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Technology Bulletin

Technology Bulletin

Hand-held laser generates scaled drawings

Scaled drawings without CAD? A new hand-held laser distance meter allows engineers to generate scaled drawings from measurements without surveying equipment or CAD systems. The system teams a laser distance meter from Leica Inc., Atlanta, with "smart" parametric drawing software from Saltire Software Inc., Portland, OR. Designed for mechanical contractors, architects, and other space-planners, DISTO Plus SketchRight(TM) lets users point and shoot the laser meter to measure distances up to 330 feet, with an accuracy of 1/8-inch. After the user "sketches" the room or floor-plan, software algorithms automatically convert the laser measurements to a CAD-quality scaled drawing. The system electronically transfers dimensions captured with the distance meter to avoid operator error. SketchRight supports the DXF file standard to transfer drawings to CAD programs such as AutoCAD R12 or R13. For details, FAX Saltire at (503) 968-1282.


Lubricant research sheds light on thin films for small-scale devices

In complex mechanical systems such as computer disk drives, lubricants are meant to reduce friction and protect moving parts against wear. But they may actually do harm, say researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology. With the help of molecular dynamics simulations and supercomputers, researchers recently demonstrated that ultra-thin films of the organic lubricants used in nanometer-scale devices may act more like solids than liquids when subjected to high pressures. Under extreme conditions, such lubricant behavior can lead to damage from cavitation effects and fatigue failure caused by repeated surface deformation. "We believe these results could have some impact on the design and way of thinking about devices like high-density disk drives that have moving parts in very close proximity, lubricated by thin films," says Uzi Landman, director of Georgia Tech's Center for Computational Materials Science. The work helps expand the understanding of elastohydrodynamic lubrication phenomena from large-scale mechanical systems to "nanoscale" devices. For more information, FAX Dr. Landman at (404) 853-9958.


Imaging techniques may aid schizophrenia treatment

Ultra-fast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology, also known as functional MRI, is helping doctors better understand schizophrenia. By using the imaging techniques to detect blood flow to different areas of the brain, researchers at the UCLA School of Medicine have shown that when people with schizophrenia hear voices in their heads, their brains are activated in a way that is similar to activation during normal hearing. Schizophrenia affects more than 1.5 million people in the U.S. Of those, up to 70% suffer from auditory hallucinations. Although medications can "quiet" the voices, very little is known about how or why the hallucinations occur, and no treatment is available to prevent them. The technology may enable psychiatrists to measure whether medical therapies are successful at lessening the auditory hallucinations. In addition to documenting brain activity in people with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, functional MRI also can be used to guide neurosurgeons both before and during brain surgery, and assist neurologists in treating stroke victims and others suffering brain injury. FAX (310) 794-7406 or email [email protected]


Nickel cadmium batteries power city bus

A zero-emission electric bus developed by APS Systems Inc., Santa Barbara, CA, for the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District offers a 70- to 80-mile urban driving range. The bus uses 100 6V STM5-180 nickel cadmium batteries from Saft America Inc., Valdosta, GA. The batteries are lighter than their lead-acid equivalent and offer a longer life cycle, say Saft engineers. The battery pack consists of two strings of 50 batteries in parallel, and provides a total system capacity of 100 kW. The batteries can be quick-charged using chargers installed on the bus. The 35-foot bus can carry 7,000 lbs of payload and has a turning radius of 28 feet. Maximum speed: 60 mph. For details, FAX Jim Miller at Saft: (912) 247-8486.


System enlists electricity to destroy hazardous waste

A non-thermal method for destroying hazardous waste is available now as an alternative to incinerating organic waste. The catalyzed electrochemical oxidation process breaks hazardous wastes, such as the nerve gas sarin, into inert materials such as carbon dioxide and water. The process was developed at Pacific Northwest Laboratory and is licensed by EOSystems Inc., San Jose, CA. The process generates chemical reactions similar to those in a car battery to destroy organic wastes. A self-contained unit containing an electrolyte solution breaks down waste when an electric current is applied. The 300-pound system is about the size of a large desk and operates at room temperature and pressure. According to EOSystems Vice President Norvell Nelson, the capital costs of the system are lower than those of incineration systems. "The costs of transporting the waste can be eliminated because we have designed a portable unit," he adds. For details, FAX Dr. Fred Coppotelli at (408) 437-9363.


Friction material for transmissions to boost fuel economy

An unusual carbon friction material from Textron Specialty Materials (TSM), Lowell, MA, is helping automotive engineers meet Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. The material is making its debut in the torque converters of automatic transmissions of 1996 autos. As part of a recent multi-year contract with one of the Big Three automakers, Textron's AVCARB(TM) material will be used in a controlled wet-friction application to replace paper-based friction materials that have been used since automatic transmissions first appeared in the 1950s. For more information, FAX TSM's Michael Dorf at (508) 934-7597.


Future computer aims at a ten-fold speed increase

The U.S. Department of Energy is building a new computer that engineers hope will deliver ten times the performance of today's fastest supercomputers. The new system, to be located at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, NM, will be the first in the world to achieve calculations of more than a trillion operations per second (a teraop). It will use more than 9,000 next-generation microprocessors, unofficially known as P6s, from Intel Corp., Santa Clara, CA. The P6 is the follow-on to the Pentium(R) processor. The Intel/Sandia machine will use the same computer building blocks that Intel offers commercial OEMs for use in large-scale parallel systems, high-volume servers, workstations, and desktop systems. "Scalability was an important goal in designing the P6," says Andrew Grove, Intel President and CEO. When complete, the new computer will use "the same chips we'll be putting into desktop PCs," adds Grove. The computer will have peak performance of 1.8 teraops and offer 262 billion bytes of system memory. Due to be installed by the end of 1996, the computer will be used by DOE engineers to study a variety of complex problems, foremost among them nuclear weapons safety. For details, look at URL http://www.SSD.intel.com.


Zero-gravity study to test fluid-management equations

The differences in fluid behavior on earth and in space can be fascinating and frustrating. Space engineers, for example, have to know where fuel will settle in a tank as it empties, or how to keep liquid waste from dispersing into tiny droplets that astronauts could inhale. A recent mission of the space shuttle Columbia may provide new information about fluid behavior in zero gravity. The experiment will videotape the way a mixture of water and alcohol behaves when released into unusually shaped acrylic chambers. The experiment was designed by Stanford University mathematics professor Robert Finn, Paul Concus of the University of California-Berkeley, aerospace engineer Mark Weislogel of NASA's Lewis Research Center, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "One purpose of the test is to determine if we really can use the equations that we have relied on for all these years," says Weislogel. Insight on fluid behaviors such as capillary action could prove useful to engineers designing battery electrodes and protective coatings. For details, email Finn at [email protected]


Superconductive cable to deliver high efficiency

Engineers at Southwire Co., Carrollton, GA, and the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are joining forces to develop high-efficiency superconducting cable. Southwire will design and fabricate a one-meter length of the cable for testing. ORNL will provide cryogenic systems support and test facilities. "If the test cable works, it should be possible to fabricate much longer lengths and thus commercialize what is now an experimental technology," says Southwire Project Manager R.L. Hughey. Silver-clad tapes containing dozens of filaments of ceramic superconductor will carry twice the electrical current--more efficiently--than conventional cable, say engineers. When chilled by liquid nitrogen to approximately 320 degrees F below zero, the tapes lose their resistance to electricity and conduct current with virtually no energy loss. For details, see htttp://www.southwire.com.


Light device helps identify health risks

People have known that flickering light has an effect on the brain for centuries. For example, for some drivers, light flickering through roadside trees can trigger a seizure. Now, Tufts University electrical and computer science engineer Van Toi Vo has created a device that may help doctors and perhaps patients themselves determine whether they are prone to develop eye diseases such as glaucoma, or test the effects of caffeine or nicotine on the brain. Vo's patented device uses two oscillating polarizers to create a sinusoidal wave of light that continuously and slowly changes in intensity and rate. To be tested, the patient looks through an eyepiece and adjusts the rate or intensity of the flickering light until it begins to look steady. The device is presently being used to study LSD users who still suffer from flashbacks. The instrument can be used to study blood flow to the retina, and also shows promise for diagnosing potentially toxic levels of stimulants used to treat heart disease. For more information, e-mail Deborah Halber at [email protected]

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