Experimental feature

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Experimental feature

Telescope with lobster vision

A new type of X-ray telescope with an extremely wide field of vision is being developed in the UK, inspired by the way a lobster sees.

Scientists at the University of Leicester have designed a telescope that can replicate the crustacean’s ability to observe objects all around it without turning its head.

They claim the telescope would be able to observe “all the sky, all the time” - a revolutionary breakthrough in X-ray astronomy which would prevent observatories from missing sudden events in space - such as black holes swallowing stars and superflares, huge explosions on the surface of a star.

The sky viewed at X-ray wavelengths is violent and unpredictable with sources brightening without warning and then vanishing just as quickly.

Scientists have been working on the technology since the 1970s when it was discovered that lobsters viewed the world through eyes which focus light over a very wide field of view by means of reflection, rather than by refraction or bending of light as in the human eye. But it it has taken more than 30 years to perfect the required optics.

The team has based the Lobster All-Sky X-ray Monitor, now in its development phases, on the lobster eye, which is comprised of an array of tube-like channels with a square cross-section.

Once completed, Lobster would consist of six nested modules giving a 180 degree field of vision. The plan would be to place it on a satellite - either on the International Space Station or another simple satellite platform - which would orbit the earth in 90 minutes allowing the telescope to construct a complete picture of the sky.

Lobster is envisaged as a system that will alert other telescopes to interesting phenomena in a particular area in space which can then view them at different wavelengths.

University of Leicester: http://www.le.ac.uk/external/

Improved chemo delivery

A new device that can deliver cancer drugs directly to the affected area could prevent patients suffering distressing side effects such as hair loss and vomiting and even reduce deaths from chemotherapy.

A team at the University of Bath in the UK have developed a method of drug delivery which uses tiny fibres and beads soaked in the chemotherapy drug which are then implanted into the cancerous area in the patient’s body.

The technology uses a flexible vehicle called Fibrasorb, which can be formulated as a bead, fibre or as a tube put into the body through which drugs can be administered.

Fibrasorb fibres are bio-degradable and compatible with body tissue so they would not be rejected by the patient’s body, the developers claim.

The fibres gradually turn from solid to liquid releasing a regular flow of the drug into the cancer site.

However, unlike the current method of delivering chemotherapy drugs which involves injecting the chemical into a sufferer’s vein, Fibresorb kills cancer cells in a much more localised way, only passing a much lower dose into the rest of the body.

Not only should this reduce the side-effects of chemotherapy but it could also cut the number of patients who die from the treatment because such high doses of drugs are needed, say the scientists.

A patent has been filed for Fibrasorb, which is set to be tested on patients with ovarian cancer in its first study. With one in eight people dying of cancer worldwide if the tests are successful, expect drug companies to be showing considerable interest.

University of Bath: http://www.bath.ac.uk/

Seeing is hearing

Hearing aids have been helping people to hear for many decades, but the technology is far from perfect.

Not only are traditional hearing aids often aesthetically unpleasing and often uncomfortable, but because they amplify sounds from all directions it is not always possible for the wearer to determine speech from surrounding noise in, for example, a cafe or at a birthday party.

Now scientists at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands in partnership with spectacle manufacturers have built a new directional hearing system into a pair of glasses.

Each leg of the “hearing-glasses’” frame contains four tiny, interconnected microphones which selectively intensify the sounds that come from the front, while dampening the surrounding noise. According to the developers, this results in a directional sensitivity of +8.2 decibels compared with +4 decibels in regular hearing aids.

Tests have shown that the device allows a significant improvement in the ability to understand speech. The glasses also allow people to hear more naturally, honing in on speech in the direction in which wearers are looking.

Delft University of Technology: http://www.tudelft.nl/live/pagina.jsp?id=b226846d-f19f-4c34-97ed-165fecc5ad8f&lang=en

Varibel: http://www.varibel.nl

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