I pre-ordered a $76,900 Tesla Cybertruck. Here’s each step I took to reserve one.

Tesla CybertruckTesla Cybertruck
Tesla Cybertruck. 
  • Tesla unveiled its Cybertruck pickup truck in November.
  • The vehicle starts at $39,900, and it costs $100 to make a refundable reservation.
  • Production for the two most expensive Cybertruck trims is expected to begin at the end of 2021.
  • Near the end of December, I pre-ordered the $69,900 “Tri Motor AWD” trim with the $7,000 “full self-driving” add-on.

While the unusual design of Tesla‘s Cybertruck pickup truck polarized observers when it was unveiled in November, the electric-car maker has received at least 250,000 $100 refundable pre-orders, CEO Elon Musk has suggested.

Near the end of December, I pre-ordered the vehicle’s most expensive trim, though the $100 reservation fee is the same regardless of the trim you choose.

These are all of the steps you need to take reserve a Tesla Cybertruck.

After clicking “order now,” I was taken to a page that listed the three available trims. I reserved the “Tri Motor AWD” trim and added what Tesla calls “full self-driving” capability.

Tesla Cybertruck reservation


After clicking “buy now,” I entered my contact information and credit card number.

Tesla Cybertruck reservation


The refundable reservation costs $100.

Tesla Cybertruck reservation


After placing my reservation, I was taken to the following page.

Tesla Cybertruck reservation


I also received a confirmation email.

Tesla Cybertruck reservation


After making an account and logging in, I was able to access a page with information about my reservation.

Tesla Cybertruck reservation


My account also gave me the option to reserve a different trim or cancel my order.

Tesla Cybertruck reservation


CBD is Here to Stay: 10 Mind-Blowing Health Benefits of CBD Oil

Over the last 5 years, the popularity of CBD products has skyrocketed throughout the consumer marketplace.


DECEMBER 30, 2019 09:16

Over the last 5 years, the popularity of CBD products has skyrocketed throughout the consumer marketplace. CBD is supposed to be a legal and safer alternative to traditional marijuana while possessing many health benefits too. You can purchase products like CBD gummies or CBD oil for anxiety, pain, and inflammation relief.

In case you didn’t know, CBD is a type of cannabinoid that is extracted from a cannabis plant. It is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that doesn’t make you high or alter your brain functionality at all. The cannabinoid that does make you high is THC, which is found in the leaves of a cannabis plant. There is no THC in any of the CBD oil products for sale.

Okay, so you’re probably thinking, “If CBD doesn’t make me high, then what is the point of taking it?” Well, the benefits of cannabinoids go far beyond altering brain functionality. In fact, the human body possesses an endocannabinoid system which works with the natural cannabinoid receptors in the brain and immune system to reduce pain, inflammation, and other things which jeopardize your internal homeostasis. At the same time, you still maintain full control over your brain functionality.

Below are the top 10 health benefits of consuming CBD oil products. Although gummies are good too, most people respond better to the CBD oil instead. Just a few drops of oil underneath the tongue in your mouth and you should feel the results quickly.


1) Alleviates Depression and Anxiety

According to the World Health Organization, over 300 million people in the world suffer from depression. A large percentage of these people also suffer from anxiety too. These are two very serious mental disorders that can ruin the quality of someone’s life. However, several medical researchers have found that CBD can reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety in people. It even helps fight social anxiety and public speaking anxiety too.


2) Reduces Pain

CBD gets the most attention because of its ability to reduce pain. In fact, it can reduce everything from the physical pain caused by arthritis to the neuropathic pain caused by multiple sclerosis. If you have an inflammatory disease which is causing you pain, then try some CBD oil and you should see that pain dissipating in no time.


3) Viable Drug Addiction Treatment

Drug addiction affects various brain circuits that cause you to develop a dependency to drugs like heroin and morphine. CBD works to correct the brain circuits responsible for stimulating the addiction so that you don’t have a dependency on those drugs as much anymore.


4) Prevent Diabetes

CBD is believed to prevent a condition called insulitis that destroys pancreatic beta cells. Since insulitis is a big cause of Type I Diabetes, preventing insulitis can help prevent diabetes too. But for people who already have diabetes, CBD can lower the side effects of the disease like memory deficits and neuroinflammation.


5) Reduces Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a big cause of cardiovascular diseases, strokes, and heart attacks. If you were to take one dose of CBD oil each day, then you’d find yourself with lower blood pressure. That means you’d have a lesser chance of getting a heart attack, stroke, or heart disease.


6) Fights Insomnia

Do you have trouble getting to sleep? If so, then CBD might be your answer to reduce insomnia or any sleeping difficulties that you may experience. This is linked to CBD’s ability to reduce anxiety and worries that cause you to stay awake.


7) Eliminates and Prevents Acne

The anti-inflammatory properties of CBD help lower the production of sebum in the skin. As you may know, sebum is natural oil produced for the skin. When excessive amounts of sebum are produced, it causes acne to form on the surface. That is why you get those unattractive pimples and blackheads. But if you consume CBD oil and lower the production of sebum, then your visible acne will clear up fast.


8) Prevents and Reduces Alzheimer’s Disease Symptoms

Neuroinflammation is a big contributor to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. CBD can work to prevent and reduce neuroinflammation by shielding neurons from the free radicals that try to destroy them. This means you’ll have a lesser chance of dealing with Alzheimer’s disease or its symptoms.


9) Antipsychotic Effects

CBD has been found to lower psychotic symptoms in people suffering from various types of mental disorders, such as schizophrenia and psychosis. The results have not been proven for all types of mental disorders, but people with these disorders have reportedly gotten relief from CBD oil.


10) Helps Fight Cancer

The anti-inflammatory properties of CBD help give it anti-tumor effects as well. If you’re worried about developing a cancerous tumor in your brain, lung, colon, breast, or prostate, then try CBD oil consistently. It can even prevent cancer from spreading if it already exists.

Interactive robotic cat hits Kickstarter

Although the MarsCat features OLED eyes, it actually sees through a camera in its nose
Although the MarsCat features OLED eyes, it actually sees through a camera in its nose
Elephant Robotics

There’s a good chance that you’re already familiar with Sony’s aibo robotic dog, which was recently reissued. However, what if you’re more of a cat person? Well, that’s where the new MarsCat is designed to come in.

Developed by China’s Elephant Robotics, the MarsCat autonomously moves about its owner’s home utilizing 16 motorized joints. Along with simply walking around, it will also randomly perform activities such as playing, sleeping, and even burying imaginary waste in a litter box.

Besides its servos and battery pack, some of the robot’s other onboard electronics include a nose-mounted camera, a depth-sensing laser, a microphone, a speaker, six capacitive touch sensors, and a Raspberry Pi microprocessor. Utilizing these, it can reportedly recognize objects such as three included toys, plus it’s able to avoid obstacles and respond to several voice commands.

The MarsCat will be available in multiple colors

The MarsCat will be available in multiple colors
Elephant Robotics

In fact, each MarsCat develops a distinct personality based on the manner in which its owner interacts with it over time.

For example, the more often that the user talks to the robot, the more frequently it will meow at them. Other determining factors include the user’s tone of voice, and the number of times that they handle the MarsCat. All told, the bot’s personality will end up varying between six character traits: enthusiastic vs aloof, energetic vs lazy, and social vs shy.

Electronically-inclined users will be glad to know that the device is open-source, meaning that they can create and share new software and hardware hacks. One three-hour USB charge of the robot’s battery should reportedly be good for two to five hours of runtime, depending on the activity level.

As previously mentioned, the MarsCat is currently the subject of a Kickstarter campaign. A pledge of US$649 will get you one, when and if they reach production. The planned retail price is $1,299.

You can see the robot in action, in the video below.

Source: Kickstarter

MarsCat: A Bionic Cat, A Home Robot

We recommend

  1. Unlike Dogs, Cats Love Sweets!
    Enago Academy, 2018
  2. Educational Robotics as a Tool for Youth Leadership Development and STEM Engagement
    Kathleen Morgan et al., STEM Education 2.0, 2019
  3. Surrender, Pedagogy Ambiguity, Research and Impossibility: Cats @ Play
    Joe Norris et al., Drama Research Methods: Provocations of Practice, 2018
  1. Praxeology and the Use of Educational Robotics in the Teaching of Physics
    Milton Schivani et al., Crossing the Border of the Traditional Science Curriculum, 2017
  2. Play and Learn: Build your Robot and Learn Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)
    Ahmad Khanlari, Creative Dimensions of Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century, 2017
  3. Polyamines and antioxidant defense system are associated with cold tolerance in centipedegrass
    Jingjing CHEN et al., Frontiers of Agricultural Science and Engineering, 2018

Apple Suddenly Exposes Radical New iPhone Details

Following leaks over battery power5G, and pricing, two radical iPhone features have been published by Apple. Not only are the screens going to fill more of the front of the phone, Tim Cook and his team are going to hide away the cameras and sensors under the screen.

Details on the new design cues come from the team at Let’s Go Digital. Images published over a series of design patents confirms that Apple us working on a number of new features. Ilse Jurrien has more:

“Apple Inc. has applied for three notable design patents in Japan, showing an iPhone without notch. The documentation was published by the JPO (Japan Patent Office) on December 23, 2019, and includes four images per patent (123)… for a new smartphone design without a notch and without Face ID. Instead the new iPhone incorporates an in-display fingerprint sensor and an under-screen camera.”

Today In: Innovation

Of note is the almost bezel free design and the lack of a notch.

The former matches up with a number of leaks, including the 3D model of the iPhone 12 Pro sourced by Macotakara. The screen eschews the more rounded corners of the current iPhone models are hark back to the square design of the iPhone 8. Meanwhile the bezels have been reduced as far as currently possible.

The latter, while part of the design, has bigger implications. There is no sign of any ‘pop-up’ camera, so the forward facing cameras and FaceID technology is either tightly packed under the small upper bezel, or (and this is more likely) mounted underneath the screen itself. Given the speaker cutout is on show, I suspect that mounting underneath the screen is the key technology here.

It’s worth noting that numerous Android handsets have under-screen fingerprint readers (optical and ultrasonic methods), and both Oppo and Xiaomi have demonstrated under-screen cameras during 2019. It should not come as a surprise that Apple is working on a similar idea for all of its forward facing sensors.

Genuinely I’ve no idea. Although the features have been demonstrated, getting them into a mainstream handset with millions of sales is not an easy matter. There’s no hints (as yet) of such progress in the supply chain. We might see demo handsets with this tech at MWC in February, but reaching the market?

Apple’s expected reveal of the iPhone 12 in September is nine months away. Will the competition get to market in that window, or can Apple launch some genuinely new technology with this next-generation design? It is already promising 5G in all of the handsets, adding a larger screen and ‘invisible’ cameras may be the trump card Tim Cook and his team need to see a super-cycle of sales emerge


I am known for my strong views on mobile technology, online media, and the effect this has on the public conscious and existing businesses. I’ve been following this spa.

ProtonMail takes aim at Google with an encrypted calendar

ProtonCalendar by ProtonMail

Above: ProtonCalendar by ProtonMail

Encrypted email provider ProtonMail has officially launched its new calendar in public beta. The move is part of the Swiss company’s broader push to offer privacy-focused alternatives to Google’s key products.

ProtonMail has been talking about its plans to launch an encrypted calendar for a while. But starting from today, all ProtonMail users on a paid plan will be able to access ProtonCalendar, and it will be opened to everyone when it exits beta in 2020.

By way of a brief recap, ProtonMail was founded out of Geneva, Switzerland in 2013 by Andy Yen, Jason Stockman, and Wei Sun — academic researchers working on particle physics projects at CERN. ProtonMail promises users full privacy via client-side encryption, which means nobody can intercept and read their emails. ProtonMail has increasingly positioned itself as the antithesis of Gmail, insofar as Google has the ability to scan the content of users’ emails to help personalize other products in the Google product lineup.

ProtonCalendar isn’t the first new product to emerge from ProtonMail — it has previously launched a VPN service — but it signals the start of a suite of new offerings that will include a cloud storage service to rival Google Drive and office software similar to Google Docs.

“Our goal is to create and make widely accessible online products [that] serve users instead of exploiting them,” said ProtonMail CEO Andy Yen.

From emails to calendar

ProtonMail hasn’t set out to reinvent the wheel in terms of the features and format of ProtonCalendar. It sports a clean interface with views by month and day, color-coded event types, and so on. It is also tied to a user’s ProtonMail email account.

Where ProtonMail is really looking to differentiate itself is by putting privacy at the heart of ProtonCalendar — the company said it encrypts event title, description, location, and participants so neither third parties nor ProtonMail itself can peruse the contents of calendar entries.

ProtonCalendar also speaks to ProtonMail’s ambitions in the business realm — the company doesn’t yet offer a full-fledged enterprise product, but it does market a Professional subscription tier that offers some features and functionality aimed at businesses. Any company enticed by encrypted email will also likely be interested in similar privacy-focused products, including calendars, cloud storage, and documents.

Moreover, public trust in “big tech” is at an all-time low, due in large part to the countless data breaches, abuses, and scandals that have emerged in recent years, which may put ProtonMail in a strong position. In fact, it has been profitable for some time already and has garnered roughly 20 million users since its launch back in 2014.

“Like ProtonMail, ProtonCalendar is engineered to put user privacy first, and in that respect we are the polar opposite of Google,” Yen added. “With the launch of ProtonCalendar beta, we move one step closer to providing a full suite of services [that] can replace Google for users who want more control over their data.”

How to Turn a Raspberry Pi Into a NAS for Whole-Home File Sharing

If you want a network-attached storage device but aren’t ready to invest in one, make one with a spare Raspberry Pi. Here’s how to turn a simple board into the brains of a NAS for file sharing.

My house is incredibly neat and organized, but when it comes to my digital life, the word “hoarder” comes to mind. If that sounds like you, a network attached storage device—or NAS for short—is the perfect investment to make your files wirelessly available on any device in your home. But these devices can get expensive, so one option to save money: You can build one yourself for cheap with a Raspberry Pi at the core.

What’s a NAS?

Network-attached storage allows you to share files from one, always-on device throughout your house. With a NAS on your network, you can use it to store your movies and play them from multiple Kodi boxes, store backups on it from your PC, or use it as a BitTorrent box that seeds your files 24/7.

Sure, you could do all this with your main PC, but a NAS is lower-power, and it is designed to be run day and night, even if your desktop is out of commission. Once you start using one, it’s hard to go back.

There are plenty of ready-built NAS devices out there, from companies such as Synology, QNAP, and Asustor. Just buy one, pop in a hard drive, and you’re off to the races. But they can get expensive quickly, and if you aren’t sure whether a NAS is for you, it’s hard to justify the investment—especially if you want something that can grow with your storage needs.

Synology DiskStation DS1019+

The Raspberry Pi, on the other hand, is such a versatile little board that it can act as a cheap trial NAS that—once you grow out of it—can be repurposed for something else. It isn’t as rock-solid as, say, a Synology NAS unit, and RAID doesn’t work particularly well on the Pi if you want data redundancy. You’ll want to make sure that any important data on your Pi-based NAS is also backed up elsewhere.

However, it’s a great project if you have a Pi lying around and want to see what NAS life is all about. Then, once you’re hooked, you can upgrade to a purpose-made Synology or QNAP model that fits your long-term needs.

What You’ll Need…

A Raspberry Pi with all the trimmings: Obviously, you’ll need a Raspberry Pi for this project, along with the requisite accessories: a power supply, a microSD card, and a mouse, a keyboard, and a monitor for the initial setup. Any of the recent-model Pis should work for this project, and you can read more about the other accessories in our guide to getting started with the Raspberry Pi.

A hard drive (or two, or three): Unless you’re sharing just a few files, your microSD card probably isn’t enough storage for a NAS. You’ll need some drives to fill up with your movies, music, or other files you want to share among devices. A standard external drive will do the trick in most cases, though you may need one that plugs into the wall separately—or a powered USB hub—since the Pi may not be able to supply enough power to all your drives. If you want a cleaner setup, you can use an internal drive designed for network attached storage, too, but that would require a case.

Akasa Raspberry Pi 4 Case With Thermal Kit

A NAS-friendly case (optional): If you want your system to have a clean look, it may behoove you to get an enclosure for your Pi and drives, so it isn’t just an octopus of wires and disks. For example, Geekworm makes a board called the X820 that allows you to dock a 2.5-inch internal hard drive, connect it to your Pi, and mount it all in a trim little case. Or you could use an external hard drive enclosure with multiple bays, using one bay for the Pi and the other for your disks.

For now, I’m just using a standard Raspberry Pi case with a USB external drive Velcroed to the top, but if you’re willing to get creative, the world is your oyster here. Once you have all your components in hand, it’s time to get your NAS up and running.

How to Set It Up

There are special operating systems like Openmediavault that turn your Pi into a NAS, but for a beginner setup, I actually recommend regular old Raspbian—it’s flexible, easy to use, and good enough for sharing a few files over the network. Start by installing Raspbian as described in our beginner Raspberry Pi guide.

I recommend hooking up your Pi to your network via Ethernet for fast file transfer, but Wi-Fi will do in a pinch. Once you’ve booted up Raspbian for the first time, designated a new password, and downloaded all your updates, connect your hard drive to one of the Pi’s USB ports.

You’ll see it show up on the desktop, but we’ll be doing most of our work in the Terminal from here on out. (If you prefer, you can SSH into your Pi and perform these commands from another PC.)

Note that, before continuing, we’ll need to erase the drive you attached, so if you have important files on it, you’ll have to store them somewhere else before transferring them to your Pi-NAS.

From a Terminal window, run the following command to see the disks connected to your Pi:

sudo fdisk -l

Find the external drive you want to use for your files—in my case, it’s a 128GB drive called “WhitsonsExternal”—and note its path. In the screenshot below, the 128GB drive plugged into my Pi corresponds to /dev/sda1. (Make absolutely sure you note the correct drive, as we’re about to erase it!)

raspberry pi

To erase and format your flash drive for Linux usage, run:

umount /dev/sda1
sudo mkfs -t ext4 /dev/sda1
sudo e2label /dev/sda1 WhitsonsExternal

Remember to replace /dev/sda1 with your own drive’s path, and WhitsonsExternal with whatever you want to name your drive. Formatting will take a few minutes, especially if you have a large drive, so be patient.

Raspberry Pi

Once it’s finished, reboot your Pi, and you should find that your external drive appears automatically, ready for action.

Now it’s time to share that drive on your network, so you can add your files and access them from any device in the house. To do this, we’re going to use a tool called Samba, which is an open-source implementation of Windows’ SMB/CIFS file sharing protocol. It’s not your only option for sharing files, but it’s easy to set up and compatible with just about any system you might have on the network, so it’s what I recommend.

Raspbian doesn’t come with Samba installed by default, so you’ll need to make sure your repositories are up to date and install it with the following commands:

sudo apt update
sudo apt upgrade
sudo apt install samba samba-common

The installer will ask you if you want to modify smb.conf to use WINS settings from DHCP. Choose Yes and press Enter.


Now you’ll want to edit that configuration file yourself, to share your drive. Run:

sudo nano /etc/samba/smb.conf

Then, from the command-line text editor that appears, use your arrow key to scroll to the bottom of the document. You’ll want to add a block of text that looks something like this:

path = /media/pi/WhitsonsExternal/
writeable = yes
create mask = 0775
directory mask = 0775

In your version of this, MyMedia would be the name of your share (name it whatever you want) and /media/pi/YourHardDrive would be the mounted location of your drive. (You may need to open up the file manager and head to /media/pi/ to figure out what it’s called.)


When you’re done, press Ctrl+X to exit nano, pressing Y and Enter when asked if you want to save the file.

Finally, you’ll need to create a password for Samba so you can see your share from other machines. (There are ways to configure Samba without requiring a password, but this generally isn’t good security practice, so I recommend adding a password.) To add a password to the existing Pi user, run:

sudo smbpasswd -a pi

Enter your desired password when prompted—it doesn’t have to be the same as your user password on the Pi itself, but it can be—and press Enter.


You can add other users with sudo adduser jeff, where jeff is the user you want to add, and run sudo smbpasswd -a jeff to give that user their own password. This isn’t strictly necessary, but it can be useful if you have multiple people in your household to whom you want to give different read and write permissions on certain shares.

Once that’s all done, run the following command to restart Samba:

sudo systemctl restart smbd

And everything should be ready to rock. Head to your Windows PC, open a File Explorer window, and type \\raspberrypi\MyMedia in the address bar (replacing MyMedia with whatever your share is called). If you press Enter, you should be able to enter your Samba username (pi) and password and see your shared drive. You can do the same on a Mac by opening Finder and clicking Go > Connect to Server, typing in smb://raspberrypi when prompted.

This just scratches the surface of what you can do with a Pi-based NAS. As your storage needs evolve, you can add more drives and shares, add more users with different permissions, or set up a RAID array to avoid data loss in the event of a hard drive failure. Once you get to that point, though, it will likely be worth spending a little more on a dedicated NAS device for better performance.

AWS Officially Launched Its Quantum Computing Service

It seemed as if AWS was lagging behind Google, Microsoft, and IBM when it comes to quantum computing but they’ve finally taken a step forward with their latest announcement.

AWS has officially announced the preview launch of its first-ever quantum computing service known as Braket. However, AWS is still not building their own quantum computer. Instead, they chose to partner with IonQ, Rigetti, and D-Wave in providing computing services through the cloud.

The Purpose Behind Braket

There is no doubt that Braket is an innovative computing service that will surely leave an impact on development processes. The tool can be used to build quantum algorithms and create basic applications. These same applications can later be tested in simulations on AWS or other computing hardware from the company’s partners.

“D-Wave’s quantum systems and our Leap cloud environment were both purpose-built to make practical application development a reality today and, in turn, fuel real-world business advantage for our customers,” said D-Wave’s chief product officer and EVP of R&D, Alan Baratz. “Amazon’s Braket will open the door to more smart developers who will build the quantum future, and the forward-thinking executives who will transform industries.”

It was a smart move for AWS to decide to move forward with innovating in the quantum computing space without actually creating their quantum computer. By partnering up with firms that can provide the necessary hardware, AWS found a way to leave an impact in this field without insane amounts of time and funding that would be spent in building a computer.

“By collaborating with AWS, we will be able to deliver access to our systems to a much broader market and help accelerate the growth of this emerging industry,” said Chad Rigetti, founder and CEO of Rigetti Computing.

The main purpose behind Braket is to provide developers easy access to all the tools they need through a single and simple interface. On the other side, Braket allows its partners to gain a wider reach and recognition, which is something they wouldn’t find easily without AWS.

AWS Focuses on Accessibility

It is also important to address that AWS is not planning to install this quantum hardware in its own data centers. They are only seeking a unified way to access the machines and hardware that their partners already offer. In that sense, AWS can be considered the middleman of this quantum computing scenario.

Moreover, AWS has also announced the launch of the AWS Center for Quantum Computing and the AWS Quantum Solutions Lab. This innovation will provide a solution for researchers who want to collaborate around the new quantum technology.

“We believe that quantum computing will be a cloud-first technology and that the cloud will be the main way customers access the hardware,” said Charlie Bell, the senior vice president, Utility Computing Services, AWS. “With our Amazon Braket service and Amazon Quantum Solutions Lab, we’re making it easier for customers to gain experience using quantum computers and to work with experts from AWS and our partners to figure out how they can benefit from the technology. And with our AWS Center for Quantum Computing and academic partnerships, we join the effort across the scientific and industrial communities to help accelerate the promise of quantum computing.”


Ilker is the CEO & Co-founder of Botanalytics, conversational analytics company based in San Francisco.

Electronics at the Speed of Light – Using Light Waves to Move Electrons at Sub-Femtosecond Speeds

Electrons Move Metallic Nanoantenna

A European team of researchers including physicists from the University of Konstanz has found a way of transporting electrons at times below the femtosecond range by manipulating them with light. This could have major implications for the future of data processing and computing.

Contemporary electronic components, which are traditionally based on silicon semiconductor technology, can be switched on or off within picoseconds (i.e. 10-12 seconds). Standard mobile phones and computers work at maximum frequencies of several gigahertz (1 GHz = 109 Hz) while individual transistors can approach one terahertz (1 THz = 1012 Hz). Further increasing the speed at which electronic switching devices can be opened or closed using the standard technology has since proven a challenge. A recent series of experiments – conducted at the University of Konstanz and reported in a recent publication in Nature Physics – demonstrates that electrons can be induced to move at sub-femtosecond speeds, i.e. faster than 10-15 seconds, by manipulating them with tailored light waves.

“This may well be the distant future of electronics,” says Alfred Leitenstorfer, Professor of Ultrafast Phenomena and Photonics at the University of Konstanz (Germany) and co-author of the study. “Our experiments with single-cycle light pulses have taken us well into the attosecond range of electron transport”. Light oscillates at frequencies at least a thousand times higher than those achieved by purely electronic circuits: One femtosecond corresponds to 10-15 seconds, which is the millionth part of a billionth of a second. Leitenstorfer and his team from the Department of Physics and the Center for Applied Photonics (CAP) at the University of Konstanz believe that the future of electronics lies in integrated plasmonic and optoelectronic devices that operate in the single-electron regime at optical – rather than microwave – frequencies. “However, this is very basic research we are talking about here and may take decades to implement,” he cautions.

A question of controlling light and matter

The challenge for the international team of theoretical and experimental physicists from the University of Konstanz, the University of Luxembourg, CNRS-Université Paris Sud (France) and the Center for Materials Physics (CFM-CSIC) and Donostia International Physics Center (DIPC) in San Sebastián (Spain) who collaborated on this project was to develop an experimental set-up for manipulating ultrashort light pulses at femtosecond scales below a single oscillation cycle on the one hand, and to create nanostructures suited for high-precision measurements and manipulation of electronic charges on the other. “Fortunately for us, we have first-class facilities at our disposal right here in Konstanz,” says Leitenstorfer, whose team conducted the experiments. “The Center for Applied Photonics is a world-leading facility for the development of ultrafast laser technology. And thanks to our Collaborative Research Centre 767 ‘Controlled Nanosystems: Interaction and Interfacing to the Macroscale’, we have access to extremely well-defined nanostructures that can be created and controlled at the nanometre scale.”

Superfast electron switch

The experimental set-up developed by Leitenstorfer’s team and coordinating author Daniele Brida (formerly leader of an Emmy Noether research group at the University of Konstanz, now professor at the University of Luxembourg) involved nanoscale gold antennae as well as an ultrafast laser capable of emitting one hundred million single-cycle light pulses per second in order to generate a measurable current. The bowtie design of the optical antenna allowed for a sub-wavelength and sub-cycle spatio-temporal concentration of the electric field of the laser pulse into the gap of a width of six nm (1 nm = 10-9 meters).

As a result of the highly nonlinear character of electron tunneling out of the metal and acceleration over the gap in the optical field, the researchers were able to switch electronic currents at speeds of approximately 600 attoseconds (i.e. less than one femtosecond, 1 as = 10-18 seconds). “This process only occurs at time scales of less than half an oscillation period of the electric field of the light pulse,” explains Leitenstorfer – an observation that the project partners in Paris and San Sebastián were able to confirm and map out in detail by means of a time-dependent treatment of the electronic quantum structure coupled to the light field.

The study opens up entirely new opportunities for understanding how light interacts with condensed matter, enabling observation of quantum phenomena at unprecedented temporal and spatial scales. Building on the new approach to electron dynamics driven at the nanoscale by optical fields that this study affords, the researchers will move on to investigate electron transport at atomic time and length scales in even more sophisticated solid-state devices with picometre dimensions.


  • International team of researchers including scientists from the University of Konstanz manages to control the ultrafast motion of electrons in a metallic nanocircuit by manipulating them with light.
  • New method for speeding up the way electronic devices may be switched in the future.

Reference: “Sub-femtosecond electron transport in a nanoscale gap” by Markus Ludwig, Garikoitz Aguirregabiria, Felix Ritzkowsky, Tobias Rybka, Dana Codruta Marinica, Javier Aizpurua, Andrei G. Borisov, Alfred Leitenstorfer and Daniele Brida, 23 December 2019, Nature Physics.
DOI: 10.1038/s41567-019-0745-8

Funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities (MICINN), Eusko Jaurlaritza (Basque Government), the German Research Foundation (DFG), the EC | EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation H2020 | H2020 Priority Excellent Science | H2020 European Research Council (H2020 Excellent Science – European Research Council).

The experimental demonstration of a spin quantum heat engine

The experimental demonstration of a spin quantum heat engine
Credit: Peterson et al.

The theoretical notion of a ‘quantum heat engine’ has been around for several decades. It was first introduced around sixty years ago by Scovil and Schulz-DuBois, two physicists at Bell Labs who drew an analogy between three-level masers and thermal machines.

In the years that followed, other researchers have developed a variety of theories building on the ideas of Scovil and Schulz-DuBois, introducing proposals of thermodynamic cycles at the quantum scale. Very recently, physicists have started testing some of these theories in experimental settings.

One of these experiments was carried out by a team of researchers at the University of Waterloo, Universidade Federal do ABC and Centro Brasileiro de Pesquisas Físicas, who successfully demonstrated a spin quantum heat engine in a laboratory setting. Their paper, published in Physics Review Letters, outlines the implementation of a heat engine based on a spin-1/2 system and nuclear magnetic resonance techniques.

“The so-called ‘quantum thermodynamics’ are currently under development,” Roberto Serra, one of the researchers who carried out the study, told “This emerging field is also associated with developments in quantum technology, which promises a kind of new industrial revolution at the nanoscale with disruptive devices for computation, communication, sensors, etc.”

In their experiment, Serra and his colleagues successfully implemented a proof-of-principle quantum heat engine using a nuclear spin placed in a chloroform molecule and nuclear magnetic resonance techniques. The researchers specifically manipulated the nuclear spin of a Carbon 13 isotope using a radiofrequency field, ultimately producing an Otto cycle (i.e., the thermodynamic cycle used in most common motors).

“The energy difference between the two possible nuclear spin states (let as say up and down) was increased and decreased similar to a piston expansion and compression in a car engine,” Serra explained. “Under some conditions, the nuclear spins in the molecule can absorb and release heat from/to radio waves.”

Energy fluctuations play a crucial role in the quantum scenario that Serra and his colleagues focused on. Measuring these fluctuations in a thermodynamic cycle, however, is an extremely challenging task, which the researchers were surprisingly able to complete. They found that when performing a quantum Otto cycle at maximum power, their quantum heat engine could achieve an efficiency for work extraction of η≈42%, which is very close to its thermodynamic limit (η=44%).

“In the present experiment, we were able to characterize all  in work and heat, besides the irreversibility at the ,” John Peterson one of the co-authors of the study, told “Fast operation of our molecular machine produces transitions between the spin energy states, which are related to what we call ‘quantum friction’ that reduces performance. This kind of friction is also associated with an increase in entropy. On the other hand, a very slow operation (that decreases quantum friction) will not deliver a considerable amount of extracted power. So, the best scenario is to conciliate some amount of power with low levels of quantum friction or entropy production, in a similar way to what modern engineering does in cars’ engines.”

The study carried out by Serra and his colleagues is among the first to experimentally demonstrate a proof-of-concept spin . This proof-of-concept heat engine could ultimately inform future studies exploring the functioning and potential of quantum thermal machines.

“In our experiment, the tiny spin engine reaches an efficiency close to its thermodynamic limit at , which is much better than what car engines can do nowadays,” Serra said. “The quantum spin  would not be very useful in practice since the work produced would supply a very small amount of energy to radio waves. It would only be sufficient to alter another nuclear spin. We are more interested in measuring how much energy it uses, how much heat it dissipates, and how much entropy is produced during operation.”

In their future work, Serra and his colleagues also hope to identify ways to optimize the operation of small quantum thermal machines, demonstrating their effectiveness in real experiments. This could ultimately help to build more advanced quantum refrigerators that could be implemented in new quantum computers.

Explore further

Researchers measure quantum power increase in quantum boost engine for the first time

More information: John P. S. Peterson et al. Experimental Characterization of a Spin Quantum Heat Engine, Physical Review Letters (2019). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.123.240601

Journal information: Physical Review Letters

Learning from the bears

Learning from the bears
Credit: Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine

Grizzly bears spend many months in hibernation, but their muscles do not suffer from the lack of movement. In the journal Scientific Reports, a team led by Michael Gotthardt reports on how they manage to do this. The grizzly bears’ strategy could help prevent muscle atrophy in humans as well.

 only knows three seasons during the year. Its time of activity starts between March and May. Around September the bear begins to eat large quantities of food. And sometime between November and January, it falls into hibernation. From a physiological point of view, this is the strangest time of all. The bear’s metabolism and heart rate drop rapidly. It excretes neither urine nor feces. The amount of nitrogen in the blood increases drastically and the bear becomes resistant to the hormone insulin.

A person could hardly survive this four-month phase in a healthy state. Afterwards, he or she would most likely have to cope with thromboses or psychological changes. Above all, the muscles would suffer from this prolonged period of disuse. Anyone who has ever had an arm or leg in a cast for a few weeks or has had to lie in bed for a long time due to an illness has probably experienced this.

A little sluggish, but otherwise fine

Not so the grizzly bear. In the spring, the bear wakes up from hibernation, perhaps still a bit sluggish at first, but otherwise well. Many scientists have long been interested in the bear’s strategies for adapting to its three seasons.

A team led by Professor Michael Gotthardt, head of the Neuromuscular and Cardiovascular Cell Biology group at the Max Delbrueck Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) in Berlin, has now investigated how the bear’s muscles manage to survive hibernation virtually unharmed. The scientists from Berlin, Greifswald and the United States were particularly interested in the question of which genes in the bear’s  cells are transcribed and converted into proteins, and what effect this has on the cells.

Understanding and copying the tricks of nature

“Muscle atrophy is a real human problem that occurs in many circumstances. We are still not very good at preventing it,” says the lead author of the study, Dr. Douaa Mugahid, once a member of Gotthardt’s research group and now a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Professor Marc Kirschner of the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

“For me, the beauty of our work was to learn how nature has perfected a way to maintain muscle functions under the difficult conditions of hibernation,” says Mugahid. “If we can better understand these strategies, we will be able to develop novel and non-intuitive methods to better prevent and treat  in patients.”

Gene sequencing and mass spectrometry

To understand the bears’ tricks, the team led by Mugahid and Gotthardt examined muscle samples from grizzly bears both during and between the times of hibernation, which they had received from Washington State University. “By combining cutting-edge sequencing techniques with mass spectrometry, we wanted to determine which genes and proteins are upregulated or shut down both during and between the times of hibernation,” explains Gotthardt.

“This task proved to be tricky—because neither the full genome nor the proteome, i.e., the totality of all proteins of the grizzly bear, were known,” says the MDC scientist. In a further step, he and his team compared the findings with observations of humans, mice and nematode worms.

Non-essential amino acids allowed muscle cells to grow

As the researchers reported in the journal Scientific Reports, they found proteins in their experiments that strongly influence a bear’s amino acid metabolism during hibernation. As a result, its muscle cells contain higher amounts of certain non-essential amino acids (NEAAs).

“In experiments with isolated muscle cells of humans and mice that exhibit muscle atrophy, cell growth could also be stimulated by NEAAs,” says Gotthardt, adding that “it is known, however, from earlier clinical studies that the administration of amino acids in the form of pills or powders is not enough to prevent muscle atrophy in elderly or bedridden people.”

“Obviously, it is important for the muscle to produce these amino acids itself—otherwise the amino acids might not reach the places where they are needed,” speculates the MDC scientist. A therapeutic starting point, he says, could be the attempt to induce the human muscle to produce NEAAs itself by activating corresponding metabolic pathways with suitable agents during longer rest periods.

Tissue samples from bedridden patients

In order to find out which signaling pathways need to be activated in the muscle, Gotthardt and his team compared the activity of genes in grizzly bears, humans and mice. The required data came from elderly or bedridden patients and from mice suffering from muscle atrophy—for example, as a result of reduced movement after the application of a plaster cast. “We wanted to find out which genes are regulated differently between animals that hibernate and those that do not,” explains Gotthardt.

However, the scientists came across a whole series of such genes. To narrow down the possible candidates that could prove to be a starting point for muscle atrophy therapy, the team subsequently carried out experiments with nematode worms. “In worms, individual genes can be deactivated relatively easily and one can quickly see what effects this has on muscle growth,” explains Gotthardt.

A gene for circadian rhythms

With the help of these experiments, his team has now found a handful of genes whose influence they hope to further investigate in future experiments with mice. These include the genes Pdk4 and Serpinf1, which are involved in glucose and amino acid metabolism, and the gene Rora, which contributes to the development of circadian rhythms. “We will now examine the effects of deactivating these ,” says Gotthardt. “After all, they are only suitable as therapeutic targets if there are either limited side effects or none at all.”

Explore further

Tracking titin in real time

More information: D. A. Mugahid et al, Proteomic and Transcriptomic Changes in Hibernating Grizzly Bears Reveal Metabolic and Signaling Pathways that Protect against Muscle Atrophy, Scientific Reports (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-56007-8

Journal information: Scientific Reports