Supercomputer helps track underground waste
Four hours, 17 minutes, 46 seconds--less time than it takes most Americans to
figure their taxes. That's how long Sandia National Laboratories' 1,840-node
Intel Paragon supercomputer worked on a 3-D data set to arrive at an answer to
an oozy problem. "With the supercomputer, we've shown we can take a data set
with millions of unknowns and convert it to a useful 3-D model," says Sandia
researcher David Alumbaugh. Over a four-year period, Alumbaugh gathered data
from five 60-meter-deep wells drilled at the University of California at
Berkeley's Richmond Field Station. Then, 50,000 gallons of salt water were
injected into a gravel aquifer 30 meters below the surface to simulate a liquid
waste plume. As a magnetic dipole source was lowered into the center well,
readings of the magnetic field's strength and direction were taken at various
depths from the other four wells. Alumbaugh says the complexity level of 3-D
underground waste migration modeling is "right up there" with modeling fluid
dynamics, the "climbing Mt. Everest" of computing. e-mail Kathy Kuhlmann at email@example.com.
Navigation system pinpoints vehicle locations
Scientists at Siemens Corporate Research, Inc. have
developed a car/bus navigation system for use as a stand-alone system in
metropolitan areas, or in conjunction with the Global Positioning System (GPS)
for countrywide coverage. Unlike the GPS, which uses satellites to determine the
car's position, or a stationary beacon-based system mounted on telephone poles,
Siemens' prototype Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) system relies on a camera
mounted on the vehicle. "The technical solution that makes the AVL system work,"
says Stephen Judd, project manager, "is that it uses a computer algorithm that
can process highly reduced visual information--something that we believe
represents a technical breakthrough. It even works in real time on low-speed
computers." The system requires two databases linked together: an electronic
street map database, plus a database of highly compressed sensory signatures
that represent the visual scenery, automatically acquired by videotaping.
Information on each area can be distributed in various forms, including CD-ROMs.
e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .
Breakthrough reported on use of natural gas in locomotives
Engineers at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) say they have made significant technical breakthroughs in natural gas locomotive engine design. "The program is part of a broad national effort by railway and energy companies to reduce locomotive exhaust emission," says David P. Meyers, project manager. After evaluating a number of potential combustion systems for LNG applications, SwRI engineers selected a "late-cycle high-injection pressure combustion system," LaCHIP for short, to develop the second phase of the program. This phase will include the installation and demonstration of an engine in a commuter locomotive. The LaCHIP system incorporates a gas-diesel hybrid technology. In the past, diesel-engine conversions using direct-injection of natural gas have been plagued by injector failures. "By varying the injector tip parameters to provide greater penetration and better air utilization within the cylinder, we achieved lower NO x emissions without sacrificing power or engine efficiency," Meyers explains. FAX Elizabeth Douglas at (210) 522-3547.
Forensics prove pollen not cause of fatal jet crash
The next time you think your allergies are killing you, consider the case of the biologist who showed that pollen doesn't kill. Walter H. Lewis, a professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis, helped prove that a pollen plug trapped in a jet engine pipe was not the cause of engine failure that led to two deaths in a fiery jet crash near Ruidoso, NM. Nearly a year after the December 1990 crash, investigators found a pollen plug less than the circumference of a dime trapped with other matter in the elbow of the small jet engine's fuel distribution system. The prosecution claimed that it caused the plane to roll and crash. Using scanning electron and transmission electron microscopy, Lewis analyzed five pollen types from the plug. He observed that at temperatures even four times lower than at the crash site, the pollen's cellular structures were rapidly charred away. "Even if the pollen plug had been in the pipe elbow, it wouldn't have lasted in heat estimated conservatively at 1,000C," Lewis explains. FAX Susan M. Killenberg at (314) 935-4259.
Ultraviolet light cleans water, destroys viruses, purifies
New technologies using ultraviolet (UV) light being tested at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) will help clean water, destroy airborne viruses, and purify indoor air by removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The UV system works by channeling wastewater through a network of fluorescent lamps, where exposure to UV light quickly kills the bacteria and viruses that are the main contaminants. "UV treatment for wastewater will become the most significant technology advance over the next several years, as many new and existing plants shift to the cleaner and generally more cost-effective method," says Keith Carns, manager of EPRI's Community Environmental Center. FAX Deborah Clark at (415) 855-2041.
Computer program calculates
Businesses that use three-phase industrial motors are likely customers for a new, interactive computer program that measures a motor's efficiency and load. The user-friendly ORMEL96 program, developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) as part of the Department of Energy's Motor Challenge Program, uses information found in the motor's name plate to derive a model of the motor. To use the program, all that is required is a simple measurement of the motor's speed. ORMEL96 does the rest. "While other methods exist to measure a motor's efficiency and load, they are often based on approximations and 'rules of thumb,'" says researcher Pedro Otaduy. "Bringing the computer into the equation made a tremendous difference in precision. In addition, other methods require multiple measurements and stopping or disconnecting the motor, which is cumbersome and time-consuming. ORNL assesses the motor and drive system while they are operating." FAX (423) 574-0595.
Technology produces stress-free extruded thermoset profiles
Magnus Industries, Inc. has developed a proprietary process that results in virtually stress-free extruded profiles of extremely high density. The process works with high-performance thermoset materials, such as alkyd polyester, phenolic, diayll phthalate, epoxy, melamine, and urea. Fillers can include: cellulose, graphite, glass, woodflour, molybdenum disulfide, and other compounds. The extrusions feature high heat resistance (400F), and stand up to solvents, inks, and film-developing chemicals. They also offer surface hardness up to 100 Rockwell M, maintain rigidity under load, and exhibit excellent electrical properties. The thermoset materials machine to fine tolerances via CNC, conventional milling/turning, and form-grinding. End products include a wide range of tubing and rod sizes and 2- and 6-inch-wide flatstock. Custom-designed profiles are available. FAX Bob Nolker at (800) 562-0052.
Lubricating ceramic coatings tackle heat, corrosion problems
With an assist from the Department of Defense, Advanced Surface Engineering, Inc. has developed self-lubricated nanocomposite ceramic coatings said to provide considerably improved surface properties. Called nano.surfaceTM, the proprietary coating technology can upgrade metal, ceramic, polymer/plastic, glass, or composite components, says Advanced Surface Engineering Executive Vice President Todd E. Schlesinger. Among the claimed benefits: greater chemical, heat, and corrosion resistance. The coatings consist of an engineering ceramic matrix with dispersed regions of fine-grained inert solid lubricant. The composite nature yields the benefits of the hard ceramic surface combined with the self-lubricating properties of the solid lubricant. The fine-grain sizes result in overall improvement in mechanical properties, says Schlesinger, while the coatings' versatility permits them to be easily adapted to the individual user. Targeted industrial uses include: automotive, aerospace, electronics, and medical products. FAX (410) 552-0165.
Position sensors take a 'step' in the right direction
For about 10 years, Detroit has worked hard to develop "non-contacting sensors," a term that describes the limitations of contacting sensors, such as a potentiometer or switch. While a few non-contacting devices have been developed, most are costly and simply offer a new set of failure mechanisms. For instance, as engine compartment temperatures climb, silicon-based, non-contacting sensors begin to show poor reliability, large temperature shift compensation requirements, and sporadic signals. To overcome these problems, Spectrol Electronic Corp. has created a position sensor called the Finite Position Potentiometer® or FPP®. It features a Silver-in-Glass matrix wiping surface, with individual contact bars skewed so that the hoe contacts remain in contact with at least one conductor bar. As a result, either one of two contact bars are engaged at any time, providing a solid voltage signal. The output of the FPP takes the shape of a "staircase." In other words, the magnitude of the increments depends on the resolution designed into the part--the more conductor bars, the smaller the step. FAX Charles W. Fixa at (909) 923-6765.
'Living' polymers just a molecule or two away
The exact way that life sprang from the chemical
interaction of non-living molecules may never be fully known. However,
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute chemist James Ferris has produced RNA polymers
that could have existed on primordial Earth. Previous attempts to produce long
prebiotic polymers have been frustrated by the fact that the activated monomers
from which they are formed break down in the water needed for the critical
reactions to take place--and for life itself. The activated monomers hydrolyzed
faster than chains could grow in the primordial "soup." Ferris has shown that he
can stay ahead of hydrolysis and grow a small RNA polymer of more than 50 units.
He accomplishes this by regularly flushing the system with fresh water then
adding more activated raw materials. e-mail Ferris at email@example.com .