Categories
ScienceDaily

Science reveals secrets of a mummy’s portrait

How much information can you get from a speck of purple pigment, no bigger than the diameter of a hair, plucked from an Egyptian portrait that’s nearly 2,000 years old? Plenty, according to a new study. Analysis of that speck can teach us about how the pigment was made, what it’s made of — and maybe even a little about the people who made it. The study is published in the International Journal of Ceramic Engineering and Science.

“We’re very interested in understanding the meaning and origin of the portraits, and finding ways to connect them and come up with a cultural understanding of why they were even painted in the first place,” says materials scientist Darryl Butt, co-author of the study and dean of the College of Mines and Earth Sciences.

Faiyum mummies

The portrait that contained the purple pigment came from an Egyptian mummy, but it doesn’t look the same as what you might initially think of as a mummy — not like the golden sarcophagus of Tutankhamen, nor like the sideways-facing paintings on murals and papyri. Not like Boris Karloff, either.

The portrait, called “Portrait of a Bearded Man,” comes from the second century when Egypt was a Roman province, hence the portraits are more lifelike and less hieroglyphic-like than Egyptian art of previous eras. Most of these portraits come from a region called Faiyum, and around 1,100 are known to exist. They’re painted on wood and were wrapped into the linens that held the mummified body. The portraits were meant to express the likeness of the person, but also their status — either actual or aspirational.

That idea of status is actually very important in this case because the man in the portrait we’re focusing on is wearing purple marks called clavi on his toga. “Since the purple pigment occurred in the clavi — the purple mark on the toga that in Ancient Rome indicated senatorial or equestrian rank- it was thought that perhaps we were seeing an augmentation of the sitter’s importance in the afterlife,” says Glenn Gates of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, where the portrait resides.

The color purple, Butt says, is viewed as a symbol of death in some cultures and a symbol of life in others. It was associated with royalty in ancient times, and still is today. Paraphrasing the author Victoria Finlay, Butt says that purple, located at the end of the visible color spectrum, can suggest the end of the known and the beginning of the unknown.

“So the presence of purple on this particular portrait made us wonder what it was made of and what it meant,” Butt says. “The color purple stimulates many questions.”

Lake pigments

Through a microscope, Gates saw that the pigment looked like crushed gems, containing particles ten to a hundred times larger than typical paint particles. To answer the question of how it was made, Gates sent a particle of the pigment to Butt and his team for analysis. The particle was only 50 microns in diameter, about the same as a human hair, which made keeping track of it challenging.

“The particle was shipped to me from Baltimore, sandwiched between two glass slides,” Butt says, “and because it had moved approximately a millimeter during transit, it took us two days to find it.” In order to move the particle to a specimen holder, the team used an eyelash with a tiny quantity of adhesive at its tip to make the transfer. “The process of analyzing something like this is a bit like doing surgery on a flea.”

With that particle, as small as it was, the researchers could machine even smaller samples using a focused ion beam and analyze those samples for their elemental composition.

What did they find? To put the results in context, you’ll need to know how dyes and pigments are made.

Pigments and dyes are not the same things. Dyes are the pure coloring agents, and pigments are the combination of dyes, minerals, binders and other components that make up what we might recognize as paint.

Initially, purple dyes came from a gland of a genus of sea snails called Murex. Butt and his colleagues hypothesize that the purple used in this mummy painting is something else — a synthetic purple.

The researchers also hypothesize that the synthetic purple could have originally been discovered by accident when red dye and blue indigo dye mixed together. The final color may also be due to the introduction of chromium into the mix.

From there, the mineralogy of the pigment sample suggests that the dye was mixed with clay or a silica material to form a pigment. According to Butt, an accomplished painter himself, pigments made in this way are called lake pigments (derived from the same root word as lacquer). Further, the pigment was mixed with a beeswax binder before finally being painted on linden wood.

The pigment showed evidence suggesting a crystal structure in the pigment. “Lake pigments were thought to be without crystallinity prior to this work,” Gates says. “We now know crystalline domains exist in lake pigments, and these can function to ‘trap’ evidence of the environment during pigment creation.”

Bottom of the barrel, er, vat

One other detail added a bit more depth to the story of how this portrait was made. The researchers found significant amounts of lead in the pigment as well and connected that finding with observations from a late 1800s British explorer who reported that the vats of dye in Egyptian dyers’ workshops were made of lead.

“Over time, a story or hypothesis emerged,” Butt says, “suggesting that the Egyptian dyers produced red dye in these lead vats.” And when they were done dyeing at the end of the day, he says, there may have been a sludge that developed inside the vat that was a purplish color. “Or, they were very smart and they may have found a way to take their red dye, shift the color toward purple by adding a salt with transition metals and a mordant [a substance that fixes a dye] to intentionally synthesize a purple pigment. We don’t know.”

Broader impacts

This isn’t Butt’s first time using scientific methods to learn about ancient artwork. He’s been involved with previous similar investigations and has drawn on both his research and artistic backgrounds to develop a class called “The Science of Art” that included studies and discussions on topics that involved dating, understanding and reverse engineering a variety of historical artifacts ranging from pioneer newspapers to ancient art.

“Mixing science and art together is just fun,” he says. “It’s a great way to make learning science more accessible.”

And the work has broader impacts as well. Relatively little is known about the mummy portraits, including whether the same artist painted multiple portraits. Analyzing pigments on an atomic level might provide the chemical fingerprint needed to link portraits to each other.

“Our results suggest one tool for documenting similarities regarding time and place of production of mummy portraits since most were grave-robbed and lack archaeological context,” Gates says.

“So we might be able to connect families,” Butt adds. “We might be able to connect artists to one another.”

Go to Source
Author:

Categories
ScienceDaily

Ancient zircon minerals from Mars reveal the elusive internal structure of the red planet

The uranium-bearing mineral zircon is an abundant constituent of Earth’s continental crust, providing information about the age and origin of the continents and large geological features such as mountain chains and giant volcanoes. But unlike Earth, Mars’s crust is not evolved and is compositionally similar to the crust found under the Earth’s oceans, where zircon is rare. Therefore, zircon is not expected to be a common mineral on Mars.

“We were quite surprised and excited when we found so many zircons in this martian meteorite. Zircon are incredible durable crystals that can be dated and preserve information that tell us about their origins. Having access to so many zircons is like opening a time window into the geologic history of planet,” describes Professor Martin Bizzarro from the GLOBE Institute, who led the study.

The team investigated the ancient Martian meteorite NWA 7533, dubbed “Black Beauty,” which was discovered in the desert of Morocco in 2011. After crushing 15 grams of this rock, they extracted about 60 zircons. By age-dating the zircons, they found that the majority of crystals date back to about 4.5 billion years ago, namely the very beginning of the planet’s life. But they also made an unexpected discovery: some of the zircons defined much younger ages, ranging from about 1500 million years down to 300 million years.

“These young ages were a great surprise,” says Bizzarro. “The Black Beauty meteorite is believed to come from the southern hemisphere of Mars, which does not have any young volcanic terrains. The only possible source for these young zircons is the Tharsis volcanic province located in the northern hemisphere of the planet, which contains large volcanoes that were recently active,” Martin Bizzarro adds.

The Tharsis bulge on Mars is an enormous volcanic province that hosts the largest volcanoes in the Solar System, which are up to 21 km high. Scientists believe that this volcanic province is the expression of very deep magmatism that erupts on the planets surface. The analogy on Earth is the Hawaiian volcanic chain of islands, which is also believed to reflect deep-seated volcanic activity. But because of plate tectonics, the Pacific Plate is constantly moving such that, instead of accumulating at one single location, a chain of progressively younger volcanic islands has formed. Since Mars does not have plate tectonics, the volcanoes pile up at one single location and as a result grow to gigantic sizes.

If Bizzarro’s team is correct, it means that the young zircons may contain information about the deep, inaccessible interior of Mars. This is the first time that scientists have direct access to the deep interior of the red planet via these samples, which may allow them to uncover the internal structure and composition of Mars.

“Having samples of the deep interior of Mars is key. This means that we can now use these zircons to probe the origin of the volatile elements on Mars, including its water, and see how it compares with Earth and other planets in the Solar System,” explains Mafalda Costa, first other of the new study.

But to understand the nature of the deep martian interior, the researchers turned to the analysis of the isotopic composition of the element hafnium in the same zircons.

“Because hafnium is a major elemental constituent of zircon, it retains a memory of where the zircon formed,” says Martin Bizzarro. “We found that the hafnium isotope composition of the young zircons is unlike any of the known Martian meteorites, which indicates that the young zircons come from a primitive reservoir that we did not know existed in the interior of Mars,” he adds.

The hafnium isotope composition of the young zircons is similar to the most primitive objects in the Solar System, that is, chondrite meteorites. These chondrite meteorites are samples of asteroids that have never been modified since their formation. This implies that the deep interior of Mars has essentially not been modified since the formation of the planet. The existence of such a primitive reservoir is expected for a planet lacking plate tectonics. In contrast to Earth, where material formed at surface is continuously recycled into the interior by plate tectonics, the deep interior of Mars has remained unchanged since the birth of the planet and, as such, preservers its initial composition.

Finally, the discovery that zircon may be abundant on the Martian surface may guide the future robotic exploration of the planet, especially in the framework of returning samples to Earth.

“Our study makes clear that a return mission targeted at acquiring zircon-bearing samples will be of high scientific value towards understanding the geologic history of Mars,” concludes Martin Bizzarro.

The study was supported by the Carlsberg Foundation, the Danish National Research Foundation and European Research Council.

Go to Source
Author:

Categories
ScienceDaily

Avoiding environmental losses in quantum information systems

New research published in EPJ D has revealed how robust initial states can be prepared in quantum information systems, minimising any unwanted transitions which lead to losses in quantum information.

Through new techniques for generating ‘exceptional points’ in quantum information systems, researchers have minimised the transitions through which they lose information to their surrounding environments.

Recently, researchers have begun to exploit the effects of quantum mechanics to process information in some fascinating new ways. One of the main challenges faced by these efforts is that systems can easily lose their quantum information as they interact with particles in their surrounding environments. To understand this behaviour, researchers in the past have used advanced models to observe how systems can spontaneously evolve into different states over time — losing their quantum information in the process. Through new research published in EPJ D, M. Reboiro and colleagues at the University of La Plata in Argentina have discovered how robust initial states can be prepared in quantum information systems, avoiding any unwanted transitions extensive time periods.

The team’s findings could provide valuable insights for the rapidly advancing field of quantum computing; potentially enabling more complex operations to be carried out using the cutting-edge devices. Their study considered a ‘hybrid’ quantum information system based around a specialised loop of superconducting metal, which interacted with an ensemble of imperfections within the atomic lattice of diamond. Within this system, the researchers aimed to generate sets of ‘exceptional points.’ When these are present, information states don’t decay in the usual way: instead, any gains and losses of quantum information can be perfectly balanced between states.

By accounting for quantum effects, Reboiro and colleagues modelled how the dynamics of ensembled imperfections were affected by their surrounding environments. From these results, they combined information states which displayed large transition probabilities over long time intervals — allowing them to generate exceptional points. Since this considerably increased the survival probability of a state, the team could finally prepare initial states which were robust against the effects of their environments. Their techniques could soon be used to build quantum information systems which retain their information for far longer than was previously possible.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Springer. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Go to Source
Author:

Categories
ScienceDaily

DNA damage caused by migrating light energy

Ultraviolet light endangers the integrity of human genetic information and may cause skin cancer. For the first time, researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have demonstrated that DNA damage may also occur far away from the point of incidence of the radiation. They produced an artificially modeled DNA sequence in new architecture and succeeded in detecting DNA damage at a distance of 30 DNA building blocks.

“So far, we have thought that it is impossible for light energy to be transmitted so far in the DNA and cause damage there,” says Professor Dr. Hans-Achim Wagenknecht from KIT’s Institute of Organic Chemistry. The research results are presented in Angewandte Chemie and are ranked as extraordinarily important and in the best ten percent by the journal. For the study, a synthetically produced, modified DNA of a certain architecture was used. At certain points of this short gene section, researchers inserted a xanthone molecule as photoenergy injector. To specify where the UV radiation produced by LEDs was to cause damage in the experiment, scientists inserted pairs of thymines at defined distances from this light injector. Thymine is one of four nucleobases and, hence, one of the major building blocks of DNA. The most frequent damage of DNA caused by light results from linking neighboring thymines: Due to the light energy, they form solid compounds of cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers (CPD).

Having defined the positions of CPD formation, the team succeeded in proving migration of photoenergy over 30 DNA building blocks corresponding to a distance of up to 10.5 nanometers. “This surprisingly long range is crucial to the understanding of DNA photodamage,” Wagenknecht says. CPD damage is considered the molecular cause of skin cancer, because genetic information can no longer be read or cannot be read correctly.

The question of how far energy can migrate is still open. Above all, the scientists wanted to find out where photodamage develops. Another important aspect is that xanthones artificially introduced into the DNA as light injectors may be contained in many common substances, such as antibiotics, and may increase light sensitivity of the skin after intake.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT). Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Go to Source
Author:

Categories
ScienceDaily

Quirky response to magnetism presents quantum physics mystery

The search is on to discover new states of matter, and possibly new ways of encoding, manipulating, and transporting information. One goal is to harness materials’ quantum properties for communications that go beyond what’s possible with conventional electronics. Topological insulators — materials that act mostly as insulators but carry electric current across their surface — provide some tantalizing possibilities.

“Exploring the complexity of topological materials — along with other intriguing emergent phenomena such as magnetism and superconductivity — is one of the most exciting and challenging areas of focus for the materials science community at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory,” said Peter Johnson, a senior physicist in the Condensed Matter Physics & Materials Science Division at Brookhaven. “We’re trying to understand these topological insulators because they have lots of potential applications, particularly in quantum information science, an important new area for the division.”

For example, materials with this split insulator/conductor personality exhibit a separation in the energy signatures of their surface electrons with opposite “spin.” This quantum property could potentially be harnessed in “spintronic” devices for encoding and transporting information. Going one step further, coupling these electrons with magnetism can lead to novel and exciting phenomena.

“When you have magnetism near the surface you can have these other exotic states of matter that arise from the coupling of the topological insulator with the magnetism,” said Dan Nevola, a postdoctoral fellow working with Johnson. “If we can find topological insulators with their own intrinsic magnetism, we should be able to efficiently transport electrons of a particular spin in a particular direction.”

In a new study just published and highlighted as an Editor’s Suggestion in Physical Review Letters, Nevola, Johnson, and their coauthors describe the quirky behavior of one such magnetic topological insulator. The paper includes experimental evidence that intrinsic magnetism in the bulk of manganese bismuth telluride (MnBi2Te4) also extends to the electrons on its electrically conductive surface. Previous studies had been inconclusive as to whether or not the surface magnetism existed.

But when the physicists measured the surface electrons’ sensitivity to magnetism, only one of two observed electronic states behaved as expected. Another surface state, which was expected to have a larger response, acted as if the magnetism wasn’t there.

“Is the magnetism different at the surface? Or is there something exotic that we just don’t understand?” Nevola said.

Johnson leans toward the exotic physics explanation: “Dan did this very careful experiment, which enabled him to look at the activity in the surface region and identify two different electronic states on that surface, one that might exist on any metallic surface and one that reflected the topological properties of the material,” he said. “The former was sensitive to the magnetism, which proves that the magnetism does indeed exist in the surface. However, the other one that we expected to be more sensitive had no sensitivity at all. So, there must be some exotic physics going on!”

The measurements

The scientists studied the material using various types of photoemission spectroscopy, where light from an ultraviolet laser pulse knocks electrons loose from the surface of the material and into a detector for measurement.

“For one of our experiments, we use an additional infrared laser pulse to give the sample a little kick to move some of the electrons around prior to doing the measurement,” Nevola explained. “It takes some of the electrons and kicks them [up in energy] to become conducting electrons. Then, in very, very short timescales — picoseconds — you do the measurement to look at how the electronic states have changed in response.”

The map of the energy levels of the excited electrons shows two distinct surface bands that each display separate branches, electrons in each branch having opposite spin. Both bands, each representing one of the two electronic states, were expected to respond to the presence of magnetism.

To test whether these surface electrons were indeed sensitive to magnetism, the scientists cooled the sample to 25 Kelvin, allowing its intrinsic magnetism to emerge. However only in the non-topological electronic state did they observe a “gap” opening up in the anticipated part of the spectrum.

“Within such gaps, electrons are prohibited from existing, and thus their disappearance from that part of the spectrum represents the signature of the gap,” Nevola said.

The observation of a gap appearing in the regular surface state was definitive evidence of magnetic sensitivity — and evidence that the magnetism intrinsic in the bulk of this particular material extends to its surface electrons.

However, the “topological” electronic state the scientists studied showed no such sensitivity to magnetism — no gap.

“That throws in a bit of a question mark,” Johnson said.

“These are properties we’d like to be able to understand and engineer, much like we engineer the properties of semiconductors for a variety of technologies,” Johnson continued.

In spintronics, for example, the idea is to use different spin states to encode information in the way positive and negative electric charges are presently used in semiconductor devices to encode the “bits” — 1s and 0s — of computer code. But spin-coded quantum bits, or qubits, have many more possible states — not just two. This will greatly expand on the potential to encode information in new and powerful ways.

“Everything about magnetic topological insulators looks like they’re right for this kind of technological application, but this particular material doesn’t quite obey the rules,” Johnson said.

So now, as the team continues their search for new states of matter and further insights into the quantum world, there’s a new urgency to explain this particular material’s quirky quantum behavior.

Go to Source
Author:

Categories
ScienceDaily

Scientists slow and steer light with resonant nanoantennas

Light is notoriously fast. Its speed is crucial for rapid information exchange, but as light zips through materials, its chances of interacting and exciting atoms and molecules can become very small. If scientists can put the brakes on light particles, or photons, it would open the door to a host of new technology applications.

Now, in a paper published on Aug. 17, in Nature Nanotechnology, Stanford scientists demonstrate a new approach to slow light significantly, much like an echo chamber holds onto sound, and to direct it at will. Researchers in the lab of Jennifer Dionne, associate professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford, structured ultrathin silicon chips into nanoscale bars to resonantly trap light and then release or redirect it later. These “high-quality-factor” or “high-Q” resonators could lead to novel ways of manipulating and using light, including new applications for quantum computing, virtual reality and augmented reality; light-based WiFi; and even the detection of viruses like SARS-CoV-2.

“We’re essentially trying to trap light in a tiny box that still allows the light to come and go from many different directions,” said postdoctoral fellow Mark Lawrence, who is also lead author of the paper. “It’s easy to trap light in a box with many sides, but not so easy if the sides are transparent — as is the case with many Silicon-based applications.”

Make and manufacture

Before they can manipulate light, the resonators need to be fabricated, and that poses a number of challenges.

A central component of the device is an extremely thin layer of silicon, which traps light very efficiently and has low absorption in the near-infrared, the spectrum of light the scientists want to control. The silicon rests atop a wafer of transparent material (sapphire, in this case) into which the researchers direct an electron microscope “pen” to etch their nanoantenna pattern. The pattern must be drawn as smoothly as possible, as these antennas serve as the walls in the echo-chamber analogy, and imperfections inhibit the light-trapping ability.

“High-Q resonances require the creation of extremely smooth sidewalls that don’t allow the light to leak out,” said Dionne, who is also Senior Associate Vice Provost of Research Platforms/Shared Facilities. “That can be achieved fairly routinely with larger micron-scale structures, but is very challenging with nanostructures which scatter light more.”

Pattern design plays a key role in creating the high-Q nanostructures. “On a computer, I can draw ultra-smooth lines and blocks of any given geometry, but the fabrication is limited,” said Lawrence. “Ultimately, we had to find a design that gave good-light trapping performance but was within the realm of existing fabrication methods.”

High quality (factor) applications

Tinkering with the design has resulted in what Dionne and Lawrence describe as an important platform technology with numerous practical applications.

The devices demonstrated so-called quality factors up to 2,500, which is two orders of magnitude (or 100 times) higher than any similar devices have previously achieved. Quality factors are a measure describing resonance behavior, which in this case is proportional to the lifetime of the light. “By achieving quality factors in the thousands, we’re already in a nice sweet spot from some very exciting technological applications,” said Dionne.

For example, biosensing. A single biomolecule is so small that it is essentially invisible. But passing light over a molecule hundreds or thousands of times can greatly increase the chance of creating a detectable scattering effect.

Dionne’s lab is working on applying this technique to detecting COVID-19 antigens — molecules that trigger an immune response — and antibodies — proteins produced by the immune system in response. “Our technology would give an optical readout like the doctors and clinicians are used to seeing,” said Dionne. “But we have the opportunity to detect a single virus or very low concentrations of a multitude of antibodies owing to the strong light-molecule interactions.” The design of the high-Q nanoresonators also allows each antenna to operate independently to detect different types of antibodies simultaneously.

Though the pandemic spurred her interest in viral detection, Dionne is also excited about other applications, such as LIDAR — or Light Detection and Ranging, which is laser-based distance measuring technology often used in self-driving vehicles — that this new technology could contribute to. “A few years ago I couldn’t have imagined the immense application spaces that this work would touch upon,” said Dionne. “For me, this project has reinforced the importance of fundamental research — you can’t always predict where fundamental science is going to go or what it’s going to lead to, but it can provide critical solutions for future challenges.”

This innovation could also be useful in quantum science. For example, splitting photons to create entangled photons that remain connected on a quantum level even when far apart would typically require large tabletop optical experiments with big expensive precisely polished crystals. “If we can do that, but use our nanostructures to control and shape that entangled light, maybe one day we will have an entanglement generator that you can hold in your hand,” Lawrence said. “With our results, we are excited to look at the new science that’s achievable now, but also trying to push the limits of what’s possible.”

Additional Stanford co-authors include graduate students David Russell Barton III and Jefferson Dixon, research associate Jung-Hwan Song, former research scientist Jorik van de Groep, and Mark Brongersma, professor of materials science and engineering. This work was funded by the DOE-EFRC, “Photonics at Thermodynamic Limits” as well as by the AFOSR. Jen is also an associate professor, by courtesy, of radiology and member of the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute and Bio-X.

Go to Source
Author:

Categories
ScienceDaily

Advance in programmable synthetic materials

Artificial molecules could one day form the information unit of a new type of computer or be the basis for programmable substances. The information would be encoded in the spatial arrangement of the individual atoms — similar to how the sequence of base pairs determines the information content of DNA, or sequences of zeros and ones form the memory of computers.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) have taken a step towards this vision. They showed that atom probe tomography can be used to read a complex spatial arrangement of metal ions in multivariate metal-organic frameworks.

Metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) are crystalline porous networks of multi-metal nodes linked together by organic units to form a well-defined structure. To encode information using a sequence of metals, it is essential to be first able to read the metal arrangement. However, reading the arrangement was extremely challenging. Recently, the interest in characterizing metal sequences is growing because of the extensive information such multivariate structures would be able to offer.

Fundamentally, there was no method to read the metal sequence in MOFs. In the current study, the research team has successfully done so by using atom probe tomography (APT), in which the Bochum-based materials scientist Tong Li is an expert. The researchers chose MOF-74, made by the Yaghi group in 2005, as an object of interest. They designed the MOFs with mixed combinations of cobalt, cadmium, lead, and manganese, and then decrypted their spatial structure using APT.

Li, professor and head of the Atomic-Scale Characterisation research group at the Institute for Materials at RUB, describes the method together with Dr. Zhe Ji and Professor Omar Yaghi from UC Berkeley in the journal Science, published online on August 7, 2020.

Just as sophisticated as biology

In the future, MOFs could form the basis of programmable chemical molecules: for instance, an MOF could be programmed to introduce an active pharmaceutical ingredient into the body to target infected cells and then break down the active ingredient into harmless substances once it is no longer needed. Or MOFs could be programmed to release different drugs at different times.

“This is very powerful, because you are basically coding the behavior of molecules leaving the pores,” Yaghi said.

They could also be used to capture CO2 and, at the same time, convert the CO2 into a useful raw material for the chemical industry.

“In the long term, such structures with programmed atomic sequences can completely change our way of thinking about material synthesis,” write the authors. “The synthetic world could reach a whole new level of precision and sophistication that has previously been reserved for biology.”

The work was supported by the Center of Excellence for Nanomaterials and Clean Energy Applications at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology.

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of California – Berkeley. Original written by Robert Sanders. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Go to Source
Author:

Categories
ScienceDaily

Winning the digital transformation race: Three emerging approaches for leading transition

New research from Professor Feng Li, Chair of Information Management at City’s Business School has outlined three new approaches that digital innovators can take to reduce the risk of failure and seize competitive advantage in the industry.

With the coronavirus pandemic forcing many organisations to operate remotely, adoption of the latest secure technologies has taken on greater importance for many industries — presenting great opportunities for providers of these technologies, but also great challenges of meeting demand, staying ahead of competition and surviving in a fast-moving environment.

Professor Li interviewed senior leaders at eight global digital champions including Amazon, VMWare, Slack, Alibaba and Baidu to find out what their strategies were for innovation.

The findings can be summarised into three main approaches that are emerging:

  • Innovation by experimentation: a continual process of developing ideas on a small scale without high upfront investment, and then leveraging and rapidly scaling up those that turn out to be successful.
  • Radical transformation through incremental approaches: breaking up large scale projects into strategic investments with measuring capability at each stage allows companies to radically innovate several projects at once in small steps. This method also mitigates the risk of a single large project failing and allows businesses to judge which projects will yield the highest returns or biggest impact on investment.
  • Dynamic sustainable advantages through portfolios of temporary advantages: due to the fast-paced nature of the digital economy, competitive advantages are often short-lived. Implementing a strategy for successive and incremental temporary advantages can yield significant long-term gains.

All three strategies use elements of diversification and portfolio management to mitigate costs of failure, as is often seen in investor portfolios.

Professor Li said the nature of digital innovation lent itself to a highly dynamic approach.

“Digital technology is a highly volatile, fast-paced sector,” he said.

“It is important for companies in the field to recognise that competitive advantages are short-lived, and that there is no ‘end-point’ for innovation. Throwing all your weight behind one project as a start-to-end activity is highly risky and serves little long-term benefit even if successful.

“Sustainability can only be achieved by continuously reinventing the wheel while seeking new investment opportunities.

“The coronavirus pandemic has both challenged and opened doors of opportunity to traditionally non-digital organisation to innovate methods of banking, education and even living room gym classes.

“This is placing added pressure on industry incumbents to stay ahead of new disruptors, putting further emphasis on the need to have new irons in the fire and the ability to change direction quickly and efficiently between innovations.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by City University London. Original written by Hamish Armstrong. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Go to Source
Author:

Categories
ProgrammableWeb

Vericred Provides Level-Funded Health Insurance Plans Via API

Vericred, a data services company simplifying the exchange of information between health insurance and employee benefit carriers and InsurTech companies, today announced the immediate availability of level-funded plans through its Group Rating API. With this new functionality, Vericred is facilitating the distribution and quoting of these attractive alternatives to fully insured group plans.

Until now, level-funded plans have been quoted through carrier websites and broker portals, or through complex integrations with carrier APIs. As a result, it has been difficult for InsurTech applications serving brokers to offer multi-carrier level-funded quoting, thereby limiting visibility of these plans to the detriment of carriers, brokers, and employers. Through this enhancement to its Group Rating API, Vericred is making it easy for these tech companies to quote and compare level-funded plans across carriers, and even against fully insured medical plans.

“Level-funded plans are rapidly increasing in popularity, with some brokers expecting more than 50 percent of their small group book of business to migrate to level-funded products over the next two years,” said Vericred CEO Michael W. Levin. “Our new API supports this exponential growth by enabling tech platforms to build carrier-agnostic, level-funded quoting solutions for brokers and employers. And for our carrier partners, this is a cost-effective pathway to achieve visibility for level-funded products across the quoting tools brokers are using today.”

Vericred is debuting this new functionality with two carrier launch partners: AllSavers, a UnitedHealthcare subsidiary, and Humana, and expects to add level-funded plans from additional national and regional carriers and TPAs over the coming months. Initially, the rating API will deliver “illustrative” or street quotes, which are subject to underwriting and approval. Later this year, Vericred intends to further expand its capability to underwritten quotes.

“Humana has invested significantly in its digital initiatives. Working with Vericred leverages those investments by making it even easier for our distribution partners to quote and enroll in Humana products. As such, we are thrilled that level funded group plans are now on the Vericred platform for quoting,” said Gary Davis, Humana National Leader – General Agents, Digital Initiatives, & Small Business Sales.

Sponsoring health insurance for employees has become a significant cost burden for businesses, with average annual premiums for single coverage ballooning from $4,824 in 2010 to $7,188 in 2019, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) study. Level-funded plans, which package the cost savings and personalization of self-funding with the fixed-payment structure and risk mitigation of fully-insured plans, are an increasingly popular benefits option for employers struggling to address the rising cost of health insurance. The percentage of covered workers at small firms (3-199 employees) who were enrolled in a level-funded plan increased from 6 percent in 2018 to 11 percent in 2019, KFF reported.

Go to Source
Author: <a href="https://www.programmableweb.com/user/%5Buid%5D">ProgrammableWeb PR</a>

Categories
ScienceDaily

Shift in how we build computers: Photonics

Information technology continues to progress at a rapid pace. However, the growing demands of data centers have pushed electrical input-output systems to their physical limit, which has created a bottleneck. Maintaining this growth will require a shift in how we built computers. The future is optical.

Over the last decade, photonics has provided a solution to the chip-to-chip bandwidth problem in the electronic world by increasing the link distance between servers with higher bandwidth, far less energy and lower latency compared to electrical interconnects.

One element of this revolution, silicon photonics, was advanced 15 years ago by the demonstration from UC Santa Barbara and Intel of a silicon laser technology. This has since triggered an explosion of this field. Intel is now delivering millions of silicon photonic transceivers for data centers all around the world.

A new discovery in silicon photonics by a collaboration of UC Santa Barbara, Caltech and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) reveals another revolution in this field. The group managed to simplify and condense a complex optical system onto a single silicon photonic chip. The achievement, featured in Nature, significantly lowers the cost of production and allows for easy integration with traditional, silicon chip production.

“The entire internet is driven by photonics now,” said John Bowers, who holds the Fred Kavli Chair in Nanotechnology at UC Santa Barbara, directs the campus’s Institute for Energy Efficiency and led the collaborative research effort.

Despite the great success of photonics in the Internet backbone, challenges still exist. The explosion of data traffic puts a growing requirement on the data rate each individual silicon photonic chip can handle. Using multicolor laser light to transmit information is the most efficient way to address this demand. The more laser colors, the more information that can be carried.

However, this poses a problem for integrated lasers, which can generate only one color of laser light at a time. “You might literally need 50 or more lasers in that chip for that purpose” said Bowers. And using 50 lasers has a number of drawbacks. It’s expensive, and rather inefficient in terms of power. What’s more, the frequency of light each laser produces can fluctuate slightly due to noise and heat. With multiple lasers, the frequencies can even drift into each other, much like early radio stations did.

A technology called “optical frequency combs” provide a promising solution to address this problem. It refers to a collection of equally spaced frequencies of laser light. Plotting the frequencies reveals spikes and dips that resemble a hair comb — hence the name. However, generating combs required bulky, expensive equipment. Using an integrated photonics approach, Bowers’ team has demonstrated the smallest comb generator in the world, which resolves all of these problems.

The configuration of the system is rather simple, consisting of a commercially distributed feedback laser and a silicon nitride photonic chip. “What we have is a source that generates all these colors out of one laser and one chip. That’s what’s significant about this,” Bowers said.

The simple structure leads to a significant reduction of scale, power and cost. The whole setup now fits in a package smaller than a match box, whose overall price and power consumption are smaller than previous systems.

What’s more, the new technology is also much more convenient to operate. Previously, generating a stable comb had been a tricky endeavor. Researchers had to modulate the frequency and adjust power just right to produce a coherent comb state, called soliton. That process was not guaranteed to generate such state every time. “The new approach makes the process as easy as switching on a room light,” said coauthor Kerry Vahala, a professor of applied physics and information science and technology at Caltech.

“What is remarkable about the result is the reproducibility with which frequency combs can be generated on demand,” added Tobias J. Kippenberg, professor of physics at EPFL who provided the low loss silicon nitride photonics chips, a technology already commercialized via LIGENTEC. “This process used to require elaborate control in the past.”

The magic behind all these improvements lies in an interesting physical phenomenon. When the pump laser and resonator are integrated, the interaction between them forms a highly coupled system that is self-injection locking and simultaneously generates “solitons,” pulses that circulate indefinitely inside the resonator and give rise to optical frequency combs. “Such interaction is the key to directly generating the comb and operating it in the soliton state” explained coauthor Lin Chang, a postdoctoral researcher in Bowers’ lab.

This new technology will have a big impact on photonics. In addition to addressing the demands of multicolor light sources in communication related products, it also opens up a lot of new opportunities in many applications. One example is optical clocks, which provide the most accurate time standard in the world and have many uses — from navigation in daily life to measurements of physical constants.

“Optical clocks used to be large, heavy and expensive,” Bowers noted, “and there are only a few in the world. With integrated photonics, we can make something that could fit in a wristwatch, and you could afford it. Low noise integrated optical microcombs will enable a new generation of optical clocks, communications and sensors. We should see more compact, more sensitive GPS receivers coming out of this approach.”

All in all, the future looks bright for photonics. “It is the key step to transfer the frequency comb technology from the laboratory to the real world.” Bowers said. “It will change photonics and our daily lives.”

Go to Source
Author: