Researchers call it the “OMG” microscope. They use the machine, whose proper name is DeltaVision OMX*, to study malaria parasites worming their way into red blood cells, see how the HIV virus jumps from a cell to cell, and look for weak spots in the defense of dangerous superbugs like MRSA and drug-resistant slime.
Every fall, GE Healthcare Life Sciences, which makes the microscope and other high and super-resolution technology, holds a cell imaging competition where scientists from around the world can enter their best pictures. The jury just announced the winners of the 2013 contest.
Vanessa Auld from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, finished first in the microscopy category. She photographed stained proteins in an area of the drosophila fruit fly where muscle fibers and nerves meet to study neurodegenerative disease (see below).
Graham Wright, researcher at the Institute of Medical Biology ‑ A*STAR in Singapore, was the regional winner in the microscopy category. His image of a mouse spermatocyte could illuminate fertility treatment (top picture).
Martin Barr from the St. James’s Hospital and Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, won in the high-content analysis category, using another type of high-resolution technology. Barr’s image of a lung adenocarcinoma cell (see below) could advance cancer research.
The winning images will receive marquee treatment in New York City. They will be displayed in Times Square between April 25 and 27.
The super-resolution OMX microscope can see objects as small as 120 nanometers. Unlike a traditional microscope, the machine does not have an ocular lens. Scientists place samples on a platform inside the machine and photograph it with high resolution cameras.
The OMX uses powerful algorithms to process the images and break through the diffraction barrier. For a long time, the barrier prevented researchers from seeing two objects closer to each other than half the wavelength of light they used to image the sample.
The results can be mind-blowing. Indiana University researcher Jane Stout, who won the competition last year, dubbed the microscope “OMG” after seeing unprecedented details inside the cancer cells she studied. Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health in the U.S., wrote on his blog that the microscope’s images were “showstoppers.”
*Delta Vision OMX is a GE trademark. Delta Vision OMX is for research use only, not for use in diagnostic procedures.
Jane Stout’s photograph of a metaphase epithelial cell in metaphase stained for microtubules (red), kinetochores (green) and DNA (blue) was a winner in 2012. The image, used for cancer research, was displayed in Times Square last April.
This image of a white blood helper cell taken by the OMX microscope was a finalist last year. Scientists took it for HIV research. Image description: Tissue section stained for CD4+ cells (red), stroma (green) and nuclei (blue).
Engineers at GE’s wind power unit developed a new 450-foot tall “space frame” tower that could allow wind farm operators to build turbines in places that were previously inaccessible.
Instead of traditional steel tube towers, the new design is using metal latticework wrapped in a fiberglass coat. The lattice girders can be loaded inside shipping containers and onto ordinary trucks, and bolted together at the final destination. This makes logistics and transportation easier (see time-lapse video).
GE erected a prototype of the tower at a testing site in Tehachapi, CA. It supports a rotor the size of the London Eye (almost 400 feet in diameter) and a massive new 2.75 megawatt turbine.
The tower stands on five legs that provide wider support and more balance than the traditional tubular tower. The weather resistant shield is strong enough to last for the lifetime of the structure.
The new design is using metal latticework wrapped in a fiberglass coat.
"The space frame tower helps our customers go taller in new locations, further enabling the growth of wind energy," said Cliff Harris, general manager of GE’s Renewable Energy business in Europe. "This next innovation in wind turbine technology is a stepping stone towards towers taller than 150 meters in Europe."
GE unveiled the tower at the annual European Wind Energy Association conference held in Barcelona this week.
GE has been involved with the latest as well as the earliest wind turbines. In 1887, Charles F. Brush built the first power generating wind turbine in Cleveland, Ohio. It was a 4-ton, 60-foot monster with 144 blades and a long, comet-like tail. It generated just 12 kilowatts of electricity – enough supply no more than three modern American homes. Brush later merged his electric company with Thomas Edison’s GE.
Jeff Immelt, GE chairman and CEO, writes in the company’s 2013 Annual Report, which GE released today, about the benefits of looking at innovation with a broad lens.
The theme of the Annual Report, and Immelt’s letter to shareowners, is “Progress,” which, he writes, is reflected in GE’s ability to spread ideas and technology across the entire company.
“We can draw on the ‘GE store’” to deliver better outcomes to customers, Immelt writes. “Gas turbine technology, aviation materials, healthcare imaging, global capability…we can leverage our enterprise advantages as we win in new infrastructure markets, like oil and gas.”
Few places are more extreme than the bottom of the ocean. But GE engineers have been pooling knowledge and building machines that can help oil and gas customers detect problems before they get out of hand and minimize unplanned downtime.
This means that advances in medical X-Ray technology could help spot cracks in subsea pipelines before they break. Or coatings developed by aviation engineers could protect sophisticated systems submerged deep in cold salt water.
Elsewhere, algorithms written by software engineers in Silicon Valley could help monitor blowout preventers (BOPs) built by GE Oil & Gas workers in Texas.
BOPs are 50,000-pound, 60-foot-tall safety valves made from 70,000 component parts. They sit on top of pressurized oil and gas wells thousands of feet below the surface of the ocean. They serve as the last line of defense if something in the well goes wrong.
Many BOP parts have different lifespans and the massive machines have to be periodically pulled up and serviced. But GE workers are developing Big Data technology that could give customers information about real-time performance.
“We need to move from the ‘break-fix’ model to a maintenance model where we can advise customers to service a component based on measurements of its performance,” says Bob Judge, director of product management at GE Oil & Gas. “What if you had technology gathering BOP data so that the next time you pull it out, you know exactly what needs to be replaced and have the replacement parts available on the drilling rig? This information could save millions of dollars in unplanned downtime, adding substantial value for our customers and for their customers.”
Take a look at our infographic illustrating a vision of the GE Store, connecting innovation across the company.
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson was in Austin, TX, on Saturday to deliver the keynote address at the SXSW Interactive festival. He was also launching Cosmos, a big-budget TV show that has turned him into an international science superstar last night.
Quirky is an open design community where anyone can submit product ideas. Members can vote for best products and influence each other’s designs.
The StarTalk lineup brought together Nye, Quirky CEO Ben Kaufman, GE scientist Balajee Kanna, and comedians Eugene Mirman and Jenny Slate. The guests covered everything from using patents as “an encyclopedia of how the world works” and letting people build on the ideas of others to building robot factories in space.
Quirky’s Kaufman also ran an invention evaluation session where judges, including Nye and the audience, could decide whether gadgets such as a robotic snow plow, a self-cleaning toilet, or a bluetooth enabled safe should be made into commercial products.
Nye said science and tech startups, like those that flock to Austin every March, were intimately connected. “All these startups are going to be based on technologies that depend on our discoveries in science,” Nye told TechCrunch before the event. “As they say, engineers – and I am an engineer, with a license – we use science to make things and solve problems. Everything you can see in your world came out of somebody’s head. And most of the people whose heads it came out of were engineers.”
In the 1960s, GE set out to create Hardiman, a mechanical exoskeleton that could give its user the ability to lift up to 1,500 pounds. Unfortunately, the suit’s size, weight, stability and power-supply issues prevented it from ever leaving the laboratory. Kevin Weir at flux machine recently re- animated the wearable technology to help us imagine what Hardiman might have been.
The Peebles Test Operation is where GE subjects its engines to groaning trials that involve hail and ice blasts, hurricane-force winds, bird strikes and other extreme hardships that exceed anything they are likely to encounter in service.
The tests reflect the tough requirements the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and other regulatory agencies impose on jet engines before they are certified for commercial service.
One of the strangest structures at the 7,000-acre facility is a grey, honeycombed orb spanning 32 feet in diameter. Up close, the mysterious sphere appears like a translucent alien beehive attached to the front of a jet engine. The sphere is made from an array of 300 flat aluminum honeycombs and perforated stainless steel plate panels of varying sizes, and weighs 30,000 pounds.
Meet the “turbulence control structure.” GE owns three of them. The orb is really a high-tech wind shelter. It helps crews smooth out the flow of air into a jet engine during simulations of engine distress, including changes in fuel flow and “deterioration” of the engine compressor and turbine.
Aerospace engineer Jose Gonsalez, who came to GE from NASA, has been testing jet engines at Peebles for seven years.
The dome is made from an array of 300 flat aluminum honeycombs and perforated stainless steel plate panels of varying sizes.
He says that the dome makes the test site more efficient. It allows him to manage changes in airflow cause by the weather. “You don’t want that as a variable when you collect performance data across many days and under different conditions,” Gonsalez says.
GE first introduced the sphere in the 1990s, when it started testing the world’s most powerful engine, the GE90.
“Before the turbulence control structure, you would have to wait for calm conditions to be within your wind envelope, typically from dusk through early morning,” Gonsalez says. “Now when there is a lot of sunshine and convective heating from the sun, you can better deal with the variable wind conditions. We can run more tests more often.”
The grey honeycombed orb spans 32 feet in diameter and weighs 30,000 pounds.
GE is on track to finish one of the largest and most logistically complex environmental cleanups in U.S. history on a 40-mile stretch of the Hudson River.
The company has removed nearly 2 million cubic yards of sediment containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from the New York State waterway since 2009.The project is due to conclude in 2016.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is overseeing the project, has stated that the dredging is meeting its cleanup goals and protects human health and the environment.
In 2002, the EPA issued a decision that called for the removal of an estimated 2.65 million cubic yards of PCBs from 493 acres of the river.
GE used PCBs at its Hudson Falls and Fort Edward plants. The company held valid permits at all times necessary for discharging them to the river.
In 2005, GE assembled a technical team to address the challenges. They included taking over 60,000 samples from the riverbed to map the areas to dredge, customizing the dredging and sediment processing equipment, and building a 110-acre facility to process the sediments and load them for transport via rail to government approved landfills.
Dredging began in 2009. The engineers used 3-D virtual reality software dubbed “Nintendo,” a custom-built digital positioning system and other instruments to map the irregular bottom of the river and guide dredges to the precise locations of PCBs in sediment. The “Nintendo” allowed the equipment operators to virtually “see” the riverbed in real time and excavate the right sediment. A wireless data transmission system also simultaneously sent the data to engineers monitoring the progress of dredging.
The team integrated the software with the excavator’s hydraulic system. The resulting data allows workers to customize the details of the dredge plan based on actual performance and minimize the amount of “under- or over-dig.”
The operation generates nearly a terabyte of data every day. The team stores it in the cloud and makes it immediately accessible to crews managing the on-water efforts, at the office, and also at home. A core team of GE and EPA managers use it to determine the direction of the project for the next 24 hours.
GE has invested $1 billion in the cleanup project so far. Today the project involves more than 350 full-time employees, contractors and consultants. As many as 70 vessels are at work in the river during dredging operations. Thus far, those vessels have traveled more than 17,000 miles up and down the river.
As of December, GE had removed almost 2 million cubic yards of sediment, which is more than 70 of the total sediment targeted by the EPA. Workers also planted more than 600,000 native plants to restore aquatic river-bottom vegetation in areas that have been dredged.
GE is preparing to begin the fifth season of environmental dredging in the Upper Hudson River in May, and run it through October. It will include work on a two-mile section of the river inaccessible by boat. The team will use a crane to place smaller dredges and hopper barges into the water to remove 160,000 cubic yards of sediment.
On an eerily balmy first day of winter last December, when the temperature hit record 71 degrees Fahrenheit in New York City, Tim Grob steered his black electric Tesla S sedan into the parking lot of Brooklyn’s new Whole Foods supermarket. He parked next to a towering green Sanya Skypump and plugged in.
The “skypump” combines a vertical wind turbine developed by Urban Green Energy (UGE) with GE’s powerful WattStation EV charger. The 4-kilowatt wind turbine supplies the charging station with electricity anyplace the wind blows. “They should be everywhere,” Grob says. “It just makes sense. Eventually they will be.”
GE’s WattStation is using electricity generated by UGE’s 4-kilowatt vertical wind turbine.
Climate change has been on the minds of many local shoppers. Just a year ago, parts of New York City, including the nearby Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook, were ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.
There are two Skypumps at the Brooklyn Whole Foods Market store. UGE has also installed 19 streetlights using solar and wind power in the parking lot, and several carports covered with solar panels. Ryan Gilchrist, assistant vice president of business development at UGE, said that his company was “seeing an increasing number of customers come to us looking for energy reliability solutions.”
Whole Foods said in a statement that the Brooklyn store was “about 60 percent more energy efficient than any other grocery store in the United States. We’re going to be saving about 2.5 million kilowatt-hours a year, which is equivalent to taking about 360 cars off the road annually,” the company said.
“We’ve received extremely positive feedback from Whole Foods about the units,” says UGE’s senior engineer Jan Gromadzki. “We are looking forward to many more successful installations with them.”
Shoppers arrived in T-shirts on an unseasonably balmy first winter day to Brooklyn’s new Whole Foods store.
The WattStation’s sleek features come from industrial designer Yves Behar.
The first Industrial Revolution was about machines, the second about technology, and the third will take place inside the “Brilliant Factory,” says Christine Furstoss, global technology director at GE Global Research.
Based in part in the cloud, the Brilliant Factory will be a place where designers, suppliers and production engineers will collaborate over crowdsourcing platforms, design goods and virtually test production without touching materials or machines. “They will download the process to intelligent machines on the factory floor when they are ready,” Furstoss says. “When production starts, they will be able to make real-time adjustments based on what’s happening to optimize efficiency.”
A key element of that crowdsourcing collaboration will be the customer. “Service, the function that’s usually closest to the customer, feeds engineering with reality-based measures of product performance,” says Ian Boulton, senior director for solution strategy at the Big Data firm PTC. “Engineering, in turn, designs products with service optimization in mind.”
Software and hardware technology called PowerUp allows wind farm operators like EDP Renewables to monitor performance in real time and boost power output by as much as 5 percent per turbine. This could translate to a 20 percent increase in profit.
Boulton believes that the advent of the Industrial Internet (or Internet of Things), a network that connects machines with software, sensors and data, is “transforming product development processes and accelerating design innovation.” He calls this trend “servitization.”
He says that “only a decade ago, the data storage and analytics tools needed to deliver on the ‘design for service’ dream weren’t quite there. They are today.”
The Trip Optimizer system connects locomotives to the Industrial Internet. It works like an intelligent cruise control, crunching a complex diet of data ranging from train characteristics like length, weight and the number of locomotives, to track profile information like grades and speed restrictions.
A recent story in Barron’s story pointed out that GE was transforming itself from a seller of just equipment into a seller of services. “Airlines can use data from hundreds of GE sensors to reduce fuel costs and plan maintenance,” Barron’s wrote. “Railroads can do the same to optimize trips. Software now contributes $4 billion a year to GE’s revenue. And service contracts create a stream of high-margin income that can last for the life of the equipment the company sells—in some cases, three or four decades.”
Bob Judge, director of product management at GE Oil & Gas, says that GE needs to “move from the ‘break-fix’ model to a maintenance model where we can advise customers to service a component based on measurements of its performance.”
As service starts informing design, the idea is that there will be a lot less fixing and a lot more performance.
Jet engines come in all shapes and sizes. Fighter jets use sleek and narrow supersonic engines called low-bypass turbofans to generate enormous thrust. But they also guzzle plenty of gas. Passenger planes use their bigger and more efficient cousins, called high-bypass turbofans. But they are not nearly as fast.
Now engineers at GE Aviation and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory are working on the world’s first engine that combines the best features of both designs. “We are making a generational leap with this technology,” says Dan McCormick, manager for adaptive cycle engine programs at GE Aviation. “We are looking at speed and performance, but also fuel savings of 25 percent. That extra fuel could increase how far a military jet flies by up to 35 percent. That’s huge.”
The new design is called “adaptive cycle” engine. It can switch between high power and high efficiency modes. “It’s all about getting as much work as we can out of every drop of jet fuel we burn,” McCormick says.
The adaptive cycle engine is building on decades of military and civilian jet engine research. Innovative architecture shifts air flow between the core, the main bypass, and a third stream to achieve thrust, optimal performance, and fuel efficiency.
The idea dates back to the 1960s, when jet engine pioneer Gerhard Neumann realized that he could manage jet engine performance by controlling the amount of air that flows through the engine core. More flow yields more thrust and speed (that’s good for fighter jets); less flow saves fuel.
GE’s adaptive cycle engine automatically flips between the two modes and gives fighter pilots the speed they need during dogfights, and the fuel savings when they are flying patrols. “We want the engine to take care of itself and let the pilot focus on the mission,” McCormick says. “When the pilot says ‘I’m out of danger, I want to cruise home,’ the engine reconfigures itself.”
The new adaptive cycle engine is building on the YF120, GE’s first variable cycle engine prototype (above on a test stand at Edwards Air Force Base).
In the 1990s, GE engineers built and flight-tested an early prototype of a variable engine, called YF120.
The team is now testing GE’s latest adaptive cycle engine design called ADVENT (ADaptive Versatile ENgine Technology), at the company’s aviation plant in Cincinnati, OH. It includes new heat resistant materials called ceramic matrix composites (CMCs) and 3D printed parts.
A bladed disk, or blisk, from the YF120 engine.
The team recently achieved the highest temperature ever recorded inside a jet engine core, surpassing engine target temperatures by more than 130 degrees Fahrenheit. This achievement (validated by the Air Force) is a game-changer because more heat equals more power, resulting in greater fuel efficiency.
Adaptive-cycle technology has applications that reach beyond the military. “The latest GE jet engines like the GE9X will use CMCs and 3D printed parts,” says Dave Jeffcoat, ADVENT project manager at GE Aviation. “The tests show that we’ve picked the right technology. We are building on a solid foundation.”
RainDance Technologies is developing new “liquid biopsy” systems using tiny droplets separated by oil to analyze DNA. Researchers using the technology are evaluating its ability to identify whether the samples may contain cancer, viruses, pathogens and markers released by the immune system.
The new tools could allow doctors to test tumors and cancer cells with a simple needle prick. RainDance, which is based in Billerica, Mass, just received a new $16.5 million round of financing from a group of investors including GE’s venture capital arm, GE Ventures.
Alex de Winter, who invests in clinical diagnostics startups at GE Ventures, says that each droplet becomes a miniature bioreactor that can amplify target DNA inside a RainDance analyzer.
De Winter says that instead of sequencing the whole genome, the droplets allow researchers to focus only on the relevant pre-identified genes, or as little as 1 percent of the sample. “You don’t waste time and you don’t waste sequencing power,” de Winter says.
The technology is now being used only by researchers but the new investment will allow RainDance to expand research and speed up possible commercial applications. The company, which was launched in 2004, has raised more than $100 million in financing, including the new round.
Sue Siegel, CEO of GE Ventures and healthymagination, said that GE has followed RainDance “for many years” and was “impressed with how the company’s cutting edge technologies are advancing the market and helping to bring in a new era of more accurate, non-invasive and cost-efficient testing for complex genetic disease research.”
GE’s healthymagination challenge, for example, launched an open innovation quest looking for the best new ideas in breast cancer detection and treatment.
Last year GE Ventures also invested in HeadSense, an Israeli company that is developing disposable ear buds to monitor intracranial pressure in the brain. Doctors normally drill a hole in the skull to do the job and the new system could help them get around the invasive procedure.
Says Siegel: “We believe technology will play a major role in transforming patient care and by partnering with leading innovators we can help scale the best new ideas in major industries like healthcare.”
Photo illustration: Ovarian cancer cell culture imaged by GE’s IN Cell Analyzer.
Thomas Edison received 1,093 patents during his lifetime for inventions that include the light bulb, the power plant, the modern cement kiln and the first movie camera. He even came up with the tattoo machine.
In 1876, Thomas Edison patented an electric pen designed to relieve clerks of the drudgery of duplicating documents. It had a sharp vibrating needle that users dragged along lines of text written on a sheet of paper.
The needle punctured the sheet 50 times per second and turned it into a stencil. Ink would seep through the tiny holes and replicate the writing on papers placed underneath. The invention didn’t exactly catch on, but it presaged the copy machine and, in the hands of artists, revolutionized tattooing.
To celebrate Edison’s birthday last month, the design company Tattlymade temporary tattoos of Thomas Edison’s lightbulb patent.
Anticipating Sandra Bullock’s problems in Alfonso Cuarón’s Oscar-winning feature gravity, a team of GE engineers proposed in the 1960s a design for a single-person space escape pod called Man Out of Space Easiest (later changed to Manned Orbital Operations Safety Equipment), or MOOSE.
The engineers designed MOOSE to weigh just 200 pounds and fit inside a suitcase-sized container. It used a small rocket motor for power and contained a PET film (the flexible silver-colored plastic material used by marathon runners and emergency crews) as a heat shield, two pressurized canisters filled with polyurethane foam, a parachute, radio equipment and a survival kit.
Astronauts in an emergency leave the craft wearing a space suit, climb inside the PET bag and fill it with the insulating foam. The motor, as shown in the diagram, sticks out of the bag and eases the astronaut into the atmosphere. Once the astronaut falls to about 30,000 feet above Earth’s surface, a parachute deploys and slows descent to 17 mph. This is when the foam comes into play, serving as a cushion for when the astronaut touches down (it could also be used as a flotation device should the person land in water). The astronauts would then use radio to signal rescuers.
MOOSE was intended only for extreme situations and the effort to realize the design was later abandoned. Many advances in materials and technology have occurred since then. Some of them were on display during daredevil Felix Baumgartner’s free-fall from the stratosphere last year.
In the 1960s, a team of GE engineers proposed a design for a single-person space escape pod called Man Out of Space Easiest (later changed to Manned Orbital Operations Safety Equipment), or MOOSE.A detailed image of the escape pod.A concept drawing of escape capsule.
The pair worked with Thomas Edison to develop and test the Kinetoscope, an early motion picture viewing device considered to be the precursor to movie projectors. The film, all 56 seconds of it, shows a lab worker “horsing around" in front of the camera.
Fortune magazine published this week “the definitive report card on corporate reputations” a.k.a. its World’s Most Admired Companies list. GE jumped to No. 10, up one spot from last year and five places higher compared to 2012.
“As the world’s largest producer of commercial jet engines as well as the creator of the garbage disposal, GE’s expertise in manufacturing is sky high ̶ and growing,” the magazine said.
Scientists at GE Global Research are working with magnetically charged liquids called ferrofluids. They could have applications in medicine, power generation and elsewhere. GE is investing heavily in organic growth. A decade ago, it used to spend 2 percent of revenues on R&D. It now spends 5 to 6 percent.
Barron’s observed in 2013 that GE was “transforming itself into a seller of services” rather than just equipment. “Airlines can use data from hundreds of GE sensors to reduce fuel costs and plan maintenance,” the newspaper wrote. “Railroads can do the same to optimize trips. Software now contributes $4 billion a year to GE’s revenue. And service contracts create a stream of high-margin income that can last for the life of the equipment the company sells—in some cases, three or four decades.”
Says Jeff Immelt, GE Chairman and CEO: “Industrial data is not only big, it’s the most critical and complex type of big data. Our greatest challenge and opportunity is to manage and analyze this data in a highly secure way to deliver better outcomes for customers and society.”