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Gizmorama - July 11, 2016

Good Morning,


According to our first story, scientists are "one step closer to their goal of developing molecular robots capable of executing complex tasks." Get this...it's about molecular motors that are powered by light. No, seriously! It sounds amazing. Please, check it out!

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

Until Next Time,
Erin


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*-- Scientists unveil light-powered molecular motors --*

SAPPORO, Japan - New light-powered molecular motors designed by researchers in Japan repeatedly bend and unbend. Scientists say the development moves them one step closer to their goal of developing molecular robots capable of executing complex tasks.

The motors are made of azobenzene and oleic acid crystals. Azobenzene is an organic compound used in dye manufacturing, and oleic acid is a common ingredient in cooking oil. Azobenzene arranges itself in two different molecular forms. When exposed to blue light, it switches back and forth between the two arrangements -- known as cis and trans.

Researchers designed crystals with uneven amounts of cis and trans azobenzene molecules to test whether repeated conversion would influence the crystal structure.

When the thin crystal layers were suspended in a solution and exposed to blue light, researchers observed a constant bending-unbending oscillation. The frequency of the motion went up and down with the frequency of the light. In some instances, the oscillation recalled a swimming-like motion, propelling the crystal through the solution.

Previous light-powered nano-motors have mostly relied on deformation, but the new crystals don't compromise structural integrity. Both the bent and unbent formations -- inspired by the cis and trans configeruations of azobenzene -- are stable and predictable.

"The ability to self-organize rhythmic motions, such as the repetitive flipping motion we observed, is one of the fundamental characteristics of living organisms," Yoshiyuki Kageyama, a chemical engineer at Hokkaido University, explained in a news release. "This mechanism can be used in the future to develop bio-inspired molecular motors and robots that will find applications in wide areas, including medicine."

Scientists shared their latest invention in a new paper, published this week in the journal Angewandte Chemie.



*-- Robotic rectum may improve prostate exams --*

LONDON - Although there are plastic models used to train doctors and nurses to perform prostate exams, they are not realistic, and finding volunteers for training can be difficult because of the nature of the exam.

Doctors in England have created a robotic rectum, pairing it with 3D imaging software, to give young doctors and nurses experience performing the exams -- which are based entirely on a doctor feeling the prostate with a fingertip -- and could make doctors better and exams more effective.

Rectal examinations are used to diagnose prostate cancer, among other conditions, by inserting an index finger into the anus to feel the prostate gland.

The gland, a walnut-sized organ below the bladder, can be felt through the rectal wall and feels "hard and knobby" when cancerous, though doctors say it can be difficult to learn what a diseased one feels like.

Training can also be difficult, they say, because it is an internal organ and neither the trainer nor trainee can see what they are doing, which the 3D imaging system and robot seek to correct.

"We have already asked a number of doctors and nurses -- including prostate specialists and cancer surgeons -- to trial the technology," Dr. Alejandro Granados, a researcher at Imperial College London, said in a press release. "They commented on the great advantage of being able to alter the anatomy. The size and shape of the rectum and prostate can vary greatly from person to person, and this technology enables medics to practice their skills in many different virtual patients. They also observed that because these examinations are performed solely by feel, experiencing a realistic sensation is crucial."

To use the system, which will be presented at the Eurohaptics conference this week, a doctor inserts a finger inside the robot, which mimics the sensation of the human rectum and can be programmed for different health and anatomy scenarios, unlike a standard plastic rectum.

During examination, the system displays the rectum and prostate on a computer screen behind the robot, as well as projecting an image on 3D glasses worn by doctors.

Scientists continue to work on the device, asking doctors involved with its development to wear small pressure sensors on their fingertip when examining real patients in order to perfect the pressure and trajectory a doctor needs to successfully perform a prostate test.

"Internal examinations are really challenging to learn -- and to teach," Bello said. "Because the examinations occur in the body, the trainer cannot see what the trainee is doing, and vice versa. In addition to this, medics rarely get the chance to practice the examination, as few patients would volunteer as practice subjects. In fact there is only one person registered in the country as a test subject, called a Rectal Teaching Assistant in the UK. But the results of these examinations can have major implications for patients -- they are very important for early diagnosis of various conditions such as prostate cancer."

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