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Friday, 15 February 2013

Technology bits, 02, 2013

As the new 2013 rows out, I though it's a good time to publish all the drafts left behind in the past year. So here it is, a technology bits compiled just for you. I don't have the time to comment each of the news sepparately, but still they are quite interesting and I think they are quite useful if you are to measure the pulse of the past year. Note, here I have ommitted physics news, since I paste them into the Department of Theoretical Physics Facebook page. You are more than welcome to join if interested, since 90% of my posts there are dedicated to cool scientific news I stumble upon.

  1. Stronger than steel, novel metals are moldable as plastic
  2. New laser technology prepares to revolutionize communications
  3. New Car Engine Sends Shock Waves Through Auto Industry
  4. Cheaper and cleaner electricity from wave-powered ships (w/ video)
  5. UK scientists want human-animal tests monitored
  6. Soft memory device opens door to new biocompatible electronics (w/ Video)
  7. Energy-harvesting shock absorber that increases fuel efficiency wins R&D 100 award
  8. Italian scientists claim to have demonstrated cold fusion (w/ Video) 

Stronger than steel, novel metals are moldable as plastic

March 1, 2011 
( -- Imagine a material that's stronger than steel, but just as versatile as plastic, able to take on a seemingly endless variety of forms. For decades, materials scientists have been trying to come up with just such an ideal substance, one that could be molded into complex shapes with the same ease and low expense as plastic but without sacrificing the strength and durability of metal.
Now a team led by Jan Schroers, a materials scientist at Yale University, has shown that some recently developed bulk metallic glasses (BMGs)-metal alloys that have randomly arranged atoms as opposed to the orderly, found in ordinary metals-can be blow molded like plastics into complex shapes that can't be achieved using regular metal, yet without sacrificing the strength or durability that metal affords. Their findings are described online in the current issue of the journal Materials Today.

The materials cost about the same as high-end steel, Schroers said, but can be processed as cheaply as plastic. The alloys are made up of different metals, including zirconium, nickel, titanium and copper.

New laser technology prepares to revolutionize communications

March 28, 2011 
As fiber optic technology continues to advance, it faces challenges from both its physical properties and its use of infrastructure. One emerging high-speed solution being developed at Stevens Institute of Technology uses lasers to transmit data through readily available open space, with the potential of expanding past the limitation of fibers into a system known as optical free space communications. Dr. Rainer Martini has overcome a number of free space challenges to develop a high-speed communications technology that is not limited by a physical conductor. With an optical system that is stable enough, satellites may one day convert to laser technology, resulting in a more mobile military and super-sensitive scanners, as well as faster Internet for the masses.
A laser's beam must be optically modulated in order to transmit large amounts of data. Optically-induced amplitude modulation (AM) of mid-infrared lasers was realized by researchers at Stevens a few years ago, but AM signals are at the mercy of dust and fog. Now, Stevens researchers led by Dr. Martini have developed a technique to optically modulate the frequency of the beam as well (frequency modulation; FM) – resulting in a signal that is disrupted significantly less by environmental factors.
The new research stands to revolutionize communications, rendering environmental barriers meaningless and allowing mobile units not tied to fiber optic cable to communicate in the range of 100 GHz and beyond, the equivalent of 100 gigabytes of data per second.
Electronic modulation of middle infrared quantum cascade laser is limited to 10 GHz, and optical modulation of frequency and amplitude offers a viable alternative.
Their optical approach has a number of applications, including frequency modulation in a middle infrared free system, wavelength conversion that will transform a near infrared signal directly into a middle infrared signal, and frequency modulation spectroscopy.
 sourceMy comment:

New Car Engine Sends Shock Waves Through Auto Industry

Researchers at Michigan State University have built a prototype gasoline engine that requires no transmission, crankshaft, pistons, valves, fuel compression, cooling systems or fluids. Their so-called Wave Disk Generator could greatly improve the efficiency of gas-electric hybrid automobiles and potentially decrease auto emissions up to 90 percent when compared with conventional combustion engines.
The engine has a rotor that's equipped with wave-like channels that trap and mix oxygen and fuel as the rotor spins. These central inlets are blocked off, building pressure within the chamber, causing a shock wave that ignites the compressed air and fuel to transmit energy.
The Wave Disk Generator uses 60 percent of its fuel for propulsion; standard car engines use just 15 percent. As a result, the generator is 3.5 times more fuel efficient than typical combustion engines.
Researchers estimate the new model could shave almost 1,000 pounds off a car's weight currently taken up by conventional engine systems. source

Robot uses supersonic air jets to climb on walls and ceilings (w/ video) - ( -- Instead of using sticky footpads to climb on walls and ceilings, a new robot takes advantage of fast-moving air that can generate an adhesion force on just about any kind of surface. The robot’s grippers, which don’t ever actually touch the surface as the robot climbs, operate on Bernoulli’s principle of fluid dynamics. - Awesome! Just check the video on the site!

Cheaper and cleaner electricity from wave-powered ships (w/ video)

July 20, 2011 by Deborah Braconnier
( -- At the Clean Technology 2011 Conference and Expo in Boston, Andre Sharon presented a new concept of using ships equipped with a wave-power system to harvest energy and deliver it back to a power grid on shore.
The proposed ship would be 50 meters long and is designed to harvest the through a system of buoys hanging from pivoting arms on the side of the ship. The would bob up and down with the movement of the waves and cause the pivoting arms to drive a generator and create one megawatt of electrical power an hour. The power will be stored in an on-board battery with a capacity of 20 megawatts. The ship will be required to be out at sea for at least 20 hours in order to provide a full charge.
Current wave-power systems can generate electricity at a cost of between $0.30 and $0.65 per kWh, but Sharon calculates that the wave-power ships would be able to generate power for $0.15 per kWh which is comparable to offshore wind energy and cheaper than solar power. source

UK scientists want human-animal tests monitored

LONDON (AP) — British scientists say a new expert body should be formed to regulate experiments mixing animal and human DNA to make sure no medical or ethical boundaries are crossed. In a report issued on Friday, scientists at the nation's Academy of Medical Sciences said a government organization is needed to advise whether certain tests on animals that use human DNA should be pursued.
Scientists have long been swapping animal and human DNA. Numerous tests on mice with human genes for brain, bone and heart disorders are already under way and experiments on goats implanted with a human gene are also being done to study blood-clotting problems. Controversy erupted several years ago in Britain after scientists announced plans to make human embryos with the nucleus removed from cow and rabbit eggs. Authorities allowed limited experiments and ruled the embryos should not be allowed to develop for more than two weeks.

Scientists identify seventh and eighth bases of DNAFor decades, scientists have known that DNA consists of four basic units -- adenine, guanine, thymine and cytosine. Those four bases have been taught in science textbooks and have formed the basis of the growing knowledge regarding how genes code for life. Yet in recent history, scientists have expanded that list from four to six. Now, with a finding published online in the July 21, 2011, issue of the journal Science, researchers from the UNC School of Medicine have discovered the seventh and eighth bases of DNA. These last two bases – called 5-formylcytosine and 5 carboxylcytosine – are actually versions of cytosine that have been modified by Tet proteins, molecular entities thought to play a role in DNA demethylation and stem cell reprogramming.  

A heart of gold: Better tissue repair after heart attack (Update)
September 25, 2011 by Emily Finn

A team of researchers at MIT and Children’s Hospital Boston has built cardiac patches studded with tiny gold wires that could be used to create pieces of tissue whose cells all beat in time, mimicking the dynamics of natural heart muscle. The development could someday help people who have suffered heart attacks.
The study, reported this week in Nature Nanotechnology, promises to improve on existing cardiac patches, which have difficulty achieving the level of conductivity necessary to ensure a smooth, continuous “beat” throughout a large piece of tissue.
The researchers plan to pursue studies in vivo to determine how the composite-grown tissue functions when implanted into live hearts.  source

Cloaking magnetic fields: The first 'antimagnet' device developed
September 23, 2011

Spanish researchers have designed what they believe to be a new type of magnetic cloak, which shields objects from external magnetic fields, while at the same time preventing any magnetic internal fields from leaking outside, making the cloak undetectable.

The development of such a device, described as an 'antimagnet', could offer many beneficial applications, such as protecting a ship's hull from mines designed to detonate when a magnetic field is detected, or allowing patients with pacemakers or cochlear implants to use medical equipment.
The antimagnet has been designed to consist of several layers. The inner layer would consist of a superconducting material that would function to stop a magnetic field from leaking outside of the cloak, which would be very useful to cloak certain metals.A downside to using this material, however, is that it would distort an external magnetic field placed over the cloak, making it detectable, so the device would need to be combined with several outer layers of metamaterials, which have varying levels of magnetic field permeability, to correct this distortion and leave the magnetic field undisturbed.
The researchers demonstrated the feasibility of the cloak using computer simulations of a ten-layered cylindrical device cloaking a single small magnet. source

World's largest fusion device goes back to work - September 5, 2011-  European scientists working on the Joint European Torus (JET), the world's largest magnetic confinement fusion device, are about to embark on the first round of experiments following a 22-month period where the device was out of action whilst being upgraded and commissioned.JET's researchers are investigating the potential of fusion power as a safe, clean, and virtually limitless energy source for future generations. The research is coordinated under the European Fusion Development Agreement (EFDA), signed by all 27 Member States as well as Switzerland. The JET project forms part of the preparatory stages leading to preparation for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) operation.

Soft memory device opens door to new biocompatible electronics (w/ Video)

July 14, 2011 Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a memory device that is soft and functions well in wet environments – opening the door to a new generation of biocompatible electronic devices.
The device's ability to function in wet environments, and the biocompatibility of the gels, mean that this technology holds promise for interfacing electronics with biological systems – such as cells, enzymes or tissue. source

Energy-harvesting shock absorber that increases fuel efficiency wins R&D 100 award

July 14, 2011 by Lisa Zyga An energy-harvesting shock absorber that can be installed in a vehicle’s suspension system to absorb the energy from bumps in the road, convert the energy into electricity, and improve fuel efficiency by 1-8% has recently won the R&D 100 award.
The new shock absorbers were designed by Professor Lei Zuo and graduate students Xiudong Tang and Zachary Brindak at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook, with funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).
Zuo’s team developed and patented two different types of shock absorbers: linear and rotational. The new linear shock absorber consists of a small magnetic tube with high flux intensity that slides inside a larger, hollow coil tube. The rotational version employs a compact motion magnification mechanism.
Due to bumps and vibrations from normal driving, the sliding tubes or rotating generator can produce an electric voltage. When installed in a medium-sized passenger car traveling at 60 mph, the shock absorber can generate 100-400 watts of energy under normal driving conditions, and up to 1600 watts on particularly rough roads. Trucks, rail cars, and off-road vehicles get a return of 1-10 kilowatts, depending on road quality.
The harvested energy is then used to charge the battery and power the vehicle’s electronics, which is typically 250-350 watts with optional electronic systems turned off. This energy reduces the load on the vehicle’s alternator, which usually has a capacity about 500-600 watts. In this way, the harvested energy could increase fuel efficiency by 1-4% in conventional cars and by 8% in hybrid vehicles. As a side benefit, the shock absorber also creates a smoother ride due to the ability to adjust the suspension damping and implement self-powered vibration control.
The electricity-generating shock absorber can be retrofitted into today’s vehicles by replacing conventional shock absorbers - in which the vibration energy is wasted as heat - without modification of the vehicle suspension structure. The researchers estimate that the installation cost can be recouped in 3-4 years for typical passenger vehicles, and 1-2 years for trucks.

Italian scientists claim to have demonstrated cold fusion (w/ Video)

January 20, 2011 by Lisa Zyg( -- Few areas of science are more controversial than cold fusion, the hypothetical near-room-temperature reaction in which two smaller nuclei join together to form a single larger nucleus while releasing large amounts of energy.
The latest news occurred last week, when Italian scientists Andrea Rossi and Sergio Focardi of the University of Bologna announced that they developed a device capable of producing 12,400 W of heat power with an input of just 400 W. Last Friday, the scientists held a private invitation press conference in Bologna, attended by about 50 people, where they demonstrated what they claim is a nickel-hydrogen . Further, the scientists say that the reactor is well beyond the research phase; they plan to start shipping commercial devices within the next three months and start mass production by the end of 2011.
Rossi and Focardi say that, when the atomic nuclei of nickel and hydrogen are fused in their reactor, the reaction produces copper and a large amount of energy. The reactor uses less than 1 gram of hydrogen and starts with about 1,000 W of electricity, which is reduced to 400 W after a few minutes. Every minute, the reaction can convert 292 grams of 20°C water into dry steam at about 101°C. Since raising the temperature of water by 80°C and converting it to steam requires about 12,400 W of power, the experiment provides a power gain of 12,400/400 = 31. As for costs, the scientists estimate that electricity can be generated at a cost of less than 1 cent/kWh, which is significantly less than coal or natural gas plants.
Rossi and Focardi explain that the reaction produces radiation, providing evidence that the reaction is indeed a nuclear reaction and does not work by some other method. They note that no radiation escapes due to lead shielding, and no radioactivity is left in the cell after it is turned off, so there is no nuclear waste.source