Tech Universe: Monday 19 November

By Miraz Jordan

US researchers have latched onto an idea for counting tumour cells, inspired by the tentacles of jellyfish. Photo / Thinkstock
US researchers have latched onto an idea for counting tumour cells, inspired by the tentacles of jellyfish. Photo / Thinkstock

FISHING FOR CANCER CELLS: Jellyfish have long tentacles that can grab food floating some distance away. That fact inspired one US researcher to create a specialised chip for counting tumour cells in the blood. The chip has strands of DNA tens of microns long attached to it. Those strands capture and hold tumour cells in the bloodstream. Because the device can both sort and count cancer cells it could help doctors assess how well therapy is progressing. In tests the chip captured 60 per cent of the cancer cells floating by — a higher rate than current methods. Those jellyfish have a few clues. Discovery News details.

CARDBOARD ROLLS: The cardboard wheelchair from Israel costs less than $10 in materials — durable recycled cardboard, plastic bottles and recycled tires. The wheelchair weighs around 9 Kg and can carry up to 180 Kg. It withstands water and humidity and can be made on largely automated production lines.

The wheelchair comes from the inventor of the cardboard bike. At that price you could buy half a dozen to keep as spares. Israel 21c finds.

IT'S ALL IN THE TIMING: We don't think of flickering lights as being a specially good thing, but carefully timed flickers could save up to 20% of the electricity lights use. Researchers in the US found that if they alternated 67 millisecond pulses of light with 10 millisecond periods of darkness people wouldn't perceive the flicker and would believe the light to be just as bright as a steady one. This constancy effect is a trick of the brain and may be associated with how neurons exchange information. If the rate of flicker is connected with brain activity it's scary to think that carefully tuned flickering could be used to harm, in the way some flickering can already trigger seizures. Txchnologist explains.

CUTTING EDGE SKIN: A team of Stanford University chemists and engineers created a synthetic polymer skin that can heal itself after being cut. Even after 50 cuts and repairs, a sample still withstood bending and stretching just like the original. The keys to the material are long chains of molecules joined by hydrogen bonds and nanoparticles of nickel. The material's conductive and can detect pressure, so it may be useful as an artificial skin for prosthetics, or for electrical devices in hard to reach places. Now combine it with something like kevlar to make smart armour. KurzweilAI elaborates.

NEEDLEPOINT IN THE BRAIN: If you're poking around in the brain it's best to be both careful and precise. A new microthread electrode, designed to pick up signals from a single neuron as it fires, is made from carbon fibre only 7 micrometres in diameter. The thread is also coated with chemicals to make it resistant to proteins in the brain. Conventional metal electrodes are 100 times as wide. Because the electrode is so small the brain may be less likely to build up scar tissue around it, but putting it in place could be a problem. You could be permanently wired up with threads like that. Technology Review has more.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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