Helping the blind see
Optobionics Corp. has developed a silicon chip that it hopes may serve as an artificial retina for the blind. The world's first artificial retinas were implanted into the eyes of three blind patients who lost their sight due to retinal disease. "People kept asking us where the chip's electric wires were connected, and we'd tell them that there were no wires," says Alan Chow, an ophthalmologist and the president and CEO of Optobionics Corp., the company that invented the artificial retina. Chow and his brother Vincent, an electronics engineer, collaborated on the chip's design. The chip is one-tenth of an inch in diameter and one one-thousandth of an inch thick. It contains 3,500 microscopic solar cells that convert light into electrical impulses. The solar cells take the place of a normally functioning eye's photoreceptors, the light-sensing cells of the eye. The surgery includes making an incision in the white part of the eye, and inserting the chip in the sub-retinal space. The surgeries were performed at the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center and Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, IL. Chow says the patients, two men and a woman between 45 and 75 years old, are healing nicely. "The chip uses a high-speed photon switch that may have telecommunications applications. We are looking for people interested in helping us develop the technology and find new applications," says Chow. Contact Optobionics at (630) 665-6050, fax (630) 690-3493, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.optobionics.com
NASA's Glenn Research Center modified its icing research tunnel to include a larger fan motor and new fan blades for a maximum testing velocity of 430 mph. The tunnel is the world's largest refrigerated wind tunnel dedicated to the study of aircraft icing. In the facility, natural icing conditions encountered by aircraft in flight are duplicated for testing in-flight icing on aircraft components and models of aircraft, including helicopters. Researchers at the Glenn Center study icing physics and develop ice protection systems. The center is capable of reproducing Federal Aviation Regulation Part 25 and Part 29 Appendix C icing conditions. Using a new spray-bar system, researchers create an icing cloud in the closed-loop-testing tunnel. The spray bar produces water droplets of median volumetric diameters from 10 to 300 microns. The tunnel enables the detailed analysis of ice formation on aircraft components. The test section is 6-ft high, 9-ft wide, and 20-ft long. An environmental chamber with a temperature range of -20 to 40F houses a laser scanner for digitizing ice shapes. Following the testing, researchers create three-dimensional images of ice accretion and shapes. The center is developing guidance material on ice accretion shapes. Contact the IRT facility manager at (216) 433-4000.
Michael Bass, a physicist with a background in electrical engineering at the University of Central Florida's School of Optics/Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers, has what he believes is a viable alternative to CRT displays. His new display uses infrared diode lasers to "excite" visible light emissions in specially designed display media. The process of excitation is a non-linear process of up-conversion. Bass and his colleagues developed rare-earth doped crystals that efficiently convert two photons of infrared light into red, green, or blue visible light. The crystals are dispersed in a specially prepared passive polymer host and spread on a substrate. "The material is conformable to any shape, so its possible applications include windshields on cars and aircraft. It could also be incorporated in a head-mounted display for applications in plant maintenance and elsewhere," says Bass. The crystals can also be used to make either full-color displays or white-on-black displays that are transparent, black, or reflective when no information is displayed. "Resolution comparable to high-resolution television sets is easily achieved with this new technology," says Bass. A 100 x 60 cm high-resolution display using this concept would require only about 70W of diode laser pump power. He expects that the new display technology will replace cathode ray tubes, plasma displays, and liquid crystal displays in some applications. E-mail Bass at email@example.com or fax (478) 236-6977.
products benefit from controlled thermo-mechanical processing
The Timkin Co. is developing a controlled thermo-mechanical processing (CTMP) technology for optimizing the manufacture and performance of seamless tube and pipe. The system combines metallurgical studies, models of the thermal and deformation processes, and product performance responses into an integrated model. "It's a little like Batman's computer. You feed in all the relevant data for a particular application, and it outputs a specific tube recipe that is most suitable for the application," says Robert Kolarik, the project manager of process technology. The objective of the new process is the identification of desired microstructures for steel tube and pipe products, as well as the process parameters required for producing them. "You might say we're developing a cookbook for producing different types of tube and pipe. If you as a user of these products are familiar with the best characteristics for a given application, it's possible to develop computational models for the process that help produce these metallurgical properties," he says. The goals of the project include developing heat transfer models of tubes during processing, developing material models for microstructure evolution and process modeling, identifying the microstructures that yield the desired properties for various applications, and verifying the selected controlled rolling process of the steel. The CTMP technology produces savings for both users and producers, according to Kolarik. Savings to the producer include greater yields from improved product geometry. Total value to the overall domestic steel industry is projected to exceed $400 million annually. Kolarik says that the process helps reduce energy consumption, scrap, and rework of steel tube and pipe, tooling and machining costs, and waste emissions at steel plants. Timkin is working with the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Lab. Research includes a pilot plant stage that is expected to start this month. Contact The Timken Co., 1835 Dueber Ave. SW, P.O. Box 6927, Canton, OH 44706 or call (330) 471-3514.
James Miller, an associate professor of ocean engineering at the University of Rhode Island, invented a sonar-imaging device that may help reduce the number of whales killed by collisions with ships. "The leading cause of death for endangered northern right whales is ships running into them," says Miller. He explains that there only 300 of these whales left in the world. "When you lose one it's a big lose to the population," he says. Miller's sonar imaging system serves as a navigational aid that mounts on the hull of the ship. Unlike most sonar systems that typically look straight down below a ship, Miller's device looks out in front of the ship where it can detect oncoming whales. It also has a high resolution that helps the ship captain steer clear of whales. Miller's device sends out high-frequency sonar signals, and the imaging device delivers real-time images of what is in front of the ship—whether it's a whale, a reef, or a submerged rock. "The Navy has these new forward-looking sonar devices, but there are thousands of other ships that could use them right now," he says. Contact Miller at (401) 874-6540 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .
Michael Melloch, a University of Purdue professor of electrical and computer engineering, has invented new fiber-optic detectors that increase the speed at which Internet connections operate. Applications include communication projects in the aerospace, automotive, and process control industries. The new connector is an 850-nanometer glass optical-fiber detector that picks up and relays incoming fiber-optic information at 1.25 and 2.5 gigabits/sec. A gigabit is a billion bits. The speed is 50,000 times faster than the average home computer at 56.6 kilobits. The detector has four to ten times the capacity of conventional detectors. "Our detector makes it easier for the fiber-optic-module manufacturer to put components together because it reduces the need for precise alignment of the fiber into its connector. We have a larger detector that eliminates the need for light-focusing lenses," says Melloch. The detector's size determines the speed at which it detects light. Contact Melloch at (765) 775-4556.