Gizmorama - January 8, 2018
Robots with muscles are now a reality? Hopefully, they don't become self-aware. I'm so out of shape.
Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.
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*- Scientists design muscles for shape-shifting, cell-sized robots -*
Physicists at Cornell University have designed and built a muscle to power tiny cell-sized robots capable of conducting electricity, changing shape and sensing their environs.
The muscle is a kind of spacesuit or exoskeleton, inside which cell-sized scientific payloads can be stored. The microscopic bots can be deployed inside the body and be used to study and interact with biological processes and components at micron-scale.
"You could put the computational power of the spaceship Voyager onto an object the size of a cell," Cornell physicist Itai Cohen said in a news release. "Then, where do you go explore?"
"Right now, you can make little computer chips that do a lot of information-processing," said Paul McEuen, director of the Kavli Institute at Cornell for Nanoscale Science. "But they don't know how to move or cause something to bend."
The new muscle, or exoskeleton, derives its impressive shape-shifting, reactive mobility from a motor composed of graphene and glass. The motor is called a biomorph and it bends in reaction to heat, electricity or a chemical reaction.
The biomorph bends because the two materials have different physical reactions to the same thermal stimuli. When one material stretches out and expands more than the other, the tension between the two layers forces the biomorph to bend to relieve strain.
Chemical stimuli trigger ion flows into the glass, causing the glass to expand and triggering a bend.
Combinations of bendable portions and hard ridges yield tiny folds in the exoskeleton, causing the biomorph to form specific shapes, including cubes and pyramids.
Scientists built the exoskeleton using a method called atomic layer deposition. They layered silicon dioxide onto aluminum over a micro cover slip, then added a single atomic layer of graphene using a technique known as wet-transferring.
When folded, the biomorph is "three times larger than a red blood cell and three times smaller than a large neuron."
Scientists have previously built scaffolding at similarly small scales, but not with the ability to carry electronic payloads.
"If you want to build this electronics exoskeleton, you need it to be able to produce enough force to carry the electronics," said postdoctoral researcher Marc Miskin. "Ours does that."
Scientists didn't design their robot with a specific purpose and there is no immediate application. But researchers expect other scientists to find novel ways to use their new technology.
The researchers described the robotics breakthrough in the journal PNAS.
*-- Scientists invent double-pane solar windows powered by quantum dots --*
Researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory have designed efficient and cost-effective solar windows by combining quantum dot technology with a double pane structure.
The layers of quantum dots are tweaked to absorb only part of the solar spectrum, allowing the double-pane solar windows to generate energy while providing shade and insulation.
Scientists suggest the new technology will lower the cost of solar electricity.
"The approach complements existing photovoltaic technology by adding high-efficiency sunlight collectors to existing solar panels or integrating them as semitransparent windows into a building's architecture," lead researcher Victor Klimov said in a news release.
The new windows rely on a technology called "solar-spectrum splitting," which allows the panels to simultaneously absorb lower- and higher-energy solar photons. The technology prevents reabsorption, a phenomenon that diminishes panels' electrical output.
To enable solar-spectrum splitting, scientists installed quantum dots combined with manganese ions. When the quantum dots absorb the solar photons, the manganese impurities are activated, emitting energy at less than the quantum-dot absorption threshold. The technology almost entirely eliminates reabsorption.
The front surface of the first pane features manganese-doped quantum dots, while copper indium selenide quantum dots are layered on the back of the second pane. The first pane absorbs blue and ultraviolet light, while the back pane absorbs the rest of the spectrum.
Once absorbed, the quantum dots reemit a photon at a longer wavelength. The insides of the double pane trap and direct these wavelengths toward the window frame where solar cells convert the light into electricity.
Researchers described the novel technology this week in the journal Nature Photonics.
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