TTI/Vanguard: All the light you can (or cannot) see. Sept 25, 2020 Newsletter

Note from Lisa Yao: Our parent company, Euromoney Institutional Investor, announced a reorganization last week, which resulted in the loss of 240 jobs across the company. It is the largest workforce reduction the company has ever experienced. Unfortunately, two of the people impacted are our teammates. Claudia Miklas has been the heart and soul of TTI/Vanguard for 14 years. Our community will miss her optimism, her friendship, and her love of life. Joy Boston brought her own love of technology and her immense sense of wonder and adventure to our world. @teslajoy also gave us a front row seat to her Twitter trajectory and we cannot wait to see more. We wish Claudia and Joy well in their next steps, and we intend to see them, both in-person and virtually, at future events. We’ll stay in touch and encourage each of you to do the same:

Joy Boston
Claudia Miklas

One week remains in our fall conference, The Game Has Changed: 2020. Join us on Tuesday, Sep 29 for the final installment, with talks related to environmental economics, the progress of the pandemic, and statistical literacy composing the coming-week’s agenda. If you have yet to do so, register here. The Highlights summary, videos, and presentations from this past Tuesday’s edition will be available in the TTI/Vanguard archive today.

Looking toward the future—specifically, toward 2020’s edition of [next]—strap yourself in and get ready for a wild ride. Here’s a taste of what’s coming: Computer scientist, futurist, and serial entrepreneur Jerry Kaplan will speak on the future of work; Stanford bioengineering professor Manu Prakash will teach us about fluidics-based computation; also hailing from Stanford, material scientist Nick Melosh will bring us up to speed on delivery mechanisms for immuno anti-cancer therapies; IBM’s Jeanette Garcia will provide an update on the chemistry of quantum computing (that entanglement is rooted in physical materials, after all); and Stanford’s director of the Open Virtual Assistant Lab, Monica Lam, will explain how privacy-preserving Almond seeks to reduce Big Tech’s control of the Internet. Note that this is the lineup for just the first Tuesday (Nov 10) of the four-installment [next] conference. Registration is open. And, leading into this blockbuster event is a virtual field trip to the New Jersey Institute of Technology, hosted by friend of TTI/V David Bader.

This week marks the start of fall in the Northern Hemisphere, with daylight continuing to wane until it starts regaining ground in late December. To uplift the spirit in this increasingly dim season, most of the items we’ll feature in this edition of the newsletter involve light (disclaimer: not all of it is light reading, err, good news):

Typically, photocells are single-wavelength detectors, requiring the coordinated use of an entire suite of them to generate a polychromatic image. Due to their composite nature, such devices are large compared to other on-chip devices. Researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne have developed a hyper-efficient, broadband (IR through UV) photodetector of subnanometer thickness made of low-cost tin monosulfide (SnS). Potential applications include optical communication, biomedical imaging, low-light imaging, and more. (Michael McAlpine Washington, D.C., Sep 2018)

As summer light starts to dim and days grow cooler, mosquitos actually hibernate. Which is almost a shame because Microsoft’s Premonition program is doing something fascinating with those buzzy buggers. Namely, collecting them, grinding them up and then using their finding to predict virus and biological threats. And here we thought mosquitos weren’t good for anything!

Carnegie Mellon researchers have invented a new paradigm in optical technology that they dub Parylene photonics that they believe is destined to become a standard in optical biointerfaces. Given that silicon-based imagers are too rigid for all but the coarsest in-body imaging, this new optical waveguide is constructed by fabricating low refractive index silicon around a high refractive index Parylene C core. The differential refractive index ensures efficient piping of light, while the pliability of both materials makes resultant devices thin (10 microns), fully flexible, and biocompatible. Early applications include imaging tasks associated with neural probes. (Canan Dagdeviren, Washington, D.C., Sep 2018; Rajesh Rao, San Francisco, Dec 2014; Miguel Nicolelis, San Jose, Feb 2012)

A new technique for 3-D printing soft materials from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) suggests the development of precise, tiny, biocompatible medical devices for targeted drug delivery and other uses. 3-D printing of a gel begins with a soup of long-chain polymers and cross-linking catalysts dissolved in water; a web-like structure results by shining UV or visible light to selectively initiate cross-linking. The innovation here is the use of high-energy radiation (X-rays or electron beams) in the activation process, which allows for orders-of-magnitude greater spatial sensitivity due to the short-wavelengths involved, even in the absence of a cross-linking agent. This article describes the process, including the use of a thin silicon nitride barrier to overcome the tendency for water to evaporate from the gel during the printing process. (Duncan Wass, Brooklyn, Jul 2016; Julia Greer, San Francisco, Dec 2015; Seok-Hyun (Andy) Yun, San Francisco, Dec 2015)

Researchers at the Dresden University of Technology (TU Dresden) are reporting significant advances in flexible printed electronics that should be suitable for roll-up displays and foldable smartphones. This new class of organic transistor overcomes the characteristic slowness of prior devices by building up in the vertical dimension, thereby opening the door to higher frequency operation and incorporation into complex logic circuits, even while being energy miserly. (Emily De Rotstein, Phoenix, Dec 2003)

We’re not reading any deep meaning into this—and neither should you—but an alignment of astronomy and mathematics has led to the discovery of an Earth-sized exoplanet with a perfect pi-length orbit about its star (to two decimal places, anyway: 3.14 days). But shouldn’t it take 2π  to make a full circle? In any case, with an orbit that brief, any lifeform on it would surely get dizzy, so it’s a good thing that the planet is likely much too hot to support life, being so close to its star. 

How beautifully leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days. - John Burroughs