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Txch This Week: Shape-Shifting Liquid Metal Alloys And Camo Squid Skin Technology

by Jared Kershner

This week on Txchnologist, we watched the world’s first 3-D printed car hit the road after being made in a mere 44 hours. The vehicle, called Strati, was sent on a test drive last Saturday after being quickly printed and assembled by a Local Motors team days before. The company plans to offer 3-D printed vehicles for sale in the coming months, paving the way for innovation in automotive design and opening new doors for modern manufacturing.

The creators of an MIT project called Local Warming are pioneering a heating system that uses motion sensing to direct infrared energy beams at occupants of a space, heating them directly while the remaining space stays cold. With current space heating accounting for 37 percent of the total power consumed by U.S. buildings in 2010, funding programs that rethink how to keep people comfortable could spark a radical shift in greater building energy efficiency nationwide.

Smog-producing low-level ozone concentrations are rising globally and bringing with them heightened public health and ecological threats. Scientists studying the environmental dangers of ozone offer a simple solution—plant more trees. Their models have shown that the reforestation of regions directly abutting urban areas provides an effective tool for abating ground-level ozone pollution, and could complement technology-based controls.

Now we’re bringing you the news and trends we’ve been following this week in the world of science, technology and innovation.

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Txch This Week: Cancer-Detecting Nanotech And Produce Section Power Production

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by Jared Kershner

This week on Txchnologist, NASA tested experimental rocket engine injectors that were 3-D printed to enhance performance over traditionally manufactured components. This 3-D printing technique, called direct laser melting, consists of a machine that fires a laser at metal powder under the control of a computer design program, depositing layers of the metal on top of one another until the part is produced. The hope? To demonstrate that 3-D printed designs can truly revolutionize system performance along with production time and cost.

A team led by biophysicist Markus Sauer and chemist Jürgen Seibel have pioneered a new microscopy method, dSTORM, which stands for direct Stochastic Optical Reconstruction Microscopy. This allows for the visualization of objects in super resolution, revealing details of cells ten times better than ever before by stitching together multiple images to create a single, sharper one. By resolving objects by mere millionths of millimeters across, researchers will inevitably gain new insights into activity in infectious diseases and cancer in human cells.

Harvard roboticists are in the process of constructing a soft-bodied, untethered robot that can continue operating through fire, water, crushing force, and even freezing conditions. Its body is constructed from a composite of silicone, fabric, and hollow glass microspheres. The group’s gains are an important step forward: If robots such as these are to perform rescue missions and survive demanding weather conditions, they need to be able to roam and slither free from cumbersome power connections.

Now we’re bringing you the news and trends we’ve been following this week in the world of science, technology, and innovation.

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These Brain Cells Have Bite

by Michael Keller

One could be forgiven for assuming the cells pictured above are neurons, the fundamental units that comprise the brain and nervous system. With branching dendrites growing off central nucleus-containing somas and thin axons reaching out to communicate with other cells, they basically are neurons. 

The thing is that these cells didn’t come from the brain, spinal cord or nerves—they came from teeth. Researchers at Australia’s University of Adelaide have pushed stem cells from the teeth of adult mice to morph into ones very much like neurons. 

They say that though the new cells aren’t quite neurons yet, they can link up into networks with potentially huge benefits for stroke sufferers. They also expect for the cells to become much more like neurons as they refine their technique.

"The reality is, treatment options available to the thousands of stroke patients every year are limited," said Kylie Ellis, who conducted the research as a doctoral student. "Stem cells from teeth have great potential to grow into new brain or nerve cells, and this could potentially assist with treatments of brain disorders, such as stroke."

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Plants Engineered To Produce Insect Perfume Could Be Pesticide Alternative

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by Michael Keller

Swedish and American researchers have successfully engineered plants to produce chemical attractants like those released by insects to find mates. They say their plant factories could be used to lure and trap nuisance bugs as an environmentally friendly alternative to pesticides and synthetically produced attractants.

Using a multistep process to genetically modify a close relative of the tobacco plant, the researchers pushed the plant to produce a molecule that mimics sex pheromones released by females of two moth species that feed on orchard trees. They then deployed traps spiked with the plant-made musk and found that they efficiently caught males of both species.

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