Tech Universe: Monday 14 May

By Miraz Jordan

Canine companions may get you with their 'puppy dog' eyes, but no one knows the thought processes behind them. Now, researchers are trying to figure that out via fMRI scans. Photo / Thinkstock
Canine companions may get you with their 'puppy dog' eyes, but no one knows the thought processes behind them. Now, researchers are trying to figure that out via fMRI scans. Photo / Thinkstock

SCAN THE DOG: If you think you're clever because you taught your dog to sit, try teaching it to climb into an MRI machine and lie perfectly still for a while. Researchers at Emory University trained two dogs to do just that so they could scan the dogs' brains while the dogs were awake and responsive. The fMRI scans are intended to help decode the mental processes of dogs. Results so far show part of the brain lighting up when the dog expects a treat. The dogs are also trained to wear earmuffs to protect against the noise of the scanner. Oh yeah? I bet cats could do that too. Emory University has more. Check out the video here.

LIVING DRIVE: A research team from the UK and Japan caused the bacterium Magnetospirilllum magneticum to grow magnets that could perhaps be used in future hard drives. When the bacteria ingest iron they produce tiny crystals of the mineral magnetite.

The researchers studied the way the microbes collect, shape and position these nanomagnets inside themselves and then copied the techniques to create smaller magnets than traditional processes can manage. Maybe our future hard drives will just be made of bacteria. BBC details.

WIFI DOWN: French researchers have created wallpaper that blocks frequencies used by wireless LANs yet allows cellphone signals and other radio waves through. The wallpaper should be available for sale in 2013. The wallpaper works by blocking only select frequencies rather than all of them. That could put a dent in the wardriving. Ars Technica explains.

IN TOUCH: Researchers in the US and France have created touchpads made from low-cost metallised paper. The paper's coated in aluminium and a thin film of transparent polymer. With two layers of metal film close to one another but with a gap between them it takes only the touch of a finger to increase capacitance. This means, for example, that boxes could have a paper keypad that requires the correct code before they can be opened. The problem now is all the other electronics required for a workable system. Imagine if book publishers find a way to incorporate these for enhanced DRM. For further details check out Royal Society of Chemistry.

COMPUTERS AT PLAYTIME: Diagnosing autism commonly requires an experienced doctor to analyse hours of video footage of a child playing. Researchers at the University of Minnesota are wondering if they can use the Microsoft Kinect and software analysis to identify kids at risk. In their test setup 5 Kinect motion sensors monitor a group of children as they play. Computers analyse the movements of the children and mark patterns that a specialist should then examine. That should be the kind of thing computers are good at. New Scientist elaborates.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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