There may be a new weapon emerging in the fight against malaria. Researchers say they have successfully used a heat-seeking detector normally employed as part of an anti-tank weapon to quickly sense the parasite in blood during the earliest stages of infection.
Researchers at Australia’s Monash University and the University of Melbourne used an advanced imaging sensor originally developed for the shoulder-fired Javelin missile system, which is used by soldiers and Marines against tanks, helicopters or buildings.
“Our test detects malaria at its very early stages, so that doctors can stop the disease in its tracks before it takes hold and kills. We believe this sets the gold standard for malaria testing,” said Monash chemist Bayden Wood in a statement.
Look Out, Graphene: Boron Atoms Form Cages And Flat Sheets Like Carbon
by Michael Keller
Chemists working in the U.S. and China say they have discovered a new molecular structure made out of boron atoms.
They believe the structure is made of 40 boron atoms that link together into a cage, which might be useful in storing hydrogen.
"This is the first time that a boron cage has been observed experimentally," said Lai-Sheng Wang, a Brown University chemistry professor and the study’s leader. "As a chemist, finding new molecules and structures is always exciting. The fact that boron has the capacity to form this kind of structure is very interesting."
They described their work uncovering experimental evidence for the molecule, which they have called borospherene, in a recent issue of the journal Nature Chemistry.
Txch This Week: Recreating Pressure At Jupiter’s Core On Earth And Smartphone Psychology
by Annie Epstein
This week on Txchnologist, we were reacquainted with Don Wetzel, the New York Central Railroad engineer who in 1966 piloted an experimental train powered by two jet engines bolted to its roof. His adventure culminated in the vehicle reaching a speed of almost 184 mph, which set the record as the world’s fastest jet-powered train. Today, the M-497 is still America’s fastest train and Wetzel’s story remains a fascinating one.
On the international front, researchers in Denmark are putting the Danish healthcare system to good use. They have just published a study encompassing the medical history of the entire country’s population over 15 years. Using Big Data analytics that crunched the medical history of roughly 6.2 million Danes, researcher Søren Brunak and his team examined disease trajectories and followed the diagnostic paths of a variety of diseases, finding links between the diagnosis of maladies like asthma and diabetes. Korean researchers, meanwhile, are busy perfecting the TransWall, a two-sided translucent touchscreen. It allows people to interact with it and each other, and provides audio and tactile feedback to users. The holographic screen was created to facilitate gaming and social interaction.
Engineers are taking inspiration from nature’s planes and creating smaller flying machines modeled off of bats, birds, and bees. Animals use flexible flight surfaces to maneuver in the air, and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research wants to replicate this flight method to create tools for surveillance and warfare.
In the world of virtual reality, Brown University researchers are examining the dynamics of group behavior by observing individual participants placed in virtual crowds. Experimental psychologist William Warren says humans naturally coordinate movements with the people around them, similar to other animals that travel in formations like birds or fish.
Now we’re bringing you the news we’ve been following this week in the world of science, technology and innovation.
Road To Deadly Disease Mapped By Crunching Whole Country’s Medical Records
by Michael Keller
Researchers have studied the medical histories of the entire population of Denmark to chart how medical conditions are linked and forecast disease before it begins.
In a major advance for the field of biomedical Big Data analytics, scientists followed the medical history of some 6.2 million Danes over the course of almost 15 years. Since the dataset includes those who died in those years, that’s a sample size 600,000 people larger than the current living population of the small Scandinavian country. Using the Danish National Patient Registry, which healthcare providers are required to report to, the data scientists were given access to 65 million inpatient, outpatient and emergency room events from 1996 to 2010.
Over that long study period and with so many data points that included every demographic in the country, they were able to start seeing hidden patterns in how disease progresses from its earliest stages. They found more than 1,100 “sequential diagnostic correlations” that occurred the most frequently in the Danish population, from an early seemingly unrelated medical issue through later diagnosis of maladies like diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer, arthritis and cardiovascular disease.
On a clear July day in 1966, New York Central Railroad engineer Don Wetzel and his team boarded a specially modified Buddliner railcar. Bolted to the roof above them were two GE J47-19 jet engines. Wetzel throttled the engines up and tore down a length of track from Butler, Indiana, to Stryker, Ohio, at almost 184 mph, piloting the experimental vehicle into the record books as the world’s fastest jet-powered train. Today, the M-497 is still America’s fastest train. A video team recently caught up with Wetzel at his home. Take a look at his story and read more here.
Txch This Week: Frog Vaccines And 3-D Printed Homes
by Annie Epstein
This week on Txchnologist, NASA helped explain the science behind this year’s World Cup soccer ball. While their exploration of the ball’s improved aerodynamics doesn’t explain the outcome of the Germany-Brazil game on Tuesday, NASA’s research does shed insight into the smoother flight of the ball being used this year. Fewer panels and deeper seams yield less knuckling, which is the unpredictable—some say supernatural—dipping and veering of the ball. Maybe this helps explain the Argentinian goalie’s success Wednesday.
In other news, scientists in the Midwest are working on uncovering the mysteries of wind turbine turbulence. A study by University of Minnesota and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign involved monitoring a turbine during a snowstorm to observe the effect of the spinning blades on airflow. Their results, which might be the first to analyze turbulence from an operating turbine rather than using simulations and wind tunnels, could be used to fine-tune machine and wind farm construction to make both more efficient at harvesting energy out of thin air.
Bioengineers are one step closer to making blood glucose measurements that don’t need a painful prick of the finger. While still overcoming many technological hurtles, an international team is hard at work at perfecting a no-contact laser and magnet device that measures dehydration and glucose levels in the blood.
Finally, this week NASA concluded its competition to design the next generation of hurricane surveillance drones. Three designs were singled out, with Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University winning top honors. Their design features an unmanned aerial system able to stay airborne for 7.8 days straight, unlike current models only capable of 24-hour stretches. Longer lingering times would provide more information on the full life cycle of these destructive weather systems.
Now we’re bringing you the news we’ve been following this week in the world of science, technology and innovation.
Barren Bubble-like Zones Could Help Untangle Universe's Mysteries
by Marcus Woo, Inside Science
Sometimes nothingness can reveal a whole lot.
While the universe is mostly empty, it contains bubble-like voids that are even emptier, taking up most of the space in the cosmos. And new research shows that these voids all look similar regardless of size — a consistency that may help unravel some of the universe’s biggest mysteries.
If you zoom way out, all the matter in the universe looks like a huge cobweb, consisting of an expansive network of filaments and wall-like structures that crisscross one another.
More than 80 percent of this matter is dark matter, the invisible and mysterious stuff that appears to interact only gravitationally with the regular matter that makes up stars and galaxies. Residing in these filaments and walls of dark matter are galaxies, and the densest regions — where the filaments intersect — are sites of massive clusters of hundreds to thousands of galaxies.
There’s a lot of science to think about over this July 4 weekend. It’ll be hot in much of the Northern Hemisphere, so there is ice cream to consider. Then, of course, there is the surprisingly complex chemistry going on in the backyard grill—the flames lighting up Maillard reactions in your burger or steak and caramelization adding flavor to your corn and onions. And don’t forget to cut down on carcinogens by marinating your pork in dark beer.
If you live in the United States, there’s also the pyrotechnic craziness of rapidly oxidizing compounds throwing off photons, better known as fireworks displays. Here’s a few primers on the science that’ll be happening across the land this coming holiday weekend.
When a major storm develops, we want to know where it will hit and how strong it will be. Currently, the best way to study a hurricane is to fly a plane near the storm to collect data. But, that approach can be costly, not to mention very dangerous.
“If you look at Katrina, we were completely wrong with the intensity of the hurricane” said Kamran Mohseni, an aerospace engineer at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
To track storms now, aircraft fly over the storms and drop a device that collects data as it falls through the clouds. But it’s not a perfect way to collect information.
“You put people at risk. The airplane is at risk and it is extremely expensive, and if you crash, that’s major news,” said Mohseni.
Txch This Week: Reporting Live From The 2014 Euroscience Open Forum
by Norman Rosenberg
This week on Txchnologist, we reported live from the 2014 Euroscience Open Forum in the royal city of Copenhagen. Scientists from around Europe and the world gathered to discuss the future of science and technology. The opening remarks of the week-long event invoked the Higgs boson discovery, the importance of gender equality in science and the need for science to help solve society’s problems.
Next, a group of the world’s leading physicists discussed the ground-breaking Higgs boson discovery of 2012-2013. This subatomic particle actually led to many more questions than it answered but, scientists say, we are one step closer to understanding our universe.
Back at the 2014 Euroscience Open Forum, an exciting and cute new robot could change the way we explore shipwrecks. The small U-CAT, or Underwater Curious Archaeology Turtle, uses its flippers to explore sites. Equipped with a camera and sonar, the little robot can get into hard-to-reach crevices easily.
Food fraud is a major problem in the era of a globalized supply chain. Bordeaux wine may not actually be from the idyllic French province, for example. Scientists and members of the European Commission have reignited the international discussion to eliminate food fraud using novel technological methods.
Graphene is known to be a wonder material for everything from medication transport to computer hardware. Now, researchers are even more optimistic about using a mix of graphene and plastic for 3-D printed electronics. Graphene + 3-D printing equals a truly 21st century way to build new devices.
Now we’re bringing you the news and trends we’ve been following this week in the world of science, technology and innovation.
They endure long hours of oft strenuous practice. The way to get better is to practice more, even when injured. For hours at a time, their hearts can beat at 65 percent of their maximum rate. Injuries are common, and there’s always someone waiting to take your spot.
Life in the arts can be tough.
While athletes often have teams of trainers and doctors available to help, many of the insights developed in sports medicine have yet to move beyond the sidelines to the dancers and musicians that could benefit.
In May, at a meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Orlando, Florida, a number of scientists and physicians explained their work with everyone from ballet dancers to heavy metal rockers to classical musicians. They are taking a new approach to the arts — both the disciplines and the participants — in an effort to understand significant issues among recreational and professional artists.
Your Tuna Is A Tilapia: The Fight Against Food Fraud Heats Up
by Michael Keller
The meal on your dinner plate might be trying to pull a fast one on you. If recent events around the world are any indicator, that red snapper might be tilapia (U.S.) or that beef burger might have a touch of horse (Europe). Don’t think your glass would ever lie to you, either? Care for a bit of the fire retardant melamine in your milk (China)? Or perhaps some cheap Italian plonk instead of that exorbitantly expensive Burgundy you think you’re drinking (U.S.)?
A globalized food supply chain and a desire by consumers to see things like strawberries on grocery shelves all year round have exploded the opportunities for fraudsters to make a buck.
"It’s easy to detect fraud in the food chain when you know what you’re looking for," says Franz Ulberth, an analytical chemist with the European Commission’s Joint Research Center who works on the forensics of detecting food fraud. "No one thought anyone would put melamine in milk powder, so they weren’t looking for it."
We heard yesterday from analysts who are wringing their hands over a coming mineral supply problem. A family of metals called rare earth elements and several others are critical for the machines that power the fledgling green economy. From the neodymium needed for the magnets in wind turbines and electric motors to the lithium at the heart of rechargeable batteries, geopolitical factors and a lack of recycling could combine to mean supplies don’t meet demand in the years to come.
But some scientists, engineers and others say they have a solution that’s out of this world. Their idea? Mine the moon.
Bernard Foing, who led Europe’s first mission to the moon and is now head of the International Lunar Exploration Working Group, says the idea is tantalizing because the moon’s composition is very similar to Earth’s. Because some places always receive sunlight, he says, a program could land a purely solar-powered mission there. “One day, we are going to have a fleet of satellites in orbit around the moon and also rovers on the surface that can mine it,” he says.
Metal Blues: Lack Of Critical Minerals Could Put Alternative Energy Machines On Ice
by Michael Keller
Societies around the world are slowly turning to alternative sources of energy to produce usable power and kick the fossil fuel habit. German energy monitors, for example, just announced that the country’s solar power panels supplied more than 50 percent of electricity demand on June 9, amounting to a record production of 23.1 gigawatts from a tangle of arrays set on the roofs of businesses and homes. Islands from Europe to the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea have started switching to 100 percent alternative energy electricity production.
Harnessing the wind, sun or moving water to generate power skips the combustion part of the electricity production process, which releases the gases that cause global warming and air pollution. Plugging electric vehicles into these green sources further diminishes the load of harmful greenhouse gases and particulates released into the air.
But hidden below all this good news lies a potential problem that threatens to put the brakes on the spread of alternative energy. Several technologies that sit at the heart of the green economy’s machines are made with minerals and metals whose adequate supply is an open question.
"There are growing concerns about securing reliable raw materials for economic growth," said Vangelis Tzimas with the European Commission’s Joint Research Center. "These minerals and metals are all critically needed for electric vehicles, wind, photovoltaic, and LED lighting.The availability of these may dictate the rate of deployment of low-carbon technologies."
The Higgs Paradox: A Phenomenal Finding Leads To Many More Questions
by Michael Keller
Finding the Higgs boson, a breakthrough in fundamental science that in 2012-2013 revealed an elementary reality about how the universe works, has highlighted how much more physics needs to be done.
Discovering the Higgs boson plugs a large hole in the standard model, the highly tested theory that shows all matter is made of a number of elementary particles that interact through four fundamental forces—strong, weak, electromagnetic and gravitational forces. Together, these comprise everything we currently understand about matter.
"The standard model provides a consistent explanation of the subatomic world," said Jonathan Bagger, a high-energy physicist who is the incoming director of Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics. "The Higgs boson is at the center of the model. It’s the linchpin. But there’s plenty of the universe that the standard model doesn’t address."
Arise, Brahe And Bohr: Higgs Boson Takes Bow Before European Scientists
by Michael Keller
The spirits of Denmark’s greatest scientists were invoked to usher in the start of Europe’s largest general science meeting in Copenhagen this Sunday. Her Majesty the Queen of Denmark, Margrethe 2, called on a long tradition of empiricism from 16th century astronomer Tycho Brahe to Niels Bohr, the 20th century physicist who unraveled the hidden structure of the atom and helped found quantum theory.
"We take great pride in hosting this conference," she said to hundreds of scientists and engineers who packed a hall for the opening of the 2014 Euroscience Open Forum.
Soon after her remarks, José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, threw down a challenge to the rest of the world while also holding out a hand. He said Europe’s commitment to the pursuit of science is evident by the fact that the continent produces two times as many science and technology graduates as the U.S.and invests the most in scientific advances.”Science does indeed matter to the future of Europe,” he said.”Many solutions to the problems today in Europe will come from science.”
Txch This Week: Self-Bruising Fabric And The Controversy Over Gravity
By Norman Rozenberg
This week on Txchnologist, we explored space, drones, insects and powerful eye scanners capable of scanning irises that are up to about 21 feet away.
First, NASA has chosen a space ship design inspired by the Wild West. This craft is designed to slow down an asteroid’s spin and maneuver it much like a cowboy would a cow.
The farms of the future may play home to flying drones and ground-crawling robots. Agriculture is a focal point for current research and development, creating opportunities for more sustainable and efficient farming practices.
Txchnologist then looked at some small creatures doing extraordinary things with just a little bit of tension. An MIT lab has turned insects walking on water into art in their study of fluid dynamics, adding an insoluble dye to accentuate how water moves as the insect scurries.
Finally, scientists have designed an eye scanner so powerful that it is capable of scanning irises from a pretty large distance. Rather than walking up to an eye scanner, this new design will be able to scan the eye in the style of Minority Report.
Now we’re bringing you the news and trends we’ve been following from the world of science, technology and innovation.
Quantum theory, developed about a century ago to explain the puzzling behavior of elementary particles, could also help explain seemingly irrational aspects of human reasoning.
The mathematics behind this highly successful physics theory has now provided a way to explain why people respond differently to survey questions depending on the questions’ ordering, scientists report June 16 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Human reasoning is notoriously fickle, inconsistent and full of seemingly obvious fallacies. A prime example of such apparently irrational decision-making is the “order effect”: Researchers routinely find that the sequence in which they ask survey questions affects how people respond to them. In a 1997 Gallup poll, for instance, when surveyors asked people if they thought Bill Clinton was honest and trustworthy, roughly seven percent more respondents answered “yes” if they were first asked whether Al Gore was honest and trustworthy.
Need Some Telepresence At Europe's Largest Science Meeting?
by Michael Keller
This is Mike Keller, the editor of Txchnologist. I’m interrupting our regular science and technology stories to let you know that we’ll have a bit of a change to our programming next week. We’ll be coming to you from Copenhagen’s Carlsberg district, where we’ll be roaming the halls of the 2014 Euroscience Open Forum. The event happens every two years and is Europe’s largest general science meeting.
This year’s conference includes hundreds of speakers on eight cross-cutting themes: The Healthy Society; A Revolution of the Mind; Global Resource Management; Learning in the 21st Century; Green Economy; Material and Virtual World; Urbanization, Design, and Livability; and Science, Democracy and Citizenship.
We’ll be digging in to the most promising and interesting science and technology the continent has to offer, and we’d like to take you along for the ride. Check out the full program and let us know if there’s any talk you really wish you could attend. We’ll do our best to get to it and report back on the discussion and debate. Consider us your telepresence. Drop a line through Fanmail or leave a comment below.
The eye is more than the window into the soul, it’s also the best identity card you can carry. A good photo of the colored part around the pupil called the iris contains so many unique features that researchers say it can tell who you are with an accuracy of about one in a billion people. Even the irises of identical twins are different because the finer points of its structure aren’t based on genetics alone.
These facts have made this single feature of the eye the subject of intense study in the world of biometric identification, which uses physical features like the face or palm and behavioral characteristics like how someone walks to figure out who a person is. And the technology is starting to be used around the world because iris scans can be done with a camera, require no contact with the subject and don’t carry the same stigma as being fingerprinted. For example, India’s Unique Identification Authority, a national government agency, is working to issue a national ID card that includes an iris scan to India’s 1.24 billion citizens in the next several years.
But projects like India’s and others happening around the world to identify individuals through their irises have at least one major limitation—subjects have to let their irises be photographed. Current technology needs to be close to the face and the lens has to be pointed almost straight at the eye.
That might be a slightly better situation for privacy advocates, but it’s just not good enough for biometrics researchers, companies and military and security officials. Several groupsare working on what’s called long-range standoff iris recognition systems, which have to be neither close nor directly in front of the subject.
Blood Pressure Control By Disney: Football Tracking Might Eradicate Bad Calls
by Michael Keller
We’ve still got a whole summer to navigate before football season is upon us again, but some gameplay technology news might get you tossing around the pigskin this weekend.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon and North Carolina State universities have been working on wiring up a football to get location readings at least as accurate as the eyes of professional judges allow. Their innovation in collaboration with Disney Research could make bad calls about first downs and touchdowns a thing for the sports history books.
Their goal is to create a lightweight transmitter that can accurately place the ball’s position in three dimensions. It is designed to operate using low-frequency magnetic fields. Click through to learn more, and for additional pictures and video.
Future Farms Will Be Home To Ground-Crawling Robots And Airborne Drones
by Michael Keller
Not too long from now, those peaches and peppers you love will be getting some TLC from a few farmers’ friends made of silicon and metal.
Engineers at a number of institutions and companies are working on systems that will help farmers tend their crops by offering new insights into real-time conditions of the plants, soil and atmosphere.
“Agriculture right now is at a unique point, with lots of R&D going on,” Gary McMurray, a mechanical engineer who leads the Georgia Tech Research Institute’s efforts in food processing technology, tells Txchnologist. “In the next five to 10 years, you’re going to see a significant change in the farm. There’s a lot of technology coming.”
McMurray says robots, his area of research expertise, are going to be the main enabling technology. The drivers of farm innovations, he says, are U.S. Department of Agriculture research funding and defense contractors looking for new opportunities for their technologies after current conflicts taper off. “Even venture capital is going into agriculture companies,” he says.
In Illinois and at Georgia Tech, for example, researchers are taking steps to use flying and ground-crawling robots to help farmers better manage the land and plants.
Could Carbon Nanotubes Lead To Imaging Revolution?
by Txchnologist staff
A new energy detector that can pick up terahertz radiation could open the door to a new era of imaging in fields from medicine to security screening and food inspection.
Researchers around the world have been working for decades to create a material that efficiently detects the terahertz portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. These wavelengths of energy, which are longer than visible light and sit between infrared and microwave on the spectrum, have characteristics that make them useful for a number of applications.
They can penetrate through fabrics and certain materials like plastic, making them useful in screening for weapons or contraband. They can also move through a few millimeters of tissue without damaging DNA or injuring cells before bouncing back, enticing medical imaging researchers who think the energy could be used to detect certain cancers and cavities in teeth without the need for X-rays or large MRI machines.