Tech Universe: Tuesday 30 April

By Miraz Jordan

LED streetlights could help stop light pollution. Photo / Thinkstock
LED streetlights could help stop light pollution. Photo / Thinkstock

RIGHT LIGHTS: Light pollution is a huge waste of energy and money, damages our health and stops us from enjoying the natural wonders of the night sky. Unfortunately conventional sodium or mercury vapour streetlights contribute to the problem, scattering and leaking light in all directions. Now a team of researchers has an idea for LED streetlights that send a rectangle of light on to the street where it's useful. A special lens focuses the light's rays so they travel parallel to each other in a single direction, while a reflecting cavity captures any rays that escape. Meanwhile a diffuser reduces glare. Now they're working on a prototype that can prove the concept.

NO BOOM IN IRON: There are quite a few problems with fertiliser, one of which is its potential for use in home made bombs. Researchers at the Sandia National Lab found something that could help: mix in some iron sulfate, a waste product from steel foundries. They say that the new mix not only prevents the use of the fertiliser to make bombs, but also helps the fertiliser's performance by improving the pH of soil and increasing the levels of iron in food.

It sounds like a simple way to do a lot of good.

LIVING PRINTS: Researchers studying how the human liver works also need to test how drugs interact with it. Now they can print tiny livers for themselves. A 3D printer created by US company Organovo makes livers half a millimetre deep and 4 millimetres across that can perform most functions of the real thing. The printer works by building up layers of hepatocytes and stellate cells and also adds cells from the lining of blood vessels. The miniature livers can be used for studying the effects of drugs, but the company has a goal of creating full size livers suitable for transplant. And perhaps being able to print tiny livers for testing can free up more of the real thing for transplants.

THE ENEMY WITHIN: Pancreatic cancer is very difficult to treat, partly because of the way it spreads to other parts of the body. US biologists may have found a way to defeat it though, by using genetically modified bacteria to deliver radiation directly to the cancer cells. Studies in mice have been very successful. The technique uses a bacterium, modified with the radioactive compound rhenium-188, that can burrow inside key immune cells. The researchers believe that after further development and testing this technique could supplement standard treatments. Just point those bacteria the right way.

GROWING DIESEL: We may have the University of Exeter to thank if we can fill up our trucks soon with diesel produced not from oil but from bacteria. The diesel produced by their special strains of E. coli bacteria is almost identical to conventional diesel fuel and the engines that run on it won't need any modification. The next challenge is to make the process commercially viable. Bacteria — so useful.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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