Tech Universe: Thursday 28 November

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

TURN WATER INTO ROOFING: A disaster happens. Relief comes, including shipping pallets loaded with plastic bottles full of drinking water. But rather than throw those bottles and pallets away, creating waste and pollution, the Home2O Roof project turns them into shelter. Their specialised plastic pallet can be deconstructed into 5 perforated layers that can be snapped apart to make beams. Empty water bottles are crushed into a concave shape so they nest and interlock. Screw on the cap to attach the bottles to the beams. Assembled, the bottles and pallet layers create a lightweight roof that sheds water and ventilates heat. The roof can be easily lifted onto a shelter by one person. That's a very creative way to repurpose what would otherwise be waste.

NOW HEAR THIS: Hearing assistance devices have a microphone, a way to process sound and then some kind of speakers. Interestingly, a smartphone offers the same functions, which led US hearing researchers to develop a smartphone app called The EarMachine.

The free app allows a user to control how sound is processed and is smart enough to learn what the user prefers. Clever.

SWEET PAIN RELIEF: Some diabetics must inject themselves with insulin several times each day. US researchers may have developed an easier way to maintain healthy blood sugar levels: biocompatible and biodegradable nanoparticles injected into the skin. The nanoparticles are made out of polylactic-co-glycolic acid and are filled with insulin. Charged coatings cause the particles to create a network instead of dispersing throughout the body thus creating a reservoir of insulin. A small handheld device can then apply focused ultrasound waves to the site of the nano-network and release a dose of insulin as required. After a few weeks another injection of nanoparticles is required to boost the insulin supply again. The concept has been tested and found to work on mice. An injection once every few weeks rather than several times per day: what a relief!

TINNY THINKING: Just when we're getting used to the idea of how useful graphene is researchers have come up with an alternative: Stanene, a single layer of tin atoms. A team of theoretical physicists claims the material could conduct electricity with 100% efficiency at the temperatures that computer chips operate at. That could make for faster computers that use less power. If it works as predicted and if manufacturers can actually integrate it.

TOWERING POWER: Off the shore of Belgium is the 6-MW Haliade 150 wind turbine that can power approximately 5,000 households. The turbine's nacelle stands 100 metres above the waves, its blades are over 73 metres long, and it's supported on pillars sunk more than 60 metres into the seabed. The turbine uses a permanent-magnet generator which reduces the number of mechanical parts requiring maintenance. I wonder what the damage is like when one of those things has a spill.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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