Looking like a liquid opal, submicroscopic balls of plastic--the same polystyrene used to make coffee cups--sit embedded in a water-based gel. These polymerized crystalline colloidal array (PCCA) can do amazing and useful things. For instance, University of Pittsburgh chemists John H. Holtz and Sanford A. Asher discovered they can use the PCCAs as chemical sensors to make chemical measurements. "Colloidal arrays have fascinating optical properties," says Asher. "Because of their electrical charge, they self organize into a cubic structure where all the plastic balls are equally spaced. Depending on this spacing, the colloidal array diffracts (or reflects) visible light, much in the same way that an opal does, and you get intense colors." The chemists have made PCCAs that are highly sensitive to particular chemical species or thermal changes. If exposed to certain chemicals, such as lead, the array swells, changing the spacing. That causes the PCCA to diffract light at new wavelengths, and it changes color. Asher's group has demonstrated that the arrays are effective at detecting lead concentrations in water, and that once the lead is cleaned from the array it can be reused without any loss of sensitivity. FAX Kevin Roark at (412) 624-4895.
Wearables are changing the way we see ourselves. With onboard sensors that have access to our bodies, we are starting to know our physical selves like never before, quantifying our activity, our heart rate, breathing, and even our muscle effort.
This year, Design News is getting a head start on the Fourth of July celebration. In honor of our country and its legacy of engineering innovation -- in all of its forms -- we are taking you on an alphabetical tour through all 50 states to showcase interesting engineering breakthroughs and historically significant events.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.