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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Current Attractions

Although global warming has become a hotbed issue in recent years, the problem has been under investigation for at least 20 to 30 years, according to Dr. Steve Hipskind, Chief of NASA's Earth Science Division, Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA. Hipskind's group has focused on atmospheric and biospheric science research,...

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Nanowire-Based Display

Engineers at Purdue, Northwestern University, and the University of Southern California have created an active-matrix display using a new class of thin, transparent transistors and circuits. The transistors incorporate nanowires, tiny cylindrical structures assembled on glass or films of flexible plastic that are as thin...

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Cyclic Jitters

Electronic commands passed from machine to machine over data networks increasingly drive today's precisely timed and sequenced manufacturing production lines. However, timing irregularities in the signals from even one machine can result in havoc for manufacturing processes on the plant floor. The timing glitches, called cyclic...

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Algae Alternative

Scientists at U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory are working to chemically manipulate algae for production of the next generation of renewable fuels - hydrogen gas. Some varieties of algae contain an enzyme called hydrogenase that can create small amounts of hydrogen gas. Many believe this is used by nature...

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Dental Fillings and Mercury

Mercury within dental fillings is not by itself harmful, but when exposed to sulfate- reducing bacteria, the element undergoes a chemical change that turns it into a potent, ingestible neurotoxin. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and at Urbana-Champaign have found that mercury particles entering...

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Biomass Becomes Ethanol

Iowa State University researchers are integrating thermo-chemical and catalytic technologies to efficiently produce ethanol from plant biomass, overcoming problems with previous conversion techniques. The process would use high-temperature, fast pyrolysis to convert plant biomass into a bio-oil, which in turn would be...

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NASA Briefs

"Generic Spacecraft" is a library of software developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) that provides for simulation of a generic spacecraft that can orbit the Earth and land on the Moon (and, eventually, on Mars). The generic-spacecraft simulation serves as a test bed for modeling spacecraft dynamics, propulsion, control...

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Genome Software

Genomics analysis software developed by computer scientists at Stanford can go back 20 generations and identify what continent or broad global region an individual's ancestors were from. The HAPAA software compares an individual to all those in the International HapMap database – a genetic record of 270 individuals of...

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Alzheimer's Risks

Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have estimated that one in six women are at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease in their lifetime, while the risk for men is one in ten. According to the researchers, the greater lifetime expectancy for women translates into a greater lifetime risk of...

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Sensing Homemade Bombs

Scientists at the University of California at San Diego have developed a tiny, inexpensive sensor chip able to detect trace amounts of hydrogen peroxide, a chemical used in the most common form of homemade explosives. The scientists believe the sensor could have widespread applications in improving industrial...

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Wireless Defibrillators

Wearing an implantable pacemaker or cardiac defibrillator equipped with wireless technology can make life a lot simpler for heart patients. Wireless technology gives physicians the ability to perform remote device checks, freeing the patient from time-consuming and potentially costly office visits. However, according to a...

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Carbon Nanotube Interconnects

Nanotechnology has taken another significant step toward someday revolutionizing the computer industry. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute recently used Rensselaer’s Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations, the world’s most powerful university-based supercomputer, to measure...

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Squirrel Stress

Tests on the influence of a stress-related hormone in ground squirrels could have an impact on understanding how it influences human learning, according to Jill Mateo, a University of Chicago researcher. The squirrels learn more quickly if they have a modest amount of cortisol - a hormone produced in response to stress - than...

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NASA Briefs

The Marshall Space Flight Center is working on the use of controlled illumination by light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to treat mucositis and to accelerate healing of wounds. The basic idea is to illuminate the affected area of a patient with light of an intensity, duration, and wavelength chosen to produce a therapeutic effect while...

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Tat Circuit

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego and Oak Ridge National Laboratory have discovered how a genetic circuit in HIV controls whether the virus turns on or stays dormant, and have succeeded in forcing the virus towards dormancy. Further studies are under way on the feasibility of using this approach for anti-HIV...

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Single-Crystal Semiconductor Wire

Scientists from Penn State University and the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom have developed a process to grow a single-crystal semiconductor inside the tunnel of a hollow optical fiber. The device adds new electronic capabilities to optical fibers, whose performance often is degraded at the...

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Low-Cost Biofuel

University of Maryland researchers have created a process to convert large volumes of plant products, from leftover brewer's mash to paper trash, into ethanol and other biofuel alternatives to gasoline. Developed by University of Maryland professors Steve Hutcheson and Ron Weiner, the technique, called the Zymetis process,...

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Haptic Interface

Carnegie Mellon University researchers have developed a touch-based, or haptic, interface that could allow people to realistically feel textures and shapes of 3-D designs created on computers. The system involves a single lightweight moving part that floats on magnetic fields. Magnetic levitation eliminates the need for...

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Alleviating Arthritis

About 46 million people suffer from arthritis in the United States alone. The worst cases require painful surgeries to drill holes in and reinforce joints. Now, researchers working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are studying an unusually pliant, yet strong, synthetic cartilage replacement in...

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Plant Toxin

A powerful plant toxin widely feared for its bioterrorism potential may one day be tamed using findings about how the toxin attacks cells. The findings may also help scientists combat food poisoning episodes.

According to biotechnology researchers at Rutgers University, ricin, extracted from castor beans, tricks a cell into...

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Anti-Piracy Chip

Computer engineers at the University of Michigan and Rice University hope to solve the growing problem of chip patent infringement through a cryptography scheme that assigns each chip a unique lock and key. Called EPIC for Ending Piracy of Integrated Circuits, the technique relies on established cryptography methods, adding...

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Tech Briefs

Integrated microbatteries have been proposed to satisfy an anticipated need for long-life, low-rate primary batteries, having volumes less than 1 cubic millimeter, to power electronic circuitry in implantable medical devices. In one contemplated application, such a battery would be incorporated into a tubular hearing-aid device to be...

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Cell Phones and Driving

If there was any doubt that cell phones distract drivers, one needs to look no further than a study by Carnegie Mellon University scientists that concludes that drivers engaged in cell phone use commit some of the same driving errors that can occur under the influence of alcohol.

The study examined 29 volunteers...

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Current Attractions

According to Edward Austin, Science and Mission Operation Project Manager for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), there are a lot of things that are obscured in the galaxy that we would want to see. We can use infrared technology, but a lot of the infrared spectrum is actually blocked by water vapor...

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"Two-Faced" Particles

Researchers at North Carolina State University have demonstrated that Janus particles - microscopic "two-faced" spheres whose halves are physically or chemically different - will move like little submarines when an alternating electrical field is applied to the liquid surrounding them. The micrometer-sized particles convert...

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Earthquake

Three-hundred years ago, the Juan de Fuca plate under the ocean in America's Pacific Northwest suddenly slipped beneath the North American plate and forced its way about 60 feet eastward, triggering a massive earthquake that scientists estimate was roughly magnitude 9.0. The quake was so large that the tsunamis it created traveled all...

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Student LED Innovation

Martin Schubert - a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute doctoral student in electrical, computer, and systems engineering - has developed the first polarized light emitting diode (LED), an innovation that could vastly improve LCD screens, conserve energy, and usher in the next generation of ultra-efficient LEDs. Schubert's...

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NASA Briefs

An optical filter consisting of a multilayer spectral coating on a flexible membrane has been designed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to be placed in front of the 200-inch Hale telescope on Mt. Palomar. The filter is intended to protect the telescope against solar radiant flux and limit solar heating of the interior of the...

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SIDECAR Miniaturization

The detector controls and data conversion electronics components on the James Webb Space Telescope - collectively called a "SIDECAR" - have been miniaturized from a volume of about one cubic meter to a small integrated circuit. SIDECAR ASIC (System for Image Digitization, Enhancement, Control, And Retrieval Application...

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