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November 6, 2006, 7:32 PM CT

Silent Eco-friendly Plane

Silent Eco-friendly Plane Conceptual design for a silent, environmentally friendly passenger plane designed by researchers at the Cambridge-MIT Institute's Silent Aircraft Initiative.
MIT and Cambridge University researchers will unveil the conceptual design for a silent, environmentally friendly passenger plane at a press conference Monday, Nov. 6, at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London.

"Public concern about noise is a major constraint on expansion of aircraft operations. The 'silent aircraft' can help address this concern and thus aid in meeting the increasing passenger demand for air transport," said Edward M. Greitzer, the H.N. Slater Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT.

Greitzer and Professor Ann P. Dowling of Cambridge University are the lead principal scientists on the Silent Aircraft Initiative. This collaboration of 40 researchers from MIT and Cambridge, plus many others from more than 30 companies, was launched three years ago "to develop a conceptual design for an aircraft whose noise was almost imperceptible outside the perimeter of an airfield in an urban environment".

While originally conceived to make a huge reduction in airplane noise, the team's ultimate design also has the potential to be more fuel-efficient. In a typical flight, the proposed plane, which is designed to carry 215 passengers, is predicted to achieve 124 passenger-miles per gallon, almost 25 percent more than current aircraft, according to Greitzer. (For a down-to-earth comparison, the Toyota Prius hybrid car carrying two passengers achieves 120 passenger-miles per gallon.).........

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November 3, 2006, 5:04 AM CT

T-ray breakthrough

T-ray breakthrough Dr Stefan Maier
Researchers at the University of Bath, UK, and in Spain have said they have found a way to control the flow of terahertz radiation down a metal wire. Their findings are set out in a letter published in the current journal Physical Review Letters.

Terahertz radiation, whose frequency is around one thousand billion cycles a second, bridges the gap between the microwave and infrared parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Materials interact with radiation at T-ray frequencies in different ways than with radiation in other parts of the spectrum, making T-rays potentially important in detecting and analysing chemicals by examining how they absorb T-rays fired at them.

This would allow quality control of prescribed drugs and detection of explosives to be carried out more easily, as many complex molecules have distinctive 'signatures' in this part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

T-ray applications are presently limited by the relatively poor ability to focus the rays, which is achieved using the conventional means of lenses and mirrors to focus the radiation. This limits the spot size of focused T-rays to a substantial fraction of a millimetre and this has made studies of small objects such as biological cells with high resolution are virtually impossible.........

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November 1, 2006, 7:42 PM CT

Microscope Probes Nano-electronics

Microscope Probes Nano-electronics JILA's scanning photoionization microscope (SPIM) includes an optical microscope (in vacuum chamber, background) and an ultrafast laser (appears as blue, foreground).
A new form of scanning microscopy that simultaneously reveals physical and electronic profiles of metal nanostructures has been demonstrated at JILA, a joint institute of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and University of Colorado at Boulder. The new instrument is expected to be especially useful for analyzing the make-up and properties of nanoscale electronics and nanoparticles.

Scanning photoionization microscopy (SPIM), described in a new paper,* combines the high spatial resolution of optical microscopy with the high sensitivity to subtle electrical activity made possible by detecting the low-energy electrons emitted by a material as it is illuminated with laser pulses. The technique potentially could be used to make pictures of both electronic and physical patterns in devices such as nanostructured transistors or electrode sensors, or to identify chemicals or even elements in such structures.

"You make images by virtue of how readily electrons are photoejected from a material," says NIST Fellow David Nesbitt, leader of the research group. "The method is in its infancy, but nevertheless it really does have the power to provide a new set of eyes for looking at nanostructured metals and semiconductors".

The JILA-built apparatus includes a moving optical microscopy stage in a vacuum, an ultrafast near-ultraviolet laser beam that provides sufficient peak power to inject two photons (particles of light) into a metal at virtually the same time, and equipment for measuring the numbers and energy of electrons ejected from the material. By comparing SPIM images of nanostructured gold films to scans using atomic force microscopy, which profiles surface topology, the scientists confirmed the correlations and physical mapping accuracy of the new technique. They also determined that lines in SPIM images correspond to spikes in electron energy, or current, and that contrast depends on the depth of electrons escaping from the metal as well as variations in material thickness.........

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October 31, 2006, 4:26 AM CT

Technique Harnesses 3-D Game Engines

Technique Harnesses 3-D Game Engines Production still of a robot avatar from machinima research at MIT.
Image courtesy / Beth Coleman, CMS
Student researchers working with Beth Coleman, assistant professor in comparative media studies and in the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies, are exploring machinima, one branch of the rapidly evolving world of computer animation. As members of the Machinima Work Group, they are experimenting in the medium to find new modes of cinematic expression.

Machinima (pronounced "machine-ima," the word is coined from "machine" and "cinema") is animation that is made by harnessing 3-D game engines, such as those used in Xbox or PlayStation games, and adding original content--dialogue, dramatic situations, and new or modified characters. Relative to traditional computer-generated imagery (CGI), in which animators must create the characters, scenes (levels) and action from scratch, machinima is fast and cheap--though still enormously time-consuming. The most well-known work of machinima to date is "Red vs. Blue," a comic sci-fi series based on the popular Xbox games Halo and Marathon. But many, including Coleman's group, are working to expand the medium above and beyond the genre of parody and to gauge its potential for artistic and cinematic expression.

Coleman explained in a recent interview that the medium has really exploded in the past five years, to the point where you now see ads on television that are made in machinima.........

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October 30, 2006, 8:30 PM CT

3-D ultrasound and robotic surgery

3-D ultrasound and robotic surgery Image courtesy of Cleveland Clinic
Duke University engineers have shown that a three-dimensional ultrasound scanner they developed can successfully guide a surgical robot.

The scanner could find application in various medical settings, according to the researchers. They said the scanner ultimately might enable surgeries to be performed without surgeons, a capability that could prove valuable in space stations or other remote locations.

"It's the first time, to our knowledge, that anyone has used the information in a 3-D ultrasound scan to actually guide a robot," said Stephen Smith, professor of biomedical engineering at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering.

Smith and Eric Pua, a Pratt graduate student who participated in the research, reported the findings in the cover article of the November 2006 issue of the journal IEEE Transactions on Ultrasonics, Ferroelectrics and Frequency Control http://www.ieee-uffc.org/tr/covers/2006toc.htm#nov06.

The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

In their demonstration, the researchers used 3-D ultrasound images to pinpoint in real time the exact location of targets in a simulated surgical procedure. That spatial information then guided a robotically controlled surgical instrument right to its mark.........

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October 27, 2006, 9:27 PM CT

Vitamin C and Water Healthy for Plastics, Too

Vitamin C and Water Healthy for Plastics, Too Researchers are using vitamin C (background) to craft certain plastics more efficiently.
Two new laboratory breakthroughs are poised to dramatically improve how plastics are made by assembling molecular chains more quickly and with less waste. Using such environmentally friendly substances as vitamin C or pure water, the two approaches present attractive alternatives to the common plastic manufacturing technique called free radical polymerization (FRP).

"The methods both present novel and complementary ways to dramatically improve efficiency, product control, and cost for the polymer industry," said Andy Lovinger, the National Science Foundation program director who oversees funds for the two projects. "Each of these approaches could have a very significant impact on polymer manufacturing".

Plastics are polymers, long, potentially complex, molecule chains crafted from an array of smaller chemical units. Using FRP, chemical engineers can create the right plastic for a range of applications, such as a specific trim for a car door or soft foam for a pillow.

For some plastics, the building-block molecules do not easily link together. To surmount this problem, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa., devised a process called atom transfer radical polymerization (ATRP), which provides creative ways to coax the chemical subunits into chains. However, this method comes with certain costs, such as the need for a copper catalyst that can become unwanted waste.........

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October 24, 2006, 6:08 PM CT

Electronic Chip Interacting With The Brain

Electronic Chip Interacting With The Brain
Researchers at the University of Washington (UW) are working on an implantable electronic chip that may help establish new nerve connections in the part of the brain that controls movement. Their most recent study, would be published in the Nov. 2, 2006, edition of Nature, showed such a device can induce brain changes in monkeys lasting more than a week. Strengthening of weak connections through this mechanism may have potential in the rehabilitation of patients with brain injuries, stroke, or paralysis.

The authors of study, titled "Long-Term Motor Cortex Plasticity Induced by an Electronic Neural Implant," were Dr. Andrew Jackson, senior research fellow in physiology and biophysics, Dr. Jaideep Mavoori, who recently earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the UW, and Dr. Eberhard Fetz, professor of physiology and biophysics. For many years Fetz and his colleagues have studied how the brains of monkeys control their limb muscles.

When awake, the brain continuously governs the body's voluntary movements. This is largely done through the activity of nerve cells in the part of the brain called the motor cortex. These nerve cells, or neurons, send signals down to the spinal cord to control the contraction of certain muscles, like those in the arms and legs.........

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October 22, 2006, 7:50 PM CT

Molecular Spintronic Action In Nanostructure

Molecular Spintronic Action In Nanostructure NIST researchers made the first confirmed "spintronic" device incorporating organic molecules using a nanoscale pore test structure.
Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have made the first confirmed "spintronic" device incorporating organic molecules, a potentially superior approach for innovative electronics that rely on the spin, and associated magnetic orientation, of electrons. The physicists created a nanoscale test structure to obtain clear evidence of the presence and action of specific molecules and magnetic switching behavior.

Whereas conventional electronic devices depend on the movement of electrons and their charge, spintronics works with changes in magnetic orientation caused by changes in electron spin (imagine electrons as tiny bar magnets whose poles are rotated up and down). Already used in read-heads for computer hard disks, spintronics can offer more desirable properties-higher speeds, smaller size-than conventional electronics. Spintronic devices commonly are made of inorganic materials. The use of organic molecules may be preferable, because electron spins can be preserved for longer time periods and distances, and because these molecules can be easily manipulated and self-assembled. However, until now, there has been no experimental confirmation of the presence of molecules in a spintronic structure. The new NIST results are expected to assist in the development of practical molecular spintronic devices.........

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October 22, 2006, 7:40 PM CT

New Standard For Semiconductor Industry

New Standard For Semiconductor Industry
A wide range of optical electronic devices, from laser disk players to traffic lights, may be improved in the future thanks to a small piece of semiconductor, about the size of a button, coated with aluminum, gallium, and arsenic (AlGaAs).

The 1-centimeter square coating, just 3 micrometers thick, is the first standard for the chemical composition of thin-film semiconductor alloys issued by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Standard Reference Material (SRM) 2841 was requested by the compound semiconductor industry to help measure and control thin film composition as a basis for optimizing material and device properties. The SRM can be used to calibrate equipment for making or analyzing these materials. Buyers are expected to include companies that grow or characterize thin films or use them to make devices, as well as government and university laboratories.

AlGaAs is used as a barrier material to increase conductivity in high-speed circuits for wireless communication; semiconductor lasers for optical disk drives, bar code scanning, xerography, and laser surgery; and light-emitting diodes for remote controls, traffic lights, and medical instruments. The NIST standard is expected to increase the accuracy of chemical characterization of AlGaAs films by an order of magnitude over the current state of the art. Improved accuracy will reduce wasteful duplication of reference wafers, increase the free exchange of thin-film materials between vendors and their customers, and ultimately improve the accuracy of data on relationships between material composition and properties.........

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October 19, 2006, 10:04 PM CT

A Road Is More Than A Road

A Road Is More Than A Road First-year student Anthony Gervais measures the speed of passing cars on Susie Wilson Road. (Photo: Josh Brown)
Standing by the edge of Susie Wilson Road in Essex, Anthony Gervais eyes a line of cars stopped at a light. Like a giant strand of metal beads pulled from one end, the cars start to move and spread when the light changes, accelerating away toward Colchester.

Aiming his radar gun carefully at an approaching pick-up truck, Gervais stares with a calculating concentration at the read-out on screen. He writes a few figures in his notebook and then prepares for the next surge of cars.

He’s not a police officer. He’s a freshman at UVM and this is Civil Engineering 003.

“Susie Wilson Road has been a big thorn for us,” says Dennis Lutz, director of public works for the town of Essex, who is standing nearby, helping the students. “There’s a high accident rate. It used to be about 15 to 17 thousand cars passed through here daily. It’s 20 or 22 thousand now.”

“There are no simple solutions to the traffic,” he says, “every time you make a tweak here, there's a tweak somewhere else.”

The power of problems

That’s exactly the point associate professor of civil engineering Nancy Hayden hopes the students learn in her class — and it’s the point of a three-year, $860,000 effort at systems education she is directing through UVM’s department of civil and environmental engineering, funded by the National Science Foundation. ........

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