04/03/2000 Design News
Late developments that shape engineering
Air monitor detects all-instantly
A super-sensitive air particulate monitor developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory identifies all elements in the periodic table and their concentrations. The 55-lb monitor reads the element's atomic energy levels to identify air hazards 10 times more effectively than current laser detectors. A miniature microwave plasma source in the device excites the atoms, permitting quick identification of air samples based on the energy levels of those elements. "This portable instrument will greatly reduce worker exposure to hazards," says Principal Investigator Yixiang Duan of Los Alamos' analytical chemistry sciences group. The instrument is ideal for work sites that handle hazardous materials such as beryllium, Duan said. After an airborne sample is pumped into the microwave plasma source, argon and helium gases analyze the elements. A fiber-optic cable near the plasma source detects emissions and feeds the information to a palm-sized spectrometer, which converts the data into a laptop graph of each element's wavelengths and signal peaks or concentrations. Results are obtained in 100 milliseconds. Fax (505) 665 5982 or e-mail [email protected]
GigaPoP directs traffic
Southwestern Pennsylvania's Carnegie Mellon, the University of Pittsburgh, and Penn State University have joined more than 90 U.S. universities and research organizations across the U.S. in connecting to Abilene, one of the country's most advanced research networks. A new gigaPoP network hub at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center connects the three universities, directing traffic onto Abilene at speeds up to 155 million bits per second. Abilene is the backbone network of the Internet2? project, a consortium of universities and corporations working to accelerate the next stage of Internet capabilities and applications. Abilene transmits data at 2.4 billion bits per second, 40,000 times faster than a typical modem. The Internet2 project was implemented to create a leading-edge network capability for the national research community. Internet2 is developing and enabling a new generation of broadband network applications, including tele-immersions, digital libraries, and virtual laboratories. New technologies will make these networks not just faster, but smarter and more efficient. Visit www.Internet2.com.
High power RF filter uses MEMS
Raytheon Co. (Ft. Wayne, IN) demonstrated a new frequency-agile filter that delivers 25W of power at very high frequency (VHF), using micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) relays to tune the filter's output. In the first-ever demonstration of a high-power, MEMS-based, tunable radio frequency (RF) device, the technology matched or exceeded traditional RF filter performance. MEMS relays improve intermodulation performance under high power conditions and-like the microprocessor-offer distinct size, power, and performance advantages. Using MEMS relays, filter-tuning circuit boards can be 50% smaller than with filters using PIN diode switches. Raytheon's demonstration shows that the typical 30% power efficiency of conventional broadband RF amplifiers can be increased to as much as 80% using the new technology. "With MEMS technology, we can minimize interference among transceivers operating in close proximity. This lets us harness the full power of programmable digital radios," said Ken Peterman, business development director for Raytheon Tactical Systems. The MEMS relays used in Raytheon's demonstration are supplied by Cronos Microsystems (Research Triangle Park, NC). Phone (703) 284-4245.
Thanks for no tanks
Proving the future is just around the corner, DaimlerChrysler has set an $18,100 target price for its first fuel-cell-powered car-a version of the Mercedes-Benz A Class subcompact. DaimlerChrysler's experimental NECAR 4 (New Electric Car) dispenses with bulky hydrogen tanks and heavy buffer batteries by generating hydrogen onboard. The zero-emission vehicle covers 280 miles on one tank, reaches a top speed of 90 mph, and seats five. Using a reformer in the rear of the vehicle, methanol is converted into hydrogen gas and is fed into the fuel cell where it reacts with atmospheric oxygen to produce electrical energy, which powers the car. Press the accelerator and 90% of the system's power is available in just two seconds, says DaimlerChrysler. The giant automaker expects a few thousand vehicles to be introduced in 2004. "NECAR 4 is a major breakthrough in fuel cell technology because we've developed a very powerful fuel cell system small enough to be packaged in a compact car, " says Dr. Ferdinand Panik, head of DaimlerChrysler's Fuel Cell Project. "Five years ago, you needed a large van to contain all the fuel cell hardware. Now, that's simply no longer an issue." Daimler Chrysler says that fuel cell cars will account for up to 25% of the global market by 2020. More hydrogen, but without the fuel cell While DaimlerChrysler and others build hydrogen-powered prototypes that use fuel cells, German automaker BMW has road tested an internal-combustion engine car that runs on hydrogen. In fact, in January 2000, BMW's hydrogen fleet logged 6,000 miles. BMW refuels them at the same Munich airport liquid hydrogen-refueling station where DaimlerChrysler refuels its fuel cell-powered A Class. BMW's `'CleanEnergy'' 7-Series passenger cars are the product of a joint venture involving 13 partners, including the BMW Group, MAN AG, FMG, and the Bavarian state government. Used today to shuttle VIPs from the Munich airport, the automaker envisions liquid hydrogen taking the place of today's fuels.
Welcome to futureflight central
In a push to make flying safer and more efficient, NASA and the FAA opened the world's first full-scale virtual airport-control tower at NASA's Ames Research Center (Moffett Field, CA). The facility will test, under realistic airport conditions, ways to solve air and ground traffic problems at commercial airports. "We can simulate any airport in the world," says Nancy Dorighi, NASA FutureFlight Central facility manager. Up to 12 air-traffic controllers in the tower cab are in direct communication through a simulated radio and phone system with pilots and ramp controllers at stations on the first floor. The facility promises to help airlines cut passenger delays by fine-tuning airport hub operations, gate management, and ramp-movement procedures. It also enables air traffic controllers to become familiar with new airport operations and technologies before construction is completed. Twelve rear-projection video screens provide a seamless 3607 high-resolution view of the airport or other scenes being depicted. The imaging system, powered by supercomputers, provides a realistic view of weather conditions, environmental and seasonal effects, and the movement of up to 200 active aircraft and ground vehicles. Phone (650) 604-9000 or e-mail [email protected]
How to keep a secret safe
Secrets can be difficult to protect today with electronic communications and eavesdropping technologies. To make personal, financial, and national security information safe, researchers at Los Alamos are exploring quantum cryptography to encrypt and transmit information. Quantum cryptography uses quantum physics theory to create what many believe are unbreakable codes. Quantum theory explores interactions between electromagnetic radiation and matter. It differs from classical physics theory in that energy at the subatomic level is neither radiated nor absorbed continuously, but moves sporadically in multiples of discrete, indivisible units called quanta. These quanta, typically in the form of photons, or units of light, are used in quantum cryptography in place of the ones and zeros that make up binary number sequences in digital communications. Los Alamos quantum cryptography uses photons randomly polarized to states representing ones and zeros. Polarization refers to the direction of oscillation for the electromagnetic wave of a photon. These polarized photons are transmitted between sender and receiver to create a random string of numbers known only to the sender and receiver. This string of numbers becomes a quantum cryptographic key that locks or unlocks the encrypted messages that are sent via normal communication channels. Because the photons cannot be intercepted without tipping off the receiver, the quantum cryptographic key-and the data-are secure. Phone (505) 665-2085 or e-mail Todd Hanson at tahanson @lanl.gov.
Baxter Health Care (Irvine, CA) plans to launch new applications of a 16-year-old discovery by Argonne National Laboratory researchers under a new agreement. Argonne scientists discovered that high-intensity beams of light with a wavelength of 308-nm-the energy produced by excimer lasers-can remove abnormal tissue without harming surrounding healthy tissue. This finding led to the field of laser angioplasty and is now used worldwide to treat clogged and plaque-filled arteries, occluded vein grafts, and impacted or infected pacemaker and defibrillator leads. Baxter plans to employ the procedure in transmyocardial laser revascularization, or TMLR, which employs the laser technology to drill multiple holes in the heart to simulate the growth of channels within the heart muscle. "It was our recognition of the fact that the near-ultraviolet radiation of this laser can be transmitted with very little loss of energy through a quartz fiber-optic catheter that made possible the application of laser surgical procedures to cardiovascular disease," said Argonne chemist Dieter Gruen, whose research group was awarded a U.S. patent in 1987. Conventional lasers require such high energies to remove tissue-and generate so much heat in the process-that they often harm surrounding healthy tissue. This is a particular problem in heart surgery, where removing damaged tissue inside a blood vessel with a conventional laser could weaken or penetrate the adjacent vessel wall. But excimer laser beams don't generate heat. Instead they turn tissue directly into gas by breaking chemical bonds. Baxter spun o