Future Tech: Concrete Heal Thyself, My Chip Has a Fever, Hotel Keys? There's an App for That, Death to Bacteria

Technical advances of import to communities and local government.

by / May 28, 2010
Glass of Water

Death to Bacteria
Two Queen's University researchers in Kingston, Ontario have discovered a way to reduce health hazards in water. Biochemistry professor Zongchao Jia and post-doctoral student Jimin Zheng discovered exactly how the AceK protein acts as a switch in some bacteria to bypass the energy-producing cycle that allows bacteria like E. coli and salmonella to go into a survival mode and adapt to low-nutrient environments, such as drinking water. The discovery opens the door for scientists to identify a molecule that can keep the bypass switch from turning on so bacteria will die in water. As a result, drinking water would be cleaner and water bacterial contamination could be reduced. Conversely, discovering a molecule to keep the bypass switch turned on could produce a supply of the bacteria biotechnology companies use to produce compounds such as insulin.

Concrete, Heal Thyself
Michelle Pelletier, a University of Rhode Island graduate student, embedded something called a "Microencapsulated sodium silicate healing agent" into concrete. When stress cracks begin to form in the concrete, the capsules rupture and release the healing agent into the crack. The sodium silicate reacts with the calcium hydroxide naturally present in the concrete to form a calcium-silica-hydrate product to heal the cracks and block the pores in the concrete. The chemical reaction creates a gel-like material that hardens in about one week. In tests comparing a standard concrete mix to concrete containing two percent sodium silicate healing agent, Pelletier's healing mix recovered 26 percent of its original strength (after being stressed to near breaking) versus just 10 percent recovery by the standard mix. Pelletier is also studying the sodium silicate healing agent as a way to inhibit corrosion of reinforcing bars.

My Chip Has a Fever
The BBC reported that a British scientist is the first man in the world to become infected with a computer virus. Dr. Mark Gasson from the University of  Reading in the UK, had a chip inserted in his hand which he then infected with a virus. The device, which enables him to pass through security doors and activate his mobile phone, is a sophisticated version of ID chips used to tag pets. In trials, Gasson showed that the chip was able to pass on the computer virus to external control systems.

Hotel Keys? There's an App for That
Next month, said The Telegraph, two Holiday Inns will begin testing new technology that lets guests use their smartphones to unlock their hotel-room doors.The technology will work with most phones including the iPhone, Blackberry and Android phone. The hotel's parent company still must finish building a special website where participating guests will go to register so they can receive confirmation e-mails. To join IHG's trial, participants will first need to download an Open Ways app on to their phone. Guests ultimately will call up the confirmation email on their smartphone and hold it up to a sensor on the door to unlock it.