Non-igniting lithium-ion battery developed by researchers

A “lithium-ion battery that does not catch fire” was developed by a team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). It is a water-based lithium battery, according to the press release, designed to continue operating even in extreme conditions, for example underwater or following an impact or a gash.

Lithium-ion batteries have always been susceptible to sudden fires, events that arrive without substantially any warning, so much so that many smartphone manufacturers have had to withdraw their models. No significant steps have been taken in improving this aspect despite the fact that the battery sector, not only the lithium-ion ones, is one of the most active in the research field.

The new study, presented in Chemical Communications and carried out by a team led by Konstantinos Gerasopoulos, saw the use of a new class of electrolytes for the new battery which reduces water activity and increases the energy capacity of the battery as well as its life cycle. These electrolytes, incorporated in a polymer matrix, eliminate the problem of flammable solvents as well as highly reactive toxic solvents that can be present in current lithium-ion batteries.

“Our team’s efforts have generally focused on replacing the flammable liquid with a polymer that improves safety and form factor. We are excited about where we are today. Our recent paper shows improved usability and performance of water-based flexible polymer lithium-ion batteries that can be built and operated outdoors,” explains Gerasopoulos.

A prototype could be ready as early as this year, according to one of the APL managers Jeff Maranchi.


Fungi consumption linked to lower risk of prostate cancer according to a new study

Mushroom consumption may be linked to a lower risk of prostate cancer according to a new study published in the International Journal of Cancer . The researchers used data from 36,000 Japanese men who spanned several decades, aged between 40 and 79. These men came from the Miyagi and Ohsaki areas of Japan.

The data had also been collected thanks to questionnaires that included questions such as those relating to the consumption of mushrooms or other particular foods, as well as questions relating to physical activity and personal and family medical conditions.

Researchers discovered a link between regular mushroom consumption and a reduction in prostate cancer risk in men and this link was even more significant for men 50 years of age and older and in those men in whom the diet was mainly made from meat and dairy products with limited consumption of vegetables and fruit.

“Although our study suggests that regular consumption of mushrooms can reduce the risk of prostate cancer, we also want to emphasize that a healthy and balanced diet is much more important than filling the trolley with mushrooms,” says Shu Zhang, professor of epidemiology at Tohoku University and lead author of the study who adds that in the past, test-tube studies and studies on living organisms had shown that fungi can potentially prevent prostate cancer.

According to the researcher, this is to be explained in the good amount of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants present in mushrooms, in particular L-ergothioneine. The latter regulates cell imbalance caused by unwise dietary choices and long-term exposure to environmental toxins.

Zhang himself admits that new research is needed to understand the extent of this connection also because this study was carried out only on a limited population.


Skiing, snowboarding and snow sports can cause serious skull fractures in young children

The injuries that children and young people can cause in winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding have been the subject of a new study presented later at the conference of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) this year. The study was carried out by analyzing a database of 845 children hospitalized between 2009 and 2012 for injuries caused by snow sports.

More than half of the children/teenagers had to undergo surgery, with 75.8% of them being male. Among the lesions that the subjects showed were fractures of the lower limbs (28.7%), intracranial lesions (22.7%), splenic lesions (15.6%), fractures of the upper limbs (15.5%) and skull fractures (9.1%).

Researchers found that elementary school-age children were more likely than high school boys to suffer from skull or face fractures. Middle school and high school boys, however, showed greater chances of getting intra-abdominal injuries.

According to Robert J. McLoughlin, one of the authors of the study, some of these injuries can also be quite serious and this should give parents due concern and attention when children play these sports, especially when it comes to young children given that a quarter of those he analyzed showed major intracranial lesions.


Artificial leather can be used as a new input system for mobile devices to transmit emotions

A new device that “takes touch technology to a higher level” was developed by a group of researchers from the University of Bristol. The interface, called Skin-On, imitates human skin in all senses in the sense that it can receive different types of touches and can “feel” the user’s grip. It can feel, for example, changes in the pressure of the touch, the position of the touch and can detect various interactions such as a caress, tickling or even a pinch or twist.

This is the first time that skin is actually added to a computer or interactive device, as explained by Anne Roudaut, professor of human-computer interaction at the University of Bristol who participated in the study who states the following: “The idea is perhaps a bit surprising, but the skin is an interface with which we are very familiar, so why not use it and not use its richness with the devices we use every day?”

It is one of the first studies, in fact, which tend to exploit artificial leather not as an output device, such as to receive signals from the outside (the typical artificial leather that is built for robots), but as an input device to increase the variability related to the interaction that we can have with a computer or any technological IT device. For example, this artificial skin could be grafted onto a smartphone and could allow much more natural tactile gestures to transmit an expressive message to another person, such as a caress.

In fact, the same researchers have also implemented a messaging application with which users can express a wider range of emotions than that expressed, for example, with text or images. As Marc Teyssier, another researcher involved in the project, explains in this system, “the intensity of the touch controls the size of the emojis. A strong grip conveys anger while tickling the skin shows a smiling emoji and touching creates a surprised emoji.”

The same press release that presents the project, created by scientists from the University of Bristol in collaboration with Telecomm ParisTech and the University of Sorbonne, suggests that this new system could soon be integrated and become a standard in all mobile devices.


Laser printer creates 3D holograms with “unprecedented level of detail”

A new 3D laser printer that “produces digital 3D holograms with unprecedented level of detail and realistic colors,” which offers a wider field of view, higher resolution and better color rendering than previous systems, as reported in the press release which presents the research which appeared in Applied Optics, was created by a research group of the Optical Society (OSA).

This new “printer” can create holograms with very wide fields of view and complete parallax using a particular photographic material that the same researchers behind this study have designed.
Thanks to the holograms with complete parallaxes it is possible to reconstruct an object that can be viewed from the direction with a field of view up to 120 ° degrees. The same models can first be generated on the computer, also by means of scans acquired with particular scanners.

According to the researchers, this new printer, called CHIMERA, can be useful for creating copies of objects in color and at high resolution, naturally in 3D, to be exhibited, for example, in museum or art galleries so that you can look at the same object in every detail even if it is not really present on site. And all without the user having to use particular devices or equipment, such as glasses.

“Our 15-year research project aimed to build a hologram printer with all the benefits of previous technologies by eliminating the disadvantages known as expensive lasers, low print speeds, limited field of view and unsaturated colors,” said Yves Gentet in the statement (one of the leaders of the research team). “We achieved this by creating the CHIMERA printer, which uses low cost commercial lasers and high speed printing to produce holograms with high quality colors that cover a wide dynamic range.”

At the time, researchers used this printer to create holograms with dimensions up to 60 by 80 cm.


Engineered beta cells produce insulin in the body of diabetic mice when exposed to light

Interesting experiments have been carried out by researchers at Tufts University regarding the possibility of designing cells that produce insulin in the body to be activated “on command.” The researchers performed experiments on diabetic mice by transplanting engineered pancreatic beta cells into their bodies.

These cells were capable of producing insulin, two to three times higher than the typical level, with exposure to light. These engineered cells could be of great use, even for humans if the method also worked on them, to compensate for the inadequate production of insulin that is normally found in diabetics. In the study, published in ACS Synthetic Biology, the researchers were able to control glucose levels in diabetic mice substantially without pharmacological interventions.

In type 2 diabetes, which is the most common form, the cells within the body are no longer able to produce an adequate level of insulin, an important hormone for the body, which leads to a high glucose level (hyperglycemia). In type 1 diabetes, however, beta cells, i.e. the cells that produce insulin, are destroyed by the immune system and this leads to an almost complete lack of the hormone. Currently, the only treatments are performed with the administration of drugs or direct injections of insulin.

With this new method, so far only tested on mice, the production of insulin itself is kept constant by specially engineered cells and by a new technique, optogenetics. This technique allows the proteins in the cells to change their type of activity according to the light beam that hits them. For this reason, researchers have developed particular beta cells of the pancreas designed so that a gene inside them can be activated when exposed to blue light. When “activated” this gene, in turn, activates an increase in insulin production in beta cells.

With a technique like these, it may be possible to help a diabetic person “better control and maintain adequate glucose levels without pharmacological intervention. The cells naturally do the work of insulin production and the regulatory circuits within them work the same way; we simply increase the amount of cAMP (cyclic adenosine monophosphate molecule) temporarily in beta cells to induce them to produce more insulin only when needed, “as explained by Emmanuel Tzanakakis, professor of chemical and biological engineering at Tufts and corresponding author of the study.