Researchers find a way to distort laser light to survive a trip through disordered obstacles.
- Lasers are great for measuring—if they can get a clear view of their target.
- In biomedical applications, there's often disordered stuff in the way of objects needing measurement.
- A new technique leverages that disorder to formulate a custom-made, optimal laser light beam.
Understanding the problem<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUzNjkxMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzODU2NDUwMn0.S48hywSM4tiNdTudLfryQ3JLPz5p4qRI_I2a2XB5KYA/img.jpg?width=980" id="3f2d8" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="611410d6114f9f023e7bfb4a070b3342" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="822" />
Credit: gavran333/Adobe Stock<p>When working with lasers or any other measurement tool, "You always want to achieve the best possible measurement accuracy — that's a central element of all natural sciences," says paper co-author <a href="https://rottergroup.itp.tuwien.ac.at" target="_blank">Stefan Rotter</a> of TU Wien in a <a href="https://www.tuwien.at/en/tu-wien/news/news-articles/news/optimale-information-ueber-das-unsichtbare" target="_blank">press release</a>. A highly focused laser beam is an ideal tool for this. However, getting it through a disordered barrier without destroying the integrity of the beam is a challenge.</p><p>The researchers describe the problem using the example of the type of frosted glass one might encounter in a bathroom window. Explains Utrecht University's <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=3Ju6wZgAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">Allan Mosk</a>, another co-author, "Let's imagine a panel of glass that is not perfectly transparent, but rough and unpolished like a bathroom window." To keep people from seeing into the bathroom, "Light can pass through, but not in a straight line. The light waves are altered and scattered, so we can't accurately see an object on the other side of the window with the naked eye."</p><p>This is not very different from what happens when a scientist tries to examine some tiny object inside biological tissue. The disordered stuff between the scientist and the object turns the concentrated laser beam into a complex wave pattern that scatters on its way through the visual barrier.</p>
The new solution<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUzNjkxNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDM0NTIyMn0.2QcQqImiRII5DsSCY_FruZqwdm9KGQeok2vH8nH8n5s/img.jpg?width=980" id="73e8d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="87eac5452c297f3ee356fa0ca5217625" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="992" />
Credit: TU Wien<p>The researchers have found that they can modify a laser's light in anticipation of the way it will travel through the disordered environment so that it hits its target on the other side with sufficient coherence for making accurate measurements.</p><p>While that optimal wave may not be a pure, pristine laser light, it's nonetheless just the light wave needed to successfully make its way through that particular barrier. The researchers were able to develop a mathematical procedure that gives them the distortion required to produce such a wave. Says first author <a href="https://scholar.google.fr/citations?user=13WGC2EAAAAJ&hl=fr" target="_blank">Dorian Bouchet</a>, also of Utrecht University, "You can show that for various measurements there are certain waves that deliver a maximum of information as, e.g., on the spatial coordinates at which a certain object is located."</p><p>Bouchet adds, "To achieve this, you don't even need to know exactly what the disturbances are. It's enough to first send a set of trial waves through the system to study how they are changed by [it]."</p><p>Returning to the glazed bathroom window example, the system would identify an optimal light wave that could travel through the disordered glass and still accurately measure movement of a person behind the glass.</p>
Testing the system<p>The researchers confirmed that their formula worked in experiments at Utrecht in which they were able to make nano-scale measurements using a laser that successfully transited a turbid plate playing the role of a disordered medium. They also tried simpler and simpler laser beams—reducing the number of photons being used—to see how far they could push their system. They found that it even with the simplest laser possible, it still performed satisfactorily.</p><p>Says Mosk, "We see that the precision of our method is only limited by the so-called quantum noise. This noise results from the fact that light consists of photons—nothing can be done about that." Still, he says, "within the limits of what quantum physics allows us to do for a coherent laser beam, we can actually calculate the optimal waves to measure different things. Not only the position, but also the movement or the direction of rotation of objects."</p>
Can computers do calculations in multiple universes? Scientists are working on it. Step into the world of quantum computing.
- While today's computers—referred to as classical computers—continue to become more and more powerful, there is a ceiling to their advancement due to the physical limits of the materials used to make them. Quantum computing allows physicists and researchers to exponentially increase computation power, harnessing potential parallel realities to do so.
- Quantum computer chips are astoundingly small, about the size of a fingernail. Scientists have to not only build the computer itself but also the ultra-protected environment in which they operate. Total isolation is required to eliminate vibrations and other external influences on synchronized atoms; if the atoms become 'decoherent' the quantum computer cannot function.
- "You need to create a very quiet, clean, cold environment for these chips to work in," says quantum computing expert Vern Brownell. The coldest temperature possible in physics is -273.15 degrees C. The rooms required for quantum computing are -273.14 degrees C, which is 150 times colder than outer space. It is complex and mind-boggling work, but the potential for computation that harnesses the power of parallel universes is worth the chase.
Fashion Week, 2050
- The clothing of the future will look nothing like what we wear today. Or maybe it will.
- A hunger for sustainability is leading researchers to new organic materials from which to design clothing.
- Other visionaries are working to make our future outfits as smart as we want to look.
Nature knows best<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMTA3ODcwOC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDA5ODk1NH0.dYFYGU2aNbn8NSYY__AONBlNLNQ0-LOa06gHGDHjZgc/img.jpg?width=980" id="487d3" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="75a32433c594f6a9222e30128f0f90f9" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Spiderweb" />
Image source: freestocks.org/Unsplash<p>About 60 percent of the clothing we wear contains plastic <a href="https://www.oceancleanwash.org/the-issue/" target="_blank">microfibers</a>. The best-known are polyester, nylon, and acrylic. Unfortunately, these fibers don't stay in our clothing. While some of them leach out as we go about our business, taking to the air and so on, doing laundry may be a significant contributor to the 8 million tons of microplastics dumped into our oceans annually. (Fun fact: Experts only know where about 1 percent of that plastic goes.) Nonetheless, <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0025326X16307639" target="_blank">research</a> published in 2016 says that for an average wash load, over 700,000 fibers could be being released into the water supply.</p><p>In addition to ongoing efforts to find new ways of incorporating used materials in new clothing, textile-industry scientists are experimenting with a range of less environmentally damaging, more sustainable materials for us to wear. Much of it is derived from naturally occurring sources.</p><p><strong>Pineapple fabric</strong></p><p>Piñatex is a leather substitute made from pineapple-leaf fiber. These leaves are discarded during harvesting of the fruit, and so they're readily available with no additional farming necessary, according to the <a href="https://www.ananas-anam.com" target="_blank">Piñatex web site</a>. The material, which is produced in sheets, is already being used for making shoes, handbags, and dresses.</p><p><strong>Mushrooms</strong></p><p>There are a few mushroom-thread-based fabrics.</p><p>There's a synthetic leather called <a href="https://boltthreads.com/technology/mylo/" target="_blank">Mylo</a>, from <a href="https://boltthreads.com" target="_blank">Bolt Threads</a>, a vegan, eco-friendly material. The company's partnering with fashion brands Stella McCartney and Patagonia in making actual clothing from Mylo.</p><p>Then there's MycoTEX. The most startling thing about MycoTEX is that this living material can be <em>grown</em> into clothing. As producer <a href="http://www.fungal-futures.com/exhibition" target="_blank">Fungal Futures</a> puts it, "the garment can be built three-dimensionally and shaped whilst being made, fitting the wearer's wishes," using clothing-shaped molds. Since MycoTEX grows into the desired shape without cutting, there's no waste material when a garment's complete.</p><p><strong>Not-silk</strong></p><p>One of the wildest ideas is another technology from Bolt Threads called "<a href="https://boltthreads.com/technology/microsilk/" target="_blank">Microsilk</a>." Based on the way in which spiders produce real silk, Microsilk is derived from yeast-based proteins, extracted, and then spun into fibers. The company released, and immediately sold out of, a Microsilk tie in 2017, and Stella McCartney showed a <a href="https://cms.qz.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/boltxstella_moma.jpeg?quality=75&strip=all&w=1240&h=1274&crop=1" target="_blank" class="hoverZoomLink">gold dress</a> made from the fibers at NYC's MoMA that same year.</p><p><strong>Eucalyptus yarn</strong></p><p>A company called Wool and the Gang (a pun better read than said) is selling a product, "<a href="https://www.woolandthegang.com/en/products/tina-tape-yarn?taxon_id=49" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tina Tape Yarn</a>," made from sustainably harvested eucalyptus trees. They call the material Tencel and claim it's "more absorbent than cotton, softer than silk and cooler than linen." It's also biodegradable, made with renewable energy and — heads up, sheep — totally vegan.</p><p><strong>Agraloop BioFibre</strong></p><p>This <a href="https://www.circular-systems.com/agraloop/" target="_blank">company</a> takes plant-based textiles beyond pineapples. We say that because pineapple leaves are just one of the castoff materials sourced to make their line of BioFibres. The others are oil-seed hemp, oil-seed flax, banana tree, cane bagasse, and rice straw. Agraloop notes that these six crops provide 250 million tons of textile fiber per year, 2.5 times the global demand.</p><p><strong>Some of the rest</strong></p><p>Other natural substances being reworked into clothing include chitin fiber from crustacean shells, seaweed, banana fiber, coconut fiber, and corn fiber.</p>
Don’t forget to recharge your underwear<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMTA3ODcxNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0Nzc5NjM2Nn0.6TuudX93Ilw66UefO5z3Y9ULbZ8KczlgCXqqgphWpp4/img.jpg?width=980" id="0511d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d092d2edbe7db674945ecf653bd346e1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Smart textiles" />
Popular future brands?
Image source: Boris Bobrov/Unsplash<p>Technology in textiles is not a new thing, but it's a <a href="http://sustainable-nano.com/2018/11/28/nano-textiles/" target="_blank">booming field</a>. Antimicrobial silver nanoparticles that prevent smelly bacteria — and therefore require less washing — have been embedded in fabrics since early in the new millennium. Researchers are working on water-repelling fabrics, and nanoparticles can also make clothing <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0169433217335626" target="_blank">less flammable</a>. Just this month, a <a href="https://phys.org/news/2019-09-world-smallest-accelerometer-era-wearables.html" target="_blank">nanoscale accelerometer</a> was announced, perfect for incorporating into future motion-sensitive clothing.</p><p>What can clothes do? What <em>can't</em> they do? Get ready for <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesstylefile/2014/05/07/what-is-the-future-of-fabric-these-smart-textiles-will-blow-your-mind/#72cbe95e599b" target="_blank">smart textiles</a>.</p><p><strong>Google goes beyond Glass</strong></p><p>Having been early into smart wearables with their Glass products, Google has has begun weaving its <a href="https://atap.google.com/jacquard/" target="_blank">Jacquard</a> platform into clothing, in particular a jacket co-developed with Levi's. The jacket is a wearable touch device you can use for controlling your devices.</p><p>Another smart-tech use being explored for fabrics are materials laced with sensors that can <a href="https://www.mpo-mag.com/contents/view_breaking-news/2016-04-26/textile-based-sensors-offer-healthcare-monitoring-functionality" target="_blank">monitor the wearer's health</a>, going far beyond fitness watches to clothes that keep an eye on a wide range of health indicators. </p><p><strong>Clothes that change color</strong></p><p>Scientists from the College of Optics and Photonics at The University of Central Florida have developed <a href="http://www.chromorphous.com" target="_blank">ChroMorphous</a>, a color-changing fabric your can control using your smartphone. They cal it "eFabric." (What, does Apple own "iFabric?")</p><p><strong>Haptic fabric</strong></p><p>Some of the new materials are designed to be helpful. <a href="https://www.wearablex.com" target="_blank">Wearable X</a> specializes in materials that support <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haptic_technology" target="_blank">haptic</a> feedback, electrical signals that mimic a sense of being touched or of interaction with virtual objects. The company currently sells <a href="https://www.wearablex.com/collections/nadi-x-smart-yoga-pants" target="_blank">NADI X</a> yoga garb with embedded haptic feedback that provides training cues. An earlier product put the "fun" in <a href="https://www.wearablex.com/pages/fundawear" target="_blank">Fundawear</a> by allowing touch to be transmitted from a smartphone to a partner anywhere in the world, "created with long-distance couples in mind."</p><p><strong>Optical communicator hat</strong></p><p>We'll let Yoel Fink of MIT pitch this one: "Think about pedestrian safety and self-driving cars. Tremendous investments are going into cars. How about the pedestrians? Do we as pedestrians or bikers get to know if the car has detected us? With fabric optical communications your baseball cap can not only alert a car to your presence but importantly let you know if the car detected you. Fabrics for the self-driving future." Alternately, those cars could just honk?</p>
Look good, feel good<p>Obviously, any new materials designed for fashion need to be attractive, workable, and feel good to wearers in order to gain any traction, and these goals are very much elements in the development process. Will they be the comfy, loose-fitting fabrics of <em>Star Wars</em>, or will we be parading around in <a href="https://www.pinterest.com/kaylmoodybooks/sci-fi-fashion/" target="_blank">metallic armadillo-like facemasks</a>? Who knows? Given our past track record, the odds are that we have no idea. We'll just have to wait to see what we'll look like when we control our personal universes from our intelligent pineapple jumpsuits.</p>
Harvard engineers make a breakthrough polarization camera.
- Harvard researchers create a tiny camera that can see polarization.
- Seeing the invisible light can help in numerous applications, from self-driving cars to satellites.
- The scientists used nanotechnology to achieve this feat.
Check out how the camera works here:<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="86c974d0345333348aa160750c9d6a29"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/tGcimk8yd-Y?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
It's a big, bold plan.
- At an Amazon event, actor Robert Downey Jr. announced plans to launch a foundation that would use robots and nanotechnology to clean up the environment.
- The foundation is called the Footprint Coalition. Details of the foundation's plans are unclear.
- Researchers are exploring a variety of ways that nanotechnology could help protect the environment.
Speaking at Amazon's Re:MARS conference in Las Vegas this week, Robert Downey Jr. announced plans to start a foundation that would use robotics and nanotechnology to clean up the planet. In true Tony Stark fashion, his goal is bold.
"Between robotics and nanotechnology, we could clean up the planet significantly, if not totally, in 10 years," said Downey Jr., adding that he'd been speaking with experts about the plan, according to Variety. "God I love experts. They're like Wikipedia with character defects."
Downey Jr. posted a snippet of his talk on Instagram.
The actor said he's concerned about the environment.
"I have this quiet sense of crisis," he said, acknowledging that his lifestyle has been less than environmentally-friendly, according to Variety. "I'm a one-man carbon footprint nightmare colossus."
Legend. https://t.co/M73qUOJBiz— Chris Evans (@Chris Evans)1559756924.0
The foundation is called the Footprint Coalition, and it'll reportedly launch in April 2020, though it's unclear exactly what it plans to do. A website for the foundation currently lists a newsletter sign-up but little else. Downey Jr. is also currently working on an eight-episode YouTube docu-series about A.I. that's scheduled to air sometime in 2019.
How could nanotechnology improve the environment?
Researchers are exploring a variety of ways that nanotechnology — which seeks to manipulate matter at the atomic and molecular level — could help protect the environment and curb climate change. Some examples include improving the efficiency of solar panels, generating less pollution during manufacturing, cleaning up oil spills, and creating stronger, lighter materials.
But one of the most exciting potential applications for nanotechnology, in relation to the environment, lies in using nanomaterials to convert CO2 to make products.
"Nanomaterials can convert carbon dioxide into useful products like alcohol," Arun Chattopadhyay, a member of the chemistry faculty at the Center for Nanotechnology, Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, told Scientific American. "The materials could be simple chemical catalysts or photochemical in nature that work in the presence of sunlight."
But the main problem with this approach — and with most nanotechnology strategies — is cost; it's still unclear how to make nanotechnology economically viable. What's more, the extremely tiny scale of nanoparticles raises unique questions about potential health risks. Still, it's entirely possible researchers will find ways to surpass both of these barriers as nanotechnology continues to get cheaper.