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Thursday, 13 September 2007

Imitation of Nature- where plagiarism is not only allowed but recommended

Virtual reality will enhance real-world experiences

YOU are in a foreign city. Instead of lugging a guidebook around, you put on a pair of chic glasses. As you walk down the street, the lenses become semi-transparent monitors that feed your eyes with information about the buildings and streets around you, maybe giving you directions to a shoe shop, or the nearest place that sells ice cream.

This, say many researchers, is the future of virtual reality. Unlike the fantasy space of virtual worlds like Second Life, the world of the networked glasses is there to enhance the real one. It can be used to map objects, instructions or data onto what you see through the glasses in a way that is, hopefully, relevant and useful.

"You can do all of this with technology that's available now," says Amy Jo Kim, who teaches game design at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

My comment: Peter Hamilton's worlds-we're coming! Seriously, that's a cool idea, I wonder why we didn't see that on market earlier. I mean, it's more or less a piece of cake doing such glasses, at least on theory. I love them already!

Warm ice could make implants more biocompatible

Layers of ice of few nanometres thick can remain frozen at human body temperature when grown on top of diamond sheets with a surface layer of sodium, detailed calculations suggest.

The icy coatings could help make diamond-toughened medical implants more biocompatible, according to the Harvard University team who carried out the work.

Thin diamond coatings are found in a growing number of wear-resistant medical implants, such as prosthetics, artificial heart valves and joint replacements. However, diamond can causes clotting by attracting coagulating proteins. Also, its hardness often results in more tissue abrasion than with other implant materials. Ice could lessen these effects by offering a biocompatible interface of water molecules.

Now, Alexander Wissner-Gross and Efthimios Kaxiras have calculated that these problems could be overcome by bonding a layer of sodium atoms to the diamond surface first.

This sodium layer would sustain a layer of ice around 2 nanometres thick at 37°C (human body temperature), thus providing a biologically compatible "barrier" to the diamond itself.

My comment: There is something mystical about sustaining ice in the human body. I have an idea how this is to be done, but still. It's great. And it will be a great help to many people. Anyway, creating such hydrophilic "membranes" is a step forward in the understanding and using the power of the Nature. Because it's what we already have in our bodies, we just have to find a way to implement it in our technology.

Chlorophyll to extract energy for solar cells.

Silicon solar cells work by converting sunlight into electrical current, but are expensive to make and need to be used for many years to cover their construction costs.

Shuguang Zhang and colleagues at the Laboratory of Molecular Self Assembly at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US want to use biologically-derived molecules to harvest light instead.

The plan is to isolate active light-harvesting molecules called chlorophyll from extremophile bacteria. These bacteria can withstand very high temperatures, so the resulting solar cells should be able to withstand high temperatures too.

Disintegrating polystyrene

Foam polystyrene is a major environmental concern. It is used as a protective packaging for all sorts of products, but it is not biodegradable. Various manufacturers have experimented in making it more environmentally friendly, for example by incorporating cellulose and starch which microbes can break down, or by adding light-sensitive polymers that degrade in sunlight.

But Shanpu Ya and colleagues at the Polymer Science & Engineering College of Quingdao University of Science & Technology in China say these methods all have serious disadvantages. In particular, it takes too long time for polymers to break down in these ways, they claim.

Instead, they have developed a new approach that involves embedding water-absorbing resin particles about 5 micrometres in diameter throughout a chemical like styrene before it is polymerised to form a polystyrene-like material.

When the resulting solid comes into contact with water, the resin particles expand, reducing the polymer structure to a powder that should then biodegrade. The team says the rate of disintegration can even be controlled by altering the ratio of ingredients.

My comment: both technologies are awesome, I hope they work.

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