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In brief
August 26, 2010   
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Unusual Burial Mound in Sudan
Researchers from the Poznań Archeological Museum, led by Marek Chłodnicki, Ph.D., have completed investigations on a large Meroitic burial mound at Hagar el-Beida in Sudan.
Each part of the richly furnished burial chamber, including the vault, was built of sun-dried mud bricks and it is the first mound of this kind discovered in the area of the fourth cataract of the Nile, according to the archeologists.

The researchers believe the person buried in the mound could have come to the area from a distant place where this burial tradition was practiced. The excavations have shown that the mound was built in the second half of the fourth century AD.

The structure is 30 meters in diameter and six meters high. The lower part of the mound was surrounded by a two-meter-high stone circle. The central part is a vertical shaft leading to the burial chamber. The archeologists found several large ceramic beer vessels at the bottom of the shaft. They also discovered five other vessels—bowls of different sizes and a ladle—made of copper alloys, some of them richly decorated with ornaments resembling the lotus flower, cobra and frog.

The remains of the person buried in the mound are not well preserved so it is not possible to determine the person’s sex using anthropological methods, the archeologists say. But because a set of arrowheads and the remains of a quiver were also found in the burial chamber, the archeologists believe it was a male grave.

Innovative Diode
Scientists from the Laboratory of Physical Chemistry and Nanotechnology in the town of ¦rem—a unit of the Faculty of Chemistry of the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań—have developed what they say is the world’s first polymeric light-emitting diode (LED) that emits light on the basis of non-linear optical effects.

The diode generates mainly white light with an addition of color rays on the surface of the light cone. The rays form characteristic color circles. The effect is unique because it involves an electrically induced nanostructural polymer.

Melamine Detector
Scientists from the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Physical Chemistry in Warsaw have developed an innovative detector that makes it possible to identify products contaminated with melamine. The device has been tested in a laboratory and a patent application has been filed for it.

“Our method to detect and measure melamine concentrations ensures a level of accuracy that until recently could only be achieved in a laboratory,” says the institute’s Prof. Włodzimierz Kutner. He adds that the detector does not react to nitrogen but directly to melamine.

Until recently accurate tests to detect melamine could only be made in a laboratory. The food industry used indirect methods that measured the content of nitrogen in food product samples. The choice of nitrogen was not accidental because melamine contains a large proportion of this element. Melamine is 66 percent made up of nitrogen by mass.

Melamine is a chemical compound that is used to make polymeric materials for the production of adhesives, kitchen tops and dishes, artificial fertilizers and dyes. Melamine is also added illegally to food products to artificially boost their protein content.

If it gets into the human body, melamine poses a serious health hazard in combination with cyanuric acid, a detergent used to sterilize food packaging. The reason is that it forms yellow deposits in kidneys, which may lead to renal failure and, in extreme cases, death.

Water Pollution Detector
Scientists from the University of Silesia in Katowice are conducting a research project that aims to design an automatic biodetector of general water toxicity. The device is supposed to monitor water quality on a continuous basis and immediately detect low-concentration pollution. The device takes only 1.5 minutes to detect harmful substances.

The biodetector keeps trace of the metabolic activity of nitrifying bacteria by monitoring oxygen content in the water flowing through bioreactors. The device enables continuous monitoring of water quality in natural water bodies and in water sources. The detection system combines the properties of selected microorganisms with electrochemical detectors.

Protecting People Against Nanoparticles
Scientists at the Central Institute for Labor Protection/National Research Institute (CIOP PIB) are working on new polymeric and carbon materials designed to protect people against harmful nanoparticles and specific vapors and gases. In contrast to the filtering and adsorbing materials used so far, the new materials will be able to stop not only vapor and gas but even the smallest particles ranging from 1 to 100 nanometers in size, the scientists say.

Agnieszka Brochocka, D.Sc. Eng., of the institute’s Personal Protection Unit in the city of ŁódĽ, who heads the research project, says the scientists are conducting research into non-woven fabrics based on polymers: polypropylene and polycarbonate. They also plan to develop new types of activated carbon as a basic material used in the design of adsorbents. The non-woven polymeric materials will constitute the basic material for the design of filtering half-masks and filters. The half-masks are built of several layers of materials obtained using different techniques. The layers are attached to each other by means of ultrasound welding or other methods.

Adsorbents protect people against vapors and gases while filtering materials protect them against aerosols: dust, smoke and spray. Depending on their structure, filtering materials first stop large and then small particles. The new materials are designed to stop mainly nanoparticles.

“We are developing polymeric materials that will provide an effective barrier to aerosols containing nanoparticles, which contaminate the air in sectors such as the chemical industry, pharmaceutical production, food processing, electronics, and the metallurgical industry,” Brochocka says.

New Sources of Light
Scientists at the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Low Temperatures and Structural Research in the city of Wrocław—in conjunction with the Faculty of Chemistry at the University of Wrocław and the Faculty of Physics at the University of Gdańsk—are developing modern luminophores, or chemical compounds with luminescence properties. Their work is expected to result in the emergence of cheaper and environment-friendly sources of light with properties similar to those of natural sunlight, but without harmful UV components.

Assoc. Prof. Przemysław Dereń, who is coordinating the project, says modern lamps developed by the research consortium will be much cheaper than those currently in use. Thanks to the use of luminophores, it will be possible to reduce the amount of electronics in fluorescent lamps. The electronic components make the lamps more expensive and prone to failure.

The new sources of light will be environment-friendly because they will not contain mercury, which is a standard component of most fluorescent lamps in use today, according to the researchers. As part of the project, the researchers will also work on luminophores for solar concentrators, which concentrate sunlight and convert it into electricity.

Mine Dust Control System
A new coal mine dust control system in the form of water spray curtains has been launched at the Halemba-Wirek mine in Ruda ¦l±ska, Silesia province. The system is capable of reducing dust pollution in coal mines by up to 70 percent, according to the designers.

The system is composed of several mesh curtains installed in a mine wall one after another. The curtains fill almost the entire cross section of the wall, with narrow gaps located alternately to the right and left. As a result, the air flows as if through a labyrinth. Water with the addition of a special substance is sprayed on the curtains at a high pressure producing tiny droplets that absorb dust particles. The droplets with dust settle on the curtains and flow down. The dust taken out of the air can be easily collected in the form of sludge.

Experts from the State Mining Authority (WUG) say the system reduces coal mine dust, which is a health hazard to miners. It also uses less water compared with conventional sprinkling systems, and reduces the amount of rock dust needed to neutralize coal dust.

Doctors warn that the process of mining and transporting coal with the use of mining machines such as shearers, crushers and conveyors, creates continuous clouds of dust, which is a health and safety risk. Coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease, accounts for 75 percent of occupational disease cases diagnosed in the coal mining sector.

Breakthrough in Eye Surgery?
Surgeons at the District Railway Hospital in Katowice say they have performed their first five corneal transplantation operations using what is known as Boston keratoprosthesis, an artificial cornea with a plastic optical part. Physicians say the new method marks a breakthrough in eye surgery and offers a chance for those patients who until recently could not be helped.

The operations were performed by a team led by Prof. Edward Wylęgała in consultation with Prof. Uli Jurkunas from the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, a hospital of the Harvard Medical School, in Boston, Massachusetts, in the United States.

The Boston keratoprosthesis differs from other corneal prostheses in that it is implanted in a single procedure, which means patients do not need to wait for several months for the second stage of surgery, the doctors say. The keratoprosthesis resembles a rivet—it is composed of a front plate with a stem that houses the optical portion of the device, a back plate and a ring. During the transplant, the device is assembled with a donor corneal graft.

This treatment method is suitable for patients for whom the conventional corneal transplantation procedure is not an option because of a previous graft failure due to either rejection or infection.

Compiled by Tadeusz Belerski
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