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This week we report on an exciting new technology to repair wounds, a device that makes energy from your sweat, and designing a less-stressful airport—couldn’t we all use that?

Seeing through walls with Wi-Fi

Superman has used his superhuman abilities to fight crime since 1938. He could lift cars over his head, outrun speeding bullets, fly through the air, and even see through solid objects using his x-ray vision. But today, you don’t have to be a superhero to see through walls. Researchers at UC Santa Barbara have found a way to do it using a pair of Wi-Fi transceivers.

X-ray ID. A new method makes it possible to determine if the person behind a wall is the same person that appears in a video footage, by using only a pair of off-the-shelf Wi-Fi transceivers. Courtesy Mostofi Lab.

Professor Yasamin Mostofi and her team are using a video-Wi-Fi cross-modal person identification system called XModal-ID to determine whether a person behind a wall is the same as one who appears in a piece of video footage. An algorithm extracts the gait features of the person in the video and that information is then used to simulate the radio frequency signal the walking person would generate.

In the experiment, researchers placed a Wi-Fi transmitter and receiver behind a wall. A test subject walks on the other side of the wall. The transmitter sends a signal which is measured by the receiver and compared to the signal generated by the walker in the video.

A match confirmed between the two images could be helpful to law enforcement—for example, to determine if an individual inside a building is the same person who appears in the video recording of a robbery.

Making airports user friendly

Navigating a busy and unfamiliar airport can be a challenge. If you have a disability, the experience can range from stressful to nearly impossible. That’s why researchers at Cranfield University are using immersive technology to make airports more accessible to people with  unseen disabilities or who have other mobility needs.

<strong>Stress-free navigation.</strong> Immersive technology will help researchers test different layouts to find the optimum configuration for navigating a virtual airport, which could particularly benefit people with disabilities. Dr. Thomas Budd and his team have designed a virtual airport to help improve wayfinding and navigation for these populations. With immersive technology, the researchers can experiment with different design layouts, ambient conditions, and levels of activity. The technology is safe for users, and time and cost efficient.

Because the test airport is virtual it can be reconfigured to represent different layouts, traffic flows, and noise and activity levels that a passenger might encounter in their travels. You can try it out for yourself here.

Wound repair with nanomaterials

Researchers at Arizona State University have developed a tissue bonding method that exploits the restorative capabilities of nanomaterials. Professor Kaushal Rege and his collaborators have discovered a way to combine silk and gold to make an effective tissue sealant.

<strong>Heating silk and gold nanorods</strong> causes a structural change that interlaces silk and the collagen in skin to form a bioactive seal that could help safely heal wounds—inside and out. Courtesy Nora Skrodenis/ASU.Rege’s team in his Molecular and Nanoscale Bioengineering Lab applies laser light to silk and tiny gold nanorods. The laser causes the electrons in the gold to oscillate and get warmer. The result is a change in the material properties of the silk and of collagen, the main structural protein in skin and connective tissue. When the heat dissipates, the silk and tissue molecules interlace to form a bioactive seal.

Rege says that the method works on skin, but the researchers are still testing its efficacy on the tissues of internal organs. The material must also be proven to be non-toxic and biodegradable. The team thinks that laser-sealing may also be effective for preventing infections at the site of surgical incisions, including deadly antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, commonly known as MRSA.

Why are we so fat?

Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975, according to the World Health Organization. While views differ on the cause of this pandemic, many nutrition scientists blame the overconsumption of fats and carbohydrates. Now, new research suggests something different.

<strong>It’s not the calories.</strong> A new study links the consumption of over-processed foods to overeating and obesity. Kevin Hall, nutrition researcher at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, has gathered evidence linking the consumption of ultra-processed food to obesity. In 2018, Hall assigned 20 adult volunteers to eat either ultra-processed or unprocessed diets for two weeks. Each person in the study then switched to the alternate diet for two more weeks.

The result of this study? Subjects on the ultra-processed diet ate about 500 more calories every day than they did when eating the unprocessed diet. The increase caused them to gain about two pounds in two weeks. 

Hall says that while this demonstrates that overeating is associated with ultra-processed food, more study is needed to understand why. The cause could be additives, or artificial flavoring, or deficiencies in micronutrients. He does think that there is sufficient evidence to warrant a change in the way the food industry designs its products.

Sweat equity

<strong>A wearable biofuel cell</strong> applied to the arm powers a diode attached to the black armband on the forearm. Courtesy Xiaohong Chen, Département de chimie moléculaire (CNRS/Université Grenoble Alpes).Wearable electronic devices like the Apple Watch are growing in popularity. In 2017, there were 526 million connected devices worldwide and that number continues to rise. Devices for medical and athletic monitoring require reliable and efficient energy sources. For that, developers are beginning to harness the power of biofuels present in the human body.

French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) scientists at l’Université Grenoble Alpes along with researchers from the University of California San Diego (UCSD) have developed a flexible device worn against the skin that produces electrical energy by using the compounds present in sweat.

The conductive material consists of carbon nanotubes, crosslinked polymers, and enzymes joined by stretchable connectors screen-printed directly onto the material. The biofuel cell  produces electrical energy via the reduction of oxygen and the oxidation of the lactate present in perspiration. The biofuel cell is inexpensive to produce, and the researchers’ next step is to amplify the voltage in order to power larger devices.

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