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Gizmorama - August 10, 2016

Good Morning,

When you discover a mystery spill you'll no longer have to wonder what it actually is thanks to Harvard University scientists and their newest development - Liquid fingerprinting.

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

Until Next Time,

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*-- Liquid fingerprinting instantly identifies unknown liquids, scientists say --*

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - A technique for quickly, easily testing any liquid may soon be available for commercial use, according to Harvard University scientists who developed it.

Watermark Ink could be used to identify chemical spills, fuel grade of gasoline or other chemicals with ease similar to litmus paper, say scientists who have raised funding for a private company, Validere, to start developing a product for sale.

"The goal is to remove the element of human error from the identification and categorization of unknown liquids," Ian Burgess, who co-invented W-INK as a doctoral student Harvard and is now CEO and CTO of Validere, said in a press release.

According to a paper, published in the journal Scientific Reports, a test strip takes a sample of a liquid and, when inserted into the device, which does not require a power source, interactions between the chemicals and test strip cause color changes or markers to appear.

The next step for development, the scientists say, is to create an interface device that translates the visual test results into a recommendation for handling liquids, as well as disposable strips and customizable field test kits for specific uses.

The palm-sized device has already drawn interest from the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research and U.S. Department of Transportation, both of which say it could have important applications in both private industry and myriad government functions.

"Many people focus on making hardware smaller, but miniaturization often turns out to be the easy part," Burgess said. "What's difficult, and what our solution does, is to simplify the readouts to a level that you don't need a technician to interpret the results. Anyone in the field can immediately know, on the spot, how to respond to a sampled liquid."

*-- Next generation of memory chips could be 1,000 times faster --*

PALO ALTO, Calif. - Most computers and smartphones feature two kinds of chips. One kind is built for speed and the other is built for storage. A new kind of chip promises to offer both speed and storage in a single package, paving the way for a memory chip 1,000 times faster than today's.

Scientists at Stanford recently reported impressive results testing a new class of semiconductor materials.

"This work is fundamental but promising," Aaron Lindenberg, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford, said in a news release. "A thousandfold increase in speed coupled with lower energy use suggests a path toward future memory technologies that could far outperform anything previously demonstrated."

The new class of semiconductor materials benefit from a feature called phase change memory.

Because the material can switch between two phases -- with two different atomic structures -- it can be designed to carry out multiple functions. A crystalline-structure is best suited for the flow of electrons -- the flow of digital information. An amorphous structure is best for memory storage, for constricting the movement of electrons.

The intermediate phase during the transition from crystalline to amorphous structure is known as "amorphous on." Electrons can flow through this amorphous structure as they would a crystal.

During experiments, Stanford researchers found they could trigger an amorphous on phase using a supercharged jolt of electricity, the equivalent of a lightning strike. The phase change happened in a single picosecond, one trillionth of second.

"Nobody had ever been able to investigate these processes on such fast time-scales before," Lindenberg said.

The new research -- detailed in the journal Physical Review Letters -- suggests phase-change semiconductor materials can not only be used to perform both short- and long-term memory functions, but can switch their structure back and forth at impressive speeds.

"A new technology which demonstrate a thousandfold advantage over incumbent technologies is compelling," Lindenberg said. "I think we've shown that phase change deserves further attention."


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