• Mimicking the human immune system to detect outbreaks faster

    Our immune systems are made up of billions of white blood cells searching for signs of infections and foreign invaders, ready to raise the alarm. Sandia National Laboratories computer scientists have been working to improve the U.S. biosurveillance system that alerts authorities to disease outbreaks by mimicking the human immune system.

  • Pulling valuable metals from e-waste makes economic sense

    Electronic waste — including discarded televisions, computers and mobile phones — is one of the fastest-growing waste categories worldwide. For years, recyclers have gleaned usable parts, including metals, from this waste stream. That makes sense from a sustainability perspective, but it’s been unclear whether it’s reasonable from an economic viewpoint. Now researchers report that recovering gold, copper and other metals from e-waste is cheaper than obtaining these metals from mines.

  • Diminutive robot defends factories against cyberthreats

    It’s small enough to fit inside a shoebox, yet this robot on four wheels — called HoneyBot — has a big mission: keeping factories and other large facilities safe from hackers. The diminutive device is designed to lure in digital troublemakers who have set their sights on industrial facilities. HoneyBot will then trick the bad actors into giving up valuable information to cybersecurity professionals.

  • Nuclear waste may soon be a thing of the past

    During the Cold War, the U.S. Department of Energy produced tons of nuclear material for the development of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile. Today, the United States is awash in radioactive material from weapons production and some from nuclear power plants that could take 100,000 years to go away. A recent FIU chemistry graduate might help researchers unlock the secrets to make nuclear waste safer.

  • Efficient extraction may improve management of nuclear fuel

    After used nuclear fuel is removed from a reactor, it emits heat for decades and remains radioactive for thousands of years. The used fuel is a mixture of major actinides (uranium, plutonium), fission products (mainly assorted metals, including lanthanides) and minor actinides (i.e., americium, curium and neptunium). After the cesium-137 and strontium-90 fission products decay in a few hundred years, the minor actinides and plutonium generate the most heat and radioactivity. Removal of the minor actinides, especially americium, can help nuclear power producers reduce and better manage the waste stream.

  • In field tests, device harvests water from desert air

    It seems like getting something for nothing, but you really can get drinkable water right out of the driest of desert air. Even in the most arid places on Earth, there is some moisture in the air, and a practical way to extract that moisture could be a key to survival in such bone-dry locations. Now, researchers at MIT have proved that such an extraction system can work.

  • Geoengineering polar glaciers to slow sea-level rise

    Targeted geoengineering to preserve continental ice sheets deserves serious research and investment, argues an international team of researchers. Without intervention, by 2100 most large coastal cities will face sea levels that are more than three feet higher than they are currently.

  • We need laws on geoengineering, and soon

    Humans have been accidentally altering the planet’s climate for thousands of years. Soon, it may be possible alter it intentionally. The deliberate, large-scale manipulation of climate is called geoengineering. The term encompasses a variety of proposals, from pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to reflecting sunlight back into space in an attempt to slow the earth’s warming. Global geoengineering tactics haven’t yet been deployed, but as climate change starts to spin out of control, support for some forms of geoengineering seems to be growing.

  • Pipe-crawling robot to help decommission DOE nuclear facility

    A pair of autonomous robots developed by Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute will soon be driving through miles of pipes at the U.S. Department of Energy’s former uranium enrichment plant in Piketon, Ohio, to identify uranium deposits on pipe walls. The CMU robot has demonstrated it can measure radiation levels more accurately from inside the pipe than is possible with external techniques.

  • Living sensor may prevent environmental disasters from fuel spills

    The Colonial Pipeline, which carries fuel from Texas to New York, ruptured last fall, dumping a quarter-million gallons of gas in rural Alabama. By the time the leak was detected during routine inspection, vapors from released gasoline were so strong they prevented pipeline repair for days. Now, scientists are developing technology that would alert pipeline managers about leaks as soon as failure begins, avoiding the environmental disasters and fuel distribution disruptions resulting from pipeline leaks.

  • Preventing hurricanes using air bubbles

    In recent years we have witnessed intense tropical storms that have taken many thousands of lives and caused massive destruction. For example, in 2005, hurricane Katrina killed more than 2,000 people and caused damage estimated to be in the billions of dollars. In 2016, hurricane Matthew swept across Haiti, taking 852 lives and destroying many towns on the island. Many people have tried to find ways of preventing hurricanes before they make landfall. Norwegian researchers believe that the answer lies in cold bubbles.

  • Expanding real-time radiological threat detection to include other dangers

    Advanced commercially available technologies—such as additive manufacturing (3-D printing), small-scale chemical reactors for pharmaceuticals, and CRISPR gene-manipulation tools—have opened wide access to scientific exploration and discovery. In the hands of terrorists and rogue nation states, however, these capabilities could be misused to concoct chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosive (CBRNE) weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in small quantities and in form factors that are hard to detect. DARPA’s SIGMA+ program aims to create additional sensors and networks to detect biological, chemical, and explosives threats.

  • DTRA awards British university $1.1 million for improved radiation detectors

    The University of Surrey has been awarded $1.1 million by the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) to research new types of nanomaterials that produce high efficiency radiation detectors for use in nuclear security. The project will develop materials that are used as highly sensitive radiation detectors.

  • Nerve agents: what are they and how do they work?

    The first nerve agents were invented by accident in the 1930s when researchers were trying to make cheaper and better alternatives to nicotine as insecticides. In their search, German scientists made two organic compounds containing phosphorus that were very effective at killing insect pests. However, they soon discovered that, even in minuscule amounts, the substances caused distressing symptoms in humans exposed to them. The two substances – too toxic to be used as commercial insecticides in agriculture – became known as tabun and sarin. Since then, other nerve agents have been developed, but much less is known about them, although they are thought to work in broadly the same way. Unlike street drugs, nerve agents cannot be made in your kitchen or garden shed, on account of their toxicity, even in tiny amounts. Synthesis of nerve agents requires a specialist laboratory, with fume cupboards. As more details emerge from the case of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, we’ll know more about the precise substance used and how it should be tackled. Either way, nerve agents are horrendously lethal and chemical warfare is an obscene use of chemicals.

  • Combining old and new to create a novel power grid cybersecurity tool

    An innovative R&D project that combines cybersecurity, machine learning algorithms and commercially available power system sensor technology to better protect the electric power grid has sparked interest from U.S. utilities, power companies and government officials. Creating innovative tools and technologies to reduce the risk that energy delivery might be disrupted by a cyber incident is vital to making the nation’s electric power grid resilient to cyber threats.