October 28, 2006

Nanostructured aluminum 10 times stronger than normal aluminum alloys

The newest class of cast metal matrix composites (MMCs) fortifies aluminum with nanoparticles to produce materials that can withstand enormous amounts of stress, are exceptionally hard, but are also lightweight. Nanoparticles are smaller than 100 nanometers (about the size of a baseball shrunk to one-millionth of its original size) that sometimes behave differently than larger particles.

A nanostructured aluminum can be 10 times stronger than conventional aluminum alloys.

Pradeep Rohatgi is working on turns metals into foam.

Unlike Styrofoam, in which air is pumped into a plastic matrix, syntactic (metallic) foam is filled with hollow micro-balloons set into a metal base. The tiny balloons are made from recycled "fly-ash"-- waste materials generated by coal-burning power plants – and they house either various gases or are a vacuum inside.

October 27, 2006

Future DNA Sequencing $100K per genome and $1000 genome

Here is a pdf of a research paper that surveys new DNA sequencing approaches Several approaches could provide genome (3 billion base pairs) sequencing for $100,000 within 4 years.

Cycle extension methods

454 Corp pyrosequencing
Quake cycle extension
Solexa cycle extension

Solexa corporation's approaches could reach a cost $9000 to $15000 to sequence a genome.

Genovoxx cycle extension

Polymerase reading methods
Zero-mode waveguide
Visigen polymerase read
Molecular motors method
Exonuclease sequencing

Potential $1000 genome sequencing approaches
DLA (Direct Linear Analysis)

DLA enables the real time single molecular scanning of DNA molecules using a nanofluidic device
nanopore sequencing

2005 government awards for genome sequencing

2006 government funded DNA sequencing technologies

biochip: 60 times more data from living cells

Purdue University researchers have developed a biochip that measures the electrical activities of cells and is capable of obtaining 60 times more data in just one reading than is possible with current technology.

In the near term, the biochip could speed scientific research, which could accelerate drug development for muscle and nerve disorders like epilepsy and help create more productive crop varieties.

Researchers will be able to perform hundreds of experiments per day using this automated technology instead of doing one experiment per day.

The device works by measuring the concentration of ions — tiny charged particles — as they enter and exit cells. The chip can record these concentrations in up to 16 living cells temporarily sealed within fluid-filled pores in the microchip. With four electrodes per cell, the chip delivers 64 simultaneous, continuous sources of data.

Wind power - they want it from local suppliers

Wind power politics and economics discussed in the Economist magazine

It costs $2.3 million per mile ($1.4 million per kilometer to transmit power.

States and countries prefer to pay their own farmers to generate electricity like wind.

Improved detection of small amounts of plutonium and uranium

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have demonstrated that they can cheaply, quickly and accurately identify even subnanogram amounts of weapon-grade plutonium and uranium. The scientists were able to successfully identify trace amounts of uranium-235 and plutonium-239 in less than three minutes. They have applied a highly sensitive technique called delayed neutron activation analysis to improve detection.

This helps weapons inspectors. Remote detection from distances of 10,000+ feet will have military implications.

October 26, 2006

Nanometer precise formation flying in space

Photon tether formation flying pdf presentation This is enabling technology for large scale telescopes in space using several spacecraft working together. It can enable the New worlds imager and large telescopes to monitor the earth.

Military exoskeletons expected in 2008

from New scientist, Military exoskeletons are scheduled for delivery in 2008 for Army testing

The winning design and manufacturer is the company Sarcos.

Sarcos has come up with a system that uses just one engine instead of lots of them. The engine, and a tank containing a 24-hour supply of fuel, will be slung “beneath your rear end”, says Main. The engine (a turbine, two-stroke or four stroke - they haven’t decided yet) will then drive hydraulic fluid via high pressure lines to servo valves on each joint, amplifying the force used to move each limb when the wearer’s motion is sensed.

Main tried it out himself recently. “It makes you feel really, really strong. You get the sensation that you have a lot of strength. I sort of felt like The Hulk and I’m a skinny guy. I wore a 100-pound weight on my back and it felt I was carrying nothing like that amount,” he says. And he was only wearing the lower body - the legs and back support section.

Once the legs are mated to the powered arms, the full "powerloader" exoskeleton will be even stronger. “The upper body portion has arms that can hold a 40-pound weight at arms length for three minutes,” Main says.

Basically the user of the exoskeleton can haul around heavier armor and bigger guns and gear without get tired and without being very slow.

The Darpa site for the project is here

Being able to easily carry 40lbs in each arm would allow for heavier weapons to be used and more ammunition to be carried

M240 medium machine gun weighs about 30lbs

Miniguns which are powered and have higher rate of fire than other machine guns

The 84lb M2 heavy machine gun could also be supported by one person in an exoskeleton instead of a small crew

A crew of exoskeleton soldiers could also carry a M242 gun which is 243 lbs

The exoskeleton is a force multiplier. One guy could carry the firepower of a squad. Another advantage is being able to outgun opponents in building to building fighting.

Breakthrough in Understanding fusion processes in detail

Faster laser pulses were used to get better images of Z-pinches Z pinches use electrical energy to transform wires into plasma. The work looks at what is limiting the transfer of the electrical energy into the implosion energy. Greater efficiency could lead to practical fusion power.

IBM makes chip cooling two times better

The technique, called "high thermal conductivity interface technology," allows a twofold improvement in heat removal over current methods. This paves the way for continued development of creative electronic products through the use of more powerful chips without complex and costly systems simply to cool them. Using sophisticated micro-technology, the IBM researchers developed a chip cap with a network of tree-like branched channels on its surface. The pattern is designed such that when pressure is applied, the paste spreads much more evenly and the pressure remains uniform across the chip. This allows the right uniformity to be obtained with nearly two times less pressure, and a ten times better heat transport through the interface.

Looking beyond the limits of air-cooling systems, Zurich researchers are taking their concept of branched channel design even further and are developing a novel and promising approach for water-cooling. Called direct jet impingement, it squirts water onto the back of the chip and sucks it off again in a perfectly closed system using an array of up to 50,000 tiny nozzles and a complicated tree-like branched return architecture.

By developing a perfectly closed system, there is also no fear of coolant getting into the electronics on the chips. What's more, the IBM team was able to enhance the cooling capabilities of the system by devising ways to apply it directly to the back of the chip and thereby avoiding the resistive thermal interfaces in between the cooling system and the silicon.

First lab results are impressive. The team has demonstrated cooling power densities of up to 370 Watts per square centimeter with water as coolant. This is more than six times beyond the current limits of air-cooling techniques at about 75 Watts per square centimeter. Yet, the system uses much less energy for pumping than other cooling systems do.
This next step would provide a further doubling of cooling performance.

DNA Nanoactuator created

From physorg, a DNA switch has been developed by British Molecular Biotechnology expert Dr Keith Firman at the University of Portsmouth working in collaboration with other European researchers. The DNA switch has immediate practical application in toxin detection, and could be used in a biodefence role as a biological sensor to detect airborne pathogens. The future applications are also considerable, including molecular scale mechanical devices for interfacing to computer-controlled artificial limbs. The device emits electrical signals - signals that can be sent to a computer. The switch, therefore, links the biological world with the silicon world of electronic signals.

Thorium Power company featured in Newsweek

Since 1992, Thorium Power Ltd. has been working on a new kind of fuel that mixes uranium with thorium in a process that produces little plutonium-239. (a correction from Kirk Sorensen) The goal is to "sever the link" between nuclear power and weaponry. Backed by renowned nonproliferation experts and activists, including former British Conservative Party leader Michael Howard and American lawyer Seth Grae. Current nuclear reactors are powered by a mix of two isotopes of uranium that produce a third isotope—uranium 239, which ultimately decays into bomb-grade plutonium. In about three years they will have larger-scale development of reactors. Thorium-fuel technology will produce about 85 percent less plutonium, but that plutonium will be in an isotopic mix that is completely unusable for nuclear weapons.

This is not as good as Thorium liquid fluoride reactors but it is an improvement. It could also change the perception of Thorium approaches as less of a departure from current systems.

Modular spacecraft with Integrated Structural Electric Propulsion

October 25, 2006

MIT microbots

Here is an update on the MIT design for 10 cm spherical microbots for exploring the planets 1000 microbots would have the same launch volume as the Mars Spirit rover.

They could be used to explore caves and large areas. They have spinoff capabilities for helping the military to search caves and buildings.

An artists rendering of a microbot.

A swarm of microbots on Mars

Here is the project page at MIT

Hopping power is provided by a compliant bistable foot operated by Dielectric Elastomer Actuators

concept using 4 Dielectric Elastomer Actuators to change microbot orientation before hopping.

New Worlds Discoverer proposed for 2013

Here is an updated pdf on the latest work on the New Worlds Imager and it has a proposal for a new Worlds Discoverer. The New Worlds Discoverer is proposed to be developed and launched in 2013. It could detect earth size plants out to 30 light years and analyze the spectroscopy of jovian (jupiter) sized planets. There are probably 10,000 planets within 30 light years. This system is about 35 m in size. It would have one starshade.

In 10 years, (2016-17) the proposal is for a $2-3 billion New Worlds Observer. It would be 150m in size. It would have two starshades. It could detect life on earth size planets by analyzing the spectroscopy.

Then for 2025, the New Worlds Imager. Lunar based or in space system that would have 1500km long baselines.

These are great systems that should be developed.

October 22, 2006

Coal: more deaths per year than Hiroshima and Nagasaki

A Harvard study indicates over 100,000 premature deaths from coal in China each year. Lung cancer has doubled in China. 600,000 lung cancer deaths each year

About 10,000 mining deaths in the world each year

24,000 lives in the US are shortened each year from coal

Another study of health impacts from coal. Issues of Arsenic and Mercury

Over 200,000 premature deaths from coal every year. Some estimates are over 1,000,000. That is more than the deaths of Hiroshima and Nagasaki every year.

In 2002, The economist magazine called coal environmental enemy number 1

Other reading:
Coal Chernobyl twice a week

Nuclear power is what can scale up the fastest to replace coal. Solar and wind will take a lot longer. Decades longer would mean millions more dead from coal.

We need scale up with thorium liquid fluoride reactors Two were built by the US in the 1960s. It is not hypothetical technology.

Space elevator competition update

Several teams made it to the 200 ft top of the tether climbing competition. The University of Saskatchewan space Design team got to the top the fastest in 58 seconds which is what was needed to win the competition. There is a question of whether they got down within the 2 minute time allowed.

Congratulations to my home province of Saskatchewan, Canada.

The house tether won, but the Astroaraneae tether didn’t part until 1335.9 pounds of pressure was applied - a very impressive performance. This beat last year’s winner by about 100 pounds. The machine for measuring tether strength needs to be improved since the machine broke before the house tether.

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