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Txch This Week: Autonomous Trains And “Magic Wand” Technology

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by Jared Kershner

We dedicated much of this week on Txchnologist to Nobel Prize announcements for the world’s most groundbreaking discoveries in physics, chemistry and physiology or medicine. We witnessed three neuroscientists be honored for uncovering how the brain understands where the body is in space. John O’Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser revealed the positioning system or “inner GPS” in the brain that makes it possible to orient ourselves and remember places we’ve been.

The physics Nobel recognized the revolution in artificial lighting ushered in by LEDs. The three winners this year allowed white light to be created in a new way by figuring out how to produce blue-light LEDs, creating longer-lasting and more efficient alternatives to older light sources. Their discovery is bound to impact global energy demand and improve the lives of billions living in poverty with no access to electricity beyond unhealthy light sources such as burning kerosene. 

Outside of the Nobel frenzy, NASA plans on a December launch for the Orion capsule on its first space flight aboard the Delta IV Heavy rocket. This vehicle – expected one day to carry astronauts as far as Mars – will perform its first mission unmanned as a test flight for fact-finding on how it will safely convey astronauts in future explorations.

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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Cloaking System Could Make Blind Spots, Surgeons’ Hands Disappear

by Michael Keller

Scientists investigating the principles of how light behaves have developed a simple way to make objects disappear right before your eyes. It’s not magic; it’s optics.

University of Rochester researchers have used a set of lenses to manipulate focal lengths and create a region that is invisible when peering through the looking glass. They set up four lenses in a way that maintains cloaking in the region even when viewed from several degrees off of straight on.

The team says their system is the first to offer flexibility in viewing angles with a simple, inexpensive design.

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"Paradigm Shift" Reported In Making Biofuel From Plants

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by Michael Keller

The possibility of using nonfood plants to cheaply and sustainably fuel our vehicles may have just veered into the fast lane.

Scientists report they have successfully genetically engineered bacteria to convert complex carbohydrates in tough grasses directly into ethanol, a type of alcohol that can fuel internal combustion engines.

“Making biofuel from plants is really important because it’s carbon neutral—the same CO2 you put in to grow it comes out when you burn it,” says Janet Westpheling, a University of Georgia genetics professor who led the research. “It’s one of the reasons why the future of energy in this country has to rely at least in part on plants.”

At the heart of the work conducted at UGA and Oak Ridge National Lab, is what Westpheling calls a paradigm shift in approaching a longstanding problem in producing biofuels.

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generalelectric:

Inside the CSX Northwest Ohio Intermodal Terminal. GE Evolution Series locomotives pass through the CSX network day and night, helping to ship 50 million tons of freight across 21,000 miles of track.  

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