Quantum devices, communication,

Enabling Communication Between Quantum and Traditional Devices

Quantum computers and superconducting microprocessors usually operate optimally at temperatures around absolute zero (-459.67° Fahrenheit). However, they still have to exchange information and interact with traditional devices running at room temperature. Researchers from the  University of California, Santa Barbara, have developed a device that mediates the communication between these two types of devices, hoping to enable seamless integration between cutting-edge and traditional technologies in the future.

Quantum computers, devices that operate based on quantum physics laws, are expected to revolutionize all industries due to their capacity to solve problems that are out of reach for traditional computational devices. Even though some prototypes have been proven to work at room temperature, most quantum computers need to be cooled at temperatures close to absolute zero to minimize errors and facilitate the quantum states. At the same time, quantum devices haven’t yet reached their full potential; thus, present operational solutions propose a hybrid approach, in which computations are performed partly on a quantum device and partly on a traditional one.

Currently, the connection between cryogenic systems and room-temperature electronics is established via standard metal wires. However, these wires transfer heat into the circuits and allow only small amounts of data to be transmitted. The solution proposed by Paolo Pintus, the lead researcher within UC Santa Barbara’s Optoelectronics Research Group, is to convert data from electric current to light pulses using magnetic fields. Then, the light can be transferred via fiber-optic cables, which have a larger data capacity and minimize the heat that leaks into the cryogenic system.

The prototype has already been tested in projects developed together with the Tokyo Institute of Technology and the Quantum Computing and Engineering group of BBN Raytheon. According to Pintus, “[t]he promising results demonstrated in this work could pave the way for a new class of energy-efficient cryogenic devices, leading the research toward high-performing (unexplored) magneto-optic materials that can operate at low temperatures.”

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5G Can Unlock the Full Potential of Health Tech

The faster, the better: Recent research on the potential of 5G in healthcare carried out by Massachusetts-based International Data Corporation confirms that this technology can boost healthcare technology by making it faster, more precise, and more accurate, with clear benefits for patients. The list of technologies boosted by 5G includes remote robo-surgery, tele-treatment, and augmented and virtual reality for the purposes of medical diagnostics and practice.

Regarding robo-surgery, the application of 5G would enable connectivity with extremely low latency – that is, very small delay times – between command and execution. This enables greater precision and accuracy by the surgeon controlling the robot. It also means that, unlike now, the doctor would no longer be required to be physically close to the patient and operate from the same room for safety reasons, but could do so completely remotely. Reinforcing surgical robots with this technology would thus enable them to perform surgery even during crisis situations that prevent doctors from reaching patients in remote locations.

The higher connection speed provided would also normalize tele-treatment as a practice, as it would ensure the enhanced and more stable video streaming quality that doctors require for detailed checkups and identification of symptoms. In addition, 5G-supported telemedicine can easily integrate and store extensive patient data, images, and documentation without compromising connectivity. Thus, tele-treatment would provide greater accuracy in remote medical practices, greater coverage of patients scattered in remote locations, and greater safety even in the event of pandemic outbreaks while ensuring compliance with any social distancing norms.

The increased bandwidth and low latency will also facilitate the latest applications of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) in the medical field and help to unleash their full potential. For medical students, the accuracy of VR and AG technologies enabled by 5G would eliminate the need to practice surgery on human corpses.

In addition, 5G-based AG allows diagnostic images to be accurately projected onto the patient, helping the surgeon identify less damaging surgical pathway alternatives. The technology is expected to pave the way for many more improvements in next-generation healthcare technology, as well as in other industries.

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Tailor-Made Software Lets BioNTech Provide Customized mRNA Treatments

In just three years, German pharma company BioNTech, which delivered the first vaccine against COVID-19, has become a major player in the biotech field, not only delivering hundreds of millions of vaccine doses, but also continuing its original focus on mRNA vaccines and other drugs to treat cancer. The company’s rapid growth has not only brought fame and revenues, however, but also new collaborations, production facilities, and supply chains that need to be carefully managed on a country-by-country basis, especially because its core product are personalized mRNA vaccines that are specifically tailored to individual patients.

In order to handle the massive increase in logistics while continuing to coordinate its research and distribution, BioNTech has entered into a partnership with the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Mathematics ITWM, a renowned German applied research institute that develops and implements technologies spanning theoretical and applied mathematics in collaboration with industry partners. Working together, Fraunhofer ITWM and BioNTech developed two software platforms whose algorithms support planning, management, and automation of the pharma company’s global research and distribution work, including cancer treatment and vaccination applications, and to adapt to new requirements.

Fraunhofer ITWM researcher Heiner Ackermann, who works at the High Performance Center Simulation and Software Based Innovation in Kaiserslautern, Germany, said the software tools are able to handle the complexity of BioNTech’s work flows in a way that off-the-shelf solutions cannot match. As such, they provide a “solution that uses flexible mathematical methods and models – a tailor-made solution that is not only specifically designed for the processes at BioNTech, but can also optimize them,” Ackermann explained.

The challenges of managing the complex operations of a global biotech corporation include applications for regulatory approval, setting up and carrying out pharmaceutical trials, or dealing with industry-specific problems such as fluctuating process times and higher reject rates caused by defective tissue samples, to name just a few. But for BioNTech, these challenges are compounded by the fact that its individualized cancer drugs are designed differently for each patient in small batches. They are then distributed to many countries, each of which has its own regulatory requirements governing everything from initial approval to rules about shelf life. 

Now, the company has received its own customized solutions to deal with this high level of complexity. With the two new software platforms, BioNTech will be able to establish durable and stable production processes for vaccine production and individualized mRNA-based cancer treatments. “Thanks to our successful collaboration with the Fraunhofer ITWM team, BioNTech has acquired tailor-made solutions that provide vital support in high-stakes situations. We will continue to use the software-optimized processes in other areas in the future,” said Oliver Henning, Senior Vice President Operations at BioNTech.

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Greenwashing, sustainability

Sustainability Index Tools – a Potential Greenwashing Promoter?

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), a fashion brands alliance, has declared that it will stop making sustainability claims based on the Higg MSI assessments due to greenwashing suspicions raised by fashion sustainability activists and the Norwegian Consumer Authority (NCA).

Launched in 2021 by the SAC, the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI) is a tool used to measure the environmental impact of materials in the apparel, footwear, and textile industry. The scores are calculated based on industry data and various product life-cycle assessments, thus facilitating benchmarking and comparability across multiple brands and companies.

250 companies including H&M, Norrøna, Nike, Primark, Walmart, Boohoo, Amazon, and Tommy Hilfiger have already implemented these rating systems on their product advertisements. They form the basis for the companies’ claims about sustainability, such as that certain products use over 80 percent less water compared to conventional materials or have a 10 percent lower environmental impact.

Fashion sustainability activists have heavily criticized this model, labeling it as a greenwashing tool that misleads consumers and spreads wildly inaccurate data about clothes and footwear. The reaction is in line with other concerns claiming that the SAC uses research funded by the synthetics industry to convince people that petroleum-based products are more environmentally sound than natural fibers.

After investigating Norrøna’s sustainability claims, the Norwegian Consumer Authority concluded that the data was misleading and the sustainability claims unsubstantiated. Moreover, it threatened the H&M group with economic sanctions unless it stops using MSI-related marketing messages by 1 September 2022.

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Hydrogen, chemistry

Producing Powdered Hydrogen Through Mechanochemistry

An innovative procedure for gas separation and storage developed at Deakin University’s Institute for Frontier Materials is poised to reduce energy consumption in the chemical industry and make hydrogen easier and safer to transport in powder form.

Mechanochemistry, a relatively new concept, represents chemical reactions triggered by mechanical forces rather than heat, light, or electric potential differences. The mechanical power is generated by ball milling, a grinding method that requires very low energy. During this process, a cylinder containing steel balls is turned, making the balls roll up and down, compressing and pushing the material inside. This triggers a reaction that absorbs the gas into the powder and stores it there, thus allowing for safe hydrogen storage at room temperature.

According to the research team, the process could extract hydrocarbon gases from crude oil with a 90 percent reduction in the energy traditionally required for this process. Moreover, storing gas safely in powder form could facilitate hydrogen storage and transportation and serve as a direct fuel for cars and trucks.

With significant benefits and savings in three major areas – energy, costs, and emissions – this mechanochemical process is expected to reach widespread adoption soon. Professor Ian Chen, the co-author of the study published in the journal Materials Today, says: “We’re continuing to work on different gases, using different materials. We hope to have another paper published soon, and we also expect to work with industry on some real practical applications.”

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cultured meat, CRISPR cultured meat, CRISPR cultured meat, CRISPR

CRISPR Beef – A Breakthrough in Scalability and Affordability of Cultured Meat

For the first time, the genetic modification of meat cells using the CRISPR method has been successfully demonstrated in an experimental setting, addressing two of the main obstacles facing the cultured meat industry: the problem of large-scale production and the high cost of the end product. These two issues have been tackled head-on by the start-up SCiFi Foods, which modified the production process to obtain an affordable, cruelty- and animal-free burger. The product can be produced quickly and is identical – in terms of taste and nutritional properties – to meat obtained from living animals.

Unlike “traditional” lab-grown meat, SciFi Foods’ beef burger combines genetically modified cultured beef cells and plant-based ingredients. The genetic modification of the beef cells, achieved with CRISPR technology, enables them to multiply in suspension, that is, without the need for microcarriers (usually plastic beads) that are generally used for growing non-genetically modified cells. This allows a larger number of cells to grow within the limited space of a bioreactor.

The resulting beef is blended with plant-based ingredients, thus allowing the finished product to be obtained much faster and potentially in larger quantities than allowed by current processes used by other players in this sector, making it easily scalable and cost-effective at a price of about US$10 per burger in the pilot stage, which the company hopes to reduce to US$1 once large-scale production begins.

With these promising premises, the company plans to open a pilot plant in the San Francisco Bay Area by the second half of 2024. SciFi Foods is confident it will receive the go-ahead from US regulators to launch its genetically modified cultured burgers on the market. US policymakers are more accepting of GMOs than consumers in Europe. Whether the product will succeed in European markets remains to be seen for now. The EU published a report in 2021 signaling the desire to revise current GMO regulation. This bodes well for GMO-enhanced cultured meat products, but the final decision on approval in the EU will also depend on the outcome of the ongoing public consultation.

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3D-printed wood 3D-printed wood 3D-printed wood

Grown to Measure: Can 3D-Printed Wood Prevent Deforestation?

A method for growing wood-like materials with specific properties and shapes could pave the way towards 3D-printed wood and offer an alternative to industrial forestry, which has severe effects on the global climate and environment and eliminates about 10 million hectares of forest every year. The ability to make “customizable timber” in a laboratory setting would reduce waste in manufacturing and allow forests to remain untouched as a measure to mitigate climate change.

Scientists at MIT have demonstrated how “wood-like plant material” can be grown in a lab from cell cultures in a way that tailors their material properties and shapes to specific purposes. In the first step, they extracted cells from the leaves of young Zinnia elegans plants. After being allowed to grow in a liquid medium for two days, the cells are placed in a gel-based nutrient medium. This contains hormones that can be adjusted to give the cells certain physical and mechanical properties such as density and stiffness. As such, they behave somewhat like stem cells, according to the researchers.

Moreover, using 3D bioprinting techniques, the plant materials could one day be grown into individual, artificial shapes, sizes, and forms that would be difficult or impossible to achieve with traditional agricultural methods. This means that little waste would be produced when processing the wood-like material into furniture or other purposes for human use.

“The idea is that you can grow these plant materials in exactly the shape that you need, so you don’t need to do any subtractive manufacturing after the fact, which reduces the amount of energy and waste. There is a lot of potential to expand this and grow three-dimensional structures,” said Ashley Beckwith, a recent PhD graduate at MIT and lead author of a research paper published in the journal Materials Today.

A 3D printer can extrude the cell culture gel solution in the desired pattern in a petri dish, where it incubates for three months, maturing at a speed that is about two orders of magnitude faster than a tree’s natural growth to maturity. During this process, lower hormone levels resulted in plant materials with lower density, while higher concentrations of hormones in the nutrient broth yielded denser and stiffer material.

More research is needed to study how these lab-grown plant materials can be lignified, i.e., how they can be made more wood-like through deposits of lignin polymer in their cell walls. The scientists also hope to be able to transfer and adapt the novel growth method to other tree species with commercial value, like pine, as a way of reducing deforestation.

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Harnessing Solar Energy With Power-Generating Windows

Solar cells – semiconductor devices that use sunlight to produce electricity – are considered one of the main technological innovations that will help humanity generate electricity in a sustainable way. Due to recent developments in solar energy related to perovskite and semiconductor technologies, solar cells have managed to reach average visible transparency of up to 70 percent.

A research team at Tohoku University in Japan has succeeded in developing a near-invisible solar cell, with transparency of over 79 percent, that could be used to transform windows, agricultural sheds, glass-based smart equipment, and even human skin into energy-harvesting devices. The newly-developed device is based on a combination of indium tin oxide (ITO) and tungsten disulfide (WS2), two materials that scientists consider to be the most suitable in terms of light absorption co-efficiency per thickness and band gaps in the visible light range. According to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports, the production of these devices can be scaled up rapidly.

With five to seven billion square meters of glass surfaces in the US alone, tremendous amounts of energy could be generated by harnessing the potential of transparent solar cells. Traditional solar panels currently need to cover extended areas and are cost-intensive. Transparent panels could be more easily integrated into urban areas and allow people to generate electricity by using their home or office windows, car sunroofs, smart devices, etc.

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Chip - Can Process two Billion images per second - IT Chip - Can Process two Billion images per second - IT

Novel Chip Can Process Two Billion Images Per Second

Artificial intelligence can be used to improve a wide range of systems, but this also entails additional hardware requirements. To replicate the ability of biological neural networks to recognize or classify new data points such as images, robust hardware with enhanced speed and capabilities is needed.

Scientists from the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science (Penn Engineering) have developed a chip that, despite its minuscule size of just 9.3 square millimeters, can detect and classify an image in less than a nanosecond, without the need for a separate processor or memory unit.

Speeding up the ability of any computer to process images is very important for many applications, such as face recognition algorithms, automatically detecting text in photos, or even enabling self-driving vehicles to recognize obstacles faster and better.

The new chip made by the Penn engineers not only classifies and recognizes images significantly faster than conventional chips, but is also scalable. The new level of performance is achieved by using an optical deep neural network that directly processes the light received from the object of interest.

“Our chip processes information through what we call ‘computation-by-propagation,’ meaning that unlike clock-based systems, computations occur as light propagates through the chip,” said Firooz Aflatouni, a member of the research team. “We are also skipping the step of converting optical signals to electrical signals because our chip can read and process optical signals directly, and both of these changes make our chip a significantly faster technology.”

Furthermore, as Aflatouni notes, eliminating the memory unit that stores images also increases data privacy. “With chips that read image data directly, there is no need for photo storage and thus, a data leak does not occur.”

Currently, the team is exploring the scalability of the chip and also further developing its three-dimensional object classification capabilities.

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Revolut Takes 'Buy Now, Pay Later' Trend a Step Further in Europe - Supertrends Revolut Takes 'Buy Now, Pay Later' Trend a Step Further in Europe - Supertrends

Revolut Takes ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ Trend one Step Further in Europe

Revolut, a British fintech company offering digital banking services, has announced the rollout of a new “buy now, pay later” (BNPL) service across Europe. The offering will first be made available in Ireland and then gradually extended to other European countries, with deployment in Poland and Romania planned by the end of 2022.

BNPL is a short-term financing model that allows clients to purchase products and pay for them at a later time, usually in installments and with no interest fees. Unlike traditional credits, BNPL services are easy to qualify for, manageable via an app, and adjusted to the customer’s budget. However, they usually come with a fixed fee, and the conditions may vary according to the provider.

Along with the digitalization of financial services, neo-banking, and decentralization, the BNPL trend is rapidly gaining traction, with analysts expecting the market for this type of service in Europe to grow to £680 billion (about €790 billion) over the next five years. Afterpay (Australia) and Klarna (Sweden) are two of the established BNPL providers, with startups such as Zip, Sezzle, and Affirm now making their way into this field.

Joe Heneghan, chief executive for Revolut Europe, declared that these types of products “give customers more control and flexibility over their personal finances, in a responsible way, by enabling them to spread the cost of purchases.” However, regulators are concerned about the prospect of giving customers easy access to cheap credit. Moreover, such services are currently not fully regulated, and various governmental agencies are currently trying to set up regulatory frameworks and supervisory bodies for BNPL services.

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Lightning-In-A-Bottle: New Fusion Tech Gets US$160M Funding Lightning-In-A-Bottle: New Fusion Tech Gets US$160M Funding

Lightning-In-A-Bottle: New Fusion Tech Gets US$160M Funding

Nuclear fusion start-up Zap Energy has completed a successful test on a prototype of its Z-pinch fusion technology. The company also raised US$160 million in Series C funding to further commercialize its technology.

Nuclear fusion, the energy process that powers the Sun, has the potential to provide unlimited sustainable and safe energy. Researchers have been developing fusion projects by generating high pressure and temperatures or using lasers. US-based Zap Energy is taking a different approach that has been called “lightning-in-a-bottle”.

Z-pinch technology is a type of plasma confinement system that “pinches” the plasma in a relatively short column by its own magnetic fields until it becomes hot and dense enough to produce nuclear fusion. Zap Energy reached a technical milestone by creating the first plasma in the company’s new prototype reactor named FuZE-Q. FuZE-Q is designed to surpass energy breakeven, which means the device can produce more energy than it consumes. The breakeven point could come “within a year”, according to a statement by Zap Energy.

Meanwhile, the company has also reached another milestone by closing a US$160 million Series C round. With the new funding, the company aims to bring its Z-pinch technology to market by producing garage-size small fusion reactors that could be used to power remote communities. They can also be combined to provide energy to cities.

“We can design, build and test systems at a much faster pace than other approaches, and we are working on technology in parallel that we are going to need on the other side of breakeven,” said Zap Energy President Benj Conway.

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Image: Laboratory scale Z-pinch showing glow from an expanded hydrogen plasma. Credit: Sandpiper at English Wikipedia

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