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Stem cell breakthrough: Japanese scientists discover way to create 'embryonic-like' cells without the ethical dilemma

Experts say the ground-breaking discovery could pave way for routine use of stem cells in medicine

Steve Connor



Scientists have created embryonic-like stem cells by simply bathing ordinary skin or blood cells in a weak acid solution for half an hour in an astonishing breakthrough that could allow doctors in the future to repair diseased tissue with a patients own cells.


Researchers at the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology in Japan have announced the breakthrough in the journal Nature and it has been welcomed in Britain as an important step towards using stem cells routinely in medicine without the ethical or practical problems of creating human embryos or genetically modified cells.


Although the research was carried out on laboratory mice, scientists believe that the same approach should also work on human cells. It radically changes the way pluripotent stem cells which can develop into any of the specialised tissues of the body can be created from a patients own cells as part of a self-repair kit.




Two studies in Nature have shown that there is now a third way of producing pluripotent stem cells, other than creating embryos or inducing the changes by introducing new genes into a cell. The third way is by far the simplest of the three approaches, scientists said.

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Surgical 3D printing BioPen writes in bone, nerve and muscle
Colin Druce-McFadden
Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Scientists at the University of Wollongong (that's a real place) in Australia have developed a device that replaces traditional surgery with something more akin to an art project. The BioPen is a handheld 3D printer that can actually print bone directly onto patients during surgery. Soon, surgeons will simply be able to doodle their patients back to health.


The BioPen uses a stem cell ink which can be coaxed into differentiating into muscle, bone, or nerve cells. A seaweed-based growth culture encourages the cells to thrive in their new environment while a second polymer, cured by the use of a UV light, provides a protective shell during the healing process. The complex and adaptive bio-ink can even be further augmented to include growth hormone and other substances that would encourage rapid recovery.







More Here





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About Knewton

Personalized learning for all.
Knewton envisions a world where all students can reach their full potential.

Knewton is an education technology company that personalizes digital courses so every student is engaged and no one slips through the cracks.

As students progress through a Knewton-powered course, Knewton figures out what each student knows and how that student learns best, then recommends what to study next. Teachers use Knewton-powered predictive analytics to detect gaps in knowledge and differentiate instruction for each student.

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Better nanoswitches by integrating double and triple strand DNA


The road from simple nanomaterials and nanodevices to atomically precise manufacturing will involve integrating these simple components into ever more complex and capable systems. The early stages of such integration will also advance current and near-future nanotechnology across multiple application areas, as will be explored in the the Integration Conference, February 7-9, 2014, in Palo Alto, California. A hat tip to Nanotechnology Now for news of this advance from researchers in Rome, Santa Barbara, and Montreal that integrates two basic interactions that have been exploited in DNA nanotechnology—Watson–Crick base pairing and triplex-forming Hoogsteen interactions—to form more sensitive and accurate nanoswitches. From a Université de Montréal press release “DNA clamp to grab cancer before it develops


As part of an international research project, a team of researchers has developed a DNA clamp that can detect mutations at the DNA level with greater efficiency than methods currently in use. Their work could facilitate rapid screening of those diseases that have a genetic basis, such as cancer, and provide new tools for more advanced nanotechnology. The results of this research is published this month in the journal ACS Nano [abstract].


Toward a new generation of screening tests



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Lab Life: Growing the Future

Scientists at MIT have created a new type of life, blending microscopic, nonorganic gold particles and so-called “quantum dots” with living cells for the first time. The researchers, whose work was published in the journal Nature Materials, engineered cellular circuits capable of, among other things, “[creating] an environmentally responsive biofilm-based electrical switch.” Sounds like science fiction gobbledygook, but it’s real. Quartz has more:




Biomimicry has guided many technological advances, if only because nature is such a ruthless innovator. But combining the organic with the non-living takes technological progress to a whole new level. This is the first step toward creating “smart cells,” and these new materials could be used in more efficient solar panels, better batteries, or stronger, self-repairing adhesives.


Eventually, we could even replace factories by growing increasingly complicated products as crops. These “factory fields” would cut out the inefficient conversion of sunlight into electricity (through photovoltaic panels, wind turbines, or the like), which is then used in a separate manufacturing process. The applications for increasingly sophisticated biotech are as varied as they are game-changing, and we’d be better off diverting more money toward their development, and away from the subsidization of current-generation technologies.

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Tiny Nano-Gears Could Power Your Portable Electronics

In a study of “some of the smallest moving elements ever observed,” researchers at Georgia Tech and the University of Toledo have confirmed the existence of synchronized, molecular “gears” in a self-assembling material. Like an array of micro machines, the gears rotate together when pressure is applied to the material, then resume their original position when pressure is released.


Since the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and Department of Energy both funded the molecular gear study, let’s see how that material could play into a new energy future of portable, microscale energy harvesting and storage devices.



Rotating nanoscale gears (cropped) courtesy of Uzi Landman.



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How Japan Plans to Build an Orbital Solar Farm
JAXA wants to make the sci-fi idea of space-based solar power a reality
Susumu Sasaki
24 Apr 2014

Illustration: John MacNeill Here Comes the Sun: Mirrors in orbit would reflect sunlight onto huge solar panels, and the resulting power would be beamed down to Earth.

Imagine looking out over Tokyo Bay from high above and seeing a man-made island in the harbor, 3 kilometers long. A massive net is stretched over the island and studded with 5 billion tiny rectifying antennas, which convert microwave energy into DC electricity. Also on the island is a substation that sends that electricity coursing through a submarine cable to Tokyo, to help keep the factories of the Keihin industrial zone humming and the neon lights of Shibuya shining bright.

But you can’t even see the most interesting part. Several giant solar collectors in geosynchronous orbit are beaming microwaves down to the island from 36 000 km above Earth.

It’s been the subject of many previous studies and the stuff of sci-fi for decades, but space-based solar power could at last become a reality—and within 25 years, according to a proposal from researchers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The agency, which leads the world in research on space-based solar power systems, now has a technology road map that suggests a series of ground and orbital demonstrations leading to the development in the 2030s of a 1-gigawatt commercial system—about the same output as a typical nuclear power plant.

It’s an ambitious plan, to be sure. But a combination of technical and social factors is giving it currency, especially in Japan. On the technical front, recent advances in wireless power transmission allow moving antennas to coordinate in order to send a precise beam across vast distances. At the same time, heightened public concerns about the climatic effects of greenhouse gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels are prompting a look at alternatives. Renewable energy technologies to harvest the sun and the wind are constantly improving, but large-scale solar and wind farms occupy huge swaths of land, and they provide only intermittent power. Space-based solar collectors in geosynchronous orbit, on the other hand, could generate power nearly 24 hours a day. Japan has a particular interest in finding a practical clean energy source: The accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant prompted an exhaustive and systematic search for alternatives, yet Japan lacks both fossil fuel resources and empty land suitable for renewable power installations.


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The 3-D revolution will blow you away
Sally Kohn, CNN Political Commentator
April 30, 2014

(CNN) -- A company in China reportedly used giant 3-D printers to make 10 houses in one day. This leads to two obvious questions.


First, how big were those printers? The answer is: 10 meters wide by 6.6 meters high. A mixture of cement and construction waste were sprayed to build the walls layer by layer.


And second, if 3-D printers could be used to create a neighborhood of full-sized, detached single family homes in less time and money than it would conventionally take, could 3-D printers help end homelessness?


I'm not Pollyanna-ish when it comes to ending poverty. Many of the world's problems stem from decades of government policies that fostered inequality and neglect, dynamics that cannot be easily fixed by one solution.




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Book Review: 'A Troublesome Inheritance' by Nicholas Wade

A scientific revolution is under-way upending one of our reigning orthodoxies.

Charles Murray

May 2, 2014


America's modern struggle with race has proceeded on three fronts. The legal battle effectively ended a half-century ago with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The second front, the battle against private prejudice, has not been won so decisively, but the experiences of Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling in the past few weeks confirm a longstanding truth about American society: Expressions of racial prejudice by public figures are punished swiftly and severely.


The third front is different in kind. This campaign is waged not against actual violations of civil rights or expressions of prejudice or hatred, but against the idea that biological differences among human populations are a legitimate subject of scholarly study. The reigning intellectual orthodoxy is that race is a "social construct," a cultural artifact without biological merit.


The orthodoxy's equivalent of the Nicene Creed has two scientific tenets. The first, promulgated by geneticist Richard Lewontin in "The Apportionment of Human Diversity" (1972), is that the races are so close to genetically identical that "racial classification is now seen to be of virtually no genetic or taxonomic significance." The second, popularized by the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, is that human evolution in everything but cosmetic differences stopped before humans left Africa, meaning that "human equality is a contingent fact of history," as he put it in an essay of that title in 1984.




The title gives fair warning: "A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History." At the heart of the book, stated quietly but with command of the technical literature, is a bombshell. It is now known with a high level of scientific confidence that both tenets of the orthodoxy are wrong.



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The fourth revolution: The global race to reinvent the state
May 20 2014

Has political dysfunction weakened America to the point where all it can hope for is a passably managed decline? Is Europe’s decay inevitable? Will Chinese technocrats lord over all of humanity by the year 2039?

In “The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State,” John Micklethwait, editor-in-chief of The Economist, and Adrian Wooldridge, managing editor of The Economist, answer these questions in an insightful and thought-provoking way. During this book forum, the authors will explain why — after three revolutions have created the nation state, liberal state, and welfare state — the time is ripe for the completion of the fourth revolution, which will finally create the smaller, more focused, and more efficient government envisioned by Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher.

Michael R. Strain, AEI

John Micklethwait, The Economist
Adrian Wooldridge, The Economist

Stan Veuger, AEI

Forward to 6:50
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Banter #153: Newt Gingrich


With Stu out on dental leave, AEI research assistant Andrew Quinn steps in as Janines co-host. Were joined by Newt Gingrich, Former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and prolific author and speaker. We discussed his newest book, Breakout, which details how innovation, technology, science, and Millennials can change America for the better.

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Uber Upstarts: Technological Progress and Its Discontents

The battle between new smartphone-enabled 'transportation network companies' and legacy taxicabs largely mirrors the age-old war over productivity, a war that only ever has one outcome.

Michael M. Rosen
Friday, July 18, 2014


“You working the whole day?” I asked my UberX driver en route to San Francisco International Airport, trying to make small talk. “Well, I’m driving for a few hours,” he responded, “but then I’m meeting my direct reports to polish off some time-sensitive projects.”


In my experience riding in the cars-for-hire of transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar, my driver’s moonlighting — in this case, daylighting — has been typical. My drivers over the past six months have included men and women pursuing their own careers as consultants, software engineers, students, and used-car salesmen, yet exploiting the flexibility of app-powered opportunities to earn extra cash on the side.


If not quite the hunt-in-the-morning-fish-in-the-afternoon-criticize-after-dinner idyll set forth by Marx more than a century ago, the Uber-driven challenge to traditional transportation posed by TNCs nonetheless offers tremendous promise to workers and consumers alike.


Rideshare companies pair drivers — generally independent contractors — with passengers through smartphone apps with user-friendly interfaces. These outfits have been a godsend to many drivers, especially the part-timers. Uber “gives you the power to manage your own schedule,” as do its competitors.


Lyft drivers instantly receive in their bank accounts 80 percent of the passenger’s payment, an arrangement that the Lyft operators I’ve encountered praise to the heavens.


Drivers for Sidecar can set their own rates based on market forces. “We’ll provide information and recommendations to guide you,” Sidecar tells prospective drivers, “but you’re ultimately in control.”





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The Future of Driving
George P. Shultz, Robert C. Armstrong
Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from the Hoover Press book Game Changers: Energy on the Move, edited by George P. Shultz and Robert C. Armstrong.


Moderating US oil consumption remains a high priority for security, economic, and environmental reasons. Seventy percent of US oil consumption is used for transport, and the International Energy Agency estimates that the US transport sector’s per capita liquid fuel consumption is the highest in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), easily exceeding second-place Canada. In fact, 27 percent of all global transport energy use occurs in the United States. At the same time, mobility is a key enabler of the country’s economy and so numerous R&D efforts in universities and industry are aimed at displacing the role of oil in this sector.


Students and faculty at universities around the country are devoting their efforts to finding innovative solutions for finding affordable, cleaner, more flexible, and resilient transportation options. Mechanical engineers, chemical engineers, electrical engineers, materials scientists, biologists, chemists, physicists—all working together, employing and pushing the frontiers of a whole new generation of scientific inquiry based on the idea of atomic and molecular level design, synthesis and characterization of materials and processes for energy conversion and supply.

—Sally Benson, Stanford Global Climate and Energy Project director and professor of energy resources engineering


Using less oil—or none at all—to get where we want to go is certainly not a new idea, but the options to do so today are better and the necessary tradeoffs are smaller than ever before. On the one hand, passenger vehicles are undergoing significant efficiency improvements, and this is expected to continue over the next decade as fuel economy requirements increase. More efficient internal combustion engines are one part of the story, for example the development of smaller-displacement turbocharged engines coupled to more versatile transmissions. This is complemented by alternative drivetrains—conventional gasoline--electric hybrids in particular—and vehicle envelope improvements, such as light-weighting and aerodynamic design. Our increasingly efficient vehicle fleet already helps to insulate US drivers from fluctuating oil prices and improves the amount of personal mobility available per dollar spent. And local emissions have never been better—today’s “super ultra low emission vehicles” with modern gasoline drivetrains emit roughly 90 percent less pollution than the average new vehicle sold in 2003.


If you look at diesels, their efficiencies are in the low forties now. Actually, there are things coming out of what’s called “homogenous charge compression ignition,” or HCCI—the next generation beyond HCCI—which have indicated efficiencies approaching 55 percent now. And those technologies will fit into relatively conventional piston-cylinder geometries—very highly turbo charged. . . . Efficiencies are way up, on the move.

—Chris Edwards, Stanford professor of mechanical engineering



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GE: Fuel cell startup could spark a revolution

There’s more than one way to get energy out of natural gas. For decades, one of the most promising methods – and also most difficult to pull off ‑ has been the fuel cell.

A fuel cell works like a battery, using a simple chemical reaction to provide energy. In fuel cells, this reaction involves hydrogen molecules abundant in natural gas and oxygen from ordinary air.


It sounds easy enough, but the process is full of pitfalls. Car companies, for example, have tried to make fuel cells work as a replacement for the internal combustion engine for more 20 years without commercial success.


But scientists in GE (NYSE: GE) labs recently cracked an important conundrum involving one iteration of the technology called solid oxide fuel cell, or SOFC. The breakthrough allowed the company to start building a new pilot fuel cell manufacturing and development facility in upstate New York. The resulting technology could soon start producing electricity around the world.


The new system’s power generation efficiency can reach an unprecedented 65 percent. Overall efficiency can grow to 95 percent when the system is configured to capture waste heat produced by the process. The basic configuration of the system can generate between 1 to 10 megawatts of power.



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May 20, 2014






Will 3-D Printing Revolutionize Medicine?

Sonya Collins


July 23, 2014 -- Sydney Kendall lost her right arm below the elbow in a boating accident when she was 6 years old. Now 13, Sydney has used several prosthetic arms. But none is as practical -- nor as cool, she’d argue -- as her pink, plastic, 3-D-printed robotic arm.


The arm was custom-designed for her this spring, in pink at her request, by engineering students at Washington University in St. Louis through a partnership with Shriners Hospital. They printed it while Sydney and her parents watched.


“It took about 7 minutes to do each finger,” says Sydney’s mother, Beth Kendall. “We were all blown away.”


When Sydney wore her new arm to her school outside St. Louis, her classmates were blown away, too. “They were like, ‘Sydney, you’re so cool! You’re going to be famous!'” Sydney recalls.


The robotic arm, with its opposable thumb, helps Sydney grip a baseball, maneuver a mouse, and pick up a paper coffee cup.



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Tottering Ivory Towers
The higher education business should look to earlier episodes of technological tumult to gauge its future.
Stuart Butler
August 11, 2014

Board meetings of college trustees can be depressing affairs these days. Simply passing on rising costs—some of them externally imposed, others the harvest of bad or avaricious executive judgments—to compliant customers is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Prospective students and their anxious parents are increasingly resistant to tuition hikes and crushing debt. Young Americans realize that a degree no longer ensures a full-time job related to their major; indeed, employer surveys indicate that more than half of America’s graduates cannot find full-time work in their primary field of study. True, some majors, such as engineering, assure a good return on investment, but others, like psychology, do not. Meanwhile, the ability of colleges to mask the real-world benefits of their degrees is eroding fast thanks to scorecards from U.S. News, Kiplinger’s, and Forbes. Families now incline to toss the glossy brochures and do the math.

Even more worrying and confusing to college presidents and trustees is the challenge coming from purveyors of online education products, from both for-profit companies and some of their own kind. In particular, the appearance of “massive open online courses” (MOOCs) over the past few years has thrown many of them for a loop. As others have warned, more such innovations are in the works.1


This attitude is reinforced by another common feature of the new products that will eventually disrupt an industry’s primary market: Initially, they aren’t very good. Sony’s cheap, staticky, and easily breakable plastic radios seemed safe to ignore. The Apple I, introduced in 1976, hardly seemed a harbinger of doom to the managers of IBM’s mainframe monsters. So it is no surprise today to read college presidents denigrating MOOCs and the cheap, no-frills degrees being rolled out in Texas and Florida. You get what you pay for! Look at the huge non-completion rate for MOOCs! Online interaction can’t replicate the true college experience! (Even if the tab for the latter runs in the tens of thousands of dollars.)

Overlooked in this slough of disdain, however, is an important stage of disruptive innovation. Left alone in markets largely ignored by industry leaders, upstart innovators can refine their products and introduce new versions, steadily improving quality while retaining the price advantage and other features that make them attractive to underserved customers. It is that period of refinement that eventually produces the real giant-killers. New technology and its adaptation to markets proceeds in waves of innovation. The clunky Apple I sold just a couple hundred units, but the elegant Macintosh, introduced twenty years later, ransacked the computing industry.


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Breakout – Newt Interviews ZocDoc COO and Founder Dr. Oliver Kharraz

In this episode of the Breakout with Newt Gingrich podcast, Newt interviews the COO and Founder of ZocDoc, Dr. Oliver Kharraz. ZocDoc is a free service that allows patients to locate a doctor by insurance, area and availability. It’s as simple as going to the ZocDoc website or using the ZocDoc app and entering your zip code. Within seconds it pulls together a list of available doctors who have open appointments. The national average to see a physician is currently 18.5 days, while the typical ZocDoc appointment takes place is less than 24 hours. Dr. Kharraz and ZocDoc are totally transforming how we think about healthcare by challenging the status quo and using 21st century technology to implement positive change.

For more information, visit ZocDoc.com.

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Sept. 2, 1969 First Automatic Teller Machine in US Opened


A woman in England uses an ATM in 1968.


On Sept. 2, 1969, a Chemical Bank branch in Rockville Centre, N.Y., opened its first automatic teller machine (ATM) to the public. The machine, possibly the first ATM ever developed, inspired the proliferation of ATMs over the next four decades.
Rockville Centre ATM Opened to Public

Don Wetzel, an employee at the Texas-based baggage-handling technology company called Docutel, was waiting in line at the bank one day in 1968 when he got an idea for a machine that could perform the functions of a bank teller.

“Golly, all the teller does is cash checks, take deposits, answer questions like ‘What’s my balance?’ and transfer money between accounts,” Wetzel told Fortune magazine in 2004. “Wow, I think we could build a machine that could do that!”

Wetzel received $4 million from Docutel to pursue his idea. Within a year, Wetzel and a team of engineers had developed most of the technology needed to fulfill his vision: a magnetic swipe card that stored customer information and a machine that provided cash and recorded transactions.


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The Next Age of Invention

Technology’s future is brighter than pessimists allow.

Joel Mokyr

Winter 2014


The statement “everything that could be invented has been invented” is frequently misattributed to the late-nineteenth-century American patent commissioner Charles Holland Duell. The Economist once credited him with the remark, and sites such as “kool kwotes” still reproduce it. In fact, Duell believed the opposite. “In my opinion,” he wrote at the turn of the century, “all previous advances in the various lines of invention will appear totally insignificant when compared with those which the present century will witness. I almost wish that I might live my life over again to see the wonders which are at the threshold.” While this prediction turned out to be on the money, the belief that “the end of invention” is near is very much alive in our age, despite ample evidence of accelerating technological progress.


Pessimism is most prevalent among economists such as Northwestern University professor Robert J. Gordon, who expects growth to slow to a small fraction of what it was in the past. Gordon predicts that the disposable income of the bottom 99 percent of Americans will grow at just 0.2 percent per year—one-tenth the average rate of U.S. economic growth in the twentieth century. Innovation, he maintains, will not be enough to offset the headwinds that will buffet Western industrialized economies in the next half-century—aging populations, declining educational achievement, and rising inequality. And he is not alone in this dismal view. In The End of Science, published in 1996, journalist John Horgan declared that “the modern era of rapid scientific and technological progress appears to be not a permanent feature of reality, but an aberration, a fluke. . . . Science is unlikely to make any significant additions to the knowledge it has already generated. There will be no revelations in the future comparable to those bestowed upon us by Darwin or Einstein or Watson and Crick.”


Certainly, it is difficult to know exactly in which direction technological change will move and how significant it will be. Much as in evolutionary biology, all we know is history. Yet something can be learned from the past, and it tells us that such pessimism is mistaken. The future of technology is likely to be bright.




H/T Michael Barone

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Breakout – Bringing the Pioneers of the Future Together


In this episode of the Breakout with Newt Gingrich podcast, Newt discusses the effect that crowdsourcing has on the way individuals and groups raise money for a new project or idea. Crowdsourcing websites such as Kickstarter.com allow creative entrepreneurs to propose their project to the public and allow them to pledge as little or as much money as they see fit. Using 21st centurytechnology that allows the public to congregate in one place has led to thousands of projects to become funded. Allowing people to have the choice about which projects are truly worthwhile also helps entrepreneurs to refine their project in order to hit their goal of raising the amount of money needed to fund their project.

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Innovating Into The Future

September 27, 2014



It looks like someone finally got invisibility cloaking to work:



The so-called Rochester Cloak is not really a tangible cloak at all. Rather the device looks like equipment used by an optometrist. When an object is placed behind the layered lenses it seems to disappear.


Previous cloaking methods have been complicated, expensive, and not able to hide objects in three dimensions when viewed at varying angles, they say.


“From what, we know this is the first cloaking device that provides three-dimensional, continuously multidirectional cloaking,” said Joseph Choi, a graduate student who helped develop the method at Rochester, which is renowned for its optical research.


In their tests, the researchers have cloaked a hand, a face, and a ruler – making each object appear “invisible” while the image behind the hidden object remains in view. The implications for the discovery are endless, they say.



While it’s not clear yet whether this is a parlor trick or a more serious technology, what is interesting is that it doesn’t rely on cutting edge technical breakthroughs or exotic materials. It is the result of the intelligent and creative use of well known scientific principles and readily available materials.


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