A Space X rocket suffered a setback on the launch pad this week, but the company’s founder, Elon Musk, is making progress on other fronts. News involving a neural lace—a digital layer for the brain that could one day link humans and machines—may be coming “in a few months.” Elsewhere, Stanford engineers developed a cooling fabric that can efficiently lower body temperature and possibly reduce the need for air conditioning, and researchers in San Diego grew a piece of mouse skull from stem cells. Read on a hopefully grow a synapse or two.
Speaking in June at Recode’s Code conference, the Tesla Motors and Space X founder Elon Musk said he didn’t “love the idea of being a house cat” of an artificial superintelligence. He proposed beating the odds by developing a “neural lace” that could be deployed through the blood system and connect the brain to external networks. “Creating a neural lace is the thing that really matters for humanity to achieve symbiosis with machines,” Musk tweeted. The idea, which first appeared in science fiction, could be becoming a reality. Responding to a question about neural lace development on Twitter on Saturday, Musk wrote: “Making progress. Maybe something to announce in a few months.”
Engineers at Stanford University have developed a plastic fabric that cools the body and reduces the need for air conditioning. Unlike traditional materials that allow sweat to evaporate, the new fabric also lets most of the body’s heat pass through. The design makes “the wearer feel nearly 4 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than if they wore cotton clothing,” according to a news release. “Forty to 60 percent of our body heat is dissipated as infrared radiation when we are sitting in an office,” said Shanhui Fan, a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford. “But until now there has been little or no research on designing the thermal radiation characteristics of textiles.” His colleague Yi Cui said: “If you can cool the person rather than the building where they work or live, that will save energy.”
Ever since they discovered stem cells, doctors have been seeking ways to use them for growing new body parts. Now researchers at the University of California, San Diego say they have found “an easy and efficient way to coax human pluripotent stem cells to regenerate bone tissue—by feeding them adenosine, a naturally occurring molecule in the body.” They say that the bone tissue “helped repair cranial bone defects in mice without developing tumors or causing infection.” Shyni Varghese, a bioengineering professor at UC San Diego and senior author of the study, said: “One of the broader goals of our research is to make regenerative treatments more accessible and clinically relevant by developing easy, efficient and cost-effective ways to engineer human cells and tissues.” The research was published in the journal Science Advances.
Scientists have long hailed graphene as a miracle material. Earlier this year, these single-atom carbon sheets made it onto the World Economic Forum’s annual list of top 10 emerging technologies. Now scientists at Rice University in Houston have succeeded in “welding” flakes of graphene oxide into porous, “biocompatible” materials using a high-pulse electric current. They say that graphene, which is both light and super strong, could one day replace bioimplants made from titanium and other more common materials. “We started thinking about this for bone implants because graphene is one of the most intriguing materials with many possibilities and it’s generally biocompatible,” said Rice postdoctoral research associate Chandra Sekhar Tiwary.
Scientists at the Australian National University in Canberra have set a new world record for converting sunlight into steam. The team achieved a conversion rate of 97 percent. The steam can power a turbine and generate electricity. “Ultimately the work in this project is all about reducing the cost of concentrating solar thermal energy,” said John Pye of the ANU Research School of Engineering. “Our aim is to get costs down to 12 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity, so that this technology will be competitive.” Pye and his team used a mirror with a surface of 500 square meters (roughly 5,300 square feet) to concentrate solar beams to the equivalent of 2,100 suns. They used the energy to heat water to 500 degrees Celsius. The ANU solar concentrator is the largest of its kind in the world, according to the university.