Tech Universe: Wednesday 11 June

By Miraz Jordan

Kangaroo Cups: Unbreakable. Photo / Kickstarter
Kangaroo Cups: Unbreakable. Photo / Kickstarter

CUP IN HAND: Whether you have the shakes or are on a picnic, having a stable cup that's easy to hold yet hard to knock over and spill is a bonus. The Kangaroo Cup fits the profile. Its 11 year old inventor wanted to help her grandfather whose Parkinson's Disease meant he often spilled his drinks. She started out with mouldable prototyping plastic and iterated through several designs to come up with one that worked. Three legs that function as handles make for a stable cup, even on uneven surfaces, and also elevate the part that holds the liquid so it doesn't touch the table. That means no coaster or saucer is needed. After experimenting with ceramics, the cups are now made from BPA-free plastic, and are safe for dishwasher and microwave. These could be a huge asset in childcare facilities, rest homes, hospitals and for a day at the beach.

COOL TRIP: Comets tend to be big chunks of ice and rock. As they approach the sun though they warm and form a tail of ice and dust.

67P/Churyumov-Geraskimenko is no exception, though it has one difference: it's about to have a spacecraft land on it to study the nucleus up close. The European Space Agency's robotic Rosetta spacecraft was launched in 2004, heading for the comet. After years of hibernation, its cameras have been turned on and in a few months the craft's lander will settle on the comet after 17 months in orbit. Since a comet has little gravity, the lander will anchor itself into the surface with harpoons to keep from floating away. What a cool ride.

WARM DIP: Venus is quite unlike Earth: it has a toxic atmosphere, a bone dry surface, extreme heat and air pressure high enough to rupture the hull of a submarine. The European Venus Express spacecraft has been orbiting for 8 years now, sending back data. But now is time for the mission to come to an end so for the next few weeks the craft will perform aerobraking, repeatedly dipping into the atmosphere for closer study. Engineers hope the craft will survive the dips so it can be sent back to a higher orbit and continue observations until its fuel runs out. Let's hope that ride will be cool enough.

HOT TIP: A team at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the US has found a way to invisibly mark and track objects with nanoparticles. This could help reduce counterfeiting and other crimes by linking objects to their manufacturer, seller or buyer. The particles have a unique melting point that makes for a thermal barcode that can be detected with scanners. The team added tiny particles to dinitrotoluene, a precursor to TNT. Even after the material had been exploded the unique tag could still be detected. Nanoparticles like these could be added to banknotes or to pharmaceuticals for authentication. Counterfeiters are really going to have to step up their game.

COP ON HAND: Police have long used fingerprints to help solve crimes, but the age of the prints themselves could help rule out suspects. For example, was the print of a neighbour or relative left when the crime was committed or days before that? Fingerprints are made up of sweat and grease, including a complex mix of cholesterol, amino acids and proteins. The chemicals disappear at different rates, so by analysing the relative proportions forensic experts can now date fingerprints to within 1 or 2 days, up to 15 days. Previous efforts that focused on the actual amounts of the chemicals had failed. Researchers need to create a database from extensive tests on real crime scenes though before the technique can be used as evidence in prosecutions. Now there's data mining.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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