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.

Traveling at Warp Speed

Star Trek aficionados will once again get to see their beloved Starship Enterprise traveling at warp speed – the speed of light - when the latest Star Trek movie opens in theatres today. While 'warp speed' has long been associated with the long-running science fiction entertainment series, the concept remains a pipe...

Solving the Mystery of Tornadoes

Tornadoes are fast-moving but deadly events, able to carve out a wide path of destruction in just seconds. Now, scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and other organizations hope to get a better handle on how and why tornadoes form, by launching what is reportedly the largest and most...

Conspiracy Theories

It’s been quite a year so far for UFO conspiracy theorists.

This month, former NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who walked on the Moon in 1971 as part of the Apollo 14 mission, stated publicly that we are not alone. During a speaking engagement at the National Press Club following the Fifth Annual X-Conference,...

Earth Day 2009

Today is Earth Day, the day set aside 39 years ago to inspire awareness and appreciation of the earth’s environment. There will be no shortage of commemorative activities and people pumping their chests proudly proclaiming their dedication to preserving the environment we live in. But with this country and many parts of the...

Bright Spots in Motion Control Market

Like other sectors, the motion control product market has been impacted by the economic downturn over the past nine months, according to a recent report by market research firm IMS Research. The sector saw the double-digit growth of the past few years slow significantly the second half of 2008 and first few...

Gadget Addicts

We have become a world full of gadget addicts. Every day on my commute to and from New York City, I'm surrounded by hordes of people happily ensconced in their own little worlds, listening to music on their MP3 players, fiddling with their cell phones, madly texting associates or scanning emails on their iPhones and BlackBerries....

Shrinking the Nuclear Arsenal

President Obama’s recent call for the United States to reduce its stockpile of nuclear weapons has met its share of skeptics concerned about national security, given unstable political and military conditions around the world. But there’s at least one group of scientists and environmental activists adamant about...

Giving Engineers a Hand

Manufacturing employment fell by 161,000 last month, and as we all know, most other aspects of our economy are not doing much better. Displaced engineers are finding that having skills in 3D computer-aided design could improve the success of their job search.

To that end, Dassault Systems SolidWorks has launched an...

China Raises Stakes in Electric Vehicle Race

As if the U.S. auto industry doesn’t already have enough problems, it looks like domestic automakers will have another competitor to deal with – China. A New York Times article said today the Chinese government has hatched a plan to be a leading producer of hybrid and all-electric vehicles over...

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...