5 Things You Missed This Week at IEEE Spectrum: Clean Coal Conundrum, Boosting Females in STEM, and more

1. Kemper County and the Perils of Clean Coal Technology

For those who think the term “clean coal” is an oxymoron, here’s another data point in support of that assertion. The formation of system-fouling clinkers (chunks of ash fused to the gasifier mechanism) isn’t the only problem that has observers viewing a Mississippi integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) coal generation plant as a clunker. According to a report made public last month by the state’s public service commission, seven “key technical milestones” had yet to be achieved. The project is years behind schedule and billions of dollars over the $2.2-billion cost estimate given in 2010 when construction began.


2. How One College Doubled Its Female Engineering Ranks

The University of Connecticut’s solution to the paucity of girls enrolling in its engineering majors: taking a page from the way its sports teams recruit athletes. The school attributes its rising female enrollment numbers to a suite of programs aimed at girls across a range of ages. According to Daniel Burkey, associate dean for undergraduate education and diversity at UConn’s school of engineering, “[These] programs that really try and go out and speak to underrepresented populations…in order to show them what engineers do, show them positive role models in engineering that look like they do, show them how engineering makes a positive impact on the world socially and environmentally.”


3. The Tiny Robots Will See You Now

It’s science-fiction-turned-reality: Researchers are developing micro- and nanoscale robots that move freely in the body, communicate with each other, perform jobs, and degrade when their missions are complete. These tiny robots will someday “have a major impact” on disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. Tiny robots have thus far been successfully used in proof-of-concept studies in four areas of medicine: targeted drug delivery, precision surgery, sensing of biological targets, and detoxification.


4. Sudoku Hints at New Encoding Strategy for DNA Data Storage

Researchers affiliated with Columbia University and the New York Genome Center have reported a new encoding method that boosts the density of DNA data storage. The result: a single gram of DNA can now store 215 petabytes of data—enough to hold more than 2800 years’ worth of HD video. For their DNA storage scheme, the researchers send hints about the data file—reminiscent of the way a Sudoku puzzle maker provides a few numbers in the grid—instead of encoding the information directly,


5. Mobile World Congress 2017: Startup Ubirch Sails the Blockchain Into a New Application—IoT

Increasingly, blockchains are being used in ways that have little to do with Bitcoin, and a lot more to do with embedding data for other purposes. One such application is the growing need to manage the deluge of data created by the connected sensors, gadgets, and appliances loosely defined as the Internet of Things.


Tech Talk

IEEE Spectrum’s general technology blog, featuring news, analysis, and opinions about engineering, consumer electronics, and technology and society, from the editorial staff and freelance contributors.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for the Tech Alert newsletter and receive ground-breaking technology and science news from IEEE Spectrum every Thursday.