Student innovators hack Kinect & Cancer to win $100,000 prizes

Science fair projects have become much cooler since the days of growing lima beans under different-colored light filters, LiveScience reports. This year’s winners of America’s top science honors for high school students used nanotechnology to destroy cancer stem cells and turned Microsoft’s Kinect gaming sensor into a design tool for prosthetic limbs. Their reward: $100,000 scholarships for college. A $100,000 individual grand prize went to Angela Zhang, a senior at Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, Calif., whose nanoparticle system not only allows for noninvasive imaging of tumors, but also delivers drugs to attack cancer cells. Another $100,000 team grand prize was shared by Ziyuan Liu and Cassee Cain, seniors at Oak Ridge High School in Oak Ridge, Tenn., who hacked an Xbox 360 Kinect sensor to analyze the walking patterns of people wearing prosthetics…

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A tougher, greener battery could power phones in Africa

One of the problems facing developing countries is that people in rural communities tend to walk around with dead cell phones. That is because mobile devices are cheaper than ever, but power plants are still expensive. But as a work-around in off-the-grid communities, phone owners have learned to run charge cords off of used car batteries. Now, Fenix International, a San Francisco-based design firm, may have a better solution for these communities: a new ruggedized battery and generator system called ReadySet, LiveScience reports. The device, its designers believe, could put more electricity in off-the-grid homes, create jobs, reduce indoor air pollution by replacing kerosene lanterns with LEDs, and eliminate car battery acid leaks. Plus, the telecom industry is hooked on it. Network carriers can make 10 to 14 percent more money from users who can keep their phones charged, and an estimated 500 million cell phone users worldwide live off the grid, according to a report from the mobile communications group GSMA…

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Teens prefer texting vs. calling … except to parents

For teenagers, texting on mobile phones has dethroned actual voice calls when it comes to connecting with their friends, according to a new report released today by the Pew Research Center, Live Science reports. The report also shows that when teenagers do bother with an old-school phone call, it’s more often to contact their parents than their peers. This trend reflects a digital divide between generations of mobile phone users but also some psychological strategizing on the part of teens. Among its many advantages, teens interviewed as part of a focus group said texting is a quick way to say “hi,” report where they and their friends are and to get to the point. “Teens tell us how [texting is] more efficient, how they don’t have to go through the preamble and niceties [of a phone conversation],” said Amanda Lenhart, a co-author of the new study and a senior research specialist who directs the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s research on teens, children and families. But for socially nuanced situations when the inflection and expression of a voice takes precedence over the brevity of emoticons and crafty punctuation, phone calling is still preferred.

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Water-cooled supercomputers on the way

Around the world, engineers are searching for energy-efficient ways to cool down racks of computers in warehouses that get as hot as an oven while powering the internet, LiveScience reports. A new study suggests warm water might just be the wave of the future for cooling these energy-hogging data centers–and recouping some of their waste heat as useful energy. Early next month, IBM and a Swiss university plan to test out this concept with an innovative water-cooled supercomputer called Aquasar that will cut energy costs and contribute to campus heating needs. At 140 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit (60 to 70 degrees Celsius), the liquid chilling the electronic guts of Aquasar will be hot by human standards. But this “warm” cold water will keep the computers’ components below a performance-hurting 185 degrees Fahrenheit (85 degrees Celsius) and pack enough energy for other purposes. “Essentially [Aquasar] will be a thermal power plant,” said Ingmar Meijer of IBM Research-Zurich in Switzerland, who wrote an article on the water-cooling of servers appearing today in the journal Science. “You feed your electrical energy in there…but the electrical energy is not lost, it is just converted to thermal energy that you can use for building heating…”

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