Cell phone metadata has been in the news quite a bit lately, but the National Security Agency isn’t the only organization that collects information about people’s online behavior. Newly downloaded cell phone apps routinely ask to access your location information, your address book or other apps, and of course, Websites like Amazon or Netflix track your browsing history in the interest of making personalized recommendations.
Geckos and spiders seem to be able to sit still forever upside down. But sooner or later the grip is lost, no matter how little force is acting on it. Engineers, using scanning electron microscopy, have recently demonstrated why this is so by showing how heat, and the subsequent movement of molecules at the nanoscale, eventually force loss of adhesion.
Using high-brilliance x-rays, Stanford Univ. researchers track the process that fuel cells use to produce electricity, knowledge that will help make large-scale alternative energy power systems more practical and reliable. Fuel cells use oxygen and hydrogen as fuel to create electricity; if the process were run in reverse, the fuel cells could be used to store electricity, as well.
Measuring the extreme pressures and temperatures of hydrothermal systems in the Earth's crust is no easy feat. However, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists have made a new tool that allows them to probe pressures up to 20 kbar (20,000 Earth atmospheres of pressure).
Researchers at the Univ. of California, Riverside have used a quartz-rich material to fabricate a lithium-ion battery that outperforms the current industry standard by three times. This key material? Sand. Through a heating process with salt and magnesium, the scientists created a porous nano-silicon sponge that greatly increases active surface area.
Processes that shaped the ridges and troughs on the surface of Jupiter's icy moon Ganymede are likely similar to tectonic processes seen on Earth, according to a team of researchers led by Southwest Research Institute. To arrive at this conclusion, the team subjected physical models made of clay to stretching forces that simulate tectonic action.
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are developing an audio reading device to be worn on the index finger of people whose vision is impaired, giving them affordable and immediate access to printed words. The so-called FingerReader, a prototype produced by a 3-D printer, fits like a ring on the user's finger, and is equipped with a small camera that scans text.
An international research collaboration has designed a miniscule cooling element that uses spin waves to transport heat in electrical insulators. Although physicists have used spin for cooling purposes before, this is the first time that they have successfully done this in insulating materials. The cooling element could be used to dissipate heat in the increasingly smaller electrical components of computer chips.
Robert Wolkow and his team at the Univ. of Alberta are working to engineer atomically precise computing technologies that have practical, real-world applications. In recent research, he and his team observed for the first time how an electrical current flows across the skin of a silicon crystal and also measured electrical resistance as the current moved over a single atomic step.
Digital controllers are used to drive the motors of the joints in robots used in industrial processes. Programming and developing these controllers is not easy. Researchers in Spain have analyzed a way of propelling these systems or robots in a more energy-efficient way and has shown, on a laboratory level, that in some cases energy consumption can be cut by up to 40% without sacrificing precision.
Materials science experts in North Carolina and China collaborated on work that drew inspiration from the structure of bones and bamboo. The team has found that by gradually changing the internal structure of metals, stronger, tougher materials can be created and customized for a wide variety of applications, from body armor to automobile parts. The gradient structure concept works on numerous metals, including stainless steel and nickel.
New research at UC Berkeley has found that people are better and faster at navigating tactile technology when using both hands and several fingers. Moreover, blind people in the study outmaneuvered their sighted counterparts, perhaps because they’ve developed superior cognitive strategies for finding their way around. These insights are useful as more media companies are implementing tactile interfaces.
Researchers at Princeton Univ. joined with experts at Liquid Light Inc. to devise an efficient method for harnessing sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into a potential alternative fuel known as formic acid. This type of acid is already being explored as an alternative in fuel cells. The new process takes place inside an electrochemical cell, which consists of metal plates the size of lunch-boxes that enclose liquid-carrying channels.
Engineers at the Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have demonstrated a class of walking “bio-bots” powered by muscle cells and controlled with electrical pulses, giving researchers unprecedented command over their function. The design is inspired by the muscle-tendon-bone complex found in nature. They have a backbone of 3-D printed hydrogel, strong enough to give the bio-bot structure but flexible enough to bend like a joint.
Researchers have developed a new design for the framework of columns and beams that support bridges, called "bents," to improve performance for better resistance to earthquakes, less damage and faster on-site construction. The faster construction is achieved by pre-fabricating the columns and beams off-site and shipping them to the site, where they are erected and connected quickly.
Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and the Univ. of Hawaii have uncovered the first step in the process that transforms gas-phase molecules into solid particles like soot and other carbon-based compounds. The finding could help combustion chemists make more-efficient, less-polluting fuels and help materials scientists fine-tune their carbon nanotubes and graphene sheets for faster, smaller electronics.
Computer simulation has shown Stanford Univ. engineers how to make a crystal that would toggle like a light switch between conductive and non-conductive structures. This flexible, switchable lattice, just three atoms thick, can be turned on or off by mechanically pushing or pulling, and could lead to flexible electronic materials.
SiEnergy Systems, an Allied Minds company commercializing low temperature thin film solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology from Harvard University, has announced that it has been selected for $2.65 million in funding from Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). SiEnergy has develop innovative and unique hybrid electrochemical system that performs as both fuel cell and battery.
Aerospace engineers from the Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign are using the National Science Foundation-supported Stampede supercomputer to explore how jets in general, like those on modern aircraft and inside the human body, generate noise. This is important because no simple explanation of how jets generate noise is currently available, and without this understanding making jets quieter is difficult.
An international team of physicists including researchers from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory has used a scanning tunneling microscope to create quantum dots with identical, deterministic sizes. The perfect reproducibility of these dots opens the door to quantum dot architectures completely free of uncontrolled variations, an important goal for technologies from nanophotonics to quantum information processing.
NASA has tested new technology designed to bring spacecraft safely down to Mars, with the agency declaring the experiment a qualified success even though a giant parachute got tangled on the way down. Saturday's $150 million experiment is the first of three involving the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator vehicle, which creates atmospheric drag to dramatically slow the spacecraft from Mach 4.
In quantum physics, momentum and position are an example of conjugate variables, connected by Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which says that both quantities cannot be simultaneously measured precisely. Univ. of Rochester physicists have recently shown that a technique called compressive sensing that offers a way to measure both variables at the same time without violating the Uncertainty Principle.
Talk about a cosmic caffeine jolt. The International Space Station is getting a real Italian espresso machine. Astronauts of all nationalities have long grumbled about the tepid instant coffee served in pouches and drunk with straws 260 miles above Earth. The pouches and straws aren't going away, but at least the brew will pack some zero-gravity punch thanks to the ISSpresso, which can also make tea and consommé.
Scientists at the Univ. of California, Riverside have constructed liquid crystals with optical properties that can be instantly and reversibly controlled by an external magnetic field. Unlike conventional liquid crystals, which rotate and align themselves when an electric field is applied, the new crystals are essentially a liquid dispersion of magnetic nanorods.
Iowa State University assistant professor of materials science and engineering Ludovico Cademartiri wanted something modular, scalable and structurally precise to serve as the building blocks for controlled environments to support his study of plants. Microfluidics was too expensive and complex, so he turned to the toy aisle.