(Phys.org) —SRI International, a research center that conducts client-sponsored research and development for government and other organizations, is attracting attention for work on what micro-factories might accomplish in the future, with micro-robots coordinated to go to work building products. SRI’s ant-like microrobots in large numbers can reliably handle solid and liquid materials, including electronics. The micro-robots were designed to suggest a better way to assemble components and small structures. SRI’s robots are built from simple, low-cost magnets, and the technique involves printed circuit boards (PCBs) that drive and control the micro-robots.
Research from North Carolina State University finds that impurities can hurt performance—or possibly provide benefits—in a key superconductive material that is expected to find use in a host of applications, including future particle colliders. The size of the impurities determines whether they help or hinder the material’s performance. At issue is a superconductive material called bismuth strontium calcium copper oxide (Bi2212). The researchers found that nanoscale impurities, from 1.2 to 2.5 nanometers wide, appear to improve Bi2212’s performance as a superconductor.
One strategy for addressing the world’s energy crisis is to stop wasting so much energy when producing and using it, which can happen in coal-fired power plants or transportation. Nearly two-thirds of energy input is lost as waste heat. Now Northwestern University scientists have discovered a surprising material that is the best in the world at converting waste heat to useful electricity. This outstanding property could be exploited in solid-state thermoelectric devices in a variety of industries, with potentially enormous energy savings. An interdisciplinary team found the crystal form of the chemical compound tin selenide conducts heat so poorly through its lattice structure that it is the most efficient thermoelectric material known. Unlike most thermoelectric materials, tin selenide has a simple structure, much like that of an accordion, which provides the key to its exceptional properties.
For years, companies have been adding whiteners to laundry detergent, paints, plastics, paper and fabrics to make whites look “whiter than white,” but now, with a switch away from incandescent and fluorescent lighting, different degrees of whites may all look the same, according to experts in lighting. Not long ago, the only practical choices for home, office or commercial lighting were incandescent or fluorescent bulbs. More recently, compact fluorescent bulbs, which use less energy than incandescent bulbs, became popular, but compact fluorescents are not always accepted by consumers because of poor color rendition, lack of dimability, slow warm-up to full output and because they contain mercury.
Ever-shrinking electronic devices could get down to atomic dimensions with the help of transition metal oxides, a class of materials that seems to have it all: superconductivity, magnetoresistance and other exotic properties. These possibilities have scientists excited to understand everything about these materials, and to find new ways to control their properties at the most fundamental levels. Researchers from Cornell and Brookhaven National Laboratory have shown how to switch a particular transition metal oxide, lanthanum nickelate (LaNiO3), from a metal to an insulator by making the material less than a nanometer thick.
(Phys.org) —A team of researchers at China’s Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics has discovered that the act of dragging saltwater over a piece of graphene can generate electricity. In seeking to turn the idea of submerging carbon nanotubes in a flowing liquid to generate a voltage on its head, the team came upon the idea of simply dragging water droplets across graphene instead. Because of graphene’s unique electrical properties, researchers have been hard at work trying to determine if it can be used to generate electricity at a lower cost (and in cleaner fashion) than conventional methods. In this new effort, the researchers have found a way to generate electricity using graphene without the need for a pressure gradient, or any other mechanism other than gravity.
The ability to stick objects to a wide range of surfaces such as drywall, wood, metal and glass with a single adhesive has been the elusive goal of many research teams across the world, but now a team of University of Massachusetts Amherst inventors describe a new, more versatile version of their invention, Geckskin, that can adhere strongly to a wider range of surfaces, yet releases easily, like a gecko’s feet. Geckskin is a ‘gecko-like,’ reusable adhesive device that they had previously demonstrated can hold heavy loads on smooth surfaces such as glass, but they have expanded their design theory to allow Geckskin to adhere powerfully to a wider variety of surfaces found in most homes such as drywall, and wood.