Tech Universe: Monday 28 July

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

CLEAR THINKING: Rather than wearing glasses to read a computer screen, how about letting the screen show a corrected image to suit your eyes? US researchers are working on a prototype display that does just that. The idea is to put a special filter in front of the display. The filter is a slab of acrylic topped with a plastic screen pierced with thousands of tiny, evenly spaced holes, creating a light field display. This means the screen controls the way individual light rays emanate from the display, leading to a sharper image without degrading contrast. The system uses an algorithm that takes account of the viewer's prescription for corrective lenses. The algorithm alters the light from each individual pixel so when it's fed through a tiny hole in the plastic filter, rays of light reach the retina in a way that re-creates a sharp image. Nice idea: make the computer do the work, rather than the user.

TAKE THE PLUNGE: Sochi in Russia now has the longest and highest pedestrian suspension walkway in the world.

The 550 metre bridge isn't really intended to take you between two points though. Rather it offers several spots for bungee jumping, with a 200 metre drop, along with some stunning views. Eight cables, each 52 mm in diameter, hold the bridge and the bungee platform in place. Each cable can hold more than 300 tonnes, making the bridge extremely strong. Some of us may just prefer to enjoy the view.

SOMETHING IN THE AIR: Optical fibres can transmit data very effectively, but there are places where they can't be used, such as in a nuclear reactor or in space. The key to the efficiency of an optical fibre is that its structure traps light beams and guides them like a pipe, rather than letting them disperse. Now researchers at the University of Maryland have found a way to send laser beams across long distances in the air while keeping them focused as though they're in an optical fibre. The trick is to create a wall of low-density air surrounding a core of higher density air by using very short, very powerful laser pulses. The technique effectively creates a pipe in the air along which light beams carrying data can be transmitted. The waveguides have worked over short distances of only a metre but the researchers are working on increasing that distance to at least 50 metres. So people really will be able to pluck stats out of thin air soon.

THE BODY IN PRINT: Trainee doctors have to learn a great many things. One of the first of course is human anatomy. But the main way to do that is to study actual human cadavers. That introduces problems with shortages, problems in handling and storage and the fact that some cultures or religions may prohibit their use. Monash University are solving all those problems with 3D-printed body parts based on scans of real anatomical specimens. The high resolution, accurate colour reproductions contain no human tissue, yet the kit provides all the major parts of the body required to teach anatomy of the limbs, chest, abdomen, head and neck. The parts look like the real thing, yet are inexpensive to produce and easy to store. Pranksters could have a lot of fun with that.

TARGET ACQUIRED: What do malaria parasites and military tanks have in common? Both can be spotted with the technology that runs an anti-tank Javelin missile detector. Australian scientists based their malaria-finding technique on Fourier Transform Infrared spectroscopy which provides information on how molecules vibrate. The Focal Plane Array imaging detector they used was originally developed for Javelin anti-tank heat seeking missiles. The fatty acids of malaria parasites create an infrared signature that lets scientists detect the parasite early in its life, and determine how many are in a blood smear. That means we can detect malaria at its very early stages, making treatment easier and more effective. The test delivers results in 4 minutes and can work with a single blood cell. It also doesn't need a highly trained technician. A quick and easy test that can save lives.

Miraz Jordan,

- NZ Herald

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