We don’t yet have flying cars, but we may soon have disease-sensing tattoos. - daily alternative news
That’s one of the visions of technological innovation created by recent recipients of grants from a Princeton University program designed to bring new scientific breakthroughs from the lab to the marketplace.
With nine proposals awarded grants of $50,000 to $100,000 this year, the school’s Intellectual Property Accelerator Fund is funding innovations in a variety of fields, from molecular biology to physics to engineering.
“Part of the excitement is to see this research through to fruition,” said Salvatore Torquato, a grant recipient and professor of chemistry at the university. “The sky’s the limit at this point.”
With fellow researchers Paul Steinhardt and Marian Florescu — physics professors at Princeton and the University of Surrey in England, respectively — Torquato is working on a way to run computer circuits with light instead of electrons.
Akin to the fiber-optic technology used in television and internet cables, Torquato’s innovation would help make computers faster, more powerful and more efficient, he said.
The circuits use a honeycomb design, which lets light flow through and power silicon circuits. But while that design is thought to the be only way to use the light frequencies, it also restricts the path those circuits can take, Torquato said.
Distorting that honeycomb shape makes the possible circuit paths more flexible, Torquato discovered. The change would allow production of circuits small enough to fit into computers, phones and tablets, a feat that even some Nobel Prize-winning physicists once thought doubtful, Torquato said.
“Usually, if you challenge conventional wisdom, something interesting comes out of it, even if you fail,” he said. Beaming, he added, “In this case, we didn’t fail.”
A Smarter Smartphone Plan
Princeton colleagues Soumya Sen, Carlee Joe-Wong and Sangtae Ha also thought outside of the box to solve their problem: how to prevent mobile data service providers from crashing during peak usage hours, and to encourage users to shift to slower periods.
“We’ve seen a trend, not just of the price of data usage going up but the demand for bandwidth because of all the new smart devices coming out,” said Sen, a post-doctoral research associate. “It’s hurting consumers as well as providers, and we’re trying to create a win-win situation.”
To help even out usage throughout the day, the team concocted a formula for time-dependent pricing to replace unlimited data plans or the monthly quotas currently used by most providers.
Using a variety of factors, such as predicted traffic measurement, consumer behavior and price optimization, their program would create an hour-by-hour price breakdown for mobile data usage, with the idea of pull users to off-peak hours by offering discounted prices for data during those times.
The breakdown would change day by day, with a chart available for consumers a day in advance, to help them plan their usage for the next day, said Ha, an associate research scholar.
The group is also developing a “personal bandwidth manager” app to help consumers optimize their data usage, by offering further personalized breakdowns of which applications they use the most and how much bandwidth those applications use.
The app, which can be downloaded at datawizapp.com, also alerts users to upcoming changes in the data usage price and lets them freeze certain applications on their devices from being used during designated times.
With the model already producing positive results in a small trial based in Princeton, the group will use the grant money to conduct larger trials in different global locations and set up conferences with service providers to show off their work, they said.
“It’s incredible to see this research project I worked on put into the real world, and used by real people,” said Joe-Wong, a doctoral student.
A Tattoo With Antennae
Princeton engineering professor Michael McAlpine is also excited to bring his invention of “smart” tattoos out of the lab and into the marketplace. Applied like a temporary tattoo and using tiny gold wires and strings of silk, the imprint would allow for real-time detection of harmful bacteria after being placed on a person’s tooth or skin, McAlpine said.
Miniature antennae embedded in the tattoo, which can be dissolved in water and fades after about a day, could wirelessly report the detected substances to computers, he said.
“I read a story about a woman having an asthma attack in a grocery store, and she couldn’t breathe enough to tell first-responders what was wrong, but she had a tattoo on her arm that said she had asthma,” McAlpine said. “I thought, if she can have a passive tattoo that says ‘I have asthma,’ why not have an active tattoo that can continuously track your health?”
With the grant in place, McAlpine said, he will soon be testing his invention in hospitals and looking for ways to increase the tattoo’s staying power on the body.
John Ritter, director of the school’s office of technology and licensing, and dean of research A.J. Stewart Smith said they hope the grant program, currently in its sixth year, will have staying power as well.
“This is a very high quality year, the largest number of patents we’ve ever approved,” Smith said. “It’s good to bring recognition from the industry to these ideas and to the university.”
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