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Algorithm Devised for Fast Heart Rhythm Screening

Heartbeat graphic

(Maxpixel.net)

5 Aug. 2019. A machine-learning algorithm used with results from a standard electrocardiogram, is quickly able to detect irregular heart rhythms, a process that often takes much longer. A team from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota describes the algorithm and its findings in the 1 August issue of the journal The Lancet (paid subscription required).

Researchers led by cardiac electrophysiologist Paul Friedman are seeking a quick, inexpensive, point-of-care diagnostic method to detect atrial fibrillation, a disorder where the atria, or upper chambers of the heart, beat irregularly instead of the normal, smooth regular beats that move blood effectively through the blood stream. Because of these irregular heart rhythms, blood can pool in the atria and form clots. If a clot should break off and flow to the brain, it can cause a stroke. American Heart Association estimates as many as 20 percent of people who have a stroke also have atrial fibrillation.

People with atrial fibrillation often do not display symptoms, thus most cases are detected in visits to doctors offices or clinics. An electrocardiogram or ECG, a standard heart health test measures electrical signals with up to 12 electrodes or leads attached to the chest and torso. An ECG test does not provide enough data to draw conclusions, however, and if irregular electrical signals are detected, more tests are needed. Those tests, such as an echocardiogram that uses ultrasound or a CT scan, provide detailed real-time images of the heart, but require more time and expense.

Friedman and colleagues developed an algorithm that harnesses machine learning to evaluate an individual’s ECG results to screen for atrial fibrillation at the point of care. The researchers inspected nearly 181,000 medical records from Mayo Clinic patients, from December 1993 through July 2017 for their analysis, providing some 650,000 ECGs.

The team assessed these data with a convolutional neural network that combines features of image analysis and machine learning. In a convolutional neural network, an algorithm dissects an image by layers to understand the features in the image. Different aspects of each layer discovered and analyzed by the algorithm are translated into data that the algorithm then uses to train its understanding of the problem being solved, with that understanding enhanced and refined as more images and data are encountered.

The researchers collected some 455,000 ECGs from about 126,500 patients to train the algorithm, with more than 64,000 ECGs from 18,000 patients to validate its calculations. The team then tested the algorithm on 131,000 ECGs from more than 36,000 patients. The results show an overall sensitivity, or accurate detection atrial fibrillation or flutter of 79 percent, with a specificity or accurate detection of no heart rhythm problems of 80 percent. When the analysis includes ECGs of patients over the first month of testing, the sensitivity percentage rises to 82 percent and specificity increases to 83 percent. The team concludes that the data show algorithm-enabled ECGs offer a point-of-care tool to detect atrial fibrillation.

Many of the same researchers constructed a similar algorithm to detect left ventricle dysfunction, another largely asymptomatic heart condition, which they reported in January 2019 in the journal Nature Medicine. The team tested that algorithm with the records of nearly 53,000 Mayo Clinic patients, and reported sensitivity and specificity percentages each of 86 percent. In addition, patients without left ventricle dysfunction but still positive scores on the algorithm were at 4 times higher risk to develop the condition than those with negative scores.

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Six Tips on How to Win a Startup Pitch

– Contributed content –

Team meeting

(Campaign Creators, Unsplash)

5 Aug. 2019. Winning a pitch is never an easy task – especially when you are a startup company. So it’s important to know what to look out for and what to prepare for the big day. You want your startup to grow and through a successful pitch to a client, you can do exactly that. If you are a business owner who is looking for an insight into how to either win your first pitch or you need some advice as to how to improve your technique, here are the top six tips that you can use for business success.

Create a beautiful slide presentation

Presentation slides are a great visual aid for your audience; however, they shouldn’t be filled with notes. They should instead support your business, what you are offering them and how it benefits them. Reinforcing your talking points, they can contain graphs, images and statistics – without heavy amounts of content. There are many affordable businesses that offer software which you can utilize to create an amazing startup presentation in 14 minutes or less. With different templates and other features, you can add in the content that you want to create a visually-stunning tool.

Build a relationship with them

Your clients and financiers want to familiarize with what you are offering them and why they should choose you. That’s why it’s important in your pitch to showcase what you’re all about in an engaging and natural way. It’s essential that you find a balance between professionalism and how friendly you are. You want them to see your business as credible and professional, but also that you are authentic and welcoming.

Show how you are different to other businesses

When you are pitching, you should be aware of the other businesses that are doing the same. That’s why it’s vital that you differentiate your business to others through showing the client evidence of your success. You don’t want to overpromise. You simply want to show that you are reliable, by demonstrating successful case studies, testimonials and results. As a startup, you might not have a lot of success stories, so it’s important to show what you are doing to become prominent within your industry.

Make sure that you are prepared

Even if you are a startup that’s been established for a while, it’s important to be prepared for your pitches. If you go into it without sufficient preparation, you are more likely to fail. However, if you are prepared and simply don’t have the answer to the question the client has asked you, don’t lie. Simply say ‘I will have to get back to you on that’ or ‘we will look into that’. For the pitch, make notes, practice your presentation technique and demonstrate that you have spent time thinking about how you will work with them.

Don’t sell a fully-detailed plan

It might be easy to go into the pitch with a full plan, detailing out what you will do for the client. But it’s essential to know that along the way, the plan might change and adapt to the client’s suggestions. Go into the pitch with an outline, with a prospect of finding the solution throughout the process. Clients want to work with a company, rather than be dictated as to what they will do. You want to hook them into what you’re selling, without them feeling like they don’t have a voice.

Bring a team with you

It might initially seem easier to perform the pitch by yourself. But as a start-up, you will need the support of others within your business. Create a team of knowledgeable team members that have the experience and expertise to give a great pitch. Conveying the full message to your clients, you can take it in turns to answer questions and perform different parts of the pitch. A team of 2-3 is the suitable amount, so that you have the know-how and skills needed to bring the idea to fruition.

Final thoughts

Those are just six of the top tips you should utilize when giving a pitch. As a startup, it’s particularly important to listen to what your client is asking you, that you go into each pitch with an open mind and learn from each of them. Rome wasn’t built in a day – as time goes on, your pitch technique will improve. But in order to succeed from the get-go, it’s vital that you are prepared, that you set yourself apart from your competition and that you listen carefully to what each client says.

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Infographic – The Camera Evolves

Evolution of camera chart

Click on image for full-size view. (Statista)

3 Aug. 2019. If you explore the web site of Technology News and Literature, the parent company of Science & Enterprise, you will find a section devoted to photography, a hobby of sorts but also a volunteer professional activity. As we’ve noted many times on Science & Enterprise, photography can be combined with advances in robotics and artificial intelligence such as computer vision, machine learning, and drones for a host of innovative applications in agriculture, health care, and engineering; see links below.

Our friends at Statista recently published a chart showing how the technology for photography developed and its evolution over the years, this weekend’s infographic. For many of us, smartphones and photography are almost synonymous, while for others like myself who shot photos on film and developed them in darkrooms, digital images remain like a miracle.

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Heart Components Produced with 3-D Printing

Bioprinted heart valve

Trileaflet heart valve bioprinted in collagen (Carnegie Mellon University)

2 Aug. 2019. Researchers developed techniques for accurate three-dimensional printing of human heart elements with bio-inks containing the cellular framework on which tissue can grow. A bioengineering team from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh describes its process in today’s issue of the journal Science.

The techniques are protected by a U.S. patent assigned to Carnegie Mellon University. Two of the authors also formed the company FluidForm in Acton, Massachusetts to commercialize the technology.

Researchers led by biomedical engineering and materials science professor Adam Feinberg are seeking advances in 3-D printing to alleviate the shortage of human organs available for transplant at any one time, as well as provide better treatment options for people with organ failure. As of now, 3-D printing can produce patterned tissues and implantable scaffolds for regenerative medicine, but up to recently, could not produce soft biomaterials with the precision and resolution needed to function in vital organs like the heart.

A team in Israel, as reported by Science & Enterprise in April, demonstrated 3-D printing of human heart tissue, including blood vessels, from cells donated by living person. Feinberg and colleagues aim to extend that technology into a more scalable and reproducible process, using collagen, the material in extracellular matrix making up the structural framework of cells. But in its natural form, extracellular matrix is difficult to 3-D print with accuracy and consistency.

“Collagen is an extremely desirable biomaterial to 3-D print with because it makes up literally every single tissue in your body,” says co-lead author Andrew Hudson in a university statement. “What makes it so hard to 3-D print, however, is that it starts out as a fluid. So if you try to print this in air, it just forms a puddle on your build platform.”

The researchers developed a process they call Fresh, short for freeform reversible embedding of suspended hydrogels, to overcome this obstacle. With Fresh, collagen is printed layer-by-layer in a salt-based gelatin bath. The gel then melts away at room or body temperature leaving the 3-D printed structure intact. The process also allows for adding in other biomaterials, including alginate, fibrinogen, and hyaluronic acid with collagen in a single printing process.

With Fresh, the Carnegie Mellon team 3-D printed the frameworks for arteries with a resolution of 20 micrometers, where 1 micrometer equals 1 millionth of a meter, allowing for cells to quickly populate and grow. The researchers also printed a heart ventricle or chamber model with Fresh containing cardiomyocytes or heart tissue cells that showed synchronized contractions similar to human hearts. The team then printed a full-size tri-leaflet heart valve, a component of the heart that fails in many people, and a full-scale neonatal heart model, based on MRI scans, to prove the concept.

The researchers believe the Fresh method can be applied to other human organs as well as tissue for healing wounds. “It is important to understand,” notes Feinberg, “that there are many years of research yet to be done, but … we’re making real progress towards engineering functional human tissues and organs, and this paper is one step along that path.”

Feinberg and Hudson co-founded FluidForm in 2018. FluidForm is developing Fresh into a commercial process, as well as marketing the supporting gel bath for Fresh it calls LifeSupport. Feinberg is the company’s chief technology officer, while Hudson is its chief operations officer.

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Industry-Academic Team Studies Myelin Renewal

Nerve cells illustration

(Colin Behrens, Pixabay)

1 August 2019. Researchers are studying techniques for blocking proteins that damage myelin, the protective coating on nerve cells, as occurs in multiple sclerosis and other diseases. The collaboration joining biotechnology company Rewind Therapeutics in Leuven, Belgium, the Stem Cell Institute at the university KU Leuven, and semiconductor R&D organization Imec also in Leuven is funded by a €2.9 million ($US 3.2 million) grant from the Flanders Innovation and Entrepreneurship agency in Belgium.

Myelin is the fatty, protective substance around nerve fibers, as well as nerve cells themselves. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune condition, where the immune system attacks the central nervous system and damages myelin. Scar tissue from the damaged myelin, known as sclerosis, distorts the nerve signals sent to and from the brain and spinal cord, causing symptoms ranging from mild numbness to loss of vision or paralysis. National Multiple Sclerosis Society estimates 2.3 million people worldwide are living with the disorder.

The team aims to discover and develop therapies that block the effects of certain G protein-coupled receptors, or GPCRs, a group of proteins found on the surface of cells that receive various signals from many different types of cells. As many as half of all current drugs bind to or act on GPCRs. In this case, the researchers are targeting a specific GPCR that damages myelin, and implicated in diseases like multiple sclerosis where myelin damage occurs. The researchers hypothesize that inhibiting this GPCR will prevent further myelin damage and allow its renewal.

The researchers plan to develop a technology platform for discovery of new therapies for addressing this GPCR target. For this project, the Stem Cell Institute at the KU Leuven is creating tests based on human stem cells to screen for treatment candidates able to block this specific GPCR. The Stem Cell Institute studies precursor cells for oligodendrocytes that produce myelin.

Imec is developing new chip devices for this initiative to measure the regeneration of myelin around nerve cells. The organization designs chips that interact with nerve cells for diagnosis of neurological conditions.

Rewind Therapeutics discovers treatments for disorders resulting from myelin damage. The company was formed in January 2018, spun-off from the Centre for Drug Design and Discovery at KU Leuven and the drug discovery company Axxam in Milan, Italy. Rewind is currently focusing on mechanisms in the body that inhibit proper functioning of oligodendrocytes in the brain, increasing damage to myelin, and preventing its regeneration around nerve cells.

“Therapies that promote myelin repair,” says Rewind Therapeutics CEO Ian Reynolds in a company statement, “would represent an unprecedented approach to treating multiple progressive neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis and could prevent or reverse disability.”

Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship is a Belgian agency that provides funding, collaboration, and innovation clusters for new companies based on science and technology in the Flanders region of the country.

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Smart Watch, A.I. Analyzing Human Emotions

Apple smartwatch

(Fancycrave1, Pixabay)

1 Aug. 2019. A study is underway mapping human emotions with data collected by smart watches and analyzed with an app powered by artificial intelligence. The project is a joint venture between the Center for Brain Health at University of Texas in Dallas and the start-up enterprise Mindcurrent in Portland, Oregon.

Mindcurrent, a company begun this year, offers an app for users to self-report their emotional states, with data then collected, analyzed, and sent back to the user including visualizations and recommendations to better understand and deal with their emotions. The app, says Mindcurrent, aims to build self awareness, focus, and a calming sense of control for users, as well as reduce stress, anxiety, anger, and frustration by eliminating unwanted influences.

The company is partnering with UT-Dallas to better understand conditions that trigger emotional changes among students and others on a college campus. The university’s Center for Brain Health is recruiting participants on campus to track their emotions with the Mindcurrent app for 45 days. The Center for Brain Health studies factors in neuroscience, behavioral science, and related disciplines to better understand functioning of the brain in daily life and work.

Participants in the study will wear an Apple smart watch to capture data on their activities and locations while also using the Mindcurrent app. Data from the smart watch are expected to provide biometric, environmental, and activity data in real time to go along with the behavioral data collected by the app, also running on the watch. In addition, the study anticipates providing short personalized videos recommended by the app’s algorithm, with data collected on any adjustments in emotions that occur as a result.

The research team led by Daniel Krawczyk, deputy director of the Center for Brain Health, plans to correlate data from the smart watch and app to help pinpoint factors contributing to positive and negative emotional states. Krawczyk’s lab at UT-Dallas studies mental processes involved in reasoning, decision-making, and memory, as well as relationships between brain and behavior in people with psychiatric or neurological disorders as well as healthy individuals.

“The approach of gathering and analyzing moment-by-moment biometric data,” says Krawczyk in a university statement, “has a lot of potential for cognitive neuroscience research and offers an innovative application for A.I.”

“Through this partnership,” adds Sourabh Kothari, co-founder and CEO of Mindcurrent, “we expect to establish a baseline for university students participating in the study, with tens of thousands of data points collected. Ultimately, we hope to identify factors that contribute to negative levels of stress, while concurrently examining factors that lead to greater happiness and a better learning environment.”

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Protein-Eluding Scaffolds Help Grow New Blood Vessels

Antigen-releasing scaffold

Scanning electron microscope image of an antigen-releasing scaffold that recruits antigen-specific T-cells to sites of peripheral artery disease injuries. (Wyss Institute, Harvard University)

31 July 2019. A polymer frame infused with proteins that stimulate immune cells encourages growth of new blood vessels in lab mice with peripheral artery disease. Researchers from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University describe their discovery in today’s issue of the journal Science Advances.

A team from the tissue engineering lab of David Mooney at Wyss Institute and Harvard’s engineering school is seeking better treatment options for people with peripheral artery disease, a form of ischemia or narrowing and blocking of arteries usually in the legs or feet. The arteries narrow because of waxy plaque build-ups similar to atherosclerosis in the heart causing pain and numbness.  Treating peripheral artery disease includes medications like those for high blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as lifestyle changes: smoking cessation, more exercise, and a healthier diet.

Mooney and colleagues propose a more direct treatment for severe cases of peripheral artery disease, growing more blood vessels in limbs to replace the blood flow in blocked arteries. Up to now, proteins that grow blood vessels do not last long nor are they retained in the body, Thus the treatment would need to deliver these blood-vessel growth proteins over a sustained period of time.

Their solution starts with a frame or scaffold made of polylactide-co-glycolide, or PLG, a biocompatible and biodegradable polymer approved by FDA for drug delivery and medical devices. This scaffold is infused with antigen proteins that stimulate a response from T helper 2 T-cells in the immune system, which secrete other proteins stimulating blood vessel growth. In addition, this type of T-cell also has a memory function, so once activated, the cells remain able to respond to stimulating signals. This memory feature is important, since nearly all children in the U.S. are vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough containing aluminum, an adjuvant, or supplementary immune-system simulator particularly effective with T helper 2 T-cells.

To test the scaffold, the researchers induced lab mice with peripheral artery disease in their hind limbs, and vaccinated the test mice with aluminum as a stand-in for childhood vaccines. The team also vaccinated the mice with the model antigen protein ovalbumin that interacts with aluminum in the immune system. The mice then received implants of PLG scaffolds infused with ovalbumin in their hind limbs to trigger T helper 2 T-cells for stimulating blood vessel growth.

The results show mice receiving the initial aluminum and ovalbumin vaccinations, as well as the ovalbumin-infused scaffolds have more blood vessel growth, less tissue damage, and better blood perfusion than similar mice either not vaccinated or not receiving an implanted scaffold. Mice receiving both vaccinations and scaffolds also show more leg muscle regeneration than similar mice not receiving the full treatments.

Former doctoral student and first author Brian Kwee says in a Wyss Institute statement that the team’s discovery, “provides a new method of enhancing blood vessel formation that does not rely on traditional biologics, such as cells, growth factors, and cytokines, that are typically used to promote vascularization.” Kwee, now a postdoctoral researcher at the Food and Drug Administration adds that the treatment, “more broadly suggests that advances in bioengineered T-cell therapies, which have traditionally been used to treat cancers, may be utilized to promote wound healing and regeneration.”

The authors plan to file for a patent on the technology.

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Once-a-Month Contraceptive Pill Being Developed

Family planning in India

A family planning counselor meets with a couple in India. (USAID.gov)

30 July 2019. A company specializing in long-term release of drugs is receiving a foundation grant to develop a contraceptive pill for women that works for weeks at a time. Lyndra Therapeutics Inc. in Watertown, Massachusetts is the recipient of a $13 million award from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as part of that organization’s family planning initiatives.

One of the Gates Foundation’s family planning goals is better contraceptive techniques that overcome obstacles to current methods, particularly issues of access, convenience, and acceptance. According to the Guttmacher Institute, as of 2017, 214 million women of child-bearing age in developing regions of the world who want to avoid pregnancies are not using modern family planning techniques. Of this group, 59 million women continue to use traditional methods, while 155 million use no family planning at all. As a result, more than 4 in 10 (43%) of pregnancies in developing regions are unintended, with the vast majority of those pregnancies (84%) occurring in women with an unmet need for modern contraception methods.

Lyndra Therapeutics is commercializing research on long-term drug delivery technologies from the bioengineering labs of two of its founders, Robert Langer of MIT and Giovanni Traverso, who is joining the MIT faculty from Brigham and Women’s Hospital. In June, researchers from Lyndra published findings from a study demonstrating long-term — over 7 days — delivery in dogs of memantine, a drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease. The drug is applied to arms of a snowflake-shaped device folded into an ingestible capsule, with each arm made of polycaprolactone, or PCL, a biodegradable polymer.

After the capsule is swallowed, stomach acid breaks down the outer capsule, releasing and unfolding the drug-laden snowflake. By altering the mix of PCL and drug on each of the arms, these devices can be designed to release the drugs over many days, with the arms of the device passing through the gastrointestinal tract without harming the test animals. In December 2018, Science & Enterprise reported on a patent for the technology to be awarded to MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, with Langer and Traverso among the inventors.

With funding from the Gates Foundation, Lyndra is developing a contraceptive pill containing estrogen and progestin, the same drugs in daily contraceptive pills, but released continuously over 30 days. Working with the group Routes2Results, Lyndra is expected to demonstrate the feasibility of this once-a-month pill in preclinical tests. Routes2Results is a not-for-profit organization that helps translate scientific research into better public health in developing regions.

“This grant is special because it extends our focus on meeting unmet therapeutic need into women’s health,” says Lyndra Therapeutics CEO Amy Schulman in a company statement. The Gates Foundation is also an investor in Lyndra, taking part in the company’s second venture financing round in January 2019. In addition, the Gates Foundation is funding Lyndra’s long-term drug formulation to treat malaria.

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How a High Precision Battery Test Can Aid Electrochemical R&D

– Sponsored content –

Battery icons

(Michal Jamro, Pixabay)

25 July 2019. The electrochemical industry is a highly competitive sector that requires extreme accuracy, with precision battery testing equipment playing a significant role. Electrochemical R&D is continuously looking for new and innovative ways to improve battery flows, increase capacity and establish ways to ensure capacity retention over the lifespan of the battery. The smallest of fractions of lost power capacity can be hugely influential in the overall scheme of things

What is a Battery Impedance Tester?

A battery impedance tester is a vital piece of equipment that is most frequently used in businesses where downtime would be costly and have a significant, negative impact on operations. When organizations in this type of industry are searching for different forms of battery testing equipment, those that cause minimal disruption, they usually opt for a battery impedance tester — a non-intrusive battery test which allows operations to continue normally.

What Is Involved In Electrochemical R&D?

As with R&D in many different industries, the methods are continually evolving. In the modern world, the quest for green energy is becoming central to the entire sector. Often, it will involve the complex synthesis of both organic and inorganic chemicals as well as generating power from the recycling of different forms of waste. Much of this is uncharted waters, meaning that accurate results are essential.

Why Is There Such a Need for Precision Battery Testing?

As touched upon, most of the processes that are involved with electrochemical R&D are new; many tests incorporate several unknown factors. Gaining information at the R&D stage is vital as it can be used to improve processes and equipment. Precision equipment will be able to identify different factors and calculate their contribution to the process.

When the data is accurate and trusted, it gives confidence to scientists, chemists and perhaps most importantly, clients. Confidence enables organizations to progress rapidly with their ideas and concepts. This means that solutions which will benefit a variety of different industries are just around the corner.

The Need for Confidentiality

The electrochemical industry is hugely lucrative and companies invest vast sums of money into R&D. The information obtained from precision battery testing equipment is extremely sensitive and indeed valuable. The data, therefore, must not be easily accessible to those who haven’t been granted access to it. As a result, all of our equipment comes with the latest security for the protection of your intellectual property.

The Use of High Precision Equipment in Operations

The electrochemical industry relies on equipment such as a battery impedance tester as many operations are time-consuming and can take hours or days to complete. Battery impedance testing takes approximately 4 hours for a 200 Volt battery system. Battery testing equipments need to be fully operationally; otherwise anomalies will occur leading to erroneous results. High precision battery testing ensures that all machinery and equipment is operating at full capacity.

The Use of High Precision Equipment in Testing

Naturally, when it comes to materials research, the latest equipment is essential and plays a vital role in R&D and in testing. The entire electrochemical industry is continuously striving to achieve results that will have a long-term benefit to a multitude of industries as well as their own. As such, mainly at the R&D stage, high-precision equipment is a necessity to identify different areas where performance is compromised.

The data provided by the battery testing equipment must be extremely accurate and be able to test various factors. For example, cells required currently in the automobile industry need higher capacities as well as retain much of that for around 10 years. Arbin has created battery testing equipment related to R&D in the electrochemical industry and more accurately, the automobile industry.

Affordability

High precision battery testing is becoming increasingly affordable, and its impact on the electrochemical industry is significant. Quality manufacturers of this type of equipment invest substantial resources into creating machinery that is the best on the market. The accuracy of these pieces of equipment is facilitating dramatic improvements within the entire sector and influencing many others.

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Taking a Break

Suitcase in airport

(Michal Parzuchowski, Unsplash)

19 July 2019. We’re taking a few days off at Science & Enterprise, for some study-travel and book reading. We’ll be back at the end of July. Until then, we’ll post occasional contributed stories, and return to our regular editorial schedule upon our return.

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