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.

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

"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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

Cellular Medical Images

A process to transmit medical images via cellular phones, developed by Hebrew University of Jerusalem researcher Prof. Boris Rubinsky, could provide sophisticated radiological diagnoses and treatment to most of the world's population lacking access to such technology. Designed to replace stand-alone medical imaging...

The Forgotten Giant

“You can be sure if it’s Westinghouse.”

Raise your hand if you recall that signature line from Westinghouse TV commercials, or if you grew up in a household with Westinghouse appliances. A lot of hands, I’m sure. Far fewer if I were to ask how many still used Westinghouse products today. As...

Harmful Silver

For years, scientists have known about silver's ability to kill harmful bacteria and, recently, have created consumer products containing silver nanoparticles. Now, a University of Missouri researcher has found that silver nanoparticles also may destroy benign bacteria that are used to remove ammonia from wastewater treatment...

Globular Clusters

A new study using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory indicates that globular clusters might be surprisingly less mature in their development than previously thought. Globular clusters are dense bunches of up to millions of stars that are found in the outskirts of galaxies, including the Milky Way. Understanding the nature of...

Fog and Smoke

University of California at San Diego computer scientists have created a fog and smoke machine for computer graphics that cuts the computational cost of making realistic smoky and foggy 3-D images, such as beams of light from a lighthouse piercing thick fog. By cutting the computing cost for creating highly realistic imagery from...

Molecular Movies

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have developed techniques to create accurate movies of biological and chemical molecules. Scientists using the high-intensity X-rays at the Advanced Photon Source have measured images that are "blurred" by these motions and have used them to create...

Stem Cell Breakthrough

Dutch researchers at University Medical Center Utrecht and the Hubrecht Institute have succeeded in growing large numbers of stem cells from adult human hearts into new heart muscle cells. The stem cells are derived from material left over from open-heart operations. Until now, it was necessary to use embryonic stem cells...

Nature Vs. Nurture

North Carolina State University geneticists have shown that environmental factors play a large role in whether certain genes are turned on or off. By studying gene expression of white blood cells in 46 Moroccan Amazighs, including desert nomads, mountain agrarians and coastal urban dwellers, the NC State researchers and...

Monitoring HIV/AIDS Patients

For HIV/AIDS patients, a skipped pill could mean the difference between health and hazard for the entire population. A breath monitoring device developed by scientists at the University of Florida and Xhale Inc. could help prevent the emergence of drug-resistant strains of HIV, by monitoring medication adherence in...

Measuring Stored Anthrax

Researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the U.S. Army Dugway (Utah) Proving Ground have developed reliable methods, based on DNA analysis, to assess the concentration and viability of anthrax spores after prolonged storage. Because traditional methods to extract DNA from Bacillus...


Dye-sensitized solar cells are more flexible, easier to manufacture, and cheaper than existing solar technologies. Current lab prototypes are about half as efficient as the silicon-based cells used in rooftop panels and calculators. By using a popcorn-ball design - tiny kernels clumped into much larger porous spheres - researchers...

3-D Camera

Stanford University researchers, led by electrical engineering Professor Abbas El Gamal, are developing a camera built around a multi-aperture image sensor whose pixels measure 0.7 microns, several times smaller than pixels in standard digital cameras. The pixels are arranged in arrays of 256 pixels each, with a tiny lens atop each...

Sensing Hurricanes

The traditional method to detect a hurricane's strength has been to fly airplanes through the most intense winds into the eye of the storm, carrying out wind-speed measurements as they go. But that approach requires specialized planes priced at $100 million each, with a single flight costing $50,000. Nicholas Makris, associate...

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