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Sci-tech: The wondrous world of science

July 29, 2012

Internet speed: 800,000 times increase! Internet speeds have experienced phenomenal increases in the last two decades. The broadband cables presently available can support speeds of about 30 megabits per second. Now we are witness to another huge break-through. Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) have succeeded to increase speeds of data transmission by 85,000 times by using twisted beams of light to transmit data. Transmission of data can then be carried out at speeds that are up to 2.56 terabits per second!

The data transmission is achieved at ultra-high speeds using eight twisted beams of light that are inter-coiled in a helical shape, resembling the DNA. Each of the eight beams has its own characteristic twist that can be encoded with “1” and “0” data bits. This leads to the data being carried in the form of eight independent data streams. The data can be transmitted through space or in optical cables.

Meanwhile, a team of scientists led by Professor Jürg Leuthold at Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have achieved even faster speeds of data transmission — they succeeded data transmission at a rate of 26 terabits per second (800,000 times faster than currently achievable speeds) on a single laser beam. This was transmitted over a distance of 50km (31 miles). This amounts to transferring an enormous amount of data (that will require 700 DVDs to store) in a single second! At this fantastic speed some 400 million telephone calls can be made at the same time. Other partners involved in this project include members of the staff of Agilent and Micram Deutschland, Time-Bandwidth Switzerland, Finisar Israel, and the University of Southampton in Great Britain.

Cancer detection: within an hour A team of doctors and scientists at the Massachusetts General Hospital in USA have developed the world’s smallest cancer diagnosing machine that detects cancer accurately within an hour. The hand held device uses the phenomenon of magnetic resonance for detection purposes. Conventional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) devices involve the body being placed inside a circular magnet followed by excitations of the hydrogen atoms within the water molecules present in the body. As cancerous regions have dense tissue with less water molecules, they can be readily distinguished by MRI scans.

However, to determine if the tumour is malignant or benign requires further tests that can take two to three weeks. This delay in starting proper treatment can mean the difference between life and death. The diagnostic magnetic resonance (DMR) device can accurately determine the presence of cancer in less than an hour, and it may thus save thousands of lives.

Led by Prof Ralph Weissleder, the team employed magnetic nano-particles that could be attached to specific antibodies targeted for certain cellular cancer markers. When such tagged nano-particles were mixed with the biological material drawn by a biopsy from a patient, they stick to the cancerous materials, and the resulting magnetic resonance signals establish the presence of cancer. The range of accuracy was a remarkable 96 per cent as compared to 84 per cent accuracy with the conventional tests. The procedure using magnetic resonance can also be applied to detect other diseases.

Missile killers USA successfully carried out a test to shoot down a ballistic missile on May 9, 2012. The missile interceptor had earlier failed in its maiden attempt in September last year but the new version “Missile 3 Interceptor” succeeded when it successfully shot down a ballistic missile near Hawaii.

The test represented the 53rd successful interception of a missile out of 67 such tests carried out since 2001 when the deployment of the shield began. The missile interceptor was co-built with Raytheon, a US company specialising in defense manufacture. It has an improved target seeking system, the latest signal processors and it can adjust its course more accurately.

The United States has been developing anti-missile missiles for over a decade. Feeling increasingly threatened by North Korea and Iran, the efforts have been redoubled in recent years. A shield against missiles is being developed for Europe that is expected to be deployed in Romania by 2015 and in other European countries by 2020. This is part of President Obama’s “phased adaptive” approach to deployment of missile defense systems. The missile killers will be deployed on ships equipped with the “Aegis” system of Lockheed Martin Corp. that integrates computers, displays, sensors, weapon launchers and weapons in a seamless manner. The shield that is being built in Europe involves sensors in space and hardware deployed on the ground and on ships. There are presently some 27 ships equipped with the Aegis system, of which 23 are in the US Navy while another four ships are in the Japanese navy.