innovative materials

Neural Implant Reverses Paralysis, Could Last Inside Patient For 10 Years

by Michael Keller

Look out, Six Million Dollar Man: The melding of human and machine is taking another step out of sci-fi into the real world. Researchers in Switzerland announced today they have made a significant advance toward the goal of replacing life-long disability with life as a cyborg.

They unveiled a new flexible neural implant that delivers electric and chemical stimulation directly to nervous system tissues. In early trials, it allowed paralyzed rats to walk again with fewer side effects than other treatments. The device can be embedded in the spinal cord or brain to deliver therapy to damaged neurons and reverse the effects of debilitating injury.

The research team at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne says they engineered the implant to have the same mechanical properties as the outermost membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord, called the dura matter. Because it is made out of soft, stretchy material that moves along with the living tissue, it doesn’t rub against it to trigger inflammation, scar tissue buildup and eventual rejection. If their e-Dura device develops as hoped, it would be the first neuroprosthetic implant that resides in the body over the long term—they believe it could last for 10 years inside a human patient.

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Bacteria, Graphene and Nanotech Produce Usable Electricity From Wastewater

Check out the kitchen timer counting down in the gif above. There’s nothing special about it except for how it is being powered. The instrument isn’t equipped with batteries. In fact, its electricity comes from the vial behind it, where bacteria are eating organic matter in wastewater and producing electricity as a result. 

It’s the first time that researchers have produced enough electricity for practical use from what are called microbial fuel cells. Scientists in China reported their breakthrough late last week in the journal Science Advances. Their work could one day help provide the huge amounts of power needed to treat wastewater, a process that currently consumes up to 5 percent of all the electricity produced in the U.S.

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Imagine a Wooden Empire State Building

A Finnish wood products company says New York City’s Empire State Building could be remade almost entirely out of trees.

In a bold attempt to illustrate wood’s usefulness in modern commercial construction, Metsä Wood teamed up with Canadian architect and timber engineering proponent Michael Green to redesign the iconic skyscraper. 

“I believe that the future belongs to tall wooden buildings,” Green said in a project announcement. “Significant advancements in engineered wood and mass timber products have created a new vision for what is possible for safe, tall, urban wood buildings. The challenge now is to change society’s perception of what’s possible.” Learn more and see Green’s TED Talk on wooden construction below.

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These days designers are looking for ways to make product packaging more like a banana peel, which is to say, less wasteful and more specific to the product being sold. This tendency stems, in part, from a burgeoning sense of responsibility on the part of corporations to consider their environmental impact.

Material Innovation, by Andrew H. Dent of consultancy Material ConneXion and design consultant Leslie Sherr, charts the ways people and companies are reimagining packaging.

MORE.

This is a patch of nanoscopic needles that was built to inject DNA and other nucleic acids directly into individual cells. 

The technique, developed by scientists at Imperial College London and Houston Methodist Research Institute, constructs tiny porous groups of needles out of biodegradable silicon. Each needle is 1,000 times thinner than a human hair. The team showed that their innovation could be used to deliver therapeutic nucleic acids inside human and animal cells. 

[The image (above) shows human cells (green) on the nanoneedles (orange). The nanoneedles have injected DNA into the cells’ nuclei (Blue). The image was taken by the researchers using optical microscopy. Image courtesy Chiappini et al./ICL.]

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Expect Big Science Projects In 2015, The International Year Of Light

by Michael Keller

If science and technology gets your blood pumping, expect 2015 to be quite a workout. The calendar should be chock-full of big announcements and exciting events. From designing genomes to exploring the outer reaches of our solar system, from a major push into developing targeted medicines to serious investments in materials science and understanding the fundamental mechanics of the universe, there will be no shortage of significant news.

Keep an eye out for these projects happening this year:

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