Monthly Archives: December 2007

Engineers plan crash-proof computer car

Engineers plan crash-proof computer car

Any motorist who has had another car pull out in front of him or her will know about the split-second decisions needed to avoid an accident.

But now a team of British engineers wants to take such choices out of drivers’ hands. They are developing a “crash proof” car that takes control if it senses danger.

The engineers, working with DaimlerChrysler, have created a system that can sense when a car has pulled out at a junction or when traffic ahead has stopped suddenly.

The developers claim that the computer-controlled car will react faster than motorists and perform the manoeuvres needed in emergencies far better.

But some motorists will find the idea of a computer grabbing control difficult to accept, and even dangerous, while road safety groups fear that such systems may be unable to react adequately.

Geraint Bevan, who is working on the system at Glasgow University’s Centre for Systems and Control, insists that a computer can control a car far better than the average motorist.

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Energy Tower: Power for 15 Earths?

Energy Tower: Power for 15 Earths?

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Researchers have designed a product that its inventors claim could easily produce between 15 and 20 times the total electricity the world uses today. Not only that, it could also be used as a desalination device and may be able to reverse the effects of global warming.

Those are pretty big claims, but the researchers from the Technion – Israel Institute of Science seem confident that the “Energy Tower” could be a major solution to the world’s problems. They’ve been working on the concept since 1983, and together have spent more than 150 man-years researching, designing, testing, and analyzing.

As project founder Professor Dan Zaslavsky explains, the Energy Tower works on the basic principle of convection: hot air rises and cold air falls. The 3,000-foot tall tower, with a diameter of 1200 feet, would take advantage of the heavy falling weight of cold air.

Solar energy ‘revolution’ brings green power closer

Solar energy ‘revolution’ brings green power closer

The holy grail of renewable energy came a step closer yesterday as thousands of mass-produced wafer-thin solar cells printed on aluminium film rolled off a production line in California, heralding what British scientists called “a revolution” in generating electricity.

The solar panels produced by a Silicon Valley start-up company, Nanosolar, are radically different from the kind that European consumers are increasingly buying to generate power from their own roofs. Printed like a newspaper directly on to aluminium foil, they are flexible, light and, if you believe the company, expected to make it as cheap to produce electricity from sunlight as from coal.

Yesterday Nanosolar said its order books were full until mid-2009 and that a second factory would soon open in Germany where demand for solar power has rocketed. Britain was unlikely to benefit from the technology for some years because other countries paid better money for renewable electricity, it added.

Air Force to fly on synthetic fuel?

Air Force to fly on synthetic fuel?

The US Air Force is experimenting with a synthetic fuel that could become a cheaper fuel-alternative for the entire US military and even commercial aviation, officials say.

As the cost of a barrel of oil approaches $100 and US reliance on foreign oil sources grows, the Air Force, the single biggest user of energy in the US government, wants to find a cheaper alternative. Air Force officials think they may have found it in a fuel that blends the normal JP-8 fuel, currently used for the military’s jet engines, with a synthetic fuel made from natural gas and liquid coal.

The 50-50 blend is less expensive – between $40 to $75 per barrel – and it burns cleaner than normal fuel. The synthetic fuel is purchased from US-based suppliers and then blended with the military’s JP-8 fuel.

Liver Damage Reversal Drug Shows Promise

Liver damage ‘can be reversed’

Damaged liver cells

Scientists in California have made a breakthrough in the treatment of liver damage. They are developing a drug for cirrhosis of the liver, the scarring caused by severe alcohol abuse.

The scientists have developed a drug that not only slows progression of the disease but also reverses damage to the organ.

Their discovery, published in PLoS Online on December 26, opens the door to treating and curing conditions that lead to excessive tissue scarring such as viral hepatitis, fatty liver disease, cirrhosis, pulmonary fibrosis, scleroderma and burns.

Robot Helps With Breakfast

Robot Helps With Breakfast

breakfast robot
Japanese scientists have developed a robot that can help people get out of bed and bring them their breakfast.

They claim the 4ft 10ins robot, which has soft hands and fingers, can become even more like its human inventors.

The Japanese humanoid – called Twendy one – has enough strength to support humans as they sit up and stand, and can make supple movements that respond to human touch.

It can pick up a loaf of bread without crushing it, serve toast, help lift people out of bed and even lend a hand with the housework.

Anti-Aging Drugs Could Change the Nature of Death

Anti-Aging Drugs Could Change the Nature of Death

A new class of drugs aimed at age-related physical and mental deterioration could change not only the nature of life, but of death.

The drugs target mitochondria, the cellular power generators that provide our bodies with chemical energy. Over time, mitochondria accumulate damage, causing cells and eventually tissues to malfunction and break down. Some scientists believe that such seemingly disparate diseases as cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and heart disease — all of which become more common with age — share a mitochondrial root. Fix the mitochondria, and you might fix aging itself.

Preliminary research suggests that mitochondria-rejuvenating drugs are capable, at least in lab animals, of halting these diseases and extending longevity. The research also suggests that, once they’ve reached the end of their traditional lifespans, these animals tend to die quickly and inexplicably, without any indication of disease or systemic breakdown.If the pattern holds in people, death would not be preceded by months or years of suffering. It would also come without warning, forever catching family and loved ones by surprise.

Stem Cells Used to Fix Breast Defects

Stem Cells Used to Fix Breast Defects


For the first time, doctors have used stem cells from liposuctioned fat to fix breast defects in women who have had cancerous lumps removed.

The approach is still experimental, but holds promise for millions of women left with cratered areas and breasts that look very different from each other after cancer surgery. It also might be a way to augment healthy breasts without using artificial implants.

So far, it has only been tested on about two dozen women in a study in Japan. But doctors in the United States say it has great potential.

“This is a pretty exciting topic right now in plastic surgery,” said Dr. Karol Gutowski of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “There are people all over the country working on this.”

Start-Up Sells Solar Panels at Lower-Than-Usual Cost

Start-Up Sells Solar Panels at Lower-Than-Usual Cost

Nanosolar, a heavily financed Silicon Valley start-up whose backers include Google’s co-founders, plans to announce Tuesday that it has begun selling its innovative solar panels, which are made using a technique that is being held out as the future of solar power manufacturing.

The company, which has raised $150 million and built a 200,000-square-foot factory here, is developing a new manufacturing process that “prints” photovoltaic material on aluminum backing, a process the company says will reduce the manufacturing cost of the basic photovoltaic module by more than 80 percent.

Nanosolar, which recently hired a top manufacturing executive from I.B.M., said that it had orders for its first 18 months of manufacturing capacity. The photovoltaic panels will be made in Silicon Valley and in a second plant in Germany.

While many photovoltaic start-up companies are concentrating on increasing the efficiency with which their systems convert sunlight, Nanosolar has focused on lowering the manufacturing cost. Its process is akin to a large printing press, rather than the usual semiconductor manufacturing techniques that deposit thin films on silicon wafers.

Nanosolar’s founder and chief executive, Martin Roscheisen, claims to be the first solar panel manufacturer to be able to profitably sell solar panels for less than $1 a watt. That is the price at which solar energy becomes less expensive than coal.

“With a $1-per-watt panel,” he said, “it is possible to build $2-per-watt systems.”

According to the Energy Department, building a new coal plant costs about $2.1 a watt, plus the cost of fuel and emissions, he said.

MIT Corrects Inherited Retardation, Autism In Mice

MIT Corrects Inherited Retardation, Autism In Mice

Researchers at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory have corrected key symptoms of mental retardation and autism in mice.

The work, which will be reported in the Dec. 20 issue of Neuron, also indicates that a certain class of drugs could have the same effect. These drugs are not yet approved by the FDA, but will soon be entering into human clinical trials.

Fragile X syndrome (FXS), affecting 100,000 Americans, is the most common inherited cause of mental retardation and autism. The MIT researchers corrected FXS in mice modeling the disease. “These findings have major therapeutic implications for fragile X syndrome and autism,” said study lead author Mark F. Bear, director of the Picower Institute and Picower Professor of Neuroscience at MIT.

The findings support the theory that many of FXS’s psychiatric and neurological symptoms-learning disabilities, autistic behavior, childhood epilepsy- stem from too much activation of one of the brain’s chief network managers-the metabotropic glutamate receptor mGluR5.

“Fragile X is a disorder of excess-excess synaptic connectivity, protein synthesis, memory extinction, body growth, excitability-and remarkably, all these excesses can be reduced by reducing mGluR5,” said Bear, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.