Tech Universe: Wednesday 23 January

By Miraz Jordan

A laser image of the Mona Lisa was recently beamed to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Photo / Supplied
A laser image of the Mona Lisa was recently beamed to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Photo / Supplied

LASER LISA: NASA like to track their Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter with a laser. Recently though they used the laser to try something new:
sending a picture of the Mona Lisa to the LRO. The orbiting craft then verified the image by returning it via the radio telemetry system. The image was sent using discrete laser pulses precisely timed to indicate brightness. Algorithms used in CDs and DVDs were also applied to clean up the image and compensate for errors. It wasn't just an art project though — the technique could be used for high-speed communication in future. What's old is new again.

A BEAM IN THE EYE: If you're demolishing a skyscraper you don't have to just whack it down in a cloud of dust and rubble.

In Tokyo one construction company is using giant jacks and electricity-generating cranes to dismantle a high-rise tower, floor by floor. First everything's removed from the inside. Then beams and concrete are removed, working from the top down, and material is recycled and reused where possible. Temporary columns hold up the roof while work proceeds. As cranes lower material to the ground they create electricity that's used for other parts of the process. The system reduces noise and dust too. Those implosions from blowing up buildings are pretty spectacular though.

THE WINDS OF JAPAN: Japan aims to build 143 wind turbines on platforms 16 Km off the coast of Fukushima to generate 1 gigawatt of power. The turbines will be built on buoyant steel frames, stabilised with ballast and anchored to the continental shelf 200 metres below.

Project planners say there will be no negative impact on fish, and that all possible extreme hazards, such as earthquakes and typhoons have been accounted for in the design. Expect the unexpected.

LIQUID BOUNCERS: A team at the University of Michigan has created a superomniphobic coating that repels almost all liquids. Other similar coatings may repel many liquids, but those with very low surface tension, such as oils, alcohols, organic acids, organic bases and solvents, still stick. With this new coating everything except chlorofluorocarbons was repelled. Obvious applications include clothing, while the coating could also be used in paint on ships' hulls to reduce drag. Unless dirt bounces off too, washing the clothes could be a problem. Or would they come out of the washing machine already dry?

COOL THREADS: A new flexible and tough carbon nanotube fibre looks and acts like black cotton, yet conducts electricity and heat like a metal wire. A process called wet spinning has allowed researchers to produce the fibres in bulk. The process packs and aligns carbon nanotubes to create the fibre and tunes the threads for high electrical conductivity. Researchers expect the combination of toughness, flexibility and conductivity will lead to new products for aerospace, cars, medicine and smart clothing. Don't pull that loose thread. Rice University.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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