Detecting tumor markers easily

Blood is just teeming with proteins. It’s not easy there to identify specialized tumor markers indicating the presence of cancer. A new method now enables diagnostics to be carried out in a single step. Scientists will present the analysis equipment at analytica, the international trade fair in Munich April 1-4.Benign growth, or cancer?Tumor markers in the blood help determine whether the patient is afflicted with a malign tumor and whether it is excreting markers more vigorously — involving highly specific proteins. An increased concentration in the blood provides one indication of the disease for physicians. However, it has been quite expensive in time and effort to detect the markers thus far. This is because all kinds of molecules and proteins are teeming in the blood. To be able to detect a single specific one, doctors must first separate and purify the blood in several steps, and then isolate the marker they are searching for from the rest of the molecules.This will go faster in future. Researchers in the Project Group for Automation in Medicine and Biotechnology PAMB of the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Mannheim, Germany, have developed a one-step analysis. “Our goal is to detect biological molecules in blood, or in other kinds of samples from the patient such as urine, that indicate diseases,” explains Caroline Siegert, a scientist at IPA, “and do so without having to laboriously process the blood, but in one single step instead.”Lower noise, higher signalThe difficulty in detecting specific molecules in the blood or urine lies in the enormous number of substances that are mixed in the liquid. …

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Caravan Firm in Court After Worker Fall

Home » No Win No Fee » Latest Personal Injury News » 2014 » 3 » Caravan Firm in Court After Worker FallCaravan Firm in Court After Worker FallA caravan manufacturer has been fined after a worker was seriously injured in a fall from height.An unnamed 30-year-old from Chingford in Essex, who wishes to remain anonymous, fell from a makeshift platform while he was attaching metalwork cladding to the side of a caravan at the Roma Caravans site in Silsoe, Bedfordshire.ProsecutionThe accident led to the firm’s prosecution, after Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors concluded that Roma Caravans did not have a safe system of work and left its staff members at serious risk of harm when they carried out day-to-day jobs.Although a number of safeguard failings were identified by the HSE investigation, the crux of its case against Roma Caravans was the 30-year-old man’s accident, which indicated a lack of oversight when it came to staff safety.Luton and South Bedfordshire Magistrates’ Court heard that the platform the man stood on comprised a wooden plank placed across a metal frame, something that falls well short of expected standards in the manufacturing sector.FallAs the worker attempted to step off the platform to retrieve his tools, the far end of the plank he was stood on swung up and struck him in the groin.This sent him crashing towards the floor, with the makeshift scaffold collapsing around him.After initial observations it was concluded the man had escaped unscathed and suffered only minor bruising, but two days later he collapsed and was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome.This condition is a set of symptoms stemming from brain damage incurred during a head injury and can appear days, or even months, after the original accident took place.HeadachesThe anonymous worker has, since his original injury, suffered from regular, severe headaches and pains to his hip.For its failure to protect its personnel from harm, Roma Caravans, of Amenbury Lane, Harpenden, Hertfordshire, was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £3,527 costs after pleading guilty to a breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.Speaking after the prosecution, HSE inspector Andrew McGill said, “This incident was entirely avoidable and illustrates the need for duty holders to ensure work of this nature is carefully planned and managed at all times.”By not providing suitable equipment, Roma Caravans put the safety of a worker at risk. Appropriate and stable work platforms should always be used for any work undertaken at height.”Falls from heightFalls from height remain common in the private sector and the HSE has outlined that it wishes to see an improvement in the coming months, otherwise further crackdowns could be ordered against businesses that put their workers at risk.Earlier this month it was revealed that a London-based scaffolding company was fined by the authority after a self-employed decorator suffered a fractured arm and dislocated shoulder by falling off a temporary structure.Beacon Scaffolding, of Gloucester Avenue, was fined £5,000 and told to pay £1,737 after pleading guilty to a single breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.By Chris StevensonOr Call freephone 0800 884 0321SHARE THIS

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Helping preserve independent living for seniors

Single seniors lead a risky life: after a fall, they often lie on the floor several hours before their awkward predicament is discovered. A sensor system detects these emergency situations automatically and sends an emergency signal.Mr. S. is visually impaired and dependent on a cane since suffering a stroke. Nevertheless, as a 70-yr old living alone, he would rather not move into a care home. Most older people harbor this wish. They want to stay in their own familiar surroundings and continue to live independently for as long as possible. According to data from the German Federal Statistical Office, this applies to 70 percent of seniors. Against better judgment, they are putting their health at risk, for not only does the risk of cardiovascular problems increase with age, but the risk of falling increases also. According to estimates, about 30 percent of those over 65 years of age living at home experience a fall at least once a year. …

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Solar power heads in a new direction: Thinner

June 26, 2013 — Most efforts at improving solar cells have focused on increasing the efficiency of their energy conversion, or on lowering the cost of manufacturing. But now MIT researchers are opening another avenue for improvement, aiming to produce the thinnest and most lightweight solar panels possible.Such panels, which have the potential to surpass any substance other than reactor-grade uranium in terms of energy produced per pound of material, could be made from stacked sheets of one-molecule-thick materials such as graphene or molybdenum disulfide.Jeffrey Grossman, the Carl Richard Soderberg Associate Professor of Power Engineering at MIT, says the new approach “pushes towards the ultimate power conversion possible from a material” for solar power. Grossman is the senior author of a new paper describing this approach, published in the journal Nano Letters.Although scientists have devoted considerable attention in recent years to the potential of two-dimensional materials such as graphene, Grossman says, there has been little study of their potential for solar applications. It turns out, he says, “they’re not only OK, but it’s amazing how well they do.”Using two layers of such atom-thick materials, Grossman says, his team has predicted solar cells with 1 to 2 percent efficiency in converting sunlight to electricity, That’s low compared to the 15 to 20 percent efficiency of standard silicon solar cells, he says, but it’s achieved using material that is thousands of times thinner and lighter than tissue paper. The two-layer solar cell is only 1 nanometer thick, while typical silicon solar cells can be hundreds of thousands of times that. The stacking of several of these two-dimensional layers could boost the efficiency significantly.”Stacking a few layers could allow for higher efficiency, one that competes with other well-established solar cell technologies,” says Marco Bernardi, a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Materials Science who was the lead author of the paper. Maurizia Palummo, a senior researcher at the University of Rome visiting MIT through the MISTI Italy program, was also a co-author.For applications where weight is a crucial factor — such as in spacecraft, aviation or for use in remote areas of the developing world where transportation costs are significant — such lightweight cells could already have great potential, Bernardi says.Pound for pound, he says, the new solar cells produce up to 1,000 times more power than conventional photovoltaics. At about one nanometer (billionth of a meter) in thickness, “It’s 20 to 50 times thinner than the thinnest solar cell that can be made today,” Grossman adds. “You couldn’t make a solar cell any thinner.”This slenderness is not only advantageous in shipping, but also in ease of mounting solar panels. About half the cost of today’s panels is in support structures, installation, wiring and control systems, expenses that could be reduced through the use of lighter structures.In addition, the material itself is much less expensive than the highly purified silicon used for standard solar cells — and because the sheets are so thin, they require only minuscule amounts of the raw materials.John Hart, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, chemical engineering and art and design at the University of Michigan, says, “This is an exciting new approach to designing solar cells, and moreover an impressive example of how complementary nanostructured materials can be engineered to create new energy devices.” Hart, who will be joining the MIT faculty this summer but had no involvement in this research, adds that, “I expect the mechanical flexibility and robustness of these thin layers would also be attractive.”The MIT team’s work so far to demonstrate the potential of atom-thick materials for solar generation is “just the start,” Grossman says. …

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Artificial bone: Designing synthetic materials and quickly turning the design into reality with 3-D printing

June 17, 2013 — Researchers working to design new materials that are durable, lightweight and environmentally sustainable are increasingly looking to natural composites, such as bone, for inspiration: Bone is strong and tough because its two constituent materials, soft collagen protein and stiff hydroxyapatite mineral, are arranged in complex hierarchical patterns that change at every scale of the composite, from the micro up to the macro.While researchers have come up with hierarchical structures in the design of new materials, going from a computer model to the production of physical artifacts has been a persistent challenge. This is because the hierarchical structures that give natural composites their strength are self-assembled through electrochemical reactions, a process not easily replicated in the lab.Now researchers at MIT have developed an approach that allows them to turn their designs into reality. In just a few hours, they can move directly from a multiscale computer model of a synthetic material to the creation of physical samples.In a paper published online June 17 in Advanced Functional Materials, associate professor Markus Buehler of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and co-authors describe their approach. Using computer-optimized designs of soft and stiff polymers placed in geometric patterns that replicate nature’s own patterns, and a 3-D printer that prints with two polymers at once, the team produced samples of synthetic materials that have fracture behavior similar to bone. One of the synthetics is 22 times more fracture-resistant than its strongest constituent material, a feat achieved by altering its hierarchical design.Two are stronger than oneThe collagen in bone is too soft and stretchy to serve as a structural material, and the mineral hydroxyapatite is brittle and prone to fracturing. Yet when the two combine, they form a remarkable composite capable of providing skeletal support for the human body. The hierarchical patterns help bone withstand fracturing by dissipating energy and distributing damage over a larger area, rather than letting the material fail at a single point.”The geometric patterns we used in the synthetic materials are based on those seen in natural materials like bone or nacre, but also include new designs that do not exist in nature,” says Buehler, who has done extensive research on the molecular structure and fracture behavior of biomaterials. His co-authors are graduate students Leon Dimas and Graham Bratzel, and Ido Eylon of the 3-D printer manufacturer Stratasys. “As engineers we are no longer limited to the natural patterns. We can design our own, which may perform even better than the ones that already exist.”The researchers created three synthetic composite materials, each of which is one-eighth inch thick and about 5-by-7 inches in size. …

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Silicon-based nanoparticles could make LEDs cheaper, greener to produce

June 12, 2013 — Light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, are the most efficient and environmentally friendly light bulbs on the market. But they come at a higher up-front price than other bulbs, especially the ones with warmer and more appealing hues.Researchers at the University of Washington have created a material they say would make LED bulbs cheaper and greener to manufacture, driving down the price. Their silicon-based nanoparticles soften the blue light emitted by LEDs, creating white light that more closely resembles sunlight.The company, LumiSands, started as a graduate student project for CEO Chang-Ching Tu, who received his doctorate in electrical engineering at the UW and just completed a stint as a postdoctoral researcher in materials science and engineering. This spring, the start-up company spun out from the UW Center for Commercialization, a process that its two founders hope will lead to signing a commercialization license for the technology.LEDs give off light when electrons move through a semiconductor material. They are more efficient than standard incandescent or fluorescent bulbs, but they’re also pricier. That’s partly because within each LED lamp, expensive substances known as rare-earth-element phosphors help to soften the harsh blue light that LEDs naturally emit.But these rare-earth elements are hazardous to extract and process. China controls nearly all of the market for these materials, which has quadrupled the average price for the past several years.That’s where LumiSands comes in. The company uses silicon, derived from sand, instead of rare-earth elements to convert part of the blue light emitted by LEDs into greens, yellows and reds. The resulting light looks more like sunlight.The crew of two plans to sell directly to LED-bulb manufacturers that are looking to transition away from increasingly more expensive materials to make the lights.”Hopefully, manufacturers could substitute traditional rare-earth elements with our material with minimal additional steps,” said Ji Hoo, a UW doctoral student in electrical engineering and co-founder of LumiSands. “It will be cheaper, better-quality lighting for users.”Incandescent bulbs give off light that’s most similar to sunlight — and easiest on our eyes — but the bulbs are inefficient and produce a lot of heat. …

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Filmmaking magic with polymers

June 12, 2013 — Think about windows coated with transparent film that absorbs harmful ultraviolet sunrays and uses them to generate electricity. Consider a water filtration membrane that blocks viruses and other microorganisms from water, or an electric car battery that incorporates a coating to give it extra long life between charges.The self-assembled copolymer block film that makes it all possible is now being fabricated with intricately organized nanostructures, giving them multiple functions and flexibility on a macroscale level never before seen.Gurpreet Singh, a Ph.D. candidate in The University of Akron College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering, led a team of researchers to devise a method that enables the films to assemble themselves and allows them to serve as templates or directly as end products. The films can be embedded with nanoparticles that enable everything from data storage to water purification.Breakthrough with many functionsSuperimposed with nanopatterns that allow them to be implanted with a variety of functions — electronic, thermal or chemical — the films can be produced at an industrial level, which is no small feat in the world of science, says research team member Alamgir Karim, associate dean of research for the college and Goodyear Chair Professor of Polymer Engineering. Other research collaborators include Kevin Yager of Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., Brian Berry of the University of Arkansas and Ho-Cheol Kim of the IBM Research Division of Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif.”We have moved films manufacturing from microns to meter scale, opening pathways from the lab to fabrication,” Karim says. “Fundamentally, it allows us to practice nanoscience on a large scale. We can now produce these films quickly and inexpensively, yet with precision and without compromising quality.”Created with speed and uniformity, compatible with flexible surfaces, and subjected to temperature extremes, the copolymer thin films — developed at the National Polymer Innovation Center at UA — are noted in two recent American Chemical Society Nano journal articles: “Dynamic Thermal Field-Induced Gradient Soft-Shear for Highly Oriented Block Copolymer Thin Films”and “Large-Scale Roll-to-Roll Fabrication of Vertically Oriented Block Copolymer Thin Films.”Market-ready technologyFunded by the National Science Foundation, the research represents a market-ready revival of a technology developed by Bell Laboratories in the 1950s for metal and semiconductor purification and adapted in the 1980s for polymer crystallization. Since then, the technology remained dormant, until now.”We revived the technology and made it scalable, opening opportunities for full-scale manufacturing,” Karim says, noting that IBM has expressed interest in continuing the research and development of the technology, and is exploring applications ranging from membranes for batteries to high-density magnetic tape storage.”The process should be of interest to a broad range of industries — from high-tech to low-tech — worldwide,” Karim adds. “Manufacturing of these nanostructures can be done on industrial platforms such as UA’s roll-to-roll manufacturing (developed by collaborator Distinguished Professor of Polymer Engineering Miko Cakmak) at relatively high speeds not possible previously.”

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Footwear’s (carbon) footprint: Bulk of shoes’ carbon footprint comes from manufacturing processes

May 22, 2013 — A typical pair of running shoes generates 30 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to keeping a 100-watt light bulb on for one week, according to a new MIT-led lifecycle assessment.

But what’s surprising to researchers isn’t the size of a shoe’s carbon footprint, but where the majority of that footprint comes from.

The researchers found that more than two-thirds of a running shoe’s carbon impact can come from manufacturing processes, with a smaller percentage arising from acquiring or extracting raw materials. This breakdown is expected for more complex products such as electronics, where the energy that goes into manufacturing fine, integrated circuits can outweigh the energy expended in processing raw materials. But for “less-advanced” products — particularly those that don’t require electronic components — the opposite is often the case.

So why does a pair of sneakers, which may seem like a relatively simple product, emit so much more carbon dioxide in its manufacturing phase?

A team led by Randolph Kirchain, principal research scientist in MIT’s Materials Systems Laboratory, and research scientist Elsa Olivetti broke down the various steps involved in both materials extraction and manufacturing of one pair of running shoes to identify hotspots of greenhouse-gas emissions. The group found that much of the carbon impact came from powering manufacturing plants: A significant portion of the world’s shoe manufacturers are located in China, where coal is the dominant source of electricity. Coal is also typically used to generate steam or run other processes in the plant itself.

A typical pair of running shoes comprises 65 discrete parts requiring more than 360 processing steps to assemble, from sewing and cutting to injection molding, foaming and heating. Olivetti, Kirchain and their colleagues found that for these small, light components such processes are energy-intensive — and therefore, carbon-intensive — compared with the energy that goes into making shoe materials, such as polyester and polyurethane.

The group’s results, Kirchain says, will help shoe designers identify ways to improve designs and reduce shoes’ carbon footprint. He adds that the findings may also help industries assess the carbon impact of similar consumer products more efficiently.

“Understanding environmental footprint is resource intensive. The key is, you need to put your analytical effort into the areas that matter,” Kirchain says. “In general, we found that if you have a product that has a relatively high number of parts and process steps, and that is relatively light [weight], then you want to make sure you don’t overlook manufacturing.”

Kirchain and his colleagues have published their results in the Journal of Cleaner Production.

The sum of a shoe’s parts

In 2010, nearly 25 billion shoes were purchased around the world, the majority of them manufactured in China and other developing countries. As Kirchain and his co-authors write in their paper, “An industry of that scale and geographic footprint has come under great pressure regarding its social and environmental impact.”

In response, companies have started to take account of their products’ greenhouse-gas contributions, in part by measuring the amount of carbon dioxide associated with every process throughout a product’s lifecycle. One such company, ASICS, an athletic equipment company based in Japan, approached Kirchain to perform a lifecycle assessment for a running shoe manufactured in China.

The team took a “cradle-to-grave” approach, breaking down every possible greenhouse gas-emitting step: from the point at which the shoes’ raw materials are extracted to the shoes’ demise, whether burned, landfilled or recycled.

The researchers divided the shoes’ lifecycle into five major stages: materials, manufacturing, usage, transportation and end-of-life. These last three stages, they found, contributed very little to the product’s carbon footprint. For example, running shoes, unlike electronics, require very little energy to use, aside from the energy needed to infrequently wash the shoes.

The bulk of emissions, they found, came from manufacturing. While part of the manufacturing footprint is attributable to a facility’s energy source, other emissions came from processes such as foaming and injection molding of parts of a sneaker’s sole, which expend large amounts of energy in the manufacture of small, lightweight parts. As Kirchain explains it, “You have a lot of effort going into the molding of the material, but you’re only getting a very small part out of that process.”

“What stood out was this manufacturing burden being on par with materials, which we hadn’t seen in similar products,” Olivetti adds. “Part of that is because it’s a synthetic product. If we were looking at a leather shoe, it would be much more materials-driven because of the carbon intensity of leather production.”

An improved design

In tallying the carbon emissions from every part of a running shoe’s lifecycle, the researchers were also able to spot places where reductions might be made. For example, they observed that manufacturing facilities tend to throw out unused material. Instead, Kirchain and his colleagues suggest recycling these scraps, as well as combining certain parts of the shoe to eliminate cutting and welding steps. Printing certain features onto a shoe, instead of affixing them as separate fabrics, would also streamline the assembly process.

Kirchain and Olivetti view their results as a guide for companies looking to evaluate the impact of similar products.

“When people are trying for streamlined approaches to [lifecycle assessments], often they put emphasis on the materials impact, which makes a lot of sense,” Olivetti says. “But we tried to identify a set of characteristics that would point you to making sure you were also looking at the manufacturing side — when it matters.”

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