Human volunteers will receive lab-made ‘synthetic blood’ transfusions – ScienceAlert


The world-first trial has been approved.

Synthetic blood that’s been produced in the lab using umbilical cord stem cells and donated blood looks so good, a world-first human trial has been approved for 2017. Volunteers will receive transfusions of just a few teaspoons of the synthetic blood to test for adverse effects as it circulates the body. If the manufactured blood cells can avoid triggering the body’s immune response, they could be a huge help for specialised treatments right away, and could be stockpiled for emergency transfusions in years to come.

“Scientists across the globe have been investigating for a number of years how to manufacture red blood cells to offer an alternative to donated blood to treat patients,” one of the team, Nick Watkins from the US National Health Service’s (NHS) Blood and Transplant unit, said to James O Malley at Gizmodo. “We are confident that by 2017 our team will be ready to carry out the first early phase clinical trials in human volunteers.”

The blood cells come in two different types – those cultured from the stem cells of discarded umbilical cords, and those made from the stem cells of adult blood cells. So far, lab tests have shown that both compare well to ordinary red blood cells that are produced by healthy people, Watkins telling Steve Connor at The Independentthat they are “comparable, if not identical, to the cells from a donor”.

The blood cells come in two different types – those manufactured from the stem cells of discarded umbilical cords, and those made from the stem cells of adult blood cells. The team will first transfuse the adult donor synthetic blood, seeing it’s more close to the real thing, and then will try the umbilical cord-derived cells if everything goes as planned.

The immediate plan will be to use the synthetic blood cells to treat people with conditions such as sickle-cell anaemia, who rely on a constant supply of new blood to survive. The blood will also hopefully be useful in situations where people with a rare blood type need an emergency transfusion.

But this doesn’t get any of us off the hook – blood donations are still needed now more than ever, as this awesome new initiative in Sweden is currenty addressing.

“The intention is not to replace blood donation but to provide specialist treatment for specific patient groups,” Watkins told The Independent

Scientists decipher the tick-tock of biological clocks


Researchers at the University of California, Merced, have taken another step toward unlocking the mysteries of the biological clock.

In a study published online today (June 25) in Science Express—and soon to appear in print in the prestigious journal Science—a team led by UC Merced Professor Andy LiWang shows how the highly unusual movements of a single protein drives the shift from nighttime to daytime biological functions in cyanobacteria.

LiWang—a faculty member with the School of Natural Sciences and Health Sciences Research Institute (HSRI)—studies circadian clocks, which regulate biological activities in roughly 24-hour rhythms, at an atomic scale.

“The drives powerful rhythms of rest and activity,” LiWang said. “Normally, your internal clock is synchronized with local time. At night, you feel tired, and in the morning, you feel ready to take on the world. You get jet lag when your clock—and therefore physiology and metabolism—are out of sync with your environment.”

Cyanobacteria makes for a good test subject, LiWang said, because of its simplicity and because the three proteins driving its timekeeping system—KaiA, KaiB and KaiC—can be reassembled in a test tube, away from the complexity of live cells, and tick for days and weeks on a lab bench.

The Science study, which builds on LiWang’s previous research, shows that the KaiB protein flips between two distinct three-dimensional folds, which is a rare ability for proteins. When it switches folds, it binds KaiC and captures KaiA, initiating a transition of the circadian cycle and providing the link that joins the timekeeping and signaling functions of the bacteria’s oscillator.

As a photosynthesizing organism, cyanobacteria need the sun to perform life functions. Signals from the clock prepare cyanobacteria for sunrise every day. The highly unusual behavior of KaiB metamorphosis plays an essential role in this regard, LiWang said.

“If you mix cyanobacterial clock proteins in a test tube with an energy source, the literally starts ticking,” LiWang said. “You can tell time by it. How do these clocks manage to go at a 24-hour pace?”

The team responsible for beginning to answer those questions included LiWang, UC Merced postdoc Yong-Gang Chang and graduate student Roger Tseng, and researchers from UC San Diego, UC Davis and the University of Chicago.

LiWang has received more than $2 million in grants from the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Army and the National Institutes of Health to continue building a body of knowledge about how circadian clocks tick. Thousands of soldiers are deployed all over the world, and the military is interested in minimizing health problems related to jet lag and maximizing performance.

“They appreciate the long-term implications of what we are doing,” said LiWang, whose lab is housed at the Castle Airport Aviation and Development Center in Atwater.

He also credited much of his success to the support of the administration at UC Merced and in the School of Natural Sciences. For example, the school recently began funding the support and maintenance of a nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer that was originally purchased by Andy and Patricia LiWang and maintained by the couple for years using their startup funds and grants.

LiWang’s publication in Science marks the first time the prestigious journal has published original research with a faculty member from the UC Merced School of Natural Sciences as corresponding author.

“Professor LiWang’s publication in such a high-impact, world-renowned journal confirms his place as a leader in the field and puts UC Merced firmly on the map as a world-class research institution,” HSRI Executive Director Trevor Hirst said. “These papers also attract increased funding from federal agencies, foundations and donors, which are essential to the continued growth of UC Merced and HSRI.”

Newsday, Freeze Sperm to Prevent Autism and Schizophrenia


http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02vjby4?ocid=socialflow_facebook

Supplementing Defect in Club Cell Secretory Protein Attenuates Airway Inflammation in COPD


BACKGROUND:  Club cell secretory protein (CCSP) is a protective biomarker associated with annual decline in lung function. COPD progression results from an imbalance between injury and repair initially triggered by cigarette smoking.

OBJECTIVE:  We investigated the effect of CCSP as a therapeutic strategy to restore the balance between injury and repair in COPD simultaneously, validating an ex vivo air-liquid interface (ALI) culture of human bronchial epithelial cells.

METHODS:  Endobronchial biopsy specimens (EBBs) were obtained from 13 patients with COPD, eight smokers, and eight control subjects. Morphometric analysis of the initial EBBs was performed. ALI cultures derived from the same EBBs were exposed to cigarette smoke extract (CSE) with or without exogenous recombinant human CCSP (rhCCSP) supplementation. CCSP and IL-8 concentrations were assessed at steady state and after CSE exposure.

RESULTS:  Morphometric analysis of the initial EBBs showed increased cell density but decreased immunostaining of CCSP+ cells in EBBs of patients with COPD (P = .03 vs control subjects). At steady state, lower CCSP (P = .04) and higher IL-8 levels (P < .0001) were found in COPD ALI epithelium. Exogenous rhCCSP supplementation dampened CSE-induced IL-8-release in patients with COPD and returned to levels similar to those of smokers and control subjects (P = .0001). A negative correlation was found between IL-8-release in ALI and CCSP+ cell density in initial biopsy specimens (P = .0073).

CONCLUSIONS:  In vitro, rhCCSP exogenous supplementation can reverse CSE-induced IL-8 release in biopsy specimens from patients with COPD, indicating a potential use of this strategy in vivo.

Doctors Are Using Lasers To Treat People With Severe Psychological Conditions .


 

An MRI of the brain. The cingulate cortex is highlighted

In the middle of the 20th century, lobotomies were a relatively commontreatment for people with severe mental illnesses. The controversial procedure surgically destroyed neurons connecting a patient’s prefrontal cortex to the rest of the brain. Since the 1960s, the procedure has fallen out of favor. But recently neuroscientists have made headway with a more exact, less destructive version of a lobotomy using lasers, according to an article inWired.

The procedure that uses lasers is called an anterior cingulotomy and, for now, is only approved to treat Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). A surgeon drills a tiny hole in the patient’s skull, then inserts a tiny blade into the brain to carve a pathway to the anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain that links emotions to physical tasks. Once the surgeon’s tools arrive at the right cluster of neurons, they fire up the laser, burning lesions into a small, specific area of gray matter. The laser essentially melts part of the brain, which is less damaging than hacking at it, as is done in traditional lobotomies.

There are lots of other ways to treat OCD, of course. Medication and therapy are the most common, but those don’t work at all for 30 to 60 percent of patients. As neuroscientists have pinpointed the parts of the brain that cause OCD, they’ve figured out where to direct more invasive treatments. Some have been working with deep brain stimulation, where a surgeon attaches electrodes to the ventral striatum, critical to rewards-based decision-making and crossroads for a lot of important neurological functions. But even the hardiest devices require maintenance, so sometimes these laser psychosurgeries are preferable.

So far the FDA has only approved surgeries to treat patients with OCD, for which they have a pretty high success rate—in one trial, 69 percent of patients had a full or partial response five years after treatment. But soon they may be approved to treat depression, as initial results seem to restore normal brain function to patients.

Cells that replenish heart muscle found .


heart cell

When you cut yourself, your skin heals. When you break a bone, the bone heals. When you have a heart attack, the heart muscle does not heal. But it has been known for a while that a small amount of heart muscle cell proliferation can occur.

This heart muscle cell replication replenishes the heart muscle that is lost to normal wear and tear over the years.

Dr. Hesham Sadek and colleagues at UT Southwestern Medical Center have identified the cells that replicate to replenish heart muscle. This discovery is a big step toward the ultimate goal of getting heart muscle to repair itself following a heart attack.

“We identified a cell that generates new heart muscle cells. This cell does not appear to be a stem cell, but rather a specialized cardiomyocyte, or heart muscle cell, that can divide, which the majority of cardiomyocytes cannot do,” said Sadek, assistant professor of Internal Medicine and with the Hamon Center for Regenerative Science and Medicine.

Previous research by UT Southwestern scientists revealed that it is the highly oxygenated environment of the heart that prevents most heart muscle cells from dividing. The researchers reasoned that the cells that do divide must exist in a lower oxygen environment, which is a condition called hypoxia. They then devised a technique to identify and trace the lineage of hypoxic cells. That technique led them to the identification of the proliferating cells within heart muscle.

“For decades, researchers have been trying to find the specialized cells that make new muscle cells in the adult heart, and we think that we have found that cell,” said Sadek, senior author of the study, which appears online in Nature.

“Now we have a target to study. If we can expand this cell population, or make it divide more, then we can make new muscle cells. This is what this cell does naturally, and we can now work toward harnessing this ability to make new heart muscle when the heart has been damaged.”

The researchers found hypoxic microenvironments with proliferating cells scattered throughout the heart muscle. They found the rate of formation of new cells to be between 0.3 percent and 1 percent annually.

“This is exciting work from both scientific and methodological standpoints,” said Joseph Hill, chief of the Division of Cardiology and professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern, who holds the James T. Willerson, M.D. distinguished chair in Cardiovascular Diseases and the Frank M. Ryburn, Jr. Chair in Heart Research. “Dr. Sadek’s discovery points to a novel mechanism of cell-cycle control in cardiac myocytes and lends credence to the potential for regenerating – rebuilding – the diseased heart.”

The new technique used to find the regenerative cells, a process called fate mapping, is an equally important development that may prove useful for distinguishing similar regenerating cells in other organs, as well as in cancers, the researchers said.

Traditional fate mapping, which is somewhat like developing a family tree for cells, labels cells based on the expression of a certain gene. That didn’t work for the hypoxic cells, which are mainly regulated at the protein level rather than the gene-expression level. Instead, the researchers developed a sophisticated protein-tracking technique.

“This fate-mapping approach, based on protein stabilization rather than gene expression, is an important tool for studying hypoxia in the whole organism. It can identify any hypoxic cell, not just cardiomyocytes, so this has broad implications for cellular turnover in any organ, and even in cancer,” said Sadek, whose lab focuses on cardiac regeneration and stem cell metabolism.

High-Sugar, High-Fat Diets Change Gut Bacteria, Damage Cognitive Function


Why Is This Important?

Because what you’re putting in your belly is affecting your brain.


Health & Sports News: High-Sugar, High-Fat Diets Change Gut Bacteria, Damage Cognitive Function

Long Story Short

Researchers have found a link between changes in gut bacteria due to high-fat and high-sugar diets that lead to decreased “cognitive flexibility”


 

Long Story

You’ve probably heard the word “microbiome” tossed around by some of your more health-conscious friends and maybe thought it was just some kind of health-nut buzzword. Well, it’s starting to look more and more like we all need to be pretty concerned with what’s going on in our microbiomes.

Researchers from Oregon State University recently conducted a study and found that high-sugar and high-fat diets cause changes in gut bacteria (microbiome) that appear to lead to a significant decrease in “cognitive flexibility” (the ability to adapt to changes).

High-sugar diets were found to be the more damaging of the two.

In their report on the study, Science Daily defines the microbiome as “a complex mixture in the digestive system of about 100 trillion microorganisms.”

The study was conducted using mice. The control group was fed a regular diet and another two groups were fed high-sugar and high-fat diets. The mice were subjected to various tests including mazes. The researchers observed that the mice on the high-sugar and high-fat diets showed decreased physical and mental performance in the tests, with one of the most pronounced changes being decreased cognitive flexibility.

“The impairment of cognitive flexibility in this study was pretty strong,” said Kathy Magnusson, a professor in the OSU College. “Think about driving home on a route that’s very familiar to you, something you’re used to doing. Then one day that road is closed and you suddenly have to find a new way home.”

We already know that diets high in sugar and fat can lead to obesity and a number of other diseases like diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease, but studies like these suggest that it might actually be impairing our ability to think clearly every single day.

“It’s increasingly clear that our gut bacteria, or microbiota, can communicate with the human brain,” said Magnusson.

Researchers uncover epigenetic switches that turn stem cells into blood vessel cells


Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have identified a molecular mechanism that directs embryonic stem cells to mature into endothelial cells—the specialized cells that form blood vessels. Understanding the processes initiated by this mechanism could help scientists more efficiently convert stem cells into endothelial cells for use in tissue repair, or for engineering blood vessels to bypass blockages in the heart.

The report, published online in the journal Stem Cell Reports, identifies two enzymes that alter the expression of certain genes needed for to differentiate and become endothelial cells.

The enzymes work by an “epigenetic” modification—a chemical change to DNA, or certain proteins that interact with DNA, that changes the activity of genes without changing the DNA itself. Changes to the proteins around which DNA is wound, called histones, can up-regulate the expression of genes by exposing them to the cellular machinery that translates their DNA.

“Epigenetic modifications to histones can trigger the activation of a large number of genes simultaneously, instead of regulating one gene at a time,” says Jalees Rehman, associate professor of medicine and pharmacology at UIC, and an author on the paper. “We wanted to see if we could identify epigenetic regulators of stem cell differentiation—a highly complex process, involving the transition of a cell that can form any type of tissue early on in development, into one that is locked in to producing only one cell type.”

One of the ways histones are modified is by the addition or removal of chemical tags called methyl groups by enzymes.

The UIC research team, led by Asrar Malik, professor and head of pharmacology in the UIC College of Medicine, studied mice to look at how several of these enzymes, known as histone demethylases, alter gene expression in embryonic undergoing transformation into mature endothelial cells. They found two demethylases, KDM4A and KDM4C, were produced in abundance during the transformation.

The researchers then turned to zebra fish, depleting the enzymes in fish embryos. Without the two enzymes, the embryos were unable to form . Depleting KDM4A alone had a greater effect than did KDM4C, suggesting that it plays an earlier role in blood vessel cell development. The genes that were regulated by the enzymes turned out to be promoters, or genes that turn on other genes, and were specific to endothelial cells.

A more complete understanding of the blood-vessel development pathway will require further investigation, Rehman said.

“We only looked at a few of the genes activated by the epigenetic switches that guide stem cells into becoming ,” he said. “Identifying additional activated by these switches, as well as gene pathways that are turned off during these transitions, will help shed more light on how stem cells carefully orchestrate a complex array of molecular signals which ultimately decide their fates.”

3 New Kinds of Battery That Just Might Change the World


We used to think that technology was about devices. We were wrong. Those feeble plastic and glass exoskeletons are nowhere near as important as the batteries that power them. Which is why the race to a better battery is fueled by insane hype-threaded with genuine innovation.

The market for a better battery is potentially enormous. Yet as our gadgets and cars have evolved, the batteries powering them have remained fairly unchanged. And while the press is full of reports of eureka-moment “breakthroughs,” it’s turned out to be remarkably difficult to commercialize any of this new technology on a broader scale. Making battery magic in a lab is one thing. Figuring out how to reproduce that magic safely, in a factory, millions of times over, at a price that’s competitive? That’s another.

Yet the race continues: Electric car makers are looking for cheaper, lighter, more powerful and durable cells. Electronics makers are looking for more reliable cells that can charge faster and last longer. For makers of medical implants and even wearable technology, it’s a battery small enough to “disappear.” Meanwhile, renewable energy companies are looking for batteries that can charge and discharge thousands and thousands of times and remain stable.

The breakthroughs that we seem to hear about on a weekly basis are real. But there’s an increasingly apparent gap between a breakthrough and its adoption. I looked into three areas of buzz-y battery research to find out how close they are to-as that tired old adage goes-truly changing the world.

The Solid State

Let’s start with an emerging technology that does away with a very dangerous problem with current lithium ion batteries: Their enthusiasm for bursting into flame without warning. These are called solid state batteries-there are many types-and to understand how they avoid instantaneous conflagration, it helps to know a bit about why this phenomenon occurs in lithium ion batteries in the first place.

Most conventional lithium ion batteries are made of up two electrodes (the anode and cathode), separated by some sort of liquid electrolyte, or the medium that conducts the lithium-ions moving from anode to cathode. The problem is that this electrolyte is very flammable-if it’s damaged or punctured, the battery will catch fire.

Solid state batteries do away with the liquid electrolyte altogether. Instead, they use a layer of some other material, usually a mixture of metals, to conduct ions between the electrodes and create energy.

But that’s only half the reason solid state technology is so exciting. Because there’s no liquid component in these cells-and because they require fewer extra layers of insulation and other safeguards-they tend to be smaller, lighter, and more adaptable than their fire-happy predecessors. That makes them very interesting to carmakers looking for a lighter, safer battery for their electric vehicles.

Leading the charge into the solid state future is Sakti3, an 8-year-old company based in Ann Arbor headed up by CEO Ann Marie Sastry. A profile from MIT Technology Review’s Kevin Bullis gives us a glimpse into the work Sakti3 and Sastry are doing, which focuses on figuring out how to build solid state lithium ion batteries at scale:

She is also developing manufacturing techniques that lend themselves to mass production. “If your overall objective is to change the way people drive, your criteria can no longer only be the best energy density ever achieved or the greatest number of cycles,” she says. “The ultimate criterion is affordability, in a product that has the necessary performance.”

Sakti3’s work sounds exciting, but the company has been extremely secretive about its technology, so we don’t know exactly what it uses as its electrolyte-which could certainly end up affecting the cost or manufacturability of these batteries on a larger scale. We do know Sakti3 has attracted investments from major players, including GM’s venture arm, and claimed last year that it had doubled the energy density of the average lithium ion battery. Another solid state company, QuantumScape, is similarly quiet-but is rumored to be working on similar ideas with solid state tech.

So, why aren’t we riding around with solid state batteries under our hoods? It’s still fairly early days for commercializing on that scale. One of the biggest challenges with battery tech isn’t just the electrochemical secret sauce, it’s replicating that secret sauce in a factory, for a price lower than that of conventional cells, with greater regularity, at massive scale.

It’s a paradigm that the author Steve LeVine knows well. LeVine’s new book The Powerhouse, published this spring, is a deep dive into the rise-and fall-of a company attempting to commercialize just one of those Eureka-Game-changing-Aha-Moment-Battery-Innovations. He spent years following Envia, a battery startup that eventually secured a contract with GM to supply its cathodes, made from nickel, manganese, and cobalt, to power GM’s Volt. Until it all fell apart when the cathodes didn’t perform the way Envia claimed they would.

As LeVine explained to me on a recent call-and as he echoed in a story in Quartz this week, the most exciting thing in battery tech right now isn’t the battery. It’s the manufacturing process. “I’ve gotten very excited about what’s possible by figuring out how to bring down costs through manufacturing breakthroughs,” he said, pointing out that the Department of Energy is now focusing on staging competitions that ask entrants to focus on innovating the manufacturing process rather than the electrochemical science of the batteries themselves. “I think that’s the place to watch,” he added.

3 New Kinds of Battery That Just Might Change the World

The Tesla Gigafactory under construction in March, via the Tesla Forum.

Even Elon Musk is trying to solve this particular problem. His Gigafactory, which is currently underway in Nevada, is a massive bet on the idea that Tesla can beat out its competitors simply by putting the entire battery manufacturing process under one roof. Keep in mind, this is for batteries that aren’t particularly groundbreaking. But this game is about economies of scale-and even Musk is enduring criticism that his battery factory might be obsolete before it opens as other breakthroughs in battery tech emerge. That’s a big and polemical theoretical, but it helps illustrate how mercurial the battery industry is right now.

The Aluminum Air

Even though lithium is the king of battery materials, it has plenty of other drawbacks besides bursting into flames. Not only is it expensive to mine, but it’s less efficient than some other materials at releasing electrons, as Chemistry World recently explained, which makes it slower to charge and discharge.

So, what about batteries that don’t need any lithium at all, some of which could charge your phone in seconds-at least theoretically? An Israeli company named Phinergy has talked up one exciting but fraught contender over the past few years: An aluminum air battery. In these batteries, one electrode is an aluminum plate. The other is oxygen. More specifically, oxygen and a water electrolyte. When the oxygen interacts with the plate, it produces energy.

Aluminum air batteries have been around for a long time, though interest in them has intensified over the last few years. A much-cited 2002 study from the Journal of Power Sources brought it into the spotlight, when a group of researchers argued that aluminum-air batteries are the only feasible replacement for gasoline. In theory, these batteries could have 40 times the capacity of lithium ion batteries, and Phinergy says they could extend the range of EVs to 1,000 miles.

3 New Kinds of Battery That Just Might Change the World

So, it’s time to ask again: Why aren’t we all driving around in oxygen-powered cars? Well, the chemical reaction that produces energy in these batteries also happens to come with a considerable drawback. As it interacts with the oxygen, the aluminum degrades over time. It’s a type of battery called a “primary” cell, which means current only flows one way, from the anode to the cathode. That means they can’t be recharged. Instead, the batteries have to be swapped out and recycled after running down.

That’s a big infrastructure problem when it comes to widespread use. “For EVs that might be an okay situation once the infrastructure is in place for service stations to swap out new and used batteries from vehicles,” explained University of Michigan Battery Lab’s Greg Less via email. “But until that occurs, a secondary [rechargeable] cell, like Lithium-Ion will be preferable.” Aluminum air batteries certainly wouldn’t be feasible for gadgets, because they would need to have their batteries swapped out regularly.

Still, research is continuing on aluminum air, and there are several companies claiming they’ll bring it to market within the next few years, including Phinergy. A company called Fuji Pigment also claimed recently that it had made a huge leap forward. Fuji says that it’s figured out a way to protect the aluminum with insulating materials, so it would be able to recharge without being swapped.

3 New Kinds of Battery That Just Might Change the World

Even if the aluminum air contenders fail, researchers are increasingly pointing towards aluminum as the battery material of the future. It’s a hot field right now: Just while I was writing this article, another piece of battery news was announced-this one from a lab at Stanford that uses aluminum and graphite as electrodes, connected by a safe liquid electrolyte. The group at Stanford says their battery can charge a smartphone in under a minute and can be “drilled through” and still remain functional. Of course, more research remains to be done.

The Microbattery

Another major issue with conventional batteries is their size. While almost every other part of our electronics get smaller, batteries are still pretty hefty. For example, the newest Apple laptop is defined by its battery size-which, even though it’s designed in a super-efficient tiered structure, still takes up most of the space in the body.

This is a problem that goes way beyond laptops, though. Think of medical implants, which need a power supply small enough to sit inside the human body. Or ambitious long-term airborne craft projects like Solar Impulse, which need feather-light batteries to store energy. Finally, what about Project Jacquard, which seeks to wire computers into our very clothing-hopefully without a pound of lithium tucked into a pocket.

More and more research is focusing on what are called “3D” microbatteries. What’s the difference between 2D and 3D? Well, think of a 2D version as a simple sheet cake: There are two electrodes, separated by an electrolyte. These can get super-thin, but you’re limited to a very thin cake with a pretty low power output.

In comparison, a 3D battery is more like a roll cake (ok, it’s an imperfect metaphor) where you can increase the surface area of the electrodes by tightly interlocking them in microscopic layers. By increasing the surface area, you make it easier for ions to travel from one electrode to the other-which increases the battery’s power density, or the rate at which it charges and discharges.

3 New Kinds of Battery That Just Might Change the World

Scientists are exploring many ways to manufacture these tiny wonders. In 2013, a team from Harvardused a 3D printer to get the extreme precision needed to intertwine nano-sized anodes and cathodes using a lithium “ink.”

But more recently, a team from University of Illinois published a paper showing how they used a technique called holographic lithography to make a 3D battery. In it, super-precise optical beams are used to create a 3D structure-in this case, the electrodes-out of a photoresist (think of it as a three-dimensional unexposed negative) which in turn become the battery itself. Why is this better than 3D printing? Well, for one thing, holographic lithography isn’t as nascent as 3D printing, so it may have more promise when it comes to scaling up.

3 New Kinds of Battery That Just Might Change the World

However, like all batteries, there’s a tradeoff here between power density, the rate that a battery produces energy, and energy density, the overall capacity of a battery. It’s tough to be good at both of those things, but that’s exactly what the Illinois team is trying to do. If they succeed at commercializing their tech, it could be big. Again, that’s a mighty “if.”

Indeed, one of the paper’s authors, UI professor William King, told Gizmodo via email that the big hurdle now is figuring out how to turn this into a commercial technology. “Since our first article was published on this technology, we’ve managed to increase the battery energy density by about a factor of 3, by using new, higher energy materials,” he said. Still, “the key challenge is manufacturing scale-up, which we have been working on diligently.”

What’s Going on Inside?

One of the problems with replicating a breakthrough in a lab is that often, we don’t really know what’s happening inside the battery itself. This sounds simple, but it’s a massive challenge and arguably the biggest thing holding up battery innovation: We can’t actually observe what’s going on at a molecular level. It’s why so many battery breakthroughs seem to be accidental or unexplainable-and why they fall flat when their inventors can’t reproduce the same effects in a controlled way.

So I talked with one researcher who isn’t focusing on building batteries-he’s focusing on seeing inside of them. Michael Toney, of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, is leading the way towards actuallyobserving what’s happening inside a battery without cracking it open or disturbing the process.

Toney and his colleagues are using spectroscopic imaging and nanoscale x-rays to understand exactly what’s happening inside, say, a lithium ion battery when it’s charging. As Toney told me, the ultimate goal is to be able to view what’s happening on an atomic level. For now though, his team can view the chemical processes to determine how, for example, an anode might be leading to voltage fade, or a gradual loss of energy over time.

Eventually, Toney says the same technology could lead to software that can realistically tell you how your battery is doing-not just guess, as your phone’s little bar system does now. But that’s small potatoes compared to being able to see how batteries actually work. Because the strangest thing about the race to build a battery than can replace fossil fuels isn’t just that there are so many contenders-it’s that knowing why they succeed or fail is so incredibly hard.

While we want a breakthrough battery to be as simple as a successful experiment, it increasingly seems like finding it will be a decades-long, incremental research effort that will see many successes and failures before all is said and done. After all, this is the Infrastructure Age. Don’t expect it to end before it even begins.

New conductive ink for electronic apparel


University of Tokyo researchers have developed a new ink that can be printed on textiles in a single step to form highly conductive and stretchable connections. This new functional ink will enable electronic apparel such as sportswear and underwear incorporating sensing devices for measuring a range of biological indicators such as heart rate and muscle contraction.

Current , such as transistors, light emitted diodes and solar panels, can be printed on plastic or paper substrates, but these substrates tend to be rigid or hard. The use of soft, stretchable material would enable a new generation of wearable devices that fit themselves to the human body. However, it has proved difficult to make an that is both highly conductive and elastic without a complicated multi-step .

Now, Professor Takao Someya’s research group at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Engineering has developed an elastic conducting ink that is easily printed on textiles and patterned in a single printing step. This ink is comprised of silver flakes, organic solvent, fluorine rubber and fluorine surfactant. The ink exhibited high conductivity even when it was stretched to more than three times its original length, which marks the highest value reported for stretchable conductors that can be extended to more than two and a half times their original length.

Using this new ink, the group created a wrist-band muscle activity sensor by printing an elastic conductor on a sportswear material and combining it with an organic transistor amplifier circuit. This sensor can measure by detecting muscle electrical potentials over an area of 4×4 square centimeters with nine electrodes placed 2 centimeters apart in a 3×3 grid.

An elastic conductor was created by a one-step printing process on a sportswear material. The top shows the elastic conductor at its original length. The middle and bottom images show the stretched elastic conductor at about two times and over three times its original length. The elastic conductor exhibited high conductivity even when it was stretched to more than three times its original length. Credit: (c) 2015 Someya Laboratory

“Our team aims to develop comfortable . This ink was developed as part of this endeavor,” says Someya. “The biggest challenge was obtaining high conductivity and stretchability with a simple one-step printing process. We were able to achieve this by use of a surfactant that allowed the silver flakes to self-assemble at the surface of the printed pattern, ensuring high conductivity.”