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Alt-week 9.22.12: Quantum Scotch tape, moving walls and scientific beer


Alt-week peels back the covers on some of the more curious sci-tech stories from the last seven days.

Sometimes, here at, we're literally on the bleeding edge of technology. We get to explore concepts and ideas that are almost nebular in nature. Not this week though, where there's a distinct utilitarian aroma in the air. The glittery overcoat of future science is replaced by the rolled-up sleeves of good old-fashioned engineering. A bit of sticky tape, a proof of concept omnidirectional bike and a hardware matrix wall. After all that, you'll probably want a beer to wash it down with. Fortunately for you, it's all here. This is alt-week.

There seems to be en encouraging trend of corporates digging much deeper into their creative pockets. Well, okay, they likely hire some huge fee-commanding agency to do the heavy lifting for them, but either way it's nice to see large resources funding interesting ideas, even if really it's just to flog you a car or a soda. Perhaps if we all start using our "impressedness" as some sort of bargaining currency we might see more even more innovation at the hands of large businesses? You want an example? Sure, how about this shape-shifting wall which was installed at Expo 2012 in Yeosu Korea, and sponsored by the kind people at Hyundai cars. The white matrix of blocks leaps into life, wowing the young audience. The simple, but effective, animations can further be bought to life with colorful projections atop. The project was created by "media artist group" J o n p a s a n g [sic], who also made a short "making of" video. Pretty neat we think, and wide open to be put to even more creative use. Oh to heck with it, how much for one of your family saloons then?

One gig we wish big corporations would get involved with is the creation of quantum computers. We keep hearing about all the latest wizz-bang developments in this area, but frankly we're starting to get impatient. Of course, really we know that this is quite a nut to crack, so we soon return to quietly waiting. The advances, however, do come from the weirdest of ideas -- much like quantum computing we suppose. How about this one? Researchers at the University of Toronto used everyday Scotch Tape (or double-sided poster tape, specifically) to bestow a semiconductor with superconducting properties. Literally, they "squished" the superconducting compound into one side of the tape, and did the same with the semiconductor to create a "sandwich." Currently there's no way to use current chip-making technology to create a quantum component, and the team at Toronto hope that this new discovery could reignite work in this area. We're just wondering where the special powers of Scotch Tape truly end?

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Quantum computing might eventually solve many of our problems in the future, but what about the pressing issues of today? Scientists from Trinity College in Dublin are on to it -- developing a material that will preserve the shelf-life of beer. The work is in partnership with brewing company SAB Miller (Coors Lite, MDG64 etc), and has the goal is developing a new nano-material that will help preserve the amber stuff (in plastic bottles) for longer in stores or homes. Ultimately it's all about making the bottles as impervious as possible, so that air can't enter nor CO2 leave. It's not all about preserving the everyman's favorite refreshment, either, as the new material will likely lead to the need for fewer raw materials, meaning there's a positive environmental impact too. Now we'll certainly drink to that.

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Trips to the store to pick up a 6-pack aside, anything that can make getting around more fun is fine by us, and nothing sounds more fun than an omnidirectional motorcycle does it? Well that's what three students at San Jose State University, and our friends at AutoBlog, obviously thought. The Spherical Drive System would allow for zero turning radius, and a vehicle extremely easy to ride. The proof of concept design was initially created some time ago, and sponsors of the project have helped build the hardware according to the students' original designs. Now, they just need the software to enable its self-balancing functionality. The team admit they're not trying to revolutionize the motor industry, or re-invent the wheel (sorry), although they did hint that road applications are being considered, but not without a lot more research and development.

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Seen any other far-out articles that you'd like considered for Alt-week? Working on a project or research that's too cool to keep to yourself? Drop us a line at alt [at] engadget [dot] com.

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