Alt-week 8.17.13: Fukushima's permafrost plan, the rodent afterlife and quantum teleportation

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Alt-week takes a look at the best science and alternative tech stories from the last seven days.

Two years on, the Fukushima nuclear meltdown is still causing problems, and the Japanese government is looking at a particularly cool way (literally) to address them. Similarly chilling is the prospect that 'dead' rats aren't quite as lifeless as you might think. Do rodents go to heaven? That, we can't answer, but what we can tell you is that new research shows we're edging ever closer to a quantum-computing future. This is alt-week.

Altweek 81713 Fukushima's permafrost plan, the rodent afterlife and quantum teleportation

While we eagerly await the next season of Game of Thrones, wondering if The Wall can keep out the White Walker hordes, Japan is looking to build its own icy barrier to halt radioactive leaks from the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant. As Bloomberg reports, "at least 300 tons of water" packed with nasty chemicals pours into the Pacific every day, but an underground wall of ice could keep the fouled aqua contained, as well as shield any passing fresh water from contamination. Artificial permafrost was used initially for providing structural support to coal mines during the 1860s, and more recently, in construction feats like the Second Avenue Subway in NYC. While the method has been proven to impede radiation before, the Fukushima ice wall would apparently be the longest ever made, and reach almost a mile below the surface. It's still far from realization, however -- a study of whether it's even possible to bury coolant-pumping pipes up to 40 meters down and create the wall isn't due until March 2014. The plan after that is to implement the frozen earth policy in July 2015 and keep it running for six years. A pretty intriguing idea, but let's not draw too much attention away from the brave robots taking care of the clean-up operation from the inside.

Altweek 81713 Fukushima's permafrost plan, the rodent afterlife and quantum teleportation

What happens to us when we die? It's a question of both spiritual and scientific significance, and one that's interested a group of researchers from the University of Michigan. They've been looking at EEG readings from rats at the point of clinical death (when the heart stops beating), and found that if anything, the rodents' brains were more active at this particular moment than normal. Well, during the first 30 seconds after passing, anyway. Apparently, the results "surprised" the scientists, as the bustle of electrical signals was more characteristic of a conscious and highly excited mind than a deceased one. The researchers suggest the results of their experiments provide a scientific grounding for the near-death experience phenomenon, reported by many heart attack survivors who've been clinically dead for a time -- it's thought the perception of bright lights and such could be attributed to this period of strange brain activity.

Altweek 81713 Fukushima's permafrost plan, the rodent afterlife and quantum teleportation

We've seen examples of quantum teleportation using light before. However, for the first time, a team from ETH Zurich has achieved it in a solid-state system similar to a computer chip. Using superconducting electronic circuits, the researchers managed to teleport quantum states between pairs of entangled particles about six millimeters apart. What's more, they expect their solid-state teleportation techniques could achieve a transfer rate of 10,000 qubits per second -- for lack of a better phrase, that's a ridiculous amount of data. Scoring a "world first" hasn't sated the group's ambition, and the next step is to try and increase the distance between transmitter and receiver. All this hard work is contained to scientific papers for the time being, but it could help the development of chips that'll go into your first quantum computer. Schrödinger would be proud.

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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