Tech Universe: Friday 12 October

By Miraz Jordan

New algorithms could hold the key to making lithium-ion batteries more efficient. Photo / Thinkstock
New algorithms could hold the key to making lithium-ion batteries more efficient. Photo / Thinkstock

ION FLOW: Engineers at the University of California reckon that sophisticated maths could make lithium-ion batteries more efficient, while reducing their cost and causing them to charge twice as fast. Lithium-ion batteries rely on ions moving from the anode to the cathode. Usually voltage and current form the basis for estimates of battery performance, but the measures are crude and inaccurate. The new algorithms estimate where the particles are and therefore the charge distribution within the battery. Then the researchers can find optimal rates of charging and discharging batteries, improving performance. It sounds like it has a lot in common with traffic flow and management. University of California elaborates.

HEAT SEEKING BRA: Around three years after a breast cancer tumour starts to grow, and long before it can be detected by current means, the body creates additional blood vessels with a distinctive heat signature.

The First Warning System looks like a sports bra but contains sensors that measure cell temperature changes and uses Internet-based pattern recognition software to detect possible tumours. Wearers visit a website or view data on their smartphone. Clinical studies have shown the bra returns highly accurate results. When detected early, breast cancer can generally be treated successfully. Do other cancers work in a similar way? Could other clothing items be used in this way too? MedGadget has more. Video here.

SENSITIVE DRAWINGS: Carbon nanotubes are all the rage these days, being used for all kinds of purposes, such as detecting harmful gases in the environment. But building carbon nanotube sensors requires dissolving nanotubes in a solvent such as dichlorobenzene. That's hazardous and not well suited for large-scale work. Now a chemist at MIT has found a way to compress a powder of carbon nanotubes and use it in place of graphite in a lead pencil. Her device means that adding carbon nanotube sensors to a piece of paper is as simple as picking up a pencil and drawing. So simple, now they know how. MIT details. Check out the video.

LOCALLY SOLAR: The small solar panels used in smaller devices are generally made by hand and are relatively expensive, compared with industrial solar panels. The Solar Pocket Factory aims to automate their production, reducing the price, and creating the small panels locally. The machine breaks off the component strips of silicon and combines them together to create a panel in just a few seconds. The inventors compare the machine to a microbrewery that is probably not in an individual home, but is set up in the neighbourhood. It's time to get inventing. NPR Science Friday has further info. Find the video here.

INFINITE CLIMB: The Treadwall M4 is a vertical treadmill with handholds for rock climbing. The climber can easily change the angle and the speed, and can configure the holds for easy or difficult terrain. The climbing wall's a little over 3 metres tall, and includes time and distance monitors. Climbing yet never reaching the top — would that be tantalising, sisyphean or just plain frustrating? Brewer's Ledge explains. Here's the video.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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