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  • An artist"â„¢s representation of Yanoconodon, a 125 million-year-old mammal fossil found in China. Image credit: Nicolle Rager Fuller, National Science Foundation
  • News briefs
Date:30 April 2007 Tags:, ,

The printed world
Engineers from Cornell University are trying to convince people to build their own “rapid prototyping machine” – essentially a 3D printer that can “print” objects such as bottles or watch straps. The scientists hope their Fab@Home design, which can be assembled from about R17 000 in parts, will spur innovation, and do for 3D printing what home computer kits in the 1970s did for the PC.

That’ll do, blob
Instead of using expensive sensor-equipped “pigs” to find and fix pipeline leaks, a British company has developed a technique based on the human body’s ability to heal cuts. Pipelines are injected with blobs of polymer, which are carried by the flow into leaking spots, plugging them for a year or more until a permanent fix can be made. The technology is also being tested for use in water lines.

Inspector robot
In more good news for damaged infrastructure, a robot crawler designed to detect wear and tear in powerlines had its first field test at a Nasa facility in New Orleans, where Katrina after-effects may have corroded electrical insulation. The crawler uses an acoustic sensor to listen for sparking and an electric field sensor to detect water that has seeped into the insulation.

Now hear this
An international team of American and Chinese palaeontologists has discovered a new species of mammal that lived 125 million years ago during the Mesozoic Era, in what is now the Hebei Province in China.

The new mammal, documented in the journal , provides first-hand evidence of early evolution of the mammalian middle ear – one of the most important features for all modern mammals. Says said Richard Lane, programme director in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Earth Sciences: “This early mammalian ear from China is a Rosetta-stone type of discovery that reinforces the idea that development of complex body parts can be explained by evolution, using exquisitely preserved fossils.”

Mapping matter
The first 3D map of dark matter, the invisible substance that scientists believe makes up about 85 per cent of all matter in the Universe, shows that large clumps of dark and normal matter tend to be found in the same places. The study, which relied on a range of telescopes, including the Hubble, supports the theory that dark matter formed a “scaffolding” where stars and galaxies later condensed.

Advertising gets personal
Mini Cooper drivers can get RFID key fobs that trigger personalised messages – such as, “David, your hair looks great today” – displayed on interactive billboards in Chicago, Miami, New York and San Francisco. Right now it’s just for fun, but targeted ads can’t be far behind.

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