Doctors

Horses remember facial expressions of people they’ve seen before

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A study by the Universities of Sussex and Portsmouth reveals that horses can read and then remember people’s emotional expressions, enabling them to use this information to identify people who could pose a potential threat.

The paper ‘Animals remember previous facial expressions that specific humans have exhibited’ is authored by a team of psychologists, co-led by Professor Karen McComb from the University of Sussex and Dr Leanne Proops, from the University of Portsmouth — both specialists in animal behaviour.

The research team conducted controlled experiments in which domestic horses were presented with a photograph of an angry or happy human face and several hours later saw the actual person who had exhibited the expression, now in an emotionally neutral state. This short-term exposure to the photograph of a person’s facial expression was enough to generate clear differences in subsequent responses upon meeting that individual in the flesh later the same day.

The study found that despite the humans being in a neutral state during the live meeting, the horses’ gaze direction revealed that they perceived the person more negatively if they had previously seen them looking angry in the photograph rather than happy. Previous research, including at University of Sussex, has shown that animals tend to view negative events with their left eye due to the right brain hemisphere’s specialisation for processing threatening stimuli (information from the left eye is processed in the right hemisphere).

Importantly, in the current experiment the humans did not know which photographs the horses had previously seen, to avoid any risk of behaving differently themselves. Also the differences in reaction only applied to the person the horses had actually seen in the photograph and were not given to a different person.

Professor Karen McComb from University of Sussex comments on the findings: “What we’ve found is that horses can not only read human facial expressions but they can also remember a person’s previous emotional state when they meet them later that day — and, crucially, that they adapt their behaviour accordingly. Essentially horses have a memory for emotion.”

Co-lead author Dr Leanne Proops, of the University of Portsmouth, said: “We know that horses are socially intelligent animals, but this is the first time any mammal has been shown to have this particular ability. What’s very striking is that this happened after just briefly viewing a photograph of the person with a particular emotional expression — they did not have a strongly positive or negative experience with the person.”

Although past research (including that conducted by the University of Sussex) has demonstrated that horses can recognise human facial expressions, this is the first time that it has been shown that they can remember emotional experiences with specific individuals. This ability could have clear benefits for social bonding and aggression avoidance when these individuals are encountered again.

Get a grip: What your hand strength says about your marriage prospects and mortality

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Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the Columbia Aging Center found men with a stronger grip were more likely to be married than men with weaker grips. Grip strength was not a factor in the marital status of women.

Grip strength is an established measure of health and has previously been linked to one’s ability to cope independently and predicts the risk of cardiovascular diseases and mortality.

“Our results hint that women may be favoring partners who signal strength and vigor when they marry,” said Vegard Skirbekk, PhD, professor, Columbia Aging Center and Mailman School professor of Population and Family Health. “If longer-lived women marry healthier men, then both may avoid or defer the role of caregiver, while less healthy men remain unmarried and must look elsewhere for assistance.”

Using a population-based study of 5,009 adults from the Norwegian city of Tromsø, the researchers examined the relationship of marital status to grip strength in two successive groups of people: those born 1923-35 and 1936-48, assessing the association between respondents’ marital status and grip strength when respondents were aged 59 to 71. These data were matched with the Norwegian national death registry. Handgrip strength was assessed using a vigorimeter, a device that asks participants to squeeze a rubber balloon.

Grip strength is particularly important for older adults, and has implications for a host of health risks — for heart disease and factures, physical mobility, the capacity to be socially active and healthy, and to enjoy a good quality of life. At the same time, marriage confers many of these same benefits.

The researchers found greater numbers of unmarried men with low grip strength in the second cohort — those born 1936-48 — than in the first cohort, reflecting societal trends that have increasingly deemphasized the importance of marriage. “In recent decades, women are less dependent on men economically. At the same time, men have a growing ‘health dependence’ on women,” says Skirbekk. “The fact that many men are alone with a weak grip — a double burden for these men who lack both strength and a lack of support that comes from being married — suggests that more attention needs to be given to this group, particularly given their relatively poor health.”

Policies to help this population might include housing arrangements that encourage social interaction and counselling to better prepare these individuals for old age and information on how to avoid negative health consequences of independent living. “New technologies may potentially offset some of the limitations that low grip strength may imply.”

Navigating with the sixth sense: Desert ants sense Earth’s magnetic field

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Desert ants (Cataglyphis) spend the first weeks of their life exclusively in their dark underground nest. For around four weeks, they nurse the queen and the brood, dig tunnels, build chambers or tidy up. At some point, they leave the nest to start their outdoor career, working as foragers until their death.

Pirouettes lead the way

Before an ant sets out to forage, it has to calibrate its navigational system, however. For this purpose, the insects exhibit a rather peculiar behaviour during two to three days: They perform so-called learning walks to explore the vicinity of the nest entrance and frequently turn about their vertical body axes while doing so. High-speed video recordings show that the ants stop repeatedly during these pirouetting motions. What is special about the longest of these stopping phases is that at this moment the ants always look back precisely to the nest entrance, although they are unable to see the tiny hole in the ground.

Researchers from the Biocenter of the University of Würzburg have now made the surprising discovery that the desert ant uses the Earth’s magnetic field as orientation cue during these calibration trips. This ability had been previously unknown for desert ants.

“While they are foraging for food, desert ants venture several hundred metres away from their nest, pursuing a sinusoidal path that includes larger loops. Once they have found food, they return to the nest entrance in a straight line,” Wolfgang Rössler describes the ants’ astonishing navigational abilities. The researchers had known already that the ants rely on the position of the sun and landmarks as orientational cues and integrate this information with the steps travelled.

Experiments in Greece

Recent research results have shown, however, that the desert ant also looks back to the nest entrance during its learning walks in the absence of solar information or landscape cues. “This sparked the idea that the insects might navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field as a cue, as some birds do,” Pauline Fleischmann says.

To confirm their hypothesis, the researchers travelled to the south of Greece where Cataglyphis ants are native. They took a 1.5-m-high pair of Helmholtz coils with them. A defined current passed through the coils creates an almost homogeneous, precisely known magnetic field in between the coils. This enabled the researchers to study the behaviour of the desert ants during their learning walks in their natural habitat under controlled conditions.

A surprising outcome

The result was unambiguous: When the scientists changed the orientation of the magnetic field, the desert ants no longer looked towards the real nest entrance but towards a predictable new location — the fictive nest entrance. “Their path integration provides them with a new vector to the nest based on the information of the magnetic field,” Wolfgang Rössler explains. The scientists admit that they had been surprised by this finding. They say that although individual ant species are known to respond to changes in the magnetic field under certain conditions, the necessity and distinct influence on navigation in Cataglyphis ants was unexpected.

With this result the researchers have “opened a new door which raises a lot of further questions.” One of them is: “When do desert ants use their magnetic sense?” It might well be that they already rely on it during the first weeks of their life which they spend underground. After all, a navigational aid can be quite useful in total darkness. But this is only a hypothesis at this point.

Interesting for neuroscience, computer science and robotics

The second question the scientists want to tackle is how and whether the ants switch between the different navigational cues — the position of the sun, landmarks and the magnetic field. Experienced foragers are already known to perform re-learning walks when they are forced to do so, for example by changing the environment at the nest entrance. It is unclear, however, whether they rely on magnetic field cues again in this case or whether they use their solar compass as during the foraging trips.

And ultimately, there is of course the overarching question of where the magnetic field sensor is located and how it works. According to Wolfgang Rössler, this question takes you deep into the field of orientational and navigational research in insects. How does the comparably small ant brain manage to store navigational information on the position of the sun, the magnetic field and landmarks and integrate this information with distance data from their step counter? Rössler believes that this question goes far beyond the field of behavioural research and neurosciences and is of great interest for computer science and robotics, too.

‘Infinitely’ recyclable polymer shows practical properties of plastics

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The world fell in love with plastics because they’re cheap, convenient, lightweight and long- lasting. For these same reasons, plastics are now trashing the Earth.

Colorado State University chemists have announced  sustainable materials that could one day compete with conventional plastics. professor in the Department of Chemistry, they have discovered a polymer with many of the same characteristics we enjoy in plastics, such as light weight, heat resistance, strength and durability. But the new polymer, unlike typical petroleum plastics, can be converted back to its original small-molecule state for complete chemical recyclability. This can be accomplished without the use of toxic chemicals or intensive lab procedures.

Polymers are a broad class of materials characterized by long chains of chemically bonded, repeating molecular units called monomers. Synthetic polymers today include plastics, as well as fibers, ceramics, rubbers, coatings, and many other commercial products.

The work builds on a previous generation of a chemically recyclable polymer Chen’s lab first demonstrated in 2015. Making the old version required extremely cold conditions that would have limited its industrial potential. The previous polymer also had low heat resistance and molecular weight, and, while plastic-like, was relatively soft.

But the fundamental knowledge gained from that study was invaluable, Chen said. It led to a design principle for developing future-generation polymers that not only are chemically recyclable, but also exhibit robust practical properties.

The new, much-improved polymer structure resolves the issues of the first-generation material. The monomer can be conveniently polymerized under environmentally friendly, industrially realistic conditions: solvent-free, at room temperature, with just a few minutes of reaction time and only a trace amount of catalyst. The resulting material has a high molecular weight, thermal stability and crystallinity, and mechanical properties that perform very much like a plastic. Most importantly, the polymer can be recycled back to its original, monomeric state under mild lab conditions, using a catalyst. Without need for further purification, the monomer can be re-polymerized, thus establishing what Chen calls a circular materials life cycle.

This piece of innovative chemistry has Chen and his colleagues excited for a future in which new, green plastics, rather than surviving in landfills and oceans for millions of years, can be simply placed in a reactor and, in chemical parlance, de-polymerized to recover their value — not possible for  petroleum plastics. Back at its chemical starting point, the material could be used over and over again — completely redefining what it means to “recycle.”

“The polymers can be chemically recycled and reused, in principle, infinitely,” Chen said.

Chen stresses that the new polymer technology has only been demonstrated at the academic lab scale. There is still much work to be done to perfect the patent-pending monomer and polymer production processes he and colleagues have invented.

With the help of a seed grant from CSU Ventures, the chemists are optimizing their monomer synthesis process and developing, new, even more cost-effective routes to such polymers. They’re also working on scalability issues on their monomer-polymer-monomer recycling setup, while further researching new chemical structures for even better recyclable materials.

“It would be our dream to see this chemically recyclable polymer technology materialize in the marketplace.”

Parents may help prep kids for healthier, less violent relationships

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Why-the-Highly-Successful-Are-Prone-to-Depression-1440x810Warm, nurturing parents may pass along strategies for building and maintaining positive relationships to their kids, setting them up for healthier, less-violent romantic relationships as young adults, according to researchers.

Researchers found that when adolescents reported a positive family climate and their parents using more effective parenting strategies — like providing reasons for decisions and refraining from harsh punishments — those adolescents tended to go on to have better relationship problem-solving skills and less-violent romantic relationships as young adults.

“During adolescence, you’re starting to figure out what you want in a relationship and to form the skills you need to have successful relationships,” Xia said. “The family relationship is the first intimate relationship of your life, and you apply what you learn to later relationships. It’s also where you may learn how to constructively communicate — or perhaps the inverse, to yell and scream — when you have a disagreement. Those are the skills you learn from the family and you will apply in later relationships.”

Xia said the ability to form close relationships is an important skill for adolescents and young adults to learn. Previous research has found that when young adults know how to form and maintain healthy relationships, they tend to go on to be more satisfied with their lives and be better parents.

Hoping to learn more about how early family experiences affects later romantic relationships, the researchers recruited 974 adolescents for the study.

At three points in time between sixth and ninth grade, the participants answered several questions about their families and themselves. They reported their family climate (if they tend to get along and support each other or fight often), their parents’ discipline strategies (how consistent and harsh they were), how assertive they were, and if they had positive interactions with their parents.

When the participants reached young adulthood, at an average age of 19.5, the researchers asked them about their romantic relationships. They answered questions about their feelings of love for their partner, if they could constructively solve problems in the relationship, and if they were ever violent with their partner, either physically or verbally.

The researchers found that a positive family climate and effective parenting in adolescence were associated with better problem-solving skills in young adults’ romantic relationships. Additionally, kids who had more positive engagement with their parents during adolescence reported feeling more love and connection in their young adult relationships.

“I think it was very interesting that we found that positive engagement with parents in adolescence was linked with romantic love in early adulthood,” Xia said. “And this is important because love is the foundation for romantic relationships, it’s the core component. And if you have a predictor for that, it may open up ways to help adolescents to form the ability to love in romantic relationships.”

The researchers also found that a more cohesive and organized family climate and more effective parenting during adolescence was associated with a lower risk of violence in young adult relationships.

“Adolescents from families that are less cohesive and more conflictual may be less likely to learn positive-problem solving strategies or engage in family interaction affectionately,” Xia said. “So in their romantic relationships, they are also less likely to be affectionate and more likely to use destructive strategies when they encounter problems, like violence.”

Xia said the findings suggest ways to help adolescents build positive relationship skills at an early age, including encouraging assertiveness.

“In the study, we saw kids who were more assertive had better problem-solving skills in their later relationships, which is so important,” Xia said. “If you can’t solve a problem constructively, you may turn to negative strategies, which could include violence. So I think it’s important to promote constructive problem solving as a way to avoid or diminish the possibility of someone resorting to destructive strategies in a relationship.”

Mercury’s thin, dense crust

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180426141601_1_540x360Physicists from the University of Basel have observed the quantum mechanical Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox in a system of several hundred interacting atoms for the first time. The phenomenon dates back to a famous thought experiment from 1935. It allows measurement results to be predicted precisely and could be used in new types of sensors and imaging methods for electromagnetic fields.

How precisely can we predict the results of measurements on a physical system? In the world of tiny particles, which is governed by the laws of quantum physics, there is a fundamental limit to the precision of such predictions. This limit is expressed by the Heisenberg uncertainty relation, which states that it is impossible to simultaneously predict, for example, the measurements of a particle’s position and momentum, or of two components of a spin, with arbitrary precision.

A paradoxical decrease in uncertainty

In 1935, however, Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky, and Nathan Rosen published a famous paper in which they showed that precise predictions are theoretically possible under certain circumstances. To do so, they considered two systems, A and B, in what is known as an “entangled” state, in which their properties are strongly correlated.

In this case, the results of measurements on system A can be used to predict the results of corresponding measurements on system B with, in principle, arbitrary precision. This is possible even if systems A and B are spatially separated. The paradox is that an observer can use measurements on system A to make more precise statements about system B than an observer who has direct access to system B (but not to A).

First observation in a many-particle system

In the past, experiments have used light or individual atoms to study the EPR paradox, which takes its initials from the scientists who discovered it. Now, a team of physicists led by Professor Philipp Treutlein of the Department of Physics at the University of Basel and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute (SNI) has successfully observed the EPR paradox using a many-particle system of several hundred interacting atoms for the first time.

The experiment used lasers to cool atoms to just a few billionths of a degree above absolute zero. At these temperatures, the atoms behave entirely according to the laws of quantum mechanics and form what is known as a Bose-Einstein condensate — a state of matter that Einstein predicted in another pioneering paper in 1925. In this ultracold cloud, the atoms constantly collide with one another, causing their spins to become entangled.

The researchers then took measurements of the spin in spatially separated regions of the condensate. Thanks to high-resolution imaging, they were able to measure the spin correlations between the separate regions directly and, at the same time, to localize the atoms in precisely defined positions. With their experiment, the researchers succeeded in using measurements in a given region to predict the results for another region.

“The results of the measurements in the two regions were so strongly correlated that they allowed us to demonstrate the EPR paradox,” says PhD student Matteo Fadel, lead author of the study. “It’s fascinating to observe such a fundamental phenomenon of quantum physics in ever larger systems. At the same time, our experiments establish a link between two of Einstein’s most important works.”

 

Student class engagement soars when they use personal data to learn

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A group of Brigham Young University professors have found that giving students access to their personal biological data has a profound impact on their learning experience.

In a summary of their experiment,  the researchers report students with access to data about their own microbiome  the trillions of tiny microorganisms that live in a person’s gut, mouth and skin — are significantly more engaged and more interested in course material.

“Whenever you can have students looking at something about themselves, it increases their desire to understand and also hopefully what they take away from the class,” said study coauthor Steve Johnson.

Microbiomes are influenced by diet and lifestyle, and are vital to a person’s health, as they can protect against disease. As scientists have learned more about their impact on our health, microbiomes have become an increasingly popular topic of study.

For their study, Johnson and fellow microbiology and molecular biology professor Scott Weber and colleagues monitored the attitudes of juniors and seniors from 400-level science courses. At the beginning of the semester, students were given the option to use their own personal information gained through a microbiome kit, or they could use demo data. Most students chose to use the kits.

Students took swabs of areas on their bodies (including their mouth, skin, gut and nose) and submitted the kits to the company uBiome to be tested. Once their microbiome data was sequenced, the students were able to log into an account and look at either the raw data, which they could use for further research, or the analysis given about their microbiomes.

“The data allow students to see which microbes are associated with certain body types or lifestyles and what percentage of those microbes they have,” Weber said. “It is helpful information because it lets students know what things they can do to take action. For example, the program may suggest eating more of one type of food to increase the presence of a particular helpful microbe.”

A survey was sent to the students before, during and after the microbiome unit to determine how and if their interest and engagement was affected. Students who analyzed their own microbiome data reported spending 31 percent more time researching the microbiome than students who used demo data. Students who used the kits also had increased confidence in their scientific reasoning ability and data interpretation skills and found the overall course significantly more interesting and engaging.

Josie Tueller, a college senior who participated in the study, said that using the microbiome kits made all of the class material more real and applicable.

“I felt more personally invested in learning about names of bacteria when I knew that things like Bacteroidetes and Akkermansia could be protective to my health,” Tueller said. “When we were learning about characteristics of bacteria, I could connect it to something I already knew about, instead of just random words.”

 

When kids’ autistic brains can’t calm down

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One third of children who have autism spectrum disorder also have epilepsy. It’s related to a major autism risk gene, which is mutated in patients with autism. But scientists didn’t now why the mutation, catnap2, caused seizures.

Now Northwestern Medicine scientists have discovered the mutation acts like a bad gardener in the brain. It shrinks the neurons’ tiny branches and leaves — its dendrite arbors and synapses — that enable brain cells to relay vital messages and control the brain’s activity. The shrinkage causes a breakdown in message delivery.

An important message that gets lost? Calm Down!

In people with the mutation, inhibitory neurons — whose job is to keep things tranquil in the brain and slam the brake on excitatory neurons — don’t grow enough branches and leaves to communicate their Zen-like message, the scientists found. That leads to seizures.

The mutation, CNTNAP2 or “catnap2,” works as a team with another mutated gene, CASK, implicated in mental retardation. As a result, scientists have a new target for drugs to treat the disorder.

“Now we can start testing drugs to treat the seizures as well as other problems in autism,” said lead author Peter Penzes, the Ruth and Evelyn Dunbar Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Patients with the mutation also have language delay and intellectual disability. So a drug targeting the mutation could have multiple benefits.”

Next Penzes’s team will do high-throughput screening of molecules with the goal of reversing these abnormalities in patients with autism.

Catnap2 is an adhesive molecule that helps cells stick together, in this case helping the synapses adhere to the dendrites. It’s a difficult molecule to target with drugs, Penzes said.

But catnap2’s partner, CASK, is a social butterfly enzyme that interacts with many other molecules. It can more easily be inhibited or activated with drugs. Penzes’s team will screen drugs to activate it because that appears to maintain healthy dendrite branches. When scientists blocked CASK in the study, dendrites didn’t grow.

Poor grades tied to class times that don’t match our biological clocks

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It may be time to tailor students’ class schedules to their natural biological rhythms, according to a new study from UC Berkeley and Northeastern Illinois University.

Researchers tracked the personal daily online activity profiles of nearly 15,000 college students as they logged into campus servers.

After sorting the students into “night owls,” “daytime finches” and “morning larks” — based on their activities on days they were not in class — researchers compared their class times to their academic outcomes.

Their findings, show that students whose circadian rhythms were out of sync with their class schedules — say, night owls taking early morning courses — received lower grades due to “social jet lag,” a condition in which peak alertness times are at odds with work, school or other demands.

“We found that the majority of students were being jet-lagged by their class times, which correlated very strongly with decreased academic performance,” said study co-lead author Benjamin Smarr, a postdoctoral fellow who studies circadian rhythm disruptions in the lab of UC Berkeley psychology professor Lance Kriegsfeld.

In addition to learning deficits, social jet lag has been tied to obesity and excessive alcohol and tobacco use.

On a positive note: “Our research indicates that if a student can structure a consistent schedule in which class days resemble non-class days, they are more likely to achieve academic success,” said study co-lead author Aaron Schirmer, an associate professor of biology at Northeastern Illinois University.

While students of all categories suffered from class-induced jet lag, the study found that night owls were especially vulnerable, many appearing so chronically jet-lagged that they were unable to perform optimally at any time of day. But it’s not as simple as students just staying up too late, Smarr said

“Because owls are later and classes tend to be earlier, this mismatch hits owls the hardest, but we see larks and finches taking later classes and also suffering from the mismatch,” said Smarr. “Different people really do have biologically diverse timing, so there isn’t a one-time-fits-all solution for education.”

In what is thought to be the largest-ever survey of social jet lag using real-world data, Smarr and Schirmer analyzed the online activity of 14,894 Northeastern Illinois University students as they logged in and out of the campus’s learning management system over two years.

To separate the owls from the larks from the finches, and gain a more accurate alertness profile, the researchers tracked students’ activity levels on days that they did not attend a class.

Next, they looked at how larks, finches and owls had scheduled their classes during four semesters from 2014 to 2016 and found that about 40 percent were mostly biologically in sync with their class times. As a result, they performed better in class and enjoyed higher GPAs.

However, 50 percent of the students were taking classes before they were fully alert, and another 10 percent had already peaked by the time their classes started.

Previous studies have found that older people tend to be active earlier while young adults shift to a later sleep-wake cycle during puberty. Overall, men stay up later than women, and circadian rhythms shift with the seasons based on natural light.

Finding these patterns reflected in students’ login data spurred researchers to investigate whether digital records might also reflect the biological rhythms underlying people’s behavior.

The results suggest that “rather than admonish late students to go to bed earlier, in conflict with their biological rhythms, we should work to individualize education so that learning and classes are structured to take advantage of knowing what time of day a given student will be most capable of learning,” Smarr said.

New method speeds up 3-D printing of millimeter-sized imaging lenses

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A new method to make a low-cost, high-quality lens quickly using a 3D printer has promising potential to create optical imaging lenses, customized contact lenses for correcting distorted vision, or to even turn iPhones into microscopes for disease diagnosis.

Developed by Northwestern Engineering researchers after two years of research, the customized optical component, which is 5 millimeters in height and 5 millimeters in diameter, can be 3D printed in about four hours.

“Up until now, we relied heavily on the time-consuming and costly process of polishing lenses,” said Cheng Sun, associate professor of mechanical engineering and whose lab developed the 3D printing process. “With 3D printing, now you have the freedom to design and customize a lens quickly.”

It includes images taken with the lens connected to an Apple iPhone 6s, including high-quality detailed images of a sunset moth’s wing and a spot on a weevil’s elyta.

Like all 3D printing, creating these lenses involves placing layer upon layer of material. Sun likened building the lens to running a film projector. “Instead of projecting one frame, one image after another, we layer one frame on top of another,” Sun said. “It is like playing a movie in a vertical fashion.”

But when researchers first printed the lens, its curved layers, made of a photo-curable resin, created a visible stepping.

“We realized that the layers on top of each other created surface roughness. The layer thickness is typically 5 microns, while the wavelength of visible light is around 0.5 micron. This creates an optically rough surface,” he said. “That was the bottleneck. The roughness made the lens incapable of clear optics.”

This lead to the group’s simple guiding research question: Can we make the surface smooth without slowing down the printing speed? To solve that challenge, Sun’s group developed a two-step process of layering and polishing.

“First, we used grayscale images to create more transitions between steps,” Sun said. “Then, we coated the surface with the same photo-curable resin. That then forms the meniscus that further smooths the surface.”

The result: a transparent lens with a smooth surface.

“I must have tried more than 100 times to get this just right,” said Xiangfan Chen, a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering and lead author on the study.

This lens, however, is not the first high-quality lens created by 3D printing. German-based company Nanoscribe has developed a high-precision femto-second 3D printer with 150 nanometer precision, but it builds the lens in a point-by-point fashion instead of layering, Sun said.

“It is a time-consuming process. That is their limitation,” he added. “We wanted to make something comparable but faster and with better quality.”

“If you want to make a lens, do you want to make it in two hours or two weeks?” Chen said. “We are very excited about this lens.”

This process could lead to a plethora of new devices with a wide variety of applications in optics and biomedical imaging, Sun said.

Next, the group will experiment in making larger lenses as well as investigating how to integrate the 3D-printed lens with medical devices, such as an endoscope or optical microscope. “These lenses could help detect some genetic disease or cancer,” said Biqin Dong, a post-doctoral fellow focused on biomedical and mechanical engineering.

Dong also envisions that these lenses could be used by doctors in underdeveloped areas for diagnostic imaging or by field scientists as portable microscopes. The lens could also be fashioned into a customized contact lens for people with distorted corneas caused by keratoconus. “The contact lens would feature the customized surface, matching it to the shape of the patient’s cornea.”