Jed Klampet shot varmints to find his billion-dollar oil well. Teh Fu Yen, Ph.D., a professor of environmental and civil engineering at the University of Southern California School of Engineering, developed an inexpensive filter instead. "In preliminary tests, our filter removes as much as 60% of the sulfur [from crude oil] in a single pass," says Yen. To make the filter, an engineer heats a mixture of two metals to nearly 1,000F and sprays it through a nozzle. Emerging as a fine crystalline powder, this "intermetallic" substance is bonded to an inert substrate, such as carbon fiber. The coated substrate is then packed into a hollow glass cylinder--creating a large interior surface. The greater the surface, the higher the efficiency of the filter. To remove sulfur, Yen treats the intermetallic powder with particular chemicals to produce a crystalline structure containing small pits that match the size and shape of sulfur molecules. "The crystalline structure can sort out the bad without affecting the good," says Yen. "Analogous methods of nanotechology might also be used to remove nitrogen compounds, metals, and other impurities. South America, China, Canada, and certain republics of the former Soviet Union have large reserves of crude that are heavily contaminated with sulfur, metals, and other impurities. Intermetallic filters could purify such oils both efficiently and economically." By altering the crystalline structure, variants of the intermetallic filter might also be used to treat sewage and purify wastewater, Yen suggests. E-mail to email@example.com.
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.
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.