Research Bits: October 31

Skin-like sensors for robots; small 400,000 pixel superconductor camera; wirelessly inducing magnetism; identifying molecules in 20 nanoseconds.


Skinlike sensor for robots
University of British Columbia engineers with help from researchers from Frontier Robotics, Honda research institute, created a soft sensor that approximates skin. Mostly made of silicone rubber, the sensor uses weak electric fields to sense objects, even at a distance, and can detect forces into and along its surface. The sensor could provide touch sensitivity and dexterity, which would help with tasks that require some finesse, such as picking up a piece of soft fruit.

400,000-pixel camera
A team of researchers at the United States National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) created a high-resolution single-photon superconducting camera that could enable scientists to capture extremely week light from distance objects. The camera contains 400,000 pixels made ultrathin electrical wires laid out in a grid. When a photon interferes with the superconductivity of a location in the grid, the camera picks that up. The team figured out a system for getting readouts from all those pixels into a few wires only, as shown in the video below. The NIST says is the pixel count is 400 times more than any other device of its type. [1]

Wirelessly inducing magnetism in non-magnetic material
Researchers at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and ICMAB have wirelessly modified the magnetic properties of a thin layer of cobalt nitride (CoN) by applying electrical voltage. The team changed a nonmagnetic CoN sample, which was immersed in liquid with ionic conductivity, to magnetic by applying voltage through two platinum plates. An electric field induced by the plates and voltage, caused the nitrogen ions to leave the CoN, causing magnetism to appear in the sample, which changed from non-magnetic to magnetic. Other materials besides CoN could be used and have the same effect. The idea is using voltage instead of current to power instead of current to control magnetism can improve energy efficiency in devices. [2]

Identifying molecules in 20 nanoseconds
A team of researchers from NIST, Toptica Photonics AG, and the University of Colorado Boulder developed a frequency comb system that can detect specific molecules in a sample every 20 nanoseconds. They used an electro-optic comb, a simpler, cheaper type of comb that splits a single continuous beam of light into two beams, with an electric field (from an electronic modulator) shaping the light into typically 14 teeth, as opposed to the thousands or millions of teeth produced by a dual-frequency comb. Each tooth had much higher optical power and a different frequency far apart from other teeth. These factors resulted in a clear, strong signal that enabled the researchers to detect changes in the absorption of light at the 20-nanosecond time scale, reported the team. [3]

1. B.G. Oripov, D.S. Rampini, B. Korzh, J. Allmaras, M.D. Shaw, S.W. Nam and A.N. McCaughan. A superconducting-nanowire single-photon camera with 400,000 pixels. Nature. Oct. 26, 2023.

2. Zheng Ma, Laura Fuentes-Rodriguez, Zhengwei Tan, EvaPellicer, Llibertat Abad, Javier Herrero-Martín, Enric Menéndez, Nieves Casañ-Pastor, Jordi Sort. Wireless magneto-ionics: voltage control of magnetism by bipolar electrochemistry. Nature Communications.

3. Long, D.A., Cich, M.J., Mathurin, C. et al. Nanosecond time-resolved dual-comb absorption spectroscopy. Nat. Photon. (2023).

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