Innovation and Technology Weekly – No. 1, 2007

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Issue 1, 2007

This week's headlines:

Developing nations eligible for European funding
December 21, 2006

For the first time, researchers in developing countries will be able to apply for European funding under nearly the same terms as European researchers, as opposed to a limited amount of funding for earmarked projects.

Priority areas of research identified for developing countries include health, environment, transportation and agriculture. In particular, the seven-year funding mechanism emphasises innovation for rapid diagnostics for HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, and tests for drug resistance.

Researchers from developing countries will be eligible for all funding mechanisms, as long as they apply as part of a team that includes at least three EU member states or EU partner countries. There is also specific funding available in each of the priority areas, for which up to two EU and two non-EU countries can apply in collaboration. The programme will give precedence to projects mutually beneficial to the EU and developing countries. FP7 will run from 2007 until 2013.

Full story: SciDev.Net Back to top

Amsterdam to evaluate open source
January 02, 2007

The city of Amsterdam has become the latest high-profile public organization to evaluate the potential of open-source software. Two departments within the city administration will spend a total of EUR 300,000 in 2007 evaluating Linux on the desktop. The city is eager to reduce its dependence on monopoly suppliers, and sees the trial as a way to evaluate alternatives.

Amsterdam said it did not intend to stop using Microsoft software entirely, but expected to spend less on proprietary software. Amsterdam's current contract with Microsoft expires at the end of 2008, while its open-source tests are due to be completed within the first half of this year. The two departments conducting the tests will be the housing department and a borough office. Other departments will follow suit if the trial is successful, the council said.

Ten cities in the Netherlands are evaluating open-source software and have signed a manifesto on how they will proceed. The Dutch government is funding the research through a 3-year-old programme focused on supplier independence and interoperability.

Full story: ZDNet UK Back to top

Quantum technique could pin down gravitational constant
January 04, 2007

Gravity may be the force we are most familiar with, but it is also the one we understand with the least accuracy. Now, a quantum mechanical technique could help pin down the strength of gravity more precisely.

Newton's gravitational constant, G, describes the strength of attraction between masses. But traditional methods that rely on measuring how far small masses are pulled by the gravitational force of larger masses nearby only provide relatively rough estimates of its value.

Now, researchers at Stanford University in the US have used a quantum mechanical technique called interferometry to home in on G. Using an interferometer, the team split a beam of caesium atoms into two. The beams were sent along different paths and then recombined to produce a pattern of light and dark interference fringes.

The team found that placing a 540 kilogram lead weight near the beams affects their path and shifts the final interference pattern. From this shift, they calculated a value for G, which matched that found by traditional methods. So far, their results are no more precise than those methods, but they believe that future measurements with the technique will find the most accurate value for the constant yet.

Full story: New Scientist / Science Back to top

Siemens breaks fibre speed record
December 21, 2006

Germany's Siemens has set a speed record for electrical processing of data through a fibre-optic cable, opening the possibility of cheaper internet and data networks.

Siemens said that it had processed data using exclusively electrical means at 107 gigabits per second - roughly two full DVDs per second - and sent it over a single optical fibre channel in a 100-mile US network, for the first time outside of a laboratory.

The test, two-and-a-half times faster than the previous record, was done in cooperation with Germany's Micram Microelectronic, the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications and the Netherlands' Eindhoven University of Technology.

Siemens said the advantage of its method of using electrical processing only was that it removed the need to split signals into multiple signals of lower data rates to avoid bottlenecks. Such bottlenecks make transmissions slower and more expensive.

Full story: Back to top

The DNA so dangerous it does not exist
January 03, 2007

US Researchers at Boise State University aim to identify DNA sequences and chains of amino acids so dangerous to life that they do not exist. The researchers have developed software that calculates all the possible sequences of nucleotides up to a certain length, and then scans sequence databases to identify the smallest sequences that are not present. Those that do not occur in one species but do in others are termed nullomers. Those that are not found in any species are termed primes.

So far the team have found 86 sequences of 11 nucleotides long that have never been reported in humans. They have also identified more than 60,000 primes of 15 nucleotides in length and 746 protein 'peptoprime' strings of five amino acids that have never been reported in any species. The next step is to test peptoprimes in bacteria and human cells to see whether they have any effect such as causing death.

The applications could be wide-ranging. The team has already received a USD 1m grant from the US Department of Defense to develop a DNA 'safety tag' that could be added to voluntary DNA reference samples in criminal cases to distinguish them from forensic samples. Further down the line there is the possibility of constructing a 'suicide gene'. It could be attached to genetically modified organisms and activated to destroy them at a later date if they turned out to be dangerous.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top

Scientists fire up laser link with moving aircraft
December 19, 2006

Researchers have succeeded in establishing a laser link between a satellite and a moving aircraft for the first time. The European Space Agency's Advanced Relay and Technology Mission Satellite (Artemis) successfully relayed optical laser links from an aircraft.

Airborne laser links were established over a distance of 40,000km during two flights at altitudes of 6,000 and 10,000 metres, representing a world first, according to the scientists. This clearly demonstrates the feasibility of an optical link between an airborne carrier and a geostationary satellite, the researchers believe.

Optical technology has several advantages for data relay applications, including the ability to provide high data rates with low mass, low power terminals, and secure, interference-free communications.

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top

Toyota creating alcohol detection system
January 03, 2007

Toyota is developing a fail-safe system for cars that detects drunken drivers and automatically shuts the vehicle down if sensors pick up signs of excessive alcohol consumption.

Cars fitted with the detection system will not start if sweat sensors in the driving wheel detect high levels of alcohol in the driver's bloodstream. The system could also kick in if the sensors detect abnormal steering, or if a special camera shows that the driver's pupils are not in focus. The car is then slowed to a halt, the report said. Toyota hopes to fit cars with the system by the end of 2009.

Nissan, another Japanese car manufacturer, has already been experimenting with breathalyzer-like devices that could detect if a driver was drunken. Similar technologies, such as alcohol ignition interlocks, are in use in the US and elsewhere.

Full story: MSNBC / AP / Asahi Shimbun Back to top

Google and NASA pair up for virtual space exploration
December 18, 2006

The crunch of Martian soil underfoot and the feel of Martian wind against your cheek could one day be experienced by anyone with an internet connection as a result of a new collaboration between NASA and internet titan Google.

Google has already produced interactive maps of Mars and the Moon by combining their own software with NASA imagery. Now, NASA and Google have signed a Space Act Agreement that will see the two organisations cooperating to make more NASA data accessible to anyone on the internet.

The collaboration will make more of NASA's Moon and Mars imagery available for online exploration. Some Mars imagery is already accessible in 3D through a programme NASA developed called World Wind. The collaboration will make more of NASA's Moon and Mars imagery available for online exploration. Some Mars imagery is already accessible in 3D through a programme NASA developed called World Wind.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top