Tech Universe: Thursday 22 March

By Miraz Jordan

Researchers have found that simply treating silk with chlorine compounds can convert it into fabric that kills harmful bacteria. Photo / Thinkstock
Researchers have found that simply treating silk with chlorine compounds can convert it into fabric that kills harmful bacteria. Photo / Thinkstock

SILK SHIRT DEFENCE: In adverse conditions anthrax spores enclose themselves in a tough coating and become dormant. The spores can survive heat, radiation, antibiotics and harsh environmental conditions, but not silk. Or at least, not when the silk is treated with chlorine compounds. Researchers immersed silk for an hour in a chlorinated solution then let the silk dry. When they tested E. coli bacteria and spores of a close anthrax relative almost all the bacteria and spores were killed within 10 minutes. This coating could be useful for protecting homes and offices against an anthrax attack, or for purifying water in emergencies. It sounds too simple to be true. American Chemical Society details.

SOUND THEORY: Extremely fast planes like the Concorde cause problematic sonic booms when they break the sound barrier. An MIT researcher thinks he may be able to solve the sonic boom problem by using one pair of wings on each side of the plane.

A computer model suggested that the design could produce significantly less drag than a conventional single-wing aircraft at supersonic cruise speeds. Less drag means less fuel and less of a sonic boom. The specially shaped wings would be placed one above the other but curved to create a kind of flattened triangle as seen from the side. So far, though, it's all theory. The design may not fly after all. Visit MIT for more.

HIGH LEVEL TESTING: NASA's Starshade is a disc-shaped screen that blocks light from the atmosphere to give astronomers a better view of distant planets. The problem is it needs to be lifted high into the air and hover for hours. That's why they're using a 75 metre long blimp called Eureka that can stay in place for up to 2 days. For steering it uses a 4 propeller vectoring system controlled by a joystick. The blimp will also be fitted with various sensors so that while it's hovering up in the air it can do research on things like air quality, earthquake fault lines and methane emissions. Testing the blimp starts soon. Nice multitasking, NASA. Wired elaborates.

FLYING LOW: If you just love being in the water then perhaps a Subwing would interest you. The Subwing is an articulated board with one wing for each hand. It's towed behind a boat travelling at about 2 knots, but takes you underwater. Twist the wings in different directions for dives, sideways movements or spins. The board's designed to be used with only a diving mask, or perhaps a snorkel. The penguins have underwater flying down — without a board. Subwing has more info. Video here.

SMART SURVEYS: If you're surveying people about their health to gather disease data then the good old-fashioned way is to use pen and paper. Researchers in Kenya though found that using smartphones was cheaper than traditional paper survey methods, once you got past the initial cost. But then, in some places paper is a very limited resource anyway. The study took both paper-based surveys and smartphone-based surveys at 4 influenza surveillance sites in Kenya. The smartphone surveys were more accurate, had more complete responses and had results available in 24 hours. The paper surveys took several weeks before their data was even uploaded. Perhaps census takers should consider this too. Read more at EurekAlert!

Miraz Jordan knowit.co.nz

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