Artificial Muscles, Smart Skin Possible with New Material

By developing a new organic composite that changes shape with minimal electrical input, researchers at Penn State have overcome a barrier to artificial muscles and provided a candidate material for everything from smart skins to miniscule drug pumps.

“Electroactive polymers have been around for a long time, but the energy input required for them to do enough work to be of value was very high,” says Dr. Qiming Zhang, a professor of electrical engineering at Penn State. “With this new composite we have reduced the voltage to one tenth that previously needed.”

Electroactive polymers are simply polymers that can undergo controlled changes in such things as charge distribution and shape. This makes the materials ideally suited to form such things as actuators, sensors and flexible displays.
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Using Sunlight, Japanese Professor Develops Efficient Hydrogen-making Process

Using sunlight, a Japanese professor has found a method of creating hydrogen for fuel cells that takes 50% less energy than a conventional process.

Clean-burning fuel cells convert hydrogen to energy and produce water as the only byproduct. Creating hydrogen, however, is an energy-intensive process.

Mainly, it’s created by passing an electrical current through water, separating oxygen and hydrogen through a process called electrolysis.

Hydrogen can also be created, however, through photodecomposition by exposing hydrogen sulfide to sunlight. Long in development, this process has now been shown by Tohoku University Professor Kazuyuki Toji to require 50% less energy than electrolysis.
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Companies Racing to Be Personal Gene Sequence Providers

A British company says it will soon offer 24-hour gene sequencing while a US scientist who helped decode the human genome aims to provide genomes on a CD by later this year.

Solexa, created by two Cambridge University Scientists, says it is working toward a quicker process for mapping someone’s genes that will hopefully allow it to decode a genome in a day for about $1,000.

Meanwhile, Craig Venter, former president of Celera Genomics, which competed with the publicly funded Human Genome Project, aims to sequence a genome in a week for about $712,000.
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Foods from Cloned Animals Poised for Supermarkets in 2003

Meat and dairy products from cloned animals could be available in grocery stores as early as 2003, thanks to a recent report on their safety.

The report, released by the National Academy of Sciences in late August, concluded that food from cloned farm animals should be considered safe as long as it doesn’t involve genetic manipulation — if the animals being cloned produced safe food then offspring containing identical genes should as well.

If no findings contradict the report, neither the Food and Drug Administration nor any other government body will have the legal power to keep food from cloned animals off store shelves.
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Mining Plants for Metal? Nickel Farms in the Works

“Mining” and “environmentally friendly” rarely come in the same sentence. The gaping holes, polluted rivers, spewing smokestacks and toxic soil associated with mining are some of the reasons why.

But if it’s successful, an experiment by nickel mining giant Inco Ltd. of Toronto could change that. In conjuction with Viridian Resources LLC of Houston, Inco has planted alyssum near a former metal refinery in a small Southern Ontario town called Port Coborne to test the viability of phytomining — extracting metals from soil and rock using plants.

Alyssum has evolved the ability to absorb metals such as nickel. Tests indicate that a crop of alyssum can contain up to 2% nickel. To extract the metal, Inco will use a furnace to produce a metallic ash. An added environmental benefit is that the incineration process can be used to generate power.
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Non-Lethal Weapons Shoot to Hurt

Its mission seems as humane as it is clear: to develop “weapons that are explicitly designed and primarily employed so as to incapacitate personnel or material, while minimizing fatalities, permanent injury to personnel, and undesired damage to property and the environment.”

To some critics, however, the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, established by Congress in 1997 under Marine Corps command, is obsessed with developing a high-tech arsenal that contravenes U.S. and international law. More here.

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Patent Office Proposes Reform

The NY Times is running a story about how the Patent and trademark office is trying to reform itself. Among some of the reforms sought, is higher fees for the initial processing fee, higher fees for more than 20 claims, higher fees for the more work the examiners have to due (lower fees for less work and fewer claims), 2000 more examiners, and required continued relevance of the examiner in their field (certification and re-certification). My favorite quote “…Mr. Rogan says excessive claims not only slow patent processing but contribute to poor-quality patents.” They are trying to crack down on abundant claims and too-technical jargon which they claim overworks the examiners, reduces the quality of the patent, and other things. Worth a read.
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Inventors Night at the ICC

The Internet Chamber of Commerce and the DaVinci Institute have teamed up to create an event that is truly unique and original for the State of Colorado. A tribute to our most potent resource – the inventor.

October 16, 2002
4:30 – 8:30 pm
1770 Sherman Street in Denver Colorado
$15 for members, $29 for non-members

Come visit the “Hall of Inventions” with over 40 inventors displaying their products. Panel discussions with the best inventor and the best patent attorneys in Colorado.

For more information, go to
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Controlling Robots with the Mind

Scientific American has a fairly technical article on the real-time control of robotic limbs using recorded neuron patterns. The researcher’s macaque has simultaneously controlled two robotic arms in addition to its own arm motion. The amazing thing? One of the arms was 600 miles away. So, they transmitted and translated the “commands” into motion in less than 300 milliseconds!” It’s still a long ways off from helping the disabled or making a Dr. Octopus suit, but the potential uses are pretty cool.

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U.N. Upholds Ban on ‘Dwarf Throwing’

A tiny stuntman who protested against a French ban on the bizarre practice of “dwarf throwing” lost his case before a U.N. human rights body, which said the need to protect human dignity was paramount.

Manuel Wackenheim had argued the 1995 ban by France’s highest administrative court was discriminatory and deprived him of a job being hurled around discotheques by burly men.

In a statement Friday the U.N. Human Rights Committee said it was satisfied “the ban on dwarf-tossing was not abusive but necessary in order to protect public order, including considerations of human dignity.”

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