Sensors monitor astronauts, and now, babies
NASA and the University of California, San Francisco are collaborating to apply medical sensor technology to save the lives of newborn children and reduce medical costs. Using biosensor and telemetry technology from NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, doctors at the University's Fetal Treatment Center (FTC) are monitoring fetuses with life-threatening illnesses. In some cases, doctors implant a biotransmitter and sensors under the fetus' skin or in the uterus to measure fetal heart-rate and pressure within the uterus. Engineers originally developed the technologies to monitor astronauts' adaptation to microgravity. Ames also is working with the FTC to develop a small, lightweight, portable fetal health-status monitor that would allow a pregnant mother to monitor her baby outside the hospital. FTC surgeons say the technology may some day benefit all critically ill patients by eliminating the need for repeated tests to analyze a patient's condition. FAX John Hines at the Ames Research Center at (415) 604-4984.
Plasma LCD screens coming to TVs
NEC, Sony, and Fujitsu will begin making Plasma Display Panels (PDPs) for the Japanese market in 1996. Displays such as Sony's prototype Plasmatron TV screens, developed with Tektronix, Beaverton, OR, use plasma-addressed liquid crystal (PALC) technology to offer lighter weight and smaller size. Because the screens are extensions of liquid crystal display (LCD) technology, the TVs they inhabit will be much thinner than those of today, just as LCD screens on laptop computers are thinner than desktop monitors, claim the companies. Fujitsu's 42-inch wide-screen display is just over an inch (3.2 cm) thick and weighs about 44 pounds (20 kg). The displays are active-matrix systems that separately address each pixel of the liquid crystal. The technique allows for a range of colors, high picture quality, high contrast, and smooth replay of moving images, say Sony engineers. Rather than using plasma discharge as a light source, PALC technology uses plasma as an electronic switch. An independent backlight provides illumination. The technology potentially allows for much larger screens. For more information, FAX NEC at +81-3-3457-7249; Sony at +81-3-5448-3061; Fujitsu at +81-3-3213-4160.
Consortium to pursue computing power and aeropropulsion
NASA officials and a research consortium headed by United Technologies, Pratt & Whitney Group, East Hartford, CT, plan to develop aircraft propulsion applications that they say will give a network of small computers the capabilities of a supercomputer. The team will integrate advanced aeropropulsion, computing, and communications technologies to help the U.S. maintain its world leadership in aeropropulsion, says John K. Lytle, chief of Lewis Research Center's Interdisciplinary Technology Branch. The effort will concentrate on R&D in novel aircraft jet-engine computer simulations, supporting high-risk and high-payoff opportunities that demonstrate strong potential for commercial benefit. Engineers at NASA's Lewis Research Center, Cleveland, OH, will work with Pratt & Whitney engineers to apply high-performance computers to reduce design-cycle time for aircraft jet-engine compressors. Their goal: Substantial increases in performance and reductions in development cost. NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, and Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA, will focus on system software development. FAX Theresa Babrauckas at (216) 433-5188 or URL http://rclaus.lesc.nasa.gov.
RF filter for cellular systems boosts capacity
Filters used for radio-frequency receivers are designed to reduce interference in cellular base stations. Now, engineers at Superconductor Technologies Inc. (STI), Santa Barbara, CA, have designed a prototype high-temperature superconductor (HTS) filter that they claim offers more filtering capacity in a smaller unit than conventional designs. The prototype subsystem consists of a thin-film HTS filter and STI's proprietary cryogenic system, which cools the HTS to 175C. The cryogenic system uses efficient, miniature Stirling-cycle coolers. "The Stirling requires no liquids, maintenance, or service through its operating life," says Applications Manager Joe Madden. The effectiveness of radio-frequency receiver filters is measured by resonator quality factors (Q). Conventional technology approaches 10,000 Qs, and HTS is in the range of 30,000 Qs, claims Madden. Between cellular and new personal communications services, more than 65,000 base stations will be built in the next four years in the U.S. and another 80,000 worldwide, predicts STI president and CEO Daniel Hu. For details, FAX Jim Evans at (805) 967-0342.
Precision optics get a polishing spin
Engineers at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Moore Tool Co., Bridgeport, CT, have solved the problem of how to create precision optics without expensive hand-polishing. They designed a polishing attachment for Moore's diamond turning machine that does the polishing while the part is still on the machine. Tools to create precision optics use a diamond-tipped bit. The bit moves across a rotating metal part to create either a flat or curved surface. Each turn produces a microscopic groove on the surface of the part, which must be polished to form a smooth, more uniform surface. The new spherical polyurethane polishing wheel rides on an air-bearing spindle and attaches to the diamond turning machine to polish the grooves with the help of an abrasive liquid. The tool may improve optics for microscopes, lasers and astronomic instruments, VCRs, and photocopying machines, say engineers. For details, FAX Moore at (203) 367-0418.
Lasers target heat, lightning damage to aircraft
Aircraft are occasionally struck by lightning in flight or damaged in service by extreme heat exposure, such as misdirected jet exhaust or burning spilled fuel. To detect such damage, engineers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed a method of imaging heat-induced damage in epoxy-resin composites. Fiber-reinforced plastics and other polymer matrix composites are widely used in high-performance aircraft because they can be easily made into high-strength, low-weight components. The Composites Damage Imager (CDI) uses a video camera with a charge-coupled device, laser, computer, and special optics to detect and display otherwise invisible damage to wings, flaps, and doors. For more information, FAX Joe Culver at (423) 574-0595.
Electric field helps remove ink for recycled paper
A patented technology from the Georgia Institute of Technology (GIT) allows paper handlers to remove ink and laser-printer toner from paper fibers for recycling. Instead of using chemical and mechanical actions to remove ink, GIT engineers apply a direct-current electric field to a slurry of recycled fibers. The technique takes advantage of ink particles' electric charges to attract them away from the fibers. With the help of gas bubbles generated by the electric field, the ink floats to the surface, coagulates, and can be skimmed. The process requires a reactor with a central anode and a perimetal cathode, and is suitable for retrofitting existing recycled paper process equipment, say GIT researchers. It removes twice as many ink specks from office paper as traditional methods, and can be applied to all kinds of paper, says Director of Pulp and Paper Engineering Jeffery Hsieh. For details, FAX Hsieh at (404) 894-2866.
Resin-transfer molded parts to fly in F-22 fighter
Reinforced composites made using a resin transfer molding process promise to reduce weight in such areas as the forward fuselage, vertical and horizontal tails, edges, and wings of the Air Force's new F-22 advanced tactical fighter. The process, developed by Dow-United Technologies Composite Products, Inc., Wallingford, CT, is the result of a six-year joint venture between Dow Chemical Co. and United Technologies Corp. Resin-transfer molding uses carbon fibers to reinforce epoxy and other resins and allows engineers to improve quality and production rates as well as manufacture more complex parts than in the past, says Dow-UT president Thomas Scarpati. He describes the technology as a "cost-effective reality" and says it is applicable in any industry where the elimination of metal, weight reduction, and high quality can reduce overall cost. For more information, FAX Al Samuel at (203) 949-5009.
New filter extracts pure hydrogen
A new metallic membrane developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) surpasses the capabilities of other hydrogen filters by a factor of five, say engineers at the Materials Science and Technology Division. The membrane, which resembles common aluminum foil, uses thin-film techniques to produce a fused sandwich of tantalum and palladium that passes only hydrogen, say researchers. The filter's hybrid structure overcomes the cracking and oxidation common to previous membranes. It may find use in a variety of applications such as hydrogen fuel cells for alternative vehicles, which are quickly poisoned by impurities, or dehydrogenation for formulating certain plastics and polymers. The new filter operates better at high temperature and increased pressure than at room temperature and atmospheric pressure, and is economically attractive because it can be manufactured in large sheets or rolls, say researchers. For details, FAX LANL at (505) 665-3910.
Raytheon builds MCMs on pure diamond substrate
Engineers at Raytheon, Sudbury, MA, are producing diamond substrates and diamond-substrate MCMs up to 4 x 4 inches with through vias. The diamond-substrate multi-chip modules (DSMCMs) are built with a laminated MCM-D high-density interconnect decal process. Engineers use high-speed automated assembly equipment for component mount and wire bonding. Design features, materials, and processes are compatible with plans for stacked 3-D MCMs, say engineers. The components of the MCM, except the thermal test die, are supplied by Chip Supply, Inc., Orlando, FL. The high-density interconnect, supplied by Micro Module Systems, Cupertino, CA, is a polyimide-copper multi-layer decal laminated onto a metallized diamond substrate. The work is part of an ARPA-funded development program. For more information, call Bob DeKenipp at Raytheon at (508) 440-3210, FAX Chip Supply at (407) 290-0164.