Artificial muscle: fast as the real thing
Chemists at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found a way to give polymers a quicker response to electric fields, an important advance in devising a material that could replace damaged muscles. Sonja Krause, professor of chemistry, and doctoral student Katie Bohon created the polymer that responds in 100 milliseconds, duplicating the reaction time of human muscle to brain signals. For the project, Bohon infused a polymer gel with electro-rheological fluid, which stiffens to a solid in response to an electric field. She then subjected this system to an electric field of 3,000V per centimeter. Using flexible electrodes and an alternating current electric field, Bohon made the system pulsate well within the human muscle's response time. The secret lies in using the fast-time response of millions of tiny polymer particles in combination with the elasticity of gel, Bohan explains. E-Mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Consortium to develop Equivalent Zero Emission Vehicle
In anticipation of stricter passenger car emission levels being proposed by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has launched a five-year project to develop an Equivalent Zero Emission Vehicle (EZEV). The goal: conventional passenger cars with atmospheric pollution equal to or less than the emissions of a battery-electric vehicle. CARB proposes tightening the limits to 0.02 grams per mile for oxides of nitrogen, 0.004 g/mi for non-methane organic gasses, and 0.17 g/mi for carbon monoxide. "These emission levels are so low that we're pushing the limits of our equipment to even measure them," says Program Manager Rob H. Thring, an SwRI engineer. In an attempt to meet the CARB levels, the project will examine the effects of new technologies on fuel and lubricant formulations; study the effects of fuels on cold-start emissions, transient emissions, driveability, and catalyst durability; incorporate the new Federal Test Procedure; and develop technology for a vehicle with fuel economy as good as or better than existing cars. FAX Craig F. Witherow at (210) 522-3547.
Virtual environment research facility opens
Prosolvia Inc., a pioneer in virtual reality software and applications, and Innovata, an engineering consulting company, have announced the opening of Dayton, OH-based Wright State University's VERITAS (Virtual Environment Research, Interactive Technology & Simulation). The facility includes CAVETM (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment), developed at the University of Illinois-Chicago's Electronic Visualization Laboratory. It is housed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base through a memorandum of agreement between WSU and the Air Force's Armstrong Laboratory. WSU becomes the first customer to take advantage of this alliance, which eliminates the need for companies to deal with several vendors for obtaining different components that make up the CAVE, then bring it all together on their own. It also offers customers training and a set of applications. E-mail email@example.com.
Smart card may signal end of coupon clipping
The chore of sorting through newspapers and magazines for discount coupons may be coming to an end. Battelle researchers have developed a smart card that electronically logs all discounts onto a single computer chip. It works like this: Shoppers would fill out an application and be issued the electronic card. Items carrying a manufacturer's discount would have an electronic reader about the size of a deck of cards. A shopper wanting to purchase the item would insert the smart card into the electronic reader, which would log the discount on the card. At the checkout, the card would be inserted into another reader, which would tally the discounts. Battelle researcher Jane O'Loughlin believes the system could decrease the time and cost of coupon processing for the retailer and the manufacturer. FAX (614) 424-3776.
Project strengthens galvanneal steel process
The American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) has available an online tool to accurately measure in-process gavanneal steel surface temperatures. The project is the result of a joint research effort by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), 15 North American steelmakers, and the Department of Energy. The program uses phosphor thermography, an outgrowth of uranium refining efforts at ORNL. Temperature is the controlling factor regarding the distribution of iron and zinc in the galvanneal steel strip coating, which determines the desired product properties. "The potential applications for this non-contact, quick-response, and accurate temperature measurement technology in the metals industry are huge and exciting," enthuses R.G. Gillian, associate director for energy and engineering sciences at ORNL. Phone AISI's Joseph Vehec at (412) 566-2327.
Vibration absorber that tunes itself in the works
A Penn State University/industry team has shown it is possible to build a simple, lightweight, "smart" vibration absorber that could track the changing frequencies of undesirable noise and vibration--and continuously retune itself to control them. Such a tunable device could quiet industrial machinery and consumer products, such as cars and home appliances. The AVC Div. of PCB Piezotronic Inc., with an assist from Penn State's Center for Acoustics and Vibration and NASA, developed the absorber. It's based on a thin disk of piezoelectric ceramic that acts as part of a "spring" that, when placed between the vibrating structure and a dense mass, can counter with a force that cancels the structural motion. The disk changes size by either expanding or contracting. The size change causes a metal disk to which the piezoceramic disk is attached to bend, like the bimetallic strip in a thermostat. A stud attached to the center of the metal disk moves vertically as the piezoceramic is activated. E-mail George Lesiutere at firstname.lastname@example.org.
New ultra-fast lenses increase tightness of focus
LightPath Technologies Inc. has introduced a class of ultra-fast GRADIUMTM lenses that "contains more functionality than any other single lens element available." The new line of fast lenses anticipates emerging performance requirements of medical imaging, telecommunications, industrial laser, semiconductor inspection, and optical-storage industries. The lenses are said to provide a 10- to 20-fold increase in tightness of focus and smallness of "spot size" compared with conventional or "homogeneous" lenses used in high-performance applications. A key advantage of the ultra-fast lens is that it can integrate the functions of a multi-lens system in one monolithic lens or unit. The result: greater light, focusing power, and color-separating capabilities, plus increased ruggedness. Sizes range from 5 to 80 mm, at 5- to 125-mm focal lengths. FAX (505) 342-1111.
'Next-generation' engine target of research project
Orbital Engine Corp. Ltd. has secured funding for the research and development of "next generation" direct-fuel-injection, combustion, and engine-control technologies for automotive applications. The program will involve base engine and vehicle application work to validate direct-injection systems for four-stroke engines in the most stringent emissions markets. In addition, a parallel development will focus on new injector designs, combustion, control, and exhaust after-treatment systems. Direct injection can improve fuel consumption by 10 to 30%, according to Orbital CEO Kim Schlunke, while achieving reduced exhaust emissions and increased power output. Orbital already has commercialized an air-assisted technology on internal combustion engines. Schlunke says the next-generation system will be significantly lower in cost and higher in performance than other less-mature direct-injection systems. FAX +61 9 441 2133.
Breakthrough permits two headlamp functions in one package
Osram Sylvania claims to have achieved a major breakthrough in headlamp-system design for cars made in the 21st century. The design combines the use of advanced high-intensity-discharge (HID) headlamps and a technology called magnetodynamic positioning (MDP). It also allows the use of two-headlamp HID systems (one light source and one headlamp on each side of the car for both low and high-beam functions), providing added styling options for designers, while reducing cutting, assembly, and ballast costs. Normally, HID lamps produce light by striking and maintaining an arc between the two electrodes at either end of a quartz capsule. "By improving the shape and color characteristics of the arc, we can design a better headlamp system to capture the light and fine tune it to achieve an approved low- and high-beam pattern," explains Harold Rothwell, the company's manager of advanced engineering for automotive lighting. FAX (508) 750-2982.
Technology paves way for better cement
Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory have under development an environmentally friendly process that hardens cement and creates a new class of strong, lightweight building and fabrication materials. The process transforms common portland or lime cemented materials and clays by treatment with carbon dioxide under high pressure, making them chemically stable, nearly impermeable, and stronger. It also makes inexpensive building products out of waste materials, including fly ash from coal-burning power plants, alum sludge from water-treatment plants, and blast-furnace slag. Treated cement also may improve the safe storage of radioactive waste. Under increasing pressure and temperatures, carbon dioxide gas first reaches a liquid phase then enters a region called "supercritical," where it has useful properties of both gas and liquid. Supercritical carbon dioxide expands to fill its container and diffuses into the tiniest pores like a gas. Total curing of 2.2 lbs of cement permanently removes about 25 gal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. E-mail Gary Kliewer at email@example.com .
Gary Chamberlain, Senior Editor