Tech Universe: Tuesday 27 November

By Miraz Jordan

Researchers at the University of California have made a device that mimics the sensitivity of a dog's nose. This may be used to detect explosives, disease or even leftovers. Photo / Thinkstock
Researchers at the University of California have made a device that mimics the sensitivity of a dog's nose. This may be used to detect explosives, disease or even leftovers. Photo / Thinkstock

DOG ON A CHIP: A dog's nose is a very sensitive thing — it can smell the minutest traces of compounds. That's why dogs are so popular for detecting explosives and drugs. At the University of California researchers have developed a device the size of a thumbnail that's as sensitive as a dog's nose. Molecules funnel in through a microfluidic channel, which can concentrate them by up to six times. Then nanoparticles excited by laser light amplify their spectral signature which is then identified by a computer. The device could be used to detect explosives, disease or perhaps spoiled food. It's definitely easier to attach to things than a dog's nose is. University of California has more.

MEDICAL STAMPS: A medical monitor designed by electrical engineers at Oregon State University fits on a bandage and is cheap and easy to manufacture. It could monitor the heart, the brain or physical activity.

The electronics are about the same size and thickness as a postage stamp and harvest energy in the form of radio-frequencies from a nearby cellphone. With cellphones working harder they're going to need better batteries themselves. Oregon State University details.

TICKLE CHARGE: One way to power smaller gadgets may be by using the static electricity generated by friction as we move around. Researchers at Georgia Tech have a device that can do just that. The device combines thin films of polyethylene terephthalate and a metal whose surfaces are patterned with nanoscale structures to create a greater surface area. As the films flex they rub together and create a current. The nanogenerator can convert 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the energy in mechanical motions into electricity. About 50 common plastics, metals, and other materials can be paired to make this type of device, and fabrication is easy. It seems once we really start to look at ways to generate electricity there are endless flexible options. Technology Review explains.

FADE TO WHITE: White noise is sound that contains all frequencies, and white light mixes all the wavelengths of the visible spectrum. So Olfactory White is a mix of all smells. Researchers mixed aroma molecules from across the scent spectrum and discovered they'd created a neutral scent that was neither pleasant nor foul. Mixing 20 single-molecule odorants was enough to create the neutral smell. With 30 components testers could no longer tell different smells apart. Researchers believe the Olfactory White scent could be used to mask odours too. Which would make sense, since adding extra odours beyond the cut-off point seems to simply amplify the neutral smell. Nature finds.

BATHING IN DATA: The Reality Deck Immersive Giga-pixel Display will be housed in a room 12 metres by 9 by 3 at Stony Brook University in New York. 308 LCDs will be driven by an 85-node graphics computing cluster to fully immerse visitors in 1.25 billion pixels of information. The idea is to provide a lifelike, realistic immersion in data such as that from CT scans, satellite imaging, climate modelling and even crowd analysis. It may need an escape hatch. Stony Brook University elaborates.

Miraz Jordan,

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