Tech Universe: Wednesday 25 July

By Miraz Jordan

The key to unlocking a top secret password may lie in your subconscious. Photo / Thinkstock
The key to unlocking a top secret password may lie in your subconscious. Photo / Thinkstock

PASSWORD GAMES: Researchers at Stanford University think they could be onto a new technique for secure passwords. They had test subjects play a computer game that involved intercepting falling objects by pressing a key. The players were secretly learning a sequence of key presses that they weren't consciously aware of. On successive rounds players made fewer errors when this sequence cropped up. The idea is that this implicit learning technique could form the basis of a security system where a person would learn a password without consciously knowing what it was. I wonder if it still works if you're really tired, or have the flu? And how would you reset a password like that? New Scientist explains.

TRANSPARENCY: How about if the windows in your house or office could not only let you see outside but also generate electricity? Photoactive plastic can convert infrared light into an electrical current but is nearly 70 per cent transparent to the human eye.

New polymer solar cells from the University of California are transparent, lightweight and flexible, and can be produced in high volume at low cost. That could mean windows you can still see through but that generate power just by being there. Now that's passive energy. University of California has the details.

SHAKEY WAKEY: A paralysing spinal cord injury may leave a person with little or no feeling in their hands but the Mobile Music Touch device could help improve sensation. The device is a small box attached to the back of a glove. It's used with a piano keyboard and vibrates the wearer's fingers to indicate which keys to play. After using the glove some participants in a test were able to feel textures in their clothing or the heat from a cup of coffee. The researchers think the glove may be helping to renew dormant brain activity. It sounds too easy to be true. Georgia Tech has further info.

GASSED BOTTLES: Plastic waste is an environmental problem, and dealing with it isn't easy. But an Egyptian student has identified a new low-cost catalyst that can break down plastic waste and generate biofuel. The high yield aluminosilicate catalyst breaks down plastic waste to create methane, propane and ethane. Those products can then be used for generating energy. Nice: feed in useless plastic bottles and bags and take out useful gases. Green Prophet details.

TINY SOUNDS: Swedish scientists are working with quantum acoustics, where tiny units of sound may have a wavelength of only 3 millionths of a metre. They use a single electron transistor as a microphone to detect sound waves on the surface of a crystalline microchip. The sound waves are so small, with a frequency of almost 1 gigahertz, they're governed by quantum law rather than classical mechanics. Who knew sound could be quantum too? Chalmers University of Technology elaborates.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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