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High-Power Laser Spinoff Proves Versatility is Strength

Since lasers were invented in 1960, they have penetrated countless scientific, industrial and recreational fields from eye surgery to DVD players, from cutting steel to triggering ignition in missile stages. That last use is a target market for Alfalight, a University of Wisconsin-Madison spinoff that set out in 1999 to use patented technology to make lasers for the telecommunications industry. At the time, "a tremendous need was forecast for these high-power, reliable lasers in telecom," says Ron Bechtold, Alfalight's vice president of marketing and sales.A green laser module, together with control electronics, at the Madison lab of Alfalight, a spinoff from UW-Madison that makes high-power lasers. (Photo: David Tenenbaum)

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Researchers Develop Biodegradable Computer Chip

In an effort to alleviate the environmental burden of electronic devices, a team of University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers has collaborated with the Madison-based U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) to develop a semiconductor chip made almost entirely of wood.

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Visual Microphone Identifies Structural Defects

A new technique from Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers estimates material properties of physical objects, such as stiffness and weight, from video.The method could have application in the field of nondestructive testing, determining materials’ physical properties without extracting samples from them or subjecting them to damaging physical tests. Structural defects, for example, could be found in an airplane’s wing by analyzing video of its vibration during flight.A given object’s preferred frequencies, and the varying strength of its vibrations at those frequencies, produce a unique pattern, which a variation on the visual-microphone algorithm was able to extract.The MIT researchers then used machine learning to find correlations between those vibrational patterns and measurements of the objects’ material properties. The correlations they found provided estimates of the elasticity of the bars and of the stiffness and weight per unit area of the analyzed fabrics. Moreover, aberrations or discontinuities in an object’s typical vibrational patterns could indicate a defect in its structure.SourceAlso: Read a Q&A with a NASA Lead Non-Destructive Evaluation Engineer.

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Researchers Create Shape-Shifting Plastic

Researchers from Washington State University and the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge Laboratory have created a tunable shape-memory polymer. The shape-shifting plastic can “remember” its original shape and return to it after being deformed with heat or other forces. The materials exhibit triple-shape memory behavior; the polymers can transform from one temporary shape to another temporary shape at one temperature, and then back to a permanent shape at another temperature. Changing the ratio of ingredients allows the researchers to control the overall properties of the material. The team’s method also uses off-the-shelf chemicals that can be easily scaled up to manufacture the material in bulk.Mixing the shape-memory polymers with other materials could produce stronger and stiffer composite parts that can later be recycled or reprocessed. Recyclable carbon fiber and glass fiber composites, for instance, are in high demand in the automotive industry.The material could also be used as binding glue for new types of rare earth-free magnets made from powders. The team is already experimenting with 3-D printing powder-based magnets with shape-memory polymers. Source Read other Materials & Coatings tech briefs.

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Technique Magnifies Vibrations in Bridges and Buildings

To the naked eye, buildings and bridges appear fixed in place, unmoved by forces like wind and rain. But in fact, these large structures do experience imperceptibly small vibrations that, depending on their frequency, may indicate instability or structural damage. MIT researchers have developed a technique to “see” vibrations that would otherwise be invisible to the naked eye, combining high-speed video with computer vision techniques.

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Researcher Develops World’s Smallest Micro Motor

Micro actuators are needed for numerous applications, ranging from mobile and wearable devices, to minimally invasive medical devices. However, the limitations associated with their fabrication have restricted their deployment at the one-millimeter scale.

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Lens Turns Smartphone into a Microscope

Researchers at the University of Houston have created an optical lens that can be placed on an inexpensive smartphone to amplify images by a magnitude of 120, all for just 3 cents a lens. The lens can work as a microscope, and the cost and ease of using it – it attaches directly to a smartphone camera lens, without the use of any additional device – make it ideal for use with students. It also could have clinical applications, allowing small or isolated clinics to share images with specialists located elsewhere.

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