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Fission yeast makes chips

Fission yeast makes chips

Since the late 1980s scientists have known that some yeast species can produce a semiconductor material used in advanced lasers and microchips. When cultured on cadmium salts Schizosaccharomyces pombe (S. pombe) produces cadmium sulphide in the form of peptide-coated crystals. Researchers have now developed an easy way to extract these cell deposits with a high degree of purity.

Tiny crystals of cadmium sulphide, about 1-2 nanometres in diameter, have highly specific electronic properties. When grown in a culture of cadmium salts, the yeast S. pombe consistently makes stable cadmium sulphide crystals of just the right size – 1.8nm. But scientists have struggled to extract the material from the cells. “The problem is that the yeast also secretes some cadmium sulphide into the culture medium,” explains Paul Williams of

Getting fashions to fit by computer

Getting fashions to fit by computer

Every dedicated shopaholic knows the problem. Once you’ve tracked down that elusive garment you actually suits you, it’s not available in your size. But help may be at hand from an unexpected quarter – the world of mechanical engineering.

“Designing clothes patterns is still a craft industry,” says Dr Jim McCartney, an engineer in the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at Queens’ University of Belfast. “We want to automate the process, basing it on real body data.”

Most clothes begin life as a designer’s sketch. This is converted into a flat pattern used to cut the cloth and assemble the garment. Unfortunately, the final product is not always what the designer intended, especially in terms of fit. It’s this process, from sketch to pattern to finished article, which McCartney wants to improve.

McCartney has designed a prototype computer system that produces patterns from 3D images of new designs. “We produced a 3D computer model of a kind of mannequin used by clothes designers. Then we designed bodices using computer tools. We chose bodices because most of the potential is in the female market.”

DNA gives hope for TB vaccine

by Mike Miller
DNA gives hope for TB vaccine

Scientists will soon launch the first clinical trial of a new, but controversial, vaccine for tuberculosis (TB). Analysis from laboratory testing, moreover, shows that the vaccine may go beyond traditional preventative vaccines. It also works as a therapeutic treatment for patients who already have the disease…

Chaos to calm mobile madness

Chaos to calm mobile madness

Engineers at Staffordshire University are to throw the phone system into chaos – for the sake of getting a better service. Researchers from the School of Engineering and Advanced Technology are to apply chaos theory – the branch of mathematics used to explain chaotic systems – in an attempt to unravel the cordless and confused world of mobile phones. The group is investigating ways to help telephone networks to cope with increasing numbers of calls without expanding the communications infrastructure.

Chaos theory is a branch of mathematics that attempts to explain why seemingly simple systems, such as weather and economics are still so unpredictable even though we have a lot of information and they seem to follow straightforward rules. Experts in chaos try to find patterns and laws where non-experts see only – chaos.

A team of researchers, led by Professor Rolando Carrasco, will harness the complex theory to improve the performance of existing mobile telecommunications systems rather than expanding the networks.

“The increased use of mobile telephones, ISDN lines, satellite communications, cable networks and other digital communications systems is starting to put an immense strain on existing networks,” says Professor Carrasco. “It is not that these networks are laid on another, but they speak different digital ‘languages’. The

Spotting your spending patterns

Spotting your spending patterns

Like it or not, the people who look after our money know a lot about us. Banks and credit companies accumulate vast quantities of data that they hope to use for both monitoring and marketing purposes. Researchers in the Department of Mathematics at Imperial College, London, have developed a method that could help financial services companies trawl through their data more effectively to identify potential ‘problem customers’.

“Data mining is a technology for examining large databases in the hope of answering specific questions or of revealing unknown or ill defined patterns,” says Professor David Hand. “These two aspects of data mining are used for very different purposes. In the first case you might want to determine which customers would respond well to a marketing campaign based on a large number of responses to other campaigns. In contrast, pattern detection will reveal customers that are behaving in an anomalous fashion.”

Professor Hand and his colleagues have now developed a new pattern detection algorithm that helps to identify customers who may mismanage their credit accounts in the future – even though their existing credit record is impeccable.

“Our algorithm identifies groups of accounts which are unexpectedly being used in a similar way,” explains Professor Hand. “

Pager jogs memory and helps rehab

by Mike Miller

Brain injury often causes memory problems. Patients may miss appointments, forget medication, neglect their work. Diaries can help, but have to be checked; digital organisers are complicated to use. Consequently, people with memory problems begin to depend on others – a spouse, family member or carer – to remind them and organise their lives. Independence is lost.

NeuroPage is a radio-paging technology that reminds users about things they need to do. The concept was originally developed in California by a neuropsychologist and the father of a young man who suffered a brain injury. The service, launched in the UK at the end of 2000, is run by the Oliver Zangwill Centre for Neuropsychological Rehabilitation at the Princess of Wales Hospital in Ely, Cambridgeshire.

The individual wears an ordinary pager and reminders are stored on a central computer. Reminders might be for ‘one-off’ events such as hospital appointments or buying a birthday card. They can also be regular events or tasks, such as checking a to-do list, taking medication or getting ready to go to work or college. At the appropriate time, the computer automatically sends the message to the individual’s pager. A bleep or vibration notifies the wearer, who presses a button to read the message.

At any point users can contact the NeuroPage office (by telephone, letter, fax or email) and update their regular messages and add any ‘one-off’ reminders they may need.

Testing a cool way to prevent brain damage

by Mike Miller
Testing a cool way to prevent brain damage

Scientists are preparing a clinical trial to see if lowering a baby’s temperature after birth could reduce the risk of brain damage if the baby suffers from a lack of oxygen.

Sometimes during delivery the blood supply to the baby is blocked, or the placenta detaches from the mother before the baby is using its lungs to breathe. Sometimes the reason why a baby does not receive enough oxygen during delivery is unknown. The possible effects of insufficient oxygen (asphyxia), however, are well documented. A quarter of all babies suffering moderate asphyxia at birth develop cerebral palsy, and almost all babies who suffer severe asphyxia die or develop multiple disabilities.