Tech Universe: Friday 23 May

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

RIDE GOES BEFORE A FALL: If you think you're a hard core thrill seeker you may want to try the Falcon's Fury ride in Florida. It's a 102 metre tall freestanding drop tower. At the ride's highest point the chairs pivot 90 degrees to a face-down dive position. On release the ride plunges straight down at 96 Kph, until just before stopping the chairs pivot back to a regular position. The ride includes 5 or 6 seconds of freefall, and the wait time at the top is variable so you can't predict when the drop will begin. It might pay to do that one on an empty stomach.

POLYMER HEAL THYSELF: IBM Research discovered a new class of polymers that are stronger than bone, able to heal themselves, light-weight, and 100% recyclable. Thermosetting plastics are given a shape then baked so they keep that shape.

Once you no longer need the item though it can't be recycled. Like those plastics, the new polyhexahydrotriazine material, or PHT, is light and easy to work with, but incredibly hard and heat resistant. Where it differs is that if broken it can join up again, and by adding some sulphuric acid it can be fully reverted back to its base state. And there's its weakness.

OUTSIDE POWER: Medical workers may soon want to help treat illness or alleviate pain by placing electroceutical chips inside the body. These could be tiny electronic gadgets such as pacemakers or nerve stimulators. But of course such devices need power. Far-field electromagnetic waves, such as those used by radio, travel over long distances, but either reflect off human and animal bodies or are absorbed as heat. On the other hand, near-field waves, already used for hearing aids, can transfer power only over short distances.

Researchers at Stanford created a mid-field wireless transfer by making use of how waves change their travel when they encounter a different material. The researchers implanted an electronic pacemaker device smaller than a grain of rice, then held a power source about the size of a credit card just above it, sending power wirelessly.
Such an external wireless power source could handily recharge implanted devices. Keep a power source in your wallet for handy charging.

300 IN ONE: Scientists have been able to study the brain by using fluorescent proteins that show where activity is taking place. Until now, though, they've really only been able to make snapshots. Now researchers have been able to use light-field imaging to capture all the activity from the whole brain in 3D and at high speed. Light-field imaging creates 3-D images by measuring the angles of incoming rays of light. By optimising a light-field microscope the team were able to study a small sea worm that has only 302 neurons in its body while it carried out activities such as crawling. The team hope to next improve the resolution of the microscope to be able to see dendrites that branch out from neurons and to speed up the computation that's required. A few hundred neurons is a good start.

SUN ON THE WATER: The DIY solar water pump from Pumpmakers is designed for people who have problems accessing a good supply of clean water or who rely on pumps that are hard to maintain. It can be pumped by hand when the sun's not shining and resists salt water corrosion. Most parts can be produced locally and can be supported locally too. The pumps work up to a depth of 100 metres and can produce up to 18,000 litres of water per day, easily replacing other pumps that have already been installed. That could be a great project for a village.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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