Posted by: MadSciLabz | May 26, 2010

Join Linkin Park Underground / Linkin Park Underground 9

Now is the time to join the Linkin Park Underground! When you sign up online, make sure you include my email address ( when creating your LPU profile…

Available for a limited time only.

Posted by: MadSciLabz | November 2, 2009

Korea, US Complete Plans to Handle NK Collapse

South Korea and the U.S. have completed joint action plans to respond to a regime collapse and other internal emergency situations in North Korea, Yonhap News Agency reported Sunday, quoting a ranking government source.

The so-called “Operational Plan (OPLAN) 5029,” drawn after years of bilateral consultation, dictates respective military responses by Seoul and Washington to several types of emergency situation in the communist North _ a civil war, an outflow of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the kidnapping of South Korean citizens, a mass influx of refugees or a natural disaster, the source was quoted as saying.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source also noted that South Korea’s military will play a leading role in enforcing OPLAN 5029, with the exception of the elimination of nuclear weapons and related facilities that will be handled by the U.S.

“South Korea and the U.S. had long worked on Concept Plan 5029 to prepare for a regime collapse and other internal emergencies in North Korea. Since its inauguration last year, the Lee Myung-bak government has pushed to convert the concept plan into an operational plan and it was recently completed,” the source said.

“If the South Korea-U.S. combined forces intervene in North Korea’s internal instabilities, the South Korean military will assume the leading role in consideration of neighboring countries, while the U.S. military will be responsible for the removal of the North’s nuclear facilities and weapons.”

He noted that South Korea and the U.S. will continue to complement and develop specific details of OPLAN 5029.

The two countries have expressed concern that the outbreak of an internal emergency in North Korea could lead to the transfer of its WMDs and relevant technologies to terrorist groups or other countries.

Article Courtesy of The Korea Times

Posted by: MadSciLabz | October 5, 2009

Custom Eyeballs Can Tailor Your Eyesight to Your Career

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Need to see a thousand meters in the dark? Want one eye that’s perfect for reading and another for long distances? Some eye surgeons are already at work reshaping corneas not only to fix patients’ vision, but fit their careers.

Laser eye treatment is two decades old, and adept surgeons have gone far beyond giving patients 20:20 vision. Times Online has profiled several such doctors, who offer to tailor their clients’ eyesight to their occupation.

Julian Stevens, who practices at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, has given special forces members and fighter pilots the aforementioned ability to see a thousand meters in the dark, and he notes that taxi drivers could benefit from a similar procedure. Stephen Trokel, who helped pioneer laser eye surgery, operated on a soprano who wanted to be able to read the music in the front row of the orchestra, as well as a New York Yankees catcher who needed to be able to see the ball coming out of the light. Another group that favors the occupational ocular enhancements? US presidential candidates, several of whom have received “monovision,” which allows them to easily read with one eye and see far away with the other. This combination eliminates the need for reading glasses or bifocals, and some politicians hope it creates a sense of youthfulness.

What do we have to thank for this custom technology? The space program. Wavefront technology, which was developed by NASA to improve the focus of the Hubble Space Telescope, has translated neatly to the human eye. The technology allows physicians to map the cornea and iris, enabling surgeons to make small, specific tweaks to the eye that result in custom eyesight made to order. Surgeons offer eyesight tailored to an individual’s life and career

Posted by: MadSciLabz | October 5, 2009

What Does It Mean To Be Creative?

What does it mean to be creative?

Creativity is effective novelty. That is to say, it is doing or making something new that solves a problem or usefully changes how we act, think, or feel. To be creative, then, can be as simple as seeing something everyone else sees, but thinking what no one else thinks about it. (Is that a girl, or a bird’s best friend?) Other times, it requires taking ideas or processes that people usually view as being totally unrelated and finding some fruitful connection between them.
Recently, we gave an interview to a Brazilizian journalist about creativity. Here are our answers – in English!

How do creative people think?

Creative people tend to utilize a wide range of thinking skills. In our book, Sparks of Genius, we have identified thirteen “thinking tools” common to creative people across many disciplines and endeavors. These are observing, abstracting, imaging, pattern recognition, pattern forming, analogizing, body thinking, empathizing, dimensional thinking, modeling, playing, transforming, and synthesizing. It may seem odd, but scientists and artists of all kinds abstract and simplify complex things and processes, play with their ideas, and empathize with the objects of their study in similar ways.
We have another book in the works that will describe additional strategies for thinking that are common to creative people. One is that creative people practice creating. They pursue multiple hobbies or avocations such as painting, music-making, writing, dancing, cooking, modeling, making clothes, and so forth, in which they can play around with and get comfortable with the creative process. Because the creative process is largely transferable from one discipline or endeavor to another, this creative play can have beneficial effect on professional (vocational) work.
In fact, a by-product of having many creative avocations is that creative people have a wider range of knowledge, experience, skills, and techniques to mix and match in novel, interesting and unexpectedly useful ways. So creativity breeds more creativity.

Do creative people think differently from ordinary people?

Not really. They just think more effectively – and persistently. Everyone goes through an identical learning process that begins with copying what other people have done. That’s how we all learn to read, write, make music, dance, perform experiments, and everything else. The next stage is to start making variations on what we’ve learned. Instead of just playing the notes on the page or dancing the steps we’ve memorized, we begin improvising. This requires taking risks and being willing to fail. Many people don’t want to do that and here’s where creative thinkers begin to part company. They don’t give up easily when things get difficult. Eventually, they hone the skills necessary to make their own unique things up from scratch: a whole new dance, a new composition, an experiment never tried before. But what really makes the great creators great is combining such improvised materials from two or more unrelated fields: a composer who looks at a computer as a new kind of instrument; a sculptor who sees in machines the possibility of kinetic art; a biologist who uses his art to discover camouflage.

Are creativity and intelligence the same thing? Are intelligent people creative and creative people intelligent?

Intelligence and creativity are not the same thing. There have been many studies of the relationship of IQ (the intelligence quotient) and creativity. These generally find that people with very high IQs are often not very creative. And very creative people are often not the most intelligent but, rather, of average intelligence. In fact, most Nobel Prize winners in science have IQs in the 120 to 140 range, which is below the cut-off often used to define “genius”!
So high test scores and great grades do not necessarily set creative people apart, especially when young. Nor does precocious talent. Far better to look for evidence of a playful imagination and a habit of making and exploring. We have convincing evidence that adolescents and young adults who are polymathic (that is, have several well-developed talents or hobbies) are more likely to become creative adults than those who have a single talent or interest.

What can people do to improve their creative potential?

13 Thinking ToolsThe best thing for enhancing your creative potential is creative practice. Learn some new skill: writing, photography, cooking, dancing, computer programming, chess… you name it! But while you are learning, pay attention to HOW you are learning. Use your thirteen “thinking tools” to play around. Experiment. Explore. Break the rules. See what happens if you do the opposite of what you are supposed to do. Make mistakes on purpose to see if something interesting happens. Make up your own rules. By playing such games, learn what strategies work for you. And then apply your own successful strategies in other parts of your life and work. As long as you keep trying to make and invent, you build creative muscle.

Posted by: MadSciLabz | October 5, 2009

Can We Really Read Minds?

The belief in telepathy is deeply rooted in many of us, and not only science fiction fans. Mothers ring their daughters thousands of miles away, and their daughters say, “How did you know? I was just thinking of you”. We walk into a room and we just get a feeling about someone: it is as if we knew what they were thinking, and what they will say next.

Professors of parapsychology–and there are a few–have been unable to replicate these results in the laboratory. Minds they have to conclude cannot pass thoughts or images to other minds directly. Perhaps this should not be a surprise. After all, we do pass thoughts and images to each other pretty effectively by speaking, drawing, singing, and so on. More to the point, our minds are our own, and we want them to remain so. We fight to keep our original thoughts. So is telepathy just wishful thinking, born out of our wish to be close to our loved ones and not feel that they have minds that will be for ever closed to us? Or is it a more general feeling against the scientists and others who seem to want to reduce everything to atoms without allowing for the connectedness that joins us to the universe?

don’t think that telepathy is just wishful thinking, and nor do many neuroscientists. Except that they do not think that minds are connected, but brains. You don’t have to be a scientist to know this, of course. We all know that we can be feeling down in the dumps, but if we meet friends we can be cheered up by their obvious cheerfulness even if they don’t say anything: their good cheer can be contagious. This kind of contagion can occur without us even being aware of it–and if we become aware of it, we may back away from it. If, for example, we think: “It’s all very well for them to be happy. They don’t know what it’s like to be me” then we can block the good cheer from changing our mood. It can even make it worse. At a more basic level, if we experience ourselves as not belonging to the group, the contagion effect may not work. We may even deny it. We may say to a friend who says to us, “You soon cheered up”, that we were not really feeling cheerful at all, but just didn’t like to spoil the party.

So between the contagion of emotions like good cheer, and our own conscious perception of our mood, there can be many cut outs. I think that they are there for a reason. These cut outs allow us to have a mind of our own, and not be under the control of our brains. They are, with the development of language and the ability to tell ourselves stories about ourselves–the inner narrative which the psychologist Vygotsky described, precursors to the development of what is nowadays called a ‘theory of mind’.

Current neuroscience is demonstrating that many emotions can spread from brain to brain, and these emotions can be complex ones, amounting to what we might call emotional attitudes or dispositions. In one study, a spirit of cooperation was engendered when people marched in step. It was if moving in physical synchrony led to other kinds of harmonious actions. We may conclude that the military do know a thing or two when they concentrate so much on drill.

Much of this work is feeding into the growing science of neuroeconomics. Some of the founding studies in this field used fMRI scans of two people who were being scanned simultaneously whilst interacting with each other. Whether or not the protagonists trust each other influences what happens, but in the trust condition, the brain state of one of them is mirrored by the brain state of the other. This happens as a result of the steps in the game. But more direct contagion occurs when emotions are transmitted. The same areas of the brain are active when a person experiences an emotion as when another person registers the facial expression. People who see another person in pain have activity in those brain areas that are also active when being in pain. So there is a transfer of brain states, which can lead to the transfer, or contagion, of feelings too-that is, if we allow it. There is nothing magical or even mysterious about this.

We are constantly communicating with each other nonverbally as well as verbally. We exchange smiles and nods. We bend towards or away from each other, depending on how our relationship feels at any one moment. We start moving when other people in our group do, and move in the same direction. We form herds and go along with them. These actions are encoded by our brains which instruct our muscles to contract or relax in the pattern characteristic of that action and, it turns out, the same areas of the brain are often involved in decoding another person’s action, too, in a process that is usually now called ‘mirroring’. Mirroring, in monkeys at least, has been shown to occur at the level of single nerve cells, some of which fire when doing a particular action, and when seeing it done by others.

Telepathy means feeling at a distance, but when most of us think of it, we do not just mean feeling at a distance. We mean that we can know what someone is thinking, too. Recent research suggests that nonverbal communication and linking one brain to another might be able to achieve that, too. Imagine you are walking along, and around you people start looking up with a worried or intrigued expression. Do you feel an itch to stop, and look up, too? I do. Sometimes, I force it back down, but if enough people are looking up, and enough of them are looking bothered, then I think “Perhaps it’s something I should know about” and I stop and look, too. The same phenomenon of ‘rubber necking’ slows up our freeways after an accident. Recent research indicates that gaze following, as it is referred to in the science literature, is a common way for attention to become redeployed in many social situations, with people tending to share a focus of attention as a result.

There are some animals who do this a lot, too. These include the expected, ‘almost human’ ones like the great apes, but some unexpected ones, too, like crows and parrots. It may not be by chance that these are the animals who are the best able to mimic human speech. One problem for the ostensive theories of speech development, which argue that we acquire the names of things by having the things pointed out and then hear their names spoken, is that we have to learn what pointing means to do this. But if we automatically follow the direction of another person’s gaze–whether or not their gaze direction is reinforced by them turning their heads in that direction or by pointing–then we do not need to learn to use pointing: we just reflexively follow it.

This language theory only works if we do not just turn our eyes to follow other people’s gaze, but if we are sufficiently interested in other people’s eyes to be constantly monitoring them, and if we are able to make the leap from following another’s gaze to thinking, “So that’s what he’s looking at”. Actually we don’t very often have to pause and reflect on that. We just assume that if we are looking at what someone else is already looking at, we are both attending to the same thing. There is lots of evidence for each of these steps: for a focus on other people, on faces, and, particularly on the eye region, for gaze following, and for an assumption of ‘joint attention’. Joint attention does not mean having the same thoughts. It might mean having an eye on the same predator, or the same object of desire, or being aware of the same way out as the next person, or even simply this is the place to look for the next interesting event i.e. a priming effect. So joint attention is, like emotional contagion, better understand as something linking brains, rather than minds although it is not a link of feeling but a link of a substrate of thought.

The brain to brain connections that we all sense when we think that telepathy must really exist, do not function like the thought transfer of early experiments on telepathy. Science is often inspired by technology, and those early experiments may have imagined the mental equivalent of the telephone. As if our minds could call up other minds on a kind of invisible or microscopic telephone receiver. I think that the better metaphor is that of the internet. All of our internet-enabled computers get viruses and malware, emails pushed to our webmail box, updates to our programs, and other background activities as a result of our computer interfacing with other computers acting as servers. We are often unaware of these happenings except sometimes as distractions because our computers seem to have slowed down. But they affect everything that our computer does, for good or ill, and occasionally they generate a pop-up message that does come up on our screens and we become conscious of. The vision that comes out of recent research into how one brain influences another through nonverbal communication is so like the internet, that I have called it the interbrain. In fact the sub-title of my most recent book is “Nonverbal communication, Asperger syndrome, and the Interbrain”. I give much of the scientific basis for the points made in this blog in that book.

The interbrain is pervasive, and for me it accounts for many other features of life that seem mysterious, like telepathy. How, for example, do so many of us know what is in fashion, and what is out of fashion? Or who is the latest up and coming celebrity? Or which person is most popular? (that one is easy, that is the person who gets most friendly smiles) Or most important? (easy too, that’s the person who gets looked at the most). These things bypass our minds, and go straight to our brains. We don’t know them explicitly, we know them by a different process of ‘commonsense’.

So where has all this new information come from? How come no-one has talked about the interbrain before now?

The answer is partly technological. We did not have the model of the interbrain until recently, and we did not the functional neuroimaging methods to show that brains influence each other until recently, either. But another answer is implied in the wording of the sub-title of my book: “nonverbal communication, Asperger syndrome, and the interbrain”. That answer is the explosion of interest in Asperger syndrome, and the recognition that impaired nonverbal communication is a common feature in all of the autistic spectrum disorders. I argue in my book that people with Asperger syndrome have a ‘low bandwidth interbrain connection’. Their brains, like all our minds, are much more stand alone than the rest of us ‘neurotypicals’. That is a cause of great difficulty, but can also be a source of strength, particularly in explaining why many people with Asperger syndrome are able to be so original and why many of them seem so intuitively knowledgeable about machines: unlike the rest of us, they don’t think try to treat them as if they were people (although some people with Asperger syndrome may make the opposite mistake, and treat people like machines).

The title of my book is “Can the world afford autistic spectrum disorder?” I do not mean can we pay for autistic spectrum disorder, even though it can cause a lot of disorder including expensive psychiatric problems, but can we make a place for people with Asperger syndrome. One way to do that is for the neurotypicals amongst us all to become more aware of our reliance on the interbrain, and that reliance is both a strength and a weakness. After all, telepathy may be great when you’re with someone you love, but what about encountering a telepathic sales person; someone who could use their knowledge of your thoughts to persuade you to spend more than you have? In later blogs, I intend to discuss how we defend ourselves against hazards like the salesman who reads us too well and what, if anything, we can do if we are just the opposite, and we feel that other people are like a closed book.

Article Courtesy of

Posted by: MadSciLabz | September 10, 2009

Do You Believe In Angels?

A university lecturer has criticised parents for being dismissive when their seven-year-old daughter told them that she saw an angel at her bedside every night, which she felt comforted by.

Quite right, too. Perhaps she had seen an angel. Children, if they are truthful and well, should be taken seriously. They know the difference between pretend and real. Parents collude with children in treating Teddy as a person, but, though Teddy falling out of the car may be heartbreaking, the child well knows it is not the same as your sister falling out.

Angels are not cuddly toys, and it is not just children who believe in them. They have become an adult craze. Gone are the merely jokey fancies, such as the angel Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) or John Travolta, heaven help us, as an angel in Michael (1996). Unjokey books like Angels in My Hair by Lorna Byrne or Angels Watching Over Me by Jacky Newcomb sell millions.

Miss Jacky Newcomb, at the paranormal end of the angel spectrum, enjoys endorsements from Uri Geller. Miss Lorna Byrne, whose memoir Angels in My Hair was bought for a six-figure sum by the publishers of The Da Vinci Code, is more devotional. “Remember strangers give you messages from your Angels too.” she says. “It could be a shop assistant, a bus driver, a neighbour’s child.”

Guardian angels remain most popular, with 38 per cent of us believing in them, if we credit a single opinion poll. But it doesn’t take a vision of a winged messenger with a flaming sword to convince people, once the possibility of angelic intervention is entertained. Gloria Hunniford has found angels very helpful in finding parking places.

If you ask me, there’s something in all this. One day, after lunch, the late Jennifer Paterson, formerly one of the Two Fat Ladies, accidentally locked me out of my house in Shepherd’s Bush by closing the front door behind us in the front garden. What impressed me was her instant success in attracting the attention of a passing youth and persuading him to shin over the back wall and break into the house.

I assumed he was part of the skilled Shepherd’s Bush burgling community. Later I wondered: perhaps it was an angel.

It is the clergy who are behind the curve on angelic belief. The Bible says that the angel Gabriel, for example, brought word to the Virgin Mary. But the wobbly Sixties generation of priests tended to explain away such references as a metaphor for more earthly kinds of messenger.

Gabriel is also credited by Muslims with delivering the word of God to Mohammed in the Koran. It would be a brave know-all who publicly pooh-poohed that belief.

Theologically, angels are perfectly respectable. God is an uncreated spirit; human beings are bodily creatures with a spiritual component; angels are spiritual creatures with no bodily component. They have intellect and will and are much cleverer than we are. Satan is an angel gone to the bad.

Traditional Jewish, as well as Christian, speculation holds that there are millions more angels than there are human beings. So encountering one at your bedside would be only too likely.

Article Courtesy of

Posted by: MadSciLabz | September 10, 2009

Robot To Be Controlled By Human Brain Cells

A robot controlled by human brain cells could soon be trundling around a British lab, New Scientist has learned. Kevin Warwick and Ben Whalley at the University of Reading, UK, have already used rat brain cells to control a simple wheeled robot. Some 300,000 rat neurons grown in a nutrient broth and producing spikes of electrical activity were connected to the output of the robot’s distance sensors. The neurons proved capable of steering the robot around a small enclosure.

Disease Insights

The team say that observing how their neuron culture responds to stimulation could improve our understanding of neurological conditions such as epilepsy. For instance, the way large numbers of neurons sometimes spike in unison – a phenomenon known as “bursting” – may be similar to what happens during an epileptic seizure. If that behaviour can be altered by changing the culture chemically, electrically or physically, it might hint at potential therapies.

To make the system a better model of human disease, a culture of human neurons will be connected to the robot once the current work with rat cells is completed. This will be the first instance of human cells being used to control a robot.

One aim is to investigate any differences in the behaviour of robots controlled by rat and human neurons. “We’ll be trying to find out if the learning aspects and memory appear to be similar,” says Warwick.

Warwick and colleagues can proceed as soon as they are ready, as they won’t need specific ethical approval to use a human neuron cell line. That’s because the cultures are available to buy and “the ethical side of sourcing is done by the company from whom they are purchased”, Whalley says.

Article Courtesy of NewScientist.Com

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NewScientist.Com: Rise Of The Rat-Brained Robots

Who knows whether they’ll pan out, but they’re in the works.

Of all the predictions made during the future-happy 1950s — when it was declared we’d soon have flying cars, robot butlers, rocket-delivered mail and food made from wood pulp — there was one forward-looking statement that was completely validated.

It was delivered by Criswell, a self-described soothsayer and TV personality, who said, “We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.”

Otherwise, predicting the future, certainly in the realm of technology, is a risky endeavor.

Still, billions of dollars are spent every year in trying to do just that: predict which products will spark new businesses or even whole new industries.

Here’s a look at proposed technological wonders that are under development in the fields of energy, transportation, television and medicine. Some are far enough along to be aimed at the near term, others are more in the pipe-dream category, but all are serious enough to be funded by corporate, government or academic dollars.

Keep in mind, however, that the most important new technologies for the coming decades might not even have been thought of yet. After all, 1950s futurists didn’t foresee the biggest game changer of our era — the Internet. It’s where so many of us are spending much of our lives.


* Smart meters: Global warming and volatile energy prices have spurred development of digital meters that provide real-time reports of energy usage. They’re already in use in some parts of the country.

This year, Southern California Edison Co. will begin installing 5.3 million of them for all its residential and small-business customers. The cost: $1.63 billion, to be offset by a 1.5% rate increase until implementation is complete in 2012.

Once they’re in place, consumers will be able to monitor their electricity use via the Internet.

Next up: remote-controlled thermostats and appliances. That can happen as soon as manufacturers agree to a single standard for the control chips, according to Paul Moreno of Pacific Gas & Electric Co., which is installing 9.8 million smart meters in Northern California.

* Wireless electricity: Electricity that travels through the air to power lights, computers and other devices sounds like one of those 1950s-style fantasies. But WiTricity Corp., a company spun off from research at MIT, says it’s time to cut the cord. Wireless electricity products using its technology will be available by 2011.

Funded by $5 million from Stata Venture Partners and Argonaut Private Equity, the company has developed a system based on a technology already used in transformers (such as the block-shaped thing on your cellphone charger).

In transformers, power jumps across a tiny gap between two coils. The scientists increased that distance between coils to as much as 7 feet by having them both resonate at the same frequency.

The energy that travels between them is in the form of a magnetic resonance that’s harmless to living beings, WiTricity Chief Executive Eric Giler said.

“To the magnetic field,” Giler said, “you look like air.”

One of the main obstacles will be skepticism about safety. When a post about WiTricity appeared on the technology blog, a reader who wears a pacemaker said she’d never get close to one, and a man writing from Japan wondered whether the system might “nuke someone by mistake.”


* Ground: Cars are getting smarter. We drivers remain, well, about as smart as we ever were.

Researchers are pushing to provide drivers with better, faster information to avoid crashes and speed traffic flow.

One major effort is dubbed IntelliDrive. Funded by the federal government and major automobile manufacturers, and overseen by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the program will begin tests of a traffic warning system in San Francisco next month.

Participating drivers will receive signals on their cellphones alerting them to bottlenecks approximately 60 seconds ahead. The phone will say, “Slow traffic ahead” through its speaker phone or headset, and a message will appear on its screen.

“We call it situational awareness,” said Jim Misener, executive director of California Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways. “It’s not for braking hard but for warning you in advance.”

The operators of the program will use traffic information from several existing sources, including Caltrans, and crunch it to provide the real-time warnings. Only cellphones using Windows-based operating systems will be able to download the software to take part in the test — which leaves out iPhones and BlackBerrys, among others.

A video showing how it works is at The ultimate goal is a dashboard warning system, fed by sensors in cars and along highways, to alert drivers of potential hazards all around them, including blind spots.

Far more radical programs take at least some control of cars away from drivers. The proposed RUF system based in Denmark is called a dual-mode program because a vehicle incorporating its design can be driven like a regular car or joined to a mass transit system reminiscent of kids’ slot-car toys.

In that system, elevated monorail-style tracks would be built alongside major freeways, but instead of carrying trains, they’d ferry cars. Motorists would drive onto the tracks that fit into slots cut into the bottoms of their cars. That’s when the automated system takes over, whisking the vehicles in single file as if they were on a fast-moving conveyor belt.

The RUF system’s name comes from a Danish expression denoting fast movement. But in an investment brochure aimed at English speakers, inventor Palle Jensen said it could also stand for Rapid Urban Flexible.

No matter what the name, RUF would be a difficult sell to a city government. A study on building the system infrastructure in Los Angeles estimated the cost would be $10 billion. The proposed system can be viewed at

* Commercial aviation: NASA allocated $12.4 million in research grants last year to Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp. and others to develop so-called N+3 concepts — proposed aircraft designs for three generations, aeronautically speaking, in the future. That would put them into operation in the 2030-35 period.

Instead of focusing on building bigger, faster commercial jets, most of these efforts are aimed at designing aircraft that will be quieter, less polluting and more fuel efficient.

One NASA-funded project, which is experimenting with natural gas as fuel, is designing an aircraft that will fly at speeds approximately 10% slower than current norms.

Other projects are looking at biofuels. Earlier this year, Continental Airlines Inc. powered a test flight in part with a blend of fuel derived from algae and the jatropha weed.

* Space elevator: What if you could get to the final frontier by simply pressing an “Up” button?

It’s in the gee-whiz category of future tech, but two university research groups have done work that could lead to elevators stretching from Earth to the edge of space.

At the University of Cambridge, scientists are developing carbon-based fibers far stronger than anything on the market. A practical use would be for lightweight bulletproof vests.

But some dreamers say it’s so strong, it could be used to make the ultimate elevator.

Meanwhile, a group at York University in Toronto says a better way to go is an inflatable tower, 9 miles high, made of already available materials filled with helium and other gases. The York team built a 2,000:1 scale model in a stairwell.

So why an elevator?

Because launching a vehicle from terra firma, as we now do it, is tremendously expensive and requires massive amounts of energy. An elevator would eliminate that step by delivering humans and materials to the edge of space, where the pull of gravity is far weaker. Waiting spaceships could then take over for the second leg of the journey.

Let’s just hope the arrival and departure announcement system at this transport station in the sky would be better than at most bus stations. A years-long flight to Neptune would be no fun if you meant to instead take the red-eye to Mars.


* 3-D TV: Plenty of experiments have been staged in presenting television programming in 3-D, but they’ve been novelties.

Manufacturers hope that high-definition imagery and electronic shutter glasses will make 3-D palatable enough to make it a regular part of viewing. Indeed, in Britain, the satellite-delivered Sky TV service said it would launch an all-3-D channel next year.

But is the average person ready to don dorky glasses to watch TV (without them, the 3-D picture is just a blur)? Especially when said glasses, even if digital, can bring on feelings akin to seasickness?

That’s what happened when Panasonic Corp. showed off its new 3-D system at the Consumer Electronics Show this year. Hopefully the nausea problem will be solved before the product makes it into homes.

* Laser plasma: Using a powerful, pulsed laser, Burton Inc. in Japan has made a projector that produces 3-D images that hang in the air. So far, it can show only points of light that can be combined to spell out letters or make a geometric pattern, and glasses are needed to view them.

But Burton Chief Executive Hidei Kimura said the company hopes to soon demonstrate “real 3-D images inside of the closed space covered by [a] glass dome.”

* Touchable holograms: This is real “Star Trek” territory.

At the Siggraph trade show in New Orleans in August, a University of Tokyo research group demonstrated holographic images that could be touched. Sort of.

The images were made, as with all holograms, of light. But as you reached in to touch them, an electronic tracking system (adapted from a Wii game controller) and ultrasound generator worked together to provide a tactile sensation where the object appeared.

A demonstration is at

One of the most clever demonstrations involved holograms of raindrops that participants could feel dropping on their hands.

It has been often noted that the porn industry drives a lot of the innovation in high-tech entertainment. No more need be said about what one day it could do with this.


* Robot instruments: At the University of Nebraska, doctors Dmitry Oleynikov and Shane Farritor developed a set of surgery instruments so small, they can be inserted into the body and then remote-controlled from outside.

Oleynikov is used to the comparisons to the sci-fi movie “Fantastic Voyage,” in which a team of doctors gets miniaturized to go inside a patient.

“Except with us,” Oleynikov said, “the surgeon does not get shrunk.”

One use, he said, would be to send an instrument through a patient’s mouth and down the esophagus to make a small hole in the stomach. From there it could remove the gallbladder or appendix. Light could be provided by a second mini-robot.

The idea is to make surgery far less invasive.

The researchers have raised $1 million so far. They’re looking to raise about $10 million more to fund greater miniaturization and refinements to get the instruments ready for human trials.

* Nanosurgery: If this works, it could revolutionize the practice of medicine.

The idea is to be able to practice surgery so precisely that a cell or even molecule could be repaired or manipulated.

It’s not a new idea. In 1959, Nobel-winning physicist Richard Feynman suggested that tools be used to make smaller tools, and then those tools used to make yet smaller tools and so forth.

Eventually, tools would be created so small, they could target individual diseased cells while leaving healthy cells alone.

Dreamers of the future have imagined that this could lead to triumphing over a foe as horrific as cancer.

And that would be a whole lot better than any flying car.

Article Courtesy of David Colker of The Los Angeles Times

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