SciTech Briefs

Vijay Jayaram Sep 25, 2011

Light-paced heart cells created

A team of researchers at Stanford University has bioengineered human heart cells to pulse at a rate controlled by light of a certain brightness. As the light changes in intensity, the pace of these cells changes with it, and their motion ceases only when the light is shut off. These special cardiomyocytes were designed by inserting light-sensitive proteins into stem cells, making them different from regular heart cells. According to the researchers, this breakthrough holds promise in the fields of bioengineering and medicine, as the future may see light-based pacemakers.

Source: Science Daily

Neutrinos exceed cosmic speed limit

An international team of researchers has recently measured neutrinos, tiny subatomic particles, traveling faster than the speed of light. Measurements were taken over a period of three years in which neutrinos travelled 454 miles from Geneva, Switzerland, to Gran Sasso, Italy — an average of 60 nanoseconds faster than it would have taken a beam of light to make the trip. According to Einstein’s relativity, nothing with mass can travel faster than the speed of light, therefore physicists around the world are looking carefully for even the most minuscule of errors.

Source: The New York Times

New processor requires little power

This past week, Intel unveiled a prototype processor chip that operates with virtually no energy. It utilizes near-threshold voltage processors that can be sustained with minimum power consumption. While other chips on the market require one volt, this chip runs on 400 to 500 millivolts. To demonstrate its efficiency, the processor was used in a computer running Linux, with its only source of power being a 4-square centimeter solar cell. With lower energy use, however, comes a decrease in accuracy — an issue Intel plans to address in the future.

Source: CNN

Solar3D develops efficient solar cells

Silicon’s impressive efficiency in conversion between light energy and electricity and the high energy-retention rate of optical fibers make these materials vital to the solar power industry. Solar3D has taken advantage of these in the development of their new 3-D solar cells, which use a variety of techniques to trap as much light as possible. The cells are coated with silicon dioxide, which minimizes reflection and guides light inward. Optical fibers are woven inside the cells, each with different refractive indices. These retain entering light photons long enough to store a much greater amount of their energy.

Source: Technology Review

Bioengineered cats aid in study

Researchers at MayoClinic College of Medicine in Minnesota and Yamaguchi University in Japan have bioengineered cats so that they glow green in the dark. The fluorescence of these kittens, however, is not what makes them special; these felines contain an antiviral protein for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. This virus has been spreading ferociously throughout the global feline population because cats do not have TRIMSalpha, a protein that protects the immune system from these types of viruses. The results of this experiment can potentially be extended to immunodeficiency viruses in other mammals, including humans.

Source: Science News

Leaps in quantum computing

Researchers at UC-Santa Barbara have developed the first functioning quantum computer equipped with RAM and an information processing unit. Quantum computing differs from its more mainstream transistor-based counterpart, as it uses quantum properties to store and manipulate data. The computer consists of basic superconducting circuits and allows for the storage of quantum bits. Its current functionality is limited to simple algorithms, but the approach is scalable to larger and more powerful quantum computers.

Source: Forbes