Laser security system to beat hackers

Jerusalem: Israeli scientists have invented a laser security system which they claim can beat today’s hackers and the hackers of the future with existing fibre optic and computer technology.

The researchers at Tel Aviv University’s School of Electrical Engineering have found that by transmitting binary lock-and-key information in the form of light pulses, the device ensures that a shared key code can be unlocked by the sender and receiver and absolutely nobody else.
According to lead author Dr Jacob Scheuer, if it’s done right, the system could be absolutely secure. Even with a quantum computer of the future, a hacker couldn’t decipher the key.

“When the RSA system for digital information security was introduced in the 1970s, the researchers who invented it predicted that their 200-bit key would take a billion years to crack,” Scheuer said.

“It was cracked five years ago. As computers become increasingly powerful, the idea of using the RSA system becomes more fragile thus the solution lies in a new kind of system to keep prying eyes off secure information,” he said.

He added, “Rather than developing the lock or the key, we’ve developed a system which acts as a type of key bearer”.

But how can a secure key be delivered over a non-secure network — a necessary step to get a message from one user to another? If a hacker sees how a key is being sent through the system, then he could be in a position to take the key, Science Blog reported.

 So Dr Sheuer found a way to transmit a binary code (the key bearer) in the form of 1s and 0s, but using light and lasers instead of numbers.

“The trick is for those at either end of the fibre optic link to send different laser signals they can distinguish between, but which look identical to an eavesdropper,” the author said.

Dr Scheuer developed his system using a special laser he invented, which can reach over 3,000 miles without any serious parts of the signal being lost.

This approach makes it simpler and more reliable than quantum cryptography, a new technology that relies on the quantum properties of photons, the researcher said.

With the right investment to test the theory, Dr Scheuer says it is plausible and highly likely that the system he has built is not limited to any range on earth, even a round-the-world link, for international communications.

“We’ve already published the theoretical idea and now have developed a preliminary demonstration in my lab. Once both parties have the key they need, they could send information without any chance of detection,” he said.


Astronaut posts stunning videos from space

In this photo provided by NASA, Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, left, Expedition 22 flight engineer and NASA astronaut George Zamka, STS-130 commander, are pictured with two Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuits in the Quest airlock of the International Space Station while space shuttle Endeavour remains docked with the station, early February.


Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, who has already made his name as a prolific Twitterer, has gone one step better this time by posting spectacular videos of the earth and the moon on his own YouTube channel.

He posted on Monday a two-minute footage of the earth filmed from the window of the new observation deck on the orbiter on the International Space Station, the Daily Mail reported.

“Welcome to the journey over Madagascar! Enjoy the out-of-the-world view,” Noguchi wrote as the caption for his video that clearly shows the world’s fourth largest island under patchy cloud, as the space station zooms at 17,500 MPH over head.

The 44-year-old astronaut, who has 1,25,000 followers on Twitter and regularly sends live pictures from the ISS, had sent last week a one minute clip showing the moon slowly setting into the horizon.

Noguchi has been orbiting 200 miles above earth since December 2009 and is due to come back this June. His last ISS mission was in 2005.

He was taking advantage of the Italian-made cupola installed on the new Tranquility module last month. The 17-million pound observation deck has one central window and six outer windows, which give panoramic views. It is used by crew members to operate the robotic arms on the station as well as monitor the approach of supply ships, the report said.

Noguchi is the only astronaut on video sharing website YouTube and is by far the most active of the ISS crew on Twitter, posting in both English and Japanese.

On Monday, he said the crew have a rest day “except for a few medical ops and our favourite exercise time”.

The micro-blogging service seems particularly suited to the busy astronauts, who can use it to describe their daily routines in just 140 characters.

The first live Twitter post was sent by astronaut Timothy Creamer on January 25, after the space station finally went online this year. Before this, astronauts were sending Twitter updates to Houston Mission Control which would then post on their behalf.

Device to treat mentally challenged developed

The Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research has developed the country’s “first” Superconducting Quantum Interference Device (SQUID) that can help treat mentally challenged people and heart ailments, a IGCAR top official said on Sunday.

SQUID’s sensitivity is so high that it is possible to detect even the tiny magnetic field associated with physiological activities of the human heart and brain, said IGCAR Director Baldev Raj.

“This device, which was indigenously made couple of days back at our unit, would be useful to cure mentally challenged people,” he said.

The device would help identify defective nerves and also help treat heart ailments. SQUID-based measurement of bio-magnetic fields is expected to complement conventional diagnostic tools like ECG (to probe human heart) and EEG (electroencephalography- to probe human brain) which measure the electric potential on skin surface, Raj said.

The SQUID-based measurements – magnetocardiography-MCG and magnetoencephalography-MEG – offer a number of advantages such as magnetic measurement techniques which are non-contact, much less sensitive to the conductivity variation of intervening tissues and offer superior source localisation accuracies, he said.

Earth under attack from an invisible star?


In this image released by the European Southern Observatory, a very low-mass brown dwarf, lower left, orbits AB Pictoris, a young star located about 150 light years from Earth. The giant planet is approximately five times the mass of Jupiter

In what sounds like a chilling script of a Hollywood science fiction, scientists have claimed that an invisible star, five times the size of Jupiter, might be lurking near our solar system, occasionally kicking deadly comets towards the Earth.

According to NASA scientists, the brown dwarf star is up to five times the size of Jupiter and could be responsible for mass extinctions that occur on Earth every 26 million years.

They believe, the star nicknamed Nemesis or “The Death Star” could be hidden beyond the edge of our solar system and only emits infrared light.

It is believed to orbit our solar system at 25,000 times the distance of the earth to the sun, ‘The Sun’ quoted the scientists as saying.

According to them, as the star spins through the galaxy, its gravitational pull drags icy bodies out of the Oort Cloud – a vast sphere of rock and dust twice as far away as Nemesis.

“These ‘snowballs’ are thrown towards Earth as comets, causing devastation similar to the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago,” the report said.

Professor John Matese, of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said most comets come from the same part of the Oort Cloud.

“There is statistically significant evidence that this concentration of comets could be caused by a companion to the Sun.”

Now, NASA scientists believe they will be able to find Nemesis using a new heat-seeking telescope that began scanning the skies in January.

The Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer – expected to find a thousand brown dwarf stars within 25 light years of the Sun – has already sent back a photo of a comet possibly dislodged from the Oort Cloud.

Scientists’ first clue to the existence of Nemesis was the bizarre orbit of a dwarf planet called Sedna.

Scientists believe its unusual, 12,000-year-long oval orbit could be explained by a massive celestial body.

Mike Brown, who discovered Sedna in 2003, said: “Sedna is a very odd object – it shouldn’t be there. The only way to get on an eccentric orbit is to have some giant body kick you – so what is out there?”

IBM makes Earth-friendly plastic

IBM researchers on Tuesday said they have discovered a way to make Earth-friendly plastic from plants that could replace petroleum-based products tough on the environment.

The breakthrough promises biodegradable plastics made in a way that saves on energy, according to Chandrasekhar “Spike” Narayan, a manager of science and technology at IBM’s Almaden Research Center in Northern California.

Almaden and Stanford University researchers said the discovery could herald an era of sustainability for a plastics industry rife with seemingly eternal products notorious for cramming landfills and littering the planet.

“This discovery and new approach using organic catalysts could lead to well-defined, biodegradable molecules made from renewable resources in an environmentally responsible way,” IBM said in a release.

The “green chemistry” breakthrough using “organic catalysts” results in plastics that could be repeatedly recycled, instead of only once as is the case with petroleum-based plastic made using metal oxide catalysts.

Plant plastics could also be made “biocompatible” to improve the targeting of drugs in bodies, such as cancer medicines aimed at killing cancer cells but sparing healthy ones, according to IBM.

“We’re exploring new methods of applying technology and our expertise in materials science to creating a sustainable, environmentally sound future,” said Almaden lab research director Josephine Cheng.

IBM is working with scientists at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia to put the discovery to work in the recycling of plastics used in food and beverage containers.

“We are really starting to scratch the surface of what we can do with it,” Narayan said of the process that has been demonstrated in the lab.

Plant plastics for things such as car parts could be made at lower costs than petroleum-based plastics while materials of soda bottle quality are “competitive,” according to Narayan.

Details of the work are in a paper published this week in the American Chemical Society journal Macromolecules.

Robots to rescue injured soldiers in the future


An U.S. Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit member demonstrates a remote controlled robot in southern Afghanistan on February 23, 2010

The US military is urging engineers to come up with designs for a robot that can rescue injured soldiers from the battlefield, with minimal or no help from outside.

A posting on the Pentagon’s small business technology transfer website says that retrieving casualties while under fire is a major cause of combat losses, reports New Scientist.

So, the army is asking inventors to design a robot with strong, dexterous arms and grippers that can deal with “the large number of body positions and types of locations in which casualties can be found”.

They said that the robot should be able to plan an approach and escape route without prior knowledge of the local terrain and geography. The robot should also be able to cooperate with swarms of similar machines for mass rescues, says the army

Indian-American invents home power plant

BREAKTHROUGH: K.R. Sridhar, co-founder and CEO of Silicon Valley startup Bloom Energy, holds up a stack of fuel cells.

 In a breakthrough, an Indian-American rocket scientist has invented a mini electricity device, which could replace expensive power houses and transmission lines.

Christened the ‘Bloom Box,’ it would be unveiled by K.R. Sridhar in the Silicon Valley, a preview of which was given at the CBS’s popular show ‘60 Minutes’ last weekend.

“It is just like a laptop of the power sector,” the CBS reported.

Mr. Sridhar formed a company, Bloom Energy, which raised some $400 million from venture capitalists of the Silicon Valley at a time when it is tough to get money due to economic recession.

Among its board of directors is the former U.S. Secretary of State Collin Powell, who joined it last year.

Mr. Sridhar, who was a rocket scientist and served as adviser to NASA, says that in 10 years or so the ‘Bloom Box’ for residential areas would be available at $3,000 (less than Rs.1.5 lakh) to produce electricity in a small home round the clock.

Having earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Madras, earlier he was a Professor of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering as well as Director of the Space Technologies Laboratory (STL) at the University of Arizona.

Nanotechnology may help turn fabrics, paper into lightweight batteries

A Visitor at a Nanotechnology Exhibition in Bangalore.

 An engineer has found a way to cheaply and efficiently manufacture lightweight paper batteries and super-capacitors, as well as stretchable, conductive textiles known as “eTextiles” – capable of storing energy while retaining the mechanical properties of ordinary paper or fabric.

Like batteries, super-capacitors store energy, but by electrostatic rather than chemical means.

Stanford engineer Yi Cui made the development by dipping ordinary paper or fabric in a special ink infused with nanoparticles.

Cui’s team has even envisioned numerous functional uses for their inventions. Homes of the future could one day be lined with energy-storing wallpaper. Gadget lovers would be able to charge their portable appliances on the go, simply plugging them into an outlet woven into their T-shirts. Energy textiles might also be used to create moving-display apparel, reactive high-performance sportswear and wearable power for a soldier’s battle gear.

The key ingredients in developing these high-tech products are not visible to the human eye. Nanostructures, which can be assembled in patterns that allow them to transport electricity, may provide the solutions to a number of problems encountered with electrical storage devices currently available on the market.

The type of nanoparticle used in the Cui group’s experimental devices varies according to the intended function of the product – lithium cobalt oxide is a common compound used for batteries, while single-walled carbon nanotubes, or SWNTs, are used for super-capacitors.

Cui, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford, leads a research group that investigates new applications of nanoscale materials. The objective, said Cui, is not only to supply answers to theoretical inquiries but also to pursue projects with practical value. Recently, his team has focused on ways to integrate nanotechnology into the realm of energy development.

“Energy storage is a pretty old research field,” said Cui. “Super-capacitors, batteries – those things are old. How do you really make a revolutionary impact in this field? It requires quite a dramatic difference of thinking.” Cui added.

New sub-machinegun can pierce bullet-proof jackets

India’s Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) says it has developed a modern sub-machinegun (SMG) that will be extremely useful in anti-terror operations as its ammunition is capable of piercing bullet-proof jackets.

“The SMG is 100 per cent indigenous and specially designed to fight against militants in close combat. Its ammunition can pierce through bullet-proof jackets,” said a DRDO official at the DefExpo 2010 land and naval systems exhibition here.

“The weapon incorporates a laser sight and has an effective range of 200 metres,” the official added.

“It is very light in weight and can be used as a single and multiple shot weapon,” the official said, adding that in rapid mode, it can fire 700 rounds per minute.

The SMG, which is currently undergoing field trials that are expected to be completed between April and June, is the third element of the 5.56 mm INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) family that DRDO has developed. The other two are an assault rifle and a carbine variant.

The DRDO SMG’s closest competitor is the Israeli Tavour assault rifle that is already in use with the Indian Army’s Special Forces.

GE launches mini scanner for doctors


GE Healthcare, the $17-billion healthcare division of General Electric Company, today launched an iPod-like device that can be handy for doctors who want to see what’s wrong inside a patient’s body

Terming it as a revolutionary pocket-sized visualisation tool, ‘Vscan’, GE said the product, roughly the size of a smart phone, houses powerful, ultra-smart, ultrasound technology, that provides clinicians with an immediate, non-invasive method to help secure visual information about what is happening inside the body.

Vscan costs between Rs 5.5 lakh to Rs 6 lakh per unit, is portable, battery-operated and can easily be taken from room to room to be used in many clinical, hospital or primary care settings, the company said. This was launched here as part of a global one. “Vscan is designed to be complementary to the stethoscope – to help physicians go beyond what they can hear to what they can see. We believe Vscan can reduce the need for more tests and referrals during physical examinations and could make healthcare more accessible to people in India,” said V Raja, President and CEO, GE Healthcare South Asia.

Vscan is capable of scanning up to 30 patients with its one-hour battery power backup. Physicians can store patient images with its 4GB memory card, expandable up to 32 GB. The high image quality, combined with simple user interface that can be controlled using the thumb, helps facilitate disease detection. Physicians can zoom images in and out, pan left and right for analysis. Clinician can store images and add voice annotations. A docking station, plus cable link, helps the transfer of data to a personal computer for organising or sharing with experts through e-mail or internet, a GE statement said.

Soon, an intelligence satellite

An intelligence satellite equipped with sensors to pick up conversations and detect espionage activities is being developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), according to a top defence scientist.

The satellite, fitted with electronic sensors, will be more powerful than ISRO’s remote sensing satellites, a Defence Electronics and Research Laboratory (DLRL) official told presspersons on Tuesday. The official added that the Rs. 100-crore satellite will be launched in a lower earth orbit by a polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV), most likely in 2014.

DLRL will also install “electronic warfare sensors” for surveillance on the Indian borders in mountains and desert areas, the scientist said at a press meet to announce the first international conference on electronic warfare (EWCI 2010). “The electronic warfare (EW) sensor will be located on the mountain range facing Pakistan, China, Nepal and the northeast, to detect troop or vehicular movement across the borders,” he said. The electronic warfare system will be developed jointly by the Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE) and DLRL, while Bharat Electronics Ltd. (BEL) will manufacture the radars. BEL Director (R & D) I.V. Sarma said that in the next decade, the business potential for BEL is expected to grow to Rs. 22,500 crore for the manufacturing of electronic warfare systems for the Indian armed forces.

Two-day event

The two-day EWCI 2010 that begins on Wednesday is the first conference of its kind. It aims to provide a forum to discuss technical aspects of electronic warfare. The conference is organised by DARE and DLRL (under the aegis of DRDO), in association with BEL. The conference will address current and future needs of the operational users, planners, developers, procurers, testers and trainers of the latest electronic warfare technologies and systems.

Chandrayaan’s M3 discovers new lunar rock type


The Moon Minerology Mapper (M3) on Chandrayaan-1, which famously discovered the presence of water and hydroxyl molecules on the lunar surface material last year, has now identified a new lunar rock type on the far side of the moon. The M3 is a NASA instrument. This was reported here on Monday by Carle Pieters of Brown University, lead author of the present study, at the Sixth Chandrayaan-1 Science Meeting being held at the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), a unit of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

The rock-type is dominated by a mineral termed as ‘magnesium spinel.’ Spinel is a generic name given to a class of minerals having the chemical formula AB{-2}O{-4} and the usual spinel formations found in lunar rocks is an iron-magnesium admixture of the form (Mg, Fe)(Al, Cr){-2}O{-4}. These rocks are usually found along with magnesium-iron silicate (olivine) and calcium-rich aluminium silicate (pyroxene).

Unique feature

According to Professor Pieters, the interesting feature of the new rock type is that it is exclusively composed of magnesium-rich spinel “with no detectable pyroxene or olivine present.” This, she said, does not easily fit with current lunar crustal evolution models.

Rich in anorthosites

The generally accepted characterisation of the lunar crust is based principally on retrieved lunar material by the Apollo-Luna missions and meteorite samples. The crust is described as a rocky accumulation, basically rich in calcium-aluminium silicates (anorthosites) infused with a mix of compounds containing magnesium and iron (‘mafic’ minerals).

However, the western ring of the Moscoviense Basin of the moon appears to be one of the several discrete areas that exhibit unusual compositions relative to their surroundings, but without morphological evidence for separate geological processes leading to their exposure.

The findings are based on data acquired by M3 in January 2009 during the first observation period of Chandrayaan-1 from its initial 100 km altitude orbit over a 40 km wide strip field of view, with a spatial resolution of 140 m/pixel. The mapping was done using the emission spectrum of the surface over the wavelength region 460-3000 nanometres with a spectral resolution of 20-40 nm.

Five anomalous areas

The general composition of the area observed had a low abundance of mafic minerals and a high abundance of feldspathic minerals such as pyroxene. While this was consistent with earlier observations, five anomalous areas that are widely separated were seen along the lower elevations of the ring (see pic.). Interestingly, no unusual feature or any compositional boundary was seen for any of these areas.

Calcium-rich pyroxene is prominent in areas 2 and some parts of 3 and 4. Olivine is prominent across 5 and parts of 4. In contrast, the whole of region 1 and part of region 3 were exceptionally dark in the images. This, according to Professor Pieters, is because of the high absorption that the areas seem to have in the 2000 nm region, together with the near complete absence of pyroxene or olivine (less than 5 per cent) as indicated by the lack of any absorption around 1000 nm.

While regions rich in olivine or pyroxenes have been seen in other basins, this is the first time a magnesium-rich spinel region has been identified. “The clear interpretation of these spectra is that the surfaces represent a new rock type dominated by magnesium-rich spinel with no other detectable mafic minerals,” Professor Pieters said.

No easy explanation

There does not seem to be any easy explanation for the occurrence of these spinel formations. Since magnesium-spinels have been seen in some asteroids, one possible explanation is that the source is exogenous asteroid or comet impacts. However, there is no evidence of any impact or dispersion of rubble pile and the like from the impact’s aftermath.

An interesting feature of the Moscoviense Basin is that the crust in the region is much thinner, compared to other basins. This is indicative of a magma upturning over much recent time scales as compared to other regions. Also this offers one possible explanation for the occurrence of magnesium-rich minerals because these are very dense and would have been deposited right at the bottom during the cooling and crystallization of the crust. The recent upturning may have brought it up from the lunar deep crust during the basin formation, Professor Pieters pointed out.

Lunar crust origin

But that still does not explain the localised nature of the anomalous regions that extend only about a few kilometres across, she said. “Creating foreign deposits without a trace of their origin is hard to do. We, therefore, favour a lunar crust origin,” she said. “But even that interpretation is not entirely satisfactory. We need to fully characterise the morphology of the anomalous regions with high resolution data from TMC [ISRO’s Terrain Mapping Camera] images,” she added.

Airport 3D scanner not to show body parts

With full body searches becoming the norm at airports amid terror threats, a Canadian engineer has invented a three-dimensional scanner that doesn’t violate passengers’ privacy.

The new 3D scanner developed by Montreal-based William Awad highlights metal or organic material on a human body without showing the body outline under clothing, according to reports.

But the current scanners at airports produce a three-dimensional outline of the human body, raising a hue and cry over privacy violations.

The new machine will address these privacy fears in the wake of the newly introduced physical searches and pat-downs at North American and European airports after the aborted bombing of a US airliner at Detroit on Christmas day by a Nigerian man linked to al-Qaeda.

The new 3D scanner is so much better than the current machines that it reveals the blind spots inside suitcases which are often missed by the traditional scanners.

During trials, the new machine quickly detected fake explosives and knives hidden inside a suitcase while the traditional scanner failed to notice these hidden objects.

Since American and Canadian airports are in the process of installing full-body scanners, the Canadian inventor is seeking certification from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the US to sell his machine.

Canada has also ordered installation of 44 scanners at all its important airports.

Security experts say the current screening technology at airports has become obsolete as terrorists become more sophisticated, and there is need to upgrade it. The Canadian inventor expects to fill this gap.

India develops e-intel for surveillance

India has developed a new generation Satellite-fitted electronic intelligence system for surveillance applications to keep an eye on hostile neighbours, key defence officials said on Tuesday.

The system has been developed by Hyderabad-based Defence Electronics and Research Laboratory (DLRL) under the Defence Research and Development Organisation, sources said. A DRDO source termed a satellite fitted with this system as a “spy satellite”.

The electronic intelligence system on board a satellite takes images of “resources” of hostile countries as it passes over them from the space, they said.

According to sources, select countries such as the US, France and China are already using such type of system.

India also has now designed, integrated and tested such a system.

DRDO is already in discussion with Bangalore- headquartered Indian Space Research Organisation in this regard, and the payload to be flown in one of the low earth observation satellites is expected to be ready by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Director of Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE) U K Revankar said the DRDO lab has developed new electronic warfare system for Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas and it would be tested shortly.

Saturn’s moon ‘may contain life’

A file photo of Encealadu, a moon of Saturn. This photo was taken by the Cassini spacecraft, provided by NASA.

Scientists at NASA have claimed that Saturn’s moon of Enceladus “may contain life”, after they discovered new evidence suggesting presence of “liquid water” beneath its surface.

According to the scientists, the Cassini spacecraft flew through icy plumes created by ice volcanoes on Saturn’s moon and detected negatively charged water molecules, in a clear sign an underground sea exists.

On Earth, this short-lived type of ion is produced where water is moving, such as in waterfalls or ocean waves.

If there is liquid water on Enceladus, the scientists believe that the Saturn’s sixth-largest moon could have the conditions necessary to sustain life, British newspaper ‘The Daily Telegraph’ reported.

In fact, high—resolution images already taken by the Cassini spacecraft — a project of Nasa, the European Space Agency and Italian Space Agency — have shown the icy surface of Enceladus has a spreading Earth-like crust that has changed over time.

And, on Earth the spreading of the sea floor is driven by molten rock and the NASA scientists speculated the liquid beneath the south pole of Enceladus may be water.

Cassini scientist Andrew Coates said that the evidence gathered by the spacecraft pointed to other constituents for life liked carbon, plus a source of heat to keep water liquid.

“While it’s no surprise that there is water there, the short-lived ions are extra evidence for subsurface water.

And where there’s water, carbon and energy some of the major ingredients for life are present.

“The surprise for us was to look at the mass of these ions. There were several peaks in the spectrum, and when we analysed them we saw the effect of water molecules clustering together one after the other,” said Dr. Coates, from University College London’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory.

The findings have been published in the latest edition of the ‘Icarus’ journal.

Scientists create world’s first light-powered circuit

For the first time, scientists have created a circuit that can power itself, as long as it’s left in a beam of sunshine. The world’s first photovoltaic circuit could eventually power a new line of consumer devices or even model the human brain, reports Discovery News.

“This as the potential to create a new generation of optical and electronic devices,” said Dawn Bonnell, a Scientist from the University of Pennsylvania who co-authored a recent ACS Nano paper describing the research. “The touchscreen of your computer could act as both the electrical charger and the computer chip.”

Right now Bonnell and her colleagues can only coax minuscule amounts of electricity from their photovoltaic circuits, which is too little to power consumer electrical devices. Those amounts could quickly skyrocket. “We would have one amp with one volt in a sample the diameter of a human hair and an inch long,” said Bonnell. “If the efficiency scaled up without any additional limits.”

Yet another way to get more power is by turning their 2D structures into 3D structures. Stacking multiple layers of light-collecting and electricity-using circuits would also boost power.

The photovoltaic circuit developed by Bonnell and her colleagues is a scientific breakthrough, not a technological one. These new circuits will most likely never replace their silicon counterparts.

Photovoltaic circuits could be ideal for other applications, however, such as powering tiny robotic devices or running computer calculations at the speed of light. Far into the future, these circuits could even be used to set up as artificial neural networks that could model the brain.

“This could open the door for many kinds of new devices,” agrees Lukas Novotny, a Scientist at the Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester. Novotny notes that right now the circuit turns light into energy. He wonders if the circuit could turn energy into light, creating an entirely new class of lighting materials.

Scientists succeed in drawing out synthetic silk

Researchers have achieved yet another milestone in the global quest to produce synthetic silk. They have hand-drawn fine threads of honeybee silk from a ‘soup’ of silk proteins that they had produced transgenically

 Researchers have achieved yet another milestone in the global quest to produce synthetic silk.

They have hand-drawn fine threads of honeybee silk from a ‘soup’ of silk proteins that they had produced transgenically.

These threads were as strong as threads drawn from the honeybee silk gland, a significant step towards development of coiled silk biomaterials.

“It means that we can now seriously consider the uses to which these biomimetic materials can be put,” said Tara Sutherland from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), who led the research.

“We used recombinant cells of bacterium E. coli to produce the silk proteins which, under the right conditions, self-assembled into similar structures to those in honeybee silk.

“We already knew that honeybee silk fibres could be hand-drawn from the contents of the silk gland so used this knowledge to hand-draw fibres from a sufficiently concentrated and viscous mixture of the recombinant silk proteins.

“In fact, we had to draw them twice to produce a translucent stable fibre,” said Sutherland, according to a CSIRO release.

Potential uses for these silks would be tough, lightweight textiles, high—strength applications for use in aviation and marine environments, and medical applications such as sutures, artificial tendons and ligaments.

Soon, pilotless Black Hawk aircraft that sees and flies on its own

Helicopter-maker Sikorsky is set to build pilotless Black Hawk aircraft.

 After the unmanned drone, the aircraft is believed to be the next great aerial innovation for the US armed forces.

 The helicopters could be flown by two, one or even no pilots, thereby increasing the number of journeys it could undertake and reducing the risk to US personnel.

 According to Chris Van Buiten, director of Sikorsky Innovations, it could be used both “when the mission is really dull or really dangerous”.

 However, the greatest challenge faced by Sikorsky engineers is transferring technologies currently used in Predator drones to Black Hawks that are 20 times heavier, reports the Telegraph.

 Sikorsky intends to have a model of an unmanned Black Hawk ready this year and introduce it by 2015, at an estimated cost of 10.6 million pounds each.

 Van Buiten added that change would not only be technical, but also cultural.

 “Pilots are not going to give up that seat easily,” he added. (ANI)

India at No. 9 spot in S&T map: Prithviraj Chavan

India has now climbed to No. 9 spot in the world’s Science and Technology map this year with its output of S&T systems growing at a significant 12 per cent as against the global average of just four per cent.

“We have overtaken Spain this year to stand at No. 9, one rank up from last year,” Union Minister of State for Science and Technology Prithviraj Chavan has said. India was ranked 15th in S&T systems output in the year 2002.

Addressing a press conference during his visit to the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology here on Tuesday, the Union Minister outlined the various initiatives taken by the Government of India to make India a “global major science power.”

“Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is committed to science in a big way. So, he has announced that the decade from 2010 to 2020 will be the Decade of Innovation. We are looking at science to create wealth and employment for the country,” Chavan, who is also a Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, said.

He said the Centre was currently spending one per cent of Gross Domestic Product on research and development, and added “We are committed to grow this (spending) to two per cent of GDP in five to six years, both public and private sectors together.”

Next in military technology: Unmanned Black Hawk?

The Stratford-based helicopter maker and military contractor is launching a $1 billion venture featuring a pilot-less Black Hawk helicopter. Attendees walk past a model of the Sikorsky X2 technology demonstrator aircraft in Hartford

Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. announced a billion-dollar venture on Monday that it hopes will respond to military demand for technology to fight two wars, including Black Hawk helicopters that can see and fly on their own.

The Stratford-based helicopter maker and military contractor said Sikorsky Innovations is intended to speed the transformation of the mechanical helicopter into a computerized aircraft.

The Black Hawk is a military workhorse, used in conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Grenada and Panama. It’s also part of military packages sold to other nations and has been used in civilian missions such as rescuing snowbound mountain climbers.

The Black Hawk, used for air assault and medical evacuation, was featured in the book and movie “Black Hawk Down,” chronicling a battle in Somalia in 1993 when two helicopters were shot down, killing 18 soldiers.

Some of the deadliest crashes, involving five Black Hawk helicopters in Iraq, killed 51 soldiers between 2003 and 2007. The helicopter is heavily relied upon in Afghanistan, a mountainous nation with long stretches of desert and few decent roads.

“Imagine a vehicle that can double the productivity of the Black Hawk in Iraq and Afghanistan by flying with, at times, a single pilot instead of two, decreasing the workload, decreasing the risk, and at times when the mission is really dull and really dangerous, go it all the way to fully unmanned,” Chris Van Buiten, Director of Sikorsky Innovations, told an audience of 100 government, university and business representatives on Monday.

Unmanned war planes are not new but are drawing interest from commanders trying to reduce casualties while not relenting in combat.

“The new thing here is to apply technologies in small airplanes and rotorcraft to the 20,000-pound Black Hawk,” Van Buiten said in an interview. “It ups the stakes.”

Sikorsky intends to have a demonstrator model of an unmanned Black Hawk ready this year and introduce it by 2015. An unmanned version could add about $2 million to the current $15 million price tag, but would save money with fewer or no crew members, he said.

Change will not only be technical, but also cultural, Van Buiten said. “Pilots are not going to give up that seat easily,” he said in an interview.

Mark Miller, vice president of research and engineering at the subsidiary of United Technologies Corp., said officials want to harness Sikorsky’s rapid growth – revenue and profit have more than doubled over the past five years – with technological advances that are remaking helicopters.

Sikorsky will design and build an “optionally piloted helicopter” to resupply troops or engage in battle. It will give commanders a choice between operating a Black Hawk with one pilot or two or none.

“We’ll let it adapt to the mission,” Van Buiten said.

Sikorsky is jumping into a lucrative and growing market. Steven Zaloga, a Senior Analyst at Teal Group Corp. in Fairfax, Virginia, said unmanned aerial vehicles represent “one of the few dynamic markets” in the aerospace industry, which was hit hard by the recession.

The Teal Group estimates the global market for unmanned aerial vehicle hardware will rise from $2.9 billion this year to $5.5 billion in 2019, Zaloga said.

Mark Tattershall, Director of Marketing and Business Development at Kaman Corp., a Bloomfield, Connecticut-based aerospace manufacturer, said Kaman and Lockheed Martin Corp. demonstrated an unmanned cargo helicopter in Utah last week.

“To control something that’s within sight is one challenge,” he said. “To control something on the other side of a mountain and have it safely put down a load successfully and safely is a big challenge.”

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has developed the A160, which is now being tested by the Army and its network of researchers.

Phil Hunt, a Program Manager at the agency, said challenges include unmanned aircraft seeing and avoiding other aircraft in federally regulated or military airspace and the potential dangers of carrying weapons at the time of a crash.

Sikorsky Innovations, which over 10 years will spend $1 billion from Sikorsky and its customers, also is researching technologies that would vastly increase a helicopter’s speed, enable it to use computers to see through dust storms kicked up during takeoffs and landings, and allow it to gather data about its own condition and tailor the performance for quieter and more comfortable rides if necessary.

“We can allow a helicopter to morph itself for each function,” Miller said.