Tech Universe: Friday 14 December

By Miraz Jordan

The new tanks should provide 5 litres of water per student per day. Photo / Thinkstock
The new tanks should provide 5 litres of water per student per day. Photo / Thinkstock

LIQUID LESSONS: Sometimes improving education is about buildings and facilities, rather than the teaching. The Waterbank school in Kenya is one example. The new school is located in an area where water's scarce. Girls are sent to collect water for the family and can't attend school. The water they collect is also not always clean, leading to illness in the community. The new school collects water on its roof, filters it and stores it in an underground tank. There should be enough for each student to receive 5 litres of water per day. Now the girls can go to school, and everyone benefits.

TOUCHING TUMOURS: Put a touch-sensitive fibre as wide as a human hair into an optical fibre and you may be able to detect cancerous tumours by touch. Researchers at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia are developing a device to do just that. Tumour cells are stiffer than cells from a healthy area, so a touch sensor could be used to detect them.

The optical fibre is very flexible, and often used in surgery now. Adding the touch sensor could mean quicker results for patients. Now add something to treat or destroy the tumours at the same time.

8 WAYS TO SMELL: Bomb sniffer dogs work hard and with a lot of success, but they can't be everywhere at once. So researchers at UNSW in Canberra have developed a laser device capable of detecting tiny traces of explosive vapour. The device could be used on a luggage carousel or at airport security checkpoints to detect explosives. The device sends a laser pulse through vapour in a figure of eight path, making it highly accurate. The researchers believe the device may be ready for commercial use after another 2 years testing. Meanwhile those dogs had better keep sniffing.

SHAPED CHARGE: A new metamaterial from Cornell University is made of synthetic DNA and called a meta-hydrogel. This one is liquid in air yet solid in water, and remembers its original shape. As a test the researchers formed the letters DNA from the material. In air the letters turned into a blobby mass. In water though the letters reformed exactly. The mesh of organic molecules could be used for delivering drugs to a wound. Or how about coded messages?

BRAIN TICKLE: Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine have implanted a device in the brain of a person with early-stage Alzheimer's. The purpose of the device is to provide deep brain stimulation via low-voltage electrical charges. The idea is to enhance brain function, boost memory and reverse cognitive decline and so perhaps replace the drugs which don't seem to help. 40 patients are to test the device to see if it does actually make a difference. Even slowing the effects of Alzheimer's would be a useful advance.

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