News

Researchers Develop Thinnest Electric Generator

Researchers from Columbia Engineering and the Georgia Institute of Technology made the first experimental observation of piezoelectricity and the piezotronic effect in an atomically thin material, molybdenum disulfide (MoS2), resulting in a unique electric generator and mechanosensation devices that are optically transparent, extremely light, and very bendable and stretchable.“This material—just a single layer of atoms—could be made as a wearable device, perhaps integrated into clothing, to convert energy from your body movement to electricity and power wearable sensors or medical devices, or perhaps supply enough energy to charge your cell phone in your pocket,” says James Hone, professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia and co-leader of the research.Hone’s team placed thin flakes of MoS2 on flexible plastic substrates and determined how their crystal lattices were oriented using optical techniques. They then patterned metal electrodes onto the flakes. In research done at Georgia Tech, a group led by Zhong Lin Wang, Regents’ Professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Materials Science and Engineering, installed measurement electrodes on the samples provided by Hone’s group, then measured current flows as the samples were mechanically deformed. They monitored the conversion of mechanical to electrical energy, and observed voltage and current outputs.Ultimately, Zhong Lin Wang notes, the research could lead to complete atomic-thick nanosystems that are self-powered by harvesting mechanical energy from the environment. This study also reveals the piezotronic effect in two-dimensional materials for the first time, which greatly expands the application of layered materials for human-machine interfacing, robotics, MEMS, and active flexible electronics.Source Also: Learn more about a Piezoelectric Energy Harvesting Transducer System.

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, Electronic Components, Electronics, Power Management, Materials, Metals, Sensors, Semiconductors & ICs, News

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3D-Printed Power Inverter Enables Lighter Electric Vehicles

Using 3D printing and novel semiconductors, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have created a power inverter that could make electric vehicles lighter, more powerful, and more efficient.At the core of this development is wide bandgap material made of silicon carbide, with qualities superior to standard semiconductor materials. Power inverters convert direct current into the alternating current that powers the vehicle. The Oak Ridge inverter achieves much higher power density with a significant reduction in weight and volume.Using additive manufacturing, researchers optimized the inverter’s heat sink, allowing for better heat transfer throughout the unit. This construction technique allowed them to place lower-temperature components close to the high-temperature devices, further reducing the electrical losses and reducing the volume and mass of the package.The research group’s first prototype, a liquid-cooled all-silicon carbide traction drive inverter, features 50-percent-printed parts. Initial evaluations confirmed an efficiency of nearly 99 percent, surpassing DOE’s power electronics target and setting the stage for building an inverter using entirely additive manufacturing techniques.Building on the success of this prototype, researchers are working on an inverter with an even greater percentage of 3D-printed parts in commercially available vehicles. SourceAlso: See other Electronics tech briefs.

Posted in: Manufacturing & Prototyping, Rapid Prototyping & Tooling, Transportation, Automotive, Semiconductors & ICs, News

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No-Power Wi-Fi Connectivity Could Fuel Internet of Things

Imagine a world in which your wristwatch or other wearable device communicates directly with your online profiles, storing information about your daily activities where you can best access it, all without requiring batteries. Or, battery-free sensors embedded around your home that could track minute-by-minute temperature changes and send that information to your thermostat to help conserve energy.

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, Power Management, Sensors, Test & Measurement, Monitoring, Communications, Wireless, RF & Microwave Electronics, News, Products

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Ferroelectric Materials Could Revolutionize Data-Driven Devices

Electronic devices with unprecedented efficiency and data storage may someday run on ferroelectrics — remarkable materials that use built-in electric polarizations to read and write digital information, outperforming the magnets that are inside most popular data-driven technology. But ferroelectrics must first overcome a few key stumbling blocks, including a curious habit of "forgetting" stored data. Now, however, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory have discovered nanoscale asymmetries and charge preferences hidden within ferroelectrics that may explain their operational limits.

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, Electronic Components, Board-Level Electronics, Electronics, Power Management, Computers, Materials, Metals, Test & Measurement, Measuring Instruments, News

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Automated Imaging System Analyzes Underground Root Systems

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Penn State University have developed an automated imaging technique for measuring and analyzing the root systems of mature plants. The technique, believed to be the first of its kind, uses advanced computer technology to analyze photographs taken of root systems in the field. The imaging and software are designed to give scientists the statistical information they need to evaluate crop improvement efforts.“We’ve produced an imaging system to evaluate the root systems of plants in field conditions,” said Alexander Bucksch, a postdoctoral fellow in the Georgia Tech School of Biology and School of Interactive Computing. “We can measure entire root systems for thousands of plants to give geneticists the information they need to search for genes with the best characteristics.”Imaging of root systems has, until now, largely been done in the laboratory, using seedlings grown in small pots and containers. Such studies provide information on the early stages of development, and do not directly quantify the effects of realistic growing conditions or field variations in water, soil, or nutrient levels.The technique developed by Georgia Tech and Penn State researchers uses digital photography to provide a detailed image of roots from mature plants in the field. Individual plants to be studied are dug up and their root systems washed clean of soil. The roots are then photographed against a black background using a standard digital camera pointed down from a tripod. A white fabric tent surrounding the camera system provides consistent lighting.The resulting images are then uploaded to a server running software that analyzes the root systems for more than 30 different parameters, including the diameter of tap roots, root density, the angles of brace roots, and detailed measures of lateral roots.SourceAlso: Learn about Strobing to Enhance Display Legibility.

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, Cameras, Imaging, Software, Test & Measurement, Measuring Instruments, News

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Fast-Charging Batteries Have 20-Year Lifespan

Scientists at Nanyang Technology University (NTU) have developed ultra-fast charging batteries that can be recharged up to 70 percent in only two minutes. The new-generation batteries also have a long lifespan of over 20 years, more than 10 times compared to existing lithium-ion batteries.In the new NTU-developed battery, the traditional graphite used for the anode (negative pole) in lithium-ion batteries is replaced with a new gel material made from titanium dioxide. Titanium dioxide is an abundant, cheap and safe material found in soil. Naturally found in spherical shape, the NTU team has found a way to transform the titanium dioxide into tiny nanotubes, which is a thousand times thinner than the diameter of a human hair. The development speeds up the chemical reactions taking place in the new battery, allowing for superfast charging.  The breakthrough has a wide-ranging impact on all industries, especially for electric vehicles, where consumers are put off by the long recharge times and its limited battery life.SourceAlso: Learn about a Screening Technique for New Battery Chemistries.

Posted in: Batteries, Electronics & Computers, Power Management, Green Design & Manufacturing, Materials, Transportation, Automotive, Nanotechnology, News

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Is a sleeper ship our best bet to Mars?

At the Center for Research in Advanced Materials (CIMAV), scientists "captured" the energy produced by people walking. The team designed a pill-shaped cylinder adapted to a shoe in order to store the mechanical-vibrational energy that the person generates when walking. Similarly, the London-based company Pavegen produces a technology that harvests mechanical energy of walking feet and converts it to electrical energy via a special floor tile. Both ideas perhaps could lead to cities using the alternative, piezoelectric solutions to create power when and where it is required. What do you think? Will we harvest energy with our own footsteps?

Posted in: Question of the Week

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