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Gizmorama - April 25, 2016

Good Morning,

Okay. I have two unique stories for you today. It's up to you to figure out which one sounds more amazing. Okay, ready? MIT scientists make electronics out of coal or Researchers stream HD video through chunks of raw meat? I'm going with the 'meat' one.

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

Until Next Time,

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*-- MIT scientists make electronics out of coal --*

BOSTON - Researchers at MIT have successfully created electronics components out of coal. Their findings are proof that the natural resource is more than just a fuel source.

"When you look at coal as a material, and not just as something to burn, the chemistry is extremely rich," Jeffrey Grossman, a material scientist at MIT, told MIT News.

In their initial investigation into coal's functional chemistry, Grossman and his colleagues determined that unprocessed, natural coal varieties offer an impressive range of electrical conductivities. In other words, it is versatile enough to meet a variety of needs in electronics manufacturing.

The question was how best to process the mineral.

Grossman decided to fabricate thin films by grinding coal into a powder and mixing it into a solution before allowing it to solidify on a substrate.

Traditionally, coal is looked at by material scientists and industrial chemists as purely a raw material -- something to broken down to the atomic level for use in creating new chemicals and materials.

But the latest research suggests coal has inherent chemical properties useful to electronic engineers.

By adjusting the temperature at which the coal was processed, Grossman and his research partners found that they could manipulate the material's properties for specific electronic purposes.

The adjustability of its electronic and optical properties, combined with its high conductivity, thermal stability and robustness, make it a promising material. It's also relatively cheap to fabricate.

Now, researchers need to determine how to best scale up the production process and begin testing a wider array of electronic components made from coal films.

Grossman and his colleagues recently described their experiments with coal films in the journal Nano Letters.

*-- Researchers stream HD video through chunks of raw meat --*

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Scientists have answered the age old question of whether or not a wireless signal can be transmitted via raw meat. The answer is yes.

Researchers at the University of Illinois successfully transmitted real-time video-rate data through large hunks of pork loin and beef liver. The findings hold promise for scientists aiming to improve in-body ultrasonic communications between implanted medical devices and doctors.

Most medical implants used radio frequencies to transmit data, but FCC regulations limit the bandwidth available to RF electromagnetic waves. The waves are also easily lost and scattered as they pass through soft tissue in the body.

Ultrasonic waves don't face those issues.

"Using ultrasonic signals, we envision the ability to not only control implanted medical devices in the body but to provide live streaming of high-definition video from devices inside the body," Andrew Singer, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois, explained in a news release.

Singer thinks the technology could one day be used to offer a live video stream of a person's digestive tract via a swallowed device.

"To our knowledge, this is the first time anyone has ever sent such high data rates through animal tissue," Singer said. "These data rates are sufficient to allow real-time streaming of high definition video, enough to watch Netflix, for example, and to operate and control small devices within the body."

Almost all underwater communication technologies now use acoustic signals. Saltwater in the body's soft tissues is part of the reason radio frequencies don't fare all that well.

Such transmission limitations were tolerable when medical implants consisted almost entirely of pacemakers. But medical researchers are inventing all sorts of new implant technologies -- glucose monitors, insulin pumps, digestible cameras and more.

"The increased demand for these devices and the opening up of new applications for implanted medical devices will continue to amplify the role of these devices for patient care and management of disease," said Michael Oelze, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois.

Researchers described their new ultrasonic technology in detail in a new paper published online in the open-source journal arXiv.

While the new technology holds tremendous promise, researchers say further studies are necessary to ensure the safety of ultrasonic signals.


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