Research aims to make plastic suits cool
Like the actors in the movie thriller "Outbreak," real-life soldiers and
scientists can don protective suits to keep out lethal microbes and chemicals.
But this life-saving plastic apparel has nagging drawbacks: It's hot and
cumbersome. The problem, says Timothy Barbari, associate professor of chemical
engineering at Johns Hopkins University, is that most fabrics designed to keep
dangerous agents away from the body also stymie the body's natural cooling
mechanism: perspiration. Such suits keep moisture from escaping, leaving the
wearer stuffed inside the equivalent of plastic food wrap. A lab worker could
stay cool by connecting the suit to a lengthy ventilation hose, but that's not
possible for soldiers who must cross long distances on foot. To increase their
comfort, Barbari is working with Army Research Laboratory scientists to create
lighter, more flexible suits that let water molecules slip out but do not let
deadly chemical or biological agents seep in. Barbari and his colleagues are
developing mathematical models to study precisely how dangerous molecules
permeate a plastic barrier and how long it takes a toxin to reach the skin.
E-mail Phil Sneiderman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lockheed Martin gears up for satellite production
Lockheed Martin has opened a new Commercial Satellite Center to produce spacecraft for Lockheed Martin Telecommunications and keep up with the explosive global demand for space-based information and services. Applications include mobile telephone networks, electronic data and fax transfer, direct-to-home television, and broadband communications. "Heritage companies that built the first satellites at the dawn of the space age are now a single team producing systems that will revolutionize the telecommunications industry," says Lockheed Martin Chairman Dan Tellep. "The Commercial Satellite Center will allow us to reduce costs and time to market while giving customers a leap in communications services at a reasonable price." The facility initially will produce eight satellites a year and ultimately will accommodate up to 16 a year. Time from order to delivery will be cut from the 24-month industry standard to 18 months during initial operations, and eventually to 12 months, say company officials. E-mail email@example.com.
DOE forms national center for photovoltaics
Today the cost of solar modules is less than $4 per watt--down from $500 per watt in 1972--thanks to photovoltaic technology advances in materials development, fabrication techniques, and manufacturing processes. To ensure that the technology continues to evolve, the U.S. Department of Energy is forming a National Center for Photovoltaics at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) as the focal point for technology development and information about the technology in the U.S. The Center will link staff expertise and state-of-the-art research facilities at NREL and Sandia National Laboratories with solar programs at Brookhaven National Laboratory and university centers of excellence in Delaware, Georgia, Florida, and New Mexico. The alliance also will include the Utility Photovoltaic Group, a government/industry partnership to increase utilities' use of photovoltaics. "Our ultimate goal," says Christine Ervin, DOE's assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, "is to give the consumer a clean, reliable, and inexpensive source of energy." For details, FAX (303) 275-4091.
Phosphors may improve laptop screens
Phosphor luminescence may be the key to display screens in future planes, tanks, computers, and televisions. Liquid-crystal displays are hard to see in some kinds of light, subject to temperature changes, and deplete batteries quickly. A phosphor field emission display, which is used to create light in most television screens, energizes the pixels that provide information. Scientists at Sandia National Laboratories found that the amount of green light emitted by zinc oxide doesn't depend on the thickness of the crystal but on the density of a defect--oxygen atoms missing from their places in the crystal. Single electrons that remain in the vacant spaces emit a green light when subjected to an electric current. Previous methods of generating light from phosphors required large voltage drops across bulky cathode ray tubes to blitz relatively large volumes of phosphor. The new technology can use less power because microscopic cone-shaped structures deliver low-voltage current to each red-blue-green pixel on a phosphor screen. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
80,000 NGVs expected on roads by year's end
Cities looking to combat air pollution are increasingly turning to natural gas as a vehicle fuel. At the end of 1995, there were 47,000 natural-gas-powered vehicles (NGVs) on U.S. roads, but the Gas Research Institute expects that number to jump 41% to 80,000 by the end of this year. Southern California is reportedly the leading region for NGVs, with more than 6,500 on the road. The Washington, D.C.-based Natural Gas Supply Association says fleet use of NGVs is a great contributor to cleaning up the air in crowded urban areas because they emit about 90% fewer smog-forming emissions than gasoline-powered vehicles. For details, visit http://www.calstart.org.