Bio-engineered electronics

Electronic components are continually shrinking – just think of laptops & mobile phones in the last few years – but there is a limit and even now, the improvements required of industrial processes to maintain this trend are becoming increasingly expensive and old ones dreadfully outdated.

One possible solution would be to replace these industrial techniques with ones that use biological processes that self -assemble and are relatively cheap.

For instance, this article describes a technique whereby a specially engineered virus is coated with chemicals and sandwiched between other chemical layers to make a tiny battery that could be ‘printed’ onto any conducting surface! Some more background, also at Ars Technica, on engineering using viruses can be read here.

Photo from – lovely, isn’t it?

Next-gen solar collection materials

Here is a great description of a new material that will collect infrared radiation and convert it to electricity:

“The material, composed of tiny gold antennas set in polyethylene plastic is tuned to gather 80 percent of energy from infrared rays in its production version, and can gather energy from the sun, earth, or even your PC’s warmth. The antennas can be tuned to different parts of the infrared spectrum, and the thin material can be sandwiched together to cover the full desired range.”

This sounds great! 80% efficiency is extraordinary. Here is a material that draws heat energy from its surroundings and creates electricity. Sounds a bit like a reverse of the earlier post on electrocaloric materials, doesn’t it?

Lots more info here & here.

Did life here begin out there?

The hypothesis called galactic panspermia proposes that micro-organisms carried on comets or other space debris, could have landed on Earth and survived to give rise to life on this planet. This article at makes for an interesting overview of the idea.

Certainly there are plenty of observations that can be seen to fit cohesively with panspermia’s hypothesis. For instance, organic molecules or the building blocks thereof seem to be plentiful in space. Liquid water is able to exist inside the warmed interior of comets bathed in solar rays. Earth-bound microbes can survive impact shocks such as those experienced by the numerous chunks of Martian rock that were blasted by cometary impact off the surface of Mars and since discovered on our planet. Life is weirder than we ever expected.

There are also plenty of skeptics and of course it is not an easy theory to test. As I read once, it is an idea slightly on the fringes of science, but firmly within the mainstream of the paranormal.

Still, let your imagination go wild thinking about it: there are countless planets in orbits similar to our own around their stars. If panspermia is correct, could life be widespread in the universe?

Rat-brained robot overlords!

Well, not in the near future at any rate, but a research team at the Univerity of Reading in the UK have developed a robot that is controlled by cultured neuronal cells from the brain of rats.

The cultured cells were placed onto a sheet of electrodes that can detect the minute electrical signals from the neurons. These signals are the only form of control for the robot as it moves; there is no external control at all.

One of the aims of the experiment is to study how memories are formed, through linkages and reinforcement of the connections between neural cells as the robot re-encounters aspects of its environment. Ultimately it is hoped this will help to shed light on the causes and possible treatments of neural disorders like Alzheimers adn Parkinson’s Disease.

Via ScienceBlog

Un-melty plastic for cooling

This invention is pretty cool (literally): it’s a plastic that cools when an electic current is passed through it.

The electrical current changes the arrangment of the molecules in the plastic, altering its thermal characteristics. This is called the electorcaloric effect.

Possible applications include small electronic devices that require cooling but which are too small to accommodate traditional fans or heat sinks.

Via Gizmodo

Fighting pollution with… concrete?

A town in Holland will be trialling a novel way of reducing atmospheric pollutants when it lays down a road of pollution-eating bricks.

The bricks contain a titanium-dioxide compound that binds up atmospheric nitrogen oxide into water soluble nitrates that will be washed away in the next rain storm. Clever.

Tests next year will compare air in the area of the town paved with these bricks to the areas paved with regular building materials. It will be interesting to see if the practical outcome lives up to the theory.

Via Engadget

Olympic performances

This article largely recounts an historical research project, but a couple of things really stand out.

For instance, the record time for the mens’ modern marathon (42km) is today about as fast as the 10,000m record set in the latter half of the 1940s.

There have been substantial changes in the culture of sports, particularly around the amount of training, and at the same time we’ve had huge advances in medical understandings and assistant technologies.

Well worth a read; there is a lot of stuff on the chemistry of the body’s response to sustained exertion as well.