Nanogirl news (bucky, string theory and personal robots)

Gina Miller (
Tue, 20 Jul 1999 01:02:34 -0700

Nanogirl news~as such


Don’t swat that fly buzzing around your head – it might just be a robot! NASA scientists are said to be working on Star Wars-like personal robots that astronauts will use in space. They look like those floating orbing that tested Luke Skywalker's light-saber skills in Star Wars. But that’s where the similarities end. NASA’s flying robots will monitor life-support systems, take pictures, and fix minor problems. They’ll also have a range of sensors on them, including sonar to keep them from bumping into things. And they’ll be smart – able to respond to voice commands and offload complex processing to the spacecraft's central computers. And no, it can’t play light-saber games.


The infamous airplane black box is getting closer to home – and it could change everything from accident investigation to the insurance business. The Black Box, which is actually neon orange in colour, is a very rugged recording machine that logs flight data and communications in an airplane. If that plane crashes, investigators recover the black box and can trace what happened. Well, you may already have a Black Box in your car! General Motors has been quietly installing black boxes into 1999 Buick Century, Cadillac Eldorado, and other high-end cars. The data includes the car's speed, if seat belts were worn, and if the brakes were used prior to the crash. While everyone agrees it’s a great idea for finding out why a car crashed, privacy advocates are concerned a device that can remember everything might be used improperly. For instance, could someone else use your data to prove that you caused an accident? Time will tell. (From Tod Maffin's Future Files)

*Scientists compose HIV-suppressing compound
Kyodo News Service/Associated Press
SENDAI, July 17 (Kyodo) -- A group of scientists said Saturday it has composed a nucleic acid compound which effectively prevents AIDS-causing HIV from multiplying.
A research group led by Hiroshi Orui, professor at Tohoku University, and Shiro Shigeta, professor at Fukushima Medical College, said the compound was especially effective against multiple-drug resistant HIV, whose infection is particularly hard to fight.
The composition of the compound is expected to lead to development of new AIDS-fighting drugs. The scientists also said they are preparing to conduct joint research on the substance with the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Orui composed 4'ethynyl-2'deoxycytidine, a nucleic acid compound similar to azidothymidine (AZT), a typical anti-AIDS drug. Shigeta added the composed chemical to multi-drug resistant HIV, and found the substance synthesized by Orui to be about 50,000 times as effective as AZT in stopping the virus from multiplying. Mixtures of several chemicals that arrest the action of HIV are now routinely prescribed for people with HIV as the most effective way to combat AIDS, but HIV often quickly becomes resistant to some of the chemicals. The compound's efficacy for ordinary HIV proved to be about five times that of AZT, Shigeta said.
HIV, whose genes are carried by ribonucleic acid (RNA), not by DNA which serves as a carrier of most creatures' genetic information, takes over healthy cells by weaving its viral genetic material in with the cell's DNA, and rapidly makes multiple copies of itself. An HIV enzyme called reverse transcriptase which converts HIV's RNA into DNA, helps the virus crawl into human cells. Orui found that AZT and other nucleic acids inhibit the enzyme from functioning.
Orui said he believes the new compound works well for multi-drug resistant HIV, because it functions differently from AZT. He said he hopes it would help develop nontoxic anti-AIDS drugs.
Treatment using several drugs often causes toxic side effects. The researchers are scheduled to report on their findings at a symposium on nucleic acid chemistry to be held in Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture, in November.

*Letter: Threat of gene tests

The Guardian
The recommendations of the human genetics advisory commission (Go- ahead for genetic testing on employees, July 15) may lead to a genetic underclass excluded from work and have a negative impact on wider public health goals, if, as they suggest, responsibility for health and safety shifts from the employer to the individual employee.
The HGAC argues that employers should test employees for genetic variations that would put them at increased risk of developing a disease if they worked in a particular job. What would this mean in practice? For example, approximately one in 20 people who are heavily exposed to asbestos will develop the rare lung cancer, mesothelioma. If we follow the recommendations of the HGAC, then employers would be encouraged to identify and exclude those workers with a predisposition to lung cancer, instead of being obliged to remove or reduce carcinogenic substances from the workplace. Though the HGAC says genetic data should be covered by data protection, elsewhere you warn that new technology is threatening personal privacy in the workplace. Without statutory protection against discrimination (the disability discrimination act does not cover predisposition to a disease), workers could be excluded from employment in the industries for which they are skilled. Fear of potential discrimination may also deter people from taking genetic tests of benefit to them and their families. Jo Lenaghan Senior research fellow, IPPR

*Date: Posted 7/19/99

UCLA Chemists, Hewlett-Packard Labs Colleagues Report Significant Advances Toward Chemical Computers

*Self-Assembly Of New Microstructured Material Defies Textbook Physics

*Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Researchers suggest new mechanism to explain DNA charge transfer process A research team from the Georgia Institute of Technology has proposed a new explanation for how electronic charge transfer occurs in strands of DNA. In the July 20 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers report that electrical charge moves through the DNA bases by creating temporary distortions in their structure as the strands naturally flex.

*Meteor contains new form of carbon

(CNN) -- A new form of carbon previously made in the laboratory also exists in nature and might have played a part in the origin of life on Earth, U.S. researchers say.
Luann Becker of the University of Hawaii and scientists at NASA report that they found "buckyballs" in a crushed piece of the Allende meteorite that landed in Mexico in 1969.
Buckyballs are soccer-ball shaped molecules first synthesized in the laboratory in 1985.
"It's not every day that you discover a new carbon molecule in nature," said Becker in a statement. "If it played a role in how the Earth evolved, that would be important."
Robert Curl and Richard Smalley of Rice University and Harold Kroto of the University of Sussex in England received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1996 for accidentally synthesizing the pure carbon in vaporizing experiments.
They named the molecules, the third form of pure carbon along with diamonds and graphite, "buckminsterfullerenes" after Buckminster Fuller, the engineer who designed geodesic domes. The name usually is shortened to buckyballs.

*Scientists are using X-ray vision to focus on mysteries that the comic-book
heroes of the 1930s didn’t even know existed: black holes, dark matter and the most violent explosions in the universe. The Chandra X-Ray Observatory, ready for launch on the space shuttle Columbia, should make that superhuman vision at least 10 times sharper.

*Does an 80 mpg car sound like a distant promise? Well Honda has announced
it will sell them in U.S. showrooms by December. The two-seat coupe will be America’s first mass-marketed hybrid vehicle, combining a traditional gas engine with a small electric motor. And it should save consumers big bucks at the gas pump, while reducing emissions of ozone and carbon dioxide, the latter seen by many scientists as a contributing factor to global warming.

*Scientists following Einstein's theoretical footsteps — including Stephen
Hawking and Princeton University's Edward Witten — will pick up where he left off during an international conference this week that starts Monday. Physicists are gathering at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam — recently given the additional title of the Albert Einstein Institute — just miles from where the century's greatest mind worked before leaving his native country forever in 1932. "The idea is that somehow we want to take up that broken tradition again," said Professor Hermann Nicolae, one of the directors of the institute, which is playing host for the first time to the annual physics conference. Lectures and papers at the six-day conference will focus on proving string theory, which would allow scientists to unite the two primary theories in physics: Einstein's theory of general relativity and quantum theory. That would mean physicists could explain how the world works in a single theory, possibly unlocking the secrets of black holes or the Big Bang. "It's not that we think of Einstein when we work, but we certainly have this towering figure in the background from whom much of the subject originated," said Michael Green, a conference participant and professor in the department of applied math and theoretical physics at Cambridge University in England. A unifying theory was something Einstein worked on in Germany, and then later after he came to the United States to teach at Princeton University. It was a problem he would never solve.
"The attempt of unifying things would be something like a grand continuation of Einstein's work," said Professor Emeritus Juergen Ehlers, the founding director of the Planck-Einstein institute. "If one could get around that and have a unified picture again, nobody would be happier about that than Einstein himself." In Caputh, away from the hustle of city life in nearby Berlin, Einstein felt he could contemplate the physics problem that remains unanswered today. "He wanted to have a place where no one would disturb him," said Erika Britzke, the caretaker of Einstein's summer home, located just outside the city of Potsdam on the outskirts of Berlin. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Einstein was out of the country. Friends warned him of the danger he faced as Jew if he returned. He never did. The wooden summer house is one of the few relics of Einstein's time in Germany. His apartment in Berlin was destroyed in World War II, and most of his papers are at Hebrew University in Jerusalem or at Princeton. The paint is peeling off the sides of the dark red, Bauhaus-influenced home that was designed especially for the Einstein family. After Einstein left, the home was given to a Jewish boarding school but later confiscated by the Nazi party.
For decades, the house was used as a residence owned by the community of Caputh. It was not until 1979 that the house was named a historic landmark and restored — down to the spartan desk that furnished Einstein's bedroom-office, rebuilt after the architect who originally designed the house recalled the plans from memory, Britzke said. On a recent weekday afternoon, a group of tourists crowded by the gate to the summer home, but Britzke turned them away: The house is only open on weekends by appointment. During the week, the private Einstein Forum hosts seminars for scientists in exchange for paying maintenance costs. Einstein never wanted a museum dedicated to his life, Britzke said. In any case, his legacy lies more in the work of the scientists attending this week's conference, for many of whom the image of Einstein's wiry hair and intense gaze will always be watching over their work. "I've been fascinated with Einstein and his work most of my life," said Gary Horowitz, a conference participant from the physics department at University of California at Santa Barbara. "I'm happy to be continuing his work."

Gina "Nanogirl" Miller
Nanotechnology Industries
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"Nanotechnology: solutions for the future."