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.

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Universal Threat Detector

Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) continue to make progress in developing a universal detection system that can monitor the air for virtually all of the major threat agents that could be used by terrorists. The system, called Single-Particle Aerosol Mass Spectrometry (SPAMS), had been...

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NASA Briefs

Workers at NASA Ames Research Center are developing durable, oxidation-resistant, foam thermal protection systems (TPSs) that would be suitable for covering large exterior spacecraft surfaces. The TPSs would have low to moderate densities, and temperature capabilities comparable to those of carbon-based TPSs, which are reusable at...

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Current Attractions

Dr. David Morrison is senior scientist at the NASA Astrobiology Institute, and a founder of the multidisciplinary field of astrobiology. He is an expert on the risk of asteroid impacts and potential ways to mitigate that risk. Scientists are currently studying a 300-meter diameter asteroid, called Apophis.

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Microfluidic Device

A team from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory was having trouble making a chip that could withstand the rigors of the European ExoMars rover mission, scheduled for launch in 2013, until they turned to materials called perfluoropolyethers(PFPEs). PFPEs were first pioneered by researchers at University of North Carolina Chapel...

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Microwave Signals from Silicon Chip

Scientists have developed a method to generate high-power signals at frequencies of 200 GHz and higher on an ordinary silicon chip, which could lead to microwave radiation being used as a nondestructive imaging technology to detect diseases, or for security purposes. The method, proposed by Ehsan Afshari,...

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Electricity from Auto Exhausts

Researchers at Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft for Physical Measurement Techniques in Germany are working on a thermoelectric generator that converts the heat from car exhaust fumes into electricity. The thermoelectric module feeds the energy into the car's electronic systems, reducing fuel consumption and carbon dioxide...

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High Tunability Range Crystals

Physicists at the City College of New York (CCNY) have developed near-infrared broadband laser materials with tunability ranges about triple those of earlier crystals. For the first time, tunable laser operation was achieved at both the 1.33-micron and 1.55-micron telecommunication windows, from a single optical...

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NASA Briefs

A system that estimates the global radius of curvature (GRoC) of a segmented telescope mirror has been developed by the Marshall Space Flight Center for use in a larger system that exerts precise control over the displacements of the mirror segments. This system makes it possible to control the GRoC of the mirror with sufficient...

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Photonic Beetle

Researchers have been unable to build an ideal photonic crystal, or "champion" crystal, impeding the dream of ultrafast optical computers that run on light (photons) instead of electricity (electrons). But now, University of Utah chemists have discovered that photonic crystals with the ideal, diamond-like structure are found in...

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Walking Aid

Johns Hopkins University undergraduates have designed and built a device to enable critically ill, intensive care unit patients to leave their beds and walk, while remaining tethered to essential life-support equipment. The invention allows doctors to better understand whether carefully supervised rehabilitation, as opposed to...

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NASA Briefs

The Johnson Space Center offers a Mathcad computer program that largely automates the design and analysis of the restraint layer of an inflatable vessel. Prior to the development of this program, the design task was performed by use of a difficult-to-use spreadsheet program that required manual addition of rows and columns, depending...

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Possibly Toxic Buckyballs

A study predicts that carbon-60 molecules, or buckyballs, are easily absorbed into animal cells, providing a possible explanation for how the molecules could be toxic to humans. Using computer simulations, University of Calgary scientists modeled the interaction between carbon-60 molecules and cell membranes. They found...

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NASA Briefs

A method of promoting healing of injured or diseased neurons from Ames Research Center involves pharmacological activation of the STAT3 alpha protein. Injured or diseased neurons heal incompletely or not at all because they are susceptible to apoptosis (cell death), or because they fail to engage in axogenesis - that is, they fail to...

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Melanoma Risk

It is known that prolonged exposure to the sun's harmful UV rays can lead to melanoma, but an unanswered question is why some people are more likely to develop melanoma than others. Researchers from the Translational Genomic Research Institute (TGen) in Phoenix, Arizona and the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) in...

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Fuel Cell Material

Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have improved the power output of methanol fuel cells by more than 50 percent, which could broaden fuel cell applications to include portable electronics. The engineers achieved this by developing an alternative to Nafion, the material commonly used as the electrolyte...

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Communicating Underground

To improve wireless communications for emergency responders, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have confirmed that underground tunnels - generally a difficult setting for radios - can have a frequency "sweet spot" at which signals may travel several times farther than at other...

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NCAR's New Supercomputer

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has taken delivery of a new IBM supercomputer that will advance research into severe weather and the future of Earth's climate. The supercomputer, known as a Power 575 Hydro-Cluster, will be used by scientists at NCAR and across the country to accelerate research into...

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Focusing on Ultrashort Laser Pulses

Lasers that emit ultrashort pulses of light can be used for numerous applications including micromachining, microscopy, laser eye surgery, spectroscopy and controlling chemical reactions. However, the quality of the results is limited by distortions caused by lenses and other optical components that are part...

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Satellites Allow View Into Ancient Past

Satellite imagery obtained from NASA will help archeologist Bill Middleton of the Rochester Institute of Technology peer into the ancient Mexican past. Multi- and hyperspectral data will help build the most accurate and most detailed landscape map of the southern state of Oaxaca, where the Zapotec people...

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NASA Briefs

The Langley Research Center has developed an innovative method for acquiring fluid-level measurements. This method eliminates the need for the fluid-level sensor to have a physical connection to a power source or data acquisition equipment. The complete system consists of a lightweight, thin-film magnetic-field-response fluid-level...

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"Already August" A Spring Surprise

I didn't go to Wakefield, Rhode Island looking for great music.

I was there to see the new U.S. headquarters of Dewetron, a leading manufacturer of data acquisition equipment and long-time NASA Tech Briefs advertiser. The last stop on our tour was a closed door, behind which was a small room that...

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Sensing Explosives

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have created complex molecules containing zinc for use in portable sensors that detect the presence of plastic explosives. Sensors containing the zinc complexes are the first devices that allow the user to identify which type of explosive is present, since each metal...

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Current Attractions

In the effort to produce inexpensive, easily manufactured sources of sustainable, renewable power, solar cells continue to be a major focus - particularly flexible solar cells that can be applied directly to surfaces. Flexible solar cells are nothing new, but the methods by which they are made have progressed significantly in...

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Cell-Based Sensors

Cell-based sensors on a chip, which could speed up and improve the detection of everything from explosive materials to biological pathogens, are closer to reality, thanks to researchers at the University of Maryland's A. James Clark School of Engineering. The researchers - Benjamin Shapiro, Pamela Abshire, and Elisabeth Smela...

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Microscope Illumination System

Researchers at Auburn University have designed a rechargeable microscope illumination system that can be used by NASA scientists to observe microscopic life in places where there is no electricity. The patent-pending Ilumna 120, which contains a battery pack, condenser, and bulb with a built-in collimator, attaches...

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Sulfate Sunscreen

According to a study conducted by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), proposals to offset global warming by artificially seeding the stratosphere with sulfate particles could do more harm than good by having a negative impact on Earth's protective ozone layer. Such a plan might not only delay recovery of the...

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Exploding Stars

Robert Fisher and Cal Jordan of the Flash Center are among a team of scientists who will expend 22 million computational hours during the next year on the Blue Gene/P supercomputer at Argonne National Laboratory. The Flash Center will devote its computer allocation to studying Type Ia supernovas, in which temperatures reach...

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Brain Enzyme

Activation of the brain enzyme CaMKK2 is one step in the appetite stimulation pathway located in the hypothalamus section of the brain. Duke University Medical Center researchers blocked CaMKK2 in mice to tone down appetite, promote weight loss, and manage blood sugar.

The researchers blocked the enzyme with a specialized...

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Current Attractions

The Keyence PX Series rugged photoelectric sensors from Keyence Corp. of America have been selected as NTB's Product of the Month for May. The sensors feature an IP-69K environmental rating for high pressure (1,400 psi) applications at temperatures to 176 degrees F. They feature stainless steel casings, sensor heads...

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