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     Volume 4 Issue 77 | December 30, 2005 |

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Zen and the Art of Car Design
Who needs a convertible when the roof can instantly be made transparent? The zaZen concept vehicle features a polycarbonate roof that can be changed from orange to clear at the push of a button. This feature allows for maximum sunlight (and voyeuristic opportunity) or a solid colour for privacy. According to plastics producer Bayer Material Science the Makrolon material for the roof is used in contact lenses, helmets and water bottles. A third rear brake light is projected on to the material as a hologram. Bayer, which worked with Swiss design company Rinspeed on the vehicle, says the car can "point the way to enlightenment for future generations of automobiles." To push the Zen concept further, instead of beeping when the car moves in reverse, it should let out a soft chant "ohm, ohm". The "Buddha-ful" car will be unveiled in February at the Geneva Motor Show.

New Baby Brain Scanner
University College London scientists are developing a portable brain scanner that could save the lives of newborn babies. By providing information about the brain function of premature and newborn infants in intensive care, the scanner negates the need to move critically ill babies to conventional scanning facilities, which has a degree of risk. A prototype using the advantages of magnetic resonance imaging and ultrasound, while avoiding their disadvantages, incorporates a technique called optical tomography to generate images. A helmet incorporating 32 light detectors and 32 sources of safe, low-intensity laser light is placed on a baby's head. The sources produce short flashes and the detectors measure the time the light takes to travel. A software package builds a 3D image that can show which parts of the brain are receiving oxygen, where blood is situated, evidence of brain damage, etc. The prototype is the size of a refrigerator and takes around 8 minutes to generate an image. The scientists are now trying produce a version half that size and five times faster.

Bats in Motion
An Ohio University study suggests bats not only use echoes to determine their physical environment, but also have touch-sensitive receptors on their wings. Neurobiology Professor John Zook, who has studied bats for more than 30 years, says the wing receptors assist the bats in maintaining altitude and catching insects in midair. His findings revive part of a long-forgotten theory that bats use their sense of touch for night-time navigation and hunting. Zook believes the touch-sensitive receptors on bat wings work in conjunction with echolocation to make bats more accurate nocturnal hunters. Echolocation helps bats detect their surroundings, while the touch-sensitive receptors help them maintain their flight path and snag their prey.

New clues to make magnets more powerful
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory have found clues into ways to make magnets longer lasting and more powerful. The permanent magnets are important in a broad variety of commercial technologies, from car starters to alternators for wind power generation to computer hard drives. Using the Western Hemisphere's most powerful X-rays at the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne, the researchers were able to see new details of rare-earth ions, a critical component of permanent magnets. The research found that rare-earth ions in dissimilar crystalline environments compete with one another, and undermine the magnetic performance of the highest performance magnets, said Argonne scientist Daniel Haskel, who led the research team. These findings point to the need for specialised atomic engineering of the material -- manipulating the rare-earth local atomic structure to fully utilise the rare-earth contribution in next generations of magnets.

GPS Navigation Going 3D
The next generation of GPS navigation systems replaces computer generated graphics of roads with realistic aerial views. Visualisation company 3DVU and operating system vendor QNX Software are teaming up to deliver views that include 3D representations of landmarks and buildings. Daewoo in Korea will be the first car company to pre-install the system. How about this -- a navigation system that shows you where the road-signs are placed? For example, is there a sign there at all, is it on the right, above, or on the left side of the road? This would be more useful than seeing the street as the crow flies.

Eight-wheeled Electric Mania
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi rides on the eight-wheeled electric car 'Eliica', developed by researchers at Keio University, at the premier's official residence in Tokyo. Koizumi took a ride on the vehicle which uses lithium-ion battery as a power source with a top speed of 370 kilometres (230 miles) per hour.

Stretchable Silicon
Stretchable silicon could be the next wave in electronics. Functional, stretchable and bendable electronics could be used in applications such as sensors and drive electronics for integration into artificial muscles or biological tissues, structural monitors wrapped around aircraft wings, and conformable skins for integrated robotic sensors. To create their stretchable silicon, the researchers begin by fabricating devices in the geometry of ultrathin ribbons on a silicon wafer using procedures similar to those used in conventional electronics. Then they use specialised etching techniques to undercut the devices. The resulting ribbons of silicon are about 100 nanometers thick - 1,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. In the next step, a flat rubber substrate is stretched and placed on top of the ribbons. Peeling the rubber away lifts the ribbons off the wafer and leaves them adhered to the rubber surface. Releasing the stress in the rubber causes the silicon ribbons and the rubber to buckle into a series of well-defined waves that resemble an accordion. "The resulting system of wavy integrated device elements on rubber represents a new form of stretchable, high-performance electronics. The amplitude and frequency of the waves change, in a physical mechanism similar to an accordion bellows, as the system is stretched or compressed," said Young Huang, the Shao Lee Soo Professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. Besides the unique mechanical characteristics of wavy devices, the coupling of strain to electronic and optical properties might provide opportunities to design device structures that exploit mechanically tunable, periodic variations in strain to achieve unusual responses.

Compiled by IMRAN H. KHAN

Source: AFP, Wired and Webindia123


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