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egret in wetlands

UCLA researchers have developed a reusable water system that mimics the filtration processes of the wetlands. Known as the Gray2Blue Mobile Wetland Graywater Treatment System, the system takes gray water from showers, sinks, and laundry rooms and filters it so it can be used for tasks like watering trees and lawns. Gray water is filtered through a flower bed that sits atop a rectangular box, which then circulates down through the plant roots over the course of about 3 hours.

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Courtesy: National Science Foundation

A team of investigators including an associate mechanical engineering professor from MIT, a secondary school teacher, and a secondary school student have designed and tested a water filtration system that uses the wood of the pine tree as a filter. The inspiration for the system came from the way trees can filter out air bubbles within their circulatory systems while allowing sap to flow. The researchers first tested dried wood samples, but found that the drying process affects the system of channels, or xylem, within the tree, making it an ineffective filter.

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A team of researchers from Tufts University School of Engineering and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) has developed surgical plates and implants for bone fractures made from silk protein derived from Bombyx mori silkworm cocoons. As opposed to metal or synthetic polymer implants, which can cause infections requiring removal, silk implants can actually be absorbed by the body over time. The researchers found that the silk implants can withstand extreme conditions such as high temperatures, and can easily be sterilized.

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cochlear implant

Cochlear implants are medical breakthroughs that have provided the sense of sound to those who would otherwise be deaf or severely hard of hearing. These devices, which electrically stimulate the auditory nerve, rely on external components including a transmitter, microphone and power source, that are wired from around the ear to the wearer's skull. Researchers at MIT have developed a low-power signal-processing chip that could be used to create a cochlear implant that no longer requires external components.

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origami crane

Engineers at Florida International University are designing the next generation of antennas using origami. The principles of origami enable the antennas to be folded to only a few centimeters, and in a variety of shapes, but still possess ultra-broadband capabilities. The antennas are typically made from paper, but the researchers are also exploring using plastics and other materials. Advanced inkjet printing techniques are used to apply the conductive elements of the antennas that enable signal reception.

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IBM researchers have found a novel application for polymers that are used in semiconductor manufacturing to etch silicon wafers on a very small scale. By manipulating the materials at the nanoscale, the researchers created what they have dubbed "ninja polymers" that can be used to kill bacteria such as MRSA. Essentially, the ninjas target bacteria based on electrostatic charge, attach to and destroy their cell membranes and the harmful content within, and then stealthily disappear into the body by biodegrading.

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Engineers at the University of Washington have designed a system that enables wireless devices to be operated without the use of batteries. The system works by making use of what is known as "ambient backscatter"; or the TV and cellular transmissions that surround us every day. The engineers equipped pairs of small devices about the size of  credit cards with antennas, enabling them to detect TV signals, convert them to electrical power, and then reflect them to one another to communicate in a manner somewhat akin to Morse code.

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Disney researchers have developed technology that can generate electric current by simply tapping a piece of paper with one’s finger. The system, known as The Paper Generator employs an electrode made up of a sheet of Teflon between two conductive sheets of metallized polyester. Teflon is an electret, meaning that it can carry a semi-permanent electric charge. Therefore, when paper is rubbed against the Teflon sheet an electric charge is accumulated.

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Engineers at the Department of Defense and NASA have developed a blimp-like airship forgrain sacks carrying cargo. The airship is comprised of a lightweight carbon fiber and aluminum frame wrapped in a shiny Mylar skin.

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Smart fishing nets being tested at Denmark’s North Sea Centre are aimed at reducing wasteful fishing practices. Nets currently used in the fishing industry are inefficient, causing many small fish and sea creatures to be killed unnecessarily. They also disturb seabeds, create pollution, and require a lot of fuel to drag across the ocean floor.The new net designs being tested employ wheels, making them less costly to pull, and less damaging to the environment.

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