Conductivity could charge up futuristic disease treatments
The common pencil squid (Loliginidae) may hold the key to a new generation of medical technologies that could communicate more directly with the human body. UC Irvine materials science researchers have discovered that reflectin, a protein in the tentacled creature’s skin, can conduct positive electrical charges, or protons, making it a promising material for building biologically inspired devices.
Currently, products such as retinal implants, nerve stimulators and pacemakers rely on electrons – particles with negative charges – to transmit diagnosis data or to treat medical conditions. Living organisms use protons, with positive charges, or ions, which are atoms that contain both electrons and protons, to send such signals. The UCI discovery could lead to better ion- or proton-conducting materials: for instance, next-generation implants that could relay electrical messages to the nervous system to monitor or interfere with the progression of disease.
At a spirited June event in the Student Center’s Pacific Ballroom, a group of students from both the Samueli School of Engineering and the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences gathered with their mentors to celebrate a successful end to the two schools’ inaugural Undergraduate Mentorship Program.
In its first year, the Undergraduate Mentorship Program focused primarily, though not exclusively, on pairing up female engineering and ICS students with mentors in a variety of high-tech businesses. The proportion of women in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), both in academia and industry, continues to lag behind that of men. This is why the program began with a focus on women.
Linda Smart — senior director of research and development informatics services at Allergan, a UCI alumna and a member of ICS/Engineering Diversity Committee — was instrumental in the launch of the mentoring program.
“I had a real personal interest,” Smart says. “It’s a way for me to sort of reach back in time, think about who I was as student, and say, ‘How can I give young students the benefit of my experience?’”
Gregory Washington, dean of UCI’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering and a strong advocate for American manufacturing, recently attended the first White House Makers Faire, which spotlighted production innovation at campuses nationwide. UC Irvine showcased its 3-D design and printing capabilities, including the National Center for Rapid Technologies, or Rapid Tech. The nonprofit trains students in 3-D techniques and provides faculty and private businesses with efficiently produced, critically needed product prototypes.
Washington mingled with the host of the “Bill Nye the Science Guy” educational TV show, musical super star will.i.am and other creative minds. What most impressed him were products he saw from schools.
“Students had designed and built items ranging from shoes that can charge your cell phone to a device that make 3-D printed pancakes to a full blown home,” Washington said. “I was amazed at the level of sophistication of the students nationally.”
Asthma sufferers and others with pulmonary disorders are well acquainted with nebulizers. They’re those sometimes bulky gadgets, also known as inhalers, which disperse an aerosol stream of medication directly into the lungs.
Unfortunately, though, most commercial nebulizers are capable only of poly-disbursement, meaning they disperse droplets of varying sizes. That is not efficacious for many pulmonary drugs, which are effective only when droplets are a specific size: 2-6 microns. Adding mesh screens to the commercial inhalers helps create some droplets of desirable size, but the often-viscous medicines can get stuck in the mesh, clogging the devices.
UC Irvine Chancellor’s Professor of Electrical Engineering Chen Tsai had a better idea.
He and his research team have developed a silicon, MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems)-based, clog-free ultrasonic nozzle. Their success was highlighted recently in Technology, a new journal that covers cutting-edge technologies from a variety of science and engineering fields.
To the naked eye, this year’s Butterworth Product Development Competition at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences looked much as it always has. All throughout the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) in late May, teams of earnest students, under the watchful eye of their industry, faculty and alumni mentors, gave impassioned presentations about their innovative projects to a panel of distinguished judges, with the results announced at a festive gathering that evening.
But if you’d been to previous installments of the contest, you might have sensed that there were perhaps more snappily dressed students around. Well, there were – roughly twice as many. The 11th annual Butterworth development competition was also the inaugural year for the Beall Student Design Competition.