News Feature | September 14, 2022

Bright Ideas — Nuclear Fusion Yields 100 Million K and Lasts 20 Seconds, AI Boosts Fluorescence Microscopy

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By Abby Proch, Editor


For the first time, scientists have reached nuclear fusion yielding 100 million Kelvin and lasting 20 seconds. While both milestones have been hit before, no one has met them concurrently like the team of researchers from Princeton and Columbia universities and the Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research Center in South Korea. Researchers relied on an internal transport barrier, which creates high pressure in the center of plasma, to main stability during the experiment. With its newfound success, the team plans to improve the next iteration by conducting more research and by replacing components, such as swapping carbon with tungsten for the chamber walls.

Eschewing tiresome manual methods, biophysicists with EPFL are now turning to AI to help them image bacterial cell division and mitochondrial division via fluorescence microscopy. Capturing the precise moment of division requires scientists to either spend hours waiting for the exact moment of division to snap a picture or setting a camera to automatically image the sample at predetermined intervals in the hopes of capturing a dividing cell. Both approaches are time consuming, and the latter can actually harm the biological sample by depleting its fluorescence too quickly. Now, the team has trained a neural network to identify precursors to division — such as constriction and increased proteins in mitochondria — and commence high-speed imaging to save time and sample integrity.

In med device news, a new 3D-printed wearable light sensor might soon give doctors treating patients with lupus a better understanding of how a patient’s exposure to light correlates with his or her symptoms. Doctors and scientists have known both UV and visible light to contribute to lupus patients’ symptoms of rash, joint pain, and fatigue but have had trouble pinpointing the responsible wavelengths. But now a new device developed at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities may give doctors and their patients a low-cost and efficient way of determining how light affects patients’ symptoms. The device, made of a biocompatible silicon base, relies on zinc oxide to collect UV light and convert it into electrical signals for processing. Researchers have recently gained permission to test outside the lab.  

After adding $17.5 million in debt financing to their previous $31 million equity investment, Ambient Photonics has just completed the initial financing of what it says will be the world’s largest low-light solar cell production facility. Based in the U.S., the facility will produce low-cost, high-power solar cells to supply the global IoT market. These solar cells reportedly have the ability to decrease carbon emissions from battery-powered devices by as much as 80% and cut down on landfill waste associated with rechargeable batteries.

Another company interested in reducing emissions, Bridger Photonics, has just secured $55 million to expand its operations. Based in Bozeman, Montana, Bridger conducts airborne lidar detection of methane leaks from gas production, transmission, and distribution facilities and pipelines. Notably, Bridger contends its Gas Mapping Lidar method can detect more than 90% of methane leaks (at or above 3 kg/hr) in production basins. However, it’s now on the path to creating a GML 2.0 system with a greater degree of sensitivity, capable of detecting sources emitting at 0.2 kg/hr under normal conditions.

In other business news, Jenoptik has broken ground on its new micro-optics manufacturing facility in Dresden, Germany. Expected to open in 2025, the site will “produce high-end optical devices and sensors primarily for use in semiconductor lithography applications.” Jenoptik expands its presence in the “Silicon Saxony” area, also home to facilities for Infineon Technologies, Global Foundries, Robert Bosch, and others.

Finally, three “Oscars of invention” award have been bestowed upon scientists and engineers at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL). The R&D World Magazine awards recognize the top 100 industrial inventions from around the world, and these three latest additions bring LLNL’s total to 176. This year, LLNL earned awards for an additive manufacturing process that prints custom silica-based optics and glass, compressions gratings for high-energy lasers systems, and a 3D printing feedstock for printing working batteries. The silica-based AM process can make small, custom optics that require less finishing and eliminate the need for expensive, individualized molds, and the new High Energy Low-Dispersion (HELD) multilayer dielectric pulse compression gratings can “deliver 3.4 times more total energy than the current state-of-the-art technology” to the benefit of studies in gamma-ray flashes, generation of electron-positron pairs, and radiation-friction force, among others.