Diamond batteries made from nuclear waste, a 3D-printed dog’s nose that could sniff out bombs and cancer, and video games that can improve eyesight — these are just some of the eye-popping discoveries we read about this week. Oh, did we mention Rasputin?
Scientists working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, MIT and the FDA have 3D printed the shape, direction, spacing of the nostrils and other features of a female Labrador retriever’s nose. They used the model to create a bio-inspired inlet for a commercial vapor detector “that would enable it to sniff like a dog.” The new feature “resulted in an improvement in odorant detection by a factor of 16 at a stand-off distance of 4 centimeters (1.6 inches),” the team reported. “The dog is an active aerodynamic sampling system that literally reaches out and grabs odorants,” said NIST’s Matthew Staymates. “It uses fluid dynamics and entrainment to increase its aerodynamic reach to sample vapors at increasingly large distances. Applying this bio-inspired design principle could lead to significantly improved vapor samplers for detecting explosives, narcotics, pathogens — even cancer.” The research was published in Scientific Reports.
Researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Nottingham have used the “predatory” bacterium Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus to hunt down and kill its lethal, drug-resistant relative Shigella flexneri for the first time. The team reported that the so-called “living antibiotic” was able to “clear multi-drug resistant Shigella infections in zebrafish.” The team said that Shigella is responsible for more than 1 million human deaths every year. “This study really shows what a unique and interesting bacterium Bdellovibrio is as it presents this amazing natural synergy with the immune system and persists just long enough to kill prey bacteria before being naturally cleared,” said the study’s co-lead author Serge Mostowy from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London. “It’s an important milestone in research into the use of a living antibiotic that could be used in animals and humans.”
A team of physicists and chemists at the University of Bristol in the U.K. say they are building a “nuclear battery” that generates electricity from a special diamond made from nuclear waste. Diamonds are essentially very fancy carbon crystals. The carbon in the new battery comes from carbon blocks used to moderate the chain reaction inside nuclear reactors. “There are no moving parts involved, no emissions generated and no maintenance required, just direct electricity generation,” said Tom Scott, a materials professor in the university’s Interface Analysis Centre. “By encapsulating radioactive material inside diamonds, we turn a long-term problem of nuclear waste into a nuclear-powered battery and a long-term supply of clean energy.” Scott said possible applications could include “situations where it is not feasible to charge or replace conventional batteries.” Because they can last for thousands of years but generate a fraction of the power compared with even AA batteries, Scott said, “obvious applications would be in low-power electrical devices where long life of the energy source is needed, such as pacemakers, satellites, high-altitude drones or even spacecraft.”
Researchers at the University of Rochester and Vanderbilt University reported that playing a special training video game can help kids with poor vision “vastly improve” their eyesight in as little as eight hours. “We know that action video games (AVG) can improve visual perception, so we isolated the AVG components that we thought would have the strongest effect on perception and devised a kid-friendly game that compels players to pay attention to the entire visual field, not just where their vision is most impaired,” said Duje Tadin, associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at Rochester. “As a result, we’ve seen up to 50 percent improvement in visual perception tasks.”
Hemophilia is a crippling disorder that prevents blood from clotting, leading to excessive bleeding and other problems. It’s caused by a defective gene that cannot produce a protein that helps with clotting. Treatment usually involves injecting the missing protein into the bloodstream. Now researchers at the University of Austin in Texas have developed the world’s first biodegradable capsule using nanoparticles and microparticles to ferry the clotting protein into the body of patients suffering from a type of the disease known as hemophilia B. “My most pressing concern was the treatment of younger patients who suffer from hemophilia and who have to apply injections every two days,” said Nicholas A. Peppas, the director of UT Austin’s Institute for Biomaterials, Drug Delivery and Regenerative Medicine. Added Sarena Horava, the study’s lead author: “Based on the current capabilities of this system, approximately two capsules would be equivalent to one injection. However, we anticipate that we will make further improvements to the delivery capacity of the oral delivery system and therefore decrease the capsule amount.”