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It's Your Own Personal Showroom Dummy


Shoppers could soon be saying sayonara both to dressing rooms and to ill-fitting online buys. Electronics giant Toshiba (TOSBF) wants to give Web surfers and walk-in customers new tools to view digital versions of themselves trying on clothes, accessories, and makeup.

Virtual mannequins have been around since the 1990s, but so far have been just static images of generic bodies. With the new system, digital cameras will capture each shopper's vital statistics to create a real-time dummy in clothes that move according to their cut and fabric. "The ultimate target is the home," to help with online purchases, says Mitsuo Saito, chief research fellow at Toshiba. The technology may show up in stores first, he adds, where customers could try on clothes that they'd like to order or see how alterations would look. Toshiba and Osaka-based software partner Digital Fashion are aiming for release in 2006. Building a better ruler sounds like making a better mousetrap -- is it really necessary? Yes, especially when it comes to dealing with atomic-scale engineering. Chip designers have long bemoaned the lack of an ultraprecise tool to help map the layouts of new chips.

Now, after five years of work, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology say they have one. Called Nanoruler, it is a machine that should help engineers pack more transistors into circuits, and more circuits onto silicon wafers, the plate-size disks that get chopped up into chips. The device can blanket the entire surface of today's biggest wafers with parallel lines just a few hundred nanometers apart. (A human hair is roughly 90,000 nm across.) The position of each line is accurate to 1 nm -- so precise, it's like hitting a nickel-size target in San Francisco from Manhattan. Mark Schattenburg, director of MIT's Space Nanotechnology Laboratory, says the high-tech ruler should be commercially available in 2005. Researchers in Israel believe they have hit on a solution to prevent many of the strokes caused by embolisms. By surgically inserting what look like miniature wire sieves into arteries at both sides of the neck, they can reroute potentially fatal clots away from the brain and over to the face without interrupting blood flow. The face has a rich blood supply, so blockages there are far less damaging than those that might obstruct the flow of oxygen to the brain.

MindGuard Medical Devices developed the so-called Diverter as an alternative to risky blood-thinning drugs. The company, based in Caesarea Industrial Park, just south of Haifa, claims it has the potential to lower by 40% the incidence of strokes -- the No.3 cause of death in the U.S. The devices have already been implanted in one high-risk patient in Germany, and clinical trials are under way in both Germany and Italy. MindGuard founder and Chief Marketing Officer Dr. Ofer Yodfat intends to market the Diverter in Europe within two years. The company is uncertain when it will be ready to meet tougher U.S. standards. -- Since it can be made from corn and burns cleanly, ethanol is nothing short of a miracle fuel to devotees. But critics argue that if you tally up all the subsidies and farm inputs that go into the crop, making ethanol is like pouring money down a hole. This debate is likely to heat up, now that scientists at the University of Minnesota have shown that ethanol could be a reliable source of hydrogen for fuel cells, the electrochemical reactors that may someday power a much-heralded Hydrogen Economy. Published in Science, their results show that a fine mist of water and ethanol can be catalyzed into hydrogen and carbon dioxide, harnessing the ethanol with 60% energy efficiency, triple the rate of burning ethanol as an additive in gasoline.

-- Genetic studies make it possible to predict what illness is likely to kill you. Now, you can add divorce to the list of future miseries foretold. By studying the way couples interact, a team of mathematicians and a psychologist at the University of Washington have developed a computer model that factors in behaviors and stress indicators to predict, with 94% accuracy, who's likely to split up.


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