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Friday Catch-Up (12/23/05)
Jamais Cascio, 23 Dec 05

protozoancoil.jpgThis week's Friday Catch-Up looks at Bio-Based Nanotechnology, Chinese Water Supplies, and Maps.

Bio-Based Nanotechnology
Why create new engineering materials at the nano-scale when nature can make them for you? A couple of recent discoveries bring bioengineering and nanotechnology closer together. Researchers at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass., along with colleagues at MIT, the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass, and University of Illinois, Chicago, have figured out how the fibrous coil "spring" of the protozoan Vorticella convallaria can be so strong -- possibly ten times the propulsive power of a typical car engine, if scaled up. The research came up with the structure and the chemical engine for this coil propulsion, with enough details that the next step is to replicate it in the lab.

Meanwhile, Duke University scientists have been able to use DNA's ability to self-assemble in order to mass-produce patterned structures. This is an important step towards mass producing nano-scale DNA-based electronic or optical circuits. These DNA structures are ten times smaller than the current best traditional chip lithography technique. The next step is to apply this process to molecular electronics; if it all works, possible applications include biological computers and microscopic sensor devices.

Chinese Water Supplies
This week, Chinese leaders proposed a combination of serious water conservation strategies and mega-engineering projects as a way of bringing clean water to some of the estimated 360 million Chinese citizens who currently do not have ready access. Per capita water availability in China is around 25% of the world average, according to the Hong Kong Standard, and is expected to fall further. The projects -- which include a massive South-North Water Diversion canal -- should bring clean water to around 100 million people. Vice Premier Hui Liangyu argued this week that sustainable water projects would also have beneficial effects on disaster preparation, soil preservation and ecological remediation.

situationalawarenessdetail.jpgMaps
We love interesting mapping concepts 'round these parts, and two very different ones popped up recently. Future Feeder points us to the Map Projections archive, a collection of over 300 different black-and-white line drawings of world maps of various kinds (from "Airy Minimum-error Azimuthal" to "Winkel 2 Pseudocylindrical"), all in PDF format for easy printing. These are all traditional maps, demonstrating the various attempts to turn a 3-dimensional oblate spheroid surface into a 2-dimensional plane.

At the other end of the "have you seen this before" spectrum is the Situational Awareness Map concept (PDF) from the University of Utah (and brought to us by Information Aesthetics). The project attempts to build a useful visual correlation system for emergency response -- whether for a 911 center, computer network security, bioterrorism prevention, or the like. The model uses concentric rings around a control space (town, network map, country, etc.), divided into issue columns; the layers of rings represent the passage of time, and the thickness of lines drawn from the issue column to the location can represent severity, confidence (that the problem is really happening) or similar characteristics. The description is more complicated than the map itself, which -- despite a busy initial appearance -- actually makes a good deal of sense.

I'd love to see one of these for environmental problems, covering both one-time disasters and long-term crises, and the line thickness representing how much time we have to deal with the issues.

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