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The Lead

Collecting just the right data

July 25, 2014 7:56 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Much artificial intelligence research addresses the problem of making predictions based on large data sets. An obvious example is the recommendation engines at retail sites like Amazon and Netflix. But some types of data are harder to collect than online click histories. And in other applications there may just not be enough time to crunch all the available data.

Chemist develops x-ray vision for quality assurance

July 25, 2014 6:57 am | by Iben Julie Schmidt, Technical Univ. of Denmark | News | Comments

A new method that uses x-rays for the rapid...

Discovery is key to metal wear in sliding parts

July 24, 2014 9:24 am | by Emil Venere, Purdue Univ. | News | Comments

Researchers have discovered a previously unknown mechanism for wear in metals: a swirling, fluid...

Quenching the world's water and energy crises, one tiny droplet at a time

July 24, 2014 8:40 am | by Sarah Bates, National Science Foundation | Videos | Comments

More than a decade ago, news of a Namibian desert...

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Audit: NASA doesn't have the money for big rockets

July 24, 2014 8:14 am | News | Comments

The Government Accountability Office issued a report Wednesday saying NASA's Space Launch System is at "high risk of missing" its planned December 2017 initial test flight. The agency doesn't have enough money to get its new, $12 billion rocket system, the largest ever built, off the ground.

“Comb-on-a-chip” powers new atomic clock design

July 24, 2014 7:52 am | News | Comments

Researchers from NIST and California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have demonstrated a new design for an atomic clock that is based on a chip-scale frequency comb, or a microcomb. The microcomb clock, featured in Optica, is the first demonstration of all-optical control of the microcomb, and its accurate conversion of optical frequencies to lower microwave frequencies.

Study: Forward osmosis desalination not energy efficient

July 24, 2014 7:37 am | by Alissa Mallinson | MIT Dept. of Mechanical Engineering | News | Comments

In a recent study published in the Journal of Membrane Science, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology team reported that, contrary to popular support, forward osmosis desalination of seawater is significantly less energy efficient, compared to reverse osmosis. In forward osmosis, water is drawn from the seawater into a concentrated salt solution, known as a draw solution.

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Bringing high-energy x-rays into better focus

July 23, 2014 10:15 am | News | Comments

Scientists at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have invented a customizable chemical etching process that can be used to manufacture high-performance focusing devices for the brightest x-ray sources on the planet, as well as to make other nanoscale structures such as biosensors and battery electrodes.

Researchers pioneer a Google street view of galaxies

July 23, 2014 9:55 am | by Verity Leatherdale, Univ. of Sydney | News | Comments

A new home-grown instrument based on bundles of optical fibers is giving Australian astronomers the first “Google street view” of the cosmos—incredibly detailed views of huge numbers of galaxies. Developed by researchers at the Univ. of Sydney and the Australian Astronomical Observatory, the optical-fiber bundles can sample the light from up to 60 parts of a galaxy, for a dozen galaxies at a time.

First direct-diode laser bright enough to cut, weld metal

July 23, 2014 9:43 am | by Rob Matheson, MIT News Office | News | Comments

MIT Lincoln Laboratory spinout TeraDiode is commercializing a multi-kilowatt diode laser system that’s bright enough to cut and weld through a half-inch of steel, and at greater efficiencies than today’s industrial lasers. The new system is based on a wavelength beam-combining laser diode design that won an R&D 100 Award in 2012. It combines multiple beams into a single output ray, allowing for a power boost without efficiency loss.

Dancing electrons at the heart of a laser breakthrough

July 23, 2014 8:19 am | by Joseph Blumberg, Dartmouth | News | Comments

A team of Dartmouth scientists and their colleagues have devised a breakthrough laser that uses a single artificial atom to generate and emit particles of light—and may play a crucial role in the development of quantum computers, which are predicted to eventually outperform even today’s most powerful supercomputers.

Building up bamboo

July 23, 2014 7:46 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

Bamboo construction has traditionally been rather straightforward: Entire stalks are used to create latticed edifices, or woven in strips to form wall-sized screens. The effect can be stunning, and also practical in parts of the world where bamboo thrives. But there are limitations to building with bamboo.

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Technique simplifies the creation of high-tech crystals

July 22, 2014 2:29 pm | News | Comments

Highly purified crystals that split light with precision are valued in specialized optics. But photonic crystals are difficult to make with current techniques, namely electron beam etching. Researchers at Princeton and Columbia universities have proposed a new method derived from colloidal suspensions that could allow scientists to customize and grow optimal crystals with relative ease.

NIST develops prototype meter test for hydrogen refueling stations

July 22, 2014 2:20 pm | News | Comments

Three automakers plan to begin selling hydrogen-fueled vehicles to consumers in 2015. To support the fair sale of gaseous hydrogen as a vehicle fuel, researchers at NIST have developed a prototype field test standard to test the accuracy of hydrogen fuel dispensers. Once the standard is field tested, it will serve as a model for constructing similar devices for state weights and measures inspectors to use.

Students to design, build, fly experiment to test green propellant

July 22, 2014 1:43 pm | by Emil Venere, Purdue Univ. | News | Comments

The Zero-Gravity Flight Experiment course at Purdue Univ. will see its creation soar to the upper atmosphere to study a new green propellant. The students are partnering with Aerojet Rocketdyne to demonstrate that the propellant can replace the traditional but highly toxic hydrazine fuel. They will design and build their experiment at Purdue, then NASA will launch it on a commercial suborbital rocket flight for weightless experiment time.

Boosting the force of empty space

July 22, 2014 1:33 pm | News | Comments

Empty space is a bubbling soup of various virtual particles popping in and out of existence. Theorists from Austria and Vienna have recently proposed a way to amplify the force of these counter-intuitive phenomena called “vacuum fluctuations” by several orders of magnitude using a transmission line, channelling virtual photons. The strategy could have profound implications for understanding Casimir and Van der Waals forces.

DNA used as a lightswitch

July 21, 2014 9:12 am | News | Comments

Using two thin, tiny gold nanorods 10,000 times thinner than a human hair, researchers from the U.S. and Germany have succeeded in creating an adjustable filter for so-called circularly polarized light. This switch for nano-optics is made from two tiny gold rods that reversibly change their optical properties when specific DNA molecules are added.

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Tiny laser sensor heightens bomb detection sensitivity

July 21, 2014 7:45 am | by Sarah Yang, Media Relations, UC Berkeley | News | Comments

New technology under development at the Univ. of California, Berkeley could soon give bomb-sniffing dogs some serious competition. A team of researchers has found a way to dramatically increase the sensitivity of a light-based plasmon sensor to detect incredibly minute concentrations of explosives.

Ultra-fast x-ray laser sheds light on fundamental ultra-fast dynamics

July 18, 2014 8:31 am | by KSU News and Communications Service | News | Comments

Ultra-fast x-ray laser research led by Kansas State Univ. has provided scientists with a snapshot of a fundamental molecular phenomenon. The finding sheds new light on microscopic electron motion in molecules. The researchers measured at which distances between the two atoms the electron transfer can occur.

Future electronics may depend on lasers, not quartz

July 18, 2014 8:09 am | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

Nearly all electronics require devices called oscillators that create precise frequencies. For nearly 100 years, these oscillators have relied upon quartz crystals to provide a frequency reference, much like a tuning fork is used as a reference to tune a piano. However, future high-end navigation systems, radar systems and even possibly tomorrow's consumer electronics will require references beyond the performance of quartz.

Nanocamera takes pictures at distances smaller than light’s wavelength

July 18, 2014 7:55 am | by Rick Kubetz, Engineering Communications Office | Videos | Comments

Researchers at the Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have demonstrated that an array of novel gold, pillar-bowtie nanoantennas (pBNAs) can be used like traditional photographic film to record light for distances that are much smaller than the wavelength of light (for example, distances less than ~600 nm for red light). A standard optical microscope acts as a “nanocamera” whereas the pBNAs are the analogous film.

Getting a grip on robotic grasp

July 18, 2014 7:40 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

Twisting a screwdriver, removing a bottle cap and peeling a banana are just a few simple tasks that are tricky to pull off single handedly. Now a new wrist-mounted robot can provide a helping hand—or rather, fingers. Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a robot that enhances the grasping motion of the human hand.

Toward ultimate light efficiency on the cheap

July 17, 2014 9:27 am | by Kate McAlpine, Univ. of Michigan | News | Comments

Researchers have taken a major stride toward perfectly efficient lighting that is also relatively inexpensive and simple to make. The same material can also reveal the presence of water by changing color. Incandescent bulbs only turn 5% of the electricity they use into light, while fluorescent LEDs can produce light from up to 25% of the electrons that pass through them. Phosphorescent LEDs can turn every electron into a ray of light.

Understanding how the brain retrieves memories

July 17, 2014 8:07 am | by Donald B Johnston, LLNL | News | Comments

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists are developing electrode array technology for monitoring brain activity as part of a collaborative research project with the Univ. of California San Francisco (UC San Francisco) to better understand how the neural circuitry of the brain works during memory retrieval.

No-wait data centers

July 17, 2014 7:56 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Big Websites usually maintain their own “data centers,” banks of tens or even hundreds of thousands of servers, all passing data back and forth to field users’ requests. Like any big, decentralized network, data centers are prone to congestion: Packets of data arriving at the same router at the same time are put in a queue, and if the queues get too long, packets can be delayed.

Powerful molecular sensor boosts optical signal by 100 billion times

July 15, 2014 4:45 pm | by Mike Williams, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

Scientists at Rice Univ. have created a unique sensor that amplifies the optical signature of molecules by about 100 billion times. The new imaging method uses a form of Raman spectroscopy in combination with an intricate but mass reproducible optical amplifier. Newly published tests found the device could accurately identify the composition and structure of individual molecules containing fewer than 20 atoms.

Drones: Next big thing in aviation is small

July 15, 2014 2:21 pm | by Danica Kirka - Associated Press - Associated Press | News | Comments

The next big thing in aviation may be really small. With some no bigger than a hummingbird, the hottest things at this week's Farnborough International Airshow are tiny compared with the titans of the sky, such as the Airbus 380 or the Boeing Dreamliner.

Digital crime fighters face technical challenges with cloud computing

July 15, 2014 10:42 am | News | Comments

NIST has issued for public review and comment a draft report summarizing 65 challenges that cloud computing poses to forensics investigators who uncover, gather, examine and interpret digital evidence to help solve crimes. The report was prepared by the NIST Cloud Computing Forensic Science Working Group, an international body of cloud and digital forensic experts from industry, government and academia.

Getting a charge out of water droplets

July 15, 2014 7:53 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Last year, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers discovered that when water droplets spontaneously jump away from superhydrophobic surfaces during condensation, they can gain electric charge in the process. Now, the same team has demonstrated that this process can generate small amounts of electricity that might be used to power electronic devices.

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