Cambridge Ultrasonics is working on a technology to "look inside" concrete works. It uses the same ultrasound technique employed in hospitals to monitor growing foetuses in the womb and it builds up quasi-3D images of the interiors of concrete structures.

But the technology could also find an application in police investigations. "If there was a body in concrete from 60 years ago, it would probably break down, leaving a void," explained Wayne Woodhead. "If you scanned the area, you could find the void, but whether it would look like a big hole or would be person-shaped is anyone's guess."

Via BBC News.

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NASA and US security services are developing a new "through-the-wall audio surveillance system."

The system uses a beam of very high frequency radio waves. Radio can penetrate walls – that's how portable radios work inside a house. A horn antenna radiates a beam of microwave energy through the wall and if people are speaking inside the room, any flimsy surface, such as clothing, will be vibrating. This modulates the radio beam reflected from the surface.

Although that radio reflection is very faint, the kind of electronic extraction and signal cleaning tricks used by NASA to decode signals in space can be used to extract speech.

Via The Scotsman.
Picture from Victor Vina and Héctor Serrano's netObject.

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A group of engineers from the Universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, St Andrews and Strathclyde plan to develop tiny "Specks" for low power sensor applications.

The Specks are sensors with computational and communications capabilities that can be embedded in objects. They could be used as lighting and temperature sensors in buildings, placed in aircraft wings to detect failures or used to sensitise medicine bottles to ensure that people take their medication at the correct times.

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Thousands of Specks, scattered or sprayed on a person or surfaces, will collaborate in programmable computational networks called Specknets. Scientists are even considering the idea of a putting the devices in a spray-can, allowing the Specks to be sprayed onto any surface.

"In the future, computers will be able to be diffused into the environment," explained Professor DK Arvind in 2003. "One way to achieve that will be computers the size of a grain of sand. Just by spraying them on to objects, you can computerise them. They would create a network which can transmit wirelessly to each other. In a cubic millimetre, you can have a sensor for heat, pressure, light and so on, but also a computer and wireless technology."

Via The Engineer Online. See also a previous article in Scotsman . Image.

A bank that will create and supply new lines of embryonic stem cells for research around the world has been opened in Seoul, South Korea.

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The new bank is expected the help scientists from countries like the US get round government restrictions on stem cell research. The first branches of the bank will open in the UK and the US.

Woo Suk Hwang, who lead the project and has pioneered the development of stem cells tailored to individual patients: "When the use of these stem cells is limited to a particular country, it takes much too long to create technologies usable for the whole of humanity. By creating a global network, we plan to share stem cells created in each country and share information on those stem cells."

The South Koreans would not patent the new cell lines but would charge fees on special orders.

Via BBC News.

Living bacteria have been incorporated into an electronic circuit to produce a supersensitive humidity sensor.

"This is essentially a first step towards a biological computer, and would have many applications," says Steve Ripp, at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. "If you detect a chemical with a biological device, you not only sense its presence but also its effect on a living system," he says.

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Glowing colonies of microbes

The bacteria must stay alive during their assimilation so that they do not leak any internal fluids and lose their shape. The bacteria can survive for about two days without nutrients.

"But once the device is made, the device continues to work even after the bacteria die," adds Ravi Saraf, at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. After a month the zombie bacteria continued to change shape in response to humidity variation, even from beyond the grave.

Saraf speculates that similar devices could one day be made that take greater advantage of living organisms, perhaps even using bacteria's energy systems to power electrical devices. But "one still needs to demonstrate that an electronic coupling between the biology of the microorganism and a nanodevice is possible," he adds.

Via Multipolarity Memes < Nature.

The Healing Foundation and the University of Manchester are teaming up to understand how some creatures can recreate their own severed limbs and to see if it is possible to enable people to do the same.

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The aim is not unrealistic, said Enrique Amaya. Human embryos in the womb, if they are operated on before six months of gestation, heal without a trace of scarring, but this ability is later lost. Humans and amphibians share 85% of the same genes, so adult humans might have, in a silenced form, the genes that would enable scarless healing.

Before becoming frogs, tadpoles that are injured heal themselves within a few hours, or grow a new tail in nine days. Salamanders can regrow the same limb repeatedly, while some lizards have the ability to shed their tails voluntarily.

In salamanders, the clue is a group of blastema cells which have the ability to organise themselves into new limbs. "We want to find ways of creating these very specialised cells," Professor Amaya said.

Professor Amaya’s aim, when the genes are identified, is to develop drugs or gene therapy treatments that would activate or silence them in humans, whichever is needed. The first stage would be to encourage scarless healing; limb regeneration is much further away.

Via The Times.
Martinjust sent me a link to the Axolotl movie file.

Hiroshi Tanaka has developed an electrolysis device that simulates, he claims, the effect of ageing in wines. In 15 seconds it can transform the youngest plonks into fine old draughts as fruit flavours are enhanced and rough edges are mellowed, he says.

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All around the world, wineries are taking a close interest in Tanaka’s machine, and several are already testing it. Because the electrolyser is capable of converting about four litres of wine a minute, some producers are considering ageing entire barrels before the wine is bottled.

The machine works by pumping wine and tap water through an electrolysis chamber equipped with platinum electrodes. The water and the wine are separated by an ion exchange membrane. Without diluting the wine, the electrolysis causes a rearrangement of the hydrogen and oxygen atoms around the alcohol molecules, which would normally take place over years.

Tanaka and his team are designing a small-scale version that can be used at home or in restaurants to instantly improve the bouquet of cheaper wines according to what the customer has chosen.

The researcher is convinced that the machine could have enhancing effects on cheap whiskies and has already struck a deal with a Japanese coffee giant, to smooth the taste of some roasts.

Via The Times. Image.

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