Published on April 8th, 2014 | By: April Gocha, PhD0
Other materials stories that may be of interest (with video)Published on April 8th, 2014 | By: April Gocha, PhD
A bionic kangaroo that mimics the real deal in looks and energy efficiency. Credit: erhanozturkk on Youtube.
(Science) Inspired by nature, researchers have created a robotic kangaroo that can jump 40 centimeters high and 80 centimeters forward in one leap. By storing energy on each landing and applying it to the next jump, real kangaroos demonstrate incredible energy efficiency, Wired UK reports. Interested in creating a robot with the same principles, Festo’s Bionic Learning Network spent 2 years analyzing the marsupial and recreating its movements. See the results for yourself in the video above.
In the ongoing search for new materials for fuel cells, batteries, photovoltaics, separation membranes, and electronic devices, one newer approach involves applying and managing stresses within known materials to give them dramatically different properties. This development has been very exciting, says MIT associate professor of nuclear science and engineering Bilge Yildiz, one of the pioneers of this approach: “Traditionally, we make materials by changing compositions and structures, but we are now recognizing that strain is an additional parameter that we can change, instead of looking for new compositions.” Yildiz, who authored a recent Materials Research Society Bulletin paper describing work in this field, explains that “even though we are dealing with small amounts of strain”—displacing atoms within a structure by only a few percent—“the effects can be exponential,” in some cases improving key reaction rates by tenfold or more.
In a recent advance in solar energy, researchers have discovered a way to tap the sun not only as a source of power, but also to directly produce the solar energy materials that make this possible. This breakthrough by chemical engineers at Oregon State University could soon reduce the cost of solar energy, speed production processes, use environmentally benign materials, and make the sun almost a “one-stop shop” that produces both the materials for solar devices and the eternal energy to power them. The work is based on the use of a “continuous flow” microreactor to produce nanoparticle inks that make solar cells by printing. Existing approaches based mostly on batch operations are more time-consuming and costly. In this process, simulated sunlight is focused on the solar microreactor to rapidly heat it, while allowing precise control of temperature to aid the quality of the finished product. The light in these experiments was produced artificially, but the process could be done with direct sunlight, and at a fraction of the cost of current approaches.
Nanostructures half the breadth of a DNA strand could improve the efficiency of light emitting diodes (LEDs), especially in the “green gap,” a portion of the spectrum where LED efficiency plunges, simulations at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) have shown. Using NERSC’s Cray XC30 supercomputer “Edison,” University of Michigan researchers Dylan Bayerl and Emmanouil Kioupakis found that the semiconductor indium nitride (InN), which typically emits infrared light, will emit green light if reduced to 1 nanometer-wide wires. Moreover, just by varying their sizes, these nanostructures could be tailored to emit different colors of light, which could lead to more natural-looking white lighting while avoiding some of the efficiency loss today’s LEDs experience at high power. “Our work suggests that indium nitride at the few-nanometer size range offers a promising approach to engineering efficient, visible light emission at tailored wavelengths,” said Kioupakis.
Using magnetically controlled nanoparticles to force tumour cells to ‘self-destruct’ sounds like science fiction, but could be a future part of cancer treatment, according to research from Lund University in Sweden. “The clever thing about the technique is that we can target selected cells without harming surrounding tissue. There are many ways to kill cells, but this method is contained and remote-controlled”, said Professor Erik Renström. In brief, the technique involves getting the nanoparticles into a tumour cell, where they bind to lysosomes, the units in the cell that perform ‘cleaning patrols’. Lysosomes can break down foreign substances that have entered a cell, and they can also break down the entire cell through a process known as ‘controlled cell death.’ The researchers have used nanoparticles of iron oxide that have been treated with a special form of magnetism. Once the particles are inside the cancer cells, the cells are exposed to a magnetic field, and the nanoparticles begin to rotate in a way that causes the lysosomes to start destroying the cells.
(Wired.com) Forty years after Apollo 11 landed on the moon, NASA open sourced the software code that ran the guidance systems on the lunar module. By that time, the code was little more than a novelty. But in recent years, the space agency has built all sorts of other software that is still on the cutting edge. And as it turns out, like the Apollo 11 code, much of this NASA software is available for public use, meaning anyone can download it and run it and adapt it for free. Next Thursday, NASA will release a master list of software projects it has cooked up over the years. This NASA software catalog will list more than 1,000 projects, and it will show you how to actually obtain the code you want. The idea to help hackers and entrepreneurs push these ideas in new directions—and help them dream up new ideas. Some code is only available to certain people—the rocket guidance system, for instance—but if you can get it, you can use it without paying royalties or copyright fees. Within a few weeks of publishing the list, NASA says, it will also offer a searchable database of projects, and then, by next year, it will host the actual software code in its own online repository, a kind of GitHub for astronauts.
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