Technological innovation

  • Inventing a stronger radiological waste bag for extra protection

    Researchers at the Savannah River National Laboratory found out that a radiological waste bag was not lasting as long as he would like, so they set about inventing a new one, creating a “double-ply” waste containment bag capable of better containing nuclear waste. Much like a household garbage bag is used to protect waste from leaking into a garbage can, special radiological waste bags are used to keep radiation from leaking into a storage container.

  • Lawmakers pledge to continue supporting Center of Excellence for drone research

    Lawmakers pledge to continue support for FAA Center of Excellence (COE) for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) selected the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE), a consortium of universities headed by Mississippi State University (MSU), to lead the UAS COE. The FAA expects the COE to begin research in 2015 and be fully operational in 2016 in its exploration of evolving new technological developments regarding unmanned aircraft and their uses, including detect-and-avoid technology, low-altitude operations safety, privacy safeguards, and other areas. Research will also involve the deployment of UAS for emergency response, biofuel and clean fuel technologies, law enforcement activities, and agricultural and environmental monitoring.

  • Invisible inks to help foil counterfeiters

    Counterfeiting is very big business worldwide, with $650 billion per year lost globally, according to the International Chamber of Commerce. Scientists have invented sophisticated fluorescent inks that one day could be used as multicolored barcodes for consumers to authenticate products that are often counterfeited. Snap a photo with your smartphone, and it will tell you if the item is real and worth your money.

  • Using UV light to separate rare earth metals

    Europium and yttrium are two rare earth metals that are commonly used in sustainable technology and high-tech applications. As these rare earth metals are difficult to mine, there is a great interest in recycling them. Researchers have discovered a method to separate europium and yttrium with UV light instead of with traditional solvents. Their findings offer new opportunities for the recycling of fluorescent lamps and low-energy light bulbs.

  • New airport security technologies raise privacy concerns

    Researchers are developing surveillance technologies better to help airport security officials scan passengers and luggage for contraband and suspicious behavior. Privacy advocates say these expensive and ambitious projects, meant to increase public safety and ease air travel delays, risk intruding on passengers’ privacy.“What starts in the airport doesn’t stay there,” says a technology expert at the ACLU.

  • Final prototype of tool for spotting buried victims now commercially available

    The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), in partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory, last week announced the transition of the final prototype of the Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response (FINDER) technology to the commercial market. The technology proved successful during its first real-world operational use when it was deployed to Nepal following the 25 April earthquake to support international search and rescue efforts in the country.

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  • Four African innovators selected for engineering innovation prize

    Following an open, competitive, application process which saw entries from fifteen countries in sub-Saharan Africa, twelve African entrepreneurs were chosen to receive a package of six months of business training and mentoring from the U.K.’s Royal Academy of Engineering. The four finalists showing the greatest promise have now been chosen, and are in with a chance to become the overall winner. Each will receive at least £10,000 with the grand prize of £25,000 to be awarded at a ceremony in Cape Town on 1 June. A low-cost sustainable water filter system to provide clean and safe drinking water, and a service that allows African mobile phone users to switch easily between multiple mobile networks are among the four African innovations selected by the Academy.

  • Nano-coated mesh captures oil but lets water through

    The unassuming piece of stainless steel mesh does not look like a very big deal, but it could make a big difference for future environmental cleanups. Water passes through the mesh but oil does not, thanks to a nearly invisible oil-repelling coating on its surface. In tests, researchers mixed water with oil and poured the mixture onto the mesh. The water filtered through the mesh to land in a beaker below. The oil collected on top of the mesh, and rolled off easily into a separate beaker when the mesh was tilted. The nano-coated mesh could clean oil spills for less than $1 per square foot.

  • New MIT report details benefits of investment in basic research

    In 2014, European researchers discovered a fundamental new particle which sheds light on the origins of the universe; the European Space Agency successfully landed the first spacecraft on a comet; and Chinese researchers developed the world’s fastest supercomputer. As these competitors increase their investment in basic research, the percentage of the U.S. federal budget devoted to research and development has fallen from around 10 percent in 1968 to less than 4 percent in 2015. A new report by MIT researchers examines how funding cutbacks will affect the future of scientific studies in the United States. The report also highlights opportunities in basic research which could help shape and maintain U.S. economic power, and benefit society.

  • New approach would boost use of geothermal energy

    Existing U.S. geothermal power plants generate up to 3.4 gigawatts of energy, making up about 0.4 percent of the nation’s energy supply. Geothermal power is generated by tapping the heat that exists under the Earth’s surface to extract steam and turn power plant turbines. Conventional geothermal power plants rely on the natural presence of three things: underground water, porous rock, and heat. A new approach to geothermal power, called enhanced geothermal systems, pumps fluids underground, a step which is called “reservoir stimulation,” to enable power production where conventional geothermal doesn’t work. It is estimated that enhanced geothermal systems could boost U.S. geothermal energy output 30-fold to more than 100 gigawatts, or enough to power 100 million typical American homes.

  • Water shortage grows, and so does the need for technological solutions

    The value of freshwater is becoming more apparent, as more and more areas around the world are suffering from dwindling supply as a result of climate change. The World Bank estimates that water is $1 trillion privatized commodity. Last week, California imposed mandatory restrictions on water use for the first time in its history. California’s unprecedented move is just one example of the political and social issues which will accompany a growing water shortage moving forward.

  • Big data technology helps identify best river locations for hydro-power generation

    A new technology has the potential to revolutionize the sourcing of renewable energy from rivers. The software app automatically selects appropriate locations in U.K. rivers to site a large range of micro renewable hydro-power turbines in these rivers, and determines the environmental sensitivity of the location.

  • Virtual guard detects real-time leaks in water, oil-, or gas pipes

    Often, water, gas, or oil distribution networks suffer from leaks in storage tanks, pumping failures, or illegal tapping. In order to prevent losses which typically result, researchers designed a virtual guard which immediately detects abnormalities in any type of duct. Through the laws of physics and application of a mathematical model of fluid mechanics, the device calculates when an irregularity occurs on site, and issues an alert.

  • Structures tougher than bulletproof vests

    Researchers have created new structures that exploit the electromechanical properties of specific nanofibers to stretch to up to seven times their length, while remaining tougher than Kevlar. These structures absorb up to 98 joules per gram. Kevlar, often used to make bulletproof vests, can absorb up to 80 joules per gram. Researchers hope the structures will one day form material that can reinforce itself at points of high stress and could potentially be used in military airplanes or other defense applications.

     

  • Soldiers, astronauts to be protected by tough, flexible new material

    A team of researchers has developed a revolutionary material that has superior anti-penetration properties while remaining flexible. Inspired by the way nature designed fish scales, the material could be used to make bulletproof clothing for the military and space suits that are impervious to micro-meteorites and radiation when astronauts embark on spacewalks. The material emulates the skins of many species of fish — skins which are flexible, but which also protect the fish by hard scales.