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Gizmorama - February 8, 2017

Good Morning,

Is the picture on your TV not sharp enough? Well, there's going to be a resolution revolution thanks to a new "blue-phase" liquid crystal. That's going to clear things up.

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

Until Next Time,

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*-- New liquid crystal could make TVs three times sharper --*

ORLANDO, Fla. - A novel blue-phase liquid crystal could bolster the resolution and energy efficiency of TVs and computer displays. Researchers designed the new crystal for use in field-sequential color liquid crystal displays, or LCDs.

"Today's Apple Retina displays have a resolution density of about 500 pixels per inch," lead researcher Shin-Tson Wu, a professor of optics and photonics at the University of Central Florida, said in a news release. "With our new technology, a resolution density of 1500 pixels per inch could be achieved on the same sized screen. This is especially attractive for virtual reality headsets or augmented reality technology, which must achieve high resolution in a small screen to look sharp when placed close to our eyes."

Current high-definition displays use a layer of nematic liquid crystal to modulate the white LED backlight. Color filters are applied to the backlight to generate red, green and blue pixels. The application of all three filters produces white light.

The new blue-phase liquid crystal can modulate light at a much faster rate than nematic liquid crystal, eliminating the need for filters. Different color pixels can be transmitted in quick succession. Rapid-fire pulses of blue, red and green light translates to white light through human eyes.

"With color filters, the red, green and blue light are all generated at the same time," explained Wu. "However, with blue-phase liquid crystal we can use one subpixel to make all three colors, but at different times. This converts space into time, a space-saving configuration of two-thirds, which triples the resolution density."

The elimination of filters reduces the amount of energy lost during light transmission, making the process more efficient.

However, use of the new crystal required a higher voltage to drive each pixel. Researchers developed a new type of film transistor with a protruded electrode structure, allowing each electric jolt to penetrate deeper into the liquid crystal.

"We achieved an operational voltage low enough to allow each pixel to be driven by a single transistor while also achieving a response time of less than 1 millisecond," added Haiwei Chen, a doctoral student in Wu's lab. "This delicate balance between operational voltage and response time is key for enabling field sequential color displays."

Now, researchers plan to translate their findings -- published in the journal Optical Materials Express -- into a working display.

"Now that we have shown that combining the blue-phase liquid crystal with the protruded electron structure is feasible, the next step is for industry to combine them into a working prototype," said Wu.

* Scientists build world's tiniest hammer to bang on brain cells *

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara want to study the effects of various mechanical forces on individual brain cells. Until now, however, researchers didn't have the right tools.

To study brain impacts at the nanoscale, researchers built the world's tiniest hammer -- the µHammer, or "microHammer." The µHammer is a cellular-scale machine capable of applying a variety of mechanical forces to neural progenitor cells, brain-centric stem cells. Eventually, scientists hope to use the hammer to apply forces to neurons and neural tissue.

The hammer piggybacks on existing cell-sorting technology which isolates individual cells for diagnostics and immunotherapy. Once isolated, the machine can apply a range of forces. Post-impact structural and biomechanical analysis will allow scientists study the effects of focus in near real-time.

"This project will enable precision measurements of the physical, chemical and biological changes that occur when cells are subjected to mechanical loading, ranging from small perturbations to high-force, high-speed impacts," researcher Megan Valentine said in a news release. "Our technology will provide significantly higher forces and faster impact cycles than have previously been possible, and by building these tools onto microfluidic devices, we can leverage a host of other on-chip diagnostics and imaging tools, and can collect the cells after testing for longer-term studies."

The research isn't so much about studying traumatic brain impacts as it is about understanding the role mechanical forces play in cellular communication.

"Mechanical forces have been shown to impact cells a lot," said researcher Kimberly Turner.

Previous studies suggest mechanical forces can trigger a variety of cellar changes. An impact can cause cells to differentiate or begin healing.

"Our studies could transform our understanding of how cells process and respond to force-based signals," Valentine concluded. "These signals are essential in development and wound healing in healthy tissues, and are misregulated in diseases such as cancer."


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