Week of August 1, 2005

Built-in barcodes

Are barcode and hologram tags really necessary? Physicists from Imperial College London in England have found that objects like paper documents, credit cards, and product packaging can be uniquely identified without any type of tag. The method uses existing microscopic imperfections on the objects to generate a unique pattern when the surface is scanned by an ordinary laser scanner.

('Fingerprinting' documents and packaging, Nature, July 28, 2005)

Artificial grammar maven

The quest to give computers the ability to learn languages on their own, much the way humans learn language, has taken a big step forward with the development of an algorithm by researchers at Tel Aviv University and Cornell University that can suss out the structure and rules of a language without being given cues. This could not only improve natural language processing technology but also the pattern recognition systems used to sift through large amounts of data.

(Unsupervised learning of natural languages, Proceedings of the National Academy Of Sciences, August 8, 2005)

Cancer killing nanotubes

Scientists from Stanford University coaxed cancer cells to absorb carbon nanotubes attached to folic acid, then used an infrared laser to heat up the nanotubes in order to kill the cancer cells without harming healthy cells. Several research teams are using folic acid as a cancer-fighting Trojan horse. A newsbrief in the current issue of TRN describes a molecule that links the bait to an anticancer drug.

(Carbon nanotubes as multifunctional biological transporters and near-infrared agents for selective cancer cell destruction, Proceedings of the National Academy Of Sciences, August 8, 2005)

Zooming in on teeth

Scientists from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and North Carolina State University have taken pictures of a tooth that show the nanoscale structure of its proteins and crystals. This method could provide higher-resolution images of biological tissue than are currently available. They previously used a similar method to examine the structure of butterfly wings.

(Electromechanical Imaging of Biological Systems with Sub-10 nm Resolution, Applied Physics Letters, August 1, 2005)


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