Computer America

The nation's longest running talk show about Computers and Technology!

Smaller Nuclear Power, Covid-Sensing Dogs, Robot Hands

October 2020 show notes

Story 1: New Graphene Face Masks Offer Very High Anti-bacterial Efficiency, Deactivation of Coronaviruses

Source:   City University of Hong Kong press announcement


  • A research team from City University of Hong Kong has successfully produced graphene masks with an anti-bacterial efficiency of 80%.
  • Expose the mask to sunlight for 10 minutes and it jumps to 100% anti-bacterial efficiency.  
  • And these new graphene masks are inexpensive to produce.
  • Here’s how these new masks could help fight COVID-19:
  • The team is currently working to test the new graphene masks with two prior to COVID-19 species of coronaviruses. 
  • Initial tests showed that it knocked out more than 90% of the two legacy coronaviruses in five minutes and almost 100% in 10 minutes under sunlight. 
  • Next up — The team plans to start conducting tests with the COVID-19 virus.
  • If successful they plan to develop a way to make the new masks reusable. 
  • They hope to release the new graphene masks as soon as they obtain the required certifications.

Story 2: Oregon-based NuScale Power Makes History as the First Ever Small Modular Reactor to Receive U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Design Approval

Source: Nuscale press room


  • Late last month Portland-based NuScale Power announced that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission completed the final phase of the Design Certification Application for the company’s groundbreaking small modular reactor.
  • Okay, what’s the small reactor all about:
  • NuScale Power has developed a new modular light water reactor power plant to supply energy for generating electricity, desalination, and many other applications. 
  • It uses a safer, smaller, and scalable version of pressurized water reactor technology used in the majority of the world’s large scale nuclear power plants.  
  • This groundbreaking small modular reactor features a fully factory-fabricated Power Module capable of generating 60 Megawatts of electricity.
  • And NuScale’s solution is very cost efficient.  
  • A NuScale modular reactor would cost about $3,600 per kilowatt as compared to what is often more than $9,000 per kilowatt for today’s large nuclear plants.  
  • One innovative idea promoted by NuScale would be to replace a coal power plant by combining up to 12 NuScale power modules on a small land footprint of about 30 acres.
  • And such an installation could use some of the coal plants water cooling systems, and other components. 

Story 3: New “Bioloop” Science Behind Biodegradable Algae-Based Flip-Flops

Source:       Press release from U of Calif. San Diego


  • As the world’s most popular shoe, flip-flops account for a troubling percentage of plastic waste that ends up in landfills and in our oceans. 
  • Scientists at the University of California San Diego have spent years working to resolve this problem, and now they have taken a step further toward accomplishing this mission.
  • Leveraging advanced chemistry, the team of researchers formulated polyurethane foams, made from algae oil, that meet commercial specifications for midsole shoes and the foot-bed of flip-flops.
  • And their commercial-quality foams can biodegrade in the land or ocean environment. 
  • Today, the team’s biodegradable foams are 52 percent biocontent. 
  • But the team plans to reach of goal of 100 percent biocontent. 

Story 4: Researchers ready world-first vision restoration device for human clinical trials

Source: Story by Darrell Etherington


Source: Monash University press release

  • Scientists at Australia’s Monash University have produced a first-of-its-kind device that can restore vision to the blind.
  • The breakthrough approach uses a combination of smartphone-style electronics and brain-implanted micro electrodes. 
  • This new technology would be able to bypass the damaged optic nerves that are often responsible for what is defined as clinical blindness. 
  • The system comprises:
  • custom-designed headgear with a camera and wireless transmitter, 
  • a vision processor unit and software, 
  • and a set of 9 by 9 millimeter tiles [chips] that are implanted into the brain.
  • These tiles convert the image data to electrical impulses which are then transmitted to neurons in the brain via microelectrodes that are thinner than human hair.
  • The system creates a visual pattern from combinations of up to 172 spots of light.
  • The visual patterns provide information for the individual to navigate indoor and outdoor environments and recognize the presence of people and objects around them.
  • The system has already been shown to work in trials on sheep, and researchers are now preparing for a first human clinical trial to take place in Melbourne.
  • Key question, is it safe?  Early studies, which saw 10 of these arrays implanted on sheep, saw that there were no adverse health effects observed.

Story 5: There’s a new weapon against COVID-19. And it’s dogs

Source: Fast Company story by 


  • To help prevent coronavirus exposure, many airports are limiting access.  
  • Los Angeles International, for example, does temperature screenings to catch sick travelers before they pass through security.
  • But now, Finland’s Helsinki Airport is doing one better: They have hired a team of dogs, trained to sniff out COVID-19, to screen passengers.
  • Dogs have already proven their ability to sniff out diseases ranging from cancer to malaria. 
  • Here’s a fun dog biology factoid: With 220 million scent receptors, versus the 5 million receptors that humans have, they have a sense of smell that’s 10,000 times more accurate than our own. 
  • Researchers at the University of Helsinki have been training dogs to be able to detect COVID-19 in urine samples since early 2020. 
  • Now, the dogs have been trained to detect COVID-19 from sweat on our skin and the research team has started trial testing at the Helsinki Airport.

Story 6: Harvesting Clean Energy from Water Evaporation – Morphing Crystals Convert Evaporation Energy into Motion

Source:    Advanced Science Research Center, GC/CUNY 


  • Water evaporation is a remarkably powerful process. 
  • If it were harnessed, the process could provide a clean source of energy to power machines. 
  • An international team of scientists led by researchers at the The City College of New York have developed shape-shifting crystals that directly convert evaporation energy into powerful motions.
  • Warning – we’re about to GEEK OUT with the explanation of how this works:
  • These water-responsive, shape-shifting crystals were created by using simple variants of biological building blocks, known as tripeptides.
  • What are tripeptides?  The main function of tripeptides is cell communication, which means that they provide a stable environment in which chemicals passing between cells can both travel to and arrive at their destination in a safe and quick way.
  • The shape-shifting crystals are composed of three-dimensional patterns of nanoscale pores. 
  • When humidity is lowered and reaches a critical value, the water escapes from the pores leading to a powerful contraction of the shape-shifting crystals. 
  • Apply humidity, and the shape-shifting crystals expand back to their original shape. 
  • This contraction and expansion process can be repeated over and over and gives rise to a remarkably efficient method of creating energy to perform mechanical work.
  • And the beauty of using biological building blocks to create this new technology is that the resulting motion generating crystals are biodegradable, and cost-effective.

Story 7: Possible marker of life spotted on Venus

Source: European Southern Observatory announcement 


  • Recently an international team of astronomers based at the European Southern Observatory [located in Chile] announced the discovery of a rare molecule — phosphine — in the clouds of Venus. 
  • On Earth, this gas can be man-made industrially or by microbes that thrive in oxygen-free environments. 
  • Astronomers have speculated for decades that the high atmosphere clouds on Venus could offer a home for microbes — floating free of the scorching surface but needing to tolerate very high acidity. 
  • The detection of phosphine could point to such extra-terrestrial ‘aerial’ life.
  • More planned observations by the European Southern Observatory’s team of Venus and of rocky planets outside our Solar System may help gather clues on how phosphine can originate on them and contribute to the search for signs of life beyond Earth.

Story 8: Researchers develop biomimetic hand prosthesis uniquely similar to a human hand



See video here:

  • When I saw the video of this new amazing prosthetic hand I immediately thought of the lifelike artificial hand Luke Skywalker got after his battle with dearest daddy Darth Vader.
  • Researchers from the Italian Institute of Technology and INAIL Prosthesis Center in Italy recently announced their ability to replicate the key biological properties of the human hand.
  • These key properties include: 
  • Natural synergistic and adaptable movement, 
  • Biomimetic levels of force and speed, 
  • and grasp robustness. 
  • Developed by a team of researchers, orthopedists, industrial designers and patients, the prosthetic hand called Hannes is able to restore more than 90% of functionality to people with upper-limb amputations.
  • Hannes is a highly lifelike, poly-articulated upper limb prosthetic system including hand and wrist, whose main characteristics are softness and the ability to dynamically adapt to the shape of objects to grasp. 
  • It is uniquely similar to a human hand, and being developed directly with patients, has immediate practical use. 
  • Pilot trials on amputees to date have demonstrated that after a training period of less than one week patients could autonomously use Hannes to successfully perform a wide range of daily life activities. 

Story 9: Researchers say they can predict epileptic seizures an hour in advance

Source: Story by Kris Holt


  • Researchers from Ben-Gurion University in Israel have developed a wearable electroencephalogram (EEG) device called Epiness they claim can predict epileptic seizures up to an hour before the onset. 
  • Epiness uses machine learning algorithms to analyze brain activity and detect potential seizures, and it can send a warning to a connected smartphone.
  • Other devices on the market can detect seizures in real-time but can’t give advance warnings.
  • Sufficient warnings could afford patients time to prepare for the onset of a seizure by taking medication.
  • Epiness, according to the Ben-Gurion University researchers, minimizes the number of EEG electrodes that a wearer would need to use. 
  • They developed and tested algorithms using EEG data from epilepsy patients who were monitored for several days before surgery. 
  • It’ll probably be some time yet before the device is available. 
  • A new startup called NeuroHelp has licensed the Epiness tech for further development and commercialization. 
  • Clinical trials for a prototype are scheduled for later this year.

Story 10: Samsung Announces a 130-inch 4K TV powered by lasers, lenses, lumens

Source: C/Net Story by David Katzmaier


  • Recently Samsung announce an all-new home theater projector that uses ultra-short-throw laser technology to create an image measuring up to 130 inches.
  • Called “The Premiere” delivers 4K resolution and a peak brightness of 2,800 lumens, which is bright for a projector but dimmer than medium- and high-end TVs.
  • Ultrashort-throw projectors are designed to sit close to a wall or screen, as opposed to shooting across a room like a traditional projector.
  • The Premiere uses laser light engines, which do away with costly replaceable lamps. 
  • Samsung didn’t announce pricing for The Premiere but did say it would be available later this year starting in the US, Europe and Korea.

Story 11: HP says its face-tracking, heartrate enabled VR headset knows when you’re overwhelmed

Source: C/Net Story by Scott Stein


See video here:

  • VR headsets like Oculus Quest don’t look inwards to measure what we’re experiencing as we try new things
  • The HP Omnicept, a new VR training platform announced September 30, goes further: It measures eye movement, face and lip movement, pupil size and even heart rate. 
  • It’s on target for release in 2021 and points to a new wave of work and training tech designed for a more feedback-focused digital world. 
  • The eye-tracking tech is from Tobii, which also supplies tech to the HTC Vive Pro Eye and other VR and AR headsets. But the other sensors are new.

Story 12: Scientists create ‘world’s smallest refrigerator’

Source: BGR Story by Mike Wehner


  • Researchers from UCLA have harnessed the power of semiconductors to produce the “world’s smallest refrigerator” that can’t be seen by the naked eye.
  • The “fridge” is made of two flakes of material that either heat up or cool down depending on what forces are applied.
  • In actually, it’s a tiny thermoelectric cooler that is just 100 nanometers thick. 
  • The tiny “refrigerator” was made using semiconductors that get either hot or cold depending on their orientation and design. 
  • When one side is heated, the other side becomes cold, and that’s extremely useful in cooling technologies and can even be used to generate electricity.
  • The goal is to get a better idea of how the cooling process works on an incredibly small scale and then use that knowledge to build larger versions that are as efficient as they can possibly be.
  • The research could yield new advancements in cooling technology on much larger scales.
  • Once we understand how thermoelectric coolers work at the atomic and near-atomic level, we can scale up to the macroscale, where the big payoff is.”

Story 13: 3D Biometric Authentication Based on Finger Veins Almost Impossible to Fool

Source: The Optical Society press release OSA.ORG


  • Biometric authentication, which uses unique anatomical features such as fingerprints or facial features to verify a person’s identity, is increasingly replacing traditional passwords for accessing everything from smartphones to law enforcement systems. 
  • A newly developed approach by researchers at the University at Buffalo uses 3D images of finger veins could greatly increase the security of this type of authentication.
  • Although other biometric authentication approaches based on finger veins have been developed, they are all based on 2D images. 
  • The researchers say their new approach represents the first time that photoacoustic tomography has been used for 3D finger vein biometric authentication. 
  • What is photoacoustic tomography: Photoacoustic tomography is an emerging technique that can provide noninvasive 3D structural and functional images of the vasculature. It is a hybrid of optical imaging and ultrasound imaging.
  • Tests of the method on people showed that it can correctly accept or reject an identity 99 percent of the time.
  • The additional depth from a 3D image increases security by making it more difficult to fake an identity and less likely that the technique will accept the wrong person or reject the right one.
  • To accomplish 3D biometric authentication using the veins in a person’s fingers, the researchers turned to photoacoustic tomography, an imaging technique that combines light and sound.

Story 14: New super-enzyme eats plastic bottles six times faster

Source: UK’s The Guardian  


  • A super-enzyme that degrades plastic bottles six times faster than before has been created by scientists at the University of Portsmouth, UK, and could be used for recycling within a year or two.
  • Reminder: an enzyme is a substance produced by a living organism which acts as a catalyst to bring about a specific biochemical reaction.
  • The super-enzyme, derived from bacteria that naturally evolved the ability to eat plastic, enables the full recycling of the bottles. 
  • The super-enzyme was engineered by linking two separate enzymes, both of which were found in the plastic-eating bacteria discovered at a Japanese waste site in 2016. 
  • The researchers revealed an engineered version of the first enzyme in 2018, which started breaking down the plastic in a few days. 
  • But the super-enzyme gets to work six times faster.
  • And the scientists believe combining the new super-enzyme with enzymes that break down cotton could also allow mixed-fabric clothing to be recycled.

Story 15: Rapid test for Covid-19 shows improved sensitivity

Source: MIT News Story by Anne Trafton


  • Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, researchers at MIT, Harvard, the University of Washington and other institutions, have been working together on a CRISPR-based diagnostic for Covid-19.
  • Time out: What is the purpose of CRISPR?
  • CRISPR is a defining feature of the bacterial genetic code and its immune system, functioning as a defense system that bacteria use to protect themselves against attacks from viruses. 
  • The new CRISPR-based test that can produce results in 30 minutes to an hour, with similar accuracy as the standard diagnostics now used.
  • The new test, known as STOPCovid, is still in the research stage but, in principle, could be made cheaply enough that people could test themselves every day. 
  • How the STOPCovid test works:
  • It incorporates a process to concentrate the viral genetic material in a patient sample by adding magnetic beads that attract RNA.
  • This new process eliminates the need for expensive purification kits that are time-intensive and can be in short supply due to high demand. 
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