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The Oscars of Invention

15. 4. 2008








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Vapor-sniffing chemicals find IEDs from a distance
Roadside bombs, a deadly threat to soldiers in Iraq, have led to heavily-armored Humvees. But a better solution would be to find the bombs before it’s too late. Univ. of Michigan research has created fluorescing materials that “sniff” out explosives, suggesting an inexpensive sensor network.

Needle-like RFID sensor pinpoints tumors and measures radiation
Purdue engineer Babak Ziaie has developed prototype wireless dosimeter that he hopes will one day soon shrink to the size of a rice grain. Shaped to fit inside a large diameter needle, the radio device can measure radiation precisely and pinpoint the real-time tumor location without expensive x-ray imaging.

Antarctic surface snowmelt down 40% in 2008
The breakage of Antarctic ice shelves continues to grab news headlines, yet surface thaw on the southern continent in 2008 has been sharply below a recent 20-year average. Derived from microwave observations from space, the data raises still more questions about global climate behavior.

Martian clues help reveal new mineral on Earth
Through an unusual intersection of Earthbound analytical science and raw Martian data, Canadian scientists have reported finding a previously unobserved mineral: meridianiite (MgSO411H2O). The special steps needed to find it help explain why it’s gone unnoticed before now.

The call of the wild Antarctic
To obtain the acoustic baseline of a “pristine” ocean, the otherworldly sounds of from the bottom of a floating Antarctic ice shelf are available to the public for the first time. German scientists are streaming the noise they gather real-time from hydrophones located deep under the Ekström ice shelf.

Climate change’s poster child is poorly understood
Frustrated by both difficult-to-interpret satellite data and a lack of knowledge about pollution transport from the Arctic, NASA scientists this week take to the air to conduct a comprehensive field study of atmospheric chemistry in the lower Arctic.

Does the future hold an algae-powered Bimmer?
An interesting thought, but hydrogen is the missing link. Argonne National Lab’s engineers have measured extremely low levels of emission from the BMW Hydrogen 7’s hydrogen combustion motor. At the same time, Argonne’s chemists are looking to harness the photosynthetic power of algae to commercially generate hydrogen gas.

Is it real, or synthetic? A tricorder could help
A genomics gives rise to modified genetic sequences, the need for sensors to detect the difference between natural and engineered DNA has prompted Lawrence Livermore National Lab to develop a detection technique that could one day be used in handheld device straight out of Star Trek.

Bomb sniffer and industrial monitor in one tiny sensor
Building on the tendency for metallic phthalocyanine films to alter electrical conductivity when exposed to either oxidizing or reducing, chemists and physicists at the Univ. of California, San Diego, have made a coin-sized detector that can ferret out vapors of hydrogen peroxide, the common ingredient in most homemade explosives.

Satellite makes first observation of man-made CO2 emissions
For the first time, reports the European Space Agency, the Envisat satellite has detected regionally elevated anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions in an area from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Frankfurt, Germany. Distinguishing natural from man-made CO2 should help scientists track the carbon cycle.

Antineutrino detector not so far-fetched, scientists say
A simple, robust antineutrino detector seemed out of the reach of the nuclear power industry until recent R&D at Lawrence Livermore National Lab. The discovery is important because such a device can independently (as well as remotely and securely) differentiate between fissile uranium-235 and plutonium-239, an important feature for nonproliferation efforts.

Researchers quadruple wireless data rate
A group of people talking all at once won’t make much sense to the listening. But Zurich engineers have discovered a wireless transceiver doesn’t need hear messages one a time. Called multiple input multiple output technology, it greatly boosts transmission rates.

World’s fastest, and space’s biggest, laboratory
Japan’s Kibo laboratory, when complete, will be the largest of the International Space Station study modules. Packed full of high-tech experiments, Kibo is the size of a bus and will need three Shuttle missions to install. The first portion is already in orbit.

Moon rocket motor gets a makeover
In the coming years, NASA will depend on the J-2X rocket engine, a developed version of the J-2 used in the Saturn V rocket. Performance analysis requires sophisticated testing setups, including a seven-element heat sink test chamber to accommodate pressures up to 5,000 psi.

Powerful bio tool springs from mathematical theory
In an interesting cross-discipline scientific paper, a mathematician at the National Univ. at San Diego has provided the blueprint for a powerful biological device: a handheld DNA detector. A new instrument, the ion-selective field-effect transistor, is key to the concept.

The rapid-fire life of the common blowfly
Step 1: Attach tiny electrodes to the visual neurons of a fly. Step 2: Build an elaborate mechanism that simulates the frenetic flight of a fly; Step 3: Read the firing pattern. The surprising results from Los Alamos Lab should be useful in establishing a neuromimetic platform for artificial intelligence.

Something—actually, lots of things—in the water
An Associated Press probe revealed today the unpredictable cocktail of pharmaceuticals, both unused and undigested, that exists in 24 U.S. metropolitan water supplies. The presence of so many drugs, even in small concentrations, has some worried.

Rivals in the battle for accuracy
It’s official. After a year of observations, the aluminum quantum logic clock from the National Institute of Standards and Technology matches the accuracy of the other “world’s most accurate clock,” which is based on a mercury ion. Neither would gain or lose a second in a billion years, if they were to last that long.

Pathogen hunter drops detection time to just 3 minutes
Already licensed to Maryland-based Innovative Biosensors Inc., the portable PANTHER sensor from MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory uses cell-based sensor technology to ferret out 24 different pathogens from just a few dozen particles per liter of air.

When landing on the red planet, the more eyes the better
These days, a Martian landing has plenty of witnesses. Three orbiters will be tracking NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander as it streaks through the Martian atmosphere in May, constantly transmitting diagnostics back to Earth in an effort to maximize the chance for a perfect landing.

Can RFID technology help secure our blood supply?
A project by technology firm Syslogic and the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison’s RFID Lab aims to supplant line-of-sight barcoding in blood transfusion products with a radio frequency identification (RFID) network. Benefits: lower cost, less waste, and less risk of error.

Sound and Vibration Suite Provides Interactive Data Acquisition and Analysis
National Instruments (NI), Austin, Texas, recently introduced the NI Sound and Vibration Measurement Suite, v. 6.0, along with their newest 16-channel data acquisition module for sound and vibration, the NI PXI-4495. This suite of tools is the most comprehensive set of tools for measuring noise, vibration, and harshness, monitoring machine conditions, and analyzing audio test applications.

Increasing Mobile Systems Raises RF Test Throughput Issues
"The RF (radio frequency) market is at an inflection point," says Walt Strickler, director of marketing for wireless and RF products at Keithley Instruments, Cleveland, Ohio. The explosion of new, multi-function wireless communication devices, led by a plethora of cell phones with increasingly complex features, has increased the bandwidth requirements for these devices. And looking at how these devices are developed, tested, and manufactured, the testing throughput demands are similarly increasing.

Suppliers Raise the Bar on Oscilloscope Performance
Manufacturers of high-performance DSO/DSA (digital storage oscilloscope/digital signal analyzer) instruments continue to push the envelope, making the most accurate, repeatable, and precise high-speed digital and RF electronic measurements.

Pushing the limits by shoving atoms
For the first time, scientists know not only how to move a single atom around, but also exactly how much force it takes. It doesn't take much (on the order of trillionths of a newton). The technique comes from semiconductor research at IBM, which developed a technique that employs quartz tuning fork attached to an atomic force microscope.

More Test, Measurement & Analysis News Archive

Surface probe calibrator features uniform, fast heat-up

Current transducer benefits from low power consumption

Sensors made for challenging environmental conditions

Omega DAQ USB modules support wet and dry input contacts

Handheld meter employs white light polarization interferometry

Differential pressure transmitter comes in ultra-compact housing

Type K thermometer probe reads any surface

Handheld heavy-duty thermometer is lab and industry ready

Atlas laboratory weather system gets digital control

UPS provides constant power for biomedical and lab applications

More Test, Measurement & Analysis Products Archive

Editor's Take

April 14, 2008

Back in the game
Energy use is like a mutual fund—it appears that a variety of types is what it takes to have an efficient system. Electricity generation in the U.S. is a major user of energy based upon sources and technologies that are somewhat slow to change—50% of the electricity generated is powered by coal, 18% by natural gas, 20% by nuclear, and 9% by various types of renewable with most (75%) by hydroelectric sources. And while total electricity generated has increased by more than 25% over the past 20 years, the nuclear share has stayed fairly constant even with fewer reactors online and with the last new reactor coming online in 1996. This was accomplished through continuous efficiency improvements in the existing generating units.

But after a 30-year pause in the consideration of new reactor construction, about 30 reactor projects are currently being considered with four or five active sites in Alabama, Maryland, Texas, Virginia, and South Carolina. Long-lead components have already been ordered, and construction contracts signed in some cases with General Electric and Toshiba/Westinghouse. Public concern over the 1979 Three Mile Island and 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accidents was the primary reason for this pause in U.S. construction. Now, however, the concern over the emission of CO2 and global warming has brought nuclear back into view. These concerns were not as strong in other countries—there are currently 108 reactors in operation in Asia, with 18 under construction, and strong plans to build another 110.

Construction in China is especially aggressive. And as in most projects they undertake they’re doing it faster and cheaper than similar projects in the rest of the world. China has had nuclear plants in operation since the early 1990s, which were built with French support. They now have the expertise to build their own facilities, although they outsource the actual reactor and fuel supplies. They also hold tight to their schedules, which are about five years from construction start to operation.

Japan’s Toshiba has already won contracts to build two reactors each in South Carolina, Alabama, and, within the last month, Texas. They too have a history of on-time construction schedules (about five years), on-budget contracts, and reliability and safety for similar reactors (advanced boiling water reactors) they’ve built in Japan over the past 12 years.

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