FBI officials have scanned the irises of nearly 460,000 people in a pilot program that may soon replace fingerprints. While iris-scanning technology has been around for more than 25 years, it’s just now getting to where it’s fast, easy and relatively bug-free. “It’s a powerful biometric,” said Patrick Grother, a computer scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md., who has been developing algorithms and software for iris scanning. “It’s fast to process, it has discriminative power — my iris doesn’t look like your iris, and it has reasonable permanence.”
Iris scanning cameras can be hand-held or attached to a wall. They are effective from three to six feet away from the subject’s eyes. Soldiers in Iraq have been using them to authenticate Iraqi civilians who are authorized to work inside U.S. military facilities.
The iris is a part of the eye outside of the pupil that is made of collagen in a three-dimensional arrangement. This pattern can be imaged with light at certain wavelengths. “It’s like taking picture of sand dunes from space,” he said. “It’s a 3-D object.” People with brown eyes have more pigment than those with blue eyes, said Grother. That makes it tougher to capture iris information from photographs of brown-eyed folks. Of course, anyone who blinks, squints or scrunches up their eyes will make it difficult for law enforcement to get a good scan. Grother and other experts now are developing software to recognize iris patterns from several different camera angles, making it easier to use a hand-held device or smartphone.
Reveal is a wearable band which aims to help kids on the autism spectrum track anxiety stressors.
The band works by measuring three major indicators of anxiety — heart rate, temperature and electrodermal activity (also known as “emotional sweat”) — through a pair of electrodes embedded in the band. Those signals are transmitted to the Reveal smartphone app, notifying parents and caretakers of impending “behavior meltdowns,” so preventative measures can be taken. Caregivers can also add contextual data to help the app develop a complete profile of the child.
A young cloud maker suggests to make clouds when a sudden explosion sends him soaring to the surface from his cloud island, where he meets an unexpected friend.
Scientists have created a system that uses solar energy to split water molecules and hydrogen-eating bacteria to produce liquid fuels. The system can convert solar energy to biomass with 10 percent efficiency, far above the 1 percent seen in the fastest-growing plants.
While the system can be used to generate usable fuels, its potential doesn’t end there, said Silver, who is also a Founding Core Member of the Wyss Institute at Harvard University. “The beauty of biology is it’s the world’s greatest chemist — biology can do chemistry we can’t do easily,” she said. “In principle, we have a platform that can make any downstream carbon-based molecule. So this has the potential to be incredibly versatile.”
Dubbed “bionic leaf 2.0,” the new system builds on previous work by Nocera, Silver and others, which — though it was capable of using solar energy to make isopropanol — faced a number of challenges. Chief among those challenges, Nocera said, was the fact that the catalyst used to produce hydrogen — a nickel-molybdenum-zinc alloy — also created reactive oxygen species, molecules that attacked and destroyed the bacteria’s DNA. To avoid that problem, researchers were forced to run the system at abnormally high voltages, resulting in reduced efficiency.
“If you think about it, photosynthesis is amazing,” he said. “It takes sunlight, water and air–and then look at a tree. That’s exactly what we did, but we do it significantly better, because we turn all that energy into a fuel.”