Daily TIPs: Hungry Microbes, War of AdWords, Scarless Surgery, & More

9/22/08

Simple Process Converts Biomass to Gasoline

Several companies are trying to engineer microbes that will turn biomass into hydrocarbon-based fuels such as gasoline and diesel. Now scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison say they’ve come up with a process that sidesteps the microbes. Technology Review reports that the researchers use catalysts at high temperatures to do the conversion thousands of times faster than microbes can.

Infrared Light Might Illuminate Lies

Police and courts don’t like to rely on polygraph tests because they’re notoriously inaccurate. New Scientist reports that a researcher at Drexel University has come up with a lie detector that he thinks is much better at spotting falsehoods. The device shines infrared light through a suspect’s skull and measures how much is reflected by oxygen in the blood. That tells him, he says, how active the brain is in certain areas, which in turn shows if the suspect is lying.

McCain Budget Would Freeze Science Spending

If John McCain is elected president, he’ll place a one-year freeze on discretionary domestic spending, including money for science, a senior advisor to his campaign says. Ike Brannon told a coalition of scientific and professional societies the freeze would allow McCain to evaluate every program to see if it were worthwhile, ScienceNOW reports. Aides to Barack Obama told the same group he would aim to double spending on science over 10 years.

Technology Frees the Mind, Writer Argues

We’ve mentioned an article in the July issue of the Atlantic that posed the question, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” People have been debating the issue ever since, and a writer in the New York Times weighs in with his opinion that new technology doesn’t dumb us down, but frees our minds. He argues that most technologies have been feared when first introduced.

Doctors Perfecting Scarless Surgery

Surgeons are working on new experimental techniques to avoid of scarring by working with the openings that already exist in the human body. The Washington Post says doctors have started using flexible endoscopes to, for instance, remove gallbladders through the mouth, and are experimenting with appendectomies and stomach surgery. Some, though, question the need for new procedures, when there are already safe and minimally invasive practices in use.

Candidates Brand Each Other in Online Searches

Here’s yet another way the presidential campaigns are using new technologies in their quest for the White House. Both campaigns are using Google’s AdWords program to link their ads to particular searches, says Wired. For instance, the McCain campaign bought the term “Joe Biden” so that users searching for the Democratic vice presidential candidate will see an ad that links to a video of Biden criticizing Barack Obama. The Obama campaign, meanwhile, linked “economic crisis” to an ad that criticizes McCain as being “out of touch.”

As Wireless Demand Goes Up, Providers Clamp Down

With the growing popularity of wireless devices such as the iPhone, wireless service providers are raising their data fees. BusinessWeek says this may be just the first step the companies take to try to moderate consumers’ use of wireless services, as they struggle to keep up with the demand for bandwidth. Companies are also starting to place monthly limits on how much data mobile phone users can download.

Microbe Could Help Recycle Plastic

All those billions of plastic bottles you’re drinking your designer water and energy drinks out of could be recycled into a biodegradable plastic that could replace the cellophane in food packaging, Science News reports. The trick is to heat the plastic so it breaks down into constituent parts, including an acid. Feed the acid to the right kind of microbes and they turn it into a new, biodegradable plastic.

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