Heading to the dentist soon? To get an impression of your teeth you may have to bite down on a mouldable silicone material for a few moments, and that stuff never tastes good. Those impressions can also be messy, uncomfortable and inaccurate, so how about a new approach? Researchers from MIT created a handheld scanner about the shape and size of an electric toothbrush to capture 3D images inside a mouth. The

uses a single camera lens and a timed rotating aperture. Add image-processing algorithms and modeling software and you have fast 3D images in real-time. It's a bit worrying where that lava may come in to the picture.

STARS AFLOAT: The trouble with looking at the night sky from Earth is that the atmosphere above us shimmers. That means that seriously large telescopes have problems making sharp images in the wavelengths we normally see. A new system called Magellan Adaptive Optics does something very clever: it uses an Adaptive Secondary Mirror that can change its shape at 585 points on its surface 1,000 times each second. That counteracts the blurring effects of the atmosphere. But that's not all. The ASM is floating on a magnetic field around 10 metres above the telescope's primary mirror. The upshot is images that are twice as sharp in the visible light spectrum as those from other ground-based telescopes. The system has already been successful, showing a clear separation in the theta 1 Ori C binary star. That's an impressive feat.


SILVER WATER: All around the world access to safe drinking water is a challenge. Even those of us lucky enough to live where a tap in the kitchen provides it are at risk from natural disasters. Now researchers have created a gel that contains silver nanoparticles. The lightweight spongy material readily absorbs water then returns to its original form after being squeezed. Add dirty water to the gel, leave it a few minutes, then squeeze. The water that comes out is not only clean and safe to drink, but the tiny amount of leftover silver in the purified water is OK to drink. Four grams of the material can soak up and purify half a litre of water with one squeeze and can be reused more than 20 times. The idea is to drop packages of gel to those in a disaster so they can at least have clean water to drink. Now they just need to reclaim the silver from the human waste.

REFORMED WOOD: Correctly combine cellulose, such as waste paper or cloth, and water to create Zeoform, a strong wood-like substance capable of being formed into an unlimited range of products. The strength comes from hydroxyl bonding which makes the cellulose fibres stick together in water. The non-toxic product can be denser than ebony. By adding organic minerals it can be made to look like stone, marble, wood or other materials. So it's a sort of high tech papier mache? Though on the other hand wood is cellulose plus water.

UP UP UP UP AND AWAY: The Iris is an advanced quadcopter with full autonomous capabilities and guided by GPS and perhaps including an onboard camera. Control the quadcopter with a smartphone or radio control transmitter. Flight plans can be created from GPS waypoints, or drawn on a map on the smartphone, while geofencing keeps the drone within a user-selectable space. This drone is ready to fly. 3D Robotics.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz