Archive | Engineering

Scientists Create Solar-power 'leaves'

RALEIGH, N.C., Sept. 24 (UPI) — U.S. researchers say flexible, water-gel-based “solar leaves” could be less expensive and more environmentally friendly than silicon-based solar cells.

Researchers at North Carolina State University say the bendable devices are composed of water-based gel infused with light-sensitive molecules coupled with electrodes coated by carbon materials, a NCSU release reports.

The molecules get “excited” by the sun’s rays to produce electricity, similar to the way plant molecules get excited to synthesize sugars in order to grow, Orlin Velev, a professor of chemical and bio-molecular engineering, says.

The team hopes to “learn how to mimic the materials by which nature harnesses solar energy,” Velev says.

Now that they’ve proven the concept, the researchers will work to fine-tune the water-based photovoltaic devices, making them even more like real leaves.

“The next step is to mimic the self-regenerating mechanisms found in plants,” Velev says.

“We do not want to over-promise at this stage, as the devices are still of relatively low efficiency and there is a long way to go before this can become a practical technology,” he says.

“However, we believe that the concept of biologically inspired ‘soft’ devices for generating electricity may in the future provide an alternative for the present-day solid-state technologies,” Velev says.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Electricity, Engineering, Other, Solar0 Comments

Biometric Security Fallible, Report Says

PALO ALTO, Calif., Sept. 24 (UPI) — Biometric systems that recognize individuals based on fingerprints, palm prints, or voice or face recognition are “inherently fallible,” a U.S. report says.

A report by the National Research Council says no single identifying trait has been found that is stable and distinctive across all groups, and that to strengthen the science and improve system effectiveness, additional research is needed at virtually all levels of design and operation, a National Academy of Sciences release said Friday.

“For nearly 50 years, the promise of biometrics has outpaced the application of the technology,” study chairman Joseph N. Pato at Hewlett-Packard’s HP Laboratories in Palo Alto, Calif., said.

“While some biometric systems can be effective for specific tasks, they are not nearly as infallible as their depiction in popular culture might suggest. Bolstering the science is essential to gain a complete understanding of the strengths and limitations of these systems.”

Biometric systems are increasingly used to regulate access to facilities, information, and other rights or benefits, but questions remain about their effectiveness, the report said.

A person’s biometric characteristics may vary over the individual’s lifetime due to age, stress, disease or other factors, possibly leading to a high false-alarm rate.

And effectiveness depends as much on the competence of human operators as it does on the underlying technology and engineering, the report concluded.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Test Turns Wastewater Sludge into Power

RENO, Nev., Sept. 23 (UPI) — An experiment to transform wastewater sludge into electrical power is being successfully tested at a Nevada wastewater treatment plant, researchers say.

University of Nevada, Reno, researchers say the immediate goal is producing enough power on site to meet the plant’s electrical needs, a university release said.

“We are very pleased with the results of the demonstration testing of our research,” Chuck Coronella, UNR associate professor of chemical engineering, said. “The process to dry the sludge to make it burnable for a gasification process, which could then be transformed into electricity, is working very well.

“This is an important step for our renewable energy research, processing about 20 pounds an hour of sludge in a continuous-feed system to produce about 3 pounds an hour of dried powder.”

The technology is an experimental carbon-neutral system. The solid fuel it produces will be analyzed for its suitability as a fuel, and the refrigerator-size demonstration unit will help researchers determine the optimum conditions for a commercial-sized operation.

“The beauty of this process is that it’s designed to be all on-site, saving trucking costs and disposal fees for the sludge,” Victor Vasquez, a faculty member in chemical engineering, said. “It uses waste heat from the process to drive the electrical generation. It also keeps the sludge out of the landfill.”

Estimates show a full-scale system has the potential to generate 25,000 kilowatt-hours per day to help power the local reclamation facility, researchers say.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Flapping-wing Aircraft Successfully Flies

TORONTO, Sept. 22 (UPI) — A Canadian-made, human-powered aircraft with flapping wings made history by becoming the first craft of its kind to stay aloft continuously, its builders say.

The University of Toronto’s human-powered ornithopter “Snowbird” flew Aug. 2 in Tottenham, Ontario, witnessed by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, the world-governing body for air sports and aeronautical world records, a university release said.

An aircraft that could fly by mimicking the flapping of birds’ wings has been the dream of engineers since Leonardo da Vinci sketched the first human-powered ornithopter in 1485.

Under the power and piloting of Todd Reichert, an engineering doctoral candidate at the university’s Institute for Aerospace Studies, the wing-flapping Snowbird sustained both altitude and airspeed for 19.3 seconds, and covered a distance of 158 yards at an average speed of 16 miles per hour.

“The Snowbird represents the completion of an age-old aeronautical dream,” Reichert said.

“Throughout history, countless men and women have dreamt of flying like a bird under their own power, and hundreds, if not thousands have attempted to achieve it.

“This represents one of the last of the aviation firsts.”

The Snowbird has a wing span of 105 feet, comparable to that of a Boeing 737, but weighs less than all the pillows on an airliner — just 94 pounds.

And Reichert lost 18 pounds of body weight over the summer to prepare for flying the aircraft.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Aviation, Birds, Engineering, Other0 Comments

Chemistry of Oyster 'glue' Identified

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., Sept. 20 (UPI) — Identifying the “glue” oysters use to stick together to form large reefs could provide advances for fisheries, boating and in medicine, U.S. researchers say.

Researchers at Purdue University say they’ve uncovered the chemical components of the oysters’ adhesive, which could help those trying to boost dwindling oyster populations, lead to creation of materials to keep boat hulls clean without harming the environment, and aid researchers in creating wet-setting adhesives for use in medicine and construction, a university release said Monday.

“With a description of the oyster cement in hand, we may gain strategies for developing synthetic materials that mimic the shellfish’s ability to set and hold in wet environments,” Jonathan Wilker, a Purdue professor of chemistry and materials engineering, said.

“Dentistry and medicine may benefit from such a material. For instance, it would be great to have a surgical adhesive that could replace staples and sutures, which puncture healthy tissue and create potential sites for infection.”

Researchers found the adhesive produced by oysters had almost five times the amount of protein and more water than what is found in oyster shells.

“The adhesive material differed significantly in composition from the shell, which indicates that the oyster produces a chemically distinct substance for sticking together,” Wilker said.

Oysters stick together to reproduce and to protect themselves from predators and large waves. The reefs they create can stretch for miles and filter large volumes of water, prevent erosion and create a storm wall that strengthens coastlines, researchers said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Better Detector for Hidden Bombs Sought

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., Sept. 14 (UPI) — U.S. researchers say they’re working to develop detectors for improvised explosive devices and hidden bombs that can penetrate shielding materials.

Scientists at Purdue University are taking part in the effort to develop devices that use sound and radio waves to detect the presence of hidden explosives, a university release said Tuesday.

Purdue is part of a $7 million initiative funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research.

The aim is to use sound and radio waves to penetrate objects, producing a new set of waves that bounce back to identify underlying materials.

“You want to get energy into the material, have it move around to pick up information and then be re-radiated so that we can sense what’s inside,” said Douglas Adams, a Purdue professor of mechanical engineering.

A major challenge is developing systems that use both radio and sound waves, which travel at different speeds, researchers say.

Because the two types of waves have different frequency ranges, they can reveal different kinds of information about an object to more accurately detect improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, they say.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Scientists Create Robotic 'e-skin'

BERKELEY, Calif., Sept. 13 (UPI) — U.S. researchers say they’ve developed a pressure-sensitive material from semiconductor nanowires that can mimic human skin and improve robotic performance.

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, say the material — dubbed e-skin — could overcome a key problem in robotics, determining the amount of force needed to hold and manipulate a wide range of objects, a university release said Monday.

“The idea is to have a material that functions like the human skin, which means incorporating the ability to feel and touch objects,” Ali Javey, associate professor of electrical engineering, said.

“Humans generally know how to hold a fragile egg without breaking it,” Javey said. “If we ever wanted a robot that could unload the dishes, for instance, we’d want to make sure it doesn’t break the wine glasses in the process. But we’d also want the robot to be able to grip a stock pot without dropping it.”

The researchers said the e-skin could detect pressures in a range comparable to the force used for such daily activities as typing on a keyboard or holding an object.

A longer term goal for the e-skin would be to restore the sense of touch to patients with prosthetic limbs, they said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Daley Supports Reversing River Flow

CHICAGO, Sept. 11 (UPI) — Chicago’s mayor says undoing a historic engineering feat, when the Chicago River’s flow was reversed away from the Great Lakes, could improve their ecology.

Richard Daley, who recently announced he would not run again, announced his support for the idea in an interview Friday.

“I said, ‘Boy that’s a great project,’” Daley told the Chicago Tribune, recalling a conversation he had with his brother William as they sat near the lake. “Instead of diverting all that water, maybe we should reverse it (to flow into the lake).”

More than 100 years ago, the city completed years of work that reversed the river’s flow to keep untreated sewage from flowing into Lake Michigan, source of the city’s drinking water.

The project also connected Chicago to the nation’s shipping waterways.

But it diverted a significant amount of water from the lake and created a path for invasive species like Asian carp to enter the Great Lakes ecosystem from the Mississippi River.

Environmentalists and Great Lakes advocates have long urged the city to redesign its system to return the Chicago River to its original flow.

Asian carp fears have prompted U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to asked Congress to look at re-engineering the region’s waterway system. That study would look at the feasibility of reversing the river’s flow.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Drinking Water, Engineering, Other0 Comments

Music Helps Treat Emotional, Physical Pain

GLASGOW, Scotland, Sept. 11 (UPI) — Music helps regulate a person’s mood and may help alleviate symptoms for people dealing with physical pain, researchers in Scotland say.

Study leader Dr. Don Knox, an audio engineering specialist at Glasgow Caledonian University, says the development of music-based therapies to help address depressive illnesses may lead doctors to prescribe a type of music on a prescription — tailored to suit the needs of an individual.

“The impact of a piece of music on a person goes so much further than thinking that a fast tempo can lift a mood and a slow one can bring it down. Music expresses emotion as a result of many factors,” Knox says in a statement. “These include the tone, structure and other technical characteristics of a piece. Lyrics can have a big impact too.”

Knox and Raymond MacDonald of Glasgow Caledonian University carried out an unprecedentedly detailed audio analysis of pieces of music, identified as expressing a range of emotions by a panel of volunteers.

“We look at parameters such as rhythm patterns, melodic range, musical intervals, length of phrases, musical pitch and so on,” Knox says. “For example, music falling into a positive category might have a regular rhythm, bright timbre and a fairly steady pitch contour over time.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Engineering, Music, Other0 Comments

Laser Backpack Measures Interiors

BERKELEY, Calif., Sept. 8 (UPI) — A portable laser backpack than can produce fast, automatic and realistic 3-D mapping of difficult interior environments has been developed, officials say.

The reconnoitering backpack was developed at the University of California, Berkeley, and funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Army Research Office, an Air Force release said Tuesday.

The backpack is the first system designed to work without having to be strapped to a robot or attached to a rolling cart.

Its data acquisition speed is very fast, collecting data in real time while the human operator is walking, in contrast to existing systems in which the data is collected in a stop-and-go fashion, resulting in days and weeks of data acquisition time, the Air Force said.

The technology will allow military personnel to collectively view the interior of modeled buildings and interact over a network in order to achieve military goals like mission planning, researchers said.

The cutting-edge technology has been successfully tested on the university campus.

“We have already generated 3-D models of two stories of the electrical engineering building at UC Berkeley, including the stairway, and that is a first,” Avideh Zakhor, lead researcher and professor of electrical engineering, said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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