3D manufacturing method enables precise nanoscale 3D printing for first time

Researchers at Washington State University have developed a new 3D printing method that for the first time allows materials to be precisely and quickly created between the nanoscale and macroscale. As a result, it can produce materials with a strong structural resemblance to wood or bone.

The research involved the 3D printing of foglike microdroplets that contain nanoparticles of silver. The droplets are deposited at specific locations and as the liquid in the droplet evaporates, the nanoparticles remain to create incredibly delicate looking structures. Despite their apparent delicacy however, the structures are porous, have an extremely large surface area and are very strong.

“This is a groundbreaking advance in the 3D architecturing of materials at nano- to macroscales with applications in batteries, lightweight ultrastrong materials, catalytic converters, supercapacitors and biological scaffolds,” said Rahul Panat, associate professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, who led the research.

“This technique can fill a lot of critical gaps for the realization of these technologies.”

Silver was used for the initial research due to its easy workability. However, Panat says that any other material that can crushed into nanoparticles, a description that applies to nearly all materials, could be used in place of silver.

The manufacturing method itself bears resemblance to a natural, although rare, process found over the western African deserts. In these deserts, crystalline flower-like structures known as “desert roses” form when tiny fog droplets containing sulphur evaporate over the heat of the desert earth.

Mirroring this phenomenon, the researchers’ method produced a variety of structures, including microscaffolds that contain solid truss members like a bridge, electronic connections that resemble accordion bellows, doughnut-shaped pillars or spirals. Thanks to the basis in 3D printing, they were able to do so highly efficiently, allowing for the possibility of scaling up to large-scale manufacturing.

Image courtesy of Washington State University

Going forward, the research team believes that their method can be used in a number of industrial applications. Due to the minimal waste produced and the speed of manufacture, the development of such nanoscale and porous metal structures is applicable to, for example, the development finely detailed, porous anodes and cathodes for batteries, rather than the solid structures that are now used.

If successful on this front, the researcher’s work would transform the way in which the industry operates. The shift from solid structure to porous anodes could drastically increase battery speed and capacity and, furthermore, allow the energy industry to make use of new and higher energy materials.

Panat was assisted in the project by graduate students Mohammad Sadeq Saleh and Chunshan Hu. The research is in keeping with WSU’s Grand Challenges initiative stimulating research to address some of society’s most complex issues. The team’s work is reported on in the Science Advances journal and they have filed for a patent on the method.

In the face of a collapsing market, Acer goes once more unto the smartwatch breach

Despite the fact that smartwatches are generally seeing their sales plummet, Acer has decided to release a new product into the collapsing market. Taking “an elegant approach to fitness”, the Leap Ware smartwatch seems to be fairly standard fare, using an array of fitness-tracking sensors in combination with an app to keep tabs on all of the various statistics the sensors provide.

“As the pace of modern lifestyles become ever more hectic, people demand technology that can keep them on track and motivated to pursue their goals,” said MH Wang, general manager of Smart Device Products in Acer’s IT Products Business.

“The new Acer Leap Ware is designed to act as a virtual coach to help people go, track, and share, sending them reminders and alerts when they need them the most.”

Acer obviously has to promote its product but the above statement seems somewhat bizarrely unaware of the fact that not only is the company offering pretty much the exact same thing every other smartwatch does, but is are doing so in a market that is dying a fairly nasty death. With big names like Pebble going under, and Fitbit’s stock having been on a steady decline, the persistence in putting out new products is a bold move.

In October 2016, the BBC wrote about a new report by market analysts IDC that showed amartwatch shipments declined by 51.6% year-on-year. The Apple Watch held its place as the market leader, but shipped only a quarter of the units it had sold in the same period (July-September) of 2015. And of the five leading brands, only Garmin showed growth with that growth still being underpinned by low figures.

“It has become evident that, at present, smartwatches are not for everyone,” said Jitesh Ubrani from IDC. “Having a clear purpose and use case is paramount, hence many vendors are focusing on fitness due to its simplicity.”

Images courtesy of Acer

It was pointed out by experts that the period examined was before new versions were released, but there is still a clear lack in significant consumer appetite. The market has largely survived off the fitness aspects, with other products largely falling by the wayside as the novelty wears off. And Acer itself hasn’t exactly been the premium forerunner.

The Leap Ware watch certainly seems a perfectly fine entry into the marketplace. It’s got “diverse fitness tracking features thanks to an array of sensors with advanced algorithms” and supposedly has a battery life of three to five days so you don’t miss out on logging those all-important stats. My watch only tells the time and date. It also has a battery life of ten years.

There is a reasonable chance that initial sales for the Leap Ware may be strong, being all shiny and new as it is. There’s also a very good chance they will quickly plummet as Acer discovers what consumers are desperately trying to tell them: people don’t want smartwatches anymore.

For more information and discussion of the collapse of wearable technology, check out the latest issue of Factor magazine.

Premature lambs kept alive in artificial wombs

Extremely premature lambs have been kept alive in a artificial womb. The fluid-filled plastic bag reproduces the environment of the womb and replaces the function of the placenta. The scientists responsible believe the device could be used for premature babies within the next three years.

Source: New Scientist

British engineer is using recycled plastic to build stronger roads

British engineer Toby McCartney has devised an innovative process that replaces much of the crude oil-based asphalt in pavement with pellets of plastic, made from recyclable bottles. The result is a street that’s 60% stronger than traditional roads, ten times longer-lasting as well as the obvious environmental benefits.

Source: Curbed

Elon Musk’s giant tunnel boring machine arrives at SpaceX

In February, Musk was looking at purchasing a used Herrenknecht boring machine: about 26 feet in diameter, about 400 feet long, and weighing about 1,200 tons. It’s not clear if this is the same machine, but one just arrived at SpaceX’s headquarters and can now be found in the parking lot.

Source: Electrek

Surgeon claims brain transplants are just three years away

A pioneering Italian surgeon has claimed people who have had their brains cryogenically frozen could be 'woken up' within three years. The claim is being made by professor Sergio Canavero who also claims he can carry out the first human head transplant within 10 months before he begins trials on brain transplants.

Source: The Telegraph

Facebook 'observed propaganda efforts' by governments

Facebook has revealed in a new report that it observed attempts to spread propaganda on its site, apparently orchestrated by governments or organised parties. The firm has seen "false news, disinformation, or networks of fake accounts aimed at manipulating public opinion", it said.

Source: BBC

Ex-head of Google China predicts AI will take half of all jobs in a decade

The ex-head of Google China, Kai-Fu Lee, has said that AI will be bigger than all previous tech innovations put together. "These are things that are superhuman, and we think this will be in every industry, will probably replace 50% of human jobs, create a huge amount of wealth for mankind and wipe out poverty," said Lee.

Source: CNBC