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2017

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Researchers at Eindhoven University used a DNA computer to create a pill that looks at how sick you are and doles out the proper amount of medicine. An illustration of what the “smart” pill would look like. (via Eindhoven University)

 

When you’re not feeling well, you often turn to medicine whether it’d be over the counter drugs or prescribed by a doctor. However, you don’t always need meds to feel better and when you do take them, how do you know when enough’s enough? Researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) have made a breakthrough in medicine. They’ve developed a “smart” pill that can access your health state and dole out the proper amount of chemicals.

 

Medicine is what we turn to first for our different ailments, but it’s not always recommended. It’s not easy to determine when you should or shouldn’t rely on medication for relief. Though meds come with directions about when and how to take it, it’s easy to ignore instructions, especially when the only thing on your mind is feeling better. This could lead to unwanted side effects and ultimately, waste the medication you spent a lot of money on. The idea behind this new “smart” pill is having it release specific amounts based on your needs.

 

The team, led by Maarten Merkx, developed this new method by using a DNA computer to help them gather data. This computer looks for molecules that it can react with to gather the proper data. This allows researchers to program the correct reaction circuits. The systems also find specific antibodies to help determine how ill someone is. Measuring the concentration of certain antibodies helps determine whether or not someone has a specific disease.

 

Once the antibodies are identified, they are translated into a unique piece of DNA which the DNA computer can then decide whether medicine is necessary, depending on the presence of one or more antibodies. It can also help determine how much medicine is needed if you need to be treated. Not only is this a breakthrough for medicine, it sets a new record. The team are the first to successfully link the presence of antibodies to a DNA computer.

 

Ideally, the DNA computer would gather this information from a pill you take just like any other. From there, it will determine how much chemicals, if any, needs to be released. Though the “smart” pill is still in its early phase, it shows great potential for intelligent medicine. Imagine being able to have the right amount of chemicals in your system. It reduces the risk of overdosing and makes sure you’re not taking drugs when you don’t need them. With further researching and testing, the team hopes this new method will be able to lessen side-effects that usually comes with medication and reduce the cost in the future. In our society where we have the tendency to be overmedicated, this “smart” pill can help us be healthier and safer.

 

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Psychometric profiling mines big data from social media platforms to create advertising tailored to the personality traits of select people. A screenshot of Cambridge Analytica’s Data Dashboard tool, which provides demographic data based on the OCEAN personality model to political campaign workers (via cambridgeanalytica.com)

 

This sort of data analysis always freaks me out.

 

You’ve probably noticed that the ads which pop up on your browser and Facebook feed are highly relevant to you and often feature products you’ve purchased in the past. You may already know that this is because of your digital footprint-the trace you leave when you visit a web page or use your credit card to buy something. How does the internet know this about you? The answer lies in big data and the world of statistical programming. Statistical programming is a way to mine extremely large amounts of data for predictive modelling. Computer programs use complicated mathematics to analyze volumes of data too big for the human mind.

 

Predicting climate and weather patterns is one form of statistical modelling. An enormous amount of data on temperature, humidity, and wind, among other variables, are analyzed by computer programs which then generate predictions of future climate patterns. Another, based on marketing, has recently been developed using data from Facebook.

 

Begun in 2008 by then-doctoral student Michal Kosinski while at Cambridge University, the project aimed to measure anyone’s personality according to five traits psychologists term OCEAN-openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, and neuroticism. How much you enjoy new things, how much you care about taking care of someone else’s needs, how much you like to spend time with others, and what kind of anxious tendencies you have. These traits are remarkably accurate in how they can predict behavior. What Kosinski did was figure out a way to assess someone’s OCEAN profile based entirely on their Facebook activity. He started by sending out questionnaires to friends.

 

The results were then compared with their Facebook activity-what they liked, posted and shared. As Facebook grew, so did the pool of questionnaires and profiles. Very strong correlations between respondents’ questionnaires and their Facebook activity emerged. Gay men are more likely to ‘like’ the cosmetic line MAC. Straight men are more likely to ‘like’ Wu-Tang Clan. By 2012, Kosinski’s team was able to predict age, skin color, religious and political affiliation, and many other traits, from 68 likes on Facebook.

 

Well, so what? It turns out that you can do a lot with this information, as Kosinski’s team discovered when they were approached by private firm Cambridge Analytica with an offer to purchase usage rights of the research. Cambridge Analytica designed models for engaging with different OCEAN types and developed marketing to appeal to someone based on those traits.

 

Guess who hired Cambridge Analytica for targeted marketing? Both the Brexit and Trump campaigns. While Kosinski claims that it’s impossible to know how much his research affected election outcomes, one thing is certain: there’s going to be a lot more targeted marketing in the coming years.

 

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Tokyo’s 2020 Olympics committee wants the public to donate old gadgets to extract metals for them and create medals for the 2020 games. The medals for the upcoming Olympic Games will be made out of old gadgets. (Photo via Tokyo 2020 Olympics)

 

Tokyo’s 2020 Olympics they have something special up their sleeve: making medals out of old gadgets. To involve the community and promote recycling, the committee is asking the public to turn in unused or forgotten gadgets, like old smartphones. These items and other household appliances have small traces of the materials generally needed to make the medals. Rather than relying on mining companies, Tokyo wants to give people’s unwanted gadgets a new purpose. Saying that your old toaster went to making a gold medal is a pretty high honor.

 

The planning committee teamed up with partner companies NTT DOCOMO and Japan Environmental Sanitation Center (JESC) for the program. Starting in April public offices and over 2,400 NTT DOCOMO stores will have collection boxes where people can drop off their unwanted items. The goal is to collect eight tons of metal, which will equal to two tons after the production process, the total amount needed to make 5,000 medals for the Olympic and Paralympic games. Once they have the eight tons, the collection will come to an end.

 

This effort not only lets the community get involved but also directly responds to Recommendation 4 of the Olympic Agenda 2020, which aims to make sustainability integrated into planning and execution of the games. Many Olympic athletes spoke positively about the collection, saying it makes the medals that much more special. Gymnast Kohei Uchimura believes it wasteful to “discard devices every time there is a technological advance” and thinks this is a great way to reduce that waste. Decathlete Aston Eaton believes the medals from the collected items will represent the “weight of a nation.”

 

Making medals out of discarded objects is a novel way to recycle them. Many often don’t know what to do with their old phones and computers and settle for stuffing them in a junk drawer or leaving them in the dump. Perhaps this new effort will inspire further projects that tackle recycle in a similar way.

 

The Olympic 2020 planning committee isn’t the first to extract metals from these devices. Last year, tech giant Apple revealed they managed to collect 2,204 pounds of gold from broken iPhones in 2015. Apple promotes various recycling program, including the popular Apple Renew, which lets you recycle any Apple device at their stores. The company collected over 90 million pounds of e-waste, 61 million of which were reusable materials. The company then uses many of these extracted materials for their own products.

 

Wish they would release a potential prototype picture.

 

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Standford and DOE researchers have created super-thin wires just three atoms wide using diamonds and assembling them Lego-style. (via Standford)

 

Researchers from Stanford University and the Department of Energy (DOE) have developed a way to use diamonds- tiny bits of diamonds, to create a wire that is only three atoms wide. The wires have the potential to be used in all sorts of applications, including electricity-generating fabrics, optoelectronic devices and crazy superconducting materials that won’t bleed electricity.

 

What’s more, the building process of the wires requires a new Lego-like assembling technique and begins with attaching a single sulfur atom to a small diamondoid (nano-diamond or carbon cage molecule), which is then dropped into a solution where the sulfur atom bonds with a copper ion. The bonding doesn’t stop there, as diamondoids (in this case adamantane) are extremely attracted to each other through what is known as van der Waals forces- the same force that allows geckos to stick to walls.

 

In the diamondoid’s case, the force makes them clump together similar to sugar crystals and as you might have guessed, self-assemble to create a wire structure, complete with a copper-ion core. Stanford grad student Fei Hua Li (the mind behind figuring out the diamondoid’s attractive properties) explains it this way- “Much like LEGO blocks, they only fit together in certain ways that are determined by their size and shape.” He went on to say, “The copper and sulfur atoms of each building block wound up in the middle, forming the conductive core of the wire, and the bulkier diamondoids wound up on the outside, forming the insulating shell.”

 

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The basic building block of the nano-wire shows the copper/sulfur center being self-assembled by the attracting diamondoid outer shell.

 

Beyond using copper-ion based wires, the researchers also created them using other metals such as cadmium, zinc, iron and silver- all created using different solutions and with different cage molecules. What’s interesting is that each different build had similar material properties to some of those used in today’s technological applications.

 

For instance, the cadmium-based nano-wires had similar material properties to those used in optoelectronics such as LEDs, while the zinc-based wires are similar to those found in some solar panels and piezoelectric generators. The possibilities of using these wires for creating a host of new materials with electrical properties are almost endless, their development is still in its infancy but considering that they have virtually no electrical bleed, it will be exciting to see what they can be adapted for beyond just efficient electronics.

 

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