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David Blake, Senior Research Scientist, Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

    David Blake developed the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) X-ray diffraction instrument that is currently deployed on the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity. The powder-handling device inside CheMin won Blake the 2010 NASA Commercial Government Invention of the Year award.  This technology allowed scientists to determine the quantitative mineralogy of the 3.5 billion-year-old rocks on the Red Planet for the first time.

Posted in: News, Who's Who

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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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Implantable Neurostimulator Alleviates Dry Eye

Stanford Biodesign fellows are testing two tiny devices that stimulate natural tear production. The technologies deliver micro-electrical pulses to the lacrimal gland.

Posted in: News, News, Implants & Prosthetics

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New Actuators and Motors Key to Improved Robot Responders

Sandia National Laboratories is developing technology that will dramatically improve the endurance of legged robots, helping them operate for long periods while performing the types of locomotion most relevant to disaster response scenarios. One area of focus is battery life – an important concern in the usefulness of robots for emergency response. The first robot Sandia is developing is a fully functional research platform that allows developers to try different joint-level mechanisms that function like elbows and knees to quantify how much energy is used. The key to the testing is Sandia’s novel, energy-efficient actuators, which move the robots’ joints. The actuation system uses efficient, brushless DC motors with very high torque-to-weight ratios, very efficient low-ratio transmissions, and specially designed passive mechanisms customized for each joint to ensure energy efficiency. Electric motors are particularly inefficient when providing large torques at low to a crouching robot. A simple support element, such as a spring, would provide torque, reducing the load on the motor. Source:

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Launch System Engine Gets a New “Brain”

The engine controller unit on the RS-25 – formerly known as the space shuttle main engine – helped propel all of the space shuttle missions to space. It allows communication between the vehicle and the engine, relaying commands to the engine and transmitting data back to the vehicle. The controller also provides closed-loop management of the engine by regulating the thrust and fuel mixture ratio while monitoring the engine's health and status. The engine controller unit needed a "refresh" to provide the capability necessary for four RS-25 engines to power the core stage of NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), to deep space. An engineering model RS-25 controller is being tweaked and tested at NASA Marshall. At one of the center's test facilities, engineers are simulating the RS-25 in flight, using real engine actuators, sensors, connectors, and harnesses. A second engineering model controller and RS-25 engine also recently were installed on a test stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center. Pending final preparation and activation work, the engine test series is anticipated to begin this year. Source:

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Detecting Extraterrestrial Life Through Motion

Looking for life on other planets is not straightforward. It usually relies on chemical detection, which might be limited or even completely irrelevant to alien biology. On the other hand, motion is a trait of all life, and can be used to identify microorganisms without any need of chemical foreknowledge. Scientists have now developed an extremely sensitive yet simple motion detector that uses a nano-sized cantilever to detect motion.The idea comes from the technology behind an atomic force microscope, uses a cantilever to produce pictures of the atoms on a surface. The cantilever scans the surface like the needle of a record player, and its up-and-down movement is read by a laser to produce an image. The new motion sensor works the same way, but a sample is attached on the cantilever itself. If the sample is alive, it will inevitably move in some way,. That motion also moves the much smaller and sensitive cantilever, and it is captured by the readout laser as series of vibrations. The signal is taken as a sign of life.Source:

Posted in: News, Detectors, Sensors

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