News

Will virtual traffic lights improve traffic?

This week's Question: Carnegie Mellon University researchers have claimed that they can reduce commute times by placing virtual traffic lights on drivers' windshield. Through connected vehicle technology, the Carnegie Mellon system replaces conventional traffic lights with stop and go signals appearing directly in view. The virtual traffic lights are generated on demand when needed, such as when two cars are approaching an intersection. Although the technology attempts to optimize traffic patterns, some analysts say that older cars, as well as traffic lights and infrastructure, would need to be upgraded before the technology would be viable. What do you think? Will virtual traffic lights improve traffic?

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The Human Eye Can See ‘Invisible’ Infrared Light

Any science textbook will tell you that human beings can’t see infrared light. Like X-rays and radio waves, infrared light waves are outside the visual spectrum. But an international team of researchers co-led by scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has found that under certain conditions, the retina can, in fact, sense infrared light after all. Using cells from the retinas of mice and people, and powerful lasers that emit pulses of infrared light, the researchers found that when laser light pulses rapidly, light-sensing cells in the retina sometimes get a double hit of infrared energy. When that happens, the eye is able to detect light that falls outside the visible spectrum.

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Scientists Slow the Speed of Light Travelling Through Air

Scientists have long known that the speed of light can be slowed slightly as it travels through materials such as water or glass. However, it has generally been thought impossible for particles of light, known as photons, to be slowed as they travel through free space, unimpeded by interactions with any materials. Researchers from the University of Glasgow and Heriot- Watt University, however, recently described how they have managed to slow photons in free space for the first time. They have demonstrated that applying a mask to an optical beam to give photons a spatial structure can reduce their speed.

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Scientists Unlock Secret of Ultrafast Imaging of Complex Systems in 3-D at Near Atomic Resolution

It is becoming possible to image complex systems in 3-D with near-atomic resolution on ultrafast timescales using extremely intense X-ray free-electron laser (XFEL) pulses. One important step toward ultrafast imaging of samples with a single X-ray shot is understanding the interaction of extremely brilliant and intense X-ray pulses with the sample, including ionization rates.

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Laser-Generated Surface Structures Create Extremely Water-Repellent Metals

Scientists at the University of Rochester have used lasers to transform metals into extremely water repellent, or super-hydrophobic, materials without the need for temporary coatings. Super-hydrophobic materials are desirable for a number of applications such as rust prevention, anti-icing, or even in sanitation uses. However, as Rochester’s Chunlei Guo explains, most current hydrophobic materials rely on chemical coatings.

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'Hedgehog' Process Sprouts Spikes on Most Particles

A new process that can sprout microscopic spikes on nearly any type of particle may lead to more environmentally friendly paints and a variety of other innovations.Made by a team of University of Michigan engineers, the "hedgehog particles" are named for their bushy appearance under the microscope.The new process modifies oily, or hydrophobic, particles, enabling them to disperse easily in water. It can also modify water-soluble, or hydrophilic, particles, enabling them to dissolve in oil or other oily chemicals.One of the first applications for the particles is likely to be in paints and coatings, where toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like toluene are now used to dissolve pigment. Pigments made from hedgehog particles could potentially be dissolved in nontoxic carriers like water, the researchers say.Other possible applications include better oil dispersants that could aid in the cleanup of oil spills, as well as better ways to deliver non-water-soluble prescription medications.SourceAlso: Learn about a Floating Oil-Spill Containment Device.

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NASA Launches Radiometer to Measure Earth's Soil Moisture

NASA’s newest, more technologically advanced radiometer instrument detects microwave energy from space, allowing scientists to study how much water is in the Earth's soil.Soil moisture is an important measurement for weather forecasting, drought and flood predictions, and agriculture. All types of soil emit microwave radiation, but the amount of water changes how much of the energy is emitted. The drier the soil, the more microwave energy; the wetter the soil, the less energy. Radiometers measure the radiation, and scientists use the data to calculate water content. The new radiometer launches into orbit aboard the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite. SMAP carries two instruments to measure how much water is in the soil. In addition to the radiometer, which detects naturally emitted energy, a microwave radar will send a signal to the ground that will bounce back to the satellite with information after it encounters and interacts with the soil. To collect signals from the surface for both the radiometer and radar, SMAP has a 20-foot-wide mesh antenna that rotates 14 times per minute – the largest such spinning antenna in space. A receiver then interprets both sets of signals.The two instruments complement each other: the radiometer provides an accurate measurement of a large block of land, while the radar provides finer detail of the soil moisture in smaller parcels."Combine the two together, use the best of both, and you come up with a pretty accurate soil moisture product at a spatial resolution of 6 miles," said Peggy O’Neill, SMAP deputy project scientist.SourceAlso: Learn about the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission.

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