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.

Telltale Fish Embryos

Purdue University researchers have harnessed the sensitivity of days-old fish embryos to create a fiber optic-based tool to detect a range of harmful chemicals. By measuring rates of oxygen use in developing fish, the technology could reveal the presence of minute levels of toxic substances. It could thus warn of...

Pinhole Camera

The pinhole camera has inspired a lens-less, three-dimensional imaging technology that produces some of the brightest, sharpest X-ray holograms of microscopic objects to date. The technology was developed by scientists at the Advanced Light Source of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and...


A new type of device called a "lab-on-a-chip" could result in a future generation of instant home tests for illnesses, food contaminants and toxic gases. But today these portable, efficient tools are often stuck in the lab themselves. Specifically, in the labs of researchers who know how to make them from scratch. University of...

Exhaustible Energy

Researchers at Ohio State University have invented a new material that will make cars even more efficient by converting heat wasted through engine exhaust into electricity. Scientists call such materials thermoelectric materials, and they rate the materials' efficiency based on how much heat they can convert into electricity...

Compressor-Free Fridge

Penn State researchers are investigating electrically induced heat effects of some ferroelectric polymers. "This is the first step in the development of an electric field refrigeration unit," says Qiming Zhang, professor of electrical engineering. "For the future, we can envision a flat panel refrigerator. No more coils,...

Asphalt Solar Collector

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute is developing a solar collector that could turn roads and parking lots into sources of electricity and hot water. Roads and parking lots are typically resurfaced every 10 to 12 years, so the massive acreage of already installed roads and lots could be retrofitted at that...

GreenLight Project

The information technology industry consumes as much energy and has roughly the same carbon footprint as the airline industry. Energy usage per compute server rack is growing from about 2 kilowatts (KW) per rack in 2000, to an estimated 30 KW per rack in 2010. Every dollar spent on power for IT equipment requires that another...

Crystal Cloak

In computer simulations, researchers at the University of Illinois have demonstrated an approximate cloaking effect created by concentric rings of silicon photonic crystals. The mathematical proof brings scientists a step closer to a practical solution for optical cloaking.

“When light of the correct wavelength strikes...

Microscope on a Chip

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have developed a compact, high-resolution microscope small enough to fit on a finger tip. Dubbed an optofluidic microscope, the device operates without lenses but has the magnifying power of a top-quality optical microscope. It can be used in the field to analyze samples...

Embedded Telescope

Tiny telescopes have long been mounted on glasses to help visually impaired people perform tasks, such as driving. But many potential users have resisted using them due to their appearance, whereby the lens is mounted atop the regular lens or above the frame. Moreover, the magnified view through the telescope is...

Software of the Year Award

Computer programs that are used to define safety margins for fiery spacecraft re-entries and help detect planets outside our solar system are co-winners of NASA's 2007 Software of the Year Award.

Software engineers at NASA's Ames Research Center developed the Data-Parallel Line Relaxation, or DPLR, which is used...

Mini Magnet MRI

Ohio State University physicists have invented a new kind of MRI technique to see inside a magnet that's smaller than the head of a pin. The magnet is a ferromagnet and has too strong of a magnetic field to be studied with typical MRI. The technique may eventually enable the development of extremely small computers, and give...

Zero-Gravity Flights

NASA's Innovative Partnerships Program has selected seven Small Business Innovation Research, or SBIR, companies to participate in reduced-gravity test flights in early September. The companies will have the opportunity to test their newly developed hardware on an aircraft that simulates the weightless conditions of...

Low-Cost LED Lighting

Purdue University researchers have uncovered a potentially less expensive method to produce solid-state lighting based on light-emitting-diode (LED) technology. This development could hasten the day when LEDs, which are more energy efficient and longer lasting than conventional incandescent light bulbs, become the preferred...

Wearable Kidney

Researchers from UCLA and the Veterans Affairs Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System have developed a design for an automated, wearable artificial kidney, or AWAK. Around 1980, a similar artificial kidney machine was built which was portable, but not wearable. The new technology would allow patients to go about their regular...

Centennial Challenges

NASA's program of technology prizes consists of seven competitions held throughout the year. The program began in 2005 and is known as Centennial Challenges, in recognition of the centennial of powered flight. The prizes are offered to independent competitors who work without government support, including small businesses,...

Antimicrobial Coating

Researchers at Auburn University's Samuel Ginn College of Engineering have produced antimicrobial coatings with potential to prevent diseases from spreading on contaminated surfaces - possibly solving a growing problem not only in hospitals but also in schools, offices, airplanes and elsewhere. The Auburn researchers mixed...

"Immune Buildings"

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan have opened an engineering lab to design a ventilation system that could protect schools, hospitals, and other public buildings from chemical warfare and bioterrorist attacks. The lab's research will help determine how the Early Warning and Response system (eWAR) can both filter...

Electricity from Compressed Air

Compressed air stored in underground caverns could answer the need for lower cost electrical energy, according to Sandia National Laboratory scientists. The scientists are examining the feasibility of using an aquifer site near Des Moines, IA, to power a plant able to generate up to 13,400 megawatts per hour with...

Analyzing Bone Fracture Risks

Scientists at the ETH Zurich Departments of Mechanical and Process Engineering and Computer Science have teamed with supercomputingexperts at IBM's Zurich Research Laboratory to develop an accurate, powerful and fast method to automate the analysis of bone strength. The method combines density measurements with...

Swimsuit or Spacesuit?

Swimmers around the world are breaking records this year like never before, including at this week's U.S. Olympic trials. Some attribute it to extensive training as athletes prepare to compete at this summer's games in Beijing, China. Others, however, say one factor may be a new space-age swimsuit made of fabric tested at...

Brain Mapping

An international team of researchers has created the first complete high- resolution map of how millions of neural fibers in the human cerebral cortex - the outer layer of the brain responsible for higher level thinking - connect and communicate. Their groundbreaking work identified a single network core, or hub, that may be key to...

Laser Microscalpel

Scientists at the University of Texas at Austin have developed a laser "microscalpel" that destroys a single cell while leaving nearby cells intact, which could improve the precision of surgeries for cancer, epilepsy and other diseases. The device uses femtosecond lasers, which produce extremely brief, high-energy light pulses...

Brain-Machine Interfaces

Brain-machine interfaces could someday be used routinely to help paralyzed patients and amputees control prosthetic limbs with just their thoughts. Now, University of Florida researchers have devised a way for computerized devices not only to translate brain signals into movement, but also to evolve with the brain as it...

Gesturing Medical Procedures

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University in Israel have developed a hand gesture recognition system, called Gestix, that enables doctors to manipulate digital images during medical procedures by motioning instead of touching a screen, keyboard or mouse, which compromises sterility and could spread...

Laptop Refrigerator

Purdue University researchers are developing a miniature refrigeration system small enough to fit inside laptops and personal computers, a cooling technology that would boost performance while shrinking the size of computers. Unlike conventional cooling systems, which use a fan to circulate air through heat sinks attached to...

New Mineral

NASA researchers and scientists from the United States, Germany and Japan have found a new mineral in material they believe came from a comet. The mineral, a manganese silicide named Brownleeite, was discovered within an interplanetary dust particle, or IDP, that appears to have originated from comet 26P/Grigg- Skjellerup. The comet...

Low-Power Microchip

A new low-power microchip developed at the University of Michigan uses 30,000 times less power in sleep mode and 10 times less in active mode than comparable chips currently on the market. The Phoenix Processor, as it's called, sets a low-power record and is intended for use in cutting-edge sensor-based devices such as...


Using the HARPS instrument at the ESO La Silla Observatory, European astronomers have found a system of three super-Earths around the star HD 40307 - a breakthrough in the field of extra-solar planets. The astronomers also counted a total of 45 candidate planets with a mass below 30 Earth masses and an orbital period shorter than 50...

Question of the Week
Will Self-Erasing Chips Catch On?


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