Technology Tuesday: December 15


This week: A super sponge to soak up oil leaks, the world’s largest fusion reactor comes to life, “kill switches” engineered into bacteria, new research into drug resistance, and a Matrix style memory prosthesis.


New Super Sponge Could Be Used To Clean Oil Spills


Australian scientists have developed a new material that could dramatically lower the impact of oil spills on mother nature.


Researchers from Deakin University have invented a new sponge material made of thin, nanosheeting that is highly absorbent, allowing the technology to reduce the impact of oil spills.

“Current methods of cleaning up oil spills are inefficient and unsophisticated, taking too long, causing ongoing and expensive damage,” said lead author Ying Chen in the press release. “We are so excited to have finally got to this stage after two years of trying to work out how to turn what we knew was a good material into something that could be practically used.”

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The World’s Largest Fusion Reactor Successfully Produces Plasma

The Wendelstein 7-X fusion device just produced the first helium plasma. This is one of many tests to see if a nuclear fusion device can truly provide for our energy needs in the future.


The first helium plasma was produced in the Wendelstein 7-X fusion device at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) in Greifswald, Germany. After over a year of preparations and tests, the experimental operation has now begun, and all is going smoothly.

Wendelstein 7-X is the world’s largest stellarator-type fusion device. Its objective is to investigate the suitability of this type of device as a power generator.

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Scientists Engineer “Kill Switches” into Bacteria




Many research teams are developing genetically modified bacteria that could one day travel around parts of the human body, diagnosing and even treating infection. The bugs could also be used to monitor toxins in rivers or to improve crop fertilization.

However, before such bacteria can be safely let loose, scientists will need to find a way to prevent them from escaping into the wider environment, where they might grow and cause harm.

To prevent genetically modified bacteria from escaping into the wider environment, MIT researchers have developed safeguards in the form of two so-called “kill switches,” which they call “Deadman” and “Passcode.” These kill switches can cause synthetic bacteria to die without the presence of certain chemicals.

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New Research Into Drug Resistant Cancer




New research from Yale University probes genes for clues to drug resistance in aggressive breast cancer.

By sifting through the 20,000 protein-encoding genes in the human genome, Yale researchers discovered new complexities behind drug resistance and identified patterns of mutations that could predict which therapies will benefit patients with aggressive breast cancer. The findings will be presented December 11 at the 2015 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.



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Scientists May Be About To Supercharge Your Memory


Human memory is about to get supercharged. A memory prosthesis being trialled next year could not only restore long-term recall but may eventually be used to upload new skills directly to the brain – just like in the film The Matrix.

The first trials will involve people with epilepsy. Seizures can sometimes damage the hippocampus, causing the brain to lose its ability to form long-term memories. To repair this ability, Theodore Berger at the University of Southern California and his colleagues used electrodes already implanted in people’s brains as part of epilepsy treatment to record electrical activity associated with memory.



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Know any interesting stories we missed?Let us know in the comments!

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