Experimental feature

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Experimental feature

Pollution-beating cement

A new smog-beating cement which could reduce city pollution by as much as 60 per cent is ready for market, its developers say.

TX Active, the culmination of 10 years of development by Italian company Italcementi, can be used to coat buildings and roads and works by absorbing pollution from cars, factories and heating.

Tests in Milan - which Italcementi said had been accredited by independent bodies including the National Research Council - showed TX Active cut the level of nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide in the air by 40-65 per cent, prompting the company to predict that covering 15 per cent of the surfaces of the city with the cement would reduce pollution by 50 per cent.

“With this product we feel we can provide a proactive solution for at least one of those problems which are seen everyday in the air quality of our cities,” said Carlo Pesenti, chief executive.

The product works through a chemical process called photocatalysis through which titanium dioxide on the surface of the cement-based compound breaks down pollutants when it comes into contact with sunlight and air. TX Active works more effectively in bright sunlight.

A number of cities in Europe have already begun to embrace the technology because of its potential to cut car pollution.

TX Active cement has already been used on a number of buildings, including Air France’s new headquarters at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, Rome’s Dives in Misericordia church and the main police station at Bordeaux.

Italcementi: http://www.italcementigroup.com/newsite/notizia_TXActive.htm

Diagnosis by smell

Medical professionals may one day be able to detect the early stages of different diseases through the sense of smell, after scientists developed technology that mimics and improves upon the human olfactory system using tiny bioelectronic sensors.

Scientists at the European Commission-backed Spot-nosed project say the technology a few years could allow doctors in to diagnose organ failure, bacterial infections or diseases such as cancer by smell, while it could also have applications in areas as diverse as agriculture, security and the environment.

have built a nose biosensor by placing a layer of proteins - which were genetically copied from rats and grown in yeast - that replicate the olfactory receptors in animal noses on a microelectrode and measuring the reaction when the proteins come into contact with different odorants.

But in addition, the system is able to detect smells at much lower concentrations than can be perceived by humans “with a very high degree of accuracy”.

While scientists says tests on the biosensors have so far proved very successful, a system that exactly replicates the human nose would need 1,000 different proteins to allow the brain to recognise 10,000 different smells.

A system that could detect almost any smell would need more because different proteins react to different odorants and it is the resultant combination of reactions that identifies a certain smell - but, the team says, the onset of nanotechnology makes such an electronic nose “feasible”.

The developers are now working on the instrumentation and software tools necessary for an electronic nose to recognise smells - fulfilling the brain’s role in the olfactory system. An atomic force microscope has been adapted with instrumentation capable of making electrical measurements at the nanoscale level.

Spot-nosed project: http://www.nanobiolab.pcb.ub.es/projectes/spotnosed/

Better immunity from hackers

The workings of the human body have also provided inspiration for computer technicians looking for ways to better defend networks from viruses and hackers.

The body’s immune system has been long used as a model for software that protects PCs from the ravages of email viruses and denial of service attacks.

Most software based on this approach has tended to mimic the way the white blood cells of the immune system watch out for molecules that are not “self”, such as proteins made by viruses, bacteria and parasites.

However, this model means that malicious data can sneak beneath the radar of a computer’s defences if they appear legitimate, such as a virus disguised as an ordinary email.

Now, according to a report on NewScientist.com, researchers at the University of the Nottingham in the UK have reinterpreted the functionings of the immune system according to danger theory. This states that the immune system does not automatically attack foreign bodies but waits until they start to do damage.

The theory was arrived at by UK scientists at the University of the West of England in Bristol after studying dendritic cells, which make up the front line of the immune system and pick up alarm signals from other cells in the body when they are under attack. Their research suggested that these cells only respond to these alarm calls when the “volume” exceeds a certain level.

The Nottingham team have mimicked this approach in their software. Their computer security system searches the network looking for danger signals such as sudden rises in traffic or unusually high numbers of error messages. If these signals lift above a pre-ordained level the alarm is sounded.

In tests the new system provided better network protection against simulated hacker attacks and also helped to cut out false alarms caused by unpredictable but legitimate activity.

University of Nottingham: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/

University of the West of England: http://www.uwe.ac.uk/

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

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