascading effects on the surviving lions of the death of one of them – in brief, we have found that when a male lion is killed, because of the way their society works, a likely consequence is the overthrow and death of other adult male members of his weakened coalition (normally of brothers), and the subsequent infanticide of his cubs by the incoming new coalition of males. We are working hard to study the consequences of Cecil's death on his pride and their neighbours, so that we learn as much as possible. This requires hard work, manpower and expensive equipment, as does our wider work on lion conservation in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Africa.

Cecil's apparently illegal death is tragic, but many people have asked us if any good can come of it.
  • First, it is amazing that this episode has heightened awareness of lion conservation worldwide. Supporting conservation is the purpose of our work – conservation involves huge challenges, both in the science and the practice, and we are deeply grateful for the public interest and support. 
  • Second, people have asked if they can support our work through donations – the answer is yes, urgently, and we rely entirely on philanthropy. Donations could support the purchase of more satellite tracking collars, support of our field vehicles and field staff, also, very importantly; we train wonderful young Zimbabwean conservationists, bringing some of them to Oxford on scholarships for world-class training in conservation.
We are a team of world-class professionals, and our equipment and operating costs, working under challenging conditions, is expensive. People have asked how much this work costs. It costs us approximately £150,000 pa to maintain the lion project at its current level of excellence, and in reality we need to expand it, to study and conserve lions over the entire landscape that spans western Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia. We can do this only if we secure funds. To give you an idea, each satellite collar costs about £1,500, with an annual fee to download the hourly locations from the satellite of £500. We need £20,000 pa to keep our anti-poaching team in the field, cutting illegal snare wires. To bring a Zimbabwean student to study conservation in Oxford on our world-renowned Diploma course costs £15,000. We need four wheel-drive vehicles, tyres for them, fuel to run them – so no donation is too small to be helpful.

Professor Macdonald, Director of the WildCRU said, “It is twenty years since Dr Andy Loveridge and I set up this project, and our scientific findings have made a major contribution to lion conservation – the best hope for lions lies in having the best possible conservation science, and that is what we at the WildCRU are dedicated to discovering”. He added “Cecil was a glorious male lion, with a fascinating family history as he maintained a large pride. Just a few months ago we were thrilled to watch him at close quarters in the field, and so his seemingly illegal death is heartbreaking. However, our goal is to learn from it. Good can come from this if the world's attention can lead to support for our work to improve lion conservation – helping us buy satellite collars, maintain our field vehicles and train excellent young Zimbabwean conservationists". Professor Macdonald emphasised the excellent work of the Zimbabwean Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and said "The WildCRU team is working hard to support the Zimbabwe Parks Authority in their diligent efforts to enforce the law".

Further quotes from David Macdonald: "I am horrified at the illegal death of Cecilour team is working hard to support the diligent efforts of Zimbabwe's excellent National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority as they seek to stamp out such illegal killing of lions and work hard for the conservation of these magnificent animals"

"The modern world is a hostile place for large carnivores like lions. It will take all our ingenuity and determination to secure their conservation alongside the development of local communities. Conservation solutions depend on the best possible science, for the benefit of wildlife and local people, and the WildCRU's work is dedicated to undertaking that science and working with policy-makers to implement it. We desperately need support – millions of people have been affected by Cecil's death – and by the plight of lions in general - and imagine they are powerless at preventing further lion decline. However, those millions can make an immediate and real difference – if each of them made a pledge of support to the WildCRU this would revolutionise our work for conservation, and hugely improve the long-term outlook for lions both in Zimbabwe and elsewhere. That would be a worth memorial to a lion as magnificent as Cecil, who has provided so much to WildCRU and the world".

Donations can be made at :

University of Oxford,
Recanati-Kaplan Centre, Tubney House,
Abingdon Road, Tubney, UK. OX13 5QL


Life with the lions: revisited

The killing of Cecil the lion has captured the public's imagination: he was one of the lions fitted with a GPS collar as part of Oxford University research led by Andrew Loveridge

Below we revisit an interview with Andrew about his research first published in 2012. You can support WildCRU lion research here.

Andrew Loveridge with GPS collared lioness. Photo: Andrew Loveridge

They are one of the world’s most charismatic big cats, but what does it take to understand the lives of wild lions?
Someone who knows is Andrew Loveridge of Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), who has been studying lions in Zimbabwe for over a decade and recently won the SATIB Trust Award for his lion biology and conservation work.

I asked Andrew about how he tracks and studies lions, gaining insights into lion behaviour, and how people can live alongside these iconic predators…

OxSciBlog: What are the challenges of studying lions in the wild?
Andrew Loveridge: Lions tend to live in the last wilderness areas of the planet - and these are naturally remote and often fairly inhospitable to people (the reason they remain wilderness areas in the first place). Most people visualise Africa as being Disney-like wide open plains, and while plains habitats do exist in Africa, much of the continent is more densely wooded.

Hwange, the National Park we work in, is one such place being thickly wooded bushland-savannah with very few access roads. Lions in this ecosystem have home ranges in excess of 300km2 so they are typically tricky to find and study.

Monitoring enough of the population to provide a meaningful scientific insight into population processes and behaviour presents quite severe logistical challenges. We overcome this by covering extensive areas in 4X4 vehicles - often spending weeks at a time camping in remote areas of the park, by using technology such as GPS radio-collars (and recently GPS collars that return our data via satellite) and having access to a micro-light aircraft which helps us locate lions more easily.

Of course all this requires considerable funding to put in place and maintain, so outside the field the biggest challenge is raising the funding to maintain the study. We have been very fortunate in recent years to have received substantial grants from Panthera, Thomas and Daphne Kaplan, and recently the Robertson Foundation, as well as ongoing support from the SATIB Trust.

OSB: How can fieldwork studies help to inform conservation efforts?
AL: A common misconception is that lions are common and widespread in Africa. Whilst it is true that lions are commonly sighted in some of Africa’s well protected photographic safari destinations they fare less well in areas with limited or no protection. In such areas they compete with burgeoning human populations for limited space and resources. In the last 50-100 years the geographic range of the African lion is thought to have declined by 80%.

Surprisingly, for such an iconic and well known species, even basic biological statistics such as population size and crude population trends are unknown for many (if not most) lion populations in Africa. Along with our more academically-orientated scientific work we provide local managers and decision makers with the baseline information they need to adequately manage lion and other wildlife populations. In this way our work has a direct influence on conservation planning and policy.

We are only just learning what long term effects human activities, such as trophy hunting and retaliatory killing over livestock loss have on lion populations. A better understanding of these issues helps African conservationists to preserve and manage a species that has huge economic, ecological and cultural importance. Robust conservation decisions need to be based on reliable and detailed biological information.

OSB: What surprises about lion behaviour has your research revealed?
AL: Lions are probably one of the best-studied mammalian species, nevertheless, they still do things that surprise and intrigue our research team. Possibly one of the most intriguing aspects of lion behaviour is their wide ranging behaviour and ability to move over extensive areas. Understanding these movements is one of the key challenges in protecting lion populations because wide ranging carnivores frequently come into conflict with people. Protected areas need to be large to accommodate the ranging behaviour of large carnivores.

The surprisingly extensive movement of our lions was recently illustrated by a male lion that moved from our study area in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, to Livingstone town in Zambia. This movement took just over a month and in this time the lion walked around 220km. He crossed the 100m wide Zambezi River below Victoria Falls, negotiating the substantial white water rapids.

We have recorded extensive ranging movements in the past particularly in young dispersing males. However, this is longest movement and this particular study animal was 10 years old - which makes this behaviour even more intriguing. This demonstrates how little we actually know about movements of lions between regional populations. This is crucial information if we are to avoid population isolation which could spell disaster for the genetic health and long-term viability of large carnivore populations.

The other unique aspect of lion behaviour revealed by our study is the lions’ unusual behavioural responses to the local ecosystem. In the dry season in Hwange National Park water is provided for wildlife at artificially pumped waterholes. These attract high abundances of prey species and our research has revealed that lions configure their ranges to ensure access to this rich prey resource.

Elephants are the most locally abundant herbivore in the area. Because of their massive size elephants are usually not troubled by lions, however lions in our study area have learned to pick out and kill even quite large elephant calves. Elephants make up a significant proportion of lion diet in the ecosystem, particularly in dry years when elephants are stressed by shortage of browse and water.

OSB: How can this research help people to live alongside lions?
AL: The research team in Hwange has just completed the first phase of a human-wildlife conflict project, focused on conflict with lions, but also including species such as the spotted hyaena in the research. This phase has focussed on understanding both the ecological and human economic and sociological factors that contribute to conflict situations. Understanding the root causes of human-wildlife will hopeful allow us to implement locally suitable interventions in the next three-year phase of the project, funded by Panthera and the Robertson Foundation.

In the nearby Makgadikgadi ecosystem in Botswana a recent WildCRU study discovered that lions feed almost exclusively on wild prey when it is seasonally abundant, but in periods of wild prey shortage they switch to killing perennially abundant domestic livestock. Lions appear to weigh up the considerable risks of killing domestic stock by only doing so in times of wild prey scarcity. This pattern is mirrored in the Hwange ecosystem. Here we have found that lion predation on livestock peaks in the wet season.

There are two reasons for this:

  • Firstly water is freely available in thousands of ephemeral waterholes and wild prey disperses widely throughout the ecosystem. This makes wild prey more difficult and less predictable for lions to find. 
  • At the same time people in surrounding communities plant their crops in the wet season. Livestock guarding is neglected as people focus on tending their fields, leaving domestic animals vulnerable to predation.
Understanding the underlying ecological processes is the key to putting in place appropriate and successful interventions to ease or eliminate human-wildlife conflict. It would be pointless and expensive to implement inappropriate or ill conceived interventions that do not address the root causes of the problem. To address some of the conflict problems we are designing suitably targeted livestock husbandry systems, investigating the potential use of predator proof fencing and seasonal protective structures. We are employing local men to assist villagers to improve livestock protection and to deter predators.

OSB: How will the SATIB award/land rover help in your work?
AL: It is a huge honour to accept the 2012 SATIB Award, especially knowing how passionate and dedicated Brian Courtenay and the other Trustees of the SATIB trust are to conservation of African wildlife and wild places. It has also been a great opportunity to raise the profile of the lion project and what we are trying to achieve in conservation of the species and its habitat.

Like the species we study, lion researchers have to cover extensive areas of remote and often inhospitable wilderness. Having a tough and reliable off-road-capable research vehicle, such as the specially fitted Land Rover Defender LWB that came with the SATIB award, is an absolutely essential part of undertaking research on this species. In the coming year the project team will also be undertaking survey work in the surrounding region, so having a new vehicle will be extremely helpful.

OSB: What's next for the Hwange Lion Project/your research?
AL: Long-term biological studies are relatively rare. The Hwange Lion Project has been running for just over 12 years, during which time we have gained a unique insight into the population dynamics and conservation of this particular lion population.

The core of our effort is to maintain the monitoring work and continue to add to this long-term understanding. In addition to this we are continuing undertake research on human-wildlife conflict at the borders of Hwange National Park and this year we will be embarking on some exciting new initiatives to work with local communities to reduce levels of human-lion conflict. In doing so we hope to reduce the number of lions killed by angry herders over loss of domestic stock.

Another exciting component of the project is an initiative to identify and conserve habitat corridors that that link the core Hwange lion population with other regional protected areas. We have already found evidence that these exist and it is important that habitat corridors are recognised and protected in the face of ever expanding human populations.

My other research includes a three-year project, funded by the Darwin Initiative for Biodiversity, on the sustainable management of leopards in Zimbabwe.

29 Jul 2015

viernes, 24 de julio de 2015

CEO Jennifer Lewis on the Future of Electronics 3D Printing & Voxel8’s Huge $12M Funding

This year, one startup shook the industry with the potential to push 3D printing to the next level and it wasn’t Carbon3D. Though Carbon3D’s ultra-fast CLIP technology has huge implications for the potential of 3D printing, it can only satiate the desire for speed and instant gratification. Still, CLIP will be, at least as it was presented to the public, a method for producing parts. Voxel8, however, is working towards the ability to produce, not parts, but completely functional objects with their Developer’s Kit, a unique desktop platform for 3D printing electronics and other multi-material objects. And, now, the Boston-based Harvard spin-out has obtained $12 million to push this technology even farther.

Today, Voxel8 announced the closure of a Series A funding round that saw the startup receive $12 million in capital, led by Braemar Energy Ventures and ARCH Venture Partners, with participation from Autodesk’s Spark Fund and In-Q-Tel, the investment arm of the Intelligence Community. I had the opportunity to speak with CEO and Founder Dr. Jennifer Lewis, along with Co-Founder & Business Lead Daniel Oliver, about the new funding, what it means for Voxel8, and what Voxel8’s technology means for the future of 3D printing.

CEO and Founder of Voxel8, Dr. Jennifer Lewis.
There are two pathways that we’re going to be executing on with that funding,” Dr. Lewis began, “First and foremost, we’re going to be using those funds to ramp up manufacturing of the Developer’s Kits, for which we’ve received pre-orders across multiple industry sectors: aerospace, automotive, consumer electronics, and beyond. We’re still targeting shipment of these pre-orders for Q4 of this year.” Manufacturing of the Developer’s Kits will be performed in house, which ensures the quality of each product, while also educating the startup as to the proper methods for building a quality assurance operation.

Then came the really exciting news, “And, at the same time, there’s a lot of market pull for our next advanced industrial-scale – what we’re calling – a ‘pro printer’, if you will. So, some of those dollars will go towards bringing that product to market, as well.

What is the Developer’s Kit?
Currently, the Developer’s Kit works with two materials,
  • PLA plastic and 
  • conductive silver ink, 
to combine traditional fused filament printing with electronic circuitry. Plastic is extruded out of one portion of the printhead and the conductive ink is dispensed out of another to create electric traces. With the help of Autodesk’s Project Wire, users can drag and drop components, such as transistors and resistors, into a CAD model so that, using Voxel8’s proprietary toolpath software, the printer can pause at the appropriate moment during a print task for the manual embedding of these electronics within the print. Printing then continues and, in the end, the user has a fully-functional object. The startup showcased this ability by 3D printing a quadcopter that, once completed, was able to fly off of its printbed.
The, now famous, Voxel8 3D printed quadcopter, unveiled at CES.
There are already conductive filaments on the market, meant for 3D printing projects that involve electronics, so I asked the Voxel8 founder to elaborate on the difference between their conductive ink and the filaments currently being sold. Lewis replied,“Right now, so, if people get desktop printers that use filaments – They’re typically carbon-filled, so they have really low conductivity because carbon particles are much less conductive than metallic particles. So, we’re developing these silver-based inks. First of all, they have this higher-conductivity particle phase and, secondly, they’re not based on polymer filaments. It’s really a low-viscosity solvent.
The conductivity of Voxel8’s silver ink, as compared to other conductive 3D printing materials on the market.
She goes on to discuss the dispensing mechanism that makes the Voxel8 platform possible, “It’s an extrusion-based, pneumatic dispenser and that’s one of the really big innovations on the desktop printing platform. We’re moving beyond fused filament deposition and we’re complementing that with pneumatically dispensed inks. That opens up, basically, every ink design we’ve developed in my lab at Harvard, all of which are dispensed in that fashion. So we can bring a broad range of materials to the printing platform.

Combining multiple materials, Oliver adds, gives users the ability to interface objects created by the Developer’s Kit with other technologies, “The ability to print multiple materials together really works well with interfacing with other technologies. 
  • We can print conductive traces
  • We’re able to interface with a large amount of electronic components out there. 
So, you can see the power of these electronic components within a 3D printed object and we look to expand that in the future. The key here though is being able to print multiple materials together on the same printer. And that allows you to interface with more and more technologies, really expanding the dimensions of what’s on the printer.”

Challenges in Developing the Developer’s Kit
As you might imagine, bringing the hardware, software, and materials together in just the right way to pull off multimaterial electronics printing is no easy task. Dr. Lewis describes the different obstacles Voxel8 has overcome to bring about this novel device,“The challenges we’re tackling on all fronts. It’s materials integration: trying to integrate disparate materials, like thermoplastics with conductive inks. It’s the hardware, which brings together multiple printheads.”

She continues, “And this, frankly speaking, is also on the software side. We’ve been very fortunate to partner with Autodesk, through their Spark platform on the software Project Wire, which allows designers and engineers to actually create, in their CAD models, the ability to embed these conductive features and electronic parts. But then Voxel8 has proprietary software for slicing for toolpath planning and, as you start to think about co-printing multiple types of materials – the matrix, the plastic, and the conductive materials – that toolpath planning is also very important.”

The CEO concludes, “So, tertially speaking, there’s challenges across all three key components of the printing platform – the materials, the hardware, and the software. And Voxel8 is tackling those.

The Voxel8 Pro
Details about Voxel8’s “pro printer” are still “locked down” at this point, according to Lewis, but Dan Oliver was able to elaborate on the fact that it will be developed based off of input from their first Developer’s Kit customers, “We’re working with our current customers and our initial partners to effectively guide the design of the next, pro platform. Michael, as you and I have talked about in the past, the idea with the Developer’s Kit was to get them out there and to spark people’s imagination. We’ve gotten really great feedback of what people would want down the line and they’re super excited to get their printers. So, we’ll be working with those initial customers to help define what those next types of platforms would look like and make sure we’re executing on our customers’ input.
From Dr. Lewis’s work on elastomers, published in Advanced Materials.
As exciting as conductive ink is, my mind was reeling with possibilities for the next generation machine – which I label in my mind “the Voxel8 Pro”. Dr. Lewis’s work with her Harvard lab and, previously, her University of Illinois lab, fill the spectrum of materials sciences and 3D printing, from 3D printing microscale lithium ion batteries to fabricating channels for possible uses with bioprinting. Though some of this work may not necessarily make it into her startup, the pneumatic dispenser at the heart of Voxel8’s hardware was developed right out of her lab and opens the doors to a huge array of materials for desktop printing.

So, while the Voxel8 Pro may be an overall improved machine, it will also likely have the ability to print a greater variety of materials, including epoxy and elastomers. Lewis explains, “It’s not only the printing platform – you know, bringing an improved platform with higher resolution and these kinds of things to market – but it’s also a broader palette of materials. Releasing a customized set of materials that best meets our users’ needs. In addition to the conductive ink that’s going to be launched with our Developer’s Kit, we’re going to broaden the matrix materials to include epoxy and elastomeric materials. Just a broader palette of matrix and functional inks.

Who Wants to Buy a Voxel8 Printer?
The ability to 3D print electronics and, in the future, elastic materials with rigid materials, has, naturally, garnered a lot of attention. Without disclosing their customers, Dr. Lewis was able to speak to one possible application for their platform,“We can talk generically about some use cases. We’ve been given, by prospective customers and people that have already pre-ordered our developer’s kit, applications in the biomedical space – we see hearing aids as a big target opportunity. There are use cases in almost every vertical I’ve mentioned already that we’ve either received CAD files for or have had discussions.

As enticing as it would be know who these clients were, Oliver was quick to point out that the diverse industries represented by their clients indicate just how widely applicable the Voxel8 platform could be. “The most interesting thing to talk about here is our customer list,” Oliver explains. “You have the leading companies in automotive, aerospace, consumer electronics, medical devices, and apparel. We have really interesting companies that have bought the printer, so, the use cases span the gamut of those customers.
Voxel8’s 3D printed quadcopter under CT scan.
Dr. Lewis added, “We should also mention the defense companies, because they’re also prominent early adopters.”In fact, Voxel8 has already received interest from some pretty important customers. Among them is In-Q-Tel, the non-profit venture capital arm of the Intelligence Community, who have just contributed even more to the startup. As you may have guessed, this work is top secret, but the investment speaks to the profound power that multi-material electronics 3D printing has.

Voxel8 has also signed an agreement with the government-focused MITRE Corporation, for whom the startup is researching the possibilities of 3D printing antenna arrays. Of course, as they’re doing this work on behalf of an unnamed government sponsor, this work is also under wraps. “We can’t really say more than that we’re working on 3D printed embedded antenna and antenna arrays. That’s all that we’re at liberty to say. But I think you can imagine that what our printer can deliver is three-dimensional antenna designs that simply can’t be manufactured by other means.”

Dan Oliver, however, was able to elaborate on the benefits that 3D printing brings to fabricating antennas. “Standard antennas are made on standard PCB boards, which are two-dimensional. Antennas themselves, though, really live in the three-dimensional world. So, we’ve created these large-footprint antennas by forcing them to live in two dimensions,”Oliver says. “But what we’re really excited about is being to create these high-performance antennas that are three-dimensional. And ours is one of the few technologies that’s able to do that.

Voxel8 2.0 & 3D Assembly
These projects will only be pushed further with the latest funding round and the future of the technology looks bright. At the moment, electronic components must be manually placed into an object during the printing process, but this is definitely a feature that could be made obsolete. Lewis and Oliver explain that all of the technologies to automatically fabricate fully functional electronic devices already exist, but separately from one another.

When asked about the possibility of automatically inserting transistors and resistors into 3D printed objects, Lewis responded, “Yes. At this point, with our desktop printer, we’re already embedding these kinds of functional objects. We’re doing it by manual pick and place, but it’s very easy to conceive that, on our road map, transitioning to automated pick and place is the future. So, absolutely, that will be accommodated by our printing platforms.

Oliver elaborated, “One thing we think about a lot is, ‘what is the next printer going to look like?’ And the answer to that is to ask what is needed. Effectively, the technologies to print that all automatically exist separately, if you combined our technology with pick and place technology. So. it becomes, not solving the technological problems – though we still have work to do there – it’s what things we need to put together that’s really going to push this to the next level.

In fact, Oliver says, there is a lot going on behind the closed doors of the Voxel8 lab that just aren’t ready to be launched with this first product. “So, something like the quad copter. We’re already doing that. We don’t have an automatic pick and place system because that doesn’t make sense for the developer’s kit. So, a lot of these things that seem futuristic, we’re doing every day out back in the lab.

But, when, I wondered aloud, will someone be able to take a Voxel8 printer and fabricate a quadcopter completely without manual intervention. Dr. Lewis gave me, what I thought, was a very promising response, “I would say within the next few years is our target.

A Team Effort
All of this news and the opportunity to speak directly with the innovators behind what has been, to me, the most important development in 3D printing so far this year, was truly exciting. And, from the sound of it, Dr. Lewis was on an exciting ride herself. “I think it’s really gratifying to see some of the ideas we’ve worked on in the lab to move out into the commercial sector and really have a chance to have a major impact in that way. For me and the research group, it’s really exciting to have this opportunity.

Lewis says, though, that this isn’t a one-person operation, “I really want to emphasize that that wouldn’t be happening without the amazing team we have at Voxel8. The boundaries between my lab and Voxel8 is one where we’ve done lab-based research at Harvard and at my former institution at Illinois, but to take that to the next level and do commercialization, the team at Voxel8 is just doing incredible well. You know, with Dan Oliver and with the three other team leads: Michael Bell, Travis Busbee, Jack Minardi – materials, hardware, and software – it’s really just been tremendous… Dan, of course, has been pushing forward on the marketing side and driving the whole team forward. The four co-founders are incredibly invaluable… The energy, the drive, the talent and expertise that Voxel8 have is really just making this happen.

The new funding, of course, allows them to build this team even further, Lewis says.“We’ll definitely expand the team. We’ve already made some really exciting hires from some IT companies, like iRobot, Philips Medical, Warby Parker, and DEKA, which is behind Dean Kamen’s Segway. We’ve been able to attract a lot of really awesome talent and that’s only going to continue to build as we go forward with the new funding.

What they do next, whether it’s “locked down” or not, is sure to be amazing. In some ways, what’s been left unsaid – potential materials and customers – really paints a powerful picture. Without knowing who or what will be involved, my mind is left to illustrate a wild painting that sees Nike printing smart orthotics, the CIA building tiny spyplanes, or e-NABLE 3D printing bionic arms. Then, Dr. Lewis leaves me with the conclusion, “It just comes back to our driving motivation: to establish 3D printing platforms that enable the integration of form and function. So, to go beyond prototyping shapes or complex forms and to really create things that have embedded functionality.


Michael is Editor-In Chief of 3D Printing Industry and the founder of The Reality™ Institute, a service institute dedicated to determining what’s real and what’s not so that you don’t have to. He is a graduate of the MFA Critical Studies & Writing Program at CalArts, and a firm advocate of world peace. Michael currently resides in San Pedro with his magical wife, Danielle.

JULY 24, 2015

Scientists Implant Tiny Lasers Into Living Cells

photo credit: A living macrophage cell showing the implanted laser (green dot). Marcel Shubert et al./St.Andrews
It sounds like a plot from a science fiction movie, but quite incredibly scientists have managed to implant tiny lasers into living cells. In the quest to track cells as they move about and interact, the researchers have created miniature lasers that when internalized by the cell can be used to follow cells for weeks at a time. The study is published in Nano Letters.

For the “biointegrated” laser to work, like other conventional lasers, it requires three main components: 
  • some sort of material that will emit light when stimulated, known as the “gain medium,” 
  • a resonator that confines the light by total internal reflection, and 
  • a “pump source,” or a way of transferring energy from an external source to the gain medium.
The researchers, from the University of St. Andrews, achieved this by making what they call a “whispering gallery mode microsphere resonator” out of a particular plastic called polystyrene divinylbenzene. They were able to make these resonators with a radius of just 5-10 µm (0.005-0.01 mm), or small enough to be able to fit inside a living cell.

Previously, gain mediums such as vitamins and naturally produced fluorescent proteins had been used, but these needed resonator cavities much larger than typical cells, and so had limited use. For this study, the scientists instead turned to a green fluorescent dye inserted into the microsphere resonators. The pump source was provided by nanosecond pulsed output from an “optical parametric oscillator laser system.

They then tested how well four different cells types engulfed the microspheres, using 
  • human macrophages (found in the immune system), 
  • mouse fibroblasts (that help give tissue structure), 
  • mouse microglia cells (found in the brain), and 
  • human embryonic kidney cells. 
They found that the cells were able to internalize the miniature lasers, and that the macrophages then continued to move, dragging the tiny tech as they go.

Once the lasers were stimulated and started emitting their own light, the scientists then followed the cells for 19 hours, and found no significant difference in the amount of light they were releasing over the time period. They also managed to show that the macrophages were able to live normally and survive for up to four weeks with the laser still embedded.

There are quite a few advantages of using a tiny laser to track cells over more traditional techniques, such as fluorescent proteins. The range in different light frequencies emitted by the microspheres, determined by their diameter, coupled with the ability to use around 30 different dyes to stain them, means that scientists could theoretically uniquely tag up to 100,000 individual cells. The technique also allows them to follow cells in 3D structures, and is less complicated to carry out then other tagging methods. 

They hope that this new method will allow better imaging of cell cultures in the lab, but also the tracking of 
  • macrophages in their immune response
  • dendritic cells in lymph nodes, or 
  • even map circulating tumor cells

by Josh L Davis
July 24, 2015

martes, 21 de julio de 2015

Peeking into the brain's filing system

Aspects of a single memory can be scattered throughout the outer "cortex" of the brain

Storing information so that you can easily find it again is a challenge. From purposefully messy desks to indexed filing cabinets, we all have our preferred systems. How does it happen inside our brains?

Somewhere within the dense, damp and intricate 1.5kg of tissue that we carry in our skulls, all of our experiences are processed, stored, and - sometimes more readily than others - retrieved again when we need them.

It's what neuroscientists call "episodic memory" and for years, they have loosely agreed on a model for how it works. Gathering detailed data to flesh out that model is difficult.

But the picture is beginning to get clearer and more complete.

A key component is the small, looping structure called the hippocampus, buried quite deep beneath the brain's wrinkled outer layer. It is only a few centimetres in length but is very well connected to other parts of the brain.

People with damage to their hippocampus have profound memory problems and this has made it a major focus of memory research since the 1950s.

Quick learning
It was in the hippocampus, and some of its neighbouring brain regions, that scientists from the University of Leicester got a glimpse of new memories being formed, in a study published this week.

Single brain cells in the hippocampus can form associations very rapidly
They used a rare opportunity to record the fizz and crackle of single human brain cells at work, in epilepsy patients undergoing brain surgery.

Individual neurons that went crazy for particular celebrities, like Clint Eastwood, could be "trained" to respond to, for example, the Statue of Liberty as well - as soon as the patients were given a picture of Clint in front of the statue.

It seemed that single brain cells, in the hippocampus, had been caught in the act of forming a new association. And they do it very fast.

But that outer wrapping of the brain - the cortex - is also important. It is much bigger than the hippocampus and does myriad jobs, from sensing the world to moving our limbs.

When we have a particular experience, like a trip to the beach, different patches of the cortex are called up to help us process different elements: recognising a friend, hearing the seagulls, feeling the breeze.
So traces of that experience are rather scattered across the cortex.To remember it, the brain needs some sort of index to find them all again.

And that, neuroscientists generally agree, is where the hippocampus comes in.

"Think of the [cortex] as a huge library and the hippocampus as its librarian," wrote the prominent Hungarian neuroscientist Gyorgy Buszaki in his 2006 book Rhythms of the Brain.

Does the brain have a librarian?
The elements of our day at the beach might litter the cortex like specific books along miles of shelving; the hippocampus is able to link them together and - if all goes well - pull them off the shelf when we want to reminisce.

Completing patterns
Another brand new study, out this week in the journal Nature Communications, looks inside the brain using fMRI imaging to see this filing system in action.

By getting people to learn and remember imaginary scenarios while inside a brain scanner, Dr Aidan Horner and his colleagues at University College London collected the first firm evidence for "pattern completion" in the human hippocampus.

Pattern completion is the mechanism behind a phenomenon we all recognise, when one particular aspect of a memory - the smell of salt in the air, perhaps - brings all the other aspects flooding back.

"If you have an event that involves the Eiffel tower, your friend and, say, a pink balloon… I can show you a picture of the Eiffel tower, and you remember not only your friend, but also the pink balloon," Dr Horner told the BBC.

While his volunteers had just this sort of experience inside the scanner, Dr Horner saw interplay between different parts of the cortex, associated with different parts of a memory, and the hippocampus.

The brain activity flowed in a way that showed "pattern completion" was indeed underway - and the cortex and the hippocampus were working just like the library and the librarian in Prof Buzsaki's analogy.

The hippocampus (darker brown) is centrally located and very well connected
"If I cue you with the location, and I get you to explicitly retrieve the person, what we also see is activation in the region that's associated with the object for that event," Dr Horner explained. "So even though it's task-irrelevant, you don't have to retrieve it, it seems that we still bring that object to mind.

"And the extent to which we see that activation in the 'object' region correlates with the hippocampal response. So that suggests that it's the hippocampus that's doing the pattern completion, retrieving all these elements.

"It's able to act as an index, I suppose, by linking these things together - and doing it very very quickly, that's the key thing."

If the cortex were left to make its own connections between the fragments of a memory, he added, it would be far too slow.

"That's clearly not a system we want, if we're going to remember a specific event that happens once in a lifetime."

Beat this: Episodic memory is a key challenge for artificial intelligence systems
Dr Horner said the findings also dovetail nicely with the single-neuron, celebrity-spotting results from the Leicester study.

"We can look across the cortex and the hippocampus, and we can relate it to recollection. But what they can do is say look, these cells [in the hippocampus] have learned really quickly.

"So that's the sort of underlying neural basis of what we're looking at, at a slightly broader scale."

Science, it seems, is finally managing to unpick the way our brains record our lives. It is a remarkable, beautiful, fallible system.

Building some sort of memory storage like this is regarded as one of the next key challenges for researchers trying to build intelligent machines.

Our own memories, for all their flaws, are a hard act to follow.

By Jonathan WebbScience reporter, BBC News
5 July 2015 

3 ways ravens are among the smartest animals on the planet

Photo: Teri Franzen/MNN Flickr Group 
1) Ravens can keep track of the social status of other ravens both in their own group and in groups of unfamiliar ravens.
This is a useful strategy particularly if a raven has any plans to leave their own group and join another — they'll know just where they fit in the pecking order and also who to be submissive to in order to work their way into the group.

Researchers discovered this by experimenting with playing conversations between ravens to a subject raven, conversations that reversed the social ranking that the subject raven was familiar with.

IFLScience writes, "They found that ravens paid especial attention and seemed stressed -- displaying behaviors like head turns and body shakes -- when they hear playbacks that simulate a rank reversal in their group. They just didn’t expect a low-ranking bird to show off to a higher-ranking one -- this violates their rank relations. They were fine when the dominance structure in the playback reflects their hierarchy accurately. The ravens also responded to simulated rank reversals in neighboring groups, suggesting that they’ve figured out who’s boss among unknown birds just by watching and listening to them (since there was no physical contact between groups). It’s the first evidence of animals tracking rank relations of individuals that don’t belong to their own group -- a useful skill for a bird switching foraging units."

So, ravens learn social ranks well enough to even figure out what's what in foreign groups of ravens with whom they've never actually interacted. In other words, ravens are savvy politicians.

2) Ravens can remember individual human faces.
Researchers have experimented with wearing masks while trapping and tagging crows (extremely close relatives to ravens and also shockingly intelligent). They wore a particular mask when trapping and releasing crows, and then had another neutral mask that wasn't used when trapping. They discovered that crows learned and recognized the "face" of the trapper. And not only that — they teach their offspring and other group members just who is who so that their friends and family could avoid being trapped by the masked person.

The New York Times writes, "In the months that followed [the trapping and tagging], the researchers and volunteers donned the masks on campus, this time walking prescribed routes and not bothering crows. The crows had not forgotten. They scolded people in the dangerous mask significantly more than they did before they were trapped, even when the mask was disguised with a hat or worn upside down. The neutral mask provoked little reaction. The effect has not only persisted, but also multiplied over the past two years. Wearing the dangerous mask on one recent walk through campus, Dr. Marzluff said, he was scolded by 47 of the 53 crows he encountered, many more than had experienced or witnessed the initial trapping. The researchers hypothesize that crows learn to recognize threatening humans from both parents and others in their flock."

3) Ravens can solve puzzles.
Ravens have incredible problem-solving skills. In some experiments, they are presented with a new puzzle, which they study for a bit and then speedily solve.

Science Blogs writes about one set of experiments by researchers Bernd Heinrich and Thomas Bugnyar, "They found that some adult birds would examine the situation for several minutes and then perform this multistep procedure in as little as 30 seconds without any trial and erroras if they knew exactly what they were doing. Because there was no opportunity for the birds to be confronted with a similar problem in the wild, the simplest explanation is that they were able to imagine the possibilities and to perform the appropriate behaviors. The authors also found that successfully performing this behavior required maturity: immature birds were unable to do it while year-old birds performed a variety of trials before they were able to succeed."

So not only can they figure out puzzles surprisingly quickly, but they learn from past experience to build on their conclusions about how to get what they want. In this PBS video, a raven figures out how to pull up a fishing line to steal the catch.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how ravens have displayed their intelligence and strategizing abilities. If you'd like to learn more, check out the book In the Company of Crows and Ravens. By the time you finish the last page, you'll never look at ravens in the same way again.

* * *

Jaymi Heimbuch is a writer and photographer at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

ORIGINAL: Mother Nature Network
Jaymi Heimbuch
January 26, 2015