Revolutionary X-ray device under development
NASA and the National Institutes of Health have signed an agreement to develop a new X-ray technology with the potential to improve scientific research and provide better medical imaging instruments. The collaborative effort will enhance the imaging capabilities of the technology recently developed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL; X-Ray Optical Systems, Inc., Albany, NY; and the Center of X-Ray Optics of the State University of New York at Albany. At the heart of the NASA technology is a new type of optics called capillary optics. It enables X-rays to be controlled by reflecting them through tens of thousands of tiny curved channels or capillaries similar to the way light is directed through fiber optics. The beams, which have more than 100 times the intensity of conventional X-rays, will permit scientific and medical research to be performed in less time with higher accuracy, and could permit the use of smaller, lower-cost, and safer X-ray sources, say the researchers. FAX (205) 544-2305.
All-plastic battery molds into myriad sizes, shapes
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory have developed an all-plastic battery using polymers in place of conventional electrode materials. The Hopkins project, funded by the Air Force's Rome Laboratory, produced the lightweight plastic batteries that can be molded into almost any size and shape for use in satellites and military equipment. Building the all-plastic cell proved difficult--most polymers that conduct electricity lack sufficient energy dissimilarity to serve as electrodes. However, the Hopkins battery employs both plastic electrodes and electrolyte. The anode and cathode consist of thin, foil-like plastic sheets. The electrolyte is a polymer gel film placed between the electrodes. Lab tests show the cells can be recharged and reused hundreds of times without degradation. They also operate in extreme heat or cold. The cell can be as thin as a business card or used in a large sheet form that could occupy an entire wall. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Polymeric molecules devour industrial contaminants
Researchers at the MIT Energy Laboratory have demonstrated a way to remove organic contaminants from aqueous industrial waste streams. The method involves the use of tiny structures known as micelles made of long polymeric molecules. One end of each molecule "hates" water and the other end "loves" it. When in water, the water-hating ends come together, leaving the water-loving ends dangling on the outside. The water-loving ends keep the micelle suspended in water, while the water-hating core captures organic contaminants. But when the micellar solution and the waste stream come into contact, they mix. How do you separate the "loaded" micelles from the mixture? The researchers have developed a technique in which the fresh micellar solution is pushed through hollow tubes, whose walls serve as ultra-fine filters. The contaminated stream flows in the opposite direction in the space surrounding the tubes. The micelles cannot flow through the walls of the tubes, but the contaminants will, to join the cores of micelles. E-mail email@example.com.
Process eliminates glass mat in structural RIM
A new technology from Hennecke GMBH does away with the need for a fiberglass mat in structural reaction injection molding (RIM) systems. The process, says Volker Brueninghaus, director and general manager of Hennecke Machinery, Lawrence, PA, opens the door to significant cost savings, while creating opportunities to use structural RIM in new applications. Known as FipurTec, the technology chops and shoots glass fibers into the polyurethane streams as the polymer exits the mixhead. The fibers mix with the polyurethane while in the air, eliminating any potential clogging problems at the mixhead. The result: a part with evenly dispersed glass fibers. And because the fibers are distributed randomly, instead of in a parallel formation, the part's physical properties are enhanced in all directions. The technology uses a special mixhead that pours a 60-mm-wide stream. The rectangular stream permits better mixing with the glass fibers, which are automatically chopped into lengths from 12.5 up to 100 mm. FAX (412) 746-1334.
Joint venture to produce 'new classes of polymers'
DuPont and Genencor International have filed worldwide patents for processes and microorganisms that produce 1,3-propanediol (3G) in a single step from virtually any carbohydrate source. 3G is an ingredient in the production of 3GT, a form of polyester with properties that exceed many of those found in traditional PET (polyethylene terephthalate) polyester. "This breakthrough signifies advances in two key strategic thrusts for DuPont: first, to offer whole new classes of polymers with superior performance and cost; and second, to apply the company's extensive strengths in biotechnology to its traditional chemicals and materials businesses," says Joseph A. Miller, DuPont senior vice president-research. The new technology will enable production of 3G at a cost approaching that of ethylene glycol, the monomer used to produce PET. At the same time, the new polyester can be produced in existing Dacron® polyester fiber production facilities with only minor modifications. FAX Nancy Tidona at (302) 774-9560.
Electric technologies keep food fresh longer
Studies at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) involve a new technology that employs high-energy electron beams that eliminate bacteria to extend the life of fresh food. One aspect of the research examines the taste and texture of meat products treated with two different methods of electronic pasteurization. The high-energy or e-beams, also known as electronic pasteurization or irradiation, eliminate microorganisms from the food with pulses of energy that disrupt DNA and cell division. "While the microbial effect of treatment by flat-line e-beam and repetitive high-energy pulsating power is the same, we are looking for a process that will satisfy the demand for food safety in a meat product that fully retains its taste and texture," explains study director Dr. Janet Williams of the American Meat Institute Foundation. Partnering with EPRI is MidAmerican Energy Co., Des Moines, IA. At MidAmerican, marketable products can be processed by electronic irradiation at the rate of 500 lbs of meat per hour. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carbon technology promises Earth-to-satellite elevators
Imagine an elevator stretching 23,000 miles from Earth to an orbiting satellite. The idea may not be too far-fetched if research at North Carolina State University and Rice University becomes a reality. In working with manmade carbon structures called nanotubes, the scientists discovered that the honey-combed-shaped material has extraordinary strength--10 to 12 times that of steel. And because it is made of carbon, it is extremely light. "One wins both ways, first because of the exceptional strength and second because of the light weight," says Dr. Jerry Bernholc, a physics professor at N.C. State. Researchers have made some macroscopic samples of nanotubes, but only in microscopic quantities. If developments in the field continue at their current pace, however, Bernholc predicts that the first products to benefit from nanotubes could be ready in five years. Bernholc adds. FAX (919) 515-7331 for more information.
Physicists close in on elusive tau neutrino
Members of Tufts University's high-energy-physics group are searching for the tau neutrino, the only member of the family of subatomic particles called leptons to have escaped detection thus far. Of the lepton family's six members, three are easy to detect because their electric charge leaves telltale trails of ionized atoms as they pass through matter. The remaining leptons are the three types of neutrinos: electron, muon, and tau. Like the subatomic building block the neutron, they have no electrical charge, but are smaller and lighter than the neutron, hence, neutrino, or "baby neutron" in Italian. Tools needed to find the mysterious neutrinos include the highest energy proton accelerator in the world and nearly a ton of photographic film to record the tau's brief (one-trillionth of a second) life. The experiment, to be conducted at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Batavia, IL, uses a beam of the high-energy protons shot out of the proton accelerator and directed to a target made of tungsten. The protons will interact with the tungsten to produce a variety of secondary particles, among them tau neutrinos. Tufts' contribution is the particle detectors that identify the muons that may be involved in the death of the tau. E-mail DHalber@Infonet.Tufts.Edu.
Cooperative effort will breed new robots, intelligent machines
"We sense that the time is right for a national initiative to spur new applications of robotics and intelligent machines," says George Bekey, professor of computer science at UCLA. Bekey made his prediction at a recent workshop and dedication of the nation's most advanced robotics research center, the Robotic Manufacturing Science and Engineering Laboratory (RMSEL) at Sandia National Laboratories. Sandia's ability to integrate sensors and computer software with existing industrial robots has resulted in valuable dual-use technologies that industry is eager to use, adds Philip Monnin, president of the Robotics Industry Association. Sandia's agile manufacturing project is designed to make manufacturing more flexible and responsive to market needs. Mannin adds: "We need ways to fund this research, and that means more government and industry involvement." E-mail email@example.com.
Computers to outsell TVs by the year 2000
"Studies show that in the year 2000 about 125 million color television sets will be shipped around the world," reports Dr. Bob Scranton, vice president of technology at IBM's Storage System Div. "We also think that in the same year about 132 million personal computers will be shipped," he adds. Improving technology continues to bring more value to customers at a better price with increasing frequency. The hard-disk drive is a perfect example, according to Scranton. Today, a disk drive can fit in a shirt pocket and costs less than 25 cents per megabyte. IBM's 3.2-gigabyte disk drive can hold up to 1.6 million pages of text. "Although it isn't a product you can buy yet," Scranton adds, "we've already built in our lab a drive the size of a U.S. half dollar. It can store 100 megabytes of information." E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
--Gary Chamberlain, Senior Editor