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  • richardmitnick 8:43 am on October 21, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , EPFL-École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, The Giotto project   

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne: “With Giotto, artificial intelligence gets a third dimension” 

    EPFL bloc

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

    21.10.19
    Sarah Aubort

    1
    The Giotto project, launched by EPFL startup Learn to Forecast, intends to revolutionize the way we use artificial intelligence. Drawing on the science of shapes, Giotto pushes AI forward by making it more reliable and intuitive in areas such as materials science, neuroscience and biology. Giotto is open-source and available free of charge on GitHub, and it’s already being used by some EPFL scientists.

    Researchers use artificial intelligence to solve complex problems, but it’s not a transparent science: AI’s computational capabilities often exceed our understanding and raise issues of reliability and trust among users. “Algorithms are becoming increasingly complex,” says Matteo Caorsi, the lead scientist at Learn to Forecast (L2F). “It’s very hard to understand how they work and thus to trust the solutions they provide or predict when they might get things wrong.”

    Shapes hidden within data

    To address this problem, L2F followed an intuitive approach based on the science of shapes. The result is Giotto, a free and open-source library that aims to revolutionize the way we use machine learning. “Humans understand shapes and colors better than numbers and equations,” says Aldo Podestà, the CEO of L2F, “which is why we think that we can use topology – the science of shapes – to build a new language between AI and users.”

    Giotto offers a toolkit that uses algorithms inspired by topology to address some of the shortcomings of machine learning. Users don’t need to be fluent in advanced mathematics, since Giotto is a turnkey method of revealing structures previously hidden within a dataset. “This new form of AI is based on graphs and their multidimensional versions, in other words, geometrical objects that can reveal essential structures within the data,” says Thomas Boys, a co-founder at L2F.

    Until now, machine learning algorithms sought performance, even if that meant depriving users of a fuller understanding of the nature of the results. “Giotto helps identify the framework underlying all relationships among the data, and this allows users to understand the data better and extract meaning from them with greater accuracy,” adds Boys. The project is named for Giotto di Bondone, the 13th-century artist who first introduced perspective into painting. L2F hopes to usher in a similar paradigm change in data science by combining machine learning with topology.

    New horizons

    To develop Giotto, its creators worked with EPFL researchers who use topology every day. This includes Professor Kathryn Hess Bellwald, the head of the Laboratory for Topology and Neuroscience. “One of Giotto’s main advantages is that, because of its user friendliness, it will be possible for scientists from all kinds of fields to use these tools as a regular part of their data science toolkit,” says Prof. Hess Bellwald. “This should lead to new insights in many different areas that one could not attain without Giotto.”

    Learn to Forecast (L2F) was founded at EPFL in 2017. Its aim is to use artificial intelligence to address a wide variety of issues. The company raised three million francs via 4FO Ventures to develop the Giotto library, and it now has 25 employees.

    For more information : https://www.giotto.ai
    Git Hub : https://github.com/giotto-learn/giotto-learn

    See the full article here .

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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    EPFL campus

    EPFL is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university. It receives students, professors and staff from over 120 nationalities. With both a Swiss and international calling, it is therefore guided by a constant wish to open up; its missions of teaching, research and partnership impact various circles: universities and engineering schools, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and gymnasiums, industry and economy, political circles and the general public.

     
  • richardmitnick 12:32 pm on October 11, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: EPFL-École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Heavy fermion materials, , The challenge is to find new materials in which the superconducting state can be easily manipulated in a device.   

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne: “Controlling superconducting regions within an exotic metal” 

    EPFL bloc

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

    11.10.19
    Laure-Anne Pessina

    1
    Researchers at EPFL have created a metallic microdevice in which they can define and tune patterns of superconductivity. Their discovery, which holds great promise for quantum technologies of the future, has just been published in Science.

    Superconductivity has fascinated scientists for many years since it offers the potential to revolutionize current technologies. Materials only become superconductors – meaning that electrons can travel in them with no resistance – at very low temperatures. These days, this unique zero resistance superconductivity is commonly found in a number of technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Future technologies, however, will harness the total synchrony of electronic behavior in superconductors – a property called the phase. There is currently a race to build the world’s first quantum computer, which will use these phases to perform calculations. Conventional superconductors are very robust and hard to influence, and the challenge is to find new materials in which the superconducting state can be easily manipulated in a device.

    EPFL’s Laboratory of Quantum Materials (QMAT), headed by Philip Moll, professor at the School of Engineering, has been working on a specific group of unconventional superconductors known as heavy fermion materials. The QMAT scientists, as part of a broad international collaboration between EPFL, the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Physics of Solids, the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Cornell University, made a surprising discovery about one of these materials, CeIrIn5.

    CeIrIn5 is a metal that superconducts at a very low temperature, only 0.4°C above absolute zero (around -273°C). The QMAT scientists, together with Katja C. Nowack from Cornell University, have now shown that this material could be produced with superconducting regions coexisting alongside regions in a normal metallic state. Better still, they produced a model that allows researchers to design complex conducting patterns and, by varying the temperature, to distribute them within the material in a highly controlled way. Their research has just been published in Science.

    To achieve this feat, the scientists sliced very thin layers of CeIrIn5 – only around a thousandth of a millimeter thick – that they joined to a sapphire substrate. When cooled, the material contracts significantly whereas the sapphire contracts very little. The resulting interaction puts stress on the material, as if it were being pulled in all directions, thus slightly distorting the atomic bonds in the slice. As the superconductivity in CeIrIn5 is unusually sensitive to the material’s exact atomic configuration, engineering a distortion pattern is all it takes to achieve a complex pattern of superconductivity. This new approach allows researchers to “draw” superconducting circuitry on a single crystal bar, a step that paves the way for new quantum technologies.

    3
    2
    The image illustrates the temperature evolution of the spatially modulated superconducting state.

    This discovery represents a major step forward in controlling superconductivity in heavy fermion materials. But that’s not the end of the story. Following on from this project, a post-doc researcher has just begun exploring possible technological applications.

    “We could, for example, change the regions of superconductivity by modifying the material’s distortion using a microactuator,” says Moll. “The ability to isolate and connect superconducting regions on a chip could also create a kind of switch for future quantum technologies, a little like the transistors used in today’s computing.”

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    EPFL campus

    EPFL is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university. It receives students, professors and staff from over 120 nationalities. With both a Swiss and international calling, it is therefore guided by a constant wish to open up; its missions of teaching, research and partnership impact various circles: universities and engineering schools, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and gymnasiums, industry and economy, political circles and the general public.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:15 am on May 28, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "EPFL researchers crack an enduring physics enigma", , EPFL-École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Fluid mechanics,   

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne: “EPFL researchers crack an enduring physics enigma” 

    EPFL bloc

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

    28.05.19
    Laure-Anne Pessina

    1
    Researchers from EPFL have found the mechanism that lies behind a mysterious physics phenomenon in fluid mechanics: the fact that turbulence in fluids spontaneously self-organizes into parallel patterns of oblique turbulent bands – an example of order emerging spontaneously from chaos. In so doing, they solved a problem that had stumped generations of physicists.

    For decades, physicists, engineers and mathematicians failed to explain a remarkable phenomenon in fluid mechanics: the natural tendency of turbulence in fluids to move from disordered chaos to perfectly parallel patterns of oblique turbulent bands. This transition from a state of chaotic turbulence to a highly structured pattern was observed by many scientists, but never understood.

    At EPFL’s Emerging Complexity in Physical Systems Laboratory, Tobias Schneider and his team have identified the mechanism that explains this phenomenon. Their findings have been published in Nature Communications.

    From chaos to order

    The equations used to describe the large variety of phenomena occurring in fluid flows are well known. These equations capture the fundamental laws of physics that govern fluid dynamics, a subject taught to all physics and engineering students from undergraduate level onwards.

    But when turbulence comes into play, the solutions to the equations become non-linear, complex and chaotic. This makes it impossible, for example, to predict weather over an extended time horizon. Yet turbulence has a surprising tendency to move from chaos to a highly structured pattern of turbulent and laminar bands. This is a remarkable phenomenon, yet the underlying mechanism remained hidden in the equations until now.

    Here’s what happens: when a fluid is placed between two parallel plates, each moving in an opposite direction, turbulence is created. At first, the turbulence is chaotic, then it self-organizes to form regular oblique bands, separated by zones of calm (or laminar flows). No obvious mechanism selects the oblique orientation of the bands or determines the wavelength of the periodic pattern.

    Concealed in simple equations

    Schneider and his team solved the mystery. “As the physicist Richard Feynman predicted, the solution was not to be found in new equations, but rather within the equation that was already available to us,” explains Schneider. “Until now, researchers didn’t have powerful enough mathematical tools to verify this.”

    The researchers combined one such tool, known as dynamical systems theory, with existing theories on pattern formation in fluids and advanced numerical simulations. They calculated specific equilibrium solutions for each step of the process, enabling them to explain the transition from the chaotic to the structured state.

    “We can now describe the initial instability mechanism that creates the oblique pattern,” explains Florian Reetz, the study’s lead author. “We have thus solved one of the most fundamental problems in our field. The methods we developed will help clarify the chaotic dynamics of turbulent-laminar patterns in many flow problems. They may one day allow us to better control flows.”

    An important phenomenon
    In fluid mechanics, stripe pattern formation is important because it shows how turbulent and laminar flows are in constant competition with each other to determine the final state of the fluid, i.e., turbulent or laminar. This competition arises whenever turbulence forms, such as when air flows over a car. The turbulence starts in a small area on the car’s roof, but then it spreads – because turbulence is stronger than laminar flow in this particular case. The final state is therefore turbulent.
    When the stripe pattern forms, it means that the laminar and turbulent flows are equal in strength. However, this is very difficult to observe in nature, outside of the controlled conditions of a laboratory. This fact points to the significance of the EPFL researchers’ success in explaining a fundamental property of turbulence. Not only do their findings account for a phenomenon that can be observed in a laboratory, but they could help to better understand and control flow-related phenomena occurring in nature as well.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    EPFL campus

    EPFL is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university. It receives students, professors and staff from over 120 nationalities. With both a Swiss and international calling, it is therefore guided by a constant wish to open up; its missions of teaching, research and partnership impact various circles: universities and engineering schools, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and gymnasiums, industry and economy, political circles and the general public.

     
  • richardmitnick 3:09 pm on May 7, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Twisting whirlpools of electrons", EPFL-École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne   

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne: “Twisting whirlpools of electrons” 

    EPFL bloc

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

    5.7.19
    Nik Papageorgiou

    1
    Using a novel approach, EPFL physicists have been able to create ultrafast electron vortex beams, with significant implications for fundamental physics, quantum computing, future data-storage, and even certain medical treatments.

    In Jules Verne’s famous classic Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, the iconic submarine Nautilus disappears into the Moskenstraumen, a massive whirlpool off the coast of Norway. In space, stars spiral around black holes; on Earth, swirling cyclones, tornadoes, and dust-devils rip across the land.

    All these phenomena have a particular shape in common: the vortex. From galaxies to stirring milk into coffee, vortices appear everywhere in nature – even in the subatomic world, when a stream of elementary particles or energy can spiral around a fixed axis like the tip of a cork-screw.

    When particles move like this, they form what we call “vortex beams”. These beams are very interesting because they imply that the particle has a well-defined orbital angular momentum, which describes the rotation of a particle around a fixed point.

    What this means is that vortex beams can give us new ways of interacting with matter, e.g. enhanced sensitivity to magnetic fields in sensors, or generate new absorption channels for the interaction between radiation and tissue in medical treatments (e.g. radiotherapy). But vortex beams also enable new channels in basic interactions among elementary particles, promising new insights into the inner structure of particles such as neutrons, protons or ions.

    The strange thing about matter is that, along with its particle nature, it also has a wave-nature. This means that we can make massive particles form vortex beams by simply modulating their wave function. This can be done with a device called a “passive phase mask”, which can be thought of as a standing obstacle in the sea. When waves at sea crash into it, their “wave-ness” shifts and they form whirlpools. So far, physicists have been using the passive phase mask method to make vortex beams of electrons and neutrons.

    But now, scientists from the lab of Fabrizio Carbone at EPFL are challenging this idea. Demonstrating for the first time that it is possible to use light to dynamically twist an individual electron’s wave function, the researchers were able to generate an ultrashort vortex electron beam and actively switching its vorticity on the attosecond (10-18 seconds) timescale.

    To do this, the team exploited one of the fundamental rules governing the interaction of particles on the nanoscale level: energy and momentum conservation. What this means is that the sum of the energies, masses and velocities of two particles before and after their collision must be the same. Such a constraint is responsible for an electron to gain orbital angular momentum during its interaction with an ad hoc prepared light field, i.e. a chiral plasmon.

    In experimental terms, the scientists fired circularly polarized, ultrashort laser pulses through a nano-hole fabricated onto a metallic film. This induced a strong, localized electromagnetic field (the chiral plasmon), and individual electrons were made to interact with it.

    The scientists used an ultrafast transmission electron microscope to monitor the resulting phase profiles of the electrons. What they discovered was that, during the interaction of the electrons with the field, the wave function of the electrons took on a “chiral modulation”; a right- or left-handed movement whose “handiness” can be actively controlled by adjusting the polarization of the laser pulses.

    2
    A schematic representation of the OAM transfer to electrons: the interaction between a pulsed electron plane wave synchronized with a chiral plasmonic field creates an OAM-carrying vortex electron wavepacket. Credit: F. Carbone, EPFL

    “There are many practical applications from these experiments,” says Fabrizio Carbone. “Ultrafast vortex electron beams can be used to encode and manipulate quantum information; the electrons’ orbital angular momentum can be transferred to the spins of magnetic materials to control the topological charge in new devices for data storage. But even more intriguingly, using light to dynamically ‘twist’ matter waves offers a new perspective in shaping protons or ion beams such as those used in medical therapy, possibly enabling new radiation-matter interaction mechanisms that can be very useful for selective tissue ablation techniques.”

    Other contributors

    Politecnico di Milano
    University of Glasgow
    Technion – Israel Institute of Technology
    Ripon College (US)
    University of Ottawa
    CNR Istituto Nanoscienze
    The Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology
    ICREA-Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats

    Science paper:
    Ultrafast generation and control of an electron vortex beam via chiral plasmonic near fields
    Nature Materials

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    EPFL campus

    EPFL is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university. It receives students, professors and staff from over 120 nationalities. With both a Swiss and international calling, it is therefore guided by a constant wish to open up; its missions of teaching, research and partnership impact various circles: universities and engineering schools, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and gymnasiums, industry and economy, political circles and the general public.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:53 am on April 29, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Record solar hydrogen production with concentrated sunlight", , , , , EPFL-École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, LRESE-EPFL’s Laboratory of Renewable Energy Science and Engineering, The research team installed a 7-meter diameter parabolic mirror that concentrates solar irradiation by a factor of 1000 and drives the device. The first tests are under way.   

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne: “Record solar hydrogen production with concentrated sunlight” 

    EPFL bloc

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

    4.29.19
    Laure-Anne Pessina

    1
    Saurabh Tembhurne, Sophia Haussener and Fredy Nandjou© Marc Delachaux / 2019 EPFL

    EPFL researchers have created a smart device capable of producing large amounts of clean hydrogen. By concentrating sunlight, their device uses a smaller amount of the rare, costly materials that are required to produce hydrogen, yet it still maintains a high solar-to-fuel efficiency. Their research has been taken to the next scale with a pilot facility installed on the EPFL campus.

    Hydrogen will play a key role in reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. It can be sustainably produced by using solar energy to split water molecules. The resulting clean energy can be stored, used to fuel cars or converted into electricity on demand. But making it reliably on a large scale and at an affordable cost is a challenge for researchers. Efficient solar hydrogen production requires rare and expensive materials – for both the solar cells and the catalyst – in order to collect energy and then convert it.

    Scientists at EPFL’s Laboratory of Renewable Energy Science and Engineering (LRESE) came up with the idea of concentrating solar irradiation to produce a larger amount of hydrogen over a given area at a lower cost. They developed an enhanced photo-electrochemical system that, when used in conjunction with concentrated solar irradiation and smart thermal management, can turn solar power into hydrogen with a 17% conversion rate and unprecedented power and current density. What’s more, their technology is stable and can handle the stochastic dynamics of daily solar irradiation.

    The results of their research have just been published in Nature Energy. “In our device, a thin layer of water runs over a solar cell to cool it. The system temperature remains relatively low, allowing the solar cell to deliver better performance,” says Saurabh Tembhurne, a co-author of the study. “At the same time, the heat extracted by the water is transferred to catalysts, thereby improving the chemical reaction and increasing the hydrogen production rate,” adds Fredy Nandjou, a researcher at the LRESE. Hydrogen production is therefore optimized at each step of the conversion process.

    The scientists used the LRESE’s unique solar simulator to demonstrate the stable performance of their device. The results from the lab-scale demonstrations were so promising that the device has been upscaled and is now being tested outdoors, on EPFL’s Lausanne campus. The research team installed a 7-meter diameter parabolic mirror that concentrates solar irradiation by a factor of 1,000 and drives the device. The first tests are under way.

    Hydrogen stations

    The scientists estimate that their system can run for over 30,000 hours – or nearly four years – without any part replacements, and up to 20 years if some parts are replaced every four years. Their solar concentrator turns and follows the sun across the sky in order to maximize its yield. Sophia Haussener, the head of the LRESE and the project lead, explains: “In sunny weather, our system can generate up to 1 kilogram of hydrogen per day, which is enough fuel for a hydrogen-powered car to travel 100 to 150 kilometers.”

    For distributed, large-scale hydrogen generation, several concentrator systems could be used together to produce hydrogen at chemical plants or for hydrogen stations. Tembhurne and Haussener are planning to take their technology from the lab to industry with a spin-off company called SoHHytec.

    Open source software

    Thanks to an open interface, it will be possible to monitor the instantaneous performance of the system.
    As part of their research, the scientists also performed a technological and economic feasibility study and developed an open-source software program called SPECDO (Solar PhotoElectroChemical Device Optimization, http://specdo.epfl.ch). This program can help engineers design components for low-cost photoelectrochemical systems for producing solar hydrogen. Additionally, they provided a dynamic benchmarking tool called SPECDC (Solar PhotoElectroChemical Device Comparison), for the comparison and assessment of all photoelectrochemical system demonstrations.
    Funding

    This research is being funded by the NanoTera project SHINE and the SNFS Starting Grant SCOUTS; the scale-up is being funded by SNSF-Bridge, the Swiss Federal Office of Energy and EPFL.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    EPFL campus

    EPFL is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university. It receives students, professors and staff from over 120 nationalities. With both a Swiss and international calling, it is therefore guided by a constant wish to open up; its missions of teaching, research and partnership impact various circles: universities and engineering schools, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and gymnasiums, industry and economy, political circles and the general public.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:43 am on March 25, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "In a new quantum simulator light behaves like a magnet", , EPFL-École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, , ,   

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne: “In a new quantum simulator, light behaves like a magnet” 

    EPFL bloc

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

    3.25.19
    Nik Papageorgiou

    1
    Physicists at EPFL propose a new “quantum simulator”: a laser-based device that can be used to study a wide range of quantum systems. Studying it, the researchers have found that photons can behave like magnetic dipoles at temperatures close to absolute zero, following the laws of quantum mechanics. The simple simulator can be used to better understand the properties of complex materials under such extreme conditions.

    When subject to the laws of quantum mechanics, systems made of many interacting particles can display behaviour so complex that its quantitative description defies the capabilities of the most powerful computers in the world. In 1981, the visionary physicist Richard Feynman argued we can simulate such complex behavior using an artificial apparatus governed by the very same quantum laws – what has come to be known as a “quantum simulator”.

    One example of a complex quantum system is that of magnets placed at really low temperatures. Close to absolute zero (-273.15°C), magnetic materials may undergo what is known as a “quantum phase transition”. Like a conventional phase transition (e.g. ice melting into water, or water evaporating into steam), the system still switches between two states, except that close to the transition point the system manifests quantum entanglement – the most profound feature predicted by quantum mechanics. Studying this phenomenon in real materials is an astoundingly challenging task for experimental physicists.

    But physicists led by Vincenzo Savona at EPFL have now come up with a quantum simulator that promises to solve the problem. “The simulator is a simple photonic device that can easily be built and run with current experimental techniques,” says Riccardo Rota, the postdoc at Savona’s lab who led the study. “But more importantly, it can simulate the complex behavior of real, interacting magnets at very low temperatures.”

    The simulator may be built using superconducting circuits – the same technological platform used in modern quantum computers. The circuits are coupled to laser fields in such a way that it causes an effective interaction among light particles (photons). “When we studied the simulator, we found that the photons behaved in the same way as magnetic dipoles across the quantum phase transition in real materials,” says Rota. In short, we can now use photons to run a virtual experiment on quantum magnets instead of having to set up the experiment itself.

    “We are theorists,” says Savona. “We came up with the idea for this particular quantum simulator and modelled its behavior using traditional computer simulations, which can be done when the quantum simulator addresses a small enough system. Our findings prove that the quantum simulator we propose is viable, and we are now in talks with experimental groups who would like to actually build and use it.”

    Understandably, Rota is excited: “Our simulator can be applied to a broad class of quantum systems, allowing physicists to study several complex quantum phenomena. It is a truly remarkable advance in the development of quantum technologies.”

    Science paper:
    Riccardo Rota, Fabrizio Minganti, Cristiano Ciuti, Vincenzo Savona.
    “Quantum Critical Regime in a Quadratically Driven Nonlinear Photonic Lattice”
    Physical Review Letters

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    EPFL campus

    EPFL is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university. It receives students, professors and staff from over 120 nationalities. With both a Swiss and international calling, it is therefore guided by a constant wish to open up; its missions of teaching, research and partnership impact various circles: universities and engineering schools, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and gymnasiums, industry and economy, political circles and the general public.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:28 am on March 4, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Directed evolution, Engineer synthetic nanoparticles as optical biosensors, EPFL-École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, ,   

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne: “Directed evolution builds nanoparticles” 

    EPFL bloc

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

    3.3.19
    Nik Papageorgiou

    1
    Directed evolution is a powerful technique for engineering proteins. EPFL scientists now show that it can also be used to engineer synthetic nanoparticles as optical biosensors, which are used widely in biology, drug development, and even medical diagnostics such as real-time monitoring of glucose.

    The 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to three scientists who developed the method that forever changed protein engineering: directed evolution. Mimicking natural evolution, directed evolution guides the synthesis of proteins with improved or new functions.

    First, the original protein is mutated to create a collection of mutant protein variants. The protein variants that show improved or more desirable functions are selected. These selected proteins are then once more mutated to create another collection of protein variants for another round of selection. This cycle is repeated until a final, mutated protein is evolved with optimized performance compared to the original protein.

    Now, scientists from the lab of Ardemis Boghossian at EPFL, have been able to use directed evolution to build not proteins, but synthetic nanoparticles. These nanoparticles are used as optical biosensors – tiny devices that use light to detect biological molecules in air, water, or blood. Optical biosensors are widely used in biological research, drug development, and medical diagnostics, such as real-time monitoring of insulin and glucose in diabetics.

    “The beauty of directed evolution is that we can engineer a protein without even knowing how its structure is related to its function,” says Boghossian. “And we don’t even have this information for the vast, vast majority of proteins.”

    Her group used directed evolution to modify the optoelectronic properties of DNA-wrapped single-walled carbon nanotubes (or, DNA-SWCNTs, as they are abbreviated), which are nano-sized tubes of carbon atoms that resemble rolled up sheets of graphene covered by DNA. When they detect their target, the DNA-SWCNTs emit an optical signal that can penetrate through complex biological fluids, like blood or urine.

    2
    General principle of the directed evolution approach applied to the nanoparticle DNA-SWCNT complexes. The starting complex is a DNA-SWCNT with a dim optical signal. This is evolved through directed evolution: (1) random mutation of the DNA sequence; (2) wrapping of the SWCNTs with the DNA and screening of the complex’s optical signal; (3) selection of the DNA-SWCNT complexes exhibiting an improved optical signal. After several cycles of evolution, we can evolve DNA-SWCNT complexes that show enhanced optical behavior. Credit: Benjamin Lambert (EPFL)

    Using a directed evolution approach, Boghossian’s team was able to engineer new DNA-SWCNTs with optical signals that are increased by up to 56% – and they did it over only two evolution cycles.

    “The majority of researchers in this field just screen large libraries of different materials in hopes of finding one with the properties they are looking for,” says Boghossian. “In optical nanosensors, we try to improve properties like selectivity, brightness, and sensitivity. By applying directed evolution, we provide researchers with a guided approach to engineering these nanosensors.”

    The study [Chemical Communications] shows that what is essentially a bioengineering technique can be used to more rationally tune the optoelectronic properties of certain nanomaterials. Boghossian explains: “Fields like materials science and physics are mostly preoccupied with defining material structure-function relationships, making materials that lack this information difficult to engineer. But this is a problem that nature solved billions of years ago – and, in recent decades, biologists have tackled it as well. I think our study shows that as materials scientists and physicists, we can still learn a few pragmatic lessons from biologists.”
    Funding

    SNSF AP Energy Grant

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    EPFL campus

    EPFL is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university. It receives students, professors and staff from over 120 nationalities. With both a Swiss and international calling, it is therefore guided by a constant wish to open up; its missions of teaching, research and partnership impact various circles: universities and engineering schools, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and gymnasiums, industry and economy, political circles and the general public.

     
  • richardmitnick 12:46 pm on February 20, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , EPFL-École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, ,   

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne: “The holy grail of nanowire production” 

    EPFL bloc

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

    2.20.19
    Laure-Anne Pessina

    1
    EPFL researchers have found a way to control and standardize the production of nanowires on silicon surfaces. This discovery could make it possible to grow nanowires on electronic platforms, with potential applications including the integration of nanolasers into electronic chips and improved energy conversion in solar panels.

    Nanowires have the potential to revolutionize the technology around us. Measuring just 5-100 nanometers in diameter (a nanometer is a millionth of a millimeter), these tiny, needle-shaped crystalline structures can alter how electricity or light passes through them.

    They can emit, concentrate and absorb light and could therefore be used to add optical functionalities to electronic chips. They could, for example, make it possible to generate lasers directly on silicon chips and to integrate single-photon emitters for coding purposes. They could even be applied in solar panels to improve how sunlight is converted into electrical energy.

    Up until now, it was impossible to reproduce the process of growing nanowires on silicon semiconductors – there was no way to repeatedly produce homogeneous nanowires in specific positions. But researchers from EPFL’s Laboratory of Semiconductor Materials, run by Anna Fontcuberta i Morral, together with colleagues from MIT and the IOFFE Institute, have come up with a way of growing nanowire networks in a highly controlled and fully reproducible manner. The key was to understand what happens at the onset of nanowire growth, which goes against currently accepted theories. Their work has been published in Nature Communications.

    2
    Two different configurations of the droplet within the opening – hole fully filled and partially filled and bellow illustration of GaAs crystals forming a full ring or a step underneath the large and small gallium droplets.

    “We think that this discovery will make it possible to realistically integrate a series of nanowires on silicon substrates,” says Fontcuberta i Morral. “Up to now, these nanowires had to be grown individually, and the process couldn’t be reproduced.”

    Getting the right ratio

    The standard process for producing nanowires is to make tiny holes in silicon monoxide and fill them with a nanodrop of liquid gallium. This substance then solidifies when it comes into contact with arsenic. But with this process, the substance tends to harden at the corners of the nanoholes, which means that the angle at which the nanowires will grow can’t be predicted. The search was on for a way to produce homogeneous nanowires and control their position.

    Research aimed at controlling the production process has tended to focus on the diameter of the hole, but this approach has not paid off. Now EPFL researchers have shown that by altering the diameter-to-height ratio of the hole, they can perfectly control how the nanowires grow. At the right ratio, the substance will solidify in a ring around the edge of the hole, which prevents the nanowires from growing at a non-perpendicular angle. And the researchers’ process should work for all types of nanowires.

    “It’s kind of like growing a plant. They need water and sunlight, but you have to get the quantities right,” says Fontcuberta i Morral.

    This new production technique will be a boon for nanowire research, and further samples should soon be developed.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    EPFL campus

    EPFL is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university. It receives students, professors and staff from over 120 nationalities. With both a Swiss and international calling, it is therefore guided by a constant wish to open up; its missions of teaching, research and partnership impact various circles: universities and engineering schools, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and gymnasiums, industry and economy, political circles and the general public.

     
  • richardmitnick 11:57 am on November 7, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , EPFL-École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, , Remote recharging system   

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne: “Using diamonds to recharge civilian drones in flight” 

    EPFL bloc

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

    07.11.18
    Cécilia Carron

    1
    Un système de laser pourrait permettre de recharger des drones en vol grâce à un diamant industriel© 2018 Jamani Caillet

    2
    © 2018 LakeDiamond

    A small lab-grown diamond measuring a few millimeters per side could one day enable civilian drones to be recharged in mid-flight through a laser. Thanks to the diamond, the laser beam can remain strong enough over a long distance to recharge photovoltaic cells on the drones’ surface. This system, which poses no threat to human health, is being developed by EPFL spin-off LakeDiamond. It could also be used to transmit both power and data to satellites and has just been included in the ten projects supported for two years by of the Swiss Space Office.

    Drones are being used for a growing number of purposes. Their designs are ever more efficient, and techniques for flying them are being further refined all the time. But drones still have the same weak point: their battery. This is particularly true of propeller drones, which are popular for information-gathering purposes in dangerous or hard-to-reach regions. These drones can fly for only around 15 minutes at a time because their engines quickly burn through their batteries. One way of addressing this limitation – without weighing the drones down – would be to recharge them while aloft using a power beaming system: an energy-rich laser beam that is guided by a tracking system and shines directly on photovoltaic cells on the drones’ exterior.

    Several labs around the world, including in the US, have been working on this idea in recent years. LakeDiamond, an EPFL spin-off based at Innovation Park, has now demonstrated the feasibility of using a high-power laser for this purpose. What’s more, LakeDiamond’s laser emits a wavelength that cannot damage human skin or eyes – the issue of safety is paramount, since the system is meant for use with civilian drones. LakeDiamond’s technology is built around diamonds that are grown in the company’s lab and subsequently etched at the atomic level.

    World record for power

    Despite appearances, standard laser beams are not as straight as they seem: as they travel, they expand ever so slightly, leading to a loss in density as they go. But LakeDiamond’s system produces a laser beam with a wavelength of 1.5 µm that, in addition to being safe, can travel much farther without losing strength. “Systems developed by other companies and labs, often for military applications, employ lasers that are more powerful and thus more dangerous for humans,” says Pascal Gallo, CEO of LakeDiamond. His company took the opposite tack: their technology transforms the rays emitted by a simple low-power diode into a high-quality laser beam. Their beam has a larger diameter, and its rays remain parallel over a longer distance – in this case up to several hundred meters.

    In LakeDiamond’s laser, the light produced by a diode is directed at a booster composed of reflective material, an optical component and a small metal plate to absorb the heat. The breakthrough lies not with this set-up, which already exists, but with the fact that the emitted beam is only a few dozen watts strong. The secret is using a small square lab-grown diamond as the optical component, as this delivers unparalleled performance. LakeDiamond’s system holds the world record for continuous operation using a wavelength in the middle of the infrared range – it delivers more than 30 watts in its base configuration. “That’s equivalent to around 10,000 laser pointers,” adds Gallo.

    The lab-grown diamonds’ key properties include high transparency and thermal conductivity. Achieving those things – and mastering the nano-etching process – took the researchers over ten years of development. LakeDiamond grows its diamonds through a process of chemical vapor deposition, an approach that ensures their purity and reproducibility. The surfaces of the resulting tiny square diamonds are then sculpted at the nano level using expertise developed in Niels Quack’s lab at EPFL (read the EPFL article on this topic). Thanks to their inherent properties and etched shapes, the diamonds are able to transfer heat to a small metal plate that dissipates it, while at the same time reflecting light in such a way as to create a laser beam.

    “To achieve greater power – say to recharge a larger drone – these lasers could easily be operated in series,” says Nicolas Malpiece, who is in charge of power beaming at LakeDiamond. The company’s remote recharging system works in the lab but will require further development and refinement before it’s ready for field use. What would happen if a drone flies behind an obstacle and is cut off from its laser energy source? Several approaches to this problem are currently being explored. A small back-up battery could take over temporarily, or, for information-gathering missions over rough terrain for example, the drone could simply return to within range of the laser in order to top up its battery.

    This energy transmission system is also interesting for other areas of application. It can for example be used for charging and transmitting data to satellites. The development of the system is included in a support program of the Swiss Space Office, which began on 1 November and runs for two years.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    EPFL campus

    EPFL is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university. It receives students, professors and staff from over 120 nationalities. With both a Swiss and international calling, it is therefore guided by a constant wish to open up; its missions of teaching, research and partnership impact various circles: universities and engineering schools, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and gymnasiums, industry and economy, political circles and the general public.

     
  • richardmitnick 11:12 am on November 7, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: EPFL-École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, , The Technion joins EuroTech Universities Alliance   

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne: “The Technion joins EuroTech Universities Alliance” 

    EPFL bloc

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

    07.11.18
    EuroTech communications

    The Technion campus on Mount Carmel in Haïfa. DR

    Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, will join the EuroTech Universities Alliance as of 1 January 2019. Made public on the occasion of the Alliance’s annual High Level Event in Brussels on 6 November, the announcement follows the accession of France’s École Polytechnique to the Alliance in June 2018. This step increase in the Alliance’s membership base – composed also of EPFL, TU Eindhoven (Netherlands), DTU (Danemark) and TUM (Germany) and will further strengthen its position as pioneer for inter-university collaboration.

    “The EuroTech Universities are excellent research-based universities recognized within their innovation eco-systems as highly dynamic motors with an outstanding capacity to help translate basic research into societal solutions”, says Jan Mengelers, President of the EuroTech Universities Alliance. “With the EuroTech Universities Alliance, we are pooling our complementary research strengths and connecting our innovation eco-systems for more impact. Technion is a “perfect match” to join – and boost this joint endeavour, given its scientific excellence and vibrant innovation ecosystem.”

    Boasting 84 ERC grants under the EU’s FP7 and Horizon 2020 programmes as well as 90 spin-off companies, Technion is a striking example of how excellent fundamental science translates into impact. “Technion is thrilled and honoured to join the EuroTech Universities Alliance”, says Technion President, Prof. Peretz Lavie. “We live in an era in which international and interdisciplinary collaborations are vital to the future of scientific research. We bring the ‘Technion way’ of doing things to this partnership: reaching our goals faster and with less resources. The combination with the great strengths of the other members of the alliance, which comprises an elite group of European universities similar to Technion, will help us ensure we are at the forefront of scientific research, benefiting millions worldwide.“

    The EuroTech Universities Alliance stimulates collaboration across education, research and innovation, thereby increasing the attraction of global top talent needed to drive modernization, excellence and societal impact. For instance, the existing EuroTech Postdoc programme[1] provides 80 promising fellows unique access to the research expertise and infrastructures across the EuroTech Universities while at the same time offering exclusive entrepreneurship and mobility opportunities in several of Europe’s top high-tech eco-systems.

    Today’s societal challenges can only be addressed by collaboration in education, research and innovation across the EU and internationally. Recognizing what alliances of universities can achieve when pooling resources and combining strengths, the European Commission launched a pilot scheme in support of European university networks on 24 October 2018. At its annual High-Level Event in Brussels on 6 November, the EuroTech Universities Alliance facilitated a very timely and encouraging debate on the role of university alliances in driving the ‘University of the Future’.

    [1] EuroTech Postdoc is one of the first cross-country fellowship programmes co-funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (MSCA grant agreement Nr 754462). Its second call will be published on the Programme Website on 30 November 2018.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    EPFL campus

    EPFL is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university. It receives students, professors and staff from over 120 nationalities. With both a Swiss and international calling, it is therefore guided by a constant wish to open up; its missions of teaching, research and partnership impact various circles: universities and engineering schools, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and gymnasiums, industry and economy, political circles and the general public.

     
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