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Nanoscience and nanotechnology

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Axios

Axios reporter Bryan Walsh spotlights how MIT researchers have developed a new way for chemical signals in spinach leaves to transmit emails. “The system could help provide an early warning system for explosives or pollution, but really, we just want to know what the spinach are thinking,” writes Walsh.

Fast Company

Fast Company reporter Adele Peters spotlights Prof. Michael Strano’s work exploring how to embed nanoparticles into plant leaves, as part of an effort to see if they could serve as sensors. “We started asking the question, can we make living plants to do some of the functions that humans do by stamping things out of plastic and circuit boards—things that go into landfills?” says Strano.

Guardian

MIT researchers have developed a way to embed spinach leaves with sensors, which would allow them to serve as sensors that could monitor groundwater for contaminates, reports The Guardian. “Plants are very environmentally responsive,” explains Prof. Michael Strano. “If we tap into those chemical signaling pathways, there is a wealth of information to access.”

Stat

Prof. Sangeeta Bhatia and senior postdoctoral associate Leslie Chan discuss their work developing a synthetic biosensor to diagnose lung disease. Chan explains that “instead of relying on naturally occurring breath volatiles, we wanted to be able to engineer the breath signal that we could use to monitor lung disease.”

Boston Globe

Boston Globe reporter Hiawatha Bray writes that MIT startup DUST Identity has developed a technique that uses diamond dust to identify counterfeit products. The diamond dust is sprayed onto a product to tag it, and “because the bits of diamond are distributed at random inside the material, no two tags will ever be the same,” Bray explains.

Forbes

Forbes reporter Amy Feldman spotlights MIT startup Ginkgo Bioworks, which aims to “design, modify and manufacture organisms to make existing industrial processes cheaper and entirely new processes possible.” Feldman notes that the promise of synthetic biology is “not just a proliferation of new products, but also a reduction of the environmental harm that comes from our heavy reliance on petrochemicals.”

PBS NewsHour

John Yang reports for PBS NewsHour about technologies to harvest fog to secure the world’s water supply, including one system designed by Prof. Kripa Varanasi to collect water from power plant cooling towers. Varanasi and his team “discovered that zapping air rich in fog with a beam of electrically charged particles draws the droplets toward the mesh, dramatically increasing its ability to collect water,” says Yang.

IEEE Spectrum

Prof. Max Shulaker has fabricated the first foundry-built silicon wafer, a monolithic 3D carbon nanotube integrated circuit, reports Samuel K. Moore for IEEE Spectrum. “We’ve completely reinvented how we manufacture this technology,” explains Shulaker, “transforming it from a technology that only worked in our academic labs to a technology that can and is already today working inside a commercial fabrication facility within a U.S. foundry.”

BBC

The BBC series “Follow the Food” spotlights how MIT researchers are tackling the issue of runoff pesticide pollution by developing a technology that helps pesticide better adhere to plant leaves. “What we are trying to do is come up with a technology that can help farmers and significantly reduce the amount [of pesticide] sprayed,” explains Prof. Kripa Varanasi.

Scientific American

MIT researchers have developed artificial muscles that can stretch more than 1,000 percent of their size and lift more than 650 times their weight, reports Sid Perkins for Scientific American. The new fibers could have applications in robotics and prosthetic devices, Perkins explains, and “work more like real muscles: they do work by pulling on or lifting objects.”

The Economist

Prof. Kripa Varanasi has developed a new hydrophobic surface that limits the spread of water droplets. The researchers etched a pattern of small rings onto the surface, which created a series of “water bowls” intended to “constrain the spread of droplets falling on them, thus encouraging the rapid ejection of those droplets back into the air,” reports The Economist.

Forbes

MIT researchers have created an app that translates proteins into music, reports Eva Amsen of Forbes. This method could potentially be used to “make it easier to process very subtle changes that would be less obvious if you looked at the data visually,” Amsen explains.

Gizmodo

MIT researchers have a developed a method to make liquid droplets bounce away faster on water-repellant surfaces. “Aside from reducing ice buildup on airplanes, or even the giant sweeping blades of a wind turbine, this research could also benefit waterproof garments, which are a big market for hydrophobic materials,” reports Andrew Liszewski of Gizmodo.

Stat

Diana Cai writes for STAT about Prof. Markus Buehler’s new research to turn amino acids into music. “Buehler thinks the technology could help in understanding genetic diseases caused by misfolded proteins,” writes Cai, noting that, “AI may conceivably ‘hear’ patterns of misfolding that could distinguish dangerous mutations from harmless ones.”

Motherboard

In a new study, Prof. Markus Buehler converted 20 types of amino acids into a 20-tone scale to create musical compositions. “Those altered compositions were converted back into a conceptual amino acid chain, which enabled the team to generate variations of proteins that have never been seen in nature,” writes Becky Ferreira for Motherboard.