One tough trio

The Young-In Martial Arts team from Cypress, which competes in taekwondo, won a gold medal at the 2012 U.S. Poomsae Trials in Dallas, an event that wrapped July 4.The winning trio, or team, consisted of Los Alamitos High sophomore Cindy Asano, Cypress High sophomore Sarah Min and Cypress High senior Margaret Kim.The girls trains under Master Hogeun Chung and will compete at the 7th Worlds Taekwondo Poomsae Championships in Columbia this December. They will be joined by Ryan Tucker and Stephany Kim, who both won individual gold medals.

Los Alamitos girl’s water polo defeats Santa Margarita in OT

By Ted ApodacaThe Los Alamitos High girl’s water polo team had to rally late to force overtime against Santa Margarita in the opening round of the CIF-SS playoffs. Then the Griffins scored two late goals to close out the game as they defeated the Eagles, 8-6 in the CIF-SS Division 1 playoffs last week at Ocean View High.Neither team scored in the first three-minute overtime and it took most of the second before the 6-6 tie was broken. With 1:16 left in the second overtime period, Katie Dvonch broke the tie with a lob shot from the left side that went in just inside the right post.On the Eagles’ ensuing possession, they misplayed a pass and Calysa Toledo made the steal and rushed the length of the pool on a breakaway. Toleda pulled up in front of the goalie, and fired a skip shot past her for the 8-6 lead with :53 left in the game. The Griffins were able to make the score stand up.Defense controlled much of the game as the Griffins had just a 2-1 lead by halftime. Los Alamitos trailed 5-4 with 5:01 left in the game after Santa Margarita’s Vicky Ochoa scored on a rebound. The Eagles had a hard shot that was stopped by Griffin goal keeper, Tara Debrabander. However, Ochoa was able to get to the rebound and slide a low shot to the left side for the 5-4 lead.But the Griffins regained the lead on goals by Lily Weiser and Madison Ravelo.Weiser tied the score with a shot from six meters in front, after a Santa Margarita exclusion with 2:36 left in the game.Thirty seconds later, the Griffins made a defensive stop and pushed on a counter attack. Debrabander led Ravelo with a long lead pass that set Ravelo up on the left side of the goal. Ravelo then beat the keeper for the go-ahead shot from the left side.After the long defensive battle, Griffin Coach Dave Carlson said it was the resolve of the girls that got the victory, particularly in the second overtime period.“The girls got themselves fired up, I didn’t really have anything to do with that,” Carlson said. The Griffins offense stumbled in the second round as they fell to Laguna Beach, 10-4, on Saturday at Belmont Plaza Pool. Ravelo had two goals to lead the offense.

Needle-sized imaging probe improves image quality, surgical outcome

The paper, “Development of a fiber-optic probe for optical coherence tomography for intraocular use,” highlights two strengths of the needle-sized probe over other types of surgical instruments.

First, unlike hand-held instruments, the images via probe are generated during surgery to provide real-time information to surgeons. Second, the miniaturized probe can easily scan more of the eye’s interior than microscope-based instruments.

The new technology “demonstrated the precise tissue abnormality objectively during surgery, which means the quality of surgery will become better for the patient,” said author Hiroko Terasaki, MD, PhD, of Nagoya University Graduate School of Medicine.

Future work will involve improving image resolution and further shrinking of the probe to fit into even smaller needles.

An LED-based device for imaging radiation induced skin damage

Researchers at the Beckman Laser Institute (BLI) and Medical Clinic, and the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of California, Irvine are testing a new imaging device developed by start-up, Modulated Imaging Inc. (Irvine, CA). One of these studies is designed to monitor, quantify, and hopefully one day predict skin toxicity levels induced by radiation therapy. Anaïs Leproux, a post-doctoral researcher at BLI and lead author of the paper, will report the work at the OSA Biophotonics Congress: Optics in the Life Sciences meeting, held 2-5 April in San Diego, California, USA.

“We use visible and near-infrared light at very low power and project it onto the breast,” said Leproux. “We are trying to characterize the skin damage during radiation therapy, especially for the treatment of breast cancer.”

Using their new imaging technique, the project is aimed at using precision measurements to characterize skin toxicity of tissue exposed to radiation. By tracking these measurements throughout treatment, Leproux and her team hope to better understand the factors involved in skin damage and, hopefully, how to predict acute and late toxicities.

“The toxicity is basically the skin damage, a side effect from the radiation,” said Leproux. “There are a wide range of side effects that we’re observing; erythema, hyperpigmentation, discoloration, dry or wet desquamation. Necrosis can happen but is less common.”

New biochip-based blood test detects elevated risk for Alzheimer’s disease

“This is the first time that we have used this biochip technology to test for an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Emma C. Harte, PhD, a research scientist at Randox Laboratories. “This type of testing is important in our quest to understand and diagnose Alzheimer’s and empower patients to understand risks, consider medication, and even make early lifestyle changes.”

This test detects the presence of a protein in the blood produced by a specific variation of the apolipoprotein gene (ApoE4), which is associated with increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The apolipoprotein gene is inherited from each parent and when a patient inherits the ApoE4 variant from one parent they have a three times greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, whereas a patient who inherits ApoE4 from both parents is eight-to-12 times more likely to develop the disease.

To verify the accuracy of the biochip test, 384 samples were analyzed and results compared to those from a standard molecular diagnostic test. Researchers from Randox Laboratories collaborated with research colleagues at the Medical University of Vienna and found that results from the two tests were in 100% agreement. As biochip tests allow clinicians and researchers to quickly run multiple tests on one sample of blood, this new test is also faster and more affordable than the standard DNA test, producing results in only three hours. This enables doctors to predict the risk of an individual developing Alzheimer’s disease.

“Pairing this test with medical and family history for risk of Alzheimer’s disease has the real potential to advance personalized medicine,” said Harte. “This fast, accurate testing will allow doctors and patients to make more informed choices earlier to potentially slow the possible progress of Alzheimer’s.”

Laser particles could provide sharper images of tissues

The team synthesized these “laser particles” in the shape of tiny chopsticks, each measuring a small fraction of a human hair’s width. The particles are made from lead iodide perovskite — a material that is also used in solar panels, and that efficiently absorbs and traps light. When the researchers shine a laser beam at the particles, the particles light up, giving off normal, diffuse fluorescent light. But if they tune the incoming laser’s power to a certain “lasing threshold,” the particles will instantly generate laser light.

The researchers, led by MIT graduate student Sangyeon Cho, demonstrated they were able to stimulate the particles to emit laser light, creating images at a resolution six times higher than that of current fluorescence-based microscopes.

“That means that if a fluorescence microscope’s resolution is set at 2 micrometers, our technique can have 300-nanometer resolution — about a sixfold improvement over regular microscopes,” Cho says. “The idea is very simple but very powerful and can be useful in many different imaging applications.”

Cho and his colleagues have published their results in the journal Physical Review Letters. His co-authors include Seok Hyun Yun, a professor at Harvard; Nicola Martino, a research fellow at Harvard and MGH’s Wellman Center for Photomedicine; and Matjaž Humar, a researcher at the Jozef Stefan Institute. The research was done as part of the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology.

New microscope images single, living cells at better resolution and lower light dose

Fluorescence imaging is generally inefficient, as the majority of the light emitted from the biological sample does not get recorded. This means that researchers need to collect more light over a longer time to improve the clarity of the picture. It is not unlike the problem photographers face when they try to take a photo in low light. Usually they have to choose between increasing the amount of light drastically by using a flash — or keeping the shutter open for longer than usual. However, sensitive biological samples, such as individual cells or worm embryos, are highly sensitive to light and can be damaged or even killed by traditional microscopy, which uses strong light for an extended period of time.

Previously, Yicong Wu, Ph.D., Staff Scientist, and Hari Shroff, Ph.D., Chief of the NIBIB High Resolution Optical Imaging team developed new microscopes to reduce the amount of light needed to image biological sample. Now, they’ve added another lens to supplement their earlier dual-view microscope. The new lens images the sample from below, thus capturing even more light emitted from the sample.

Wu and Shroff then collaborated with Patrick La Riviere, Ph.D., of the University of Chicago’s Radiology Department. Riviere’s research focuses on producing algorithms that allow radiologists to use less ionizing radiation in CT scans on humans. Together with Riviere’s team, they were able to design and implement algorithms that merge the three images into one (a process called deconvolution) — creating a sharper, clearer 3D image than previously possible.

Stretchable hologram can switch between multiple images

To make their holograms, Ritesh Agarwal and colleagues turned to metasurfaces, which are flat, ultra-thin nanostructured surfaces. Previous studies have already used such materials to create 3-D and multi-color holograms, and Agarwal’s team has made them recently by embedding gold nanorods in a stretchable film of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS). Building on this work, Agarwal wanted to understand how a holographic image changes with stretching and to see if they could use this information to create a hologram that can switch between images.

Using computational models and experiments, they calculated how much a holographic image expands as the material generating it stretches, and how far the image plane moves away from its original position. Based on these findings, they created multi-layered holograms made up of two or three different images. As the surface stretches, one image appears in the place of another. So, for example, a pentagon appears at 340 micrometers away from the film in its relaxed state. Pulling on the material by a certain amount makes a square appear, and stretching it even further replaces the square image with a triangle. The new method could have applications in virtual reality, flat displays and optical communications.

The authors acknowledge funding from the U.S. Army Research Office and the National Science Foundation.

Watch the hologram change shape in this Headline Science video:

New ceramic nanofiber ‘sponges’ could be used for flexible insulation, water purification

“The basic science question we tried to answer is how can we make a material that’s highly deformable but resistant to high temperature,” said Huajian Gao, a professor in Brown University’s School of Engineering and a corresponding author of the research. “This paper demonstrates that we can do that by tangling ceramic nanofibers into a sponge, and the method we use for doing it is inexpensive and scalable to make these in large quantities.”

The work, a collaboration between Gao’s lab at Brown and the labs of Hui Wu and Xiaoyan Li at Tsinghua University in China, is described in the journal Science Advances.

As anyone who has ever dropped a flower vase knows well, ceramics are brittle materials. Cracks in ceramics tend to propagate quickly, leading to catastrophic failure with even the slightest deformation. While that’s true for all traditional ceramics, things are different at the nanoscale.

“At the nanoscale, cracks and flaws become so small that it takes much more energy to activate them and cause them to propagate,” Gao said. “Nanoscale fibers also promote deformation mechanisms such as what is known as creep, where atoms can diffuse along grain boundaries, enabling the material to deform without breaking.”

Because of those nanoscale dynamics, materials made from ceramic nanofibers have the potential to be deformable and flexible, while maintaining the heat resistance that make ceramics useful in high-temperature applications. The problem is that such materials aren’t easy to make. One often-used method of making nanofibers, known as electrospinning, doesn’t work well with ceramics. Another potential option, 3-D laser printing, is expensive and time-consuming.

Squeezing every drop of fresh water from waste brine

The research, which involves the development of a carbon nanotube-based heating element that will vastly improve the recovery of fresh water during membrane distillation processes, was published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. David Jassby, an assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering in UCR’s Bourns College of Engineering, led the project.

While reverse osmosis is the most common method of removing salt from seawater, wastewater, and brackish water, it is not capable of treating highly concentrated salt solutions. Such solutions, called brines, are generated in massive amounts during reverse osmosis (as waste products) and hydraulic fracturing (as produced water), and must be disposed of properly to avoid environmental damage. In the case of hydraulic fracturing, produced water is often disposed of underground in injection wells, but some studies suggest this practice may result in an increase in local earthquakes.

One way to treat brine is membrane distillation, a thermal desalination technology in which heat drives water vapor across a membrane, allowing further water recovery while the salt stays behind. However, hot brines are highly corrosive, making the heat exchangers and other system elements expensive in traditional membrane distillation systems. Furthermore, because the process relies on the heat capacity of water, single pass recoveries are quite low (less than 10 percent), leading to complicated heat management requirements.

“In an ideal scenario, thermal desalination would allow the recovery of all the water from brine, leaving behind a tiny amount of a solid, crystalline salt that could be used or disposed of,” Jassby said. “Unfortunately, current membrane distillation processes rely on a constant feed of hot brine over the membrane, which limits water recovery across the membrane to about 6 percent.”

To improve on this, the researchers developed a self-heating carbon nanotube-based membrane that only heats the brine at the membrane surface. The new system reduced the heat needed in the process and increased the yield of recovered water to close to 100 percent.

In addition to the significantly improved desalination performance, the team also investigated how the application of alternating currents to the membrane heating element could prevent degradation of the carbon nanotubes in the saline environment. Specifically, a threshold frequency was identified where electrochemical oxidation of the nanotubes was prevented, allowing the nanotube films to be operated for significant lengths of time with no reduction in performance. The insights provided by this work will allow carbon nanotube-based heating elements to be used in other applications where electrochemical stability of the nanotubes is a concern.