Outer Limits: Lee Harvey Oswald and Battlefield Water

The University of Texas working on nanotechnology; North Texas classifies plants with computers.

by / December 31, 2008

The fiction of TV shows like CSI may be moving closer to reality. A research team from the Discovery Channel recently came to Dallas to try to solve, once and for all, what really happened when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The team used the latest blood spatter analysis techniques, three-dimensional computer modeling and the most-realistic human analogs ever produced.

The Discovery Channel team re-created the scene using advanced ballistics models made by Torrensville, Australia-based Adelaide T&E Systems. The company's Frangible Ballistic Head (FBH) features gelatinous, surrogate brain tissue; an artificial skull composed of a proprietary blend of resin, calcium and fibers; and a polyurethane outer layer that serves as skin.

The team determined that the long-standing explanation that Lee Harvey Oswald's two shots from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository did kill Kennedy.

Potent Potable

A company in Palestine, Texas, has developed a promising new method for wastewater treatment. PCDWorks created a portable, autonomous wastewater treatment system that uses biodigestion to make contaminated water potable. With military and disaster relief operations spanning the globe, the need for such a system has never been greater.

The system's formal name is the Deployable Aqueous Aerobic Bioreactor. Better known as Big Blue, the system is housed in a standard, 40-foot long, blue shipping container. Big Blue is the result of the coordinated efforts of PCDWorks, the U.S. Army and the Texas Research Institute for Environmental Studies at Sam Houston State University. Big Blue pumps up to 1,000 gallons of wastewater through a grinder that pulverizes solid material into sludge. The water and sludge separate. Next, the water is sent into a tank where bacteria are added. Once the bacteria eat the biological material, the water is filtered and the process is repeated a second time. Once operational, Big Blue can run autonomously and be monitored online.

The Army hopes to deploy the units in Iraq by 2010.

Big Plans for Nanotech
Nanotechnology has long been heralded as a panacea for almost every conceivable ill. From space travel to cancer therapy, nanotechnology invariably comes up as a better, cheaper solution. The reality is that while nanotechnology-inspired products might be better than their traditional counterparts, they're rarely, if ever, cheaper to manufacture. The reason is simple - it's difficult to precision-engineer at such a small scale. At the University of Texas (UT) at Dallas, researchers are hoping to change that.

UT Dallas researchers at the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science are working in conjunction with nanotech firm Zyvex Labs' Atomically Precise Manufacturing Consortium to develop a new, nano-scale manufacturing technique that will literally piece materials together one atom at a time.

According to UT Dallas, the project was given $9.7 million to start. Most of that funding comes from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Texas Emerging Technology Fund.

Inside the Fort Worth Botanical Research Institute are more than 1 million plant specimens, some of which date back 300 years. Scientists are looking to plants for combating disease and synthesizing next-generation materials. Among the hundreds of thousands of specimens, there could be a wonder-plant housed at the institute that may go unnoticed because its label is indecipherable. That's why the Texas Center for Digital Knowledge at the University of North Texas (UNT) teamed with the institute to develop a new technology that can digitize the labels no matter how deteriorated they may be.

With a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the university and the Botanical Research Institute have already embarked on the "High-Throughput Workflow for Computer-Assisted Human Parsing of Biological Specimen Label Data" project. Work should be complete in approximately two years.


Chad Vander Veen

Chad Vander Veen is the former editor of FutureStructure.