Tomorrow in Brief
Metal Theft on the Rise?
As the value of metals increases, so does the likelihood of theft. But it isn’t just the local thugs ripping gold chains off our necks that we’ll have to worry about.
Metal theft may become one of the biggest criminal activities of the twenty-first century, warns University of Indianapolis criminologist Kevin Whiteacre. Targets may include construction sites, vehicle parts, plumbing and electrical equipment, and public infrastructure, where thieves see value not just in the manufactured goods themselves but also in their component metals.
“This has redefined theft to me,” says Whiteacre. “You’re no longer stealing a specific item for its value as an item. You’re stealing it for its constituent parts.” Whiteacre has created a Web site, Metaltheft.net, as a repository of news and research on the phenomenon.
Source: University of Indianapolis, www.uindy.edu.
Virtual Lab Rats
The use of laboratory animals has long helped researchers study complex systems, such as the interplay of genetics and environmental factors in disease formation. But these animals need to be fed and housed.
Now, researchers may use computer models with integrated data sets to simulate animal physiology. A project to create a “virtual physiological rat” is under way at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. The project will allow computational biologist Daniel Beard and his team to predict the interaction of a variety of factors within an entire physiological system.
While it won’t eliminate the need for laboratory animals entirely, the project aims to make more efficient use of animal research, to improve understanding of disease, and to advance the goal of creating a virtual physiological human.
Source: National Institute of General Medical Sciences, National Institutes of Health, www.nigms.nih.gov.
Solar Ivy for Walls
The ivy-covered walls adorning university buildings may soon be powering those buildings as well.
Solar Ivy, developed by Sustainably Minded Interactive Technology in New York, is made of small photovoltaic panels that can be created in different shapes and colors to suit the architecture.
Pioneering the application of Solar Ivy is the University of Utah, which used funds raised by students to install the panels in late 2011. The goal is to generate enough electricity for the ivy-covered building to offset the amount of power it buys from the utility company.
Sources: University of Utah, www.utah.edu.
Solar Ivy, www.solarivy.com.
Need a lift up from bed to chair? The task is awkward and difficult for most humans, and sometimes results in caregivers wrenching their backs. Not so for robots.
As the population of older people needing nursing care begins to soar in Japan and other graying societies, robots are being developed to provide more of the necessary physical support. This may be as many as 40 lifts a day for individual patients.
Japan’s latest RIBA II (Robot for Interactive Body Assistance), developed by researchers at RIKEN and Tokai Rubber Industries, has improved functionality, more power, and greater sensitivity. Sheets of sensors lining the robot’s arms and chest allow it to detect a patient’s weight accurately, and thus provide gentler and safer lifts.
Source: RIKEN, www.riken.jp.
Aquariums as Farms
Future homeowners, college campuses, and other nontraditional “farmers” may soon be growing their own fish and vegetables while recycling waste.
An experimental food production system is being tested by SUNY ecological engineering graduate student Michael Amadori. The system is a variation on aquaponics (combining traditional aquaculture and hydroponic farming) that incorporates the use of post-consumer food waste.
Instead of being composted (or thrown out), the wasted food is fed to the fish. Then, the fish waste is used for growing vegetables. The goal is to reduce the amount of food waste and lower the cost of raising fish.
Source: State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, www.esf.edu.
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