Tech Universe: Wednesday 6 March

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

A MARS FLING: Dennis Tito is planning a private mission to Mars in 2018. The Inspiration Mars Foundation aims to inspire and wants to take advantage of the way the planets line up in 2018. At that time it a round trip to Mars will take only 501 days. As it happens, it will also be solar minimum, so exposure to solar radiation should be at its lowest.

The mission is to send a woman and man to fly around Mars — within 160 Km — and return to Earth safely. The Foundation say they already have the technology derived from NASA and the International Space Station. What they need though is funding. Those will be two brave astronauts: almost 2 years alone together in a tin can only to fly around Mars and head home again.

STILL GOOD: If you've looked at the Best Before date on the packaging of food in the cupboard lately you might have thrown away items that in fact were still safe to eat.

Perhaps more useful than a printed date would be packaging that can test the food. European researchers have created a cheap sensor made of plastic that can do just that. The circuit's designed to monitor acidity levels and to be included in food packaging. The plastic device takes readings from an analog sensor and converts it to digital form. It can behave a bit erratically at low temperatures, so complex maths is used to derive accurate readings. You could use a scanner, or perhaps your phone, to assess the food's quality. Well, Best Before doesn't mean you can't eat it after that date; just check it first.

DEEP SEAL DIVING: The cold, dense bottom waters of the Antarctic are a key driver of the global ocean circulation and therefore of the earth's climate. But scientists have been trying to work out exactly where in the Antarctic these waters originate. Now, thanks to southern elephant seals, and some tech including sophisticated satellite data and oceanographic moorings, they've found the info they needed. Researchers tagged the seals and then watched where they went — generally places inaccessible to the researchers themselves. Some of the seals even dived as deep as 1800 metres into a layer of dense water. Thanks to the seals the researchers have been able to solve a mystery they've been puzzling over for several decades now. Did the seals receive suitable compensation for their work?

STRIP TESTS: Urine tests can be annoying, what with collecting the sample in a bottle and taking it to a lab. Uchek tests for 25 different health issues by using an iPhone to take a photo of a test strip dipped in urine. The tests can help check for diabetes, urinary tract infections, cancers, liver problems and general health. The strip has to be placed on a special mat to normalise the colours, whatever the lighting conditions. An app takes a photo and analyses it. The inventor aims to make such checks easier and quicker in developing countries, given how widespread cellphones are. Even if it's only one health worker who has the phone, that's still a huge advance.

DUNKING SERVERS: Generally you'd try to keep your electronics separate from liquids as the combination can lead to bad things. At the University of Leeds though all the components of the new Iceotope server are completely immersed in 3M Novec cooling liquid. That liquid transfers waste heat to water pipes that then disperse the heat through domestic radiators. The cooling liquid is more than 1,000 times more effective at carrying heat than air is and should cut server energy consumption for cooling by between 80% and 97%. The other good news is that the system doesn't need all the fans, air conditioning and pumps that servers normally require. Cheaper, quieter, more energy efficient and takes less space: that's a win all round.

Miraz Jordan,

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