NEWS IN BRIEF
SINTEF joins forces with Hydro Organics in Porsgrunn to combine research and production for the pharmaceutical industry. The alliance will offer customers “one-stop shopping”, with laboratory preparations being brought to the production stage on semi-commercial or full scale within one and the same research project.
The active ingredients used in medicines are produced at an extremely high standard of purity, and suppliers of such products have to go through a strict approval procedure set by the authorities. The pharmaceutical industry looks for competence in synthesizing compounds, while it is looking for partners with experience in scaling up to semi-commercial and full scale production.
Hydro Organics AS
develops and manufactures active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), intermediates
and other fine and speciality chemicals for the life science industry.
Operating a laboratory can be an expensive proposition for universities and businesses alike. Enter Cyberlab, a computer program developed by researchers at NTNU that allows for the remote operation of laboratories from anywhere in the world.
«The idea developed out of the need for simpler and cheaper methods for conducting expensive laboratory tests», says Tor Ivar Eikaas, manager of Cyberlab. Physical laboratories are expensive and complicated to maintain, leading educational institutions to cut down on laboratory training for their students.
Cyberlab offers a cheaper alternative to an on-site laboratory, by offering a program that gives Internet access to labs that are equipped with remote-controlled robots. Real-time audio and video enhances the sense of being in a real lab. Cyberlab is currently being used at a number of test laboratories at NTNU, but the company has also made connections to other laboratories abroad.
Designing a cable for communication with subsea installations at depths of up to1500 metres is no simple task.
Hydraulic power for valves, signals for control systems and electric power for electric motors, etc., have to be transmitted by cables of this type, which are exposed to immense stresses from their own weight as well as from wave and current forces.
This is the reason why international cable manufacturer Nexans has looked to SINTEF for scientific help with the design of a new range of supercables, which may contain as many as 30 separate components. The result of the project is a computer program that calculates the loads to which the cable will be exposed and which will enable Nexans to optimise its cable designs without the need to manufacture expensive physical prototypes. The program, which has been given the name UFLEX (Umbilical FLEXibility) has been developed by MARINTEK.
Every year about 1.3
million people die of blood infections caused by the re-use of syringes.
Some time ago, SINTEF developed a safety syringe for Medsafe ASA. The
design allows the needle to be drawn into the syringe after use. The liquid
in the syringe dissolves an “alginate bolt” that blocks a
spring around the needle. When the bolt has gone, the spring pulls the
needle back into the syringe so that it cannot be used again. Nor can
children or cleaning personnel jab themselves with it.
Doctoral students at the Department of Marine Technology have developed a new system to control ship propellers that increases the propeller’s lifespan. The system uses anti-spin technology first developed for the automotive industry. Mechanical wear and tear caused by poor thruster control has ramifications for both cost and safety. Propeller replacements cost each ship from between five to ten million kroner a year, totalling several tens of millions of kroner during a ship’s lifetime.
The technology is relevant for all types of ships, but is especially important for positioning ships and rigs. Industry has already been in contact with the academic group to develop the concept. The group’s findings are described in the paper “Anti-Spin Thruster Control in Extreme Seas”, which was chosen as the best article during an international conference in Spain in September.
Three-dimensional maps that can be downloaded via the Internet and viewed by PDA or mobile phone can soon be a reality for technologically minded tourists.
The idea behind this development is that it is easier to orient yourself in three dimensions rather than two, and that three-dimensional maps can contribute to the development of new information services. The new system is also linked to a GPS function so that at any time the map user knows where they are.
The information system comes in two varieties. One has been developed for portable/laptop computers and is suitable for planning trips. The other is developed for use via mobile phone or PDA and is particularly suitable as a pocket guide when you are in a new place.
Both varieties will be connected to a database of three-dimensional maps and tourist information, which provides weather forecasts and information on exhibitions, cultural events, tourist attractions and the like.
The three-dimensional map has been developed by researchers from a variety of European participants including Nokia, the German research institute Fraunhofer and SINTEF in an EU project called TellMaris (www.tellmaris.com). Now SINTEF, among others, is looking for partners to collaborate in the commercialisation of the product.
Euromast Ltd, a company which has its roots in NTNU/SINTEF, will produce lamp-posts and traffic signs that give way when people collide with them. The new range of products should be capable of significantly reducing both material damage and the risk of fatal injuries.
The founders of the company were motivated by the fact that a large number of accidents on Norwegian roads are caused by drivers colliding with poles and signposts. The zero-accident goal of authorities and new EU regulations for safe traffic installations on roads, have also encouraged them.
Håvar Ilstad of SINTEF and Kjell Arne Malo of NTNU have been working on the concept of yielding poles since 2001, and they have tested their ideas by means of computer simulations and simple laboratory trials.
“Our poles and sign-posts are simple and cheap to produce, since they consist of standard components and will be produced in accordance with a range of international classes with different energy-absorption requirements. A pole in the highest class will act something like a safety net in the case of a collision. When a vehicle collides with the post, its foundations will not fracture, but the pole will wrap itself round the car, effectively stopping it as if it were braking. The car will have a hard time of it, but the driver and passengers will not be injured. The first poles that we are going to produce will be in the lowest safety class (NE). In the case of a collision, these poles will be cut down in a controlled fashion, allowing the vehicle to continue on course. Poles with the highest energy-absorption coefficient (HE) will be the next stage of development, and they will be in production from next year.
The new pole concept
has managed to unite two contradictory requirements. While a pole standing
by the roadside must be able to withstand severe weather and wind forces
without giving way, the traffic authorities want it to yield to collision
forces in order to avoid injuries.
The poles are to be tested in full-scale trials before the summer, and the manufacturer will be Vik Verk Ltd, a subsidiary of the major marketing organisation Euroskilt Ltd.
Euroskilt and SINTEF Venture are the majority shareholders in Euromast.
Open sea fish farms are usually built with strong, rigid structures designed to withstand the battering of the sea. But two NTNU students, Endre Kvalbein (right) and Anders Ytterland (left), think it’s better to work with natural forces than against them. The pair’s company, Byks, has developed a flexible fish farm that moves with the ocean’s waves and swells, just like fish do. The flexible structures mean that fish aren’t pushed against rigid walls in heavy seas. The depth of the net cages can also be raised or lowered, allowing the equipment to be adjusted for use with many different species of farmed fish. Salmon, for example, prefer light and air, but cod do best in cooler, darker waters.
The adjustable net
cages also provide non-chemical options for controlling diseases and other
problems that can result from fish farming. In the event of a salmon lice
infestation, for example, the cages can be lowered into cooler water that
lice don’t like. The same technique can be used in the event of
an algal bloom. These new farms are made of replaceable plastic modules
and can be used anywhere in the world. The structures are larger, more
efficient and more automated than those used in existing fish farms. They
can easily be adjusted to fit any kind of ocean environment and any species
of fish – such as the tropical snapper, a highly sought-after Mediterranean
fish. Investors and businesses from within and outside the aquaculture
industry have already expressed interest in the new system; the pair recently
met with the Norwegian Fisheries minister, as well as representatives
from the governments of Iceland, Chile, Spain and Canada.
The best way to avoid work-related injuries in the office is variation in movement and position. In recognition of this, product designer Mathias Molden has made a semi-reclining meeting chair that can used in a ‘laid-back’ position. The semi-reclining meeting setting is a cross between the upright position used in traditional meetings and a more laid-back lounge or sofa position. The semi-reclining position could impart a new flavour to everyday meetings. Even though the chair reclines, its position still allows users to work at a table, thus retaining the focus on work and decision-making that characterizes traditional meetings. At the same time the semi-reclining position can give meetings a more relaxed, informal feeling. The chair was Mathias Molden’s masters project at the Department of Product Design at NTNU. Molden’s project was conducted in cooperation with the office chair producer Håg. Håg is still deciding whether or not it will develop the chair for the commercial market.
More than 100,000 artifacts from the Iron Age, Bronze Age, and Stone Age have been found at an archeological excavation that began in May on the island of Aukra just outside Molde. The oldest finds date from 9,200 BC. Archeologists have found twelve fire pits and a record number of tools in dwellings left by man after the Ice Age. They estimate they’ll find at least a half-million artifacts by the time the excavation is complete.
The excavation at Aukra is one of the largest-ever archeological projects in Norway. At one stage, more than 60 people worked at the site. Excavations will continue through the winter months. The archeologists are in a rush to finish before summer, when construction of a natural gas pipeline is scheduled to begin.
Excavations were begun as a result of the plan to bring natural gas to the Norwegian coast via pipeline from the Ormen Lange field offshore. Construction of the gas pipeline will affect a total of 33 protected cultural areas. Archeologists and students at NTNU are conducting the dig for the oil companies.
Even when their mothers are exposed to loud noises, unborn babies don’t appear to suffer from impaired hearing, according to Professor Emeritus Asbjørn Krokstad of the Department of Telecommunications, NTNU.
Urologists Steinar Karlsen and Trygve Bull-Njaa at Aker Hospital in Oslo wondered if fetuses might suffer hearing loss if their mothers underwent a non-surgical medical procedure to eliminate kidney and urinary tract stones. A machine called a lithotrypter uses high-energy pressure waves to crush the stones in situ when a probe is inserted into the urinary tract.
The noise from this procedure may not be deafening, but it is loud enough to make the two urologists nervous about performing the procedure on pregnant women. The number of pregnant women who suffer from kidney stones or other urinary tract calcifications is low – just one in a thousand – but those afflicted suffer great pain. To evaluate possible problems from the procedure, Karlsen and Bull-Njaa measured the sound pressure from a lithotripter, and sent the results to NTNU. The urologists made their measurements in a water tank, to simulate the fetus’s watery environment.
«NTNU and SINTEF
researchers have worked for years on the problems that can be caused by
exposure to loud noises. This is why we were asked to determine whether
the levels measured could cause any damage to children’s hearing»,
NTNU’s Krokstad said. Krokstad found that the pressure waves from
operating the lithotripter to crush stones caused only limited movement
in a fetal eardrum. In fact, the numerical values measured were far below
the regulatory limits set for noise in the workplace.
Modern forms of presentation
such as Power Point can be elegant and effective. But as an NTNU lecturer
for 13 years, Tormod Njølstad began to tire of the static nature
of the presentations, without any possibility of creativity. Njølstad
wondered: Could it be possible to bring the flexibility of the computer
into the auditorium?
The secret behind
the system is a specially made camera that recognizes different patterns
made by the pen.
New Index was among the finalists in this year’s Venture Cup. The company is currently working with industrial partners to commercialize the product.
Why can’t bike racks blend in with their surroundings? Several students in NTNU’s Department of Product Design have been hard at work trying to solve this problem. The result is clearly visible in a variety of bike racks found in Trondheim today. Hanna Törngreen created a new type of rack for one of the city’s apartment complexes. The rack is made of a brick wall and steel rods, with the wall attached to the house. The front wheel of the bike is placed in a slot in the wall, while the back wheel and the frame are locked to the rod. The wall and the steel rods are designed to reflect the shape of the apartment complex entrance. Parts of the wall can also serve as benches.
A promising vaccine to prevent cervical cancer will be tested on 2,000 young Norwegian women. The vaccine is designed to combat the virus that causes genital warts as well as cell alterations in the cervix itself. Such a vaccine might also prevent certain kinds of brain cancers as well as cancer of the vocal cords. A similar, more narrowly focused vaccine has been tested in the USA with excellent results. Professor Finn Skjeldestad at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Faculty of Medicine is the principle investigator with the project.
SINTEF Fisheries and Aquaculture is working on new designs for fish farm sea cages and mooring systems to reduce escapes. A central feature of the new net concepts is the design and location of cross-ropes, where there are obvious weaknesses in many of the systems currently available on the market.
The research team is also trying to develop less complicated and safer
sea cage mooring systems.
The researchers are working together with the industry on new design proposals on the basis of their analyses of technical requirements. New design proposals are beeing developed based on advanced analysis techniques and on cooperation with the industry.
As a part of his engineering doctorate at NTNU, Roald Otnes has developed «turbo-equalization», a technique that can be used with HF communication. Current HF communication systems include a receiver that is made up of both a decoder and an equalizer. Data is transmitted directly from the equalizer to the decoder and then out. But Otnes’s turbo-equalizer transmits the information in an iterative loop, enabling the equalizer and the decoder to do a better job before the data is broadcast. Turbo-equalization improves reception in digital HF communication systems by approximately three decibels. That small improvement reduces the energy required for transmissions, thus extending transmitter battery life.
This seat could mean a completely new working day for train drivers. The curved fitting on the top of the seatback cancels out most of the noise produced by the locomotive engine.
SINTEF scientist Tor Arne Reinen is one of the people who has developed
the concept, which has been given the name of “Quiet Zone”.
He believes that the seat will make life simpler for people who work on
these trains; the drivers themselves are to test out the device this summer.
The principle involved is that one sound wave can cancel out another
if the two have “opposite signs”, i.e. if they are 180 degrees
out of phase with each other. The result is a reduction in noise level.
In collaboration with SINTEF, NTNU and the Research Council of Norway, Statkraft has just opened the world’s first laboratory dedicated to research on saline power generation.
In Sunndalsfjorden fresh water from the Aura Power Station runs into the fjord. The source of energy is actually the meeting of fresh and salt water.
The technology is based on osmosis, one of the basic principles of physics. All energy levels tend to equilibrate. This means that fresh water has a natural tendency to dilute seawater. We can extract useful energy from the mixing of fresh water and seawater, if they were previously separated by a semi-permeable membrane.
When the fresh water diffuses through the membrane it creates a pressure differential that can be used to drive a turbine. SINTEF is working on the development of this membrane.
New technology can result in smoother surfaces and reduce frictional losses in hydropower station tunnels. The extra power produced by such measures could be the equivalent of three or four Alta River power stations.
Tunnel drilling machines use drilling heads with hardened steel cutting wheels. As the machine presses forward, the drilling head rotates against the rock-face while the small cutting wheels roll round, breaking the rock into fragments.
Similar technology can now be used in hydropower station inflow tunnels, many of which have very rough surfaces. Installing a milling head on the front of the drilling machine results in smooth, regular profiles that reduce friction as the water flows past.
Scientists at NTNU and SINTEF are behind this new technology.
SINTEF scientists have won a contract to study what happens to traffic safety when transport sector services are put out to tender. This is what is happening in the EU, and it will have downstream effects in Norway, for example in the railway system.
The background for the new contract is an earlier SINTEF project that surveyed research on transport deregulation in Europe and the USA and resulted in a review of transport safety and deregulation.
The review showed that free competition gradually resulted in greater safety in certain cases, but offered no answers as to why or how safety standards rise.
SINTEF has now been given NOK 2 million by the Research Council of Norway to study the causes of these safety improvements and to identify best practice for transport deregulation at the national level.
Every year, some 22,000 trailers full of fresh fish leave Norway for the European continent. With the aid of specially designed high-speed craft, improved refrigeration technology and a sophisticated logistics system, the traffic problem could be solved in a way that would combine environmental friendliness with good economics and high quality.
Scientists at SINTEF Fisheries and Aquaculture are currently working on ways of turning this vision into reality. The system is a jigsaw puzzle of pieces that involve both technology and communications.
Developing a high-speed vessel with minimal fuel consumption is one of the aims. Better ways of chilling the fresh product are also needed.
Putting fish on ice is old-fashioned and inefficient in terms of resources. Now scientists are looking at the potential of super-chilling, which means that the fish flesh itself will act as a cold source. The project is due to run for three years, and is being funded by the Research Council of Norway and several partners from Norwegian industry.
The Trondheim Symphony Orchestra has recorded three orchestra pieces written by composer Ståle Kleiberg, an associate professor at the Department of Music at NTNU.
Kleiberg wrote “Lamento – Cissi Klein in memoriam”, in response to persecution of the Jews in Trondheim during the Second World War. “The Bell Reef” (Symphony no. 1) is based on a story in a book written by Kleiberg’s great grandfather, the author Theodore Dahl. The composer uses these stories as dramatic and structural foundations for his music. The recording also contains “Kammersymfoni” (Chamber symphony) and has been released on the Norwegian Society of Composers’ own label, Aurora.
Some of Norway’s leading scientists in micro technology and gene technology are behind a new instrument that is literally a hospital lab built into a tiny plastic chip, which takes care of the whole process from blood sample to report.
The health chip is inserted into a little device about as big as a mobile telephone. You feel a little skin-prick, and an hour later, the device and the chip have analyzed a drop of your blood and have checked you up for as many as 200 different illnesses!
The Norwegian company NorChip has, in collaboration with SINTEF, and with financial support from the Research Council of Norway, put some NOK 30 million in the invention, and the chip will be ready for mass production in 2005.
The researchers reckon that hospitals and doctors could be using the chip within a couple of years. The chip could revolutionize medicine. The system has infinite potential, given that there are no limits to the diseases that can be identified.
In collaboration with an Indian research institute, SINTEF will develop cheaper methods of reducing the quantity of sulphur compounds in petrol. This type of pollution is a particularly sensitive issue in a densely populated country such as India. Petrol combustion releases sulphur compounds that help to create acid rain and smog as well as reduce engine performance.
Today, the upper permitted level of sulphur in petrol is 150 parts per
million (ppm) but in 2005 this will be reduced to 50 ppm.
The programme, which is being financed by NORAD, will concentrate on reducing the sulphur content of petrol that has been produced by the catalytic cracking method (FCC), a well-established process used by refineries all over the world.
In his first volume on the history of the Norwegian foreign development aid, NTNU Professor Jarle Simensen criticizes Norwegian hypocrisy with respect to the Third World. In the 1970s , roughly half of all money spent on foreign development aid returned to Norwegian pockets, because the aid came with the requirement that poor countries buy Norwegian goods and services.
Simensen describes how Norwegian generosity – more than NOK170 billion over 50 years – was actively used to strengthen Norwegian foreign policy interests.
In his three-volume work, Simensen raises the question as to why it has been so difficult to transfer technology and organizational culture from rich countries to poor. He examines problems and the lack of concrete results in various scandal-plagued projects in countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, and Ghana.
NORAD, the Norwegian foreign aid department, was marked by a leftist-leaning
bias, Simensen writes. Some projects in countries like Cuba, Vietnam,
and Nicaragua under the Sandinistas are hard to explain in the absence
of such a strong ideological bias within NORAD, he argues.
Each and every type of oil has its own “finger-print” or biomarker, which can be used to identify environmental sinners.
The origins of any given type of oil can now be traced using a method developed by SINTEF in collaboration with other laboratories in Denmark, Finland, Sweden and the USA. The new method will make it more difficult for polluters to get away with illegal discharges. Cleaning up oil-slicks is by no means cheap, and in Denmark and Germany there have been a number of court cases regarding major discharges of oil.
The method is based on the fact that oil contains what are known as biomarkers, which differ according to where the oil was formed and conditions in the reservoir. Chemical analyses enable scientists to find out what sort of oil a slick consists of, but in order to identify the polluter, we also need a sample from a suspected source.
The analytical method has sparked widespread interest in the European Union, which wishes to develop tests of this sort into an environmental standard. It has already been tested in laboratories throughout Europe, and has been used in connection with the disasters of the “Prestige” and “Tricolor” sinkings.
Scientists at SINTEF Applied Chemistry are also currently building a database of the types of oil that are produced in and/or transported through Norwegian waters.
The project is being carried out on behalf of Nordtest, an institution of the Nordic Council of Ministers.
Consumers and producers will both benefit if frozen whole fish are only partially thawed before processing, an NTNU researcher has found. Anders Haugland at NTNU has studied the best ways to process frozen fish to boost yields while preserving flavor and appearance.
«When we fillet a fish, we put pressure on the fish, which squeezes water out. This water is the same water that freezes into ice, if the fish are kept below freezing. By thawing the fish only partially before we cut it, the water stays in the flesh», says Haugland.
Businesses benefit, because the processed fillet is heavier and hence more valuable than one with less water. And customers benefit too, although they will pay a little more at the cash register. The fish meat is moister, and hence tastier, than if the water has been squeezed out. And a fish that is cut while partially frozen will hold together better when handled by the consumer, giving it a more appetizing appearance. The fish can also be processed at colder temperatures, which discourages bacterial growth.
Haugland has been working closely with the equipment and the processing industry. He believes his research results could be profitable for equipment producers willing to invest in the new technique. Haugland is currently working with the Norwegian fishing industry and equipment producers on the new approach.
More than 8,000 of the approximately 57,000 children born in Norway each year are now delivered via Caesarean section, according to a report in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten. A new study by NTNU’s Associate Professor Bjørn Backe has shown that the percentage of Caesareans increased from 12.8 per cent in 1999 to 15.1 per cent in 2002.
The increase is the equivalent of 1,200-1,300 Caesareans a year.
Are the costs of regular medical screening for an uncommon disease justified? When it comes to a rare inherited blood disease, the answer appears to be yes. Chief physician Arne Åsberg of St Olav’s Hospital in Trondheim studied heritable hemochromatosis for his doctoral dissertation at NTNU and found that mass screening made sense.
Hemochromatosis is a congenital tendency to absorb more iron from food than the body needs. The accumulating iron can damage the liver, pancreas, heart, and other organs. If patients are diagnosed and are treated with phlebotomy (bleeding) before the damage occurs, they can be expected to have normal life spans. The world’s most extensive hemochromatosis screening took place in the county of Nord-Trøndelag in the 1990s.
The condition appears to affect less than 0.5 percent of the population. In spite of its limited occurrence, the screening is profitable, according to Åsberg. If 1,000 men in their 30s are screened, the total benefit is eight more years of life. Each of these years cost society just NOK 2,000 in testing expenses.
The research programme Concept at NTNU will scrutinize governmental billion-kroner projects in years to come. The project’s purpose is to improve decision-making during the conceptual stage of a project, as well as to improve the use of resources, and yields from large investments.
The research is closely linked to the Ministry of Finance’s initiative for quality control in large government projects. The programme will look beyond cost estimates and execution, and focus on issues such as concept choice, value creation, and practical value.
Rikshospitalet University Hospital – an example of a governmental
project that cost more than it should.