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Gizmorama - June 19, 2017

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Scientists can now study individual cells at greater length in the lab. This is all thanks to a newly developed microgel.

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

Until Next Time,

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*- Scientists capture, suspend individual cells in tiny drops of gel -*

A new method for isolating cells promises to prolong the amount of time scientists can study individual cells in the lab.

Currently, only way to study individual cells is to cultivate and capture them in microgels, tiny hydrogel droplets. Unfortunately, most cells escape from the droplets within a few days.

In order to study the biochemical mechanics of disease -- as well as the promise of new drug and stem cell therapies -- researchers need to monitor individual cells for longer periods of time.

Researchers at the University of Twente in the Netherlands decided to take a closer look at escaping cells and found most were located near the edges of the hydrogel droplets. The scientists developed a chip capable of trapping individual cells in the exact center of the drops of hydrogel.

The new method allowed scientists to keep single cells alive and isolated for as many as 28 days.

Water-based polymers like hydrogels mimic natural tissue, making them an ideal medium in which to study cell cultures. Researchers can use the isolated cells to test new drug therapies or observe the biomechanics of disease.

In addition to improving cell-capturing techniques, researchers showed stem cells can encourage the transformation into different specialized cell types by altering the composition of the microgel.

As reported in the new study -- published in the journal Small -- the hydrogel droplets can be used as building blocks for the construction of more complex synthetic tissue -- tissue that could be used to conduct different types of experiments or employed in implant devices.

*-- Solar paint splits water vapor into hydrogen and oxygen --*

Scientists in Australia have developed a solar paint capable of pulling water molecules from the air and splitting them into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter of which can be stored for use as fuel.

The paint's power relies on a new material, synthetic molybdenum-sulphide. The compound acts like silica gel, absorbing moisture from its surroundings. But it also serves as a catalyst in combination with energy derived from the sun, triggering a chain of chemical reactions that divides water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen atoms.

"We found that mixing the compound with titanium oxide particles leads to a sunlight-absorbing paint that produces hydrogen fuel from solar energy and moist air," lead researcher Torben Daeneke, a material scientist at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, said in a news release. "Titanium oxide is the white pigment that is already commonly used in wall paint, meaning that the simple addition of the new material can convert a brick wall into energy harvesting and fuel production real estate."

Unlike other water-splitting technologies, a supply of clean, filtered water is unnecessary. Hydrogen fuel can be produced anywhere there is water vapor in the air.

Many scientists believe hydrogen gas is the most promising clean alternative to fossil fuels. Researchers all over the world have been hard at work developing cheaper and more efficient methods for hydrogen production.

"This system can also be used in very dry but hot climates near oceans. The sea water is evaporated by the hot sunlight and the vapor can then be absorbed to produce fuel," siad Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh, a professor at RMIT. "This is an extraordinary concept -- making fuel from the sun and water vapor in the air."

Researchers detailed their breakthrough in the journal ACS Nano.


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