Many of us with less-than-perfect vision fantasize about waking up one morning able to see perfectly. Wish no more: There are contact lenses that claim to shape the lens of your eye while you sleep, eventually giving nearsighted people perfect vision (a remedy that’s significantly less sci-fi than a telescope implanted in the eye).
Nearsightedness occurs when the eye focuses light in front of the membrane at the back of the eye called the retina, instead of on it, usually due to an elongated eyeball. The eyeglasses or contacts that combat this condition work by diverging incoming light, which is then converged by the wearer’s eye.
I begin with a sight test, then [optician Kieran] Minshull takes a topography of my eye, photographing the curvature of my cornea to obtain the measurements needed to make the lenses….
Right now one of the most common ways quadriplegics move wheelchairs is through a sip and puff device, in which the person sucks or blows through a straw. But Georgia Tech University scientists are testing a headset that will allow wheelchair users to drive their chairs using only their tongues. New Scientist reports:
The device works by using two sensors to track a 5-millimetre-wide magnet attached to the tip of the user’s tongue. The sensors—embedded in a wireless headset—read the fluctuations in the strength of the magnetic field as the tongue moves and transmit the signals on to a computer, where they are interpreted and acted upon.
Good news for those who fear the dentist’s chair: Australian Nathan Cochrane at the Cooperative Research Centre for Oral Health Sciences has created a liquid that can re-grow tooth enamel, effectively curing cavities while you sleep.
It sounds awesome, but it only works if you catch the cavities before they start—long before any sign of a hole appears in the tooth. The liquid works because of a protein known as casein phosphopeptide, which can be isolated from cow’s milk. When this substance is mixed with calcium, phosphate, and fluoride ions, it forms a special liquid that can attach and seep into parts of the tooth enamel that need strengthening, helping any damaged enamel to re-grow. A tray will be used to keep saliva out, which can prevent the liquid from hardening properly inside damaged teeth.
A miniature telescope, which can be implanted in the eye, might help the blind see—assuming it passes clinical trials.
Remember how Galileo could see through his telescope, even when he had a degenerative eye disease? Now imagine inserting a miniature telescope directly in the eyeball—that’s exactly how VisionCare Inc. plans on restoring sight for people with eyes so bad, not even glasses and laser surgery help. Right now, the company’s target patients are those with advanced macular degeneration, a progressive disease that can lead to blindness.
The telescope, which is made of glass and is the “size of a pencil eraser,” uses the cornea as a telephoto lens, and then magnifies the images onto the retina. This allows the person to see images as being three times larger than they really are.
Scientists typically design their devices for function rather than fashion. For designers, it’s the other way around. But now, jewelry designer Leah Heiss is looking to combine the two. In fact, she’s been working with scientists to make several scientific gadgets pretty enough to be worn as accessories.
While completing a residency at Nanotechnology Victoria in Australia, Heiss created jewelry that diabetic patients can use to inject insulin—sort of like the insulin tattoo, only a bit more design-oriented. The medical jewelry is currently being developed in several countries, including the U.S., and could free diabetic patients from syringes forever—but first it’ll have pass clinical trials.
Heiss designed the insulin delivery jewelry—a necklace and a ring—as a two-piece set meant to be worn together. The necklace holds NanoMAPs insulin patches made of small needles. The wearer can apply the patch to the skin on the person’s finger, thereby delivering insulin in low doses. The ring must be worn to hold the patch in place. And for men, the jewelry isn’t gender specific though—men can use the necklace as a keychain.
It turns out Band-Aids have more potential than simply keeping germs out of a cut—and we aren’t even talking about the Neosporin upgrades or the water-resistant kind. A U.K. company, Polymertronics, has figured out how to make Band-Aid-like bandages glow, emitting light that could treat skin cancer.
One way to kill skin cancer is to zap it with light—a method called photodynamic therapy. When a specific wavelength of light hits cancerous cells, oxygen forms around the cells until it kills them. Currently, patients must visit a hospital or clinic to receive photodynamic therapy. But the new glowing bandages, made of plasters embedded with light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), will allow skin cancer patients to treat themselves at home, making treatment faster and more accessible.
Here’s how it works:
Researchers at University of Waterloo built a prototype microrobot for maneuverability, powered it with a magnetic field, and used cameras and laser sensors to watch it hover softly over surfaces. Having the robot fly was a feat in and of itself, but engineering professor Behrad Khamesee tackled it knowing that the payoffs would be huge if the bot could help researchers move objects with more precision in the microscale environment.
A computer tracks the robot’s every flutter as it fetches objects on command, grabbing them with its microgrippers. When an externally controlled laser beam is turned on, the microgrippers heat up and open, and when the laser is off, they cool down and close. In the absence of electronic wires to control its flight, an array of electromagnets below the robot powers it, so it can “float freely” in the air.
Scientists in the flexible electronic industry have long promised us products like rubbery circuits that will make portable devices truly unbreakable. So when UK researchers announced they had developed flexible speakers, the latest flexible electronic product to hit headlines, we listened. The ultra thin speakers—appropriately named the Flat, Flexible Loudspeaker (FFL) (pictured left)—is only 0.25mm thick.
The speakers are made of a flexible laminate material that can bend like paper and stick to uneven surfaces—a huge upgrade from the earliest model made primarily of tin foil.
Warwick Audio Technologies, the company commercializing the speakers, claims the newly minted FFLs can produce sounds at 80-105 decibels. The flat design allows sound to travel through the material differently than it does typical boom boxes. When an electrical signal goes through the FFL speakers, it vibrates and sends a rush of air through the whole sound system. So in technical speak, when the air moves through the sheets in bulk mass, planar directional sound waves are created. The resulting sounds are “clearer, crisper, and easier to hear” than traditional speakers.
Kevlar is nice and all, but the next bullet-proof vest might be made of sticky goo. Colorado researchers are using specialized gels to fix knee injuries (and pretty much the rest of the human body). But a chemical engineering company called d3O lab has created the mightiest gel of all—one so strong that when an external force, such as a fist or the ground, hits it, the gel turns into a shock-absorbing material that hardens and soaks up the entire impact.
While the company has been testing the gel in sports equipment for athletes, the Ministry of Defense thinks the new goo may be capable of stopping bullets, so they’ve forked over $150,000 for testing.
The secret to how the gel works rests in chemistry (not magic), as inventor Richard Palmer explained to the Telegraph: “When moved slowly, the molecules will slip past each other, but in a high-energy impact they will snag and lock together, becoming solid.” So in this case, when a bullet hits the gel’s molecules, they bond together to form an “impenetrable” wall against bullets or shrapnel. But the solid state is only temporary—after the molecules absorb the shock and the impact stops, the gel becomes a gel again.
In yet another example of design inspired by nature, scientists at MIT have developed a heavy-duty (but tiny) anchor that burrows into the seabed, just like a clam. Dubbed the RoboClam (not to be confused with the RoboSnail, RoboTuna, or RoboLobster), the device is no bigger than a Swiss army knife but ten times stronger than traditional metal anchors. Researchers say it could be used to anchor anything from small submarines to large off-shore oil platforms.
RoboClam’s model was the razor clam (Ensis directus), an oblong mollusk about seven inches long by one inch wide that can dig to a depth of 70 centimeters at more than one centimeter per hour. Clammers call it the Ferrari of bivalves. Researchers set the razor clam digging in a plexiglass tank [video!] and observed how it used vibrations of its long muscular tongue to make a seemingly impenetrable layer of sand into liquid-like quicksand. Opening and closing its shell helps the clam propel itself downward.