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

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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Technique Magnifies Vibrations in Bridges and Buildings

To the naked eye, buildings and bridges appear fixed in place, unmoved by forces like wind and rain. But in fact, these large structures do experience imperceptibly small vibrations that, depending on their frequency, may indicate instability or structural damage. MIT researchers have developed a technique to “see” vibrations that would otherwise be invisible to the naked eye, combining high-speed video with computer vision techniques.

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Researcher Develops World’s Smallest Micro Motor

Micro actuators are needed for numerous applications, ranging from mobile and wearable devices, to minimally invasive medical devices. However, the limitations associated with their fabrication have restricted their deployment at the one-millimeter scale.

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Lens Turns Smartphone into a Microscope

Researchers at the University of Houston have created an optical lens that can be placed on an inexpensive smartphone to amplify images by a magnitude of 120, all for just 3 cents a lens. The lens can work as a microscope, and the cost and ease of using it – it attaches directly to a smartphone camera lens, without the use of any additional device – make it ideal for use with students. It also could have clinical applications, allowing small or isolated clinics to share images with specialists located elsewhere.

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Ultrafast Camera Captures Images at the Speed of Light

An ultrafast camera can acquire two-dimensional images at 100 billion frames per second, a speed capable of revealing light pulses and other phenomena previously too fast to be observed. While other research groups have achieved higher frame rates (trillion f/s), this camera is the world’s fastest 2D camera that doesn’t require an external flash or multiple exposures.

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Full-Body Scanner Quickly Detects Skin Cancer

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF have developed the Dermascanner full-body dermatological scanner to help doctors diagnose skin conditions. When the exam starts, the surface of the patient’s skin is scanned from different positions and broken down into approximately 100 individual scans. Such image documentation already exists, but the actual size and changes in growth cannot be clearly discerned solely on the bases of scans.

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New Nanomaterials Mimic Bird Feathers

Inspired by the way iridescent bird feathers play with light, UC San Diego scientists have created thin-film materials in a wide range of pure colors: red, orange, yellow, and green. The hues are determined by physical structure rather than pigments.Melanosomes, tiny packets of melanin found in the feathers, skin, and fur of many animals, can produce structural color when packed into solid layers, as they are in the feathers of some birds. The UC San Diego researchers assembled synthetic melanin nanoparticles to mimic the natural structures found in bird feathers. Structural color arises from the interaction of light with the materials that have patterns on a minute scale, which bend and reflect light to amplify some wavelengths and dampen others. To mimic natural melanosomes, Yiwen Li, a postdoctoral fellow in Gianneschi's lab, chemically linked a similar molecule, dopamine, into meshes. The linked polydopamine balled up into spherical particles of near uniform size. Researchers then dried different concentrations of the particles to form thin films of tightly packed polydopamine particles.The films reflect pure colors of light. The hue is determined by the thickness of the polydopamine layer and how tightly the particles packed.Unlike pigment-based paints or dyes, the structural color of the material does not fade. The UV-absorbing coating protects materials, and the pure hues could become a valuable trait in colorimetric sensors. Source

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Researchers Create Jet Fuel Compounds From Fungus

Washington State University researchers have found a way to make jet fuel from a common black fungus found in decaying leaves, soil, and rotting fruit. They used Aspergillus carbonarius ITEM 5010 to create hydrocarbons, the chief component of petroleum, similar to those in aviation fuels.

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NASA Tests Green Aviation Technology

Two NASA experiments designed to help reduce fuel consumption and emissions will fly this spring on a specially outfitted Boeing 757 airplane called the ecoDemonstrator. One includes 31 small devices that will blow jets of air on the vertical tail, and the other involves non-stick coatings to help repel bugs from the leading edge of wings. Both are designed to improve the air flow over the surface and ultimately reduce drag.

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Airflow Model Could Reduce Time on the Tarmac

New research could lead to more efficient takeoffs on airport runways and improve safety. A mathematical tool was developed to calculate the flow of turbulent air produced by a plane’s wing tips — known scientifically as wing-tip vortices — when an airplane takes off. The study will assist in improving the present standards for the separation distance between planes, while maintaining safety. Mathematically calculating the amount of turbulence created by the wing tips of aircraft, particularly during takeoff, gives air traffic controllers a better method of determining how far each aircraft should be from the next.

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