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Northwestern University


— Materials

Hybrid polymer shows promise in self-repairing materials, smart drug delivery, and artificial muscles

We live in an age of plastics, but even after a century of progress, most polymers still come in a single, homogenous form with basic properties. Now a team of researchers at Northwestern University under the leadership of materials scientist Samuel Stupp have developed a hybrid polymer that combines soft and hard areas like bones and muscles in animals. According to the team, this breakthrough in nanoengineering opens the door to applications ranging from self-repairing materials to artificial muscles.

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— Health & Wellbeing

Smarter activity tracker knows when you're just pretending to work out

Tricking your fitness tracker into logging a workout when you are in fact just laying on the couch seems like a fairly futile exercise, but there's more to the equation than just fooling yourself. Insurers and health care providers are increasingly relying on tracking data to offer incentives, reduced premiums and keep tabs on clients behavior. This is cause for concern for one team of US researchers, which has developed an activity tracking smartphone app that can better distinguish between real and imitated physical movement.

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— Biology

Fluorescent molecules let neuroscientists peer into the mind of a fruit fly

By modifying genes to light up in one of three fluorescent colors during neural signaling, neuroscientists at Northwestern University have managed to (retrospectively) read the minds of fruit flies up to three hours after an event. This new technique could help in efforts to map the circuits within fruit fly brains, and that in turn might provide insights into the workings of the human brain.

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— Telecommunications

Wi-FM uses local radio stations to improve Internet speeds

Wi-Fi connections are great when they work quickly and efficiently, but when they suddenly slow down inexplicably it can be very frustrating. Surprisingly, this isn't usually caused by a slow connection from your ISP, rather it occurs when two physically close Wi-Fi connections interfere with each other. Now researchers from the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University have come up with a simple way to prevent this – and improve Wi-Fi speeds – by using Frequency Modulation (FM) and a smart time-sharing system that maximizes data throughput.

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— Materials

Hydrophobic nanostructures stay dry for months underwater

By mimicking naturally-occurring nanostructures found in things like water striders, spiders and lotus leaves, scientists have created hydrophobic surfaces that could prove invaluable for everything from pipes to boats and submarines. Now researchers at Northwestern University have deduced the optimal texture roughness required to achieve this property and keep surfaces dry underwater for months at a time.

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— Health & Wellbeing

"Bicycle mechanism" uncovered that is said to drive our brains in and out of sleep

Jet-setters and night owls will have felt the wrath of an off-kilter body clock, by way of the physical impact it can have on immediate well being. A yearning to understand the underlying reasons for this has been the subject of much scientific interest, and has led to some rather strange products like LED light glasses and glowing pillows. But by studying the biological clock of a humble fruit fly, researchers at Northwestern University are claiming to have uncovered the precise mechanisms that bring us in and out of sleep, with their evidence suggesting these switches date back hundreds of millions of years.

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— Environment

Study claims perovskite solar cells can recoup their energy cost within three months

Scientists at Northwestern University and the U.S. Department of Energy have found that perovskite cells, one of the most promising solar technologies of recent years, can repay their energy cost over 10 times faster than traditional silicon-based solar cells. The finding confirms that, once issues related to cell longevity are ironed out, perovskite cells could soon bring us solar energy on the cheap, and do so with less impact on the environment over their lifetime.

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— Health & Wellbeing

Smartphone usage could be analyzed to warn of depression

One of the problems with depression is that because it often forms so gradually, many people don't even realize that they're suffering from it – they just assume that normal life is pretty dreary. With that in mind, researchers from Chicago's Northwestern University have devised a method of analyzing at-risk individuals' smartphone use, to see if they're developing signs of the disorder.

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— 3D Printing

Wonder-ink could soon let you 3D print objects out of stretchy graphene

A new 3D-printing ink being developed at Northwestern University could soon make it possible to build objects which are made of graphene for 60 percent of their volume and 75 percent of their weight. This unprecedentedly high graphene composition means that the oft-praised electric and mechanical properties of graphene might soon find their way into all kinds of macroscopic 3D-printed creations, with important consequences for the electronics and biomedical fields (among many others).

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