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New digital fabrication technique creates interlocking 3D-printed ceramic PolyBricks

An innovative system using automated 3D printing technology and advanced digital tools to create customized, prefabricated ceramic building blocks, called PolyBricks, is enabling the construction of mortarless brick building assemblies at much greater scales than was previously possible. The new techniques use 3D printers to produce modular ceramic bricks from a single material that then interlock and assemble easily into larger units for architectural applications. The article is available free online on the 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing journal website.

Superconducting secrets solved after 30 years

Harnessing the enormous technological potential of high-temperature superconductors—which could be used in lossless electrical grids, next-generation supercomputers and levitating trains—could be much more straightforward in the future, as the origin of superconductivity in these materials has finally been identified. Researchers from the University of Cambridge have found that ripples of electrons, known as charge density waves or charge order, create twisted ‘pockets’ of electrons in these materials, from which superconductivity emerges.

Swarm reveals images of Earth’s changing magnetism

The first set of high-resolution results from European Space Agency’s three-satellite Swarm constellation reveals the most recent changes in the magnetic field that protects our planet. Measurements made over the past six months confirm the general trend of the field’s weakening, with the most dramatic declines over the Western Hemisphere. But in other areas, such as the southern Indian Ocean, the magnetic field has strengthened since January. The latest measurements also confirm the movement of magnetic North towards Siberia.

A continuous, zero-toxic-emission system that converts nonrecycled plastics into crude oil

Plastic is becoming a major problem worldwide because of the growing use of “nonrecycled” plastics, primarily made of polystyrene and polypropylene. A MIT spinout company, PK Clean, aims to end the landfilling of plastic with a cost-effective system that breaks down nonrecycled plastics into oil, while reusing some of the gas it produces to operate. PK Clean’s so-called “continuous” system runs on a process called catalytic depolymerization, where heat and a catalyst break down plastics into crude oil to sell to refineries. About 70 to 80 percent of the product comes out as oil.

Urine for some entertainment, thanks to a special ceramic urinal

Coca-Cola Park, home to baseball’s Lehigh Valley IronPigs, will be the first sports venue in the world to feature a new “urinal gaming system.” When a user approaches the urinal, the video console flips into gaming mode, using patented technology that detects both his presence and urine stream. Algorithms then allow the user to engage with the screen by aiming in different directions to test their agility and knowledge.

Startup can power trillions of sensors in everyday objects

If the internet of things (iOT) has its way, trillions of wireless sensors—embedded in everything from buildings to vehicles to household appliances to the bloodstream—will convey data of every type, over the Internet, to interested parties of every kind. New technology conceived at the University of Vermont could bring the sensor-driven IoT world closer to reality by helping power the sensors. The microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) is a tiny vibration energy scavenging device—about half the size of a sugar cube—that converts mechanical energy into electricity using a piezoelectric material that generates a charge at the slightest jostle.

Earth’s most abundant perovskite material gets a name—bridgmanite

For decades, scientists have known that most of the Earth’s lower mantle is a silicate mineral with a perovskite structure, but no naturally occurring samples had ever been found in a rock on the earth’s surface. Two scientists have now discovered naturally occurring silicate perovskite in a meteorite, making it eligible for a formal mineral name. High-pressure and temperature experiments, as well as seismic data, strongly suggest that (Mg,Fe)SiO3-perovskite—now simply called bridgmanite—is the dominant material in the lower mantle.

Move over silicon, there’s a new circuit in town

Researchers from the University of Southern California have overcome a major issue in carbon nanotube technology by developing a flexible, energy-efficient hybrid circuit combining carbon nanotube thin film transistors with other thin film transistors. This hybrid could take the place of silicon as the traditional transistor material used in electronic chips, since carbon nanotubes are more transparent, flexible, and can be processed at a lower cost. The researchers developed energy-efficient circuits by integrating carbon nanotube thin film transistors with thin film transistors comprised of indium, gallium and zinc oxide.

‘Sensing skin’ quickly detects cracks, damage in concrete structures

Researchers from North Carolina State University and the University of Eastern Finland have developed new “sensing skin” technology designed to serve as an early warning system for concrete structures, allowing authorities to respond quickly to damage in everything from nuclear facilities to bridges. The skin is an electrically conductive coat of paint that can be applied to new or existing structures. The paint can incorporate any number of conductive materials, such as copper, making it relatively inexpensive.