Sci-Tech

  • U.S. Navy: Investment in new ideas, scientific research needed to keep technological edge

    At the Naval Future Force Science and Technology (S&T) EXPO in Washington D.C., Department of Navy leaders on 5 February called for investment in new ideas and scientific research to keep the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps technologically superior in increasingly uncertain times. Tight budgets at home and technological advances by other nations must be met with a powerful response grounded in innovation from the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps S&T community, said Sean J. Stackley, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition.

  • Scientists develop accident-tolerant nuclear fuels

    The summer of 2014 marked an important milestone toward further innovation in the nation’s nuclear plants regarding the development of light water reactor nuclear fuel with enhanced accident tolerant characteristics. For several years, nuclear researchers have designed, fabricated and tested a host of novel nuclear fuels and fuel cladding materials (enclosed tubes that house the fuel in a reactor) in laboratories across the U.S. Now, testing of promising fuels and materials with enhanced accident tolerant characteristics in a U.S. nuclear test reactor is commencing. Scientists and engineers from research labs and industry have prepared advanced concepts for insertion into Idaho National Laboratory’s Advanced Test Reactor.

  • Royal commission into nuclear will open a world of possibilities

    Discussion of nuclear energy in Australia has matured in recent years with greater focus on factual arguments, the relativity of risks and the need for robust scientific sourcing of claims. South Australia’s potential to merge prosperity, clean energy and good global citizenship can barely be overstated. Globally, there are around 240,000 metric tons heavy metal (MtHM ) in spent nuclear fuel, much of which was dug from South Australian ores. By 2040 this will be around 700,000 MtHM. Robust dry-cask storage is now a demonstrated, reliable and recognized solution for holding this material. It can be quickly, readily implemented by South Australia. Importantly, such a facility would mean the material is retrievable, to enable the extraction of further value through recycling. A secure, multinational destination for spent fuel, located in a politically and geologically stable country such as Australia, would spur more rapid expansion of current generation reactors. This would displace coal as the fuel of choice in rapidly growing economies.

  • Microcapsules stop greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere

    Current carbon capture technology uses caustic amine-based solvents to separate CO2 from the flue gas escaping a facility’s smokestacks. State-of-the-art processes, however, are expensive, result in a significant reduction in a power plant’s output, and yield toxic byproducts. Scientists have developed a novel class of materials – microcapsules — which enable a safer, cheaper, and more energy-efficient process for removing greenhouse gas from power plant emissions. The microcapsules offer a new approach to carbon capture and storage at power plants.

  • Floating wind turbines bring electricity – and power generation -- to customers

    Most wind turbine manufacturers are competing to build taller turbines to harness more powerful winds above 500 feet, or 150 meters. Altaeros is going much higher with its novel Buoyant Airborne Turbine — the BAT. The Altaeros BAT can reach 2,000 feet, or 600 meters. At this altitude, wind speeds are faster and have five to eight times greater power density. As a result, the BAT can generate more than twice the energy of a similarly rated tower-mounted turbine. The BAT’s key enabling technologies include a novel aerodynamic design, making it, in effect, a wind turbine which is being lifted by a tethered balloon. In the future, the company expects to deploy the BAT alongside first responders in emergency response situations when access to the electric grid is unavailable.

  • "uisance flooding” becoming problem for many U.S. coastal communities

    Scientists say that floods and surges will become a regular feature of life in many coastal U.S. cities, even when the weather is not particularly bad or stormy. Some communities along the East Coast are flooding even in calm, clear weather, indicating a trend of “nuisance floods” which will increasingly plague many parts of the U.S. coast in the future. Annapolis, Maryland, is but one example: From 1957 to 1963, flooding hit the city about 3.8 days a year. From 2007 to 2013, that average had increased to 39.3 days a year.

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  • Coastal communities can lower flood insurance rates by addressing sea-level rise

    City leaders and property developers in Tampa Bay are urging coastal communities to prepare today for sea-level rise and future floods in order to keep flood insurance rates low in the future. FEMA, which administers the National Flood Insurance Program(NFIP), is increasing flood insurance premiums across the country, partly to offset losses from recent disasters such as hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. Cities can reduce insurance premiums for nearly all residents who carry flood coverage by improving storm-water drainage, updating building codes to reflect projected rise in sea-levels, moving homes out of potentially hazardous areas, and effectively informing residents about storm danger and evacuation routes.

  • Levels of mercury in Hawaiian yellowfin tuna increasing

    Mercury is a toxic trace metal that can accumulate to high concentrations in fish, posing a health risk to people who eat large, predatory marine fish such as swordfish and tuna. In the open ocean, the principal source of mercury is atmospheric deposition from human activities, especially emissions from coal-fired power plants and artisanal gold mining. Mercury concentrations in Hawaiian yellowfin tuna are increasing at a rate of 3.8 percent or more per year, according to a new study, which suggests rising atmospheric levels of the toxic substance are to blame.

  • A first: Engineering students design firefighting humanoid robot

    In fall 2014 in Mobile Bay, Alabama, Virginia Tech engineering students made history during a five-minute demo that placed an adult-sized humanoid robot with a hose in front of a live fire aboard a U.S. Navy ship. The robot located the fire and sprayed water from the hose. Water blasted the flames. The demo, four years in the making, is part of a new effort by the U.S. Navy better to assist sailors in fighting fires, controlling damage, and carrying out inspections aboard ships via user-controlled unmanned craft or humanoid robots.

  • Rising seas may force coastal communities to “strategically retreat”: Corps of Engineers

    In response to Hurricane Sandy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineershas conducted a two-year study on 31,200 miles of coastal, back bay, and estuarine areas in ten states. The Corps has identified nine high-risk areas for future flooding along the North Atlantic coast. The study offers a nine-step planning process on how to identify risky areas and develop strategies to reduce the risk. It also recommends several ways communities can deal with rising sea levels, including bulkheads, seawalls, levees, elevation of homes and roads, dunes, breakwaters, living shorelines made of natural materials, groins, deployable floodwalls, and reefs. “Some communities looking out twenty years or more may consider strategic retreat and relocating people to higher ground. Each community has to evaluate which measures will work for them,” said Amy Guise, the chief of the Army Corps command center in Baltimore.

  • Protecting the security for networks of the future

    Today’s company networks comprise hundreds of devices: routers for directing data packets to the right receiver, firewall components for protecting internal networks from the outside world, and network switches. Such networks are extremely inflexible because every component, every router and every switch can carry out only the task it was manufactured for. If the network has to be expanded, the company has to integrate new routers, firewalls or switches and then program them by hand. This is why experts worldwide have been working on flexible networks of the future for the last five years or so, developing what is known as software-defined networking (SDN). It presents one disadvantage, however; it is susceptible to hacker attacks. Researchers have now developed a way to protect these future networks.

  • Missing oil from Deepwater Horizon 2010 accident found

    After 200 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, the government and BP cleanup crews mysteriously had trouble locating all of it. Now, a new study finds that some six million to ten million gallons are buried in the sediment on the Gulf floor, about sixty-two miles southeast of the Mississippi Delta.

  • Reprogramming plants to withstand drought

    Crops and other plants are constantly faced with adverse environmental conditions, such as rising temperatures (2014 was the warmest year on record) and lessening fresh water supplies, which lower yield and cost farmers billions of dollars annually. Research in synthetic biology provides a strategy that has reprogrammed plants to consume less water after they are exposed to an agrochemical, opening new doors for crop improvement.

  • Handheld sensor sniffs out fish fraud

    It is estimated that up to 30 percent of the seafood entering the U.S. is fraudulently mislabeled, bilking U.S. fishermen, the U.S. seafood industry, and American consumers for an estimated $20-25 billion annually. Passing off other fish as grouper is one of the rackets this sensor aims to stop. Fighting seafood labeling fraud using rapid, on-site screening may benefit consumer wallets and U.S. seafood industry. Scientists at the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science have developed a handheld sensor capable of debunking fraudulent seafood species claims, helping to ensure that consumers are getting what they pay for.

  • Color-changing film detects chemical weapons

    In today’s world, in which the threat of terrorism looms, there is an urgent need for fast, reliable tools to detect the release of deadly chemical warfare agents (CWAs). Scientists are reporting progress toward thin-film materials that could rapidly change colors in the presence of CWAs — an advance that could help save lives and hold aggressors accountable.