A New Skin. Will You Wear It?

The army deployed Susan thousands of miles from home. Her three-year-old son misses her. On their once-a-week video call, he cries when he hears her voice. She rubs his back and calms him. How did she do that? Biotechnology. A new skin. Will you wear it? The First Attempts For years, scientists, technology experts, and DIYers have tried to create wearable haptic devices. Haptic means relating to or based on the sense of touch. Early devices required huge batteries for power sources. That made them too heavy to wear or limited by wires to and from the batteries. Many were so bulky so they hung loose and so failed to convey the touch. You are probably familiar with one device that uses haptics. Your cell phone. It vibrates or doesn’t vibrate. But that vibration tells you by touch that you have a call or a message.  Haptic Skin The new skin is a flexible artificial skin developed by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) . Their very thin haptic skin, made of silicone and electrodes, will stretch and shape to any limb or body part. It transmits vibrations or pressure to the user. In other words, it creates a […]

A Cool Blend of Science and Technology

Almost 9,000 years ago, ancient Chinese fermented rice, honey, and fruit. Ancient Egyptians dared to use yeast for leavened bread in 1000 BC. On the other side of the world, Aztecs made cakes with Spirulina algae. What do these foods and beverages have in common? It’s doubtful that any of these ancient peoples understood the science. Yet, they each performed an early bit of biotechnology. Biotechnology has grown from its humble origins into a cool blend of science and technology. What is Biotechnology? Hungarian engineer, Karl Ereky, coined the term in 1919. He invented the term to describe the creation of products from raw materials with the aid of living organisms. While the term is relatively new, humans have always manipulated raw materials hoping to make our life better.  Don’t quite understand what biotech is yet? According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary biotechnology is the manipulation (as through genetic engineering) of living organisms or their components to produce useful products. The dictionary includes that these are usually commercial products (such as pest resistant crops, new bacterial strains, or pharmaceuticals). The History of Biotechnology You may recognize many names in the history of Biotechnology. Names like Darwin, Mendel, Miescher, Boveri, Morgan, Levene, Chargraff, Avery, and many […]

It Isn’t Just Science Fiction Anymore

Remember when you first read a science fiction story with nanobots teaming inside a person? Were you afraid? I thought it was cool. But that was fiction. And nanobots aren’t real–yet. However, tiny robots inside your body isn’t just science fiction anymore. A team of researchers at the University of Vermont have created a new life-form. Computer-Designed Lead author and doctoral student, Sam Kriegman, used an evolutionary algorithm. He fed it into the Deep Green supercomputer cluster at UVM. The computer ran thousands of simulated designs over the next few months. The basic biophysics of what single frog skin and cardiac cells can do drove its decisions. It discarded designs that failed and refined the more successful ones. After a hundred independent runs of the algorithm, the research team chose the most promising designs. Repurposed A book is made of wood. But it is not a tree. The dead cells have been repurposed to serve another need. UVM News From there the research went to biologists at Tufts University. Michael Levin, who directs the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts, and his team brought the computer designs to life. With vital help from microsurgeon Douglas Blackiston, they harvested stem cells […]