25.05.2022 - Photonics & Smart materials

Smart materials are solving humanity’s problems

Smart materials used to be the stuff of science fiction or cinema, but as technology advances, they will play an increasingly important role in people’s lives. Smart solutions in many areas are in the very near future.

Smart materials have great potential to transform the world around us and free people from many of the problems of everyday life. However, smart materials are still very expensive to produce and research has only recently started. It is therefore too early to talk about concrete results. However, this is a promising area for the development of almost any industry that will soon have a major impact on our lives.

For example, synthetic spider webs are not only five times stronger than steel, but also more flexible. Potential applications include making bulletproof clothing, “growing” artificial skin for burn victims or producing waterproof adhesives. The ideal plastic substitute, or shrilk, has been created by researchers at Harvard University. It has a degradation time of just two weeks and also acts as a plant growth stimulant.

Another smart material, graphene, has almost limitless applications: batteries with more autonomy, cheaper photovoltaic solar cells, faster computers, flexible electronic devices, stronger buildings, bionic parts, etc.

Meanwhile, metamaterials with unusual physical properties not found in nature and used in the military, optics, or telephony are produced in the laboratory. A silicone-based polymer, or XPL, which adapts to the dermis like a second skin, has been created by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It mimics new, healthy skin, recreating the human appearance.

Latvian Chips to Grow Organs

Organ-on-a-chip technology was first described more than a decade ago. It is currently used in many European countries, the USA, Canada, Japan, etc. Also in Latvia, at the startup Cellbox Labs. For example, in a current research project, scientists will use cells from a lung cancer patient to create personalized “lung cancers on a chip” and then study an innovative way to treat it and test a new therapy.

“The organs on the chip are plastic chips about the size of a credit card, with micro-channels stacked on top of each other,” explains head of Cellbox Labs Dr. Sc. Ing. Gatis Mozoļevskis.   

The size of these channels is comparable to the diameter of a human hair, and between the channels is a porous membrane that mimics the walls of organs. Cells such as intestinal and vascular cells can be inserted into these plastic channels. Fluid is passed through the ducts to help the cells grow. And when they grow, they form structures similar to those found in human organs. Mozoļevskis stresses that these are not and will not be artificial organs that will be put into humans, just miniature replicas of them.

“Scientists can use replica organs to carry out different kinds of experiments, for example, to test the effects of drugs on cells or therapies. They are test tools for miniature organs that are outside our body,” he explains.

One of the ultimate goals is to connect all the organs together on a chip and create a person-on-a-chip, which will allow the study of the complex effects of drugs on the body. Diseases such as cancer or various digestive diseases can be grown on the chips and see how a particular drug affects a particular person. “You can also create personalized chips by taking cells or stem cells from a specific person. Then therapies can be tested for that specific person. For now, we are studying the effect on human cells,” says the researcher.

At the Deep Tech Atelier conference, Dr. Sc. Ing. Gatis Mozoļevskis, who has been researching organs-on-a-chip since 2019, will talk more about how this technology works, what its applications are, where it can be used now and in the future, and how Latvian technology differs from other types of solutions in the world.   

Smart Bracelets to Make You Feel Safer on Dark Streets

Jewelry has been around for thousands of years, but innovations are also coming to this area that can protect the life and health of, for example, a woman, a child, a senior citizen, or a person with special needs in a dangerous situation. German entrepreneurs have created a smart bracelet that is both a delicate piece of gold or silver jewelry and a device that allows the wearer to quickly trigger an audible or silent signal directly on the wrist to ask for help in an emergency situation, such as being attacked in the street or getting lost.

The bracelet works independently of a smartphone, sending both a GPS signal with the wearer’s location and an alarm to selected contacts, such as family or friends. The first copies of the bracelet are expected to reach customers at the end of May this year.

The idea for the bracelet came about when the Laemon designer wondered how her daughters, then aged four and six, would navigate the unsafe streets of Berlin in their teenage years. The main challenge was to fit GPS and other electronics into a small wristband, so ultra-light and smart materials were used, says Laemon co-founder Vanessa Rexin. 

Screen Will Fix Itself, Tablecloth Will Recognise Products

Several research teams are currently working on polymers that will be able to “cure” scratches caused when a phone falls to the ground. Researchers at the University of California have managed to stretch the material to 50 times its original size, and it will automatically bond within a day of breaking.

And Microsoft is developing Capacitive fabric, which integrates sensors that can distinguish between different objects such as food, utensils or even recognize the liquid in a glass – hot or cold water, cola, or milk. As a result, the tablecloth will be able to offer a recipe for mashed potatoes if, for example, potatoes and cheese are on the table, or alert you if you forget your headphones in a hurry.

For the Fourth Time

The Deep Tech Atelier conference for science-intensive entrepreneurship and innovation took place from 19 to 20 May in Riga at the Hanzas Perons. Free registration was available on the conference website.

Deep Tech Atelier is a conference and workshops that is now in its fourth year in Riga and attracts several hundred participants each year. Deep Tech Atelier is currently the largest event in the Baltics dedicated to the development of science-intensive industries. Each year, the conference, in cooperation with the science commercialization platform Commercialisation Reactor, produces around ten teams of scientists and entrepreneurs, which later should turn into startups.

The Deep Tech Atelier events are implemented under the European Regional Development Fund projects “Innovation Incentive Programme” and “Support for the Improvement of the Technology Transfer System”.

Source: labsoflatvia.com

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