Billy's Blog

On Billy's Blog, Billy Hurley, Digital Editorial Manager, writes stories about new and innovative achievements in design engineering, from industrial robots and autonomous vehicles to 3D printers and see-through solar cells. Along with other Tech Briefs writers and editors, Billy shares his opinions, poses questions to readers, and finds the fun, interesting, and unexpected stories behind today's leading-edge inventions.

Rehearsing a Mars Mission on Earth

With economic survival foremost in the thoughts of most Americans nowadays, survivability in outer space is the last thing on our minds. But for six scientists in Moscow, all the problems here on earth won’t matter for the next 105 days.

Today, the first stage toward realization of the Russian-led...

Tasteful Newspapers

The economy and the Internet have combined to hit newspapers hard. Between fewer advertisers and the proliferation of online news sites, the traditional printed newspaper is suffering a reduction in both revenue and subscribers. But that could change with the help of a Bala Cynwyd, PA-based company. The answer, it says, is...

Will NASA Let "Colbert" Fly?

The next time you gaze up into the heavens and imagine the International Space Station orbiting high above the Earth, think of Stephen Colbert. Seriously.

Fans of “The Colbert Report” star made “Colbert” the number-one choice to become the name of the newest wing of the International Space Station. In...

Women in Technology

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging - which takes place today, March 24th, 2009 - to draw attention to women excelling in technology. Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace was born in 1815, the only child of Lord Byron and his wife, Annabella. Now known simply as Ada Lovelace, she wrote a description of...

Good News for Hybrid Vehicles

Last week, President Barack Obama announced the availability of $2.4 billion to provide much-needed funding to produce next-generation hybrid-electric vehicles and the advanced battery components used in them. Under the measure, the Department of Energy will offer $1.5 billion in grants to U.S. companies to produce...

Keeping It Simple

I’m sure many engineers would agree that the worst part of the whole design process is prototyping a new printed circuit board. It’s like trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle in the midst of a scavenger hunt.

The problem with prototyping is that it’s more of an art than a science. Unfortunately engineers are, by...

Premature Protection

Even after nine months soaking in the watery, warm environment of a womb, a newborn’s skin is smooth – unlike an adult’s in the bath. A natural, protective cream called Vernix caseosa (VC) covers the fetus and the newborn, aiding in the growth of skin. VC provides "waterproofing" in utero, allowing skin to grow in wet...

Counting Calories While Asleep

As someone who’s been thin most of his life, I’ve never felt the need to monitor my caloric consumption. But go to any fitness club or jogging trail and you’ll see lots of sweating bodies intently eyeing pedometers to see how many steps they’ve taken and how many calories they’re burning. Now, a group of...

Techonomic Stimulus

These days, all you ever hear about are economic stimulus packages. Each day seems to bring a new one and to be honest with you, most leave me scratching my head, wondering what — if anything — we’re getting for our money. I understand the need to prop up our financial institutions and save homeowners from losing...

A Smart Home Helps Dementia Patients

Dementia is a crippling disease that not only makes it difficult for the affected person to perform everyday tasks, but also poses myriad challenges for caretakers, whether they are family members or hired health care personnel. This is a situation I’m somewhat familiar with, as my 92 year-old grandmother...

Cyberspace Comes To Outer Space

For many of us on Earth, the Internet is a vital part of our everyday lives. Rapid advances in developing high-bandwidth networks make it possible to communicate with family, friends, and business associates worldwide and rapidly search for and retrieve information, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. But in outer...

Photonics Tech Briefs Products of the Year

As an editor, I spend most of my time providing our readers with information. Occasionally it’s interesting to find out what the readers think about things. Like the new products and technology we tell them about, for example.

In every issue of Photonics Tech Briefs (PTB), we select one product...

Size Matters

It’s a digital world out there, and the key to our survival, in my opinion, is not processing power. It’s data storage. Once all the numbers have been crunched, all the images have been gathered, and all the test results have been compiled, you need to store them somewhere. Somewhere safe, because unlike former means of...

Current Attractions

Glenn Rakow is the Development Lead for SpaceWire, a high-speed communications protocol for space-flight electronics originally developed in 1999 by the European Space Agency (ESA). Under Rakow's leadership, the SpaceWire standard was developed into a network of nodes and routers interconnected through bi-directional,...


A team led by Professor Yosi Shacham-Diamand, vice-dean of Tel Aviv University's Faculty of Engineering, has developed a nano-sized laboratory, complete with a microscopic workbench, to measure water quality in real time. This lab-on-a-chip is a breakthrough in the effort to keep water safe from pollution. "We've developed a...

Better Weather Forecasting

Scientists at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) are designing and building the next-generation orbiting tracker for NASA that will supply data to more accurately predict the next hurricane, heat wave, or drought.

The 18-inch interferometric receiver being built at...

3-D Microscope

University of Washington researchers have helped develop a new kind of microscope to visualize cells in three dimensions, an advance that could improve early cancer detection. The technique could also bridge a widening gap between cutting-edge imaging techniques used in research and clinical practices.

Known by the...

Switch for the Future

Plasmonics - a possible replacement for current computing approaches - may pave the way for the next generation of computers that operate faster and store more information than electronically-based systems and are smaller than optically-based systems, according to Tony Jun Huang, a Penn State engineer who has developed a...

Brain Scan

Researchers at University of Toronto and Bloorview, Canada's largest children's rehabilitation hospital, have developed a technique that uses infrared light brain imaging to decode preference. When children with disabilities can't speak or gesture to control their environment, they may develop a learned helplessness that impedes...

Cleaner Jet Fuel

NASA and 11 other research groups are testing two non-petroleum-based fuels in the pursuit of alternative fuels that can power commercial jets and address rising oil costs. The tests, being conducted at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California, are measuring the performance and emissions of two synthetic fuels derived...

Concrete Cure

The nation's infrastructure uses concrete for millions of miles of roadways and 600,000 bridges, many of which are in disrepair. With a project called viscosity enhancers reducing diffusion in concrete technology (VERDICT), Engineers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) set out to double concrete's lifetime....

Valuable Waste

Researchers from Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems in Dresden have developed the first-ever biogas plant to run purely on waste instead of edible raw materials - transforming waste into valuable material. The plant generates 30 percent more biogas than its predecessors. A fuel cell efficiently converts the...

Terabit-Scale Processing

University of California at San Diego electrical and computer engineering professor Stojan Radic and his team have demonstrated the first real-time sampling of a 320 Gigabits per second (Gb/s) channel, in an effort to meet the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) goal of developing

the first...

Fluorescent Proteins

Photoactivatable fluorescent proteins (PAFPs) and other advanced fluorescent proteins (FPs) - several of which have been developed by Vladislav Verkhusha, associate professor of anatomy & structural biology at Yeshiva University - spotlight individual cellular molecules and are transforming biomedical research. PAFPs and FPs...

Plasmonic Microcavity

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology have developed a whispering gallery microcavity based on plasmons - electromagnetic waves that race across the surfaces of metals. This plasmonic whispering gallery microcavity consists of a silica...

Photographing the Inauguration

Over a million people attended the inauguration of President Barack Obama in Washington last week. With extremely tight security restricting access, photographer David Bergman found an ingenious way to photograph the event, with the help of imaging technology used on the Mars Rover.

According to an article...

Stretchable Electronics

A design for bendable electronic devices produces parts that can be wrapped around complex shapes, without reducing electronic function. The technology is based on semiconductor nanomaterials that offer high stretchability and large twistability. Potential uses include electronic devices for eye cameras, smart surgical...

Ice-Free Power Lines

Scientists from Dartmouth College and Ice Engineering LLC have invented a way to cheaply and effectively keep ice off power lines. Called a variable resistance cable (VRC) de-icing system, the technology switches the electrical resistance of a standard power line from low to high. The high resistance automatically creates...

Sensing Broken Bridges

Northeastern University was recently awarded a $9 million federal research grant to develop new multi-sensor technology systems for cars and trucks that will allow for real-time assessment of road and bridge infrastructure across the country. Northeastern will lead the five-year VOTERS (Versatile Onboard Traffic Embedded...

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