Special Coverage

Technique Provides Security for Multi-Robot Systems
Bringing New Vision to Laser Material Processing Systems
NASA Tests Lasers’ Ability to Transmit Data from Space
Converting from Hydraulic Cylinders to Electric Actuators
Automating Optimization and Design Tasks Across Disciplines
Vibration Tables Shake Up Aerospace and Car Testing
Supercomputer Cooling System Uses Refrigerant to Replace Water
Computer Chips Calculate and Store in an Integrated Unit
Electron-to-Photon Communication for Quantum Computing

New Computer Operates on Water Droplets

A synchronous computer from Stanford University operates using the unique physics of moving water droplets. The work combines the manipulation of droplet fluid dynamics with a fundamental element of computer science – an operating clock.

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Compact Light Source Improves CT Scans

A new study shows that the recently developed Compact Light Source (CLS) – a commercial X-ray source with roots in research and development efforts at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory – enables computer tomography scans that reveal more detail than routine scans performed at hospitals today. The new technology could soon be used in preclinical studies and help researchers better understand cancer and other diseases.

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"TREASORES" Project Moves Towards "Printed" Organic Solar Cells, LEDs

Flexible optoelectronic devices that can be produced roll-to-roll – much like newspapers are printed – are a highly promising path to cheaper devices such as solar cells and LED lighting panels. Scientists from "TREASORES" project recently demonstrated prototype flexible solar cell modules, as well as novel silver-based transparent electrodes, that outperform currently used materials.

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New Etching Method Boosts Nanofiber Production

A new technique from MIT researchers boosts production of nanofibers fourfold, while cutting energy consumption by more than 90 percent. Potential nanofiber applications include solar cells, water filtration, and fuel cells.

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Generating Broadband Terahertz Radiation from Microplasma in Air

Researchers at the University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics have shown that a laser-generated microplasma in air can be used as a source of broadband terahertz radiation. Fabrizio Buccheri and Xi-Cheng Zhang recently demonstrated that an approach for generating terahertz waves using intense laser pulses in air – first pioneered in 1993 – can be done with much lower power lasers, a major challenge until now.A microplasma is created by focusing intense laser pulses in air. Besides visible light, the microplasma emits electromagnetic pulses at terahertz frequencies that can be used to detect complex molecules, such as explosives and drugs. (Photo: J. Adam Fenster / University of Rochester)

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Scientists Use X-Ray Laser to Track Ultrafast Creation of a Catalyst

An international team has, for the first time, precisely tracked the surprisingly rapid process by which light rearranges the outermost electrons of a metal compound and turns it into an active catalyst – a substance that promotes chemical reactions. The research, which was performed with an X-ray laser at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, could help in the effort to develop novel catalysts to efficiently produce fuel using sunlight.This artistic rendering shows an iron-centered molecule that is severed by laser light (upper left). Within hundreds of femtoseconds, or quadrillionths of a second, a molecule of ethanol from a solvent rushes in (bottom right) to bond with the iron-centered molecule. (Image: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

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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.

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