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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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Plant Genetic Thermostat Found, More Drought-Resistant Crops Possible

by Michael Keller

California is now in the grips of a drought so extreme that 2014 already registers as the state’s third driest year in more than a century.

A July University of California, Davis study on the likely impacts of the emergency forecast that at least 410,000 acres of farmland would be forced to go idle for lack of water, a devastating blow to farmers that would result in more than $800 million in lost revenues this year.

Many of the high-value vegetables, fruits and nut trees will be spared from the worst of the draught—increased groundwater pumping will make up for the shortfall in significantly diminished surface water supplies. Cotton, grains and oil-producing crops like canola are taking it on the chin, though. Hundreds of thousands of acres are now mothballed until the water starts flowing again.

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Are Electricity-Eating Bacteria The Next Big Thing In Alternative Energy?

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by Michael Keller

There’s a large and growing list of renewable energy projects pumping out cleaner electricity these days. Photovoltaic panels produce direct current and solar concentrators drive steam turbines using sunlight. Wind turbines churning out megawatts of power dot the landscape of many countries. Other projects are looking to light communities through tides, running rivers and even the heat of the Earth.

Creating current is all well and good for energizing homes, businesses and even motor vehicles, but when it comes to flying airplanes or turning the screws on big ships, batteries storing alternative-energy-produced electricity just can’t yet deliver the power needed. That’s why these large machines still need combustible liquids like diesel, aviation fuel and bunker oil that pack a bunch of energy into small volumes to drive their engines.

For these and other high-power applications, renewable energy needs to up its oomph. The best way to do that would be to concentrate sunlight’s energy, for instance, into a machine that converts it directly into fuel. For well over a century, we’ve been using a version of this that comes out of the ground in the form of petroleum products, which are the hydrocarbon-rich remnants of organic matter that lived eons ago. The ancient organisms that form our fossil fuels are the concentrated distillates of sunlight.

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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.

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