Tag Archives: innovation

In a paper appearing in the Nov. 18 issue of Nature Communications, the researchers demonstrate the use of the particles, which carry distinct sensors for fluorescence and MRI, to track vitamin C in mice. Wherever there is a high concentration of vitamin C, the particles show a strong fluorescent signal but little MRI contrast. If there is not much vitamin C, a stronger MRI signal is visible but fluorescence is very weak.

Illustration: Christine Daniloff/MIT

Two sensors in one

Nanoparticles that enable both MRI and fluorescent imaging could monitor cancer, other diseases.

By Anne Trafton


 

MIT chemists have developed new nanoparticles that can simultaneously perform magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and fluorescent imaging in living animals. Such particles could help scientists to track specific molecules produced in the body, monitor a tumor’s environment, or determine whether drugs have successfully reached their targets.

 

In a paper appearing in the Nov. 18 issue of Nature Communications, the researchers demonstrate the use of the particles, which carry distinct sensors for fluorescence and MRI, to track vitamin C in mice. Wherever there is a high concentration of vitamin C, the particles show a strong fluorescent signal but little MRI contrast. If there is not much vitamin C, a stronger MRI signal is visible but fluorescence is very weak.

In a paper appearing in the Nov. 18 issue of Nature Communications, the researchers demonstrate the use of the particles, which carry distinct sensors for fluorescence and MRI, to track vitamin C in mice. Wherever there is a high concentration of vitamin C, the particles show a strong fluorescent signal but little MRI contrast. If there is not much vitamin C, a stronger MRI signal is visible but fluorescence is very weak. Illustration: Christine Daniloff/MIT
In a paper appearing in the Nov. 18 issue of Nature Communications, the researchers demonstrate the use of the particles, which carry distinct sensors for fluorescence and MRI, to track vitamin C in mice. Wherever there is a high concentration of vitamin C, the particles show a strong fluorescent signal but little MRI contrast. If there is not much vitamin C, a stronger MRI signal is visible but fluorescence is very weak.
Illustration: Christine Daniloff/MIT

 

Future versions of the particles could be designed to detect reactive oxygen species that often correlate with disease, says Jeremiah Johnson, an assistant professor of chemistry at MIT and senior author of the study. They could also be tailored to detect more than one molecule at a time.

 

“You may be able to learn more about how diseases progress if you have imaging probes that can sense specific biomolecules,” Johnson says.

 

Dual action

 

Johnson and his colleagues designed the particles so they can be assembled from building blocks made of polymer chains carrying either an organic MRI contrast agent called a nitroxide or a fluorescent molecule called Cy5.5.

 

When mixed together in a desired ratio, these building blocks join to form a specific nanosized structure the authors call a branched bottlebrush polymer. For this study, they created particles in which 99 percent of the chains carry nitroxides, and 1 percent carry Cy5.5.

 

Nitroxides are reactive molecules that contain a nitrogen atom bound to an oxygen atom with an unpaired electron. Nitroxides suppress Cy5.5’s fluorescence, but when the nitroxides encounter a molecule such as vitamin C from which they can grab electrons, they become inactive and Cy5.5 fluoresces.

 

Nitroxides typically have a very short half-life in living systems, but University of Nebraska chemistry professor Andrzej Rajca, who is also an author of the new Nature Communications paper, recently discovered that their half-life can be extended by attaching two bulky structures to them.  Furthermore, the authors of the Nature Communications paper show that incorporation of Rajca’s nitroxide in Johnson’s branched bottlebrush polymer architectures leads to even greater improvements in the nitroxide lifetime. With these modifications, nitroxides can circulate for several hours in a mouse’s bloodstream — long enough to obtain useful MRI images.

 

The researchers found that their imaging particles accumulated in the liver, as nanoparticles usually do. The mouse liver produces vitamin C, so once the particles reached the liver, they grabbed electrons from vitamin C, turning off the MRI signal and boosting fluorescence. They also found no MRI signal but a small amount of fluorescence in the brain, which is a destination for much of the vitamin C produced in the liver. In contrast, in the blood and kidneys, where the concentration of vitamin C is low, the MRI contrast was maximal.

 

Mixing and matching

 

The researchers are now working to enhance the signal differences that they get when the sensor encounters a target molecule such as vitamin C. They have also created nanoparticles carrying the fluorescent agent plus up to three different drugs. This allows them to track whether the nanoparticles are delivered to their targeted locations.

 

“That’s the advantage of our platform — we can mix and match and add almost anything we want,” Johnson says.

 

These particles could also be used to evaluate the level of oxygen radicals in a patient’s tumor, which can reveal valuable information about how aggressive the tumor is.

 

“We think we may be able to reveal information about the tumor environment with these kinds of probes, if we can get them there,” Johnson says. “Someday you might be able to inject this in a patient and obtain real-time biochemical information about disease sites and also healthy tissues, which is not always straightforward.”

 

Steven Bottle, a professor of nanotechnology and molecular science at Queensland University of Technology, says the most impressive element of the study is the combination of two powerful imaging techniques into one nanomaterial.

 

“I believe this should deliver a very powerful, metabolically linked, multi-combination imaging modality which should provide a highly useful diagnostic tool with real potential to follow disease progression in vivo,” says Bottle, who was not involved in the study.

 

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, and the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.

Source: MIT News

 

Fast, cheap, and under control

New book argues that inexpensive, employee-driven business experiments can help drive innovation.

By Peter Dizikes


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – When it comes to prescription drugs, patient “compliance” is a concern: Are people, especially the elderly, taking their medication on the proper schedule? While pharmaceutical firms focus on the research and development of drugs, knowing more about patient habits might, at a minimum, help those firms make the case for the effectiveness of their products.

Perhaps, then, some firms could benefit from a few experiments designed to help them learn more about their end-users: low-cost interventions that might involve, say, giving customers the opportunity to provide useful feedback about their habits. Indeed, small-scale business experiments designed from within might be the most valuable innovation investments most organizations can make, according to a new book on the subject.

“The purpose of an experiment is not to solve the problem, but to generate insights,” says Michael Schrage, a research fellow at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and a member of the school’s executive education teaching faculty. Moreover, Schrage claims, some businesses may discover a kind of power law of experimental knowledge: “If you design your experiments [to be] simple, frugal, and fast, you frequently can capture 80 percent of the useful insights you need for 20 percent of the time and money you’re used to investing.”

Now in his new book, “The Innovator’s Hypothesis,” published this month by the MIT Press, Schrage fleshes out the idea of “5×5” experiments as a useful tool for business innovation: having a diverse team of five employees come up with five experiments that can be tested within five weeks, for under $5,000 each.

“I’m not saying, get rid of your planning, get rid of your analytics,” Schrage says. “But when you look at your portfolio of innovation options, you should have some sort of serious investment in fast, simple, cheap, scalable, experiments.”

Airline test cases

To be sure, the notion of the 5×5 experiment bears some relation to famous business practices of the past, such as Toyota’s effort to implement “continuous improvement” from within, or more recent tech-sector initiatives to give employees a portion of work time devoted to firmwide innovation. But Schrage wants to go beyond the incrementalism of continuous improvement.

In his book, however, Schrage focuses on the specific parameters of the 5×5 idea, contending that many business practices can be tested effectively, and relatively cheaply, using this specific model. For instance, the idea of persuading airline passengers to volunteer to be bumped from their flights, for compensation, he notes, dates to at least 1968, when an economist first suggested it — but the practice wasn’t widely implemented until the late 1970s. Small-scale tests could have shown the value and feasibility of the idea much sooner than that.

But for a specific 5×5 experiment to have value, Schrage notes, it needs to yield useful information, no matter what the result is. As Schrage describes in the book, he himself thought it would prove valuable for airlines to charge more to passengers who wanted to sit together in groups of more than two — but in online-booking tests, air travelers resist paying more for seats in order to be grouped together. Still, that’s a useful and practical piece of knowledge for airlines and travel companies to have.

In that vein, getting employees to see that their own ideas might not reach fruition, Schrage believes, may be the most difficult thing about getting the 5×5 method to take hold within a firm.

“It’s hard because people want their hypothesis to be the business plan,” Schrage says. “They want to prove their hypothesis. We’re just as interested if the hypothesis doesn’t test valid.”

To make the 5×5 effort work, Schrage also recommends that employees think specifically about which executives might be most receptive to certain innovations, or the experimental method as a whole, while trying to affect change at their firms. No innovation methodology, he believes, can escape corporate politics and culture.

“The not-so-hidden agenda [of the method] is to provide a new opportunity for alignment between the visions and aspirations of [executives] and the people who actually do the work and interact with clients and customers,” Schrage says. “It creates an opportunity to engage with top management.”

The general approach, Schrage thinks, can also improve a firm from within in other ways, by further tapping the insights and talents of a firm’s employees, and perhaps even help morale in the process.

“The real value isn’t just in terms of innovation portfolios,” Schrage asserts. “It’s in helping boost the human capital, the creativity, the innovative capacity of individuals who participate,” Schrage says.

Source : MIT News Office

The NOMADD technology represents KAUST's first royalty-bearing license agreement. Credit: KAUST News

Innovation in the desert! KAUST’s NOMADD sets sights on solar energy future

The NOMADD technology represents KAUST’s first royalty-bearing license agreement.

By Meres J. Weche


The United Nations estimates the Saudi population will grow to 45 million by 2050; and as the population increases, domestic energy demand is anticipated to double by 2030. In recognition of the growing importance of developing sustainable and renewable energy sources for the Kingdom, the Saudi government has established the ambitious goal of generating a third of the country’s electricity sources (41,000 megawatts) through solar power by 2032. Towards this goal, the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE) aims to construct a $109 billion solar industry in Saudi Arabia, which would represent about 20,000 football fields worth of solar panels.

“We hope to be the industry standard solution to clean all those panels,” said Georg Eitelhuber, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of NOMADD. The startup company, developed three years ago at KAUST and originally supported and funded by theEntrepreneurship Center and the Seed Fund program, offers a waterless and remotely operated system to clean solar panels. The acronym NOMADD stands for NO-water Mechanical Automated Dusting Device.

The NOMADD technology represents KAUST's first royalty-bearing license agreement. Credit: KAUST News
The NOMADD technology represents KAUST’s first royalty-bearing license agreement. Credit: KAUST News

Describing the challenges facing Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning solar energy industry, the NOMADD founder says: “The big challenge, is dust. Desert winds pick up the dust and push it onto the solar panels, all day every day. Sometimes you can have dust storms which put so much dust on the solar panel surface, you can lose 60% of your output in a single day.” Actually, solar panels lose between 0.4-0.8% of their efficiency per day just from desert sand and dust.

A mechanical engineer by training, Eitelhuber was working as a physics teacher at the KAUST School when he started experimenting with Lego blocks and paper to find a solution to clean solar panels exposed to the rough dusty environment of Saudi Arabia. His innovation has since been recognized with the 2014 Solar Pioneer Award and he has been working on further testing and developing the solution with world-leading companies in solar energy such as First Solar Inc. and SunPower Corp.

Eitelhuber is grateful for the backing of KAUST, with all of its resources, in assisting inventors like himself. As the NOMADD team works with various industrial testing partners on improving the technology, KAUST Tech Transfer is there to maintain control of patentable technology which may emerge in the process. A milestone was achieved last month when KAUST signed its first royalty-bearing license agreement for the NOMADD desert solar solution system.

A Continuous Drive for Improvement

Demonstrating the newly devised fifth version of the NOMADD system in its three years of development, Georg Eitelhuber explains that it’s now “70% lighter than previous versions and uses less than half of the power.” In addition to that, it’s much cheaper to manufacture.

“Every time we do a new version it’s simpler, cheaper and faster,” he adds. For example, the rail system supporting the brushes cleaning the solar panels from top to bottom is not only lighter and cheaper but it also now just clips on – whereas previous versions required many nuts and bolts. The mounting system moreover features an inbuilt self-adjustment process tailored to determine the optimal gravity-adjusted angle as the solar panels are cleaned.

It’s important for the cleaning system to be both economically and functionally optimized since some panel rows can be 400 meters long. “That’s a lot of rail,” said Eitelhuber.” “The old version had literally hundreds of nuts and bolts, little fasteners and washers and it worked great but it also weighted as much as a tank.”

Compared to some earlier models, which had around 120-odd manufacturing pieces, the latest NOMADD system has narrowed it down to 10 to 15 pieces. This means that it’s now easier to manufacture and assemble. “The key thing is that it has to be cheaper than sending out a worker with a squeegee and more economical than anything else in the market,” he adds.

The achieved objective has been to make NOMADD desert-proof – as the arid environment causes things to break down at higher frequencies. The device is basically machined aluminum and stainless steel.

It’s also noteworthy that the brushes used to non-abrasively clean the solar panels can easily be slid out and replaced. So it would take someone around five minutes to change all the brushes.

In addition, one of the major advantages of the NOMADD system is that it’s remotely operated. The cleaning functions can be monitored and operated online from around the world.

A Saudi-Specific Innovation with a Global Footprint

“The advantage that we’ve got is that we’ve basically been three years in development and we’ve been developing this solution for the desert while being in the desert. We’ve got a real understanding of the issues involved in cleaning solar panels in the desert,” said Georg Eitelhuber.

Unlike some other solar panel cleaning solutions from North American and European companies, designed for mild climates, that use water and require manual labor, the NOMADD system really has an edge by being a waterless model ideally suited for these arid conditions. “We understand that having someone standing outside at 45 degrees Celsius cleaning solar panels eight hours a day isn’t feasible,” he adds.

As they keep an eye out for the competition, the NOMADD team is confident that, once they make it through the final development process, they will have every chance of being a huge commercial success.

KAUST’s director of New Ventures and Entrepreneurship, Gordon McConnell, says NOMADD’s local presence in the Kingdom will help contribute in building a knowledge-based economy in Saudi Arabia. “The local incorporation is not just of bureaucratic significance, but will now enable NOMADD to develop its business which in turn will help to create high level jobs in sales, marketing and technical areas, while also offering an opportunity to build up local manufacturing capacity and it will make it easier for fund raising within the Kingdom,” said McConnell.

The NOMADD project has greatly benefited from the collaborative efforts of several key team members such as Guodong Li, Chief Electrical Engineer, and Elizabeth Cassell, the project’s chief Administrator, both from the KAUST Solar Center; as well as Head Mechanical Design Engineer Steven Schneider who has been instrumental in producing technical drawings for manufacturing. Andres Pablo, a Ph.D. student, and Razeen Stoffberg, one of Georg’s ex students front he KAUST school, have been assisting with technical setups and product testing and evaluation.

Also, as much of the manufacturing work is done in Asia, the NOMADD team has set up an office in Singapore, headed by Chief Development Officer Cliff Barrett. As a next step, the team has been actively recruiting a new CEO to help the project achieve critical mass and reach their ambitious future milestones.

“Thanks to some great mentorship from the KAUST New Ventures and Entrepreneurshipteam, I’ve done my best as a CEO but I’m an engineer and an inventor by nature,” said Georg Eitelhuber. “It’s been one of my dreams from the very beginning to try and start something which will have a net positive environmental and social impact.”

Source: KAUST News

How to build a proactive workforce

Building a proactive workforce is every manager’s dream as it can boost a company’s performance, but a new study has found if job satisfaction is low those ‘agents of change’ quickly lose that can-do attitude.

Researchers followed 75 workers for two years, measuring their job satisfaction levels and how proactive they were.

They found that those with high levels of job satisfaction remained proactive two years later, but those with low levels tailed off in terms of proactivity. Interestingly there was a group who had high job satisfaction but did not promote change in their organisation and still didn’t two years later.

The study by Karoline Strauss, of Warwick Business School, Mark Griffin and Sharon Parker, of University of Western Australia, and Claire Mason, of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, also looked at how adaptive workers were and discovered that the easier they adapted to change the more likely they would remain proactive over the long term.

“Proactivity is important for innovation and implementing organisational change,” said Dr Strauss, who is part of the Organisation & Human Resources Management Group at Warwick Business School.

“So it is important to sustain a proactive workforce and we have found that job satisfaction is important, not just as an instigator of proactivity, but as a force for maintaining momentum.

“There has been research showing that job satisfaction leads to a more compliant workforce, and we did find that highly satisfied employees who had not tried to promote change at work were unlikely to do so in the future. But we also found that those with high levels of job satisfaction who were proactive maintained that over two years.

“Low levels of job satisfaction may motivate high levels of proactive behaviour in the short term as workers looked to change things to become more satisfied, but this is not sustained over the long term. Our findings suggest that these workers will either succeed in changing their environment at work and so no longer see the need to seek change, or fail, become frustrated and not persevere with their proactive behaviour.”

Management research has found that effective change in an organisation requires proactivity among the workforce to be maintained over a long period. As well as job satisfaction the study on an Australian healthcare organisation, entitled Building and sustaining proactive behaviors: the role of adaptivity and job satsifaction and published in the Journal of Business and Psychology, discovered adaptability was also an important factor.

“If employees do not adapt to change, they are consequently unlikely to support proactivity,” said Dr Strauss. “This research found a significant positive link between a worker’s adaptivity and proactivity.

“Those who fail to adapt to change seem to be less likely to initiate change in the future as they may see change as threatening and may lose confidence in their own ability to be proactive. Irrespective of their past proactivity we found that employees’ proactivity may decrease if they fail to adapt to change and that may impact on a company’s performance and profitability.”

Dr Karoline Strauss also teaches Organisational Behaviour on the Warwick MBA by full-time studyWarwick Executive MBAWarwick MBA by distance learning and Global Energy MBA. She also teaches Management, Organisation and Society on Warwick Business School’s Undergraduate courses.

Source: Warwick Business School

Imagine a city that thinks about your safety

Can a city be smart? The scientists and technology experts at KAUST certainly think so. They have been working on a number of smart solutions to help deal with issues like traffic congestion, water management, and urban flooding.

Raghid Shreih, a Technology Portfolio Manager at KAUST’s Technology, Transfer and Innovation Division (TTI), works with KAUST researchers to protect, manage and commercialize KAUST’s intellectual property portfolio. He’s been involved with evaluating many of the smart city systems developed at the University.

“The world’s urban population is growing very rapidly,” says Shreih, “and this is presenting a lot of new challenges for cities, particularly in terms of urban planning and infrastructure, public transit, traffic congestion and pollution. As cities become more densely populated, there is also the risk of severe weather incidents causing a lot of damage and casualties. KAUST researchers are developing solutions to address some of these problems.”

KAUST Video:Flood and Traffic Monitoring System

Our latest technology video explains the integrated sensor system for monitoring urban floods and traffic congestions.

One of these solutions is a dual-usage wireless sensor system that tracks traffic congestion and flood incidents in cities. Using a combination of ultrasonic range finders and infrared thermal sensors, the system can monitor traffic flow and roadway flooding, and can be deployed on a large urban scale to provide real-time, highly accurate data on current conditions.

“Because flash floods are extremely rare events, there is not really an incentive to deploy a dedicated infrastructure to address these problems,” said Prof. Christian Claudel, lead inventor of the system. “We wanted to have traffic sensors that would also be capable of detecting flash floods as a secondary application—therefore, the marginal cost of sensing flash floods is zero.”

With storms and floods accounting for nearly 70 percent of the world’s natural disasters, this smart technology can provide up-to-the-minute warnings and allow rapid response to emergency situations. The data collected from these sensors is sent to central servers for assimilation with satellite data, forming real-time maps and forecasting the future path, intensity, and speed of floods and traffic.

This is just one of the many smart systems developed at KAUST.

Shreih says, “The technology being developed at KAUST can be adopted by company and industry partners who will be able to integrate it within their systems and use it to build new infrastructure projects for the cities of the future.”

Source: KAUST