Thanks to revolutionary developments in stem cell research, scientists can grow mini intestines, livers, lungs and pancreases in the lab. Recently, by growing so-called pluripotent stem cells, they have also been able to do this for kidneys. In their study, the researchers from Utrecht University used adult stem cells, directly from the patient, for the first time. Urine cells also proved to be ideal for this purpose. A mini kidney from the lab doesn't look like a normal kidney. But the simple cell structures share many of the characteristics of real kidneys, so researchers can use them to study certain kidney diseases. "We can use these mini kidneys to model various disorders: hereditary kidney diseases, infections and cancer. This allows us to study in detail what exactly is going wrong", says Hans Clevers, Prof. of Molecular Genetics at Utrecht University and the University Medical Center Utrecht, and group leader at the Hubrecht Institute. "This helps us to understand the workings of healthy kidneys better, and hopefully, in the future, we will be able to develop treatments for kidney disorders." Kidney patients who undergo a transplant are at risk of contracting a viral infection. Unfortunately, at the moment there is still no effective treatment for this. "In the lab, we can give a mini kidney a viral infection which some patients contract following a kidney transplant," says Prof. of Experimental Nephrology at UMC Utrecht, Marianne Verhaar. "We can then establish whether this infection can be cured using a specific drug. And we can also use mini kidneys created from the tissue of a patient with kidney cancer to study cancer." Verhaar explains that she collaborates with medics, researchers and technical experts at a single location in Utrecht: the Regenerative Medicine Centre Utrecht. "Collaborating in this way has made a huge difference to our research. We hope that, together, we can improve treatments for kidney patients. In the long term, we hope to be able to use mini kidneys to create a real, functioning kidney - a tailor-made kidney - too. But that's still a long way."
Whether it is buses, cars, scooters or bicycles, it seems certain that electromobility will power the future. One of the biggest hurdles at the moment, however, is how to increase vehicle range – a challenge that will depend on making vehicles as light as possible. The lighter the vehicle or transporter, the longer the energy storage lasts. In this domain, Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastics, or CFRP for short, are the material of choice – as strong as steel and yet some eight times lighter, and even three times lighter even than aluminum. The general practice is to manufacture individual components, the vehicle frame for instance, using CFRP, and then join them to the function-bearing metal components using screws or adhesives. In other words, components that connect long expanses and transfer loads can be manufactured using CFRP, while metal is reserved for the functional components and attachment points for the steering mechanism, for example. Weight savings of up to 50 percent Now, researchers from the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Casting, Composite and Processing Technology IGCV at the Technology Center in Augsburg have come up with a variety of innovative new techniques to join conventionally cast components with those made of CFRP. Looking beyond the thoroughly established foundry technology, there is a lot of potential in modern manufacturing techniques such as additive manufacturing and 3D printing. “We’ve combined the various new joining techniques in an electric scooter demonstrator. The goal is to cut down on the number of mechanical attachment points and simplify the joining process as much as possible,” explains Dr.-Ing. Daniel Günther, who heads the project at Fraunhofer IGCV. “There’s a lot of potential in combining metal and CFRP components, with a potential weight saving of up to 50 percent depending on the part.” Clamping technique to join rear-wheel support The rear-wheel support of an electric scooter contains a lot of parts integral to its functioning and, for that reason, it is made out of metal. To make it as lightweight as possible, the research team produced the part out of highly durable steel, optimizing the topology so the material is restricted solely to the places it is needed to support the functioning. To produce the part, researchers drew on an additive manufacturing technique that uses a laser beam to form components out of a metal powder. The rear-wheel support is connected to the CFRP footboard using a screw system – making it easy to remove and disassemble for maintenance. Adhesively bonded hybrid steering head The steering head of the scooter is a hybrid component, with an aluminum base frame linking to the footboard behind and the handlebars at the front.This part of the scooter is full of parts integral to its functioning, with a significant expanse to bridge in-between. Using CFRP parts ensures the necessary rigidity. The two different materials are joined together using adhesive bonding. “In terms of a baseline load, we assumed a person weighing one hundred kilograms performing jumps with the scooter. To support that sort of load using a pure aluminum cast part, you would need a huge amount of material to ensure sufficient rigidity,” says Günther. To manufacture the part, Günther and his team began by analyzing the available installation space. As a rule of thumb, the more room used, the larger the cross-section of the component – and the better its rigidity. The material has to be kept as thin as possible, however, to ensure that the component does not become overly heavy. The solution to this is to use CFRP in combination with cast metal. As a further step, the researchers calculated the load at various points of the component. The splices have been precisely positioned at the points with the least load. Rigidity is guaranteed thanks to the shaping of the CFRP component. ‘Fork’ system: The joining technology of the future The load-bearing capacity and durability of CFRP comes from the fibers contained within it. Here, the main challenge lies in transferring the force acting on a component so it is absorbed by these same fibers. On top of this, engineers need to ensure that any metal parts are as securely attached to the CFRP components as possible, without any gaps or cavities. In response, the researchers have developed a completely new joining technique – best explained by taking a look at the components involved. In the example of the electronic scooter, you have a cylindrical piece connecting to the handlebars, a steel component made using an additive manufacturing technique. The bottom of the component has a plate that works as a base with small pins sticking out from its surface. Researchers then overlay this base plate with the prepregs for the CFRP component, made out of fibers coated with synthetic resin. Afterwards, they apply vacuum and increase the temperature. The resin encloses the carbon fibers, flows downwards and closes the gap with the metal plate, hardening to form an adhesive bond. Here, not only does the resin stick to the plate, the protruding pins are also enveloped and held in place by the fibers. This interlocks the components and supplies a solid bond – without the need for screws or additional adhesives. “The technique is fast, industry-ready and can easily be scaled up for mass production,” says Günther.
A new ultrasensitive diagnostic device invented by researchers at the University of Kansas, The University of Kansas Cancer Center and KU Medical Center could allow doctors to detect cancer quickly from a droplet of blood or plasma, leading to timelier interventions and better outcomes for patients. The “lab-on-a-chip” for “liquid biopsy” analysis, reported today in Nature Biomedical Engineering, detects exosomes — tiny parcels of biological information produced by tumor cells to stimulate tumor growth or metastasize. “Historically, people thought exosomes were like ‘trash bags’ that cells could use to dump unwanted cellular contents,” said lead author Yong Zeng, Docking Family Scholar and associate professor of chemistry at KU. “But in the past decade, scientists realized they were quite useful for sending messages to recipient cells and communicating molecular information important in many biological functions. Basically, tumors send out exosomes packaging active molecules that mirror the biological features of the parental cells. While all cells produce exosomes, tumor cells are really active compared to normal cells.” The new lab-on-a-chip’s key innovation is a 3D nanoengineering method that mixes and senses biological elements based on a herringbone pattern commonly found in nature, pushing exosomes into contact with the chip’s sensing surface much more efficiently in a process called “mass transfer.” “People have developed smart ideas to improve mass transfer in microscale channels, but when particles are moving closer to the sensor surface, they’re separated by a small gap of liquid that creates increasing hydrodynamic resistance,” Zeng said. “Here, we developed a 3D nanoporous herringbone structure that can drain the liquid in that gap to bring the particles in hard contact with the surface where probes can recognize and capture them.” Zeng compared the chip’s nanopores to a million little kitchen sinks: “If you have a sink filled with water and many balls floating on the surface, how do you get all the balls in contact with the bottom of the sink where sensors could analyze them? The easiest way is to drain the water.” To develop and test the pioneering microfluidic device, Zeng teamed with a tumor-biomarker expert and KU Cancer Center Deputy Director Andrew Godwin at the KU Medical Center’s Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, as well as graduate student Ashley Tetlow in Godwin’s Biomarker Discovery Lab. The collaborators tested the chip’s design using clinical samples from ovarian cancer patients, finding the chip could detect the presence of cancer in a minuscule amount of plasma. “Our collaborative studies continue to bear fruit and advance an area crucial in cancer research and patient care — namely, innovative tools for early detection,” said Godwin, who serves as Chancellor's Distinguished Chair and Endowed Professor in Biomedical Sciences and professor and director of molecular oncology, pathology and laboratory medicine at KU Medical Center. “This area of study is especially important for cancers such as ovarian, given the vast majority of women are diagnosed at an advanced stage when, sadly, the disease is for the most part incurable.” What’s more, the new microfluidic chips developed at KU would be cheaper and easier to make than comparable designs, allowing for wider and less-costly testing for patients. “What we created here is a 3D nanopatterning method without the need for any fancy nanofabrication equipment — an undergraduate or even a high school student can do it in my lab,” Zeng said. “This is so simple and low-cost it has great potential to translate into clinical settings. We’ve been collaborating with Dr. Godwin and other research labs at The KU Cancer Center and the molecular biosciences department to further explore the translational applications of the technology.” According to Zeng, with the microfluidic chip’s design now proven using ovarian cancer as a model, the chip could be useful in detecting a host of other diseases. “Now, we’re looking at cell-culture models, animal models, and also clinical patient samples, so we are truly doing some translational research to move the device from the lab setting to more clinical applications,” he said. “Almost all mammalian cells release exosomes, so the application is not just limited to ovarian cancer or any one type of cancer. We’re working with people to look at neurodegenerative diseases, breast and colorectal cancers, for example.” On KU’s Lawrence campus, Zeng worked with a team including postdoctoral fellow Peng Zhang, graduate student Xin Zhou in the Department of Chemistry, as well as Mei He, KU assistant professor of chemistry and chemical engineering. This research was supported by grants from National Institutes of Health, including a joint R21 (CA1806846) and a R33 (CA214333) grant between Zeng and Godwin and the KU Cancer Center’s Biospecimen Repository Core Facility, funded in part by a National Cancer Institute Cancer Center Support Grant (P30 CA168524). Image: The new lab-on-a-chip’s key innovation is a 3D nanoengineering method that mixes and senses biological elements based on a herringbone pattern commonly found in nature, pushing exosomes into contact with the chip’s sensing surface much more efficiently in a process called “mass transfer.”
3D printers that build small souvenirs layer by layer from melted plastic are often used at tradeshows. It can take up to an hour to produce a pocket-sized souvenir. This process is far too slow for the mass-production of components, as required by the automotive industry, for instance. A system from the Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology IWU in Chemnitz is now taking 3D printing to a new level: The system’s high-speed technology takes only 18 minutes to produce a plastic component that is 30 centimeters high. A team of researchers at the Fraunhofer IWU has developed this technology for the additive manufacture of large-volume resilient plastic components. Tool manufacturers as well as the automotive and aerospace industries benefit from the innovative 3D printer that achieves eight times the process speed. This printer uses the SEAM – short for Screw Extrusion Additive Manufacturing – process developed at the Chemnitz Institute. How does SEAM achieve these high process speeds? “By combining machine tool technology with 3D printing,” says Dr. Martin Kausch, a scientist at Fraunhofer IWU. To process the plastic, the researchers use a specially designed unit that melts the raw material and ejects it at a high output rate. This unit is installed above a construction platform that can be swiveled in six axes by using the motion system of a machine tool. “So far, this combination is unique,” says Dr. Kausch. The hot plastic is deposited in layers on the construction platform. The motion system of the machine ensures that the construction panel slides along under the nozzle in such a way that the previously programmed component shape is produced. The table can be moved at a speed of one meter per second in the X-, Y- and Z-axes and can also be tilted by up to 45 degrees. “This enables us to print eight times faster than conventional processes, enormously reducing the production times for plastic components.” The 3D printer processes cost-effective basic material Every hour, up to seven kilograms of plastic are pressed through the hot nozzle with a diameter of one millimeter. Comparable 3D printing processes, such as Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) or Fused Filament Modeling (FLM), usually achieve only 50 grams of plastic per hour. A unique feature is that, instead of expensive FLM filament, SEAM processes free-flowing, cost-effective standard plastic granulate into resilient, fiber-reinforced components that are several meters in size. This method allows material costs to be reduced by a factor of two hundred. SEAM allows researchers to implement complex geometries without supporting structures. The highlight is that the new system even makes it possible to print on existing injection-molded components. “As our construction platform can be swiveled, we are able to print on curved structures with a separately moving Z-axis,” says Kausch. “In tests, we were able to process a wide variety of plastics. They ranged from thermoplastic elastomers to high-performance plastics with a 50 percent content of carbon fiber. These plastics are materials that are particularly relevant to industry and cannot be processed with traditional 3D printers.”
Many people use Alexa, Siri and other similar voice assistants on a daily basis, dipping in to access the latest news, make use of voice navigation or simply stream their favorite songs. Voice assistants are an intuitive way to interact with technology, an effective way of delivering services and imparting information. They are not just handy everyday helpers, however; they present companies and business with a huge opportunity to simplify human-machine interaction and offer entirely new services to their industry customers. Focus on companies Researchers at Fraunhofer IAIS in Sankt Augustin develop just these sorts of voice interaction systems for use in a wide variety of applications, including manufacturing and the automotive and medical sectors. While Alexa, Siri and the like are aimed at individual consumers, the research team at Fraunhofer IAIS uses the latest techniques in machine learning, question answering and knowledge graphs to address the specific needs and challenges of business. “In manufacturing, for instance, we are seeing more and more robots equipped with voice assistants, which the worker can then operate and train using voice and gestures,” says Prof. Dr. Jens Lehmann, Lead Scientist at Fraunhofer IAIS. Prof. Lehmann and his team at Fraunhofer IAIS specialize in dialog systems catering to domain-specific knowledge and trained for specific applications. At the Hannover Messe, they will be showcasing a voice assistant integrated into a VW Tiguan. Wearing a headset and virtual reality glasses, drivers will be taken on a virtual tour of Berlin while the interactive system answers questions about the surroundings such as: What’s that building on the left-hand side? What’s it known for? When was it built? Who built it? The system also supports supplementary questions such as “Where does the architect come from?” or “Tell me more about him!” Domain-specific knowledge answering complex questions The Hannover Messe showcase is a collaboration between the Fraunhofer Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Internet Technologies (www.cit.fraunhofer.de), Volkswagen and the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS. “Knowledge related to Berlin has been collated into a knowledge graph, where each building represents a point on the graph and forms connections with other points. As a result, we can gather progressively more information and constantly expand the knowledge base. This is what allows answering complex questions instead of restricting inquiries to a limited number of prescribed questions,” explains Lehmann. In a manufacturing context, this sort of knowledge graph could report on the status of machines, for example, or answer questions about components produced in the last hour. The knowledge graphs used for the trade show exhibition draw on a variety of data sources including Dbpedia (http://dbedia.org) and OpenStreetMap. A special feature of the voice assistant is that it is also able to harness unstructured knowledge, such as text documents on museums, for instance. With these systems, you have not only the physical machine in the production hall, but also a virtual counterpart that is fed with real data. This data can be interrogated using dialog or question answering systems. “While question answering systems directly answer a single question, dialogue systems support multiple interaction steps with sequences of questions and answers. A dialog system will also respond to sequences of inquiries and small talk, just like the exhibit we will have on display,” says Lehmann. The more training data, the smarter the voice assistant “It is the domain-specific knowledge that makes a voice assistant smart. The technical challenge from our side lies in developing a system that can understand users’ queries and respond appropriately using the knowledge contained in the knowledge graph,” the researcher concludes. Developing such a system calls for the application of the latest techniques in machine learning, techniques that the researchers at Fraunhofer IAIS are constantly developing and refining. The expertise they have assembled in machine learning and domain-specific knowledge puts them at the top of their field internationally. Tailored to the respective domains, the experts select the appropriate machine learning algorithms and train them using sample dialogs and question-answer pairs. The intelligence of the voice assistant grows with the amount of training data it amasses. The voice assistants developed by Fraunhofer IAIS offer their users the ultimate digital experience and are all GDPR-compliant
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.