August 25, 2016

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.


Science


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