Revolutionary Technologies Top 5 Breakthrough Innovations of 2022
Researchers are constantly developing dynamic solutions that are revolutionary in nature. Lab Worldwide has picked up five breakthrough innovations of last year which are truly unique and pathbreaking. Read on to find out more about these innovations.
Harvesting Water from Desert Air is Now Possible with Metal-Organic Frameworks
Researchers at the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have been conducting research on metal-organic frameworks (MOF) and they have revealed that MOFs can extract water from desert air. Apart from this, it can also be used in other important areas such as biogas storage, carbon dioxide capture, controlled delivery of drugs and for the destruction of chemical weapons.
A group of researchers led by Professor Lars Öhrström and Dr. Francoise Amombo Noa at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Chalmers, have been studying this area for many years and are often engaged as experts internationally.
A MOF is a solid, porous substance built by metal ions that are linked together with organic molecules to form a network - a molecular version of the model kit mekano. The networks have large internal holes where you can put things in and take things out, which gives them very good properties for efficiently capturing or separating different substances. Researchers see great potential for the use of MOFs in many different important areas, such as biogas storage, carbon dioxide capture, controlled delivery of drugs - so-called drug delivery - and for the destruction of chemical weapons.
An area where MOFs can contribute to a revolutionary development is the extraction of water from desert air. In this context, the MOF act as a sponge in which water can easily slip into and then be stored in the materials voids. The problem which the researchers are struggling to solve is that it takes a lot of energy to release the water. But now American and German researchers have managed to get an MOF to release the water at 10 degrees lower temperature than before and have been able to show in detail how the water molecules are collected.
“So far, this technology is only available at the pilot scale, but fully developed, it could make extracting drinking water in desert areas possible. The wider consequences that this can have are even greater. Technology that allows us to use phase transitions of water from gas to liquid is important in everything from desalination of seawater to controlling the indoor environment in buildings,” explains Lars Öhrström.
In a newly started project, his research group will develop MOFs to purify water from environmentally harmful highly fluorinated substances, PFAS, together with colleagues at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SLU.
Tumors Can Now be Eliminated with Sound
Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a noninvasive sound technology which has the potential to partially destroy liver tumors in rats which leads to destroying the remaining tumor with the help of the immune system. This also enables to stop the cancer cells from spreading further. The study could lead to enhanced cancer outcomes in humans.
Noninvasive sound technology developed at the University of Michigan breaks down liver tumors in rats, kills cancer cells and spurs the immune system to prevent further spread—an advance that could lead to improved cancer outcomes in humans. By destroying only 50 % to 75 % of liver tumor volume, the rats’ immune systems were able to clear away the rest, with no evidence of recurrence or metastases in more than 80 % of animals.
“Even if we don’t target the entire tumor, we can still cause the tumor to regress and also reduce the risk of future metastasis,” said Zhen Xu, professor of biomedical engineering at U-M and corresponding author of the study in Cancers. Results also showed the treatment stimulated the rats’ immune responses, possibly contributing to the eventual regression of the untargeted portion of the tumor and preventing further spread of the cancer.
The treatment, called histotripsy, noninvasively focuses ultrasound waves to mechanically destroy target tissue with millimeter precision. The relatively new technique is currently being used in a human liver cancer trial in the United States and Europe.
Groundbreaking Technology Allows Amputees to Control a Robotic Arm with Their Mind
University of Minnesota Twin Cities researchers have developed a more accurate, less invasive technology that allows amputees to move a robotic arm using their brain signals instead of their muscles. Many current commercial prosthetic limbs use a cable and harness system that is controlled by the shoulders or chest, and more advanced limbs use sensors to pick up on subtle muscle movements in a patient’s existing limb above the device. But, both options can be cumbersome, unintuitive, and take months of practice for amputees to learn how to move them.
Researchers in the University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, with the help of industry collaborators, have created a small, implantable device that attaches to the peripheral nerve in a person’s arm. When combined with an artificial intelligence computer and a robotic arm, the device can read and interpret brain signals, allowing upper limb amputees to control the arm using only their thoughts.
“It’s a lot more intuitive than any commercial system out there,” said Jules Anh Tuan Nguyen, a postdoctoral researcher and University of Minnesota Twin Cities biomedical engineering Ph.D. graduate. “With other commercial prosthetic systems, when amputees want to move a finger, they don’t actually think about moving a finger. They’re trying to activate the muscles in their arm, since that’s what the system reads. Because of that, these systems require a lot of learning and practice. For our technology, because we interpret the nerve signal directly, it knows the patient’s intention. If they want to move a finger, all they have to do is think about moving that finger.”
Nguyen has been working on this research for about ten years with University of Minnesota Department of Biomedical Engineering Associate Professor Zhi Yang and was one of the key developers of the neural chip technology.
Newly Discovered Enzyme Breaks Down PET Plastic in Record Time
Plastic bottles, punnets, wrap — such lightweight packaging made of PET plastic becomes a problem if it is not recycled. Scientists at Leipzig University have now discovered a highly efficient enzyme that degrades PET in record time.
One way in which enzymes are used in nature is by bacteria to decompose plant parts. It has been known for some time that some enzymes, so-called polyester-cleaving hydrolases, can also degrade PET. For example, the enzyme LCC, which was discovered in Japan in 2012, is considered to be a particularly effective “plastic eater”. The team led by Dr Christian Sonnendecker, an early career researcher from Leipzig University, is searching for previously undiscovered examples of these biological helpers as part of the EU-funded projects Miplace and Enzycle. They found what they were looking for in the Südfriedhof, a cemetery in Leipzig: in a sample from a compost heap, the researchers came across the blueprint of an enzyme that decomposed PET at record speed in the laboratory.
Engineers Fabricate Chip-Free, Wireless Electronic “Skin”
The researchers from the Institute of Analytical Chemistry found and studied seven different enzymes. The seventh candidate, called PHL7, achieved results in the lab that were significantly above average. In the experiments, the researchers added PET to containers with an aqueous solution containing either PHL7 or LCC, the previous leader in PET decomposition. Then they measured the amount of plastic that was degraded in a given period of time and compared the values with each other.
The result: within 16 hours, PHL7 caused the PET to decompose by 90 percent; in the same time, LCC managed a degradation of just 45 percent. “So our enzyme is twice as active as the gold standard among polyester-cleaving hydrolases,” Sonnendecker explains. For example, PHL7 broke down a plastic punnet — the kind used for selling grapes in supermarkets — in less than 24 hours. The researchers found that a single building block in the enzyme is responsible for this above-average activity. At the site where other previously known polyester-cleaving hydrolases contain a phenylalanine residue, PHL7 carries a leucine.
“The enzyme discovered in Leipzig can make an important contribution to establishing alternative energy-saving plastic recycling processes,” says Professor Wolfgang Zimmermann, who played a key role in establishing research activity into enzyme-based technologies at Leipzig University. “The biocatalyst now developed in Leipzig has been shown to be highly effective in the rapid decomposition of used PET food packaging and is suitable for use in an environmentally friendly recycling process in which new plastic can be produced from the decomposition products.”
A new device developed at MIT senses and wirelessly transmits signals related to pulse, sweat, and ultraviolet exposure, without bulky chips or batteries. The team’s sensor design is a form of electronic skin, or “e-skin” — a flexible, semiconducting film that conforms to the skin like electronic Scotch tape. The heart of the sensor is an ultrathin, high-quality film of gallium nitride, a material that is known for its piezoelectric properties, meaning that it can both produce an electrical signal in response to mechanical strain and mechanically vibrate in response to an electrical impulse.
The researchers found they could harness gallium nitride’s two-way piezoelectric properties and use the material simultaneously for both sensing and wireless communication.
In their new study, the team produced pure, single-crystalline samples of gallium nitride, which they paired with a conducting layer of gold to boost any incoming or outgoing electrical signal. They showed that the device was sensitive enough to vibrate in response to a person’s heartbeat, as well as the salt in their sweat, and that the material’s vibrations generated an electrical signal that could be read by a nearby receiver. In this way, the device was able to wirelessly transmit sensing information, without the need for a chip or battery.
“Chips require a lot of power, but our device could make a system very light without having any chips that are power-hungry,” says the study’s corresponding author, Jeehwan Kim, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and of materials science and engineering, and a principal investigator in the Research Laboratory of Electronics. “You could put it on your body like a bandage, and paired with a wireless reader on your cellphone, you could wirelessly monitor your pulse, sweat, and other biological signals.”
Kim’s co-authors include first author and former MIT postdoc Yeongin Kim, who is now an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati; co-corresponding author Jiyeon Han of the Korean cosmetics company Amorepacific, which helped motivate the current work; members of the Kim Research Group at MIT; and other collaborators at the University of Virginia, Washington University in St. Louis, and multiple institutions across South Korea.