Tech Universe: Thursday 4 April

By Miraz Jordan

Researchers are developing a chip that will stop people from overeating. Photo / Thinkstock
Researchers are developing a chip that will stop people from overeating. Photo / Thinkstock

CHIPS WITH EVERYTHING: Some people turn to surgery to deal with excess weight, but researchers from Imperial College London may soon be able to plug a smart microchip into the vagus nerve to do the job. The chip uses a chemical layer to monitor the vagus nerve and then sends electrical impulses along the nerve to signal the parts of the brain that control eating. The chip could, for example, send a signal that the wearer has eaten enough and doesn't need to eat more. Initial animal trials have proven the concept and human trials could take place within the next 3 years. I wonder if it would need regular calibration.

THE DYE IS FAST: Burn injuries can be horrific anyway, but some are fatal, especially to young children, because of the bacteria that grow under the dressing and cause Toxic Shock Syndrome. Nanocapsules within a prototype dressing from the University of Bath include a dye.

If the wound becomes infected the toxins break down the capsules, releasing the dye. That means medical staff can quickly see when there's a problem and work to treat it. Testing on humans should begin within the next 5 years. That sounds as though it could have much wider application than just burn dressings for children.

HEALING THE GAPS: Diarrhoea can kill children in developing countries, but it's difficult to get lifesaving packs of rehydration fluids to remote spots. On the other hand, Coca-Cola is available pretty much wherever you go on Earth. That's a sad statement on priorities, but it's a fact of life. The ColaLife project brings those two things together, by packing AidPods between the necks of bottles in crates of Coke. Each AidPod contains an anti-diarrhoea kit. The kits exploit unused space in crates and are designed to act as a measuring cup and container for made-up solution. The kit's being tested in Zambia, partly to find the right way to distribute it without subsidies.

FREE RIDE: In 2014 Pittsburgh is launching a sharing programme with 500 bikes and 50 stations. The programme should help promote tourism and good health, while opening up the city for its residents. A member of the scheme can take a bike from and return it to any station.

Stations are solar powered and use wifi to transmit real-time information about the number of available bikes and empty docks.

Potential cyclists can see the info online or via a smartphone. Bikes are maintained regularly so cyclists have a smooth ride. Will they have bike lanes too?

DOTS AND DASHES: Quantum dots in a forest of nanowires may sound like an exotic dinner dish, but actually it could be the formula for an efficient photovoltaic solar cell. Quantum dots can be manufactured at room temperature from abundant, inexpensive materials that don't require extensive purification.

Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are embedding them in nanowires that provide both enough conduction to easily extract a charge and sufficient depth for light absorption. Between the two the cells that use them could be more efficient than current cells. A drizzle of dots?

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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