Radars in space could pinpoint terrestrial trouble
The Magellan orbiter scanned the surface of Venus using synthetic aperture radar (SAR), producing the most detailed maps yet of Earth's sister planet. Now researchers at Stanford University, Stanford, CA, advocate putting SAR-equipped satellites in Earth orbit; not for mapping but to detect geologic movements presaging certain natural disasters. In particular, a SAR satellite constellation would be able to measure minute changes in the geometry of volcano lava domes, stress indicators of tectonic plate movement, and changes in a glacier's flow that might indicate hidden melting and a nascent flood. Stanford geophysicists Paul Segall and Howard Zebker say data from space-borne radars could be analyzed using techniques similar to those employed with other methods of motion detection. Currently, Segall and his students deploy Global Positioning System (GPS) instruments on Hawaii's Kilauea volcano and California's San Andreas fault to pinpoint movement. Zebker, also an electrical engineer, says SAR radar could monitor remote areas and places where researchers fear to tread. Contact Zebker at (415) 723-8067 or visit his home page on the Web at: http://ee.stanford.edu/ zebker/.
Partners aim to get new battery on the road by 2000
Batteries often are the limiting factor in getting anything electrical to operate off the grid, particularly electric cars. Advanced Refractory Technologies (ART) Inc., Buffalo, NY; and Northrop Grumman Naval Systems, Cleveland, OH, have partnered to commercialize storage systems based on lithium-metal sulfide (LiMS) batteries already under development for the DOD. The storage systems also rely on an aluminum nitride (AIN) separator, developed by ART, that provide a longer cycle life than conventional separators. According to ART, LiMS batteries have high specific energy and high specific power. Northrop Grumman is developing the LiMS-based Advanced Thermal Battery for a U.S. Navy missile program and is one of three teams competing for a DARPA hybrid-power system for a future electric military vehicle. The partnership aims to develop batteries for commercial applications, such as electric vehicles, by the year 2000. Contact Donald Bray at ART at (716) 875-4091.
Toward building a better micro-machine
DARPA has awarded a $5 million contract to Tanner Research Inc., Pasadena, CA, to develop a suite of micro-electromechanical system (MEMS) design tools. The development effort has the goal of producing an integrated set of tools for MEMS design that includes custom layout and editing; solid modeling; 3-D and cross-section visualization; mechanical, electrical, and thermal mixed-domain analysis; and behavioral model generation. Tanner intends to deliver the final product on its PC-based software architecture for integrated-circuit layout and simulation. MEMS are extremely small devices for incorporating mechanical and electronic components that many see having applications in military, industrial, and medical fields. Contact Jim Lindauer at (818) 792-3000.
Moving DNA, one molecule at a time
A researcher at Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering, Baltimore, MD, is building a device that will enable him to manipulate individual strands of DNA. Denis Wirtz, a native of Brussels, Belgium, used a similar device in Europe to become the first person to measure the friction coefficient of a single DNA molecule. Wirtz's invention uses three copper-coil magnets to produce electromagnetic fields in three axes. By altering the current to each magnet, he can move a magnetic target in three dimensions. Since DNA is not magnetic, Wirtz doped an iron-oxide bead one-hundredth of a micron in diameter with biotin, a protein that attaches to the end of a DNA strand. By coating the DNA with fluorescent dye, he could observe the motion under a microscope. Wirtz's research at Hopkins may lead to new surgical tools and drug-delivery systems. Contact Phil Sneiderman at (410) 516-7907, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
But will it run Windows DNA?
Computers incorporating organic components have been popular denizens of science fiction for decades. Researchers at the University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, have taken the first step into that brave, new world with their DNA logic gates. Electronic computers use logic gates to convert binary data into meaningful signals for performing operations. The DNA logic gates detect specific fragments of genetic blueprint as input and splice these together to form output. According to Animesh Ray, assistant professor of biology, and Mitsu Ogihara, assistant professor of computer science, the DNA structures are created using common laboratory techniques. Mathematical models of DNA computers suggest they would be more efficient at solving complex problems than a digital computer. In some of those inevitable comparisons, Ray and Ogihara say one pound of DNA can store more information than all the electronic computers ever built, and that a DNA computer the size of a droplet would have the processing power of the best supercomputer currently available. Contact Steve Bradt, UR public relations, at (716) 273-4726.