Tech Universe: Monday 22 April

By Miraz Jordan

Researches have created a patch that's covered with microscopic needles. Photo / Thinkstock
Researches have created a patch that's covered with microscopic needles. Photo / Thinkstock

STICK TO IT: One problem surgeons have is how to anchor skin grafts so they have time to heal. Stitches and staples are useful, but cause their own trauma to the skin. And we all know that sticky dressings usually fall off if they get wet. A team at Brigham and Women's Hospital in the US took inspiration from a parasitic worm that lives in the guts of fish. They've created a patch that's covered with microscopic needles. Like the spikes on the parasite, the needles easily penetrate skin, but then swell up and lock in place. There's less trauma, and the patch is 3 times stronger than materials currently used for burns patients. Tests in animals have proven the patch a success. You'd think that would be handy for ordinary sticking plasters too.

THE BIG PICTURE: The US military uses long-wave infrared cameras to detect humans at night by their heat signatures. That works well, but the cameras are so large they have to be mounted on vehicles and they're costly too.

It would be much more convenient if individual soldiers could carry them. That may soon happen though as the latest prototype LWIR camera has a sensor whose pixels are so small 12 would fit across a single human hair. The pixels are configured in a high-resolution 1280x720 focal plane array. The new cameras are relatively cheap, but their perfomance is comparable to that of the larger imagers. That's one more item for soldiers to carry.

BIG THINGS; SMALL PACKAGES: When it comes to powering devices the choice is between capacitors that release energy quickly but can store only a small amount and batteries that store a lot but release or recharge slowly. A new microbattery from the University of Illinois manages both high power and high storage. The batteries can also recharge 1,000 times faster than competing technologies. The team have achieved this feat with a 3 dimensional microstructure for both anode and cathode. Now the obvious question: how long until these batteries are being implemented in our gadgets?

PILL POPPER: People may take too many prescription painkillers on purpose or by accident, and may die as a result. Students at Brigham Young University created Med Vault to help reduce such overdoses. Their pill container resists tampering and breaking and dispenses pills only on a schedule programmed in by a pharmacist. Patients must key in an access code to retrieve pills that are ready to be dispensed. Let's hope the pain's not bad enough to prevent them keying in the access code.

YELLOW GOLD: From sulphur to plastic — a team at the University of Arizona has used a new chemical process to transform waste sulphur into a lightweight plastic that can be used to make batteries. Lithium-sulfur, or Li-S, batteries are more efficient, lighter and cheaper than those currently used. The new plastic is easy and inexpensive to produce on an industrial scale and makes use of a waste product from refining fossil fuels. The process adds an unnamed chemical to sulphur to polymerise it. Making waste products useful is always a good idea.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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