GWIC Blogs

This is the blog of the GW Innovation Center, written by Randy Graves and guest authors.

Graphene has been proven to be one of earth’s strongest materials and because of its additional significant properties, specifically high electric and thermal conductivity, graphene applications are actively sought by a variety of industries, from aerospace to battery manufacturing. Graphene has been limited because it readily forms 2D basic structures or sheets that are not easily converted to 3D forms. 3D graphene structures have eluded researchers but now scientists from Virginia Tech University and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have been working to produce 3D graphene structures using 3D Printing.

Researchers at Rutgers University have demonstrated how ordinary WiFi can easily detect bombs and explosive chemicals in public venues, according to a newly announced study. The Rutgers suspicious object detection system is easy to set up, reduces security screening costs and avoids invading privacy such as when screeners open and inspect bags, backpacks and luggage. Traditional screening typically requires costly specialized equipment and highly trained personnel for operation.

The epilepsy drug Spritam (pictured below) recently became the first 3D printed drug to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. Spritam’s manufacturer, Aprecia Pharmaceuticals Headquartered in the UK, says that it makes the oral medication through a three-dimensional printing process, which builds the pill by spreading layers of the drug on top of one another until the right dose is reached.

In a recent publication of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from Duke University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Nanyang Technological University Singapore, demonstrated a platform based on sound waves to separate Circulating Tumor Cells (CTCs) from a 7.5-ml vial of blood. The process took less than an hour and succeeded with 86 percent efficiency.

A team of researchers that includes Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Amit Seru has developed an innovative strategy that applies big data computing to several million patent documents to rank the innovative importance of almost every U.S. patent over the past 200 years. The basic idea behind the new approach is simple: An important invention is one that both differs greatly from what came before and greatly influences what comes later. This is the classic definition of a “paradigm change.”

NASA is supporting research on the integration of nano-electrofuel (NEF) flow batteries with rim-driven electric motors to produce a safe, clean and quiet propulsion system for aircraft. This non-explosive energy storage technology has been incubated by NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center with NASA’s Glenn Research Center as the co-principal investigator.

Graphene is a very versatile ultra-strong, lightweight material that is finding use in everything from supercapacitors to body armor. Graphene film is stronger than diamonds and engineers at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) in the U.K. recently unveiled the world’s first graphene-skinned drone aircraft at the “Futures Day” event at the Farnborough Air Show 2018. This innovative new aircraft called Juno has a wingspan of 11.5 feet and includes graphene batteries and 3D-printed parts. The use of graphene in place of carbon fiber has resulted in a 17% reduction in weight over the use of carbon fiber. This 17% reduction in weight can be used to increase flying range and/or increased payloads.

This innovative bicycle drivetrain, known as DrivEn, won the 2018 Eurobike Innovation Award at the Eurobike show in Germany. Bike manufacturer CeramicSpeed partnered with the University of Colorado’s department of mechanical engineering to introduce an innovative chainless bicycle drivetrain concept. According to Jason Smith, CeramicSpeed’s chief technology officer, “Advancements in drivetrain technology have been evolutionary since the 1920s. DrivEn is truly revolutionary given its unique rolling element power transfer and unmatched efficiency. The DrivEn concept has the ability to change the way the cycling industry views drivetrain design and drivetrain efficiency.”

By utilizing human cells scientists at the Newcastle University in the U.K. successfully 3D printed the most advanced version of an artificial cornea to date, a development that has revolutionary potential for people struggling to see. A jelly-like gel called alginate, stem cells extracted from donor corneas, along with some collagen proteins, were added together in order to create a bio-ink thin enough and sturdy enough to work as a 3D structure. This new technique has the ability to take cells from one donated cornea and print 50 artificial ones, an innovation that could have massive implications moving forward into the future.

One of the biggest problems in potato farming is potato blight. Potato blight is very destructive; it is caused by a mold called Phytophthora infestans. It can wipe out an entire crop overnight. It can travel from potato to potato in a sack or a crate to ruin them all. This is a big worldwide problem, as potatoes are the third-most consumed crop after wheat and rice. In some parts of the world, people rely heavily on the potato as a staple in their diet.

Silicon has long been recognized as the go-to material for solar cell technology because it is inexpensive, stable, and efficient. Unfortunately, silicon is fast approaching its theoretical efficiency limit, but emerging research results show that pairing silicon up with other materials could help break through the silicon efficiency ceiling. Now, researchers at EPFL (École Polytechnique Federale De Lausanne) and CSEM (Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology) have developed a new technique for combining silicon and perovskite solar cells, with a reported efficiency of 25.2 percent – a record for that combination.

New innovative technology developed by engineers at MIT captures water evaporating from power plant cooling towers. This simple recovery system can potentially save millions of gallons of water each year.

Research scientists have been exploring the various medical uses of silk spun by spiders and silkworms. Silk is an extremely strong and flexible material that is safe to use inside the human body. Researchers have been attempting to engineer silk so that it might possibly be used heal wounds, strengthen bones, and might even replace tendons. Recently, researchers from Purdue University engineered a silk to heal wounds faster.

The Alliance of Advanced BioMedical Engineering, (https://aabme.asme.org/) reports a significant advancement in microfluidic device detection of circulating tumor cells (CTC). Cancer metastasis remains one of medicine’s most difficult and deadly problems. The American Cancer Society reports that nearly 90% of cancer deaths are due to metastatic cancers. Deadly cancer cells detach from primary tumor sites, circulating around the body until they infect new tissue. The process is treacherous and hard to detect.

Researchers at the University of Toronto have developed a portable skin “printer.” This simple and innovative device can graft human skin using bio-inks. This “printer” can print 3D layers of skin and can treat even the most severe flesh wounds in as few as two minutes.

According to 2015 figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fruit and tree nut farms employed, on average, 196,000 people, with about 40,000 on average working at apple orchards.

Dr. Akhilesh K. Gaharwar, a Bio-medical Engineer, at the Texas A&M University has developed a therapeutic hydrogel for injecting into internal and external bleeding wounds that can stop bleeding. This new injectable hydrogel material is made from nanoflakes of synthetic clay and sugar chains extracted from seaweed. This remarkable hydrogel stays in a liquid state when under mechanical pressure, such as during an injection, but as soon as the force is released it turns to solid.

One of mankind’s greatest medical challenges is the treatment of cancer, particularly brain cancer. Human brains are protected by the blood-brain barrier, a layer of tightly packed cells that prevents viruses and toxins in the bloodstream from harming the brain. Some chemotherapy drugs cannot pass through the blood-brain barrier, making the treatment of brain cancer even more difficult than more common cancers.

Concern for plastic pollution continues to mount, particularly for PET plastic that is most often used in plastic water bottles and about 56 million tons of PET were produced worldwide in 2013 alone. PET it is a very convenient manufacturing material for humans, however it is highly resistant to biodegradation, and continues to accumulate in ecosystems around the globe. To date, very few species of fungi — and no bacteria — have been found to break down PET.

The long sought R&D goal to develop affordable, viable and environmentally-friendly fuels using sunlight has taken a great leap forward with pioneering efforts by a team of renewable energy researchers from the University of Exeter, who have developed a new technique to produce hydrogen directly from sunlight using an innovative metal catalyst: LaFeO3.

3D printed structural innovation speeds on as Dutch technology company MX3D unveiled the world’s largest 3D-printed bridge. This 40 foot long stainless steel pedestrian bridge is composed of 9,921 lbs of stainless steel and about 684 miles of wire and took six months to print. In printing of the bridge, MX3D used four of its MX3D-Metal robots.

Billions of people around the world have limited or no access to clean drinking water. Significant shortages of clean water primarily occur in developing nations, while developed countries can face unanticipated water shortages after natural disasters such as hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico.

I recently had the pleasure of watching the National Geographic Special Documentary Film on Jane Goodall. This is an outstanding film on an outstanding individual and for me was very thought provoking. Jane’s significant accomplishments are heralded in numerous publications from books, videos, to movies just to mention a few. Her initial work with Chimpanzees is her most significant and her initial scientific achievement despite having no formal training. When famed anthropologist Richard Leakey sent untrained Jane to Tanzania’s Gombe National Park in 1960 to study chimpanzees, I suspect he had no idea how her discoveries would set the world of anthropology on its ear.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory have developed a new lithium-air battery that is a revolutionary high-powered battery that may replace the universally used lithium-ion battery. The laboratory prototype lithium-air battery

This week’s look at innovation is focused on another highly innovative technology development coming from researchers at the University of Maryland in the form of processed wood insulation. This innovative development is based on the wood processing technology described in Blog Column 4, wherein the process for forming Nanowood is relatively simple, starting with boiling wood in a bath of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfite and then treating it with hydrogen peroxide followed by freeze-drying the pure cellulose. This relatively simple, low cost, processing results a highly aligned cellulose structure that has highly anisotropic thermal conductivity.

This week’s look at innovation is focused on a highly innovative 3D printing of living human cells developed by Organovo of San Diego California. The Organovo process takes cells from donor organs and transforms them into a printable bio-ink. Layers of cells are laid down in calculated designs to build up small sections of living cells.

This week’s look at innovation is focused on a highly innovative technology development coming from researchers at the University of Maryland in the form of a densification process for wood. While this emerging technology is not as yet a paradigm changer, it is clearly highly innovative. This wood densification process leads to “super” wood that has the potential to be cheaper, lighter, and as strong as many metals including some steels. See the graphic at the bottom of this article from the Industry Tap News.

The last column explored 3D Metal Printed parts for large scale manufacturing and pointed out that this development is a paradigm changing innovation that will eventually replace metal casting and machining techniques. What is more important is that effective and precise 3D Metal Printing has unleashed a whole new realm of algorithm and software based creative design that is rapidly becoming a paradigm changing approach called Generative Design.

There is little doubt that the invention and patenting of the 3D Printer in 1983 was a true innovation that has forever changed the way that many plastic and now metal parts, components, and products are manufactured. 3D printed plastic items are now ubiquitous in many manufacturing industries. Today, automated 3D manufacturing cells can print continuously using collaborative robots, eliminating human labor associated with cycling 3D Printers. Many common plastic products are manufactured by 3D printers including many of the World’s hearing aids, cell phone cases, and a myriad of product parts/components. The cost precision 3D Plastic Printers has been reduced from over $100,000 to under $10,000 with many prototyping/home 3D Printers costing less than $1000.

We’ve all heard the familiar term Outside the Box that generally is meant to indicate creative or innovative thinking. The “Box” represents the normal way of looking at and doing things based on cultural, organizational, or governmental assumptions that artificially constrains an individual’s creative thinking. Innovative thinking can mean many things depends on where one stands in organizational environments. This URL will lead you to 15 different definitions of innovation.

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