News

NASA Data Helps Growers During California's Drought

Following two consecutive years of drought conditions, 2014 is shaping up to be one of the driest years on record in California. Since 1982, the California Department of Water Resources (CDWR) has operated more than 140 monitoring stations that provide daily measurements of agricultural weather conditions and the amount of water lost to the atmosphere by a well-water grass surface. Data from this network is distributed through the California Irrigation Management Information System (CIMIS), operated by CDWR. To date, this information has been shown to have great value as a tool for irrigation managers to determine the water requirements for their crops.

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Researchers Mass-Manufacture Using Compostable Material

Researchers at Harvard's Wyss Institute have developed a method to carry out large-scale manufacturing of everyday objects — from cell phones to food containers and toys — using a fully degradable bioplastic isolated from shrimp shells. The objects exhibit many of the same properties as those created with synthetic plastics, but without the environmental threat. The process also trumps most bioplastics on the market today in posing absolutely no threat to trees or competition with the food supply.The Wyss Institute team developed its bioplastic from chitosan, a form of chitin, which is a powerful player in the world of natural polymers and the second most abundant organic material on Earth. Using traditional casting or injection molding manufacturing techniques, the researchers process the material so that it can be used to fabricate large, 3D objects with complex shapes. This advance validates the potential of using bioinspired plastics for applications that require large-scale manufacturing. The next challenge is for the team to continue to refine their chitosan fabrication methods so that they can take them out of the laboratory, and move them into a commercial manufacturing facility with an industrial partner.SourceAlso: Read other Manufacturing & Prototyping articles.

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Proposed Device Harvests Energy from Earth's Infrared Emissions

Physicists at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) envision a device that would harvest energy from Earth’s infrared emissions into outer space.The research team is proposing something akin to a photovoltaic solar panel. Instead of capturing incoming visible light, however, the device would generate electric power by releasing infrared light.To show the range of possibilities, the group suggests two different kinds of emissive energy harvesters: one that is analogous to a solar thermal power generator, and one that is analogous to a photovoltaic cell. Both would run in reverse.The first type of device would consist of a “hot” plate at the temperature of the Earth and air, with a “cold” plate on top of it. The cold plate, facing upward, would be made of a highly emissive material that cools by very efficiently radiating heat to the sky. Based on measurements of infrared emissions in Lamont, Oklahoma (as a case study), the researchers calculate that the heat difference between the plates could generate a few watts per square meter, day and night.SourceAlso: Learn about the TIRS thermal infrared sensor.

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President Announces Manufacturing Innovation Competitions

A Detroit-area based consortium of 60 companies, nonprofits, and universities and a Chicago-based consortium of 73 companies, nonprofits, and universities are partnering with the federal government to launch two new manufacturing innovation hubs.

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World War II-Era Equipment Gets Restored For Today's Research Needs

It sounds like the ultimate recycling project. The Naval Research Laboratory and the Office of Naval Research, through its INTOP Program, have taken a 96,000-pound piece of equipment that was used in the 1940s and are refurbishing it for use in research today. This World War II-era equipment, a three-axis tilting platform now called the Ship Motion System (SMS), is located at NRL's Chesapeake Bay Detachment (CBD) along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in Calvert County, Maryland.

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Army Researchers Inspire Commercial Rifle Fire Control Systems

Researchers at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory go about their business every day working on projects to help better serve the military and its members who protect our country. Sometimes the research inspires commercial companies to do additional research and expand on certain aspects to develop products of their own. That is what happened with the Army Research Laboratory's (ARL's) research called "Inertial Reticle Technology," where researchers who were then in the Weapons and Materials Research Directorate developed a concept to apply advanced fire control technology to sniper weapons.

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NASA SPHERES Run Circles Around Ordinary Satellites

NASA’s free-flying satellites known as Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) have been flying aboard the International Space Station since 2003. Powered by AA batteries, the satellites act as free-flying platforms that can accommodate various mounting features and mechanisms in order to test and examine the physical or mechanical properties of materials in microgravity.

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