UpFront

Gel That Changes Color on Demand Could Lead to New Sensors

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created a new structured gel that can rapidly change color in response to a variety of stimuli, including temperature, pressure, salt concentration, and humidity. The gel could be used as a fast and inexpensive chemical sensor. These environmental sensors could be used in food processing plants, where it would indicate if food that must remain dry has been exposed to high levels of humidity.

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Simulation Reveals How the Body Repairs Balance

When your brain’s neural pathways are impaired through injury, age, or illness, muscles are deprived of the sensory information they need to perform the constant balancing act required for normal movement and standing. In a project designed to build robots that can balance like humans, researchers at Georgia Tech and Emory University have created a computer simulation that sheds new light on how the nervous system reinvents its communication with muscles after sensory loss. The project could help better diagnose and rehabilitate patients with balance problems by retraining their muscles.

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Last Chance to Design and Win!

If you haven’t entered your unique design idea that you feel should be out on the market, you only have until October 15 to enter your invention in the sixth annual “Create the Future” Design Contest, presented by SolidWorks Corp. Visit for complete rules and to submit your idea.

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New Technology Enables Development of “Smart” Medical Devices

The qualities that we expect in our cell phones and PDAs — anytime connection and low-cost, widely available devices — soon may become common in health care devices at home and in doctors’ offices. The University of Florida (UF) and IBM have developed a new technology that creates a roadmap for widespread commercial development of “smart” medical devices.

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Create the Future & Win

The 2007 Create the Future Design Contest, presented by SolidWorks Corp. and NASA Tech Briefs, is now open. You’re invited to submit your innovative design ideas in the following categories: Machinery, Equipment, and Component Technology — Products that speed and improve work, manufacturing, or scientific research processes. Consumer Products — Products that increase quality of life in the workplace, at home, during leisure time, or while traveling. Medical — Products that improve the efficiency and quality of healthcare. Safety and Security — Products that enhance the security or safety of individuals, businesses, communities, or nations. Transportation — Products that enable movement of people and goods from one place to another. Sustainable Technologies — Products that help reduce dependence on renewable energy resources, as well as products designed for other purposes using environmentally friendly materials or manufacturing processes.

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System Locates Passengers Who Contaminate Airline Cabins

Researchers at Purdue University have developed a system that uses mathematical models and sensors to locate passengers releasing hazardous materials or pathogens inside airline cabins. The system can track a substance to an area the size of a single seat. The technique could enable officials to identify passengers responsible for the unintentional release of germs, such as contagious viruses, or the intentional release

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NASA-Funded Project Investigates Deep-Sea Life

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in Moss Landing, CA, is using funding from organizations including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to develop the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP), an electromechanical/ fluidic instrument that collects discrete water samples from the ocean subsurface. It concentrates microorganisms (particulates), and automates application of molecular probes to identify microorganisms and their gene products. The ESP also archives samples so that further analyses may be done after the instrument is recovered. NASA is considering how elements of the ESP might be useful in looking for life on other planets.

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