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Txch This Week: Cancer-Detecting Nanotech And Produce Section Power Production

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by Jared Kershner

This week on Txchnologist, NASA tested experimental rocket engine injectors that were 3-D printed to enhance performance over traditionally manufactured components. This 3-D printing technique, called direct laser melting, consists of a machine that fires a laser at metal powder under the control of a computer design program, depositing layers of the metal on top of one another until the part is produced. The hope? To demonstrate that 3-D printed designs can truly revolutionize system performance along with production time and cost.

A team led by biophysicist Markus Sauer and chemist Jürgen Seibel have pioneered a new microscopy method, dSTORM, which stands for direct Stochastic Optical Reconstruction Microscopy. This allows for the visualization of objects in super resolution, revealing details of cells ten times better than ever before by stitching together multiple images to create a single, sharper one. By resolving objects by mere millionths of millimeters across, researchers will inevitably gain new insights into activity in infectious diseases and cancer in human cells.

Harvard roboticists are in the process of constructing a soft-bodied, untethered robot that can continue operating through fire, water, crushing force, and even freezing conditions. Its body is constructed from a composite of silicone, fabric, and hollow glass microspheres. The group’s gains are an important step forward: If robots such as these are to perform rescue missions and survive demanding weather conditions, they need to be able to roam and slither free from cumbersome power connections.

Now we’re bringing you the news and trends we’ve been following this week in the world of science, technology, and innovation.

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Turning The Wires That Carry Power Into Batteries, Too

by Marsha Lewis, Inside Science

Every day, millions of Americans rely on electronic devices that have one thing in common: they must be charged. The process is pretty simple, but it does require a bit of time and forethought.

But what if there were a better way to store and create the power needed to run these gadgets?

Now, scientists have created a better way using a simple electrical cable wire.

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A Drop Of Power Makes Hydrogen Fuel Cheaper

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by Michael Keller

**Editor’s Note: There seems to be some confusion based on readers’ comments that this post is about researchers discovering electrolysis of water. That process has been known since the 18th century. This article is about research looking to make industrial-scale hydrogen gas from water using novel electrodes that diminish the amount of electricity and precious metals needed during electrolysis.**

Scientists have made a breakthrough in generating hydrogen gas fuel more efficiently by splitting water with smaller amounts of electricity. 

Stanford University researchers report that they have disassembled water molecules into gaseous hydrogen and oxygen with the electromotive force of a single AAA battery. Both gaseous products are flammable and hydrogen is considered a viable power source for electricity production and vehicles. In fact, the first hydrogen fuel cell cars will be available for purchase in the US beginning in 2015.

The Stanford group also accomplished the low-power water splitting, a process called water electrolysis, without the expensive precious metals typically used. They put two electrodes in a beaker of water and sent current through them, which broke the liquid into the two gases.

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Squeezing Liquid Fuel From The Sun

by Michael Keller

Earlier this month, we spotlighted promising research that has successfully produced biofuel by feeding electricity to bacteria. If it can scale up, this work would answer several current problems inherent in converting solar energy into fuel, a necessity in a world that runs on powerful vehicle engines that need energy-dense liquids to run.

Figuring out solutions to lowering society’s fossil fuel use could potentially help with global issues from energy insecurity to global warming. Yet contemporary biofuels are rife with their own set of problems. Often biofuel crops compete with acreage for food production and increase pressure to clear forests for cultivation. In the case of commodities like corn, which can be used for fuel feedstock and food, fuel production directly competes with food supplies. 

Meanwhile, plants are highly inefficient at converting sunlight into chemical energy, averaging little more than 3 percent efficiency. And if fertilizers are needed or trees must be cut to grow biofuel crops, then the process wouldn’t be carbon neutral, a requirement to slow the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

But electricity-eating bacteria aren’t the only contenders for the next generation of renewable biofuels. There are also a number of projects that are starting to see dividends in taking sunlight and converting it directly into chemical energy.

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