Science shorts

By John Engle

Star Trek fantasy becomes reality

As if right out of a science fiction story, researchers at the Australian National University, using a sophisticated laser beam, have succeeded in moving particles over large distances, in what may be the first step toward developing a functional tractor beam. While not fit for use in space at present, the technology may yet find an application. According to one of the researchers, for instance, the laser could be used in “directing and clustering nano-particles in air, the micromanipulation of objects, sampling of atmospheric aerosols, and low contamination, non-touch handling of sampling materials.” The beam “could be used for the transport of dangerous substances and microbes, in small amounts.” The possibilities seem nearly endless for this futuristic tech.

From Dehli Belly to new fuel source

Researchers at Rutgers University-Camden are in the midst of an endeavour to genetically modify E. coli bacteria to produce bio-fuel. They aim to develop a source of fuel that is not as energy inefficient as existing fuels, such as those derived from corn. For this project the researchers are breaking from the more traditional method of effecting change through small genomic alterations. Instead they have been making major modifications across large sections, including the insertion of entirely new traits, in what is called synthetic biology.

Amateur stargazers win the day

Professional astronomers have doffed their caps to amateur astronomy enthusiasts who were the first to identify the unusual stellar bodies known as “green pea” galaxies. Astronomy fans, volunteering with the online organisation Galaxy Zoo to sort through a multitude of images of outer space, uncovered the tremendously compact star cities, filled with low amounts of complex elements due to dilution by streams of gas and the cosmic winds of supernovae. The success of Galaxy Zoo has helped move scientific endeavour from a monopoly of the ivory towers of academia, and into a popular realm in which all interested people may participate and contribute.