Tech Briefs

MALDI and Biotech Push Nitrogen Laser Development

The nitrogen laser is experiencing new growth due to low cost and the MALDI technique.

Stanford Research Systems, Sunnyvale, California

The Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption and Ionization (MALDI) technique in 1987 led to a renewed interest for the nitrogen laser. MALDI allows large and fragile biomolecules to be desorbed and ionized intact, or with much less fragmentation. The technique increased the upper mass limit for mass spectrometric analyses of biomolecules to over 300,000 Da, and has enabled the analysis of large biomolecules by mass spectrometry to become easier and more sensitive.

Posted in: Briefs, ptb catchall, Tech Briefs, Photonics, Lasers

Electro-Optical Imaging Fourier-Transform Spectrometer

Size, weight, and vibration are reduced by eliminating moving parts.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

An electro-optical (E-O) imaging Fourier-transform spectrometer (IFTS), now under development, is a prototype of improved imaging spectrometers to be used for hyperspectral imaging, especially in the infrared spectral region. Unlike both imaging and non-imaging traditional Fourier-transform spectrometers, the E-O IFTS does not contain any moving parts. Elimination of the moving parts and the associated actuator mechanisms and supporting structures would increase reliability while enabling reductions in size and mass, relative to traditional Fourier-transform spectrometers that offer equivalent capabilities. Elimination of moving parts would also eliminate the vibrations caused by the motions of those parts.

Posted in: Briefs, ptb catchall, Tech Briefs, Photonics, Imaging and visualization, Test equipment and instrumentation

Miniature Distillation Column for Producing LOX From Air

This column is only about a hundredth as high as an industrial one.

The figure shows components of a distillation column intended for use as part of a system that produces high-purity liquid oxygen (LOX) from air by distillation. (The column could be easily modified to produce high-purity liquid nitrogen.) Whereas typical industrial distillation columns for producing high-purity liquid oxygen and/or nitrogen are hundreds of feet tall, this distillation column is less than 3 ft (less than about 0.9 m) tall. This column was developed to trickle-charge a LOX-based emergency oxygen system (EOS) for a large commercial aircraft.

The Components of the Distillation Column are designed to maximize mass transfer in a small space.
Posted in: Briefs, Physical Sciences, Architecture, Oxygen equipment, Production, Gases

Architecture Adaptive Computing Environment

Architecture Adaptive Computing Environment (aCe) is a software system that includes a language, compiler, and run-time library for parallel computing. aCe was developed to enable programmers to write programs, more easily than was previously possible, for a variety of parallel computing architectures. Heretofore, it has been perceived to be difficult to write parallel programs for parallel computers and more difficult to port the programs to different parallel computing architectures. In contrast, aCe is supportable on all high-performance computing architectures. Currently, it is supported on LINUX clusters. aCe uses parallel programming constructs that facilitate writing of parallel programs. Such constructs were used in single-instruction/multiple-data (SIMD) programming languages of the 1980s, including Parallel Pascal, Parallel Forth, C*, *LISP, and MasPar MPL. In aCe, these constructs are extended and implemented for both SIMD and multiple-instruction/multiple-data (MIMD) architectures. Two new constructs incorporated in aCe are those of (1) scalar and virtual variables and (2) pre-computed paths. The scalar-and-virtual-variables construct increases flexibility in optimizing memory utilization in various architectures. The pre-computed paths construct enables the compiler to pre-compute part of a communication operation once, rather than computing it every time the communication operation is performed.

Posted in: Briefs, Bio-Medical, Medical, Architecture, Computer software and hardware, Performance upgrades

Stationary Apparatus Would Apply Forces of Walking to Feet

The forces would be tailored to prevent loss of bone density.

A proposed apparatus would apply controlled cyclic forces to both feet for the purpose of preventing the loss of bone density in a human subject whose bones are not subjected daily to the mechanical loads of normal activity in normal Earth gravitation. The apparatus was conceived for use by astronauts on long missions in outer space; it could also be used by bedridden patients on Earth, including patients too weak to generate the necessary forces by their own efforts.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Bio-Medical, Medical, Anatomy, Medical, health, and wellness, Personnel, Biomechanics

Instrument Would Detect and Collect Biological Aerosols

Samples would be quickly collected on substrates that would be analyzed automatically.

A proposed compact, portable instrument would sample micron-sized airborne particles, would discriminate between biological ones (e.g., bacteria) and nonbiological ones (e.g., dust particles), and would collect the detected biological particles for further analysis. The instrument is intended to satisfy a growing need for means of rapid, inexpensive collection of bioaerosols in a variety of indoor and outdoor settings. Purposes that could be served by such collection include detecting airborne pathogens inside buildings and their ventilation systems, measuring concentrations of airborne biological contaminants around municipal waste-processing facilities, monitoring airborne effluents from suspected biowarfare facilities, and warning of the presence of airborne biowarfare agents.

Posted in: Briefs, Bio-Medical, Medical, Biomaterials, Gases, Test equipment and instrumentation

Generating Control Commands From Gestures Sensed by EMG

Electrical signals from muscles involved in gestures are recognized.

An effort is under way to develop noninvasive neuro-electric interfaces through which human operators could control systems as diverse as simple mechanical devices, computers, aircraft, and even spacecraft. The basic idea is to use electrodes on the surface of the skin to acquire electromyographic (EMG) signals associated with gestures, digitize and process the EMG signals to recognize the gestures, and generate digital commands to perform the actions signified by the gestures.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Bio-Medical, Medical, Electronic control systems, Neural networks, Human machine interface (HMI)

Optically Driven Deformable Mirrors

There is no wiring on the back sides of these mirrors.

A contOptically driven deformable mirrors may eventually supplant electrically driven deformable mirrors in some adaptive-optics and active-optics applications. Traditionally, the mirror facets in electrically driven deformable mirrors are actuated, variously, by means of piezoelectric, electrostrictive, microelectromechanical, liquid-crystal, or thermal devices. At least one such device must be dedicated to each facet, and there must be at least one wire carrying a control or drive signal to the device. If a deformable mirror comprises many (e.g., thousands) of facets, then wiring becomes a major problem for design, and the problem is compounded in cases of piezoelectric or other actuators for which high drive voltages are required. In contrast, in optically driven mirrors, the wiring problem is eliminated.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Electronics & Computers, Mirrors, Adaptive control, Sensors and actuators, Product development

Multiple-Flat-Panel System Displays Multidimensional Data

Related images are displayed simultaneously to facilitate perception of trends in data.

The NASA Ames hyperwall is a display system designed to facilitate the visualization of sets of multivariate and multidimensional data like those generated in complex engineering and scientific computations. The hyperwall includes a 77 matrix of computer-driven flat-panel video display units, each presenting an image of 1,280×1,024 pixels. The term “hyperwall” reflects the fact that this system is a more capable successor to prior computer-driven multiple-flat-panel display systems known by names that include the generic term “powerwall” and the trade names PowerWall” and “Powerwall.”

Posted in: Briefs, Electronics & Computers, Architecture, Imaging and visualization, Human machine interface (HMI), Displays

Probe Station and Near-Field Scanner for Testing Antennas

Multiple antennas on the same substrate can be evaluated quickly and inexpensively.

A facility that includes a probe station and a scanning open-ended waveguide probe for measuring near electromagnetic fields (see figure) has been added to Glen Research Center’s suite of antenna-testing facilities, at a small fraction of the cost of the other facilities. This facility is designed specifically for nondestructive characterization of the radiation patterns of miniaturized microwave antennas fabricated on semiconductor and dielectric wafer substrates, including active antennas that are difficult to test in traditional antenna-testing ranges because of fragility, smallness, or severity of DC-bias or test-fixture requirements. By virtue of the simple fact that a greater fraction of radiated power can be captured in a near-field measurement than in a conventional far-field measurement, this near-field facility is convenient for testing miniaturized antennas with low gains.

Posted in: Briefs, Electronics & Computers, Antennas, Electromagnetic compatibility, Waveguides, Performance tests

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