Tech Universe favourites: Tuesday 18 December

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

A LIGHT CLEAN: Chemical engineers in China found a way to make fabric clean itself when exposed to sunlight. They spiked titanium dioxide with nitrogen ions which gives it photocatalytic capabilities in UV light and visible light. Then they added silver iodide nanoparticles and coated the fabric with nanoparticles of the new compound. The photocatalytic part means that when TiO2 is exposed to light, it breaks down dirt and kills the microbes that cause odour. The silver iodide speeds up the process. And you can still wash the fabric the old-fashioned way with water, if you like. That sounds good: a spot of sunbathing could replace doing the washing.

GO GO GECKO: A team of scientists at the University of Massachusetts has created Geckskin, a device that can hold almost 320 Kg on a smooth wall. Based on how a gecko sticks to walls, the device can be easily removed and then stuck to another surface as many times as needed.

Geckskin uses a soft pad woven into a stiff fabric in a way that maximises contact with a surface such as a wall, and includes a synthetic tendon that maintains stiffness and rotational freedom. Goodbye ladders. This just has to lead to new types of sports too.

CAMO CAMERA: The trouble with trying to film lions is getting close enough. The BeetleCam Project solved it nicely with a small remote controlled buggy with a DSLR camera mounted on top and an armoured shell. Camouflaged to resemble perhaps a rock, the buggy could get right up to the lions and take still photos and video. The BeetleCam even managed to survive being carried off by a playful lion. Stunning photos!

STIR THE POT: Cooks everywhere will love this one: a self-stirring pot. A dentist in Japan has invented a pot that's shaped in such a way that it boils more quickly and causes the liquid inside to swirl around without any outside input. As liquid in the pot warms up it rises, but the spirally angled sides of the pot direct the flow into a circular movement. Brilliant! We lazy cooks can relax for longer.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAK: Beauty is an Alaskan Bald Eagle found starving in the middle of plenty of food. A poacher had shot her beak off and she couldn't eat. After she was rescued a mechanical engineer decided to give her a bionic beak. He used a laser to scan her stump, 3D modelling software to design a new upper beak and a 3D printer to create it from a nylon based polymer. It was attached to a titanium post that locked on to her stump. Those 3D printers have more uses than you think.

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.

THOUGHTS TAKE FLIGHT: A pyramid, a flying sphere and an EEG monitor sound like essential elements of a scifi story. They're not, though. Instead together they make up the Puzzlebox Orbit: a toy that's operated by your thoughts. The open sphere protects a helicopter that launches from the pyramid as you concentrate on it. When your concentration fades, the helicopter lands again. The pyramid is a remote control and also displays your concentration and relaxation levels with lights. A smartphone app can also be used to control the sphere and to display brainwaves. The thinking person's toy.

QUAKING ELECTRONS: A scientist at Hokkaido University in Japan noticed something very interesting around earthquakes. It seems that as much as 40 minutes before an earthquake the number of electrons high in the ionosphere increases. The observation was made while using the Total Electron Content of the upper atmosphere to analyse GPS signals and find out why they fluctuate. No-one knows yet why or how this increase happens, but it promises a useful area of study for earthquake prediction. Fascinating.

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.

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