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.