Science & Technology News Bulletin

Every week, we editorially select the best S&T stories released from major news outlets. These stories are then ranked and posted (with appropriate credit and references to the originals) on our Blog by Friday afternoon. Hema Viswanath curates this content and has been doing so for ASDR&E's Office of Net Technical Assessments and Office of Technical Intelligence for over seven years before performing the same work for us. Currently, we are experimenting with distributing this content through a free, advertising-supported model. We intend to continue experimenting using paywalls, direct e-mail subscriptions and donations. Hosting this content is important to us and we would like to retain it on at least a revenue-neutral basis. We are also experimenting with enriching the content to make it more relevant to our Government clients.

Top 10 Science and Technology Inventions for the Week of October 23, 2020

And others…

Top 10 Science and Technology Inventions for the Week of October 16, 2020

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Top 10 Science and Technology Inventions for the Week of October 9, 2020

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Top 10 Science and Technology Inventions for the Week of October 2, 2020

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Top 10 Science and Technology Inventions for the Week of October 23, 2020

And others…

Targeting the shell of the Ebola virus

Science Daily  October 20, 2020
As the world grapples with COVID-19, the Ebola virus is again raging. Researchers at the University of Delaware are using supercomputers to simulate the inner workings of Ebola, observing the way molecules move, atom by atom, to carry out their functions. In the team’s latest work, they reveal structural features of the virus’s coiled protein shell that may be promising therapeutic targets, more easily destabilized, and knocked out by an antiviral treatment. They found that single-stranded viral RNA (ssRNA) is essential for maintaining structural integrity of the nucleocapsid. Other molecular determinants observed to stabilize the nucleocapsid include (nucleoprotein) NP–RNA and NP–NP interactions and ion distributions. Additionally, the structural and dynamical behavior of the nucleocapsid monomer depends on its position in the helical assembly. NP monomers present on the longitudinal edges of the helical tube are more exposed, flexible, and have weaker NP–NP interactions than those residing in the center. The work provides key structural features stabilizing the nucleocapsid that may serve as therapeutic targets…read more. Open Access TECHNICAL ARTICLE

Artificial intelligence reveals hundreds of millions of trees in the Sahara

EurekAlert  October 20, 2020
A large proportion of dryland trees and shrubs grow in isolation, without canopy closure. These non-forest trees have a crucial role in biodiversity, and provide ecosystem services such as carbon storage, food resources and shelter for humans and animals. An international team of researchers (Denmark, USA – NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Germany, France, Senegal, Belgium) mapped the crown size of each tree more than 3 m in size over a land area that spans 1.3 million km in the West African Sahara, Sahel and sub-humid zone. They detected over 1.8 billion individual trees. Although the overall canopy cover is low, the relatively high density of isolated trees challenges prevailing narratives about dryland desertification and even the desert shows a surprisingly high tree density. Their assessment suggests a way to monitor trees outside of forests globally, and to explore their role in mitigating degradation, climate change and poverty…read more. TECHNICAL ARTICLE

Dryland landscape in West Africa. Credit: Martin Brandt

Asymmetric optical camouflage: Tunable reflective color accompanied by optical Janus effect  October 20, 2020
Going beyond an improved colour gamut, an asymmetric colour contrast, which depends on the viewing direction, and its ability to readily deliver information could create opportunities for a wide range of applications, such as next-generation optical switches, colour displays, and security features in anti-counterfeiting devices. Researchers in South Korea propose a simple Fabry–Perot etalon architecture capable of generating viewing-direction-sensitive colour contrasts and encrypting pre-inscribed information upon immersion in particular solvents. Based on the experimental verification of the theoretical modelling, they have discovered a completely new and exotic optical phenomenon involving a tunable colour switch for viewing-direction-dependent information delivery, which they define as asymmetric optical camouflage…read more. Open Access TECHNICAL ARTICLE

Liquid-permeable BEE for Janus colouration. Credit: Light: Science & Applications volume 9, Article number: 175 (2020)

The chips of the future will include programmable photonic circuits

Nanowerk  October 19, 2020
The increase in complexity of circuits has introduced a generation of photonic circuits that can be programmed using software for a wide variety of functions through a mesh of on-chip waveguides, tunable beam couplers and optical phase shifters. An international team of researchers (Belgium, Spain, USA – Stanford University, MIT, Germany, Canada, Italy) discusses the state of this emerging technology, including recent developments in photonic building blocks and circuit architectures, as well as electronic control and programming strategies. They cover possible applications in linear matrix operations, quantum information processing and microwave photonics, and examine how these generic chips can accelerate the development of future photonic circuits by providing a higher-level platform for prototyping novel optical functionalities without the need for custom chip fabrication…read more. TECHNICAL ARTICLE

‘Classified knots’: Researchers create optical framed knots to encode information  October 17, 2020
Modern beam shaping techniques have enabled the generation of optical fields displaying a wealth of structural features. Due to their robustness against external perturbations, topological invariants in physical systems are increasingly being considered to encode information. Hence, structured light with topological properties could potentially be used for such purposes. An international team of researchers (Canada, USA – MIT, Israel) has experimentally demonstrated structures known as framed knots within optical polarization fields. They developed a protocol in which the topological properties of framed knots are used in conjunction with prime factorization to encode information…read more. Open Access TECHNICAL ARTICLE

Construction of framed knotted C-lines. Credit: Nature Communications volume 11, Article number: 5119 (2020)

A controllable membrane to pull carbon dioxide out of exhaust streams

MIT News  October 16, 2020
Researchers at MIT have developed a gas gating mechanism driven by reversible electrochemical metal deposition/dissolution on a conductive membrane, which can continuously modulate the interfacial gas permeability over two orders of magnitude with high efficiency and short response time. The gating mechanism involves neither moving parts nor dead volume and can therefore enable various engineering processes. An electrochemically mediated carbon dioxide concentrator demonstrates proof of concept by integrating the gating membranes with redox-active sorbents, where gating effectively prevented the crosstalk between feed and product gas streams for high-efficiency, directional carbon dioxide pumping. The system could be adapted to a wide variety of chemical separation and purification processes. Their concept of dynamically regulating transport at gas-liquid interfaces could broadly inspire systems in fields of gas separation, miniaturized devices, multiphase reactors, and beyond…read more. Open Access TECHNICAL ARTICLE 

Schematics showing the working principles of an electrochemically mediated gas gating membrane. Credit: Science Advances 16 Oct 2020: Vol. 6, no. 42, eabc1741

Eight Lincoln Laboratory technologies named 2020 R&D 100 Award winners

MIT News  October 20, 2020
Eight technologies developed by MIT Lincoln Laboratory researchers, either wholly or in collaboration with researchers from other organizations, were among the winners of the 2020 R&D 100 Awards. Six of the laboratory’s winning technologies are software systems, several of them take advantage of artificial intelligence techniques. The software technologies are solutions to difficulties inherent in analyzing large volumes of data and to problems in maintaining cybersecurity. Another technology is a process designed to assure secure fabrication of integrated circuits, and the eighth winner is an optical communications technology that may enable future space missions to transmit error-free data to Earth at significantly higher rates than currently possible…read more.

A flexible color-changing film inspired by chameleon skin (w/video)

Nanowerk  October 21, 2020
By tensing or relaxing their skin, chameleons can change the way light reflects from guanine crystals under the surface, producing structural coloration. The structural colors are different from the pigments that give many other creatures their hues. Currently available materials for mimicking chameleon skin is difficult to produce. Researchers in China introduced a flexible network structure in cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs), exerting a bridge effect for the rigid nanomaterials. These films display high flexibility with a fracture strain of up to 39%. Notably, stretching-induced structural color changes visible to the naked eye are realized, for the first time, for CNC materials. The soft materials show humidity and compression-responsive properties in terms of changing apparent structural colors. Colored marks left by ink-free writing can be shown or hidden by controlling the environmental humidities. This biobased photonic film, acting as a new “smart skin”, is potentially used with multifunctions of chromogenic sensing, encryption, and anti-counterfeit…read more. Video  TECHNICAL ARTICLE 

Abstract. Credit: ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces 2020, 12, 41, 46710–46718, September 23, 2020 

Good vibrations for new energy

Nanowerk  October 20, 2020
Triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs) can be made at low cost in different configurations, making them suitable for driving small electronics such as mobile phones, biomechanics devices, and sensors. Researchers in Australia provide experimental and theoretical models for augmented rotary TENGs. The power generated by TENGs is found to be a function of the number of segments, rotational speed, and tribo-surface spacing. They applied mathematical modeling combined with artificial intelligence to characterize the TENG output under various kinematics and geometric conditions. Sensitivity analysis reveals that the generated energy and the matched resistance depend highly on segmentation and angular velocity rate. They described the TENG dynamic outputs for various structural parameters. The study enhances understanding of rotation-induced periodic TENGs and reveals optimized characteristics for disk-shaped TENG energy harvesters…read more. TECHNICAL ARTICLE

Graphical abstract. Credit: Nano Energy, Volume 75, September 2020, 104993