Innovation and Technology Weekly – No. 5, 2008

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Issue 5, 2008

This week's headlines:

Deep brain stimulation could help memory loss: study
January 30, 2008

An accidental discovery about the effects of electrical stimulation on the brain suggests a potential treatment for people suffering from memory loss.

Scientists at Toronto Western Hospital said their attempts to curb the appetite of a 50-year-old obese man using electrodes implanted in his brain triggered detailed decades-old memories. The scientists were trying to suppress the man's appetite by stimulating parts of his hypothalamus when he suddenly experienced a feeling of déjà vu.

The man reported the perception of being in a park with friends 30 years ago, and as the intensity of the stimulation increased, the details became more vivid. The discovery was surprising because the hypothalamus is not usually associated with memory. But the parts of the hypothalamus that were stimulated are estimated to be close to the fornix, an arched bundle of fibres that carries signals within the limbic system, which is involved in memory and emotions.

The process involves boring holes through the skull to plant electrodes that touch particular parts of the brain and are connected to a pacemaker-like device that sends an electrical current into the brain. Scientists are now applying the technique in three patients with Alzheimer's disease.

Full story: CBC New / Annals of Neurology Back to top

DNA could spur growth of new materials
January 30, 2008

The genetic material that acts as a blueprint for life can also act as the guiding force for building a new class of nanomaterials, according to two separate teams of researchers at Northwestern University and Brookhaven National Laboratory, USA.

Both research teams described processes whereby individual engineered DNA strands were attached to gold nanoparticles and then mixed in water at high temperatures. The single strands seek out complimentary strands and join together to form DNA's unique double helix structure. The DNA-assisted processes assemble the gold particles into 3D crystal structures, with the structure determining the gold's properties.

By altering the sequences or length of DNA strands, scientists could use this process to create different structures, opening the door to the manufacture of nanomaterials with unusual electronic or optical properties, according to the researchers. They say the process could be used with nearly any material.

Full story: CBC News / Nature Back to top

Invention: Nanotube X-ray enhancer
January 28, 2008

While X-ray images easily show up the difference between bone and soft tissue, there's not enough contrast between the soft tissues to tell them apart. Contrast agents containing strongly X-ray-scattering substances like iodine must be used to show up abnormal tissue. These accentuate areas where there is strong blood flow, such as in cancer tumours. However, current contrast agents are quickly flushed through the body by the blood and cannot be targeted at specific cell types.

Now a better way to improve X-ray images of soft tissues has been proposed by researchers at Rice University. Their idea was inspired by the ease with which carbon nanotubes embed themselves into living cells.

The team's proposal is to fill carbon nanotubes with iodine, coat them with a film of protein that bonds with specific types of cell, and allow the tubes to become embedded in the cells of interest. As well as giving a greater choice of targets for analysis, this should allow images to be taken over a longer periods of time because the nanotubes are buried in situ rather than only passing through in the blood.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top

Israel's electric car aimed at cutting oil needs
January 24, 2008

The Israeli government has announced its support of an ambitious plan to install the world's first electric car network in Israel by 2011. The government says initiative is aimed at addressing global dependence on foreign oil from undemocratic regimes and mitigating the health and environmental damages caused by emissions from gas-burning vehicles.

In a joint venture, Project Better Place will provide lithium-ion batteries and the infrastructure to refresh or replace them, while Renault and Nissan will build the cars. With the goal of making Israel a laboratory test for a new model of environmentally efficient transportation, purchasers will be offered tax incentives.

The innovative model would provide consumers with inexpensive cars, and they would pay a monthly fee for expected mileage, like minutes on a cell phone plan. Project Better Place will provide infrastructure including parking meter-like plugs on city streets or service stations along highways at which batteries can be replaced.

Full story: Middle East Times Back to top

Researchers make tiny radio from nanotubes
January 28, 2008

Transistor radios tinier than a grain of sand, made out of carbon nanotubes, can not only tune in to the traffic report, but may end up outperforming current silicon-based electronics, according to researchers from the University of Illinois.

They overcame a series of obstacles that have defeated efforts to make nano-radios by making their devices on quartz wafers. The devices are meant to showcase a new way of making carbon nanotubes in perfectly aligned rows, much like strands of silky hair that have been combed flat. These strands are a hundred thousand times smaller than the width of a human hair, forming a thin layer of semiconductor material that can be used in electronics devices and circuits.

A key to the work is to gain control over what shapes the tubes take and how they are configured. The researchers made the tubes by combining carbon and heat and a catalyst on a special wafer material that made the tubes line up in an orderly way.

The radios consist of two radio frequency amplifiers, a radio frequency mixer and an audio amplifier, all made from the carbon nanotube materials. Regular-sized headphones plug directly into an output transistor made from the nanotube material. And the radios are equipped with a regular-sized antennas.

Full story: Reuters Back to top

Thomson offers access to patent file histories
January 30, 2008

Thomson Scientific has revealed that patent researchers can now access file histories via patent and trademark databases on the Dialog platform.

Thomson Scientific says the benefit to researchers is that the full information on a patent or trademark is now available in one place. File histories or file wrappers are updated documentation that provide the full history of a patent or trademark file including the correspondence between a patent office and the applicant and/or their representatives. Thomson Scientifics' file histories consist of documentation from over 40 countries and languages.

Commenting on the announcement David Brown, Vice President, Thomson Scientific, corporate markets said, 'Providing access to file histories through Dialog enhances the productivity of intellectual property researchers by giving them streamlined access to the resources they need.'

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top

US researchers perfect gecko-style glue
January 30, 2008

Scientists at the University of California at Berkeley have developed an adhesive that mirrors the attach and easy release characteristics of a gecko's feet. The material could prove useful in a range of products, from climbing equipment to medical devices, according to its developers.

Unlike traditional glue-based adhesives, the new material is made from millions of tiny plastic fibres that establish grip. Just two square centimetres of the material can support weights of 400 grams.

The new adhesive brushes along a surface to develop traction and sticks as it slides on a surface, and releases as it lifts, in the same way that allows a gecko to achieve its speedy vertical escapes. While ideal for hanging posters, the characteristic is even more important for any application that requires movement, such as climbing.

The material also gets stronger with use and tightens its hold as it is rubbed repeatedly against a glass plate. The extra strength is caused by the fibres bending over to make more contact, yet returning to their original shape once released.

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top