Communion Of Dreams


Some good news, some bad news.
October 5, 2007, 10:36 am
Filed under: Architecture, Flu, Health, Pandemic, Plague, Predictions, Science, Society, Space, tech, Writing stuff

Couple of items of interest from the news.

First, researchers have figured out a way to produce what I called “plasteel” in Communion of Dreams, and used as the basis for a lot of the architecture of the future. From PhysOrg.com:

New plastic strong as steel, transparent.

By mimicking a brick-and-mortar molecular structure found in seashells, University of Michigan researchers created a composite plastic that’s as strong as steel but lighter and transparent.

It’s made of layers of clay nanosheets and a water-soluble polymer that shares chemistry with white glue.

Engineering professor Nicholas Kotov almost dubbed it “plastic steel,” but the new material isn’t quite stretchy enough to earn that name. Nevertheless, he says its further development could lead to lighter, stronger armor for soldiers or police and their vehicles. It could also be used in microelectromechanical devices, microfluidics, biomedical sensors and valves and unmanned aircraft.

Ah, I love to see my predictions actually coming true. (Not that I knew exactly how this would be achieved, but it was clear that materials science will reap a huge benefit from nanotech advancements.)

Now for the bad news:

Bird flu virus mutating into human-unfriendly form.

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The H5N1 bird flu virus has mutated to infect people more easily, although it still has not transformed into a pandemic strain, researchers said on Thursday.

The changes are worrying, said Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“We have identified a specific change that could make bird flu grow in the upper respiratory tract of humans,” said Kawaoka, who led the study. “The viruses that are circulating in Africa and Europe are the ones closest to becoming a human virus,” Kawaoka said.

This is unbelievably bad news. The thing which has kept H5N1 from becoming a real threat is that it is difficult for it to move from one human to another – almost all the deaths attributable to the virus so far have come in animal to human transfers. Part of this is due to the fact that the virus just doesn’t find us all that good a place to set up shop. But once it does, it will only be a matter of time before you start to see human-to-human transfers. And then it’ll be “hello, pandemic!” And depending on how virulent that strain is, it may or may not precipitate the sort of global catastrophe I envision as the basis for Communion.

That’s one prediction I’d really love to have completely wrong.

Jim Downey

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[...] Press, Richard Matheson, Science Fiction, Society, Writing stuff, movies It’s been a little while since I’ve written about our old friend H5N1 – the “Avian Flu” virus. Partly this [...]

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