TWIE 123: Diamond Mining in Space

This Week in Engineering - Top stories this week include Martian rocks show evidence of a watery history, How surgeons could use electronic implants that dissolve, and Planet made of diamonds.

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Curiosity zaps Jake Rock
The Mars Curiosity rover has analyzed the pyramid-shaped rock nicknamed (Jake Matijevic÷, after the deceased MSL engineer, and found that it is a type of rock never before seen on Mars. The highly-fractionated alkaline igneous rock is similar to those found on Earth in rift zones, or island chains like Hawaii, and often form under relatively high pressure and in the presence of water. The rock was analyzed with laser blasts, shown in red dots, and x-ray beams, show in purple. Scientists believe the rock formed 5 miles beneath the Martian surface as magma moved through cooler rock.

Dissolving electronics
Researchers have created a new kind of so-called (transient electronics÷, that work for a pre-set amount of time and then dissolve. The circuits are made of a structural scaffold made from silkworm cocoons, super-thin porous silicon sheets, and magnesium electrodes -- all biocompatible and water-soluble. The silk¦s properties can be adjusted to different dissolution rates, thereby changing the lifetime of the electronics. One possible application would be a surgically-implanted device that safely dissolves into the bloodstream instead of being removed. So, my electronic surgical implant is a bad guy from Raiders of the Lost Ark? Yuck! Eh, I¦ll just ignore it and I¦ll be fine.

Licorice nanomaterial
Leukocare AG has developed a new protective nanomaterial containing glycyrrhizic acid, a compound found in licorice. The nanomaterial coating can protect delicate medical devices with active biological components, that would otherwise be damaged during sterilization. The licorice-derived protective coating stays intact when exposed to harsh chemicals or even radiation. I say, it¦s a much better use of licorice than that nasty salt-covered devil-spawn they have in Europe. You won¦t fool me again, Scandinavia!

Tracking malaria with phones
Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease that kills over half a million people a year, but when people travel through an infected area, they could get bitten and bring the disease with them, infecting new mosquitos and then people. Now, researchers have used cell phone activity data to track where people have traveled, to try to find the disease sources and where it is spreading. By incorporating infection rate data, the researchers calculated a per-day probability that a person in a particular area would contract the disease. The tracking method could someday be used on other similar diseases, like Dengue fever.

Adjustable ambience
Meyer Sound Laboratories in Berkeley, California, has developed an acoustic system to adjust the ambience at Comal, a Mexican restaurant owned by former Phish band manager John Paluska. The system includes 28 overhead microphones for ambient sound, which is digitally analyzed to lengthen sounds and minimize high-pitched noises, then combined with music and sent back into the room through a system of 95 speakers and subwoofers. The restaurant can separately adjust reverb and other acoustic traits of two separate zones in the restaurant. Hah. When I¦m eating, the only ambience I need is when the Chuck E. Cheese band starts playing. Hit it.

Planet made of diamond
Researchers led by scientists at Yale University have discovered a super-Earth exoplanet about 40 light years away, whose mantle is most likely made partly of diamond. The planet, 55 Cancri e, orbits the star 55 Cancri, which is visible to the naked eye in the Cancer constellation. The planet is estimated at twice Earth¦s radius and eight times the mass, and has a surface temperature about 3900 degrees Fahrenheit. Since the star has more carbon than oxygen, scientists deduced that the surface is most likely graphite and diamond. Well, at least the aliens there don¦t have any valuable natural