The very first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to perform a perched landing using machine learning algorithms has been developed in partnership with the University of Bristol and BMT Defence Services (BMT). The revolutionary development of a fixed wing aircraft that can land in a small or confined space has the potential to significantly impact intelligence-gathering and the delivery of aid in a humanitarian disaster.
BMT, a subsidiary of BMT Group Ltd, and the University of Bristol have demonstrated how the combination of a morphing wing UAV and machine learning can be used to generate a trajectory to perform a perched landing on the ground. The UAV has been tested at altitude to validate the approach and the team are working towards a system that can perform a repeatable ground landing.
Current UAVs are somewhat restrictive in that they have fixed and rigid wings, which reduces the flexibility in how they can fly. The primary goal of the work was to look at extending the operation of current fixed wing UAVs by introducing morphing wing structures inspired by those found in birds. To control these complex wing structures, BMT utilised machine learning algorithms to learn a flight controller using inspiration from nature.
Simon Luck, Head of Information Services and Information Assurance at BMT Defence Services, commented: “Innovation is at the heart of everything we do at BMT and R&D projects provide us with the opportunity to work with our partners to develop cutting edge capabilities that have the potential to revolutionise the way we gather information.”
Dr Tom Richardson, Senior Lecturer in Flight Mechanics in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Bristol, added: “The application of these new machine learning methods to nonlinear flight dynamics and control will allow us to create highly manoeuvrable and agile unmanned vehicles. I am really excited about the potential safety and operational performance benefits that these new methods offer.”
It received its Royal Charter in 1909, and its predecessor institution, University College, Bristol, had been in existence since 1876.
Bristol has been named amongst the world’s top 30 universities by the QS World University Rankings. A highly selective institution, it has an average of 14 applicants for each undergraduate place. The University had a total income of £426.7 million in 2011/12, of which £112 million was from research grants and contracts. It is the largest independent employer in Bristol.
University of Bristol research articles from Innovation Toronto
- Massive open-access database on human cultures created – July 11, 2016
- New Bioink with the Potential to 3D Print Bone and Cartilage – June 25, 2016
- New generation of high-efficiency solar thermal absorbers developed – June 16, 2016
- Shape-shifting modular interactive device can change shape on demand – May 18, 2016
- An enzyme enigma discovered in the abyss could lead to new antibiotics and other treatments – May 14, 2016
- How will people interact with technology in the future? – May 10, 2016
- ‘Pee power’ turns urine into sustainable power source for electronic devices – April 20, 2016
- Humanoid robotics and computer avatars could help treat social disorders – April 16, 2016
- Landmine detection using drones – April 11, 2016
- Delivering the internet of the future – at the speed of light and open sourced – January 31, 2016
- It’s a 3D printer, but not as we know it – January 20, 2016
- Superhydrophobic coating protects without the price – December 22, 2015
- Wearable energy generator uses urine to power wireless transmitter – December 12, 2015
- New optical chip lights up the race for quantum computer – August 14, 2015
- Ultrasound accelerates skin healing – especially for diabetics and the elderly – July 14, 2015
- Tissue ‘scaffold’ technology could help rebuild large organs – June 20, 2015
- British scientists invent aircraft wings that can fix themselves mid-flight – June 8, 2015
- Researchers develop intelligent handheld robots – June 1, 2015
- New technology could fundamentally change future wireless communications – May 22, 2015
- New technology enables ultra-fast steering and shaping of light beams – January 12, 2014
- Geoengineering our climate is not a ‘quick fix’ – November 28, 2014
- Scientific breakthrough will help design the antibiotics of the future – October 21 2014
- Scientists discover how to ‘switch off’ autoimmune diseases – September 6, 2014
- Levitating Cells with Ultrasonic Tweezers Provides a Sound Route to Bio-Engineering – June 4, 2014
- Breakthrough shows how DNA is ‘edited’ to correct genetic diseases – May 27, 2014
- Sneak a peek through The Mist to technology of the future | tabletop display – April 12, 2014
- VIDEO: Artificial heart to pump human waste into future robots
- Solving the Internet capacity crunch: first demonstration of a multicore fibre network
- UltraHaptics – it’s magic in the air
- Breakthrough in cryptography could result in more secure computing
- Size really does not matter when it comes to high blood pressure
- Removing nerves connecting kidney to the brain shown to reduce high blood pressure
- Shape-shifting mobile devices
- Cost-Saving Measure to Upgrade Ethanol to Butanol — A Better Alternative to Gasoline
- Major breakthrough in deciphering bread wheat’s genetic code
- Scientists to announce quantum chip technology breakthrough
- Squid-inspired tech could lead to color-changing smart materials
- Eco-Friendly Robots Will Decompose When They Die
- Human Waste-Powered Robots May Be Future of Machines
- Dramatic Simplification Paves the Way for Building a Quantum Computer
- Meniscus-healing stem cell bandage approved for clinical trials
- Extending the Life of Oil Reserves
- Two-photon walk a giant stride for quantum computing
- Wheat genome sequenced superior types of wheat could result
- Could ancient Egyptians hold the key to 3D printed ceramics?
- Grid-Based Computing to Fight Neurological Disease
- Military Camouflage – The Old Razzle-Dazzle
- Birth control pill for men being developed
- Sonic screwdriver may become fact rather than fiction
- Nose scanner identity verification developed
- Low Carbon Straw House Passes Fire Safety Test
After demonstrating the first acoustically driven tractor beam platform, researchers develop a simpler, cheaper version using 3-D printable parts and open-source electronic components for the maker community
Last year Asier Marzo, then a doctoral student at the Public University of Navarre, helped develop the first single-sided acoustic tractor beam — that is, the first realization of trapping and pulling an object using sound waves from only one direction. Now a research assistant at the University of Bristol, Marzo has lead a team that adapted the technology to be, for all intents and purposes, 3-D printable by anyone (with some assembly required, of course).
In addition to a fully detailed how-to video that the group produced for the public, the results of the work developing this do-it-yourself, handheld acoustic tractor beam will appear this week as an open access paper in Applied Physics Letters, from AIP Publishing.
Sonic levitation is not new, and the use of sound waves to push around macroscopic objects, or create patterns in resting sand and flowing water, is scattered throughout YouTube and has been for years. This technology, however, is not simply sonic levitation, using sound to push objects around.
Based on similar fundamental physics used for decades to create optical traps, these tractor beams are true to their name in that they pull objects, trapping small beads — and even insects — at their foci.
“The most important thing is that it can attract the particle towards the source,” said Marzo. “It’s very easy to push particles from the source, but what’s hard is to pull them toward the source; to attract the particles. When you move the tractor beam, the particle moves, but otherwise the trap is static. It can levitate small plastics; it can also levitate a fly and small biological samples. It’s quite handy.”
The first versions of the device that proved the concept possible were not much larger than these new, 3-D printable versions. However, their underlying technology was more complex and required expensive electronics.
Much of the expense arose from the array of active components that electronically shaped sound waves, manipulating how and where they interfere to create the resulting object-trapping environment just above the array.
“Previously we developed a tractor beam, but it was very complicated and pricey because it required a phase array, which is a complex electronic system,” Marzo said. “In this paper, we made a simple, static tractor beam that only requires a static piece of matter.”
The simplicity (and affordability) of this passive, static-matter approach comes from the special architecture of that matter, designed to replace the phase array components and to shape sound waves structurally instead of electronically. As the sound, which now can be generated from a single source, passes through these carefully designed elements, the waves are shaped by the internal structure of the 3-D printed material.
“We can modulate a simple wave using what’s called a metamaterial which is basically a piece of matter with lots of tubes of different lengths. The sound passes through these tubes and when it exits the metamaterial, it has the correct phases to create a tractor beam,” said Marzo.
With an effect that is primarily determined by the shape of the tubes, the research team focused on optimizing the design to allow fabrication with common 3-D printers, ensuring it could be constructed even by at-home hobbyists.
According to Marzo, this was primarily a challenge in resolution, requiring a design that would not suffer from the limited precision of lower-end 3-D printer nozzles. “We needed to engineer the tubes very well to allow them to be 3-D printed with a normal 3-D printer. A normal 3-D printer has a lot of limitations,” he said.
With those limitations overcome, the group developed the rest of the tractor beam system using easily accessible components, such as from the popular open-source electronics supplier, Arduino. They even produced a detailed how-to video for its construction, a link to which is included below. “There will be a set of instructions with a list of the needed components and a step-by-step video. The components are very simple, like an Arduino and a motor driver, and everything can be bought on Amazon for less than £50 (about $70),” Marzo said.
Besides seriously impressing dinner guests, these DIY tractor beams have many potential uses and may even become a new tool for studying low-gravity effects on biological samples. Marzo pointed out this type of “micro-gravity” research is already of interest and encouraged biologists to find their own applications for the device.
“Recently there have been several papers about what happens if we levitate an embryo, how does it develop? Or what happens if we levitate bacteria?” he said. “For instance, they discovered salmonella is three times more [virulent] when it’s levitated. Certain microorganisms react differently to microgravity.”
There are three designs of the device, each with trapping profiles suitable for different object sizes relative to the wavelength of sound used. However, even for the full lab implementation where the group traps heavier objects and even liquids, trapping objects larger than half the wavelength of sound still poses a challenge. For practical frequencies, just above what humans can hear, this limits the size of trappable objects to a few millimeters.
As Marzo and his group work to overcome this challenge and continue to improve the capabilities of their tractor beams, the democratization of their technology paves the way for untold uses and tweaks from the maker community. So, the question really is — what would you do with your own tractor beam?
Learn more: How to 3-D Print Your Own Sonic Tractor Beam
New technology that could enhance both the electrical and thermal conductivity of conventional composite materials has been developed thanks to a collaboration between the University of Surrey, University of Bristol and aerospace company Bombardier.
- New composite technology will see enhanced electrical and thermal conductivity of conventional composite materials which has previously been lacking
- Novel functionality including sensors, energy harvesting lighting and communication antennae will now be integrated into the structure of the composite material
- Technology will have wide-reaching benefits in the aerospace industry
Carbon fibre composites, composed of reinforcing carbon fibres within a plastic, have revolutionised industries that demand strong, yet light materials. However, their application has been hindered by inherently poor electrical and thermal conductivities.
New research, published in the journal Scientific Report, demonstrates that by growing nanomaterials, specifically carbon nanotubes, on the surface of the carbon fibres it is possible to impart these necessary properties.
The research, conducted at the University of Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) and the University of Bristol’s Advanced Composite Centre for Innovation and Science (ACCIS), shows off the potential of a carbon fibre reinforced plastic to be made multifunctional, while still maintaining its structural integrity. Novel functionality including sensors, energy harvesting lighting and communication antennae can now be integrated into the structure of the composite to usher in a new era in composite technology.
Professor Ravi Silva, Director of the ATI and Head of the Nanoelectronics Centre (NEC) said: “In the future, carbon nanotube modified carbon fibre composites could lead to exciting possibilities such as energy harvesting and storage structures with self-healing capabilities. We are currently working on such prototypes and have many ideas including the incorporation of current aerospace/satellite technology in automotive design.”
Dr Thomas Pozegic, Research Associate in ACCIS and formerly a PhD student at the University of Surrey, explained: “The aerospace industry still relies on metallic structures, in the form of a copper mesh, to provide lightning strike protection and prevent static charge accumulation on the upper surface of carbon fibre composites because of the poor electrical conductivity. This adds weight and makes fabrication with carbon fibre composites difficult. The material that we have developed utilises high-quality carbon nanotubes grown at a high density to allow electrical transport throughout the composite material.”
Dr Ian Hamerton, Reader in Polymers and Composite Materials in ACCIS, commented: “The research has shown that carbon nanotubes can significantly enhance the thermal conductivity of carbon fibre composites. This will have wide-reaching benefits in the aerospace industry, from enhancing de-icing solutions to minimising the formation of fuel vapours at cruising altitudes.”
A ‘living bandage’ made from stem cells, which could revolutionise the treatment and prognosis of a common sporting knee injury, has been trialled in humans for the first time by scientists at the Universities of Liverpool and Bristol.
Meniscal tears are suffered by over one million people a year in the US and Europe alone and are particularly common in contact sports like football and rugby. 90% or more of tears occur in the white zone of meniscus which lacks a blood supply, making them difficult to repair. Many professional sports players opt to have the torn tissue removed altogether, risking osteoarthritis in later life.
The Cell Bandage has been developed by spin-out company Azellon, and is designed to enable the meniscal tear to repair itself by encouraging cell growth in the affected tissue.
A prototype version of the Cell Bandage was trialled in five patients, aged between 18 and 45, with white-zone meniscal tears. The trial received funding support from Innovate UK and the promising results have been published today in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine.
The procedure involved taking stem cells, harvested from the patient’s own bone marrow, which were then grown for two weeks before being seeded onto a membrane scaffold that helps to deliver the cells into the injured site. The manufactured Cell Bandage was then surgically implanted into the middle of the tear and the cartilage was sewn up around the bandage to keep it in place.
All five patients had an intact meniscus 12 months post implantation. By 24 months, three of the five patients retained an intact meniscus and had returned to normal knee functionality whilst the other two patients required surgical removal of the damaged meniscus due to a new tear or return of symptoms.
Professor Anthony Hollander, Chair of Stem Cell Biology at the University of Liverpool and Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Azellon, said: “The Cell Bandage trial results are very encouraging and offer a potential alternative to surgical removal that will repair the damaged tissue and restore full knee function.
“We are currently developing an enhanced version of the Cell Bandage using donor stem cells, which will reduce the cost of the procedure and remove the need for two operations.”
The Cell Bandage was produced by the Advanced Therapies Unit at the NHS Blood & Transplant facility in Speke, Liverpool and implanted into patients at Southmead Hospital in Bristol, under the supervision of Professor Ashley Blom, Head of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Bristol.
Professor Blom commented: “The Cell Bandage offers an exciting potential new treatment option for surgeons that could particularly benefit younger patients and athletes by reducing the likelihood of early onset osteoarthritis after meniscectomy.”
A spokesperson for Innovate UK said: “Turning stem cell research into clinical and commercial reality requires close collaboration between businesses, universities, and Hospitals. It’s great to see this inter-disciplinary approach has led to such an exciting outcome from this first-in-human trial.”
The paper ‘Repair of torn avascular meniscal cartilage using undifferentiated autologous mesenchymal stem cells: from in vitro optimisation to a first-in-human study is published in Stem Cells Translational Medicine.
Ground-breaking research from the University of Surrey and Augmented Optics Ltd, in collaboration with the University of Bristol, has developed potentially transformational technology which could revolutionise the capabilities of appliances that have previously relied on battery power to work.
This development by Augmented Optics Ltd, could translate into very high energy density super-capacitors making it possible to recharge your mobile phone, laptop or other mobile devices in just a few seconds.
The technology could have a seismic impact across a number of industries, including transport, aerospace, energy generation, and household applications such as mobile phones, flat screen electronic devices, and biosensors. It could also revolutionise electric cars, allowing the possibility for them to recharge as quickly as it takes for a regular non-electric car to refuel with petrol – a process that currently takes approximately six to eight hours to recharge. Imagine, instead of an electric car being limited to a drive from London to Brighton, the new technology could allow the electric car to travel from London to Edinburgh without the need to recharge, but when it did recharge for this operation to take just a few minutes to perform.
Supercapacitor buses are already being used in China, but they have a very limited range whereas this technology could allow them to travel a lot further between recharges. Instead of recharging every two to three stops this technology could mean they only need to recharge every 20-30 stops and that will only take a few seconds.
Elon Musk, of Tesla and SpaceX, has previously stated his belief that supercapacitors are likely to be the technology for future electric air transportation. We believe that the present scientific advance could make that vision a reality.
The technology was adapted from the principles used to make soft contact lenses, which Dr Donald Highgate (of Augmented Optics, and an alumnus of the University of Surrey) developed following his postgraduate studies at Surrey 40 years ago. Supercapacitors, an alternative power source to batteries, store energy using electrodes and electrolytes and both charge and deliver energy quickly, unlike conventional batteries which do so in a much slower, more sustained way. Supercapacitors have the ability to charge and discharge rapidly over very large numbers of cycles. However, because of their poor energy density per kilogramme (approximately just one twentieth of existing battery technology), they have, until now, been unable to compete with conventional battery energy storage in many applications.
Dr Brendan Howlin of the University of Surrey, explained: “There is a global search for new energy storage technology and this new ultra capacity supercapacitor has the potential to open the door to unimaginably exciting developments.”
The ground-breaking research programme was conducted by researchers at the University of Surrey’s Department of Chemistry where the project was initiated by Dr Donald Highgate of Augmented Optics Ltd. The research team was co-led by the principal investigators Dr Ian Hamerton and Dr Brendan Howlin. Dr Hamerton continues to collaborate on the project in his new post at the University of Bristol, where the electrochemical testing to trial the research findings was carried out by fellow University of Bristol academic – David Fermin, Professor of Electrochemistry in the School of Chemistry.
Dr Ian Hamerton, Reader in Polymers and Composite Materials from the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Bristol, said: “While this research has potentially opened the route to very high density supercapacitors, these *polymers have many other possible uses in which tough, flexible conducting materials are desirable, including bioelectronics, sensors, wearable electronics, and advanced optics. We believe that this is an extremely exciting and potentially game changing development.”
*the materials are based on large organic molecules composed of many repeated sub-units and bonded together to form a 3-dimensional network.
Jim Heathcote, Chief Executive of both Augmented Optics Ltd and Supercapacitor Materials Ltd, said: “It is a privilege to work with the teams from the University of Surrey and the University of Bristol. The test results from the new polymers suggest that extremely high energy density supercapacitors could be constructed in the very new future. We are now actively seeking commercial partners in order to supply our polymers and offer assistance to build these ultra high energy density storage devices.”
New technology has been developed that uses nuclear waste to generate electricity in a nuclear-powered battery. A team of physicists and chemists from the University of Bristol have grown a man-made diamond that, when placed in a radioactive field, is able to generate a small electrical current.
The development could solve some of the problems of nuclear waste, clean electricity generation and battery life.
This innovative method for radioactive energy was presented at the Cabot Institute’s sold-out annual lecture – ‘Ideas to change the world’- on Friday, 25 November.
Unlike the majority of electricity-generation technologies, which use energy to move a magnet through a coil of wire to generate a current, the man-made diamond is able to produce a charge simply by being placed in close proximity to a radioactive source.
Tom Scott, Professor in Materials in the University’s Interface Analysis Centre and a member of the Cabot Institute, said: “There are no moving parts involved, no emissions generated and no maintenance required, just direct electricity generation. By encapsulating radioactive material inside diamonds, we turn a long-term problem of nuclear waste into a nuclear-powered battery and a long-term supply of clean energy.”
The team have demonstrated a prototype ‘diamond battery’ using Nickel-63 as the radiation source. However, they are now working to significantly improve efficiency by utilising carbon-14, a radioactive version of carbon, which is generated in graphite blocks used to moderate the reaction in nuclear power plants. Research by academics at Bristol has shown that the radioactive carbon-14 is concentrated at the surface of these blocks, making it possible to process it to remove the majority of the radioactive material. The extracted carbon-14 is then incorporated into a diamond to produce a nuclear-powered battery.
The UK currently holds almost 95,000 tonnes of graphite blocks and by extracting carbon-14 from them, their radioactivity decreases, reducing the cost and challenge of safely storing this nuclear waste.
Dr Neil Fox from the School of Chemistry explained: “Carbon-14 was chosen as a source material because it emits a short-range radiation, which is quickly absorbed by any solid material. This would make it dangerous to ingest or touch with your naked skin, but safely held within diamond, no short-range radiation can escape. In fact, diamond is the hardest substance known to man, there is literally nothing we could use that could offer more protection.”
Despite their low-power, relative to current battery technologies, the life-time of these diamond batteries could revolutionise the powering of devices over long timescales. Using carbon-14 the battery would take 5,730 years to reach 50 per cent power, which is about as long as human civilization has existed.
Professor Scott added: “We envision these batteries to be used in situations where it is not feasible to charge or replace conventional batteries. Obvious applications would be in low-power electrical devices where long life of the energy source is needed, such as pacemakers, satellites, high-altitude drones or even spacecraft.
“There are so many possible uses that we’re asking the public to come up with suggestions of how they would utilise this technology by using #diamondbattery.”
A mid-air display of ‘floating pixels’ has been created by scientists.
Researchers at the Universities of Sussex and Bristol have used soundwaves to lift many tiny objects at once before spinning and flipping them using electric force fields.
The technology – called JOLED – effectively turns tiny, multi-coloured spheres into real-life pixels, which can form into floating displays or bring computer game characters to life as physical objects.
To be presented next week at a future technologies conference in Japan, the research opens up new possibilities for mobile and game designers, giving them a new way of representing digital information in a physical space.
Professor Sriram Subramanian, in the University of Sussex’s School of Engineering and Informatics, is the head of lab behind the research. He says: “We’ve created displays in mid-air that are free-floating, where each pixel in the display can be rotated on the spot to show different colours and images.
“This opens up a whole new design space, where computer and mobile displays extend into the 3D space above the screen.”
The pixels are levitated using a series of miniature ultrasound speakers that create high-pitched and high-intensity soundwaves that are inaudible but forceful enough to hold the spheres in place.
A thin coating of titanium dioxide gives the pixels an electrostatic charge, enabling them to be manipulated in mid-air by changes to an electric force field, created by tiny electrodes.
Dr Deepak Sahoo, Research Associate in Human-Computer Interaction at the University of Sussex, said: “The most exciting part of our project is that we can now demonstrate that it is possible to have a fully functioning display which is made of a large collection of small objects that are levitating in mid-air.
“JOLED could be like having a floating e-ink display that can also change its shape.”
The paper is the first to demonstrate such a fine level of control over these levitating pixels, moving the technology closer to something that might soon be part of theme parks or galleries.
For example, in the future such a display could be placed in a public park to show to users the complex and changing patterns of carbon footprints of different countries or currency fluctuations in different regions of the world. This could allow the general public to clearly see the multi-dimensional data and interact with it.
Asier Marzo, research associate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bristol, explained: “Traditionally, we think of pixels as tiny colour-changing squares that are embedded into our screens. JOLED breaks that preconception by showing physical pixels that float in mid-air.
“In the future we would like to see complex three-dimensional shapes made of touchable pixels that levitate in front of you.”
Professor Subramanian added: “In the future we plan to explore ways in which we can make the display multi-coloured and with high colour depth, so we can show more vivid colours.
“We also want to examine ways in which such a display could be used to deliver media on-demand. A screen appears in front of the user to show the media and then the objects forming the display fall to the ground when the video finishes playing.”
A team of researchers at the University of Bristol have used ultrasonic forces to accurately pattern thousands of microscopic water-based droplets. Each droplet can be designed to perform a biochemical experiment, which could pave the way for highly efficient lab-on-a-chip devices with future applications in drug discovery and clinical diagnostics.
In a new study published today in Nature Communications, an interdisciplinary team from Bristol’s departments of chemistry, physics and engineering, have shown a non-contact method to pattern chemically encoded aqueous droplets into a two-dimensional array under water.
The method uses ultrasonic forces combined with droplet technology to spontaneously create a highly uniform pattern of low surface tension functional water-based droplets. The arrays can be thought of as a new type of highly parallel platform for performing high-throughput analyses in water for drug discovery, clinical diagnostics and protein crystallization. The ability to perform thousands of microscale experiments simultaneously will lead to more efficient lab-on-a-chip technologies.
Current patterning technologies require oil and water mixtures or exposure on a dry surface to achieve arrays of high surface tension droplets. This means that many water-based biochemical reactions are hard to perform. The new method circumvents these problems by patterning the water-based droplets in a water-filled chamber subjected to an acoustic standing wave.
By controlling the composition of the droplets and engineering the acoustic field, the researchers have produced highly uniform arrays of droplets or droplet aggregates arranged in square lattices. The droplet size, spacing and surface-attachment properties could be dynamically controlled and were reversible. The droplets can also be loaded with proteins, enzymes, DNA, polysaccharides, nucleotides, nanoparticles or microparticles, and used in small-scale chemical reactions.
Bruce Drinkwater, Professor of Ultrasonics and Head of the Ultrasonics and Non-Destructive Testing (UNDT) research group, said: “As the coavervate droplets are formed they are gripped by the ultrasonic forces and patterned. The uniformity of the droplets is amazing. I’m convinced this technology will have many applications in the next generation of lab-on-a-chip applications.”
Professor Stephen Mann, from Bristol Centre for Protolife Research, added: “The acoustic patterning method significantly extends the scope of the current micro-array technologies. We should now be able to develop devices capable of sustaining chemical signals between the droplets as well as enabling spatial and temporal responses to changing conditions in the external environment. This will allow us to exploit the acoustically trapped liquid droplets as a 2D community of spatially organized membrane-free protocells.”
Spontaneous assembly of chemically encoded two-dimensional coacervate droplet arrays by acoustic wave patterning by Liangfei Tian et al in Nature Communications [open access]
Scientists have found evidence of microfibers ingested by deep sea animals, revealing for the first time the environmental fallout of microplastic pollution.
The UK government recently announced that it is to ban plastic microbeads, commonly found in cosmetics and cleaning materials, by the end of 2017. This followed reports by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee about the environmental damage caused microbeads. The Committee found that a single shower can result in 100,000 plastic particles entering the ocean.
Researchers from the universities of Bristol and Oxford, working on the Royal Research Ship (RRS) James Cook in the mid-Atlantic and south-west Indian Ocean , have now found evidence of microbeads inside hermit crabs, squat lobsters and sea cucumbers, at depths of between 300m and 1800m. This is the first time microplastics – which can enter the sea via the washing of clothes made from synthetic fabrics or from fishing line nets – have been shown to have been ingested by animals at such depth.
The results are published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Laura Robinson, Professor of Geochemistry in Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences, said: “This result astonished me and is a real reminder that plastic pollution has truly reached the furthest ends of the Earth.”
Microplastics are generally defined as particles under 5mm in length and include the microfibres analysed in this study and the microbeads used in cosmetics that will be the subject of the forthcoming Government ban.
Among the plastics found inside deep-sea animals in this research were polyester, nylon and acrylic. Microplastics are roughly the same size as ‘marine snow’ – the shower of organic material that falls from upper waters to the deep ocean and which many deep-sea creatures feed on.
Dr Michelle Taylor of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology, and lead author of the study, said: “The main purpose of this research expedition was to collect microplastics from sediments in the deep ocean – and we found lots of them. Given that animals interact with this sediment, such as living on it or eating it, we decided to look inside them to see if there was any evidence of ingestion. What’s particularly alarming is that these microplastics weren’t found in coastal areas but in the deep ocean, thousands of miles away from land-based sources of pollution.”
The animals were collected using a remotely operated underwater vehicle. The study, funded by the European Research Council (ERC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), was a collaboration between The University of Oxford, the University of Bristol, the Natural History Museum in London, and Staffordshire University’s Department of Forensic and Crime Science, which made sure the results were robust and the study was free from potential contamination.
Dr Claire Gwinnett, Associate Professor in Forensic and Crime Science at Staffordshire University, said: “Existing forensic approaches for the examination of fibres are tried and tested for their robustness and must stand up to the scrutiny of the courts of law. These techniques were employed in this research in order to effectively reduce and monitor contamination and therefore provide confidence in the fact that the microplastics found were ingested, and not from the laboratory or other external contaminant.
“Using forensic laboratory techniques, we have identified that microplastics are present in ingested material from deep sea creatures. Forensic science is still a fairly new science, but we are delighted that our work and techniques are starting to inform other sciences and important environmental research such as this.”
In the face of increasing bandwidth demands, ground-breaking research between the University of Bristol and the National Institute of Information and Communication Technology (NICT) in Japan, has demonstrated solutions for network infrastructure to address the looming network capacity crunch.
The joint work between the University’s High Performance Networks Group (HPN), and NICT’s Photonic Network System Laboratory, has investigated the role of space division multiplexing (SDM) technologies to unlock the full potential of optical networking. The research will be presented at the leading European optical communications conference, ECOC 2016, next week [18-22 September].
With the soaring traffic demands of nearly a trillion online Internet of Things (IoT) devices and bandwidth hungry emerging applications, like ultra-high-definition (UHD) and 8K video streaming, cloud storage and processing, the need to increase network capacity is becoming critical.
To address this need, University of Bristol and NICT have worked together to exploit and demonstrate the potential of new types of multicore optical fibres to deliver higher capacity and flexibility in future optical networks.
George Saridis, PhD student and researcher in the HPN Group, said: “By combining state-of-the-art technology and SDM knowledge from NICT together with Bristol’s long experience in optical networking, we were able to conduct ground-breaking research accompanied by numerous network experiments.”
Optical fibre networks and communication systems, mainly based on standard single mode fibre (SSMF) links, currently support most of the intensive global data communication needs.
Cutting-edge optical multicore fibres (MCFs) and similar types of SDM technologies can offer an opportunity to scale up the interconnection capacity, in modern optical networks. By using the space dimension, as well as frequency and time, the academics solutions have the ability to combine multiple streams of frequency/time multiplexed data in the same fibre structure, by either using different cores or/and light modes.
MCFs, comprised of tens of heterogeneous cores, are able to exhibit links of unprecedented capacity, in the range of multiple petabits per second (1 Pbit/sec = 1,000,000 Gbit/sec). There are potentially tremendous network capabilities in the exascale region, the success of which depends on the physical variations of MCFs characteristics and behaviour. SDMs tools and features are to be fully exploited in metro, core and data centre networks.
Dr Naoya Wada, Director General of Network System Research Institute, and Head of the Photonics Network System Laboratory at NICT, commented: “NICT performs research into ultra-high capacity multicore fibre transmission technologies and optical integrated network technologies to meet the increased demand for data services, which are predicted to increase exponentially by 2020. The University of Bristol is the leading research field on flexible network systems and this collaboration will open a new era of ultra-high capacity, fully dynamic, fully flexible optical network systems.”