By: Nir Kshetri, University of North Carolina – Greensboro

IOTThe world is full of connected devices – and more are coming. In 2017, there were an estimated 8.4 billion internet-enabled thermostats, cameras, streetlights and other electronics. By 2020 that number could exceed 20 billion, and by 2030 there could be 500 billion or more. Because they’ll all be online all the time, each of those devices – whether a voice-recognition personal assistant or a pay-by-phone parking meter or a temperature sensor deep in an industrial robot – will be vulnerable to a cyberattack and could even be part of one.

Today, many “smart” internet-connected devices are made by large companies with well-known brand names, like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Samsung, which have both the technological systems and the marketing incentive to fix any security problems quickly. But that’s not the case in the increasingly crowded world of smaller internet-enabled devices, like light bulbs, doorbells and even packages shipped by UPS. Those devices – and their digital “brains” – are typically made by unknown companies, many in developing countries, without the funds or ability – or the brand-recognition need – to incorporate strong security features.

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MicroscopeLenses are no longer necessary for some microscopes, according to the engineers developing FlatScope, a thin fluorescent microscope whose abilities promise to surpass those of old-school devices.

A paper in Science Advances describes a wide-field microscope thinner than a credit card, small enough to sit on a fingertip, and capable of micrometer resolution over a volume of several cubic millimeters.

FlatScope eliminates the tradeoff that hinders traditional microscopes in which arrays of lenses can either gather less light from a large field of view or gather more light from a smaller field.

Rice University engineers Ashok Veeraraghavan, Jacob Robinson, Richard Baraniuk, and their labs began developing the device as part of a federal initiative by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency as an implantable, high-resolution neural interface. But the device’s potential is much greater.

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Researchers have created an algorithm that could work alongside an extremely sensitive laser technology that reflects off nearby objects to help self-driving cars see around corners.

Imagine that a driverless car is making its way through a winding neighborhood street, about to make a sharp turn onto a road where a child’s ball is rolling across the street. Although no person in the car can see that ball, the car stops to avoid it.

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Fuel Cell CarUsing advanced computational methods, University of Wisconsin–Madison materials scientists have discovered new materials that could bring widespread commercial use of solid oxide fuel cells closer to reality.

A solid oxide fuel cell is essentially an engine that provides an alternative way to burn fossil fuels or hydrogen to generate power. These fuel cells burn their fuel electrochemically instead of by combustion, and are more efficient than any practical combustion engine.

As an alternative energy technology, solid oxide fuel cells are a versatile, highly efficient power source that could play a vital role in the future of energy. Solid oxide fuel cells could be used in a variety of applications, from serving as a power supply for buildings to increasing fuel efficiency in vehicles.

However, solid oxide fuel cells are more costly than conventional energy technologies, and that has limited their adoption.

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Focus IssueDeadline Extended: March 19, 2018

The “Semiconductor-Based Sensors for Application to Vapors, Chemicals, Biological Species, and Medical Diagnosis” focus issue of the ECS Journal of Solid State Science and Technology aims to cover various active or passive semiconductor devices for gas, chemical, bio and medical detection, with the focus on silicon, GaN, dichalcogenides/oxides, graphene, and other semiconductor materials for electronic or photonic devices.

The scope of contributed articles includes materials preparation, growth, processing, devices, chemistry, physics, theory, and applications for the semiconductor sensors. Different methodologies, principles, designs, models, fabrication techniques, and characterization are all included. Integrated systems combine semiconductor sensors, electric circuit, microfluidic channels, display, and control unit for real applications such as disease diagnostic or environmental monitoring are also welcome.

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By: Srikanth Saripalli, Texas A&M University

What should a self-driving car do when a nearby vehicle is swerving unpredictably back and forth on the road, as if its driver were drunk? What about encountering a vehicle driving the wrong way? Before autonomous cars are on the road, everyone should know how they’ll respond in unexpected situations.

I develop, test and deploy autonomous shuttles, identifying methods to ensure self-driving vehicles are safe and reliable. But there’s no testing track like the country’s actual roads, and no way to test these new machines as thoroughly as modern human-driven cars have been, with trillions of miles driven every year for decades. When self-driving cars do hit the road, they crash in ways both serious and minor. Yet all their decisions are made electronically, so how can people be confident they’re driving safely?

Fortunately, there’s a common, popular and well-studied method to ensure new technologies are safe and effective for public use: The testing system for new medications. The basic approach involves ensuring these systems do what they’re intended to, without any serious negative side effects – even if researchers don’t fully understand how they work.

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NanotechnologyEngineers are developing a new method of processing nanomaterials that could lead to faster and cheaper manufacturing of flexible, thin film devices, such as touch screens and window coatings.

The “intense pulsed light sintering” method uses high-energy light over an area nearly 7,000 times larger than a laser to fuse nanomaterials in seconds.

The existing method of pulsed light fusion uses temperatures of around 250 degrees Celsius (482 degrees Fahrenheit) to fuse silver nanospheres into structures that conduct electricity. But the new study, published in RSC Advances and led by Rutgers School of Engineering doctoral student Michael Dexter, shows that fusion at 150 degrees Celsius (302 degrees Fahrenheit) works well while retaining the conductivity of the fused silver nanomaterials.

The engineers’ achievement started with silver nanomaterials of different shapes: long, thin rods called nanowires in addition to nanospheres. The sharp reduction in temperature needed for fusion makes it possible to use low-cost, temperature-sensitive plastic substrates like polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polycarbonate in flexible devices without damaging them.

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ElectronicsA new process for growing wafer-scale 2D crystals could enable future super-thin electronics.

Since the discovery of the remarkable properties of graphene, scientists have increasingly focused research on the many other two-dimensional materials possible, both those found in nature and those concocted in the lab.

Growing high-quality, crystalline 2D materials at scale, however, has proven a significant challenge.

Researchers led by Joan Redwing, director of the National Science Foundation-sponsored Two-Dimensional Crystal Consortium—Materials Innovation Platform, and professor of materials science and engineering and electrical engineering at Penn State, developed a multistep process to make single crystal, atomically thin films of tungsten diselenide across large-area sapphire substrates.

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Portable biosensor

The portable biosensor can test specific cardiac markers in five minutes with a single drop of blood.
Credit: Yu-Lin Wang

A team of researchers from National Tsing Hua University and National Cheng Kung University, both in Taiwan, has developed a low-cost, portable medical sensor package that has the potential to alert users of medical issues ranging from severe heart conditions to cancer, according to a new study published in the ECS Journal of Solid State Science and Technology.

Portable medical devices have become an integral part of holistic health care, exhibiting huge potential in monitoring, medical therapeutics, diagnosis, and fitness and wellness. When paired with benchtop point-of-care instruments used in hospitals and urgent care centers, individuals are able to both increase preventative care measures and gain a more complete picture of their health.

According to the open access paper, “Field-Effect Transistor-Based Biosensors and a Portable Device for Personal Healthcare” (ECS J. Solid State Sci. Technol., 6, Q71 [2017]), researchers have reported the design, development, fabrication, and prototyping of a low-cost transistor-based device that can measure the C-reactive protein (CRP) in bloodstreams, which, when elevated, indicates inflammation that could be linked to heart attack, stroke, coronary artery disease, and a host of other medical diagnosis.

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Scientists who introduced laser-induced graphene (LIG) enhanced their technique to produce what may become a new class of edible electronics.

The chemists, who once turned Girl Scout cookies into graphene, are investigating ways to write graphene patterns onto food and other materials to quickly embed conductive identification tags and sensors into the products themselves.

“This is not ink,” says James Tour, chair of chemistry and professor of computer science and of materials science and nanoengineering at Rice University. “This is taking the material itself and converting it into graphene.”

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