10-04 :: April 2010
News in Brief
The U.S. Homeland Security‘s Science and Techno- logy Directorate (S&T) started the Cell-All initiative.
Cell-All aims to equip cell phones with a sensor capable of detecting deadly chemicals. The tech-
nology is ingenious. A chip costing less than a dollar is embedded in a cell phone and programmed to either alert the cell phone carrier to the presence of toxic chemicals in the air, and/or a central sta- tion that can monitor how many alerts in an area are being received. One might be a false positive. Hundreds might indicate the need for evacuation.
“Our goal is to create a lightweight, cost-effective, power-efficient solution,” says Stephen Dennis, Cell-All‘s program manager.
How would this wizardry work? Just as antivirus software bides its time in the background and springs to life when it spies suspicious activity, so Cell-All would regularly sniffs the surrounding air for certain volatile chemical compounds. Anywhere a chemical threat breaks out, Cell-All will alert the authorities automatically. Detection, identification, and notification all take place in less than 60 se- conds.
To this end, three teams from Qualcomm, the
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
(NASA), and Rhevision Technology are perfecting their specific area of expertise. Technologists from Rhevision have developed e.g. an artificial nose – a piece of porous silicon that changes colors in the presence of certain molecules, which can be read spectrographically.
Similarly, S&T is pursuing what‘s known as coope- rative research and development agreements with
four cell phone manufacturers: Qualcomm, LG, Apple and Samsung. These written agreements, which bring together a private company and a go- vernment agency for a specific project, often acce- lerate the commercialization of technology develo- ped for government purposes. As a result, Dennis hopes to have 40 prototypes in about a year, the first of which will sniff out carbon monoxide and fire.
The sensor in the chip would identify the toxic chemical and send an alert to a central station and the cell phone carrier. © DHS S&T
Researchers in Singapore are reporting this week that they have gleaned key insights into the ar- chitecture of a protein that controls iron levels in almost all organisms. Their study culminated in one
of the first successful attempts to take apart a complex biological nanostructure and isolate the rules that govern its natural formation.
The Nanyang Technological University team‘s
work on the protein ferritin, the results of which ap- pear in this week‘s issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, is expected to have significant ramifica-