This column presents technologies that have applications in commercial areas, possibly creating the products of tomorrow. To learn more about each technology, see the contact information provided for that innovation.
Tiny, Magnetically Powered Neural Stimulator
Rice University neuro-engineers have created a tiny surgical implant that can electrically stimulate the brain and nervous system without using a battery or wired power supply. It draws its power from magnetic energy and is about the size of a grain of rice. It produces the same kind of high-frequency signals as clinically approved, battery-powered implants that are used to treat epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain, and other conditions. The device uses a thin film of “magnetoelectric” material that converts magnetic energy directly into an electrical voltage. Neural stimulation could be useful for treating depression and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
Contact: Jeff Falk
Internal Short Circuit Testing Device for Batteries
NASA’s Johnson Space Center developed a battery test device that introduces latent flaws into the test batteries to produce an internal short circuit. This device can help battery manufacturers and testers determine which battery design will best minimize the spread of a thermal runaway-induced fire in the battery or bank of batteries.
Commercial applications for the device include cellphones, laptops, and electronic drive vehicles that use lithium-ion batteries. In helping manufacturers understand why and how Li-ion batteries overheat, this technology improves testing and quality control processes.
Contact: NASA Johnson Space Center
Ultra-Sensitive Strain Sensor Can Detect the Weight of a Feather
Contact: Alan Dalton, Professor of Experimental PhysicsPhysicists at the University of Sussex (UK) have created an ultra-sensitive strain sensor capable of detecting a feather’s touch. The sensor can stretch up to 80 times higher strain than strain gauges currently on the market. The process to create the sensor incorporates large quantities of graphene nanosheets into a PDMS matrix in a structured, controllable fashion that results in better electromechanical properties. G-balls (shown in photo) with a soft PDMS core are coated with microscopic sheets of graphene. Applications include wearable technology measuring patients’ vital signs and systems monitoring structural integrity of buildings and bridges.