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Creating a Fair Internet Use Policy In Your Company

– Contributed content –

Woman with phone and laptop

(FirmBee, Pixabay)

4 September 2018. It is said that companies lose a lot of money because their employees use the internet when they are supposed to be working. If you don’t want your workers to hang out on social media sites all day and get distracted, it might be a good idea to develop a fair internet use policy in your company. This shouldn’t mean that you completely block sites, but you will have to limit the time spent on private sites and conversation. By having a fair policy, you will make it clear what is expected of your employees and prevent security issues, too.

Blocking unsafe sites

One of the things you can do is that you block the sites that might pose a threat to your business. Your employees might browse the internet and – without knowing – download software that will damage your devices. If you don’t know anything about the different invisible online security threats such as malware, you might need to talk to a local computer expert who will put the right measures in place that will help you keep your files safe.

Preventing downloads

It is also important that you prevent unauthorized downloads and keep your files and your system safe. Hidden files can damage your network and connections, not to mention the expensive software you got designed to help your employees work more efficiently. In your employee behavior policy, you will have to make sure that you pay attention to highlighting the ban of downloading sites from torrent pages or other unsafe sources. You might, however, use an idm serial key that will help you get the software that you need for work.

Private email attachments

It is also important to specify whether or not your employees can access their private emails on your computers. If yes, you will be risking the download of various attachments that can clog or damage your system. Make sure that if you don’t allow your workers to access these sites through your work network you provide them access to another computer during breaks that are not linked to work tools and software. It is better to give them access during the break time than having to deal with complaints. However, for data security, you will not want your confidential files to be accidentally shared with others.

Mobile phones

There is, of course, the question of mobile devices in the office. If you are in a highly protected environment and your workers deal with private information on a day-to-day basis, you might ask them to leave their mobile devices in the lockers and only use them when they are out of the office. Just imagine if an employee took a picture of a credit card application or a spreadsheet containing your procedures and sold it on the black market. Follow your best judgment and your gut instincts when creating a policy on using mobile devices in the office.

Internet use in the office will not only reduce your employee productivity, but also potentially risk your business.

Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in this post are the contributor’s and not those of Science & Enterprise.

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Labor Day, 2018

3 September 2018. It’s Labor Day in the USA and Labour Day in Canada today, so Science & Enterprise is taking the day off. To help get you in the spirit of the day, here is Joan Baez singing Joe Hill at the legendary Woodstock festival in 1969. The video of this performance that we posted 5 years ago is no longer available, but we want to keep the tradition alive.

We will continue our regular editorial posts tomorrow.

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Helping Your Business Get One Step Ahead of the Competition

Desk top, overhead view

(Pexels.com)

3 September 2018. When you run a small business, you have a whole lot on your plate. Not only do you have to make sure that your own business is running smoothly, but you need to keep an eye on what else is going on in the consumer market that you’re operating within. No matter how innovative your product ideas are, or how unique the services that you’re offering may be, there’s bound to be plenty of competition out there.

The market is saturated with small businesses specializing in pretty much every area, and if you’re not careful, you can find your customers being swept out of your arms by competitors or rival companies. So, how can you ensure that you’re always one step ahead of your competition? How can you make sure that customers are drawn to you rather than another company? Well, here are a few different steps that you can take to put you ahead of anyone else in your field.

Conduct market research

The first step that you need to take when you’re focusing on getting ahead of the competition is to conduct thorough market research. Market research is a process where you gather information regarding your existing customers’ and potential customers’ needs and preferences. You can also use it to survey what else is going on in the market too. By interviewing consumers in various different ways – from surveys and questionnaires to focus groups, one to one discussions, and polls – you can find out a whole lot of information that could be used to boost your business’ appeal.

Consider finding out what rival brands consumers are using and why they have opted for this brand in the past. See what could draw consumers away from this brand. Could they be tempted away by better customer service, bolder packaging, or a lower price point? You can carry out market research by yourself, but this tends to be time consuming and you could struggle to find the appropriate participants. Instead, consider collaborating with a market research agency. These professionals know the ins and outs of market research and can get honest and reliable data from participants. They also tend to have plenty of participants from a variety of consumer demographics already in their contact lists, so can gather appropriate candidates a lot more quickly and easily.

Ensure you have the best staff

Something that can draw customers towards your brand is high quality customer service. Good customer service ensures that customers get what they want and that any of their inquiries are answered in good time. You don’t want customers turning away and looking elsewhere because the staff that they are dealing with are incompetent or have a bad attitude. Good staff also help to move your company forward in terms of solving problems, raising awareness to issues or areas of improvement in your business, or giving suggestions for new products or services.

But how can you make sure that you definitely have the best staff out there? Well, your first step is to make sure your recruitment process is as stringent as possible. As long as you have a good idea of what kind of employee you’re looking out for, you’re going to be able to secure them at some point or another. You can make life simple for yourself by engaging with a professional recruitment firm. These companies tend to already have large numbers of job seekers on their books, and they can browse through their existing members to see whether any meet the brief that you have given them.

They can also advertise more widely, as they have access to more resources, and people are more likely to trust them to find them a good job. Once you have a list of potential candidates, it’s generally best to interview potential employees yourself. This will allow you to meet them on a face to face basis and figure out whether they will fit into your workplace well.

Maintain the best staff

Finding appropriate and competent staff members is only the beginning of the journey. You then need to continue to maintain your staff base. This will help to ensure that your staff are happy and want to stay with your company and brand. There are several ways to achieve this. First of all, consider making team building activities a regular part of their experience in the workplace. Encouraging your team to bond with one another can improve their communication with one another and will spur them on to work as a team, collaborating their different skills and giving one another a helping hand.

This will create a more positive and friendly workplace for them in general. Different ideas to try out can include an escape room, a treasure hunt, or picture games. Another way to maintain a content staff base is to acknowledge achievements. All of your staff will have basic expectations and targets, and they should be sticking to these and achieving these as a basic part of their employment agreement. However, if you notice that particular staff members are really making an extra effort, then you need to acknowledge this.

If they are beating targets, getting good reviews from customers, and staying late or arriving early to make sure that tasks are complete on time, you should reward them. Rewards could include bonuses, extra annual leave, or a prize. If your whole team are excelling, consider arranging a work party of sorts. A meal or drinks at a bar could prove a success!

Operate online

Increasing numbers of small businesses are taking to the world of e-commerce. Now, even if you have a thriving brick and mortar store or chain of stores on the high street, you should still seriously consider launching an online store that can operate alongside your current business model. Why? Well, there are plenty of benefits that come hand in hand with online operation. The main benefit of operating online is that the internet doesn’t have opening and closing hours.

Sure, customers can head to your brick and mortar store between the hours of nine to five or whatever hours you are open for. However, having a functioning website means that customers can make purchases around the clock and during bank holidays or public holidays. If they work themselves during your opening hours, they can still engage with your brand. You can suddenly make money twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Another benefit of having a website is that you can reach out to global audiences. All that you have to do is offer international shipping options. People from around the world can then also engage with your brand.

Price your products competitively

Many small business owners think that they can draw customers away by undercutting the prices of all of their competition. However, you do need to put a whole lot of thought into your pricing strategy. Things can be a little more complex than simply reducing the prices of your products and seeing customers flood through your doors. Competitive pricing tends to be a point of contention among business owners for a variety of different reasons. Cutting the price of your goods reduces the perceived value of your goods over time. What’s more, when you undercut another company, they are likely to undercut you in turn.

This process can continue until everyone’s profit margins are significantly reduced and there becomes little point in selling the product, as nobody is making sufficient profit in the process. This then sees prices rise again, and customers get irritated at having to fork out more for what they want. Instead, it is generally best to price your products around the same price bracket as your competitors, but to lure customers to purchase from you with other techniques that do not devalue your product. This could include offering free shipping or providing discounts on multiple purchases, such as buy one get one free offers.

These are just a few different ways that you can help your small business to surpass competition and stand out from the crowd in a positive light. There are, of course, plenty of other things that you can do, but the above steps should help you to get started on the right foot. So, implement them into your business strategy sooner rather than later. This will see your small business benefit from them as soon as possible, and should result in you receiving more customers and orders.

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Infographic – Google A.I. Patents Lead Other Tech Companies

Google A.I. patents

Google leads other big tech companies in A.I. patent activity since 2013. Click on image for full size view. (CB Insights)

1 September 2018. Technology companies survive on innovation, and according to a new report, Alphabet, the company formerly known as Google, is leading other big tech businesses in patent activity for artificial intelligence applications, a key indicator of innovation. According to a study by our friends at CB Insights, a tech industry research enterprise, Alphabet/Google is leading the other big tech companies in patent applications and awards in fields related to artificial intelligence since 2013, this weekend’s infographic. Microsoft, however, is not far behind. (Data for 2017 and 2018 are not complete.)

The CB Insights report focuses on Alphabet/Google’s headlong push into artificial intelligence to gain a greater foothold in digital commerce, its branded hardware products, and digital content, as well as integrating these services into as much of the digital user experience as possible. The company is also using A.I. to extend deeper into cloud computing and services, to gain a bigger presence in industries it deems ripe for disruption, such as transportation, logistics, and health care.

More from Science & Enterprise:

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Smartphone Device IDs Dangerous Mosquitoes

Mosquito analyzer

System analyzing mosquito species (Vivian Abagiu, University of Texas – Austin)

31 August 2018. A study shows a smartphone-based system can quickly and inexpensively identify the species of mosquito that carries many infectious diseases, as well as a natural enemy of those mosquitoes. The system, developed by a computational biology lab at University of Texas in Austin, is described in yesterday’s issue of the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito is considered a worldwide health threat for its role in spreading several dangerous viruses, including yellow fever, dengue, chikungunya, and Zika that the university says affect some 100 million people worldwide. While Aedes aegypti is believed to originate in the Mediterranean region, it has spread to continental Europe, the Americas (including parts of the U.S.), Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Australia.

Researchers from the computational biology research group at UT-Austin led by Andrew Ellington are seeking simple and inexpensive methods for identifying this species of mosquitoes, with readily available technologies. Labs today require highly specialized and expensive processes, such as polymerase chain reaction, a form of genomics analysis for this task. A team led by research associate Sanchita Bhadra devised a technique for identifying Aedes aegypti using the ubiquitous smartphone.

Their system analyzes the nucleic acids, chemicals making up a mosquito’s DNA, by combining elements of two elements of traditional lab analytic techniques — loop-mediated isothermal amplification and oligonucleotide strand displacement — or LAMP-OSD. Their technique treats a dead mosquito with enzymes that amplify and illuminate its nucleic acids. A smartphone’s camera, an iPhone 6 in this case, shoots an image of a dead mosquito over a 3-D printed box with the illuminated nucleic acids, and software in the phone indicates if the mosquito is from the Aedes aegypti species.

The UT-Austin system can also indicate if the mosquito is affected by a natural bacterial enemy known as Wolbachia. This bacterium is present in up to 60 percent of mosquitoes, but not the Aedes aegypti. Among the methods used to control disease-spreading mosquitoes is to distribute Wolbachia as a pesticide in the local insect population, and the LAMP-OSD test is designed to indicate the presence of that bacteria in the captured mosquito.

The researchers tested their device with 90 mosquitoes caught in the field, and the system offers accurate identification of Aedes aegypti species 97 percent of the time, while returning just 2 percent false positives. The team achieved these results on test mosquitoes after 3 weeks of storage at human body temperature of 37 degrees C or 98.6 F. The system also accurately identified Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes without any false positives. “This test can happen without involving a lot of staff and equipment to make sure Wolbachia is effective and spreading as anticipated,” says Bhadra in a university statement.

Taking part in the study is UT-Austin’s DIY Diagnostics project, a student research program to develop simple health diagnostics. The researchers plan to extend the technology to determine if the captured mosquitoes are carrying specific disease-causing viruses.

More from Science & Enterprise:

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Ideas For Taking Your Firm To The Next Level

– Contributed content –

31 August 2018. Would you like to take your small business to the next level and boost profits this year? Do you like the idea of earning millions and becoming a household name? Then you might want to think about some of the suggestions listed on this page. All of the ideas below will help to push your business forward.

Trade in new territories

It stands to reason that you can increase the potential size of your market if you begin to trade overseas. While you might saturate the market at home; there is always room to expand if you seek the right advice and plan accordingly.

Release new products or services

If you don’t like the idea of dealing with the import and export fees you might encounter when trading overseas; you could release new products or services into your home market. Conduct some research and find out what your customers want ahead of time for the best outcomes.

Plan for the future

As the infographic below explains, we live in the digital age, and the business landscape evolves every day. You need to keep abreast of the latest revelations while making sure you always plan for the future. Hopefully, that will help you to beat the competition.

If you’re committed to taking your firm to the next level; the advice on this page should come in handy. Put it to good use during the next few months and see if you can start working towards your goals. Also, feel free to share this post and the graphic with any entrepreneurial friends.


Graphic by USC Online

 

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FDA to Test New Trial Designs, Assess A.I. Models

Scott Gottlieb

Scott Gottlieb, FDA Commissioner, in November 2017 (A. Kotok)

30 August 2018. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration plans to pilot test new types of complex clinical trials and is considering a procedure to evaluate machine learning algorithms used in diagnostics. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb described these ideas in a blog post posted yesterday on the agency’s web site.

Gottlieb noted that the prospective, placebo-controlled clinical trial remains the gold standard for evaluating new drugs and medical devices, but as new therapies become targeted for more specialized groups of patients and the conditions under which they’re tested become more complex, this process is becoming more expensive and time-consuming, as well as discouraging for patients who take part. He cites data from a study published in June 2017 that show clinical trials are taking longer to complete, and becoming more complex and expensive. One result of this growing cost and complexity, says Gottlieb, is fewer competitive drugs reaching the marketplace, allowing for those treatments first entering the market to set and maintain high prices.

To encourage more innovation in clinical trial design, FDA is asking drug and biologic developers to consider alternative methods for testing new products that build in more innovative clinical trial designs. In proposed regulations published today in the Federal Register, FDA is establishing its Complex Innovative Designs pilot program with drug and biologic developers. The program plans to allow developers to hold early meetings with FDA officials on alternative clinical trial designs, including those that allow for modifying their protocols as results come in, adjusting clinical outcome objectives, and removing requirements for placebo groups where they pose ethical dilemmas, such as in some cancer drug trials.

Gottlieb also wants FDA to develop a role in regulating artificial intelligence, particularly machine learning used for diagnostics and medical decision-making. He says FDA is already “curating standards for medical technologies” in areas where no consensus on standards is yet developed, and wants that role to include machine learning, which can adjust algorithms or mathematical models as more data are encountered and processed.

One specific use of machine learning under FDA consideration is radiogenomics, an emerging field where algorithms associate PET and MRI scans of tumors with the tumors’ genomic properties. Not only can radiogenomics improve the prognosis for individual patients, says Gottlieb, it may also provide visual biomarkers that help identify patients at higher risk. As reported earlier this week in Science & Enterprise, a French research team developed a system for computing data from CT scans and genomic analysis to predict the success for cancer immunotherapies.

To advance this field, says Gottlieb …

FDA is exploring the use of a neutral third party collect large annotated imaging data sets, for example highly annotated radiology scans used in a variety of clinical trials for specific disease indications, for purposes of understanding the performance of a novel AI algorithm for a proposed indication. Such a capability would enable a transparent benchmarking system for AI algorithm’s performance, and help providers and payers compare AI systems with the best human standard of care.

In addition, FDA is expanding use of data from the agency’s Sentinel system that collects safety reports from individual patients, but also from electronic health records and insurance claims data. Gottlieb says FDA is making available real-world evidence in its Sentinel files for a prospective clinical trial testing educational programs that encourage people with irregular heart rhythms to take medications for reducing the risk of stroke. He says it’s the first time these data are being used in a prospective clinical trial.

More from Science & Enterprise:

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Top Careers for People Invested in Helping Others

– Contributed content –

Handshake

(Pexels.com)

30 August 2018. While the majority of people tend to focus their careers around the salary that it allows them to take home at the end of each month, it’s important to remember that your job doesn’t necessarily have to be money oriented. If your main concern is making the world a better place for people to live in, here are just a couple of different careers that can have a sincerely positive impact on the lives of numerous individuals.

Politician

Nowadays, many people who are afraid of offending others tend to avoid talking about politics. We all have varying views as to how the country should be run, and we don’t necessarily want to rub anyone up the wrong way if they have different ideals to us. Remaining relatively neutral in public allows us to sit on the fence and remain popular all round. This is also perhaps why big brand companies, celebrities, television shows, films, and other individuals or companies selling themselves as brands tend to steer clear of politics in their content, marketing campaigns, and self-presentation: they want to remain as popular and agreeable as possible.

But at the end of the day, someone has to deal with politics. Someone has to decide what is best for people living in the societies that any given government sets out to protect. These individuals are politicians. They shape future laws and policies, and work for constituents. This, of course, can be hard work. But by becoming a politician, you do gain the opportunity to create policies that will benefit the people that you represent in various ways.

The decisions that you make can drastically impact all areas of the lives of the people who you represent, right down to their basic rights. Most politicians tend to lean either left or right. Individuals representing the left are Democrats, while individuals representing the right are Republicans, like Michele Reagan, who is Arizona secretary of state. So, if this interests you, start doing your research and campaigning.

Mental health counselor

Pretty much any career in medicine and social care is bound to be helpful to others. After all, every role is dedicated to improving patients’ and clients’ health, well-being, and general quality of life. However, it would be impossible to list all of the potential paths in this field that you could take in just one article. So, for now, let’s focus on mental health counseling. In recent years, awareness surrounding the prevalence of mental health issues, and research into helping individuals with mental health issues have significantly increased.

By becoming a mental health counselor, you can help patients to understand their condition, as well as helping them to work their lives around their mental illness. This can often include crisis management, so you will be working with vulnerable individuals. However, you can offer them the opportunity to cope with their issues effectively and improve their overall standard of living.

These are just two different career paths that you can take if your main concern is improving others’ lives. They are not the easiest roles to get into. But once you land the job, seeing the smiles on the faces of people you’ve helped will be more than worth the effort.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this post are the contributor’s and not those of Science & Enterprise. Outgoing links in the text do not represent an endorsement by Science & Enterprise.

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Genomics-Blockchain Company Launches, Raises $4.3 Million

Blockchain network graphic

(TheDigitalArtist, Pixabay)

29 August 2018. A new enterprise that promises to collect and protect a person’s genomic data with blockchain technology is starting up with the help of a genomics legend and $4.3 million in seed financing. Nebula Genomics, co-founded by Harvard University geneticist and serial entrepreneur George Church, also announced a partnership with Veritas Genetics, another George Church-founded company.

Nebula Genomics in Boston and San Francisco, aims to make collecting genomic data easier and put sharing the data under more control of the individual. The company says biotech and pharmaceutical companies are eager to get access to genomic sequencing data for developing new personalized treatments, but often need to get these data from different sources, as well as allay the fears of people concerned about keeping their data private, where sharing genomic data could result in unforeseen or unintended consequences.

Whole genomic sequencing reveals the order of nucleic acids, the chemical building blocks in a person’s DNA that contains the individual’s entire genetic code, providing critical information about one’s present and future health. Most other personal genomic analysis services that charge low fees look at parts of the genome to determine ancestry or predisposition to certain diseases.

The first part of Nebula Genomics’ mission is getting an assist from Veritas Genetics that offers whole genome sequencing, and one of the first to offer whole genome sequencing to individuals for under $1,000. Veritas, founded in 2014 by George Church and others, is a spin-off company from Harvard Medical School and the Personal Genome Project, where people are encouraged to share their genomic data for research purposes. And also as reported in Science & Enterprise, Veritas Genetics in August 2017 acquired Arvados, a genomics data management system that makes available its software as open-source. With the help of Veritas, Nebula expects to integrate Arvados into its genomic data analysis and sharing services.

The company says the second part of its mission is fulfilled with blockchain, a technology linking online transactional ledgers or registries exchanging encrypted blocks of data that establish a form of trust between the parties. The blocks of data comprise the complete history of a transaction and are precisely time-stamped, enabling the blocks to be reconstructed into a chain documenting the transaction, thus the name. And because this ledger is distributed, there’s no single point of failure nor one institution (or big tech company) controlling it.

Both Arvados and blockchain are based on a distributed computing model, which is also the core of Nebula’s work. Dennis Grishin, Nebula Genomics’ co-founder and chief scientist explains today in an essay on Medium how the two parts of this model fit together. Arvados, Grishin notes, is a bioinformatics platform connecting data buyers, “directly with data owners including consumers, patients, and biobanks.” He adds, “Integrating Arvados with blockchain technology enables controllable and transparent data access sharing as well as equitable compensation of data contributors.”

A white paper published by the company provides more details about Nebula’s business model. The company plans to provide lower-cost full genome sequencing to individuals in exchange for taking part in paid health surveys. In addition, transactions with the company, including payments for access to one’s genomic data would be in a cryptocurrency based on blockchain.

Grishin’s essay also indicates Nebula Genomics is raising $4.3 million in seed capital from a group of technology and life sciences venture investors: Khosla Ventures, Arch Venture Partners, Fenbushi Capital, Mayfield, F-Prime Capital Partners, Great Point Ventures, Windham Venture Partners, Hemi Ventures, Mirae Asset, Hikma Ventures, and Heartbeat Labs.

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Non-Invasive Imaging Technology Probes Deeper Into Tissue

Photoacoustic tomography image

Photoacoustic tomography image showing mouse fat deposits around blood vessels, distinct from fat under the skin. Click on image for full-size view. (Purdue University)

29 August 2018. An imaging process that combines ultrasound and lasers is shown in tests with lab samples and in animals to provide clearer and more detailed images of tissue deeper in the body. An engineering team from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana describes the technology in the 22 August issue of the journal Photoacoustics.

Researchers from the Cardiovascular Imaging Research Lab in Purdue’s biomedical engineering school are seeking better tools for diagnosing serious non-communicable diseases affecting large segments of the population, such as heart disease, cancer, and complications from diabetes. In many of these cases, the disease can be prevented or better managed if caught early, and the team led by biomedical engineering professor Craig Goergen studies imaging techniques to make early diagnostics easier and more readily available.

“That means there will be a great need for medical imaging,” says Goergen in a university statement. “Trying to diagnose these diseases at an earlier time can lead to improved patient care.”

One of those technologies is photoacoustic tomography that uses both sound and light waves to return images from inside the body. The technique sends laser beams through the skin, which absorbs the energy and heats the tissue below. The heated tissue expands, which can be detected and measured with ultrasound waves, also sent from outside the skin. The ultrasound device then receives and assembles the signals into visual images highlighting differences in absorption of the laser beams to show details of the underlying tissue.

While photoacoustic tomography is considered an important advance in medical imaging, it still does not provide sufficient detail and resolution for some applications. One of those potential uses is imaging fat deposits around arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, a risk factor of heart disease. Among the problems with detecting these deposits are the presence of fat under the skin that also absorbs laser beams, as well as properties of fat tissue that diffuse light waves and weaken the returned signals.

Goergen and colleagues identified techniques for fine-tuning photoacoustic tomography to better penetrate the light and sound waves into tissue and better capture the signals reflected back. The techniques include more precise angles for aiming the laser and ultrasound beams, and more sensitive methods for processing the returned signals to separate out the noise from the desired data. The researchers also designed a motorized device to house and direct the photoacoustic transmitters and receivers.

The Purdue team tested their system first in lab tissue specimens, then in mice. Their results identify the optimal orientation and settings for maximizing image quality with photoacoustic tomography that provide higher percentages of imaging fat deposits around arteries deeper into mouse tissue separate from fat under the skin. The researchers also devised techniques for redirecting surface skin reflections that interrupt signals from deeper into tissue.

Purdue University filed for a provisional patent on the technology. Goergen tells more about the techniques and the study in the following video.

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