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     Volume 4 Issue 27 | December 31, 2004 |

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Liquid Crystal Technology
Windows are undergoing a change that hasn't been seen since the horizontal mini-blind was developed 50 years ago. Soon, curtains and window blinds could be obsolete. You are probably familiar with liquid crystals. Portable computers, calculators, digital clocks and watches, and microwave ovens all use liquid crystal displays (LCDs). In these displays, electricity is used to change the shape of the liquid crystals to allow light to pass through, thus forming figures and numbers on the display. The technology behind an LCD is similar to the polymer dispersed liquid crystals (PDLCs) used in some smart-window applications. In these windows, the liquid crystals respond to an electrical charge by aligning parallel and letting light through. When the electrical charge is absent, the liquid crystals in the window are randomly oriented. With liquid crystals, the glass is either clear or translucent.

An 'Attentive Cubicle' to Help Focus
Researchers at the Queen's University's Human Media Laboratory (HML) have developed an "attentive" office cubicle that blocks noise and visual distractions when you're working and then opens communication channels when you're ready to socialise. The new "attentive and more considerate" office cubicle helps increase work focus for those who share space with many others. The attentive cubicle's walls are constructed of a translucent material called Privacy Glass that consists of a glass pane with an embedded layer of liquid crystals. Overhead cameras mounted in the ceiling track the "social geometry" between co-workers. When potential communication partners are detected, the cubicle's walls automatically change from opaque to transparent, allowing for visual interaction. The cubicle workers also wear noise-cancelling headphones that filter out noise generated by co-workers in other cubicles. The headphones can detect when co-workers are looking at the wearer. When the headphones detect an approaching co-worker, they automatically turn off noise-cancellation to allow workers to communicate normally. "The attentive cubicle is all about having visual attention mediated through architecture, while headphones cancel out auditory distractions. You don't hear anything except what the headset presents to you," says the lead researcher Dr. Roel Vertegaal.

The Next-Gen Cars
Japanese car giant Toyota is redefining the future of the car with the development of a new breed of wearable single passenger robotic vehicles that envelop drivers. According to The BBC, the driver cruises in a four-wheeled leaf-like device or strolls along encased in an egg-shaped cocoon that walks upright on two feet. The models are being positioned as so-called personal mobility devices, which have few limits. The open leaf-like "i-unit" vehicle is built using environmentally friendly plant-based materials and is equipped with intelligent transport system technologies that allow for safe autopilot driving in specially equipped lanes. It allows the user to make tight on-the-spot turns, move upright amongst other people at low speeds and can be easily switched into a reclining position at higher speeds. Body colours can be customised to suit individual preferences and a personal recognition system offers both information and music. While the egg-shaped "i-foot" is a two-legged mountable robot-like device that can be controlled with a joystick.

Hunger and Booze Pangs
Princeton University scientists have reportedly discovered a brain chemical that triggers both hunger and booze pangs. The study shows that rats injected with Galanin, a natural signalling agent in the brain, chose to drink increasing quantities of alcohol even while consuming normal amounts of food and water. The finding helps explain one of the mechanisms involved in alcohol dependence and strengthens scientists' understanding of the neurological link between the desire for alcohol and food. "There seems to be a cycle of positive feedback. Consumption of alcohol produces galanin, and galanin promotes the consumption of alcohol, " said Bartley Hoebel, co-author of the study. Galanin, a kind of small protein fragment called a neuropeptide, had previously been shown to play a role in appetite, particularly for fatty foods. "Alcohol is the only drug of abuse that is also a calorie-rich food, and it undoubtedly has important interactions with systems that control food intake and nutrition," said Michael Lewis, lead author of the study and senior fellow of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). When the animals were given a drug that blocked the effects of galanin, they maintained normal eating and drinking habits. This observation helps confirm the conclusion that galanin affects alcohol consumption and also suggests the possibility of someday creating a drug that blocks galanin in order to fight alcoholism.

Monkey Business
India has again proved itself as the land of contradictions as scientists have now discovered a new species of monkey in Arunachal Pradesh, despite the fact that India has some of the fastest retreating forest lands. The researchers from the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society have named the species 'Arunachal Macaque' and describe it as a relatively large brown primate with a comparatively short tail. The Arunachal Macaque (Macaca Munzala) is the latest addition to the Macaque family, a group with some 20 different species occurring mainly in Asia across a variety of different habitats. The new species is also one of the highest-dwelling primates in the world, occurring between 1600 and 3500 meters about sea level. "This new species comes from a biologically rich area that is perhaps India's last unknown frontier. The discovery of a new species of monkey is quite rare. What is also remarkable about our discovery is that few would have thought that with over a billion people and retreating wild lands, a new large mammal species would ever be found in India, of all places," the researchers wrote in their study.

Source: Webindia123.com / BBC.co.uk / Howstuffworks.com

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