Explosions caused by leaking gas pipes under city streets have frequently made headlines in recent years, including one that leveled an apartment building in New York this spring. But while the problem of old and failing pipes has garnered much attention, methods for addressing such failing infrastructure have lagged far behind.
Typically, leaks are found using aboveground acoustic sensors, which listen for faint sounds and vibrations caused by leakage, or in-pipe detectors, which sometimes use video cameras to look for signs of pipe breaks. But all such systems are very slow, and can miss small leaks altogether.
Manufacturing Method Key to ‘Soft’ Machines, Robots
Researchers have developed a technique that might be used to produce “soft machines” made of elastic materials and liquid metals for potential applications in robotics, medical devices and consumer electronics. Such an elastic technology could make possible robots that have sensory skin and stretchable garments that people might wear to interact with computers or for therapeutic purposes.
However, new manufacturing techniques must be developed before soft machines become commercially practical, says Rebecca Kramer, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue Univ. She and her students are working to develop the fabrication technique, which uses a custom-built 3-D printer. Recent findings show how to use the technique to create devices called strain gauges, which are commonly found in many commercial applications to measure how much something is stretching.
Engineer Jack Marshall held his breath. The “heart” of the James Webb Space Telescope hung from a cable 30 feet in the air as it was lowered slowly into the massive thermal vacuum chamber at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
This “heart” of Webb is called the ISIM or Integrated Science Instrument Module, which along with its thermal vacuum test frame and supporting hardware, weighs about as much as an elephant. Within this test frame, ISIM sits inside a big-mirrored cube of cryo-panels and blankets. This process can be seen in a video by a Goddard videographer.
Researchers Create Ultra-thin Wires for Quantum Computing
Take a fine strand of silica fiber, attach it at each end to a slow-turning motor, gently torture it over an unflickering flame until it just about reaches its melting point and then pull it apart. The middle will thin out like a piece of taffy until it is less than half a micron across — about 200 times thinner than a human hair.
That, according to researchers at the Joint Quantum Institute at the Univ. of Maryland, is how you fabricate ultra-high transmission optical nanofibers, a potential component for future quantum information devices, which they describe in American Institute of Physics Publishing’s journal AIP Advances.
EPFL scientists have developed a mathematical model to minimize the infrastructure and operational costs of the TOSA ultra-rapid rechargeable electric bus system.
Are electric buses that recharge themselves at bus stops the future of public transportation? For now they’re part of the arsenal deployed in the name of sustainable mobility. In Geneva, ABB Sécheron and its partners — TPG, SIG and OPI — have just concluded a successful pilot operation of their electric bus system TOSA. Instead of using overhead lines, the buses power up in just 15 seconds at specific stops and at the terminus station. How can this technology that frees trolleybuses from electric wires be integrated into the public transport network? ,br />Read more: http://www.laboratoryequipment.com/videos/2014/06/math-helps-keep-cost-electric-buses-down
Using microscopic polymer light resonators that expand in the presence of specific gases, researchers at MIT’s Quantum Photonics Laboratory have developed new optical sensors with predicted detection levels in the parts-per-billion range. Optical sensors are ideal for detecting trace gas concentrations because of their high signal-to-noise ratio, compact, lightweight nature and immunity to electromagnetic interference.
Although other optical gas sensors had been developed before, the MIT team has conceived an extremely sensitive, compact way to detect vanishingly small amounts of target molecules.
SimonsResearchers have shown how to modify a smartphone so that it can be used to measure a person’s walking gait to prevent falls in people with compromised balance, such as the elderly or those with Parkinson’s disease.
The innovation, being commercialized as SmartGait, is designed as a tool to aid health care officials in assessing a person’s risk of falling and identifying ways to avoid injury.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers have developed a new and more efficient approach to a challenging problem in additive manufacturing using selective laser melting — the selection of appropriate process parameters that result in parts with desired properties.
Selective laser melting (SLM) is a powder-based, additive manufacturing process where a 3-D part is produced, layer by layer, using a high-energy laser beam to fuse the metal powder particles. Some SLM applications require parts that are very dense, with less than 1 percent porosity, as the pores or voids are the weakest part of the material and most likely would result in failure.
Washington State Univ. researchers have developed the first fuel cell that can directly convert fuels, such as jet fuel or gasoline, to electricity, providing a dramatically more energy-efficient way to create electric power for planes or cars.
Led by Profs. Su Ha and M. Norton in the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture, the researchers have published the results of their work in Energy Technology. A second paper on using their fuel cell with gasoline has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Power Sources. The researchers have made coin-sized fuel cells to prove the concept and plan to scale it up.
A research project led by Biome Bioplastics, aided by research conducted by the Univ. of Warwick’s Centre for Biotechnology and Biorefining, has demonstrated the feasibility of extracting organic chemicals from lignin for the manufacture of bioplastics.
The results stem from a grant from the UK’s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board, awarded to a consortium led by Biome Bioplastics in early 2013 to investigate lignin as a new source of organic chemicals for bioplastics manufacture, which could significantly reduce costs and increase performance of these sustainable materials.
Lignin is a complex hydrocarbon that helps to provide structural support in plants and trees. As a waste product of the pulp and paper industry, lignin is a potentially abundant and low-cost feedstock for the high performance chemicals that could provide the foundation for the next generation of bioplastics.
The explosions that damaged a crippled Japanese nuclear plant during a disaster that forced mass evacuations in 2011 show what can happen when nuclear fuel overheats.
In response to the Fukushima Dai-ichi accident, the U.S. government dramatically increased funding to develop tougher protective skins for nuclear fuel, hoping to spur innovation in designs that hadn’t changed much in years. While the U.S. Department of Energy was spending $2 million before the accident on future fuel designs, the funding reached as much as $30 million afterward.
Brightly colored, iridescent films, made from the same wood pulp that is used to make paper, could potentially substitute traditional toxic pigments in the textile and security industries. The films use the same principle as can be seen in some of the most vivid colors in nature, resulting in colors that do not fade, even after a century.
Some of the brightest and most colorful materials in nature – such as peacock feathers, butterfly wings and opals – get their color not from pigments, but from their internal structure alone.
A new video shows a synthetic opal, which is made using polystyrene spheres surrounded by even tinier polystyrene spheres around 1,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. Harry Beeson, from the Univ. of Cambridge, explains how it’s important to look at nanoscale structures like this to improve the efficiency of solar cells.
“Currently, solar panels are usually built from some form of crystalline silicon, and achieve reasonable power conversion efficiencies. However, this crystalline silicon is relatively expensive to make and is rigid and heavy, reducing the portability of the solar cells. Alternative materials could counter these problems, but for the moment cannot achieve the same efficiency as silicon.
If you don’t want to die of thirst in the desert, be like the beetle. Or have a nanotube cup handy. New research by scientists at Rice Univ. demonstrated that forests of carbon nanotubes can be made to harvest water molecules from arid desert air and store them for future use.
The invention they call a “hygroscopic scaffold” is detailed in a new paper in ACS’ Applied Materials and Interfaces. Researchers in the lab of Rice materials scientist Pulickel Ajayan found a way to mimic the Stenocara beetle, which survives in the desert by stretching its wings to capture and drink water molecules from the early morning fog.