Innovation Article

Multiple Authors
By: Charles Tarrio, Thomas Lucatorto

In 2019, after decades of effort, manufacturers used a new technology to create smartphones with individual circuit features as small as 7 nanometers (nm), or billionths of a meter, enabling them to cram 8.5 billion electronic devices, known as transistors, on a single small chip. Fitting more transistors in the same small space means faster, more powerful smartphones, computers, and other electronic devices.

Where does the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) come into play here? NIST was an early collaborator with those in the microelectronics industry who saw that it might be possible to use extreme ultraviolet (EUV) light to create electronic devices with smaller features like those we have today. This challenging goal was realized after a long, hard struggle.

Multiple Authors
By: Alan Rudolph, Raymond Goodrich

We [Alan Rudolph and Raymond Goodrich] are both biotechnology researchers and are currently seeking to repurpose an existing medical manufacturing platform to quickly develop a vaccine candidate for Covid-19.

This process is used for the treatment of blood products such as plasma, platelets, and whole blood to prevent disease transmission when people receive transfused blood. It utilizes a common food ingredient, vitamin B2, or riboflavin, which is a light-sensitive chemical. When used in combination with ultraviolet light of specific wavelengths, B2 can alter genetic material, whether RNA or DNA, of infectious pathogens in the blood, making them unable to transmit disease.

Those genetic changes prevent pathogens, such as viral, bacterial, and parasitic contaminants, in blood from replicating. By stopping the replication process, the method protects people from disease they could acquire through a blood transfusion.

Multiple Authors
By: Donald J. Wheeler, Al Pfadt

Each day we receive data that seek to quantify the Covid-19 pandemic. These daily values tell us how things have changed from yesterday, and give us the current totals, but they are difficult to understand simply because they are only a small piece of the puzzle. And like pieces of a puzzle, data only begin to make sense when they are placed in context. And the best way to place data in context is with an appropriate graph.

When using epidemiological models to evaluate different scenarios it is common to see graphs that portray the number of new cases, or the demand for services, each day.1 Typically, these graphs look something like the curves in figure 1.


Figure 1: Epidemiological models produce curves of new cases under different scenarios in order to compare peak demands over time. (Click image for larger view.)

Jennifer Chu’s picture

By: Jennifer Chu

The brain is one of our most vulnerable organs, as soft as the softest tofu. Brain implants, on the other hand, are typically made from metal and other rigid materials that, over time, can cause inflammation and the buildup of scar tissue.

MIT engineers are working on developing soft, flexible neural implants that can gently conform to the brain’s contours and monitor activity over longer periods, without aggravating surrounding tissue. Such flexible electronics could be softer alternatives to existing metal-based electrodes designed to monitor brain activity and may also be useful in brain implants that stimulate neural regions to ease symptoms of epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and severe depression.

Led by Xuanhe Zhao, a professor of mechanical engineering and civil and environmental engineering, the research team has now developed a way to 3D print neural probes and other electronic devices that are as soft and flexible as rubber.

The Hechinger Report’s picture

By: The Hechinger Report

Students generally learn about moles, atoms, compounds, and the intricacies of the periodic table in college, but Daniel Fried is convinced kids can learn complex biochemistry topics as early as elementary school.

Fried is an assistant professor of chemistry at Saint Peter’s University in New Jersey, and in his spare time, he creates biochemistry lessons for kids, teaching fourth through sixth graders at a nearby Montessori school and sharing lessons with other teachers and homeschooling parents around the country and world.

“When the kids are young, they’re highly motivated,” Fried says. “It’s easy to teach them. They pick up on the patterns so quickly. They appreciate everything.” High school and college students, by contrast, take a lot more work to engage, and Fried has found getting children interested in biochemistry to be a breeze—especially when they hear they’ll soon be able to correct older siblings or cousins. “The harder part is getting the adults on board to allow it to happen,” he says.

Multiple Authors
By: David Dubois, Joanna Teoh

From AI-enabled chatbots to ads based on individuals’ search or social media activities, digital data offer novel ways to connect with customers. These connections can develop into intimate customer relationships that boost satisfaction, engagement, and ultimately, loyalty. Consider Netflix’s recent personalization strategy, which enabled viewers of its series Bandersnatch to choose the main character’s actions throughout the episode, leading to five unique endings.

But there is a point where customer intimacy and invasion of privacy blurs. For instance, as early as 2012, Target predicted a teenage customer’s pregnancy through her historical purchase pattern data and sent her baby-related coupons, to the surprise of her parents.

Knowledge at Wharton’s picture

By: Knowledge at Wharton

When the Mosaic browser, with its consumer-friendly interface, was released to the world in 1993, most had no idea how radically this first foray into the internet era would transform our lives, both personally and professionally. As humans, we are generally poor at detecting and acting on early signals of change. And as business leaders, we don’t fare much better.

Most companies were late to the party on PCs, e-commerce, smartphones, digital payments, the sharing economy, gig work, AI, and now virtual ways of working. And it’s not for lack of trying. Last year, companies spent nearly $1.2 trillion on digital transformation, according to research by International Data Corporation. Yet only 13 percent of leaders believe their organizations are truly ready to compete in the digital age.

Enter the Covid-19 crisis. Although it may not be a welcomed shock to the system, it’s driving the rapid adoption of digital technologies and ways of working needed for companies just to stay relevant and continue to operate. Not only has the stock market experienced a historic drop in value, but companies also have had to dramatically change the way they operate amidst a social lockdown.

Jason Chester’s picture

By: Jason Chester

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit every industry with a barrage of challenges. The impacts on the manufacturing sector are already extending far beyond factory walls. And for now, the depth of those impacts and the expectation for recovery are unknown.

Fortunately, manufacturers are a highly adaptable breed, and many have found ways to pivot quickly to continue to provide the vital products we all need. Some organizations are even retooling and repurposing their production lines to produce entirely new products. Perfumers and distilleries are producing hand sanitizer. T-shirt makers are switching to face masks. Automakers are now producing ventilators.

These companies stepped up early and responded quickly. And we are grateful.

But for many manufacturers, regardless of their grit and preparation, the situation has thrown into sharp relief the need for technology solutions that enable faster, broader access to information about their operations—and better support for both onsite and remote workers.

A sudden shove toward digital transformation

Manufacturing organizations have embraced many aspects of Industry 4.0. However, the transition has happened at different levels for different organizations. Many companies have held on to legacy systems, especially in the realm of quality management.

Jason Chester’s picture

By: Jason Chester

Manufacturers routinely face uncertainty, risk, and volatility in everyday operations. It’s understood that organizations must be ready for anything, from supply chain interruptions, supplier quality issues and process variations, to volatility in market demand, competitor activities, and political influences.

But the Covid-19 pandemic presents a level of impact that even the most seasoned manufacturing leaders haven’t seen. Organizations are responding at an incredible pace to continue providing necessary and in-demand products, while adjusting to either increased or decreased volume (or in some cases, both).

Companies are deploying new protocols and procedures to keep their employees safe, including moving many roles to remote work and adapting shifts and resources to reduce the number of personnel onsite at any one time. Some are even retooling and repurposing their factories to produce the goods that are most needed. Many are even going above and beyond, donating essential safety gear or food to support our frontline workforce.

NIST’s picture

By: NIST

Unlike diamonds, solar panels are not forever. Ultraviolet rays, gusts of wind, and heavy rain wear away at them over their lifetime. 

Manufacturers typically guarantee that panels will endure the elements for at least 25 years before experiencing significant drop-offs in power generation, but recent reports highlight a trend of panels failing decades before expected. For some models, there has been a spike in the number of cracked backsheets—layers of plastic that electrically insulate and physically shield the backsides of solar panels.

The premature cracking has largely been attributed to the widespread use of certain plastics, such as polyamide, but the reason for their rapid degradation has been unclear. By closely examining cracked polyamide-based backsheets, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and colleagues have uncovered how interactions between these plastics, environmental factors, and solar panel architecture may be speeding up the degradation process. These findings could aid researchers in the development of improved durability tests and longer-lived solar panels. 

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