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Gizmorama - April 20, 2016

Good Morning,

Today, I have a remarkable story about a man with a paralyzed hand who has regained use thanks to a computer chip implanted in his brain.

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*--- Nanostructures grown on fabric soak up oil spills ---*

BRISBANE, Australia - A superhydrophobic fabric that attracts oil, being developed by researchers in Australia, may one day be a household cleaning product. As of now, it's a prototype with great promise.

By growing semi-conducting nanostructures directly on fabric, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology have found a novel way to build an oil mop.

"This fabric repels water and attracts oil. We have tested it and found it effective at cleaning up crude oil, and separating organic solvents, ordinary olive and peanut oil from water," Anthony O'Mullane, a chemical engineer at QUT, said in a news release. "We were able to mop up crude oil from the surface of fresh and salt water."

Though in theory any fabric could work, the scientists selected nylon as their base fabric. The nylon already had silver woven into it, which primed it for step two in the oil mop production process. Next, the fabric was dipped in a vat where it received a coating of copper using a process called electrochemical deposition.

"Now with a copper coating, we converted the fabric into a semiconducting material with the addition of another solution that causes nanostructures to grow on the fabric's surface -- the key to its enhanced properties," O'Mullane explained. "The nanostructures are like tiny rods that cover the surface of the fabric. Water just runs straight off it but the rods attract and hold oil."

O'Mullane and his colleagues believe the mop could be used for a variety of cleanup jobs. Its self-cleaning and antibacterial qualities make it especially versatile. When exposed to sunlight, its semiconducting nanostructures could work to break down organic materials.

"Its antibacterial properties arising from the presence of copper could be used to kill bugs while also separating water from industrial waste in waterways or decontaminate water in remote and poor communities where water contamination is an issue," O'Mullane added.

Researchers described their magic fabric in the journal ChemPlusChem.

*--- Computer chip allows man to use paralyzed hand ---*

COLUMBUS, Ohio - A chip implanted in a paralyzed man's brain allowed him to pick up objects, stir liquids and play the video game Guitar Hero, according to researchers at Ohio State University.

Ian Burkhart first used the NeuroLife system, which includes an chip implanted in his brain, in 2014 to move his hand with his thoughts for the first time since he'd become a quadriplegic during a diving accident in 2010.

Now, researchers at Ohio State University report Burkhart can do much more in a study published in the journal Nature covering his work with NeuroLife during the last year.

"I've been doing rehabilitation for a lot of years, and this is a tremendous stride forward in what we can offer these people," Dr. Jerry Mysiw, chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Ohio State, said in a press release. "Now we're examining human-machine interfaces and interactions, and how that type of technology can help."

Working with the company Batelle, OSU scientists developed algorithms, software and a stimulation sleeve, as well as the pea-size implant, that make up the NeuroLife system, the university said.

After showing the concept of the system, doctors implanted the tiny computer chip onto the motor cortex of Burkhart's brain, with the scientists working to determine the right sequence of electrodes to stimulate to allow him to move his fingers and hand.

"It creates what we call a neural bypass," Nick Annetta, a researcher and electrical engineer at Battelle, said in a press release. "We're able to turn Ian's thoughts into signals that bypass his injured spinal cord, and send them directly to the sleeve, causing his muscles to move. It really is incredible."

The researchers compare the system to a heart bypass, but electrical signals are being bypassed instead of blood. The algorithms help learn and decode Burkhart's brain activity, sending the signals directly to the stimulation sleeve on his paralyzed arm.

In the span of one year, the researchers report Burkhard spent months learning signals to rotate his hand, make a fist or pinch his fingers together, after first working to stimulate his forearm sending electric pulses to rebuild his atrophied muscles so they could react to his thoughts.

Eventually, the technology is thought to have potential for patients with brain or spinal cord injuries, including strokes. Right now, the researchers plan to recruit four more patients for a trial of the system.

"We're hoping that this technology will evolve into a wireless system connecting brain signals and thoughts to the outside world to improve the function and quality of life for those with disabilities," said Dr. Ali Rezai, chair of the neurological institute at OSU. "One of our major goals is to make this readily available to be used by patients at home."


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