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.
The engineers and inventors of the post WWII period turned their attention to advancements in electronics, communication, and entertainment. Breakthrough inventions range from LEGOs and computer gaming to the integrated circuit and Ethernet -- a range of advancements that have little in common except they changed our lives.
Neil Fromer is the executive director of the Resnick Institute, a program for energy and sustainability at the California Institute of Technology, working to develop new ideas and research technologies related to providing a sustainable future. He spoke to us about the severity of the current drought in California and how solar energy can help prevent such situations in the future.
From home enthusiasts to workers on the manufacturing floor, everyone's imagination is captured by the potential of 3D printing. Prototyping, spare parts creation, art delivery, human organ creation, and even mass product production are all being targeted as current and potential uses for the technology.
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.