Oil refinery under your hood
Scraping the ice off of your windshield in cold weather is bad enough, but now there's another reason to despise winter's wrath on your car. Cold weather also wastes your car's fuel. Only about 20% of the gasoline injected onto your car's intake valves vaporizes and powers the engine, that is, until the engine warms up. The other 80% forms a puddle in the intake manifold and evaporates, sending a nasty blast of hydrocarbons to the atmosphere. Ronald Matthews, a University of Texas professor of mechanical engineering working with Ford Motor Co., has a solution to the inefficient use of fuel—put an oil refinery under the hood of your car. Matthews developed an on-board distillation system that separates gasoline into two types of fuel, much like a refinery takes crude oil and splits it into gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel fuel. "What we're doing is separating molecules of gasoline that are easy to evaporate from all others," explains Matthews. "Then, we store those highly volatile molecules separately and use them to start the car," he says. The system consists of four pieces and attachments. It weighs five pounds, much less than other oil refineries. "In addition to helping start your car faster, it also improves the car's performance after start-up and before the engine is warmed up," says Matthews. He is currently working to lower the price of the units from an estimated $400 per unit to $60. Mass production is expected in 2002. For more information, call Matthews at the University of Texas at (512) 471-3151 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .
Although the idea of a spherical motor is not new, a new globe-shaped motor developed at Johns Hopkins University's Department of Mechanical Engineering uses a different approach for rotating the motor's ball in any direction. The motor uses 80 permanent magnets and 16 circular electromagnets. Activating the electromagnets makes them attract the permanent magnets inside the sphere and pulls the ball into position. Gregory S. Chirikjian, an associate professor in Johns Hopkins' department of mechanical engineering, says the new motors provide a greater positioning accuracy and range of motion. "You'd be able to use fewer joints because each spherical motor would have more freedom of motion," he says. "Every time you have a joint, you introduce a little play," he adds. Spherical motors behave more like a human shoulder than an elbow, so their applications include robots that typically use multiple motors for extending and retracting arms. Unlike a wheel that rolls forward or backward in a line, a ball in a socket rolls in any direction. "Other spherical motors have a limited range of motion in the following sense: If you mark a dot on the rotor (the ball part), the dot will be confined to move within only a small region (less than 25%) of the surface of the sphere," explains Chirikjian. "In our case, the dot can move anywhere on the sphere (100%)," he adds. Chirikjian and colleagues applied for two patents covering components developed for the prototype. The National Science Foundation provided funding for the research. For more information, e-mail email@example.com or call (410) 516-7127.
New use for
Harry Whelan is using LEDs in a way that LED manufacturers hadn't quite expected. The professor of pediatric neurology at the Medical College of Wisconsin found that using the light from powerful LEDs originally designed for plant growth research in space helps hard-to-heal wounds such as burns. The near infrared light increases energy inside cells and accelerates healing. Whelan's wound-healing device is a small 3.5 x 4.5-inch portable flat array of LEDs provided by Quantum Devices (Barneveld, WI). "The LEDs have a unique wavelength, 680 nm," says Ron Ignatius, the owner of Quantum Devices. The company's LEDs are much smaller, which is one reason NASA used them for plant growth research in space. For more information, contact Ron Ignatius, Quantum Devices, 112 Orbison, Barneveld, WI 53507; Tel: (608) 924-3000.