Tech Universe: Monday 18 March

By Miraz Jordan

Rural scientists are using smartphones as improvised microscopes. Photo / Thinkstock
Rural scientists are using smartphones as improvised microscopes. Photo / Thinkstock

CHEAP TRICKS: I'm sure if MacGyver had had a smartphone this would have been the plot of at least one episode of the TV show. Scientists in rural Tanzania used their smartphone as an improvised microscope to diagnose schoolchildren with intestinal worm infections. They placed samples on lab slides wrapped in cellophane then taped them to the phone. The phone had an $8 ball lens attached to help with magnification, and a cheap torch was the light source. The smartphone microscope correctly picked up 70% of the samples with infections present. That's not bad when the smallest eggs visible using the smartphone were 40 to 60 micrometres in diameter. Try a version of this one at home folks.

KEEP MOVING: To see through walls, or people, you need infrared or x-rays. Infrared's good for detecting heat, while x-rays are known to be dangerous. A new prototype video camera instead uses terahertz wavelengths to see through objects.

The radiation it produces isn't harmful and it reveals both dense materials such as metals and less dense materials, such as plastics or liquids. Scanners like these are already being used in places like airports, but require a subject that's standing still. This new camera produces video so can be used while subjects are moving. The camera is also sensitive to several wavelengths in the terahertz band. Apart from security uses this camera can also show how well hydrated human tissue is, meaning it could be used to analyse burns. At least those security lines could move more quickly.

MATCH OR FIND?: Researchers at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore had study participants play different types of video games on their smartphones. Some games matched similar objects, while others were action games, or found hidden items. The researchers discovered that the games worked like exercise to strengthen particular muscles. People who played action games improved their capacity to track multiple objects in a short span of time, while those who played matching or finding games improved their performance on visual search tasks. It seems though that video games don't cause a general improvement in mental abilities. Choose your games carefully.

SWEET HAT: The MSA-Gard GRN Hard Hat is like any other hat workers would use on a building site or in other areas where head protection is a good idea. The high-density polyethylene is a bit different though: instead of being made from petroleum products it's made from sugarcane, which means less carbon is emitted during production. At the end of its life it can be recycled too. It's great to replace petroleum as the source material, but isn't sugar cane a food crop?

HEART ON HEAD: LifeBEAM's prototype smart cycling helmet measures the wearer's heart rate and motion and displays it in real time on devices such as smartphones and cycling computers. Future iterations could measure other vital signs too. The helmet does all the work, without needing chest straps, by using an optical physiological sensor, accelerometer, and microprocessor, then sending data via Bluetooth. The helmet is based on tech the company previously developed for fighter pilots and astronauts. It'd be great with a heads up display on the helmet.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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