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  • Researchers are working on an electric motor made from polym…

    NEWS

       |   21/02/2019    |   0
    Researchers are working on an electric motor made from polym…
    Plants & Machinery  Machines & Equipment  Machines & Equipment

    Electric motors with housing made from polymer materials would be significantly lighter than the models currently available. However, it is not yet possible to construct such motors, since although state-of-the-art, fiber-reinforced polymer materials are on a par with metal housing in terms of stability, they are significantly worse at conducting heat. The scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology ICT and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) want to resolve this problem with a directly-cooled electric motor with integrated lightweight housing (DEmiL). An electric motor consists of a rotating rotor and a static stator. The stator contains the copper windings that the electricity flows through – and this is where the majority of electrical losses occur. The researchers now want to use rectangular flat wires here, which can be wound more tightly in the stator. This leaves more space for the cooling channel inside the stator; the metallic cooling sleeve used in electric motors up until now is no longer needed. According to the scientists, this not only results in a reduction in the overall weight, but also in lower thermal inertia and higher continuous output from the motor.

  • Investigating cell stress for better health – and better bee…

    NEWS

       |   21/02/2019    |   0
    Investigating cell stress for better health – and better bee…
    Medical & Healthcare  Diagnostic Imaging Labs  Diagnostic Imaging Labs

    Human beings are not the only ones who suffer from stress – even microorganisms can be affected. Now, researchers from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, have devised a new method to study how single biological cells react to stressful situations. Understanding these responses could help develop more effective drugs for serious diseases. As well as that, the research could even help to brew better beer. ​​ All living organisms can experience stress during challenging situations. Cells and microorganisms have complicated systems to govern how they adapt to new conditions. They can alter their own structure by incorporating or releasing many different substances into the surroundings. Due to the complexity of these molecular processes, understanding these systems is a difficult task. Chalmers researchers Daniel Midtvedt, Erik Olsén, Fredrik Höök and Gavin Jeffries have now made an important breakthrough, by looking at how individual yeast cells react to changes in the local environment – in this case an increased osmolarity, or concentration, of salt. They both identified and monitored the change of compounds within the yeast cells, one of which was a sugar, glycerol. Furthermore, they were able to measure the exact rate and amount of glycerol produced by different cells under various stress conditions. Their results have now been published in the renowned scientific journal Nature Communications. With the help of holographic microscopy, researchers have studied biological microorganisms in three dimensions to be able to see how they react to changes in their surroundings. The cells’ reactions to stress is measured through a method in which a laser beam is first split into two light paths. One of the light paths passes through a cell sample, and one does not. The two beams are then recombined at a slight offset angle. It is then possible to read changes in the cell’s properties through the variations in the beams’ phase offsets. Understanding these responses could help develop more effective drugs for serious diseases. Additionally, the research could even help to brew better beer. "Yeast and bacteria have very similar systems when it comes to response to stress, meaning the results are very interesting from a medical point of view. This could help us understand how to make life harder for undesirable bacteria which invade our body – a means to knock out their defence mechanisms,” says Daniel Midtvedt, researcher in biological physics at Chalmers, and lead writer of the scientific paper. He has been researching the subject since 2015, and, together with his colleagues, has developed a variant of holographic microscopy to study the cells in three dimensions. The method is built upon an interference imaging approach, splitting a laser beam into two light paths, with one which passes through a cell sample, and one which does not. The two beams are then recombined at a slight offset angle. This makes it possible to read changes in the cell’s properties through the variations in beam phase offsets. With this method of investigating a cell, researchers can see what different microorganisms produce under stress – without needing to use different types of traditional ‘label-based’ strategies. Their non-invasive strategy allows for multiple compounds to be detected simultaneously, without damaging the cell. The researchers now plan to use the new method in a large collaboration project, to look at the uptake of targeted biomedicines. ​“Hopefully, we can contribute to improved understanding of how drugs are received and processed by human cells. It is important to be able to develop new type of drugs, with the hope that we can treat those illnesses which today are untreatable,” says Chalmers professor Fredrik Höök, who further leads the research centre Formulaex, where AstraZeneca is the leading industry partner. As well as the benefit to medical researchers, improved knowledge of the impact of stress on yeast cells could be valuable for the food and drink industry – not least, when it comes to brewing better beer. “Yeast is essential for both food and drink preparation, for example in baking bread and brewing beer. This knowledge of yeast cells’ physical characteristics could be invaluable. We could optimise the products exactly as we want them,” says Daniel Midtvedt.

  • Digital twins communicate in the smart data pool

    NEWS

       |   17/02/2019    |   3
    Digital twins communicate in the smart data pool
    Engineering & Fabrication  Automation system  Automation system

    The manufacturer says that the new software works in the same way as a brain: Model in the Middle has a meta position and works autonomously to coordinate data connections, analyses, monitoring, and forecasts and to make independent decisions based on the relevant data obtained. To this end, the program reproduces digital twins of various system components and production systems, and enables these to communicate with each other, with the aim of boosting the efficiency of networked production. The software is basically an event-driven data pool, which pools data from various sources through databases and ERP systems to facilitate integrated processing and management, thereby enabling digital images of different physical or logical objects to interact. The result: simplified troubleshooting and the option of integrating predictive maintenance solutions from different providers.

  • Fraunhofer develops ceramic high-temperature battery

    NEWS

       |   17/02/2019    |   1
    Fraunhofer develops ceramic high-temperature battery
    Engineering & Fabrication  Metal Finishing & Coating Services  Metal Finishing & Coating Services

    The Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS plans to showcase its high-temperature battery cerenergy – and specifically the 5 kWh, 20 battery cell model – at Energy Storage Europe 2019 in Düsseldorf in mid-March. The sodium-nickel chloride battery is primarily based on sodium chloride, one of the most cost-efficient raw materials in the world. No rare earths or other strategic resources are used. In addition to sodium chloride, only a ceramic Na ion-conducting electrolyte made of doped aluminum oxide, as well as nickel and iron are required. Together they create an energy storage system with an overall efficiency of > 90% and an energy density of 130 watt hours per kilogram. The operating temperature, which easily reaches 300 °C for ceramic battery solutions, is shielded from outside influences by a vacuum insulation.

  • Precise weld seams courtesy of a customized system solution

    NEWS

       |   29/01/2019    |   20
    Precise weld seams courtesy of a customized system solution
    Plants & Machinery  Machines & Equipment  Machines & Equipment

    The Value Added Products (VAP) division of Rodriguez GmbH develops and builds customized system solutions that are optimized for specific engineering tasks. These customer-specific system solutions are already proving their worth in a whole range of applications and sectors. What's more, each and every one of the optimized solutions is based on high-quality roller bearings and linear technology components from the company’s extensive product portfolio. Most recently, the experts at Rodriguez implemented a tailor-made linear guideway table for a welding plant. The RSTK-35 linear guideway table is part of an upright welding unit for processing various steel profiles. A welding cylinder moves up and down the Z axis of the vertically installed table, covering a maximum travel distance of 150 millimeters. The RSTK-35 linear guideway table has been optimized with a number of products carefully selected from the Rodriguez portfolio - a BRH-35 ball linear guideway with two rails, each with two blocks, a 50x10 ballscrew drive with FK5010 ballscrew nut, and a pair of double-row thrust angular contact bearings as the bearing for the ballscrew at the fixing side.

  • Fidget spinner separates blood plasma

    NEWS

       |   29/01/2019    |   24
    Fidget spinner separates blood plasma
    Medical & Healthcare  Diagnostic Imaging Labs  Diagnostic Imaging Labs

    The new approach, reported in ACS' journal Analytical Chemistry, could be useful for medical applications in regions of the world that lack electricity and other resources. Before doctors can perform many types of blood tests, they must separate blood cells from plasma, the yellowish fluid that contains proteins, bacteria, viruses, metabolites and other substances that can be used to diagnose disease. This is most often accomplished by centrifugation, which uses high-speed rotation to sediment blood cells. However, centrifuges are expensive and require electricity that might not be available in resource-limited regions. Chien-Fu Chen, Chien-Cheng Chang and colleagues wondered if a commercially available fidget-spinner could generate enough force to separate blood plasma with the flick of a finger. To find out, the researchers placed human blood samples in tiny tubes, sealed the ends and taped a tube to each of the three prongs of a fidget-spinner. They found that by flicking the spinner with a finger three to five times, they could separate about 30 percent of the plasma with 99 percent purity in only four to seven minutes. To verify that the plasma was suitable for diagnostic tests, the researchers spiked blood with a human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1) protein, separated the plasma with the spinner and performed a paper-based detection test. The inexpensive, simple method detected clinically relevant concentrations of the viral protein in only a drop of blood.

  • Can a blood test detect lung-transplant rejection?

    NEWS

       |   29/01/2019    |   23
    Can a blood test detect lung-transplant rejection?
    Medical & Healthcare  Diagnostic Imaging Labs  Diagnostic Imaging Labs

    The study's findings appeared in EBioMedicine, a publication of The Lancet. "This test solves a long-standing problem in lung transplants: detection of hidden signs of rejection," said Hannah Valantine, M.D., co-leader of the study and lead investigator of the Laboratory of Organ Transplant Genomics in the Cardiovascular Branch at NHLBI. "We're very excited about its potential to save lives, especially in the wake of a critical shortage of donor organs." The test relies on DNA sequencing, Valantine explained, and as such, represents a great example of personalized medicine, as it will allow doctors to tailor transplant treatments to those individuals who are at highest risk for rejection. Lung transplant recipients have the shortest survival rates among patients who get solid organ transplantation of any kind - only about half live past five years. Lung transplant recipients face a high incidence of chronic rejection, which occurs when the body's immune system attacks the transplanted organ. Existing tools for detecting signs of rejection, such as biopsy, either require the removal of small amounts of lung tissue or are not sensitive enough to discern the severity of the rejection. The new test appears to overcome those challenges. Called the donor-derived cell-free DNA test, the experimental test begins with obtaining a few blood droplets taken from the arm of the transplant recipient. A special set of machines then sorts the DNA fragments in the blood sample, and in combination with computer analysis, determines whether the fragments are from the recipient or the donor and how many of each type are present. Because injured or dying cells from the donor release lots of donor DNA fragments into the bloodstream compared to normal donor cells, higher amounts of donor DNA indicate a higher risk for transplant rejection in the recipient. In the study, 106 lung transplant recipients were enrolled and monitored. Blood samples collected in the first three months after transplantation underwent the testing procedure. The results showed that those with higher levels of the donor-derived DNA fragments in the first three months of transplantation were six times more likely to subsequently develop transplant organ failure or die during the study follow-up period than those with lower donor-derived DNA levels. Importantly, researchers found that more than half of the high-risk subjects showed no outward signs of clinical complications during this period.

  • Producing vaccines without the use of chemicals

    NEWS

       |   24/01/2019    |   34
    Producing vaccines without the use of chemicals
    Medical & Healthcare  Pharmaceutical Products  Pharmaceutical Products

    Vaccinations against polio, diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus have been on the list of standard infant vaccinations for decades now. Many vaccines are inactivated vaccines - that is to say, the pathogens they contain have been killed so that they can no longer harm the patient. Despite this, the vaccine provokes an immune response: The body detects a foreign intruder and begins to produce antibodies to ward off infection. To produce these vaccines, pathogens are cultivated in large quantities and then killed using toxic chemicals. The most common of these is formaldehyde - heavily diluted so it doesn’t harm the patient when the vaccination is administered. Nevertheless, there are downsides to even this minimal concentration: The toxin must remain in contact with the pathogen for days or even weeks to take effect, which has a negative impact both on the structure of the pathogen and the reproducibility of the vaccine. And in cases that call for speed – flu vaccines for instance – drug manufacturers are obliged to use higher dosages of formaldehyde. The product must then undergo a time-consuming process of filtration to avoid traces of the toxic chemical being left behind in the vaccine. Electron beams kill harmful pathogens Now, pharmaceutical companies will be able to produce inactivated vaccines without the slightest trace of toxic chemicals – quickly and reproducibly. The scientists who developed this process see its greatest potential in the production of vaccines that until now were not amenable to the method of chemical inactivation. The technique was developed jointly by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institutes for Cell Therapy and Immunology IZI, Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA, Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP and Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB. “Instead of using chemicals to inactivate the pathogens, we employ low-energy electron beams,” explains Fraunhofer IPA team leader Martin Thoma. The accelerated electrons break down the DNA of the pathogens either via direct collisions or through the generation of secondary electrons, which subsequently result in single or double strand breaks. In a nutshell, the electrons fragment the pathogens’ DNA while maintaining their external structure. This is important to trigger an effective immune response. The challenge arises from the fact that the electrons cannot penetrate very deeply into the suspension containing the pathogens - in fact, for an even dose distribution, liquid levels should not exceed 200 micrometers. Because there were no existing technologies capable of meeting these requirements, Fraunhofer IPA developed two new methods from scratch. In the first method, a cylinder is continuously wetted with the pathogen suspension, irradiated, and the inactivated liquid transferred into a sterile vessel. In other words, there are two reservoirs of liquid: one containing the active and one containing the inactive pathogens - connected to one another via a constantly turning cylindrical vessel or tumbler. “It’s a continuous process that can easily be scaled up for the mass production of vaccines,” says Thoma. The second method is more suited to lab-scale applications, in which small quantities of vaccine are produced for research or drug development purposes. In this instance, the solution containing the pathogens is placed in bags, which are then passed through the electron beam using a patented process. A collaborative undertaking This kind of project calls for a range of expertise that is perfectly covered by the four Fraunhofer Institutes involved in the initiative. Researchers at Fraunhofer IZI took responsibility for cultivating the various pathogens – including one for avian flu and one for equine influenza. “Following the irradiation, we also worked with our colleagues at Fraunhofer IGB to determine whether the pathogens had been fully inactivated, thus providing effective vaccine protection,” says Dr. Sebastian Ulbert, head of department at Fraunhofer IZI and the initiator of the project. The expertise in electron beam technology came from researchers at Fraunhofer FEP, who developed a system capable of delivering the low-energy electron beams at precise doses – this is necessary because, while the aim is to reliably inactivate the pathogen, care must also be taken to preserve the pathogen structure so that patients’ immune systems can produce the corresponding antibodies. The new technology has already been implemented, and not only on the laboratory scale: “In the fall of 2018, a research and pilot facility entered into service here at Fraunhofer IZI. Using our continuous module – the wetted tumbler – we are currently able to produce four liters of vaccine per hour,” says Ulbert. That is not far off industrial scale, given that, for certain vaccines, 15 liters of pathogen suspension can yield a million doses of vaccine. Discussions are already underway with partners in industry. However, it will be another two to four years before vaccines produced using electron beams can be tested in clinical trials.

  • Bionic reconstruction after amputation of a hand

    NEWS

       |   24/01/2019    |   29
    Bionic reconstruction after amputation of a hand
    Medical & Healthcare  Medical Equipment  Medical Equipment

    This technique has proven to be successful, although the specific reasons for its success were not fully understood. A team of researchers led by Konstantin Bergmeister and Oskar Aszmann from the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and the Christian Doppler Laboratory for Recovery of Limb Function at MedUni Vienna, demonstrated, in an animal model, that the key to success lies in the muscle undergoing a change of identity triggered by the donor nerve. Bionic prostheses are mentally controlled, in that they register the activation of residual muscles in the limb stump. Theoretically it should be possible for the latest generation prostheses to execute the same number of movements as a healthy human hand. However, the link between man and prosthesis is not yet capable of controlling all mechanically possible functions, because the interface between man and prostheses is limited in terms of signal transmission. "If we could solve this problem, the latest prostheses could actually become an intuitively operated replacement that functions just like a human hand," underscore the researchers. To enable the prosthesis to move at all, nerves have to be surgically transferred during the amputation procedure to increase the total number of muscle control signals. This involves connecting amputated peripheral nerves to residual muscles in the amputation stump. This method is very successful, because these muscles regenerate after a few months to provide better control of the prosthesis. However, until now, it was not clear what specific changes this nerve transfer technique produces in muscles and nerves. As part of an experimental study conducted over several years, a research team led by Konstantin Bergmeister and Oskar Aszmann from MedUni Vienna’s Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (Head: Christine Radtke) and Christian Doppler Laboratory for Recovery of Limb Function have now shown that this nerve transfer technique has previously unidentified neurophysiological effects. These result in more accurate muscle contractility and much more finely controlled muscle signals than previously thought. It was also found that muscles take on the identity of the donor nerves, that is to say the function of the muscle from which the nerve was originally harvested. This means that muscles can be modified very specifically to achieve the desired control of the lost extremity. This information will now be used in follow-up studies to refine the surgical technique of nerve transfer and adapt it more accurately to fine control systems. The vision of an intuitively controlled prosthesis that can perform all the natural manual functions could become a reality within the next few years.

  • WSU smart home tests first elder care robot

    NEWS

       |   22/01/2019    |   33
    WSU smart home tests first elder care robot
    Engineering & Fabrication  Automation system  Automation system

    It navigates through rooms and around obstacles to find people on its own, provides video instructions on how to do simple tasks and can even lead its owner to objects like their medication or a snack in the kitchen. "RAS combines the convenience of a mobile robot with the activity detection technology of a WSU smart home to provide assistance in the moment, as the need for help is detected," said Bryan Minor, a postdoctoral researcher in the WSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Minor works in the lab of Diane Cook, professor of electrical engineering and computer science and director of the WSU Center for Advanced Studies in Adaptive Systems. For the last decade, Cook and Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe, a WSU professor of psychology, have led CASAS researchers in the development of smart home technologies that could enable elderly adults with memory problems and other impairments to live independently. Currently, an estimated 50 percent of adults over the age of 85 need assistance with every day activities such as preparing meals and taking medication and the annual cost for this assistance in the US is nearly $2 trillion. With the number of adults over 85 expected to triple by 2050, Cook and Schmitter-Edgecombe hope that technologies like RAS and the WSU smart home will alleviate some of the financial strain on the healthcare system by making it easier for older adults to live alone. "Upwards of 90 percent of older adults prefer to age in place as opposed to moving into a nursing home," Cook said. "We want to make it so that instead of bringing in a caregiver or sending these people to a nursing home, we can use technology to help them live independently on their own." RAS is the first robot CASAS researchers have tried to incorporate into their smart home environment. They recently published a study in the journal Cognitive Systems Research that demonstrates how RAS could make life easier for older adults struggling to live independently. CASAS researchers recruited 26 undergraduate and graduate students to complete three activities in a smart home with RAS as an assistant. The activities were getting ready to walk the dog, taking medication with food and water and watering household plants. When the smart home sensors detected a human failed to initiate or was struggling with one of the tasks, RAS received a message to help. The robot then used its mapping and navigation camera, sensors and software to find the person and offer assistance. The person could then indicate through a tablet interface that they wanted to see a video of the next step in the activity they were performing, a video of the entire activity or they could ask the robot to lead them to objects needed to complete the activity like the dog's leash or a granola bar from the kitchen. Afterwards the study participants were asked to rate the robot's performance. Most of the participants rated RAS' performance favorably and found the robot's tablet interface to be easy to use. They also reported the next step video as being the most useful of the prompts. "While we are still in an early stage of development, our initial results with RAS have been promising," Minor said. "The next step in the research will be to test RAS' performance with a group of older adults to get a better idea of what prompts, video reminders and other preferences they have regarding the robot."