March 2022 Jobs Report & Industry Update

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Economics & Job Creation
“The Employment Situation — February 2022”

Life Sciences
“Indian Ocean warming could weaken Summer Monsoon rainfall in South Asia”

“Artificial intelligence and big data can help preserve wildlife”

“Calorie restriction trial reveals key factors in extending human health”

The Industrials
“How to make a ‘computer’ out of liquid crystals”

Private Equity
“Investor confidence, deeper pockets spur strong outlook for PE mega-funds”

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Economics & Job Creation
“The Employment Situation – February 2022”

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 678,000 in February, and the unemployment
rate edged down to 3.8 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.
Job growth was widespread, led by gains in leisure and hospitality, professional 
and business services, health care, and construction.

This news release presents statistics from two monthly surveys. The household survey
measures labor force status, including unemployment, by demographic characteristics.
The establishment survey measures nonfarm employment, hours, and earnings by industry.
For more information about the concepts and statistical methodology used in these two
surveys, see the Technical Note.

Household Survey Data

In February, the unemployment rate edged down to 3.8 percent, and the number of
unemployed persons edged down to 6.3 million. In February 2020, prior to the coronavirus
(COVID-19) pandemic, the unemployment rate was 3.5 percent, and the number of unemployed
persons was 5.7 million. (See table A-1.)

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (3.5 percent) and
Hispanics (4.4 percent) declined in February. The jobless rates for adult women (3.6
percent), teenagers (10.3 percent), Whites (3.3 percent), Blacks (6.6 percent), and Asians
(3.1 percent) showed little or no change over the month. (See tables A-1, A-2, and A-3.)

Among the unemployed, the number of persons on temporary layoff, at 888,000 in February,
was little changed over the month. The number of permanent job losers, at 1.6 million in
February, also changed little. Both measures are higher than their February 2020 levels
of 780,000 and 1.3 million, respectively. (See table A-11.)

In February, the number of persons jobless less than 5 weeks declined by 286,000 to 2.1
million. The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was
essentially unchanged at 1.7 million. This measure is 581,000 higher than in February
2020. The long-term unemployed accounted for 26.7 percent of the total unemployed in
February 2022. (See table A-12.)

The labor force participation rate, at 62.3 percent in February, changed little over
the month. The employment-population ratio edged up to 59.9 percent. Both measures 
remain below their February 2020 levels (63.4 percent and 61.2 percent, respectively).
(See table A-1.)

The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons increased by 418,000 to
4.1 million in February but remains below its February 2020 level of 4.4 million. These
individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time
because their hours had been reduced or they were unable to find full-time jobs. (See
table A-8.)

The number of persons not in the labor force who currently want a job declined by 349,000
to 5.4 million in February. This measure is above its February 2020 level of 5.0 million.
These individuals were not counted as unemployed because they were not actively looking
for work during the 4 weeks preceding the survey or were unavailable to take a job.
(See table A-1.)

Among those not in the labor force who wanted a job, the number of persons marginally
attached to the labor force, at 1.5 million, changed little in February. These
individuals wanted and were available for work and had looked for a job sometime in 
the prior 12 months but had not looked for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey.
The number of discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached who believed 
that no jobs were available for them, was little changed over the month at 391,000.
(See Summary table A.)

Household Survey Supplemental Data

In February, 13.0 percent of employed persons teleworked because of the coronavirus
pandemic, down from 15.4 percent in the prior month. These data refer to employed 
persons who teleworked or worked at home for pay at some point in the 4 weeks preceding
the survey specifically because of the pandemic.

In February, 4.2 million persons reported that they had been unable to work because
their employer closed or lost business due to the pandemic--that is, they did not work
at all or worked fewer hours at some point in the 4 weeks preceding the survey due to
the pandemic. This measure is down from 6.0 million in the previous month. Among those
who reported in February that they were unable to work because of pandemic-related
closures or lost business, 20.3 percent received at least some pay from their employer
for the hours not worked, down from 23.7 percent in January.

Among those not in the labor force in February, 1.2 million persons were prevented from
looking for work due to the pandemic, down from 1.8 million in the prior month. (To be
counted as unemployed, by definition, individuals must be either actively looking for
work or on temporary layoff.)

These supplemental data come from questions added to the household survey beginning
in May 2020 to help gauge the effects of the pandemic on the labor market. The data 
are not seasonally adjusted. Tables with estimates from the supplemental questions for
all months are available online at

Establishment Survey Data

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 678,000 in February but is down by 2.1 million,
or 1.4 percent, from its pre-pandemic level in February 2020. Job growth was widespread
over the month, led by gains in leisure and hospitality, professional and business
services, health care, and construction. (See table B-1.)

Employment in leisure and hospitality continued to increase, with a gain of 179,000 in
February. Job growth occurred in food services and drinking places (+124,000) and in
accommodation (+28,000). Since February 2020, employment in leisure and hospitality 
is down by 1.5 million, or 9.0 percent.

Professional and business services added 95,000 jobs in February. Job gains occurred
in temporary help services (+36,000), management of companies and enterprises (+12,000),
management and technical consulting services (+10,000), and scientific research and
development services (+8,000). Employment in professional and business services is
596,000 higher than in February 2020, largely in temporary help services (+240,000), 
computer systems design and related services (+154,000), and management and technical
consulting services (+152,000).

Employment in health care rose by 64,000 in February. Job gains occurred in home health
care services (+20,000), offices of physicians (+15,000), and offices of other health
practitioners (+12,000). Employment in health care is down by 306,000, or 1.9 percent,
from its level in February 2020.

Construction added 60,000 jobs in February, following little change in the prior month.
About three-fourths of the over-the-month job gain occurred in specialty trade contractors,
with increases in both the residential (+24,000) and nonresidential (+20,000) components.
Construction employment is slightly below (-11,000) its February 2020 level.

Employment in transportation and warehousing increased by 48,000 in February and is
584,000 higher than in February 2020. Over the month, job gains continued in warehousing
and storage (+11,000), couriers and messengers (+9,000), support activities for 
transportation (+9,000), and air transportation (+7,000). All four of these component
industries have surpassed their February 2020 employment levels, with particularly 
strong job growth in warehousing and storage (+420,000) and couriers and messengers (+240,000).

Employment in retail trade rose by 37,000 in February, with gains in building material and
garden supply stores (+12,000), furniture and home furnishings stores (+6,000), and
gasoline stations (+5,000). Retail trade employment is 104,000 above its level in February 

Manufacturing added 36,000 jobs in February. Employment in durable goods industries rose
by 20,000, with job gains in fabricated metal products (+11,000), machinery (+8,000), 
electrical equipment and appliances (+4,000), nonmetallic mineral products (+3,000), furniture
and related products (+3,000), and primary metals (+3,000). These gains were partially 
offset by a job loss in motor vehicles and parts (-18,000). Nondurable goods manufacturing
also added jobs over the month (+16,000). Since February 2020, manufacturing employment is
down by 178,000, or 1.4 percent.

In February, employment in financial activities rose by 35,000. Job gains were split between
finance and insurance (+16,000) and real estate (+16,000). Employment in financial activities
is 31,000 above its level in February 2020.

Social assistance added 31,000 jobs in February, with a gain of 21,000 jobs in individual
and family services. Since February 2020, employment in social assistance is down by 152,000,
or 3.5 percent.

Employment increased by 25,000 in the other services industry in February, led by a gain
in repair and maintenance (+10,000). Employment in the other services industry is down by 
317,000, or 5.3 percent, from its level in February 2020.

Wholesale trade added 18,000 jobs in February; employment in the industry is 113,000, or
1.9 percent, lower than in February 2020.

Mining employment rose by 9,000 in February, with gains in support activities for mining
(+6,000) and in oil and gas extraction (+2,000). Mining employment has grown by 62,000 since
a recent low in February 2021.

Employment showed little or no change over the month in information and government.

Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls, at $31.58 in February,
were little changed over the month (+1 cent), after large increases in recent months. Over
the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 5.1 percent. In February,
average hourly earnings of private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees rose by
8 cents to $26.94. (See tables B-3 and B-8.)

The average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 0.1 hour to 34.7
hours in February. In manufacturing, the average workweek for all employees increased by
0.4 hour to 40.7 hours, and overtime rose by 0.2 hour to 3.6 hours. The average workweek
for production and nonsupervisory employees on private nonfarm payrolls was up by 0.1 hour
to 34.1 hours. (See tables B-2 and B-7.) 

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for December was revised up by 78,000, from
+510,000 to +588,000, and the change for January was revised up by 14,000, from +467,000
to +481,000. With these revisions, employment in December and January combined is 92,000
higher than previously reported. (Monthly revisions result from additional reports received
from businesses and government agencies since the last published estimates and from the 
recalculation of seasonal factors.)

The Employment Situation for March is scheduled to be released on
Friday, April 1, 2022, at 8:30 a.m. (ET).

Employment Situation Summary (

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Life Sciences
“Indian Ocean warming could weaken Summer Monsoon rainfall in South Asia”

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by a team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Kiel University and the Alfred Wegener Institute of the Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, seeks to strengthen climate predictions by reconstructing Indian Summer Monsoon rainfall changes during the past 130,000 years.

The study reports for the first time that the Indian Summer Monsoon during the Last Interglacial was weakened by sustained high sea surface temperatures in the equatorial and tropical Indian Ocean, indicating that modern rises in sea temperature could increase droughts in South Asia.

Sedimentary biomarkers in paleoclimate archives: a window into the past

Solar radiation is often considered the primary influencer of the Indian Summer Monsoon’s intensity, with elevated solar radiation increasing humidity, wind circulation, and ultimately precipitation. Higher levels of solar radiation during the Last Interglacial should have therefore led to increased monsoon intensity, but this effect has never been verified with paleo-proxy data.

To reconstruct past Indian Summer Monsoon rainfall, the researchers analyzed a 10-meter-long marine sediment core retrieved from the northern Bay of Bengal, roughly 200 km south of the mouth of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna rivers. By analyzing the stable hydrogen and carbon isotopes in leaf wax biomarkers preserved in the sediment, researchers were able to track changes in rainfall during the planet’s last two warmer climate states: The Last Interglacial, which occurred 130,000-115,000 years ago, and the current warm period, the Holocene, which began 11,600 years ago.

Although solar insolation was higher during the Last Interglacial, isotopic analysis on leaf wax biomarker revealed that the Indian Summer Monsoon was actually less intense than in the Holocene. “This unexpected finding not only contrasts with paleoclimate model simulations,” says lead author Dr. Yiming Wang, paleo-climatologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, “but also challenges common assumptions that incoming solar insolation is the biggest factor in monsoon variability in a warm climate state.”

Sea surface temperature plays a dominant role

To identify the main driver of the monsoon’s rainfall during warm climate states, the researchers compared available reconstructions of past sea surface temperature from the Indian Ocean and found that the equatorial and tropical regions were 1.5-2.5°C warmer during the Last Interglacial period than during the Holocene. In addition, the researchers use paleoclimate model simulations to show that when the Indian Ocean’s surface temperature rose in the past, monsoon rainfall would decrease on land and increase in the sea above the Bay of Bengal.

“Our work strongly suggests that sea surface temperature plays a dominant role in shaping the Indian Summer Monsoon’s variability in South Asia,” says Dr. Wang, “and that higher surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean during the Last Interglacial period could have dampened the ISM intensity.”

An urgent need for understanding monsoon response in warm climate

The team’s results indicate that, due to increasing sea surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean, Indian Summer Monsoon failures are likely to increase as well. To what extent sea surface temperature affects monsoon intensity in other tropical regions remains an open question.

“The obvious discrepancy between our data and prevailing climate model simulations underscores the importance of hydroclimate proxy records for understanding the range and rate of climate change in the past,” says Prof. Ralph Schneider, senior author of the study, paleoclimate researcher at the Institute of Geosciences and the Leibniz Laboratory for Radiometric Dating and Stable Isotope Research at Kiel University. “Our results show that, in addition to the effect of solar radiation on continents, the effect of ocean warming on precipitation intensity needs to be re-evaluated in climate models.”

“Changes in the hydrological cycle will affect agricultural land, natural ecosystems, and consequently the livelihoods of billions of people,” Dr. Wang emphasizes. “We therefore need to improve our understanding of the control mechanisms of summer monsoon rainfall to better predict weather extremes such as droughts and floods and devise adaptation measures. Time is of the essence, especially if ocean warming continues at the rate it is.”

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“Artificial intelligence and big data can help preserve wildlife”

The field of animal ecology has entered the era of big data and the Internet of Things. Unprecedented amounts of data are now being collected on wildlife populations, thanks to sophisticated technology such as satellites, drones and terrestrial devices like automatic cameras and sensors placed on animals or in their surroundings. These data have become so easy to acquire and share that they have shortened distances and time requirements for researchers while minimizing the disrupting presence of humans in natural habitats. Today, a variety of AI programs are available to analyze large datasets, but they’re often general in nature and ill-suited to observing the exact behavior and appearance of wild animals. A team of scientists from EPFL and other universities has outlined a pioneering approach to resolve that problem and develop more accurate models by combining advances in computer vision with the expertise of ecologists. Their findings, which appear today in Nature Communications, open up new perspectives on the use of AI to help preserve wildlife species.

Building up cross-disciplinary know-how

Wildlife research has gone from local to global. Modern technology now offers revolutionary new ways to produce more accurate estimates of wildlife populations, better understand animal behavior, combat poaching and halt the decline in biodiversity. Ecologists can use AI, and more specifically computer vision, to extract key features from images, videos and other visual forms of data in order to quickly classify wildlife species, count individual animals, and glean certain information, using large datasets. The generic programs currently used to process such data often work like black boxes and don’t leverage the full scope of existing knowledge about the animal kingdom. What’s more, they’re hard to customize, sometimes suffer from poor quality control, and are potentially subject to ethical issues related to the use of sensitive data. They also contain several biases, especially regional ones; for example, if all the data used to train a given program were collected in Europe, the program might not be suitable for other world regions.

“We wanted to get more researchers interested in this topic and pool their efforts so as to move forward in this emerging field. AI can serve as a key catalyst in wildlife research and environmental protection more broadly,” says Prof. Devis Tuia, the head of EPFL’s Environmental Computational Science and Earth Observation Laboratory and the study’s lead author. If computer scientists want to reduce the margin of error of an AI program that’s been trained to recognize a given species, for example, they need to be able to draw on the knowledge of animal ecologists. These experts can specify which characteristics should be factored into the program, such as whether a species can survive at a given latitude, whether it’s crucial for the survival of another species (such as through a predator-prey relationship) or whether the species’ physiology changes over its lifetime. For example, new machine learning algorithms can be used to automatically identify an animal. such as using a zebra’s unique stripe pattern, or in video their movement dynamics can be a signature of identity.” says Prof. MackenzieMathis, the head of EPFL’s Bertarelli Foundation Chair of Integrative Neuroscience and co-author of the study. “Here is where the merger of ecology and machine learning is key: the field biologist has immense domain knowledge about animal being studied, and us as machine learning researchers job is to work with them to build tools to find a solution.”

Getting the word out about existing initiatives

The idea of forging stronger ties between computer vision and ecology came up as Tuia, Mathis and others discussed their research challenges at various conferences over the past two years. They saw that such collaboration could be extremely useful in preventing certain wildlife species from going extinct. A handful of initiatives have already been rolled out in this direction; some of them are listed in the Nature Communications article. For instance, Tuia and his team at EPFL have developed a program that can recognize animal species based on drone images. It was tested recently on a seal population. Meanwhile, Mathis and her colleagues have unveiled an open-source software package called DeepLabCut that allows scientists to estimate and track animal poses with remarkable accuracy. It’s already been downloaded 300,000 times. DeepLabCut was designed for lab animals but can be used for other species as well. Researchers at other universities have developed programs too, but it’s hard for them to share their discoveries since no real community has yet been formed in this area. Other scientists often don’t know these programs exist or which one would be best for their specific research.

That said, initial steps towards such a community have been taken through various online forums. The Nature Communications article aims for a broader audience, however, consisting of researchers from around the world. “A community is steadily taking shape,” says Tuia. “So far we’ve used word of mouth to build up an initial network. We first started two years ago with the people who are now the article’s other lead authors: Benjamin Kellenberger, also at EPFL; Sara Beery at Caltech in the US; and Blair Costelloe at the Max Planck Institute in Germany.”

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“Calorie restriction trial reveals key factors in extending human health”

The research was based on results from the Comprehensive Assessment of Long-term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy (CALERIE) clinical trial, the first controlled study of calorie restriction in healthy humans. For the trial, researchers first established baseline calorie intake among more than 200 study participants. The researchers then asked a share of those participants to reduce their calorie intake by 14% while the rest continued to eat as usual, and analyzed the long-term health effects of calorie restriction over the next two years.

The overall aim of the clinical trial was to see if calorie restriction is as beneficial for humans as it is for lab animals, said Vishwa Deep Dixit, the Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professor of Pathology, Immunobiology, and Comparative Medicine, and senior author of the study. And if it is, he said, researchers wanted to better understand what calorie restriction does to the body specifically that leads to improved health.

Since previous research has shown that calorie restriction in mice can increase infections, Dixit also wanted to determine how calorie restriction might be linked to inflammation and the immune response.

“Because we know that chronic low-grade inflammation in humans is a major trigger of many chronic diseases and, therefore, has a negative effect on life span,” said Dixit, who is also director of the Yale Center for Research on Aging. “Here we’re asking: What is calorie restriction doing to the immune and metabolic systems and if it is indeed beneficial, how can we harness the endogenous pathways that mimic its effects in humans?”

Dixit and his team started by analyzing the thymus, a gland that sits above the heart and produces T cells, a type of white blood cell and an essential part of the immune system. The thymus ages at a faster rate than other organs. By the time healthy adults reach the age of 40, said Dixit, 70% of the thymus is already fatty and nonfunctional. And as it ages, the thymus produces fewer T cells. “As we get older, we begin to feel the absence of new T cells because the ones we have left aren’t great at fighting new pathogens,” said Dixit. “That’s one of the reasons why elderly people are at greater risk for illness.”

For the study, the research team used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to determine if there were functional differences between the thymus glands of those who were restricting calories and those who were not. They found that the thymus glands in participants with limited calorie intake had less fat and greater functional volume after two years of calorie restriction, meaning they were producing more T cells than they were at the start of the study. But participants who weren’t restricting their calories had no change in functional volume.

“The fact that this organ can be rejuvenated is, in my view, stunning because there is very little evidence of that happening in humans,” said Dixit. “That this is even possible is very exciting.”

With such a dramatic effect on the thymus, Dixit and his colleagues expected to also find effects on the immune cells that the thymus was producing, changes that might underlie the overall benefits of calorie restriction. But when they sequenced the genes in those cells, they found there were no changes in gene expression after two years of calorie restriction.

This observation required the researchers to take a closer look, which revealed a surprising finding: “It turns out that the action was really in the tissue microenvironment not the blood T cells,” Dixit said.

Dixit and his team had studied adipose tissue, or body fat, of participants undergoing calorie restriction at three time points: at the beginning of the study, after one year, and after two. Body fat is very important, Dixit said, because it hosts a robust immune system. There are several types of immune cells in fat, and when they are aberrantly activated, they become a source of inflammation, he explained.

“We found remarkable changes in the gene expression of adipose tissue after one year that were sustained through year two,” said Dixit. “This revealed some genes that were implicated in extending life in animals but also unique calorie restriction-mimicking targets that may improve metabolic and anti-inflammatory response in humans.”

Recognizing this, the researchers then set out to see if any of the genes they identified in their analysis might be driving some of the beneficial effects of calorie restriction. They honed in on the gene for PLA2G7 — or group VII A platelet activating factor acetylhydrolase — which was one of the genes significantly inhibited following calorie restriction. PLA2G7 is a protein produced by immune cells known as macrophages.

This change in PLA2G7 gene expression observed in participants who were limiting their calorie intake suggested the protein might be linked to the effects of calorie restriction. To better understand if PLA2G7 caused some of the effects observed with calorie restriction, the researchers also tracked what happened when the protein was reduced in mice in a laboratory experiment.

“We found that reducing PLA2G7 in mice yielded benefits that were similar to what we saw with calorie restriction in humans,” said Olga Spadaro, a former research scientist at the Yale School of Medicine and lead author of the study. Specifically, the thymus glands of these mice were functional for a longer time, the mice were protected from diet-induced weight gain, and they were protected from age-related inflammation.

These effects occurred because PLA2G7 targets a specific mechanism of inflammation called the NLRP3 inflammasome, researchers said. Lowering PLA2G7 protected aged mice from inflammation.

“These findings demonstrate that PLA2G7 is one of the drivers of the effects of calorie restriction,” said Dixit. “Identifying these drivers helps us understand how the metabolic system and the immune system talk to each other, which can point us to potential targets that can improve immune function, reduce inflammation, and potentially even enhance healthy lifespan.”

For instance, it might be possible to manipulate PLA2G7 and get the benefits of calorie restriction without having to actually restrict calories, which can be harmful for some people, he said.

“There’s so much debate about what type of diet is better — low carbohydrates or fat, increased protein, intermittent fasting, etc. — and I think time will tell which of these are important,” said Dixit. “But CALERIE is a very well-controlled study that shows a simple reduction in calories, and no specific diet, has a remarkable effect in terms of biology and shifting the immuno-metabolic state in a direction that’s protective of human health. So from a public health standpoint, I think it gives hope.”

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The Industrials

“How to make a ‘computer’ out of liquid crystals”

The results, published Feb. 23 in Science Advances, are not likely to become transistors or computers right away, but the technique could point the way towards devices with new functions in sensing, computing and robotics.

“We showed you can create the elementary building blocks of a circuit — gates, amplifiers, and conductors — which means you should be able to assemble them into arrangements capable of performing more complex operations,” said Juan de Pablo, the Liew Family Professor in Molecular Engineering and senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, and the senior corresponding author on the paper. “It’s a really exciting step for the field of active materials.”

The details in the defect

The research aimed to take a closer look at a type of material called a liquid crystal. The molecules in a liquid crystal tend to be elongated, and when packed together they adopt a structure that has some order, like the straight rows of atoms in a diamond crystal — but instead of being stuck in place as in a solid, this structure can also shift around as a liquid does. Scientists are always looking for these kinds of oddities because they can utilize these unusual properties as the basis of new technologies; liquid crystals, for example, are in the LCD TV you may already have in your home or in the screen of your laptop.

One consequence of this odd molecular order is that there are spots in all liquid crystals where the ordered regions bump up against each other and their orientations don’t quite match, creating what scientists call “topological defects.” These spots move around as the liquid crystal moves.

Scientists are intrigued by these defects, wondering if they could be used to carry information — similar to the functions that electrons serve in the circuits of your laptop or phone. But in order to make technology out of these defects, you’d need to be able to shepherd them around where you want them, and it’s proved very difficult to control their behavior. “Normally, if you look through a microscope at an experiment with an active liquid crystal, you would see complete chaos — defects shifting around all over the place,” said de Pablo.

But last year, an effort from de Pablo’s lab headed by Rui Zhang, then a postdoctoral scholar at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, in collaboration with Prof. Margaret Gardel’s lab from UChicago and Prof. Zev Bryant’s lab from Stanford, figured out a set of techniques to control these topological defects. They showed that if they controlled where they put energy into the liquid crystal by shining a light only on specific areas, they could guide the defects to move in specific directions.

In a new paper, they took it a logical step further and determined that it should be theoretically possible to use these techniques to make a liquid crystal perform operations like a computer.

“These have many of the characteristics of electrons in a circuit — we can move them long distances, amplify them, and shut or open their transport as in a transistor gate, which means we could use them for relatively sophisticated operations,” said Zhang, now an assistant professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Though calculations suggest these systems could be used for computations, they are more likely to be uniquely useful in applications such as the field of soft robotics, the scientists said. Researchers are interested in soft robots — robots with bodies that aren’t made out of hard metal or plastic, but rather stretchy and soft materials — because their flexibility and gentle touch means they can perform functions that hard-bodied robots cannot. The team can imagine creating such robots that can do some of their own “thinking” using active liquid crystals.

They can also imagine using topological defects to ferry small amounts of liquid or other materials from place to place inside tiny devices. “For example, perhaps one could perform functions inside a synthetic cell,” said Zhang. It’s possible that nature already uses similar mechanisms to transmit information or perform behaviors inside cells, he said.

The research team, which also includes co-author and UChicago postdoctoral researcher Ali Mozaffari, is working with collaborators to carry out experiments to confirm the theoretical findings.

“It’s not often that you are able to see a new way to do computing,” de Pablo said.

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Private Equity

“Investor confidence, deeper pockets spur strong outlook for PE mega-funds”

Mega-funds continued to dominate the private funding space for PE firms in 2021, and all signs are pointing toward the trend progressing this year.

Mega-funds—those with over $5 billion—made up 44% of fundraising totals among PE firms and accounted for $143.4 billion last year, boosting dry power to record levels as a result, according to our latest Private Fund Strategies Report. Analysts expect a positive outlook for PE mega-funds going forward.

Funds of all sizes have recorded strong performance, driven by the economic recovery since pandemic-induced lows, abundantly available capital and elevated investor confidence.

LPs have prioritized re-ups with experienced and established GPs, allowing mega-funds to flourish. For example, Clayton, Dubilier & Rice raised $16 billion for its eleventh buyout fund, 60% larger than its 10th fund, in part because of an 80% re-up rate. This dynamic has rocketed the median and average PE fund sizes to their highest figures in over a decade.

LPs have also focused on both consolidating and deepening their relationships with investment managers to ease portfolio management and gain co-investment opportunities. This has benefited big shops that can both take in additional capital with ease and house multiple fund strategies that LPs desire under one roof.

Further, large, diversified managers that have established their core strategies far above the $5 billion level have also been able to easily cross the mega-fund threshold when expanding into new strategies, in turn further increasing the PE mega-fund count.

It’s worth noting that while mega-funds have shown strong returns—a 59.3% rolling one-year IRR in Q1 2021—large funds do not always guarantee the biggest returns. And the gap between mega-funds and sub-$1 billion funds’ performance narrows with time, according to our report.

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