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Date:30 April 2009 Tags:,

Reports from the edge of science

Avatars of exercise
One of the trickiest parts of exercise is maintaining good form to activate the right muscles. A new system developed by Amsterdam-based Motek Medical displays a virtual body double showing exactly which muscles are being used and how much force they’re generating – in real time.

Users of the Human Body Model wear a suit with 47 reflective markers that are illuminated by infrared strobe lights that flash several hundred times a second. Eight high-speed cameras and force sensors in the floor capture data that is used to create models of the user’s movements and the force that those motions generate. The system is being tested in Israel to help patients recover movement after a stroke; it could also provide an early diagnosis of conditions such as muscular dystrophy.

Experimental eagle
Nasa recently finished a programme that may aid the return of supersonic commercial flights. During tests at Nasa’s Dryden Flight Research Centre in Edwards, California, two uniquely modded F-15 Eagles flew as close as 30 m apart to measure the leading aircraft’s shock waves while the lead pilot reconfigured the wings and direction of the engines’ nozzles. Shock waves cause sonic booms that limit flights over populated areas. The NF-15B (above) is ideal for studying aircraft geometry because its canards, borrowed from the horizontal stabilisers of an F-18, can be adjusted in flight.

The friendly neighborhood wind turbine
A new wind turbine promises to be a fit for any home. Michigan-based Cascade Engineering’s 2,1 m-diameter turbine has a ring around its blades that minimises vibration and helps keep noise to less than 35 decibels – barely a whisper – no matter what the wind speed. The R100 000 unit promises up to 2 000 kilowatt-hours per year in high-wind areas, or about 20 per cent of the electricity used by a typical American home.

Gripping medical nanotech
Doctors usually resort to invasive biopsies to obtain body tissues from patients. But engineers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore have developed a magnet-guided “microgripper”, the size of a speck of dust, that can do the job gently. The six chromium-copper fingers of the gripper are kept open by a layer of plastic, which softens when doctors heat the surrounding tissue, closing the grabber’s fingers around a sample.

Hard as steel, easy as plastic
A new plastic that conducts electricity has been developed by German scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Applied Materials Research. The composite material combines the electri