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June 8, 2012 at 7:03 PM
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Fusion power said one step closer

KNOXVILLE, Tenn., June 8 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say they've completed an important step in developing a key technology that could lead to clean nuclear fusion power.

Researchers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, are part of an international effort to develop an experimental reactor that can demonstrate the feasibility of fusion energy for the power grid.

The project, known as ITER, is building a fusion reactor near Cadarache, France, that aims to produce 10 times as much energy as it uses.

The Tennessee researchers have successfully tested a technology that will insulate and provide structural integrity to the 1,000-ton central solenoid, the reactor's "backbone."

A fusion reactor uses magnetic fields to confine the plasma within it, and the central solenoid, which consists of six giant coils stacked on top of one another, plays a vital role by both igniting and steering the plasma current.

Researchers had to find the right material --a glass fiber and epoxy chemical mixture that is liquid at high temperatures and turns hard when cured -- and the right process of inserting this material into all of the necessary spaces inside the central solenoid.

The UT team has tested the technology inside its mockup of the central solenoid conductor, a university release reported Friday.

It took two years to develop the technology and more than two days to impregnate the central solenoid mockup, researchers said.

The ITER experimental reactor in France is set to begin operations in 2020.

Remains of first Shakespeare theater found

LONDON, June 8 (UPI) -- Archaeologists in London say they've discovered the remains of an Elizabethan theater where some of William Shakespeare's plays were first performed.

Researchers from the Museum of London unearthed parts of the yard and gallery walls of the Curtain Theater, which opened in 1577, behind a pub in Shoreditch in east London during redevelopment work on the property, the BBC reported.

"This is a fantastic site which gives us unique insight into early Shakespearean theatres," lead archaeologist Chris Thomas said.

The Curtain was home to Shakespeare's theater company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, from 1597 until the Globe Theater opened two years later, he said.

Shakespeare plays thought to have premiered there include "Henry V" and "Romeo and Juliet."

"This is one of the most significant Shakespearean discoveries of recent years," said a spokesman for Plough Yard Developments, which owns the site.

The theater disappeared from historical records in 1622.

"Although The Curtain was known to have been in the area, its exact location was a mystery," the spokesman said.

Study: Vacations are going digital

EAST LANSING, Mich., June 8 (UPI) -- Packing smartphones, tablets and laptops is as much a part of vacations these days as remembering the sunscreen, a Michigan State University study found.

Even for people on holiday, easy online access and ubiquitous personal devices have made the digital divide disappear, researchers said.

"Not that long ago, travelers would need to find a payphone or send postcards to brag about their vacations. Now they just log on and send photos and text," researcher Christine Vogt said. "Our results show clearly how the changing nature of IT behavior in everyday life is spilling over into our vacations."

The number of people using smartphones has tripled and wireless use was higher on vacation, 40 percent, than at home, 25 percent, the study revealed.

People used the Web more to plan vacations, 80 percent, than for work, 70 percent.

"Travelers are using their laptops and phones more often, and not just to plan vacations," Vogt said. "Since WiFi is available at most destinations, tourists are checking local weather forecasts, transportation schedules, restaurant recommendations, fishing reports, safe bicycling routes and much more."

Robot mimics creatures' escape 'trick'

BERKELEY, Calif., June 8 (UPI) -- A trick used by gekkos and cockroaches to flee predators has been duplicated by a robot that could be used in search and rescue efforts, U.S. researchers say.

The animals can run to the edge of a ledge or cliff and keep right on going, researchers found, grabbing the edge with their hindmost feet then swinging underneath to grab the underside and hang upside down, safe from a potential attacker.

Jean-Michel Mongeau and his colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, studied this ability in both cockroaches and gekkos, NewScientist.com reported Friday.

Mongeau filmed cockroaches doing the edge "flip."

"To the naked eye, it wasn't clear what was happening, but when we filmed them with a high-speed camera and slowed it down, we were amazed to see that it was the cockroach's hind legs grabbing the surface that allowed it to swing around under the ledge," he said.

Mongeau and his team filmed the same escape tactic in wild geckos in Singapore.

They then teamed up with the university's robotics group to apply their knowledge about this swing motion to modify a small six-legged robot so it could negotiate ledges in this way using Velcro on its legs.

This motion could be developed into highly mobile search-and-rescue robots, they said.

"That's the challenge now in robotics, to produce robots that can transition on complex surfaces and get into dangerous areas that first responders can't get into," Berkeley biologist Robert Full said.

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