How to charge your smartphone in 30 seconds!

With all the tweeting and checking of e-mail that I do, my phone battery barely makes it to lunchtime without needing a charge, so I was excited when I saw in the press today several articles talking about a company called StoreDot.  Apparently they have built a new battery charger that can charge a smartphone in under 30 seconds and they prove the capabilities in a video demo using a Samsung Galaxy S4 that is about to run out of battery power.

First of all, let me just state that this technology is not going to make my phone’s battery life last any longer than it did previously, however it will mean that I could charge it in a few seconds which is much shorter than the hour or so I put in on charge in the middle of my day.

How do you explain the technology in a simple magic sentence?

A magic nanodot coating stores the electrical current that comes from your plug socket over 30 seconds and flows it slowly into the lithium in the phone battery.


Ready for more detailed science about how it works?
StoreDot produce tiny semiconductors in the form of quantum dots which are nanocrystals of semiconductor material where the size of the dots are so small that quantum mechanics have an effect on the electronic properties. Quantum dots were traditionally made from horribly toxic materials such as arsenic or from heavy metals such as cadmium which meant that they were not safe for commercial use.  It wasn’t until 2010 that a research paper published in Nature showed they quantum dots could be made using peptides, which were less toxic and more biodegradable than the inorganic dots.  Therefore the unique technology that StoreDot has made involves this new way to use bio-organic materials which are much safer.

The diameter of a nanodot used in this charging device is the same as the diameter of DNA!

The diameter of a nanodot used in this charging device is the same as the diameter of DNA!

The safer organic quantum dots (which they call nanodots) are made from naturally occurring organic compounds called peptides. Peptides are short chains of amino acids which make up the building blocks of proteins. These nanodots are really tiny at only 2 nanometers in size which is the same as the diameter of DNA!  The peptides build themselves from a carefully controlled self-assembly process which is what happens naturally in nature, and for these nanodots only two peptides attach to each other for each dot.

Although they are really small the peptides are able to trap a electrical charge which makes them a natural nanoscale capacitor that can quickly take and hold a relatively large amount of electricity and then discharge it in a controlled way.  Due to the high surface area that nanodots have, this process happens far more quickly than in chemical batteries and the capacity can be large if enough nanodots are assembled in one place.

The nanodots are wrapped around electrodes in the same way as those in normal batteries but due to their small size they cover the tiny cavities that naturally occur on an electrode which multiplies the total reactive surface. With the nanodots on the surface, the electrode now becomes a multifunction electrode where one end of the electrode stores electrical energy acting as a capacitor and at the other end it acts like a normal battery trickling a charge into a lithium battery.

Because of the way that the technology works both the charger and the battery will have to be different than conventional ones that come with your phone meaning you will have to buy a whole new kit that is made for your device.

Reports say that the new device isn’t due to go into production until 2016 so you will still have to cope with slow charging between now and then, but it is nice to see a commercial use for the cheaper, non-toxic, organic alternative for making quantum dots.








TV Science Roundup For 8th April 2014

In this weeks science roundup I decided on three very different stories from research which had been published this week including potential cures for paralysis, self destructing electronic and the science of zebra stripes.


There were two different stories on helping to cure muscle paralysis this week, both involving a new way to help nerve cells to carry their signal.  Muscle movement is normally controlled by motor neurons which are special nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord which relay signals from the brain to the muscles in the body to control motor functions.  These include functions including walking, standing and importantly – breathing.

If the motor neurons are damaged due to spinal cord injuries or motor neuron disease there can be permanent loss of muscle function which results in paralysis.

The first study came from a paper published in Science on April 4th 2014 titled “Optical Control of Muscle Function by Transplantation of Stem Cell–Derived Motor Neurons in Mice“.  In this paper, scientists were able to show a new way to artificially control muscles using light instead of electrical stimulation.

Their technique involved transplanting stem cells which were equipped with a molecular light sensor. These stem cells were programmed to turn into motor neurons when grafted onto the sciatic nerve of the animal, which in this case they were mice.

When blue light was shone onto these new cells, it would cause them to fire a signal down to the muscle.  The study carried this out on mice that had paralysed leg muscles, and were able to make the leg to move by controlling it with light pulses.

Although this is very early research in a field known as optogenetics and the study is still far away from curing paralysis by implanting stem cells and lasers into patients, it does provide a new way to stimulate motor neurons without the pain of electrical current stimulation.

A video summarising the study can be seen here:

In the second study published just yesterday April 8th 2014 in the journal Brain, a paper titled “Altering spinal cord excitability enables voluntary movements after chronic complete paralysis in humans” explains how a small device which delivers a low pulse of electricity can be implanted under the skin of the abdomen can connect to electrodes placed near the spinal cord.

The researchers implanted four men who had been paralysed after spinal cord injuries and all four were able to move their legs again controlled by the electrical stimulator.  How the implanted device is able to stimulate the spinal cord at the demand of the patient is sill unclear, as the electrodes are not in contact with their brain, however as you can see from the following video, one of the patients is very happy with its results:


Imagine if all the electronics including the resistors and capacitors inside your phone dissolved so that there was no trace of it.  This is the potential of the work presented in the paper “Study of Physically Transient Insulating Materials as a Potential Platform for Transient Electronics and Bioelectronics” released on April 1st 2014 in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

This new type of material for electronics are known as transient materials and are made from special polymers and magnesium which completely dissolve in water.  Although the concept of dissolving circuits has been around for a few years as shown in this 2012 video:

The ability to control how quickly the material dissolves is the new piece in the story.  The researchers used a combination of PVA (poly vinyl alcohol) with gelatin or sucrose to create a coating matrix for electronics that enabled precise control over how quickly it dissolved depending on what the final application for the device would be.

In a new video released by the researchers a proof of concept was shown in which a LED light dissolved with just a few drops of water:

These controlled dissolve electronics have applications in the medical field where a doctor could implant a sensor to monitor the body and then get it to dissolve after the tests are complete.  There is also the potential for it to be used as a security device in which electronics could be instantly destroyed so they can’t get into the wrong hands, for military personnel or even as a remote deactivation device for stolen credit cards.


Finally, one of those questions that I thought I knew the answer to but now realise that I had it all wrong.

So why do Zebras have stripes?

There are several theories out there including camouflage, predator avoidance, heat management or social interaction.

I had always believed that the black and white striping system was to confuse predators as to the speed and direction that a zebra was running, to help the zebra to get away.  My second guess would be that it was a bar code like system helping one zebra to identify another one.  However it seems that scientific analysis shows there is no consistent support for the theories listed above and instead the evidence points towards the stripes acting to keep the flies away.

In a Nature Communications article published on April 1st titled “The function of zebra stripes” researchers attempted to account for the differences in patterning by studying different species and subspecies of zebras and horses.  What they consistently found was that there was more striping on zebras who lived in parts of the world where there were more biting flies. Where there are tsetse flies, for instance, equids tend to come in stripes and where there aren’t – they don’t.
The scientists think that the vision of the fly is confused by the striped pattern resulting in the fly being unable to land on the black and white striped surface, although this was not scientifically confirmed.

The question I have is could this lead to a new type of stripy spray on insect repellent or a zebra bran of onsies?



TV science roundup for April 2nd 2014

On TV3’s Firstline Breakfast news show this morning I chatted about this weeks new science news based on stories that had caught my eye over the last seven days.


Click on photo to watch the video

The first story was based on the research paper in PNAS entitled Compound facial expressions of emotion which was published on March 31st 2014.  Research from Ohio State University created a new computational model to help map emotion in the brain with greater precision than ever before by looking at how our facial muscles move when we are showing different emotions.

The study involved giving scenarios to 230 volunteers who had photographs of their face taken while they expressed how they felt emotionally to the scenario.


Plotting Facial Expressions – from PNAS

The group were able to identify 6 basic expressions and 14 compound emotions.

The basic expressions were:

Happiness, Sadness, Surprise, Anger, Fear and Disgust.

The compound emotions included mixtures of the basics, such as ‘happily disgusted’.  In this emotion, the face smiles, the eyes crease in a happy expression, however the nose and eyes also scrunch up indicating disgust.


If you have ever watched the movie Shaun of the Dead you have probably experienced the emotion happily disgusted

When thinking about these complex emotions I thought back to my favourite comedy horror movie Shaun of the Dead in which happily disgusted was my emotion for most of the movie.  Another compounded emotion was ‘happily suprised’ in combined both the open mouth of suprise with the smile and eye creasing of happiness.

Results from this research could help to improve facial recognition software as well as aid the diagnosis and treatment of mental conditions such as autism and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

I also mentioned the heat map research from Neuroscience “Thermal signature of fear conditioning in mild post traumatic stress disorder” which is not due to be released until April 25th 2014.  This paper showed that fear can be detected in your face by up to a 2°C decrease in temperature due to the fight or flight fear response moving blood away from the extremities and could be used in part as a new lie detector test.


My second segment was very timely due to April being Autism Awareness Month, and it coinciding with the March 27th 2014 release of the paper “Patches of Disorganization in the Neocortex of Children with Autism” in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study examined brain tissue samples donated by the parents of 22 children who had died, 11 of which had Autism and 11 who didn’t.  Scientists discovered there was an abundance of disorganised cells in regions important for regulating social function, emotion and communication all of which are activities that can be difficult for people with autism.

The authors were able to calculate using knowledge about the formation of the brain that these defect clusters probably occurred during the second or third trimesters of pregnancy.

Further research is needed to help determine if these disorganised cells are caused by genetic or environemental factors, but the evidence strongly goes against the theory that childhood vaccination can cause autism.

For my final segment I’ll credit to Siouxsie Wiles over at Infectious Thoughts for bringing the paper “Mycobacterium bovis infection in cats” from the March issue of the Journal of the British Veterinary Association.  The paper involves the story of two people in England who developed tuberculosis after contact with their pet cat and is the first reported incident of cat-to-human transmission of the bacteria Mycobacterium bovis.

I think from that study, I’ll stick to walking my dog 🙂