Technology Tuesday: September 26

Welcome to Technology Tuesday! Every week The Job Shop Blog will bring you our 5 top science and technology news stories from around the web.

This week: Using CRISPR to target antibiotic resistant diseases, insect like hive machines that can assemble anything, the world’s first ever quantum video call, computer chips that could surpass the human brain, and a startup that claims to have found the key to stabilizing nuclear fusion.


A NEW DRUG USES CRISPR TO FIGHT ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANT BACTERIA

The rise of antibiotic-resistant diseases has prompted the development of more powerful drugs. More powerful drugs come with the potential for more powerful side effects or risks — as do current antibiotics.

The antibiotics we use today don’t specifically target the harmful bacteria plaguing our bodies when we’re ill. Instead, they attack both the good and bad bacteria. As this mechanism is uncontrolled, it has contributed to the increased development of infectious diseases that are immune to the treatments we have at present. Those drug-resistant infections and their sequelae are expected to kill over 10 million people by 2050 if left unchecked

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HIVE OF INSECT LIKE MACHINES CAN ASSEMBLE VIRTUALLY ANYTHING

Silicon Valley’s SRI International has developed what may be the most amazing microbot army ever: the MicroFactory. This robotic hive of insect-like machines was designed to build almost any kind of structure. In fact, the 3D printer of the future might not be a printer at all; it might instead be a swarm of tiny robots that build tough, complex structures cooperatively.

The MicroFactory’s foundation is a magnetic field generated by a circuit board. A software program manipulates the field in order to move the miniature robots, which are themselves magnets. Being part of a collective, every robot has a specialized task, which it undertakes with its “end effector,” a tool it can use to manipulate the world around it. What that end effector does depends on the job of the robot.

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SCIENTISTS HAVE CONDUCTED THE FIRST EVER QUANTUM VIDEO CALL

On September 29, a video call took place between Beijing, the capital of China, and Vienna, the capital of Austria. This wasn’t any ordinary call, however: it was the first live demonstration of a call powered and securely encrypted using quantum technology. It marks a huge breakthrough in the realm of quantum communications, and shows the potential impact the technology could have on how information is transmitted and secured.

The quantum video call is the result of a collaboration between researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and the University of Vienna. The call was encrypted by sending information embedded in particles of light (photons) generated by the Micius satellite. Micius was launched last year and successfully used quantum cryptography to send data to Earth back in August.

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“HOLY GRAIL” OF MICROCHIPS COULD SURPASS THE POWER OF THE HUMAN BRAIN

Scientists at the University of Exeter have made a landmark breakthrough in the quest for the “holy grail” of computing: human-brain-mimicking microchips able to store and process information on par with homo sapiens, according to a new Science Advances release.

The research team at Exeter developed photonic computer chips that use light instead of electricity to simulate the operation of brain synapses. More researchers from other Universities — including Oxford and Münster — combined phase-change materials found in ordinary household things like re-writable optical discs with custom-made integrated photonic circuits to create an iso-biological synaptic response.

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A STARTUP THINKS IT HAS DISCOVERED THE SECRET TO STABILIZING FUSION

Solar energy is revolutionizing how we power houses, cities, and even cars. The energy we get from the Sun, however, is just a tiny fraction of what actually powers the solar system’s star. Enter nuclear fusion, which for the longest time now, has been rather difficult to stabilize. A nuclear fusion startup based in New Jersey called LPP Fusion thinks we might have been going about this process the wrong way, and they suggest a different approach.

To harness nuclear fusion energy, one needs to stabilize the reaction, which in itself is already difficult to produce. Fusion relies on hot plasma, which requires huge amounts of pressure and very high temperatures. On method scientists have devised is called “magnetic confinement” — where hot plasma is contained using magnetic fields.


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