An artistic impression of what ITER will look like. Image: ITER Organisation
| Issue no. 22, 2010
Published: Jul 02, 2010
| Fusion reactor set to raid Europe's research funds|
| Herschel telescope spies galaxy with cosmic 'zoom lens'|
| 'Programmable matter' may shape future tools|
| Flying car one step closer to reality|
| Car for blind drivers under development|
| USB coffee-cup warmer could be stealing your data|
|Fusion reactor set to raid Europe's research funds
|European nations hope to divert more than a billion euros that were
earmarked for research grants to make up a budget shortfall at the
experimental ITER fusion reactor. The proposal has alarmed scientists,
who say that it will rob researchers of vital funds at a time when
governments are planning to scale back domestic research budgets in
response to the global economic downturn.
Based in the south of France, the ITER reactor will one day fuse
hydrogen isotopes to produce energy. When the project was agreed in
2006, it was expected to cost EUR 5bn to construct, but unofficial
estimates now put ITER's price at around EUR 15bn. As the largest
contributor to the project, the EU will have to pay EUR 7.2bn, far more
than the original EUR 2.7bn it had initially expected. The most pressing
problem is a EUR 1.4bn gap in the construction budget for 2012-13.
A tentative agreement reached on 25 June by Europe's 27 member states
would fill most of that shortfall using cash from the EU's Seventh
Framework Programme (FP7) for research, which is the main
science-funding mechanism in Europe for 2007-13. FP7 has an overall
budget of EUR 50.5bn and still has about EUR 20bn unspent.
The European Commission still needs to work out the precise budgetary
details with the member states, according to several independent
sources. The commission is expected to fight the proposal, arguing that
drawing so heavily on FP7 funds would damage other research goals.
| Nature News
Jul 01, 2010
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|Herschel telescope spies galaxy with cosmic 'zoom lens'
|Europe's Herschel space telescope has spied a far-distant galaxy with
the aid of a cosmic 'zoom lens'. By viewing a huge cluster of galaxies,
Herschel has been able to study in detail an even more distant object.
This is possible because the gravity of the foreground cluster magnifies
the light of the background galaxy. The gravitational lensing technique
has famously been used in the past by the Hubble Space Telescope, and it
was to an old Hubble lens that Herschel turned on this occasion.
Abell 2218 is a colossal aggregation in space some 2bn light-years from
Earth. Its compact mass is equivalent to many thousands of galaxies, and
this huge concentration of matter distorts and maximises the light from
the objects that sit behind it.
The way this natural zoom lens in the sky works is a consequence of
Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. In Hubble's images of Abell
2218, far-distant galaxies appear as multiple arcs and arclets smeared
across the field of view. In Herschel's observation of the same scene
using its Spire instrument, the distant galaxies appear as slightly
fuzzy blobs. The bright yellow blob in the centre of a new Herschel
image released by ESA is a galaxy seen as it was 11bn years ago. The
differences in the Hubble and Herschel pictures are a direct consequence
of the varied wavelengths at which the two telescopes operate.
Hubble sees the Universe in the optical and near-infrared, and these
wavelengths produce very sharp forms in the telescope's images.
Herschel, on the other hand, is sensitive to much longer wavelengths, in
the far-infrared and sub-millimetre range, and its pictures are much
softer. But it is this ultra-long-wavelength sensitivity that allows
Herschel to see the processes that initiate star formation in clouds of
very cold gas and dust - a perspective completely hidden from Hubble.
| BBC News
Jul 01, 2010
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|'Programmable matter' may shape future tools
|Scientists have invented self-folding sheets of fibreglass that can flex
themselves into origami airplanes and boats. The achievement could help
pave the way for 'programmable matter' that could one day serve much
like a Swiss Army knife, bending and creasing into any number of tools.
The sheets are each less than a half-millimetre thick and made of
triangular fibreglass tiles each roughly less than 1 cm wide, connected
together by elastic silicone rubber creases. To make them self-folding,
scientists at MIT embedded strips just 100 microns thick made of a
'shape-memory' nickel-titanium alloy that changes shape when heated or
cooled. They also included flexible, stretchable copper-laminated
plastic mesh ribbons on the sheets that served as wires.
When electricity running through the coppery ribbons was applied to heat
the shape memory alloy strips to 70 degrees C or more, they went from
flat to bent, causing the entire sheet to fold with them. In the end,
the 32-tile sheets the researchers devised could fold into origami boats
To program each crease to fold in the right direction and order, the
researchers are developing stickers that contain all the circuits needed
to connect and trigger the correct actuators for making specific complex
| MSNBC / Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Jun 28, 2010
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|Flying car one step closer to reality
|The Terrafugia, a small airplane that can drive on roads and has been
billed as the first 'flying car', is now one step closer to becoming
street- and sky-legal in the US. The vehicle has cleared a Federal
Aviation Administration (FAA) regulatory hurdle for craft classification
by weight. A full-fledged production prototype might be just around the
corner, according to multiple reports.
At issue was Terrafugia wanting its Transition vehicle to be classified
as a 'Light Sport Aircraft' by the FAA so people eager to fly it would
need only 20 hours of flying time. Yet the two-seater vehicle came in 50
kilograms overweight in accommodating roadworthy-assuring safety items
such as crumple zones. The FAA said that so long as customers are
advised about this extra weight, the car-plane hybrid can be sold.
The Terrafugia completed its maiden voyage last March. According to its
maker, the Terrafugia can transform from a roadable vehicle that can hit
a highway speed of 105 km/h to a winged aircraft in 30 seconds. The plane
version can cruise at around 185 km/h and cover around 644 kilometres
worth of turf before needing a refill of regular unleaded gas. The price
of a Terrafugia is expected to be around USD 200,000 and deliveries
could start next year, assuming the vehicle passes crash tests.
| MSNBC / TechNewsDaily
Jun 29, 2010
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|Car for blind drivers under development
|The National Federation of the Blind and Virginia Tech in the US say
they hope to demonstrate a prototype equipped with technology that helps
a sightless person to get behind the wheel in 2011. The technology,
called nonvisual interfaces, will guide its driver through traffic by
transmitting information about nearby vehicles or objects. Vibrating
gloves or streams of compressed air directed behind the wheel are among
the options for communicating the information needed to avoid collisions
and reach a destination.
The vehicle is based in Virginia Tech's 2007 entry into the DARPA Grand
Challenge, a competition for driverless vehicles financed by the Defense
Department's research arm. The university's team won third place for a
self-driving vehicle that used sensors to perceive traffic, avoid
crashing into other cars and objects and run like any other vehicle.
Following their success, Virginia Tech's team responded to a challenge
from the National Federation of the Blind to help them build a car that
could be driven by a blind person. Virginia Tech created a dune buggy as
part of a feasibility study that used sensor lasers and cameras to act
as the eyes of the vehicle. A vibrating vest was used to direct the
driver to speed up, slow down or make turns.
The blind organisation was impressed by the results and urged the
researchers to keep pushing. The results will be demonstrated in January
on a modified Ford Escape sport utility vehicle at the Daytona
International Speedway prior the Rolex 24 race.
| Daily Telegraph
Jul 02, 2010
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|USB coffee-cup warmer could be stealing your data
|Are you sure that the keyboard or mouse you are using today is the one
that was attached to your computer yesterday? It might have been swapped
for a compromised device that could transmit data to a snooper. The
problem stems from a shortcoming in the way USB works. This allows
almost all USB-connected devices to be turned into tools for data theft,
says a team that has exploited the flaw.
Until now, hardware trojans were considered to be modified circuits. For
example, if hackers manage to get hold of a microchip when it is still
in the factory, they could introduce subtle changes allowing them to
crash the device that the chip gets built into. However, computer
engineers at the Royal Military College of Canada found they could
exploit a weakness in USB's plug-and-play functionality.
The USB protocol trusts any device being plugged in to report its
identity correctly. But find out the make and model of a target user's
keyboard, say, swap it with a compromised device that reports the same
information and the computer will not realise.
The team designed a USB keyboard containing a circuit that successfully
stole data from the hard drive and transmitted it in two ways: by
flashing an LED, Morse-code style, and by encoding data as a subtle
warbling output from the sound card.
| New Scientist
Jul 02, 2010
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