soundings

A couple of technology stories I had a hand in reporting lately:

The clever way that optoacoustics can “listen” to biological cells – picking up the weak ultrasonic pulse given off when a cell, warmed so gently by a laser that it could hardly be called heating at all, immediately cools back down again – turns out to be particularly good for spotting different oxygen levels in blood. And cancerous tumors have a very complicated relationship with blood oxygen, including potentially stopping growing if the levels are not to their liking. (Or they can have a much less desirable growth spurt instead – it is complicated.) So making optoacoustics into a viable clinical assessment method for cancer is something a lot of people are interested in. For that to happen, ways to¬†crunch the formidable amounts of data involved with have to improve, but they are getting better all the time.

Metamaterials are ingenious too – negative refractive indexes, potential invisibility cloaks and the rest. Most of them are basically metallic, but ones made from non-metals might be better at doing some particular bits of the voodoo that they do. One made from tiny particles of titanium dioxide has been used in a magnifying lens powerful enough to just about pick out nanometer-size patterns of reflectivity in the grooves of a Blu-ray disk – the disk’s actual recorded data itself, a tall order to discern even for an electron microscope.

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