News

Sensors Detect Icing Conditions to Help Protect Airplanes

When ice accumulates on the surface of an aircraft during flight, it distorts the smooth flow of air necessary to stay aloft. The result is a reduction in lift, which can lead to stalls and crashes. Icing conditions can vary wildly within the same airspace. That’s why scientists at NASA’s Glenn Research Center are advancing the methods, technology, and accuracy of sensor systems to provide better detection of potential icing hazards around the nation’s airports. A ground-based station developed at Glenn includes sophisticated instruments such as a Ka-band cloud radar, which reads particle density distribution; a multi-frequency microwave radiometer that provides vertical temperature and water vapor profiles and a measure of liquid water present aloft; and a ceilometer for refined cloud base measurements. A series of weather balloons is being released to read and calibrate weather data, and validate the ground-based sensors. The balloons are fitted with an instrument package to measure pressure, temperature, humidity, and most importantly, supercooled liquid water content. When an airplane comes into contact with supercooled water, it attaches to the surface as ice. As it builds up, airframes are compromised. Source:

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Breathalyzer Could Identify Lung Cancer

Researchers have developed a fluorescence-based sensor device that can rapidly identify cancer-related volatile organic compounds found exclusively in the exhaled breath of some people with lung cancer. Their work demonstrates the potential of the device to be used as a breathalyzer for early lung cancer detection. Based on a small, circular plate called fluorescent cross-responsive sensor array, a specially designed rotary gas chamber and a data collection and processing system, the device can detect lung cancer-related gases at very low concentration, showing a potential to identify lung cancer at the early stage. Currently, doctors can detect lung cancer in its earliest stages by using methods like CT scans, but there are no simple, safe, and effective methods that can detect lung cancer at the early stage. In experiments, four kinds of lung cancer-related volatile organic compounds were selected and uniformly distributed in a gas chamber to each responsive spot in the sensor array. A light source containing excites the fluorescent spectra of the array, which is later collected and analyzed to produce a unique spectrum for each gas. By extracting the characteristic matrix of spectra and comparing with the existed fluorescent database, researchers can identify and quantify a specific gas. Source:

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New Method Measures Steel Fracturing

Researchers have visualized on a microscopic level how certain steels fracture when extreme loads are applied to them. Scientists used a scanning electron microscope to obtain high-resolution images (around 10 nanometers). The application of new techniques to characterize materials has made it possible to better understand the behavior of sintered steels (those produced from powders) on fracturing. In this way, they have been able to discover how the first cracks nucleate and extend. This study makes changes in the microstructure of the material visible while it is being tested. Moreover, the methodology used is applicable to any type of alloy, not only to test its behavior under pressure, but also its behavior at high temperatures. Source:

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Energy-Harvesting Method Shows Promise for Mars Power Stations

Northumbria and Edinburgh Universities researchers have developed an innovative, new technique to harvest energy from carbon dioxide. The method may enable the creation of future power stations on the surface of Mars.The research proposes a new kind of engine for producing energy based on the Leidenfrost effect – a phenomenon which happens when a liquid comes into near contact with a surface much hotter than its boiling point. Blocks of dry ice are able to levitate above hot surfaces protected by a barrier of evaporated gas vapor. Northumbria’s research proposes using the vapor created by this effect to power an engine. The technique has implications for working in extreme and alien environments, such as outer space, where it could be used to make long-term exploration and colonization sustainable by using naturally occurring solid carbon dioxide as a resource rather than a waste product.Increasing evidence from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) suggests that dry ice may be a naturally occurring resource on Mars, as suggested by the seasonal appearance of gullies on the surface of the red planet. If utilized in a Leidenfrost-based engine, the dry-ice deposits could provide the means to create future power on the Red Planet. The working principle of a Leidenfrost-based engine differs from steam-based heat engines; the high-pressure vapor layer creates freely rotating rotors whose energy is converted into power without the need of a bearing, thus conferring the new engine with low-friction properties.SourceAlso: Learn about Mars-Optimized Solar Cells.

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Ultra-Thin Lens Captures Perfect Colors

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences researchers developed an ultra-thin, completely flat lens made of a glass substrate and tiny, light-concentrating silicon antennas. Color correction is achieved in the single, miniaturized device.Light shining on the "achromatic metasurface" lens bends instantaneously, rather than gradually, while passing through. The bending effects can be designed in advance, by an algorithm, and fine-tuned to fit specific applications.With no need to increase the lens thickness and footprint, the optical technology compensates for wavelength differences and produces a consistent effect — for example, deflecting three beams of different colors by the same angle, or focusing those colors on a single spot. The model uses a dielectric material rather than a metal for the nanoantennas, a change which greatly improves its efficiency and, combined with a new design approach, enables operation over a broad range of wavelengths.The technology could be used to create new miniature optical communications devices, compact cameras, and imaging technologies.SourceLearn about the design of a GRadient INdex (GRIN) lens.

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Propulsion Technology Could Combat Flight Pollution

A breakthrough propulsion technology to provide greener air transport could be developed after the underlying engineering was declared a success. Six universities and two research organizations from across the EU demonstrated the scientific feasibility of a novel propulsion method that overcomes the main limitations of traditional systems related to jet deflection exhausts.

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Mini Models Fire Up to Test Space Launch System

NASA is working with CUBRC Inc. of Buffalo, NY to design, build, and test 2% scale models of the Space Launch System (SLS) propulsion system. Models include two five-segment solid rocket boosters and four core stage RS-25 engines, and a 2% scale model of the entire rocket. The models are fired for short durations of about 50-150 milliseconds per test.

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