Tech Universe: Tuesday 28 January

By Miraz Jordan

Imagine you could build a house in 24 hours. Photo / Thinkstock
Imagine you could build a house in 24 hours. Photo / Thinkstock

HOUSE IN PRINT: Imagine you're having a new house built. Workers prepare the building site then a 6 metre tall crane-like gantry is brought in and installed on rails either side of the house. The machine rolls back and forth extruding fast-drying concrete and building up your house layer by layer. In 24 hours it's done, including conduits for electrical, plumbing and air-conditioning and the gantry is removed. The machine can create a 230 square metre house over a couple of working days. This 3D printer is being developed at the University of Southern California and uses contour crafting, a method of building by layering. The technology could be used for many purposes, including emergency housing and building habitats on other planets or the Moon. Just how much concrete is there on the Moon?

BOUNCING BALLS OF LIGHT: It takes a lot to put a mirror in space, so they're necessarily smaller than some astronomers would like.

Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology are exploring an idea that could create a huge mirror in space using lasers. They used a single laser to trap polystyrene beads 150 micrometres across against a sheet of glass. Because the beads were grouped together the light didn't bounce off in all directions but instead created a flat reflective surface that acted exactly like a mirror. The researchers hope that in future a mirror 35 metres across yet weighing only 100 grams could be possible, but acknowledge there are quite a few problems to solve first. And as for the notion of releasing polystyrene bedas in space …

FIRE THE MICROPARTICLES: After a heart attack inflammatory cells may turn up and damage the muscle tissue. Researchers at the University of Sydney found they could prevent major damage with an injection of microparticles less than 24 hours after the heart attack. What they injected were balls of a biodegradable compound, poly lactic-co-glycolic acid, 200 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair. The microparticles are picked up by the inflammatory cells and diverted to waste disposal systems and to the spleen. The microparticles could also help reduce inflammatory damage with problems like multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, peritonitis, viral inflammation of the brain and kidney transplant. Clinical trials should begin within a couple of years. That's clever: distracting the inflammatory cells on their way to create mayhem.

SWEET EYES: Using miniature electronics embedded in a contact lens researchers at Google[x] hope to change how people with diabetes monitor their blood sugar. They've developed a lens that has a tiny wireless chip and a miniaturised glucose sensor embedded between two layers of soft contact lens material. Prototypes may be able to generate a reading once per second. The developers hope others will join them to take the prototype and develop apps and working lenses to change lives. OK, but somehow it will need to be charged up.

POWER STRIP: Researchers at the University of Illinois created piezoelectric strips that generate 0.2 microwatts per square centimetre of electricity when attached to a beating heart in animals roughly the same size as humans. That's enough energy to power a pacemaker. The lead zirconate titanate on a flexible silicone base conforms to the changing shape of a moving organ. Having demonstrated that the strips can successfully generate power the researchers now need to test what happens when the strips stay inside the body for a long time, perhaps years. There's a start to a wired body.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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