For future astronauts, the process of suiting up may go something like this: instead of climbing into a conventional, bulky, gas-pressurized suit, an astronaut may don a lightweight, stretchy garment, lined with tiny, muscle-like coils. She would then plug in to a spacecraft’s power supply, triggering the coils to contract and essentially shrink-wrap the garment around her body.
The skintight, pressurized suit would not only support the astronaut, but would give her much more freedom to move during planetary exploration. To take the suit off, she would only have to apply modest force, returning the suit to its looser form.
From the most parched areas of Saudi Arabia to water-scarce areas of the western U.S., the idea of harvesting fog for water is catching on. Now, a novel approach to this process could help meet affected communities’ needs for the life-essential resource. Scientists describe their new, highly efficient fog collector, inspired by a shorebird’s beak, in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.
Cheng Luo and his doctoral student, Xin Heng, explain that deserts and semi-arid areas cover about half of the Earth’s land masses. In some of these places, trucks bring in potable water for the people who live there. To find a more sustainable way to get water, these communities, which can’t draw water from underground or surface supplies, have turned to the air — and to nature for inspiration.
Cephalopods, which include octopuses, squid and cuttlefish, are among nature’s most skillful camouflage artists, able to change both the color and texture of their skin within seconds to blend into their surroundings — a capability that engineers have long struggled to duplicate in synthetic materials. Now, a team of researchers has come closer than ever to achieving that goal, creating a flexible material that can change its color or fluorescence and its texture at the same time, on demand, by remote control.
Sharks Inspire Hospital Surfaces to Cut Infections
Transmission of bacterial infections, including MRSA and MSSA could be curbed by coating hospital surfaces with microscopic bumps that mimic the scaly surface of shark skin, according to research published in BioMed Central’s open access journal Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control.
The study modeled how well different materials prevented the spread of human disease bacteria through touching, sneezes or spillages. The micro-pattern, named Sharklet, is an arrangement of ridges formulated to resemble shark skin. The study showed that Sharklet harbored 94 percent less MRSA bacteria than a smooth surface, and fared better than copper, a leading antimicrobial material. The bacteria were less able to attach to Sharklet’s imperceptibly textured surface, suggesting it could reduce the spread of superbugs in hospital settings.
Cheetah Robot Can Run, Jump, Untethered, Across Grass
Speed and agility are hallmarks of the cheetah: the big predator is the fastest land animal on Earth, able to accelerate to 60 mph in just a few seconds. As it ramps up to top speed, a cheetah pumps its legs in tandem, bounding until it reaches a full gallop.
Now, MIT researchers have developed an algorithm for bounding that they’ve successfully implemented in a robotic cheetah — a sleek, four-legged assemblage of gears, batteries and electric motors that weighs about as much as its feline counterpart. The team recently took the robot for a test run on MIT’s Killian Court, where it bounded across the grass at a steady clip.
Image of the Week: Approach Creates Strong, Conductive Carbon Threads
The very idea of fibers made of carbon nanotubes is neat, but Rice Univ. scientists are making them neater — literally. The single-walled carbon nanotubes in new fibers created at Rice line up like a fistful of uncooked spaghetti through a process designed by chemist Angel Martí and his colleagues.
The tricky bit, according to Martí, whose lab reported its results this month in the journal ACS Nano, is keeping the densely packed nanotubes apart before they’re drawn together into a fiber. Left to their own devices, carbon nanotubes form clumps that are perfectly wrong for turning into the kind of strong, conductive fibers needed for projects ranging from nanoscale electronics to macro-scale power grids.
Researchers at Chalmers Univ. of Technology have shown the use of sound to communicate with an artificial atom. They can thereby demonstrate phenomena from quantum physics with sound taking on the role of light. The results will be published in the journal Science.
The interaction between atoms and light is well known and has been studied extensively in the field of quantum optics. However, to achieve the same kind of interaction with sound waves has been a more challenging undertaking. The Chalmers researchers have now succeeded in making acoustic waves couple to an artificial atom. The study was done in collaboration between experimental and theoretical physicists.
Rice Univ. wireless researchers have found a way to make the most of the unused UHF TV spectrum by serving up fat streams of data over wireless hotspots that could stretch for miles.
In a presentation this week at the Association for Computing Machinery’s MobiCom 2014 conference in Maui, Hawaii, researchers from Rice’s Wireless Network Group unveiled a multiuser, multi-antenna transmission scheme for UHF, a portion of the radio spectrum that is traditionally reserved for television broadcasts.
Scientists have married two unconventional forms of carbon – one shaped like a soccer ball, the other a tiny diamond – to make a molecule that conducts electricity in only one direction. This tiny electronic component, known as a rectifier, could play a key role in shrinking chip components down to the size of molecules to enable faster, more powerful devices.
“We wanted to see what new, emergent properties might come out when you put these two ingredients together to create a ‘buckydiamondoid,’” said Hari Manoharan of the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES) at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. “What we got was a basically a one-way valve for conducting electricity – clearly more than the sum of its parts.”
From the people who brought us peptoid nanosheets that form at the interface between air and water, now come peptoid nanosheets that form at the interface between oil and water. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have developed peptoid nanosheets – two-dimensional biomimetic materials with customizable properties – that self-assemble at an oil-water interface. This new development opens the door to designing peptoid nanosheets of increasing structural complexity and chemical functionality for a broad range of applications, including improved chemical sensors and separators, and safer — more effective — drug delivery vehicles.
A centuries-old clock built for a king is the inspiration for a group of computer scientists and electrical engineers who hope to harvest power from the air. The clock, powered by changes in temperature and atmospheric pressure, was invented in the early 17th century by a Dutch builder. Three centuries later, Swiss engineer Jean Leon Reutter built on that idea and created the Atmos mechanical clock that can run for years without needing to be wound manually.
Now, Univ. of Washington researchers have taken inspiration from the clock’s design and created a power harvester that uses natural fluctuations in temperature and pressure as its power source. The device harvests energy in any location where these temperature changes naturally occur, powering sensors that can check for water leaks or structural deficiencies in hard-to-reach places and alerting users by sending out a wireless signal.
A quantum effect in which excited atoms team up to emit an enhanced pulse of light can be turned on its head to create super-absorbing systems to make the ultimate camera.
Superradiance, a phenomenon where a group of atoms charged up with energy act collectively to release a far more intense pulse of light than they would individually, is well-known to physicists. In theory the effect can be reversed to create a device that draws in light ultra-efficiently. This could be revolutionary for devices ranging from digital cameras to solar cells. But there’s a problem: the advantage of this quantum effect is strongest when the atoms are already 50 percent charged – and then the system would rather release its energy back as light than absorb more.
Where the river meets the sea, there is the potential to harness a significant amount of renewable energy, according to a team of mechanical engineers at MIT.
The researchers evaluated an emerging method of power generation, called pressure retarded osmosis (PRO), in which two streams of different salinity are mixed to produce energy. In principle, a PRO system would take in river water and seawater on either side of a semi-permeable membrane. Through osmosis, water from the less-salty stream would cross the membrane to a pre-pressurized saltier side, creating a flow that can be sent through a turbine to recover power.
By zapping the air with a pair of powerful laser bursts, researchers at the Univ. of Arizona have created highly focused pathways that can channel electricity through the atmosphere.
The technique can potentially direct an electrical discharge up to 33 feet away or more, shattering previous distance records for transmitting electricity through air. It also raises the intriguing possibility of one day channeling lightning with laser power.