Computer expertise helps to demystify
Scientists at Sandia National Laboratories, working with two museums, are
putting computer models developed for the Department of Energy to a new task.
The purpose: to help unravel some of the mystery surrounding dinosaurs,
including whether a certain species may have been warm-blooded. Using their
expertise in 3-D computer imaging, the Sandia scientists created a detailed
model of the skull of a rare, crested, duck-billed dinosaur, known as
Parasaurolophus. The computerized version of the skull also will provide an
exciting spin-off: in the same manner scientists can tell the character of the
sound a trombone makes simply by studying its shape, the Sandia team plans to
use the 3-D skull model to simulate a variety of sounds consistent with the
observed shape of the dinosaur. The duck-billed beast had a 4.5-foot,
trombone-like crest that rose from the back of its skull. E-mail George Davidson
Shorter route discovered for making polyvinyl chloride
EVC, Europe's largest producer of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), has discovered a chemical reaction that could leapfrog two stages in the production of the chlorine-based plastic. The chlorine in PVC sets it apart from other plastics by providing a highly reactive bonding point for other chemicals. With different additives, it can be made strong, flexible, or even flame-resistant. But getting the chlorine into the plastic is a complex process, requiring five separate chemical reactions. The EVC breakthrough is a non-corrosive catalyst that provokes a reaction at lower temperature. This produces a vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) at 90% purity. According to EVC, the process works with different forms of chlorine, making it possible to use recycled chlorine left over from earlier runs. Since there is less processing and minimal waste, the cost of the end product should be considerably less. EVC has applied for a patent for the process. FAX +32-2-660-1181.
New process helps keep Space Station contaminants from leaking
Engineers from McDonnell Douglas have developed a patented process to prevent contaminants from escaping into space from tubing joints used on the International Space Station. The process involves using a thin coating of easily malleable metal, such as silver, gold, or tin, on the mating surface of either tube ends or fittings as a seal. Tubes carrying fluids are found throughout the Space Station structure. "When liquids or gases escape, they severely restrict visibility of sensitive viewing instruments," says McDonnell Douglas engineer Hank Babel. The patent was issued to NASA, which holds the rights to the process. However, each member of the McDonnell Douglas design team received a copy of the patent and a monetary award. E-mail Evelyn Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Sensing system 'revolutionizes' automotive electronics
You can't see, hear, or feel it, but it can save your life. That's the word from NEC Automotive Electronics engineers who designed the Passenger Sensing System. The system can determine, in certain situations, whether or not someone needs to be protected by an airbag. It can also control airbag deployment based on who or what is in the seat. In the NEC system, flexible antennae in the vehicle seat act as transmitters and receivers of low-level electric fields. By monitoring the changes in these fields, the system identifies the differences between seat occupants and how they are faced. Non-deployment situations include an empty passenger seat or a child in a rear-facing safety seat. Unlike other proposed systems, the NEC design does not rely on specially equipped child safety seats or weight and distance sensors to control deployment. FAX Phil Rittmueller at (708) 860-5593.
System evaluates engine designs in a flash
Engineers at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) have designed and built an engine-control system that rapidly evaluates and adjusts the complex control and diagnostic algorithms needed to test and modify engines under development. The Rapid Prototyping Engine Control System (RPECS), which uses off-the-shelf hardware and custom-built software, has proved equally successful for gasoline, diesel, natural gas, alcohol, and hybrid engines, as well as a variety of cylinder, ignition, and fuel-delivery configurations. The system uses a standard PC, custom hardware that includes an SwRI-designed engine controller card, and SwRI-copyrighted software. It gives designers total control over all engine parameters. FAX Elizabeth Douglas at (210) 522-3547.
Safer refrigerants designed in a computer 'by the numbers'
For decades, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) have been the standard for all refrigeration applications, from the family "fridge," to air conditioning, to the local skating rink. However, studies have identified these compounds as being a principal contributor to the fraying of the Earth's ozone layer. Luke E.K. Achenie, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, and a UConn colleague have developed a computer-based mathematical method to create environmentally friendly "designer" refrigerants. Known as a mixed integer nonlinear program, the model improves on previous approaches, say the engineers, through better estimation of certain physical properties, such as the compound's boiling point. It also incorporates the compound's ozone-depleting capabilities into the overall evaluation. E-mail Lois Anne DeLong at email@example.com .
Space Suttle experiment yields a wet surprise
Results from a Pennsylvania State University Space Shuttle experiment have surprised researchers by disproving a basic, generally accepted principal about how liquids "wet" solids. The principal, expressed by Young's equation, holds that a liquid will predictably form regular hemispheres or "beads" on a solid surface, like rain on a highly polished car hood. Evidence from the space study, however, shows that the equation is true only if the surface is horizontal to gravity. The shapes liquids form on non-horizontal surfaces on Earth or on any solid surface in space are irregular, like a teardrop on a baby's cheek. Randall M. German, a professor in materials at Penn State and the principal investigator, believes that disproving Young's equation will have far-reaching effects. For example, results indicate that alloys probably can't be made in space that are very different from the ones on Earth. However, the new insight "will probably lead to previously undreamed of applications," says German. E-mail Barbara Hale at firstname.lastname@example.org .
'Earth university to space shuttle:' a direct-link first
Researchers in a control room on the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute recently sent commands to a crystal growth experiment aboard the space shuttle Columbia. It marked the first time that the U.S. space program had sent commands to a shuttle experiment directly from a university site. The objective: paving the way for far more extensive telescience on the International Space Station. When space-station experiments last six months to a year, researchers will not easily be able to travel to NASA sites to monitor data or make changes in their experiments. NASA provided equipment for the control room; sent a trainer to the Troy, NY, campus to work with the students who helped staff the room; and sent NASA software engineers to relay commands to the shuttle. Following the first 10 days of the mission, the Rensselaer control room successfully took control of the Isothermal Dendritic Growth Experiment. E-mail Martin E. Glicksman at email@example.com .
Ceramic passes sledge-hammer, blow-torch tests
In the late 1940s, the mysterious crash of an alleged UFO near Roswell, NM, reportedly yielded a ceramic-like material that couldn't be broken. Now, researchers at Michigan Technological University (MTU) have developed a material that may be just as durable. When Dr. William Predebon and doctoral student Jim Staeler first tried to crush their new designer ceramic, they figured something had gone wrong. Subjected to stress that should have smashed it, the ceramic remained completely intact. The press the researchers used simply wasn't powerful enough to crack the quarter-inch-thick disc of high-strength alumina. In fact, the ceramic was so hard that the MTU researchers had to protect the press. Not only did the disc resist more pressure than any alumina tested in the past, says Predebon, but it also withstood sudden impacts better. The researchers have received patents on the material and the process used to produce it. FAX (906) 487-2338.
Innovative design decreases vibrations in marine cables
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have built a prototype device to absorb the vibrations of underwater cables. The work is important because such shaking causes problems for scientists, fishermen, oil companies, and virtually anyone else who relies on some combination of ropes, cables, pipes, and casings in a marine environment. J. Kim Vandiver, a professor in the Department of Ocean Engineering, along with several students, built the vibration absorber. The invention diminishes the steady-state standing wave vibration on cables by absorbing waves incident on the terminations. With the device, each of the cable's ends terminates in a stainless-steel fork. The fork is pinned to a metal flange, which is welded to the side of a foot-long shaft, with the cable and fork roughly perpendicular to the shaft's axis. The ends of the shaft are encased in non-moving cylindrical sleeves, and an extremely viscous liquid is placed between the shaft and sleeve. The liquid serves as a damping material, absorbing vibrational energy as heat. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .
High-speed rail system on tap for Northeast Corridor
Amtrak has selected an international consortium headed by Bombardier Inc. of Canada to bring high-speed train travel to the U.S. The $745 million contract will pay for 189 new trains that will operate in the Northeast at speeds up to 150 mph. When in service, the system should shave more than 25% off the travel time between Boston and Washington. An added $1.3 billion is being spent to improve the route for the new service, which would start in late 1999. The Bombardier group also includes GEC Alstrom, builder of the TGV, France's high-speed train (see Design News 6/24/95, p. 62). Bombardier will make and assemble the trains at its plants in Plattsburgh, NY, and Barre, VT. FAX Terry McGuire at (312) 222-1237.††