• Making sure that if extraterrestrial observers called, somebody hears

    The question of contact with others beyond Earth is hardly hypothetical, as several projects are under way, both to send signals from Earth and to search for signals that have been sent directly or have “leaked” around obstacles, possibly travelling for thousands of years. As scientists step up their search for other life in the universe, two astrophysicists are proposing a way to make sure we do not miss the signal if extraterrestrial observers try to contact us first.

  • Suicide bomb detector moves close to commercialization with Sandia engineer’s help

    On the chilling list of terrorist tactics, suicide bombing is at the top. Between 1981 and 2015, an estimated 5,000 such attacks occurred in more than 40 countries, killing about 50,000 people. The global rate grew from three a year in the 1980s to one a month in the 1990s to one a week from 2001 to 2003 to one a day from 2003 to 2015. R3 Technologies and a group of other small businesses are developing a way to prevent suicide attacks by detecting concealed bombs before they go off. R3 found a partner in Sandia sensor expert JR Russell who has helped bring the company’s Concealed Bomb Detector, or CBD-1000, close to commercialization over the past two years.

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  • New sensor rivals dogs in detecting explosives

    Dogs have been used for decades to sniff out explosives, but now a University of Rhode Island scientist and his team have come up with another way to detect bombs: sensors. The scientist has developed a sensor that can detect explosives commonly used by terrorists. One of these explosives is triacetone triperoxide, or TATP. Triacetone triperoxide has been used by terrorists worldwide, from the 2001 “shoe bomber” Richard Reid to the suicide bombers who attacked residents of Paris in November. The explosive is relatively easy to make with chemicals that can be bought at pharmacies and hardware stores, attracting little attention from authorities.

  • De-icing concrete to improve roadway safety

    Researchers have developed a concrete which de-ices itself by adding a pinch of steel shavings and a dash of carbon particles to a traditional concrete recipe. Though the newest ingredients constitute just 20 percent of the otherwise standard concrete mixture, they conduct enough electricity to melt ice and snow in the worst winter storms while remaining safe to the touch.

  • Technologies enabling automated lookouts for unmanned surface vessels sought

    DARPA’s Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program seeks to develop a new type of unmanned surface vessel that could independently track adversaries’ ultra-quiet diesel-electric submarines over thousands of miles. ACTUV program invites input so future unmanned ships could operate safely near manned maritime vessels in all weather and traffic conditions, day or night.

  • Snake robots learn to turn by emulating real sidewinders

    Researchers who develop snake-like robots have picked up a few tricks from real sidewinder rattlesnakes on how to make rapid and even sharp turns with their undulating, modular device. Working with colleagues at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Zoo Atlanta, they have analyzed the motions of sidewinders and tested their observations on snake robots. They showed how the complex motion of a sidewinder can be described in terms of two wave motions — vertical and horizontal body waves — and how changing the phase and amplitude of the waves enables snakes to achieve exceptional maneuverability.

  • What makes a “smart gun” smart?

    Throughout the 20-year-long discussion of “smart guns,” the topic has been a lightning rod for debate between pro- and anti-gun lobbies. But too often, there isn’t substantive knowledge of the underlying technologies, their appropriate use and their design limitations. Personalized weapons technology can make a contribution to reducing death and injury from accidental or unauthorized weapons use. It is not a panacea, but it can be an option for gun buyers to ensure their weapons never fall into the wrong hands. Smart guns are not science fiction and could be a commercial reality much sooner than later.

  • Making cleaner fuel cells

    There is a near unanimity in the scientific community that the average temperature on the planet is rising and this is happening because of the increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Radically redesigning virtually all technological infrastructure is not possible without an acceptable alternative to internal combustion engines: either electric accumulators and electric motors, or fuel cells with electric motors. Fuel cells themselves will not solve the problem of rising temperatures on the planet, but they are part of a possible solution. Researchers have developed ion-exchange synthetic membranes based on amphiphilic compounds that are able to convert the energy of chemical reactions into electrical current.

  • Transforming deadly chemicals into harmless dirt

    Destroying bulk stores of chemical warfare agents is a challenge for the U.S. and international community. Current methods of eradication, such as incineration or hydrolysis, are not fully agnostic, require significant amounts of water and create hazardous waste that requires further processing. DARPA’s Agnostic Compact Demilitarization of Chemical Agents (ACDC) program recently awarded two contracts to develop prototypes of a transportable disposal system able to convert dangerous chemicals into safe output, such as harmless soil, using minimal consumables and creating no hazardous waste.

  • Pairing seismic data, radionuclide fluid-flow models to detect underground nuclear tests

    Underground nuclear weapon testing produces radionuclide gases that may seep to the surface, which is affected by many factors. These include fractures in the rock caused by the explosion’s shock waves that create pathways for the gas to escape plus the effect of changes in atmospheric pressure that affect the gases’ movement. Scientists have developed a new, more thorough method for detecting underground nuclear explosions (UNEs) by coupling two fundamental elements — seismic models with gas-flow models — to create a more complete picture of how an explosion’s evidence (radionuclide gases) seep to the surface.

  • Locust-inspired robot traverses rocky terrain, assists in search and rescue

    Since the 1980s, advanced robotic platforms have provided assistance to crisis intervention teams in the wake of man-made and natural disasters. The objective of such robots, in various sizes and shapes, has been to intervene where humans cannot and send life-saving data to rescue teams in the field. A new, locust-inspired robot, can jump eleven feet high — more than twice the height of similar-sized robots — and cover a horizontal distance of 4.5 feet in one leap. The researchers believe the robot will perform well in search-and-rescue missions and in reconnaissance operations in rough terrain.

  • The believers: String theory explains Santa Claus

    Some argue that the laws of physics should prevent Santa Claus from delivering all his gifts and that Santa would burn up in the atmosphere if he tried. The Norwegian Internet magazine, forskning.no, has put together a team of four top researchers to look into the case, and the panel’s conclusion is clear: Santa can do the job and Christmas is saved.

  • The skeptics: Laws of traditional physics would foil Santa's effort to carry out mission

    Santa has 31 hours to visit 378 million Christian children; at the rate of 3.5 children per household. Assuming at least one good child per home, this comes to 108 million homes. If each child receives no more than a medium sized Lego set (two pounds), the sleigh would be carrying more than 500 thousand tons of cargo, not counting Santa himself. Santa would thus need at least 360,000 Reindeer to pull the sleigh. Since Santa must visit 108 million homes in 31 hours, he will have to travel at 650 miles per second — 3,000 times the speed of sound, but at that speed, the lead pair of Reindeer would absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy per second each and vaporize — indeed, the entire Reindeer team would be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second. Santa himself would be subjected to forces of 17,500 Gs. A 250 pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of the sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force, and be crushed.

  • U.S., Israel to co-develop technologies for first responders

    Some $12 million will be funneled to collaborative Israeli-American projects for the development of advanced technologies for first responders over the next three years. The agreement brings together the Israeli Ministry of Public Security and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in a drive to better equip and prepare both countries’ national rescue forces including fire, police, and first-aid units. Each side will invest equally in the project.

  • Making the power grid more resilient, flexible

    “The biggest and most complex machine ever built by humankind” – this is how one researcher describes the U.S. power grid. A research team has been charged with the formidable task of transforming that big and complex machine from the inside out. Inverters convert DC (direct current) electricity to AC (alternating current) electricity, the kind that forms the basis of today’s power grid. To integrate more inverter-based distributed generation into the grid, the researchers are developing a dynamic distribution system (DDS) that supplements centralized power plants, instead of replacing them.