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Researchers Develop Topological Insulators That Could One Day Allow Efficient Light-Based Computing

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Photonic materials are the ones that emit, detect or manipulate light. These materials play a crucial role in various sectors such as telecommunications, data processing and storage, and solar cells. Because of their vast usage, there is a continuous need to make them efficient. Researchers, at the University of Central Florida (UCF), are developing new photonic materials that could one day enable ultra-fast, light-based computing. Known as topological insulators, the unique materials are like wires that have been turned inside out, meaning they carry the current on the outside while the interiors are insulated.

The researchers believe topological insulators hold importance as they could be used in circuit designs with more processing power without generating heat. This would remove a big problem in today’s devices — overheating.

The UCF researchers have published their findings in the journal Nature Materials. In the study, they have detailed a new approach to create the materials, using the chained, honeycomb lattice design.

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Researchers have said the new photonic materials they developed overcome drawbacks of contemporary topological designs, offering more features and control. It also minimises power losses. They have confirmed their findings using advanced imaging techniques and numerical simulations.

The group hopes that their design will lead to a departure from traditional modulation techniques, bringing light-based computing one step closer to reality.

“Bimorphic topological insulators introduce a new paradigm shift in the design of photonic circuitry by enabling secure transport of light packets with minimal losses,” UCF’s postdoctoral researcher and the study’s lead author Georgios Pyrialakos said in a statement.

Researchers added that topological insulators could allow the use of faster photonic computers that use less energy and could also one day lead to quantum computing, thus allowing processing power hundreds of millions of times faster than today’s computers.

The development of new photonic materials plays a vital role in the growth of information technology in the 21st century.


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3D-Printed Food Developed by Researchers, Could Help People Eat Alternative Protein Sources

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Future food supply concerns were the focus of a team of Singaporean academics, who eventually chose to generate them using 3D printing. The need for foods high in protein is anticipated to grow as the world’s population ages and expands, raising concerns over rising greenhouse gas emissions, and increased water and land use associated with conventional methods of raising animals for food. People have already started using alternate sources of proteins from plants, algae, and insects in several regions of Africa, Asia, and South America to produce nutrient-dense, sustainable food.

However, some people might find it strange to eat things like algae and bugs. To make eating insects a little more appealing, the research team developed a novel method. To modify the flavour, they opted to blend the crickets or larvae with more widely consumed veggies like carrots.

In order to effectively include alternative proteins in food inks, researchers from Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH), and the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China (UESTC) worked together on this project. By limiting the number of experimental runs, the study team minimised time and resources while optimising protein inks.

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Professor Chua Chee Kai, the co-author from SUTD, said that for many people, the look and flavour of such alternative proteins might be unsettling. Kai added that 3D food printing can change how food is presented and go beyond consumer inhibitions.

For instance, to provide a more recognisable flavour, typical foods like carrots can be combined with alternative proteins like crickets. A 3D food printer can then extrude this blend of carrots and bugs to produce a dish that is both aesthetically pleasing and delicious.

The study was published in Food Hydrocolloids.

The team of researchers optimised the protein ink compositions with three variables—carrot powder, proteins, and xanthan gum—using the central composite design approach. In addition to flavour, nutrients, and colour, carrot powder assisted in giving the inks it was used to create mechanical strength.

They also experimented with different proteins like sericin, soy, spirulina, crickets, and black soldier fly larvae. Experimentally developed inks were tested for 3D printability and syneresis, with optimised inks obtaining the highest printability and the lowest syneresis.

Alternative proteins may eventually replace animal proteins as the primary source of protein consumed by humans, according to Prof Yi Zhang, the principal investigator from UESTC. This study suggests an organised engineering strategy for improving food inks, making it simple to create and customise aesthetically beautiful, flavourful, and nutritionally adequate food boosted with non-traditional proteins.


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NASA’s Curiosity Rover Completes 10 Years of Exploring Mars — Here’s What It Has Found So Far

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It’s been more than 10 years since the US space agency NASA’s Curiosity rover landed on Mars in search of ancient signs of life on the planet. Curiosity is part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission and is the biggest and the most capable rover ever sent to the Red Planet. Having launched on November 26, 2011, and making its descent on the Martian surface on August 5, 2012, Curiosity has so far covered 29 kilometres and ascended 625 metres on the Gale crater, where it landed. During its expedition so far, Curiosity has used its host of instruments and tools to examine if Mars ever had the right environmental conditions to support small life forms such as microbes.

Digging for evidence, the rover analysed 41 rock and soil samples on the planet in the past years. It scanned the skies of the Red Planet and sent intriguing pictures of shining clouds and drifting moons. With its radiation sensors, Curiosity has been capable of measuring the amount of radiation astronauts in future missions would be exposed to on Mars.

In its most significant finding, the rover concluded that the Gale crater had liquid water as well as the chemical building blocks and nutrients required for sustaining life at least tens of millions of years ago. It also determined that the crater had a lake and whose size waxed and waned over time. It explored the foothills of Mount Sharp in the crater where each layer offers signs on more recent era of the Red Planet’s environment.

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Watch this video to know more as Curiosity turns 10:

“We’re seeing evidence of dramatic changes in the ancient Martian climate. The question now is whether the habitable conditions that Curiosity has found up to now persisted through these changes. Did they disappear, never to return, or did they come and go over millions of years?” said Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity’s project scientist at NASA‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

Considering its abilities and efficiency, NASA recently extended Curiosity’s mission for three more years. Now, the rover is passing through a canyon, a new region that is thought to have formed after the water dried up and left salty minerals called sulfates. Scientists plan to explore this sulfate-rich region for the next few years and target particular sites like the Gediz Vallis channel for their study.


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Dwarf Galaxies of Earth’s Second Closest Galaxy Cluster Devoid of Dark Matter Halos

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When you ask an astronomer about dark matter, they will always mention about how the cosmos is filled with this enigmatic, unseen stuff. It is specifically found in the halos that encircle the majority of galaxies. The galaxy itself, as well as other galaxies nearby, are strongly gravitationally influenced by the mass of the halo. That has been the accepted theory on dark matter and how it affects galaxies. The concept of such halos is not without flaws, though. Evidently, there are certain weirdly shaped dwarf galaxies that appear to lack halos.

How is that feasible, then? Do they present a challenge to the observed dark matter halo hypotheses that are currently held?

Galaxies are shielded by dark matter halos or shells from the gravitational pull of their close galactic neighbours according to the so-called “standard model” of cosmology. This view is now being challenged in a study led by the University of Bonn and the University of Saint Andrews (Scotland).

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The results suggest that these dark matter halos are absent from the dwarf galaxies in the Fornax Cluster, the second closest galaxy cluster to Earth. The findings were published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Elena Asencio, a PhD candidate at the University of Bonn and the principal author of the study, said, “We introduce an innovative way of testing the standard model based on how much dwarf galaxies are disturbed by gravitational tides’ from nearby larger galaxies.”

Small, faint galaxies known as dwarfs are generally located in or close proximity to larger galaxies or galaxy clusters. They might therefore be affected by the gravitational effects of their larger neighbours. Recent research reveals that some of these dwarfs have distorted appearances, as though the cluster environment has disturbed them.

The Standard Model does not predict “such perturbations in the Fornax dwarfs,” said Pavel Kroupa, Professor at the University of Bonn and Charles University in Prague, and added that it’s because dark matter halos of these dwarfs should partially protect them from tides brought on by the cluster, according to the Standard Model.

Based on internal characteristics and distance from the gravitationally strong cluster centre, the authors calculated the expected level of disturbance of the dwarfs.

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According to Asencio, the comparison revealed “if one wants to explain the observations in the standard model, the Fornax dwarfs should already be destroyed by gravity from the cluster centre even when the tides it raises on a dwarf are 64 times weaker than the dwarf’s own self-gravity.”

This goes against the findings of earlier research that the amount of force required to perturb a dwarf galaxy is roughly equal to the dwarf’s own gravity.

The authors deduced from this that the observed morphologies of the Fornax dwarfs cannot be self-consistently explained by the mainstream paradigm. Dr Hongsheng Zhao from the University of St Andrews said that their findings have significant ramifications for fundamental physics, and that they expect to find additional perturbed dwarfs in other clusters.


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