From Engadget: Athens university prints polymer circuits with lasers, speeds us towards low-cost electronics

University of Athens prints polymer circuits with lasers, speeds us towards lowcost electronics

The dream of ubiquitous technology revolves around cheaper materials, and polymer circuits could help make the dream a reality… if the solvents used to produce the circuits didn’t cause more problems than they cured, that is. The National Technical University of Athens has developed a more exacting technique that, like most good things in science, solves the crisis with lasers. The approach fires a laser at a polymer layer (covered by quartz) to throw some of that polymer on to a receiving layer; by moving the two layers, the scientists can print virtually any 2D circuit without resorting to potentially damaging chemicals. Any leftover worries center mostly around risks of changing the chemical composition as well as the usual need to develop a reliable form of mass production. Any long-term success with laser-printed polymers, however, could lead to more affordable technology as well as more instances of flexible and wearable gear — there might not be much of a downside to ditching the circuit status quo.

from Engadget

From Popular Science – New Technology, Science News, The Future Now: Nanotube Yarn Infused With Wax Makes Incredibly Strong Artificial Muscles

Nano Muscle Fibers These scanning electron microscope images show a carbon nanotube yarn that has incredible tensile strength. The upper image shows a highly coiled, wax-filled carbon nanotube yarn that maximizes tensile contraction during actuation. The lower image shows a two-ply carbon nanotube yarn that can be deployed as a torsional muscle in a motor. Courtesy of Science/AAAS
Yarn muscles could launch catapults, power intelligent textiles, and help robots move more weight.Artificial muscles will offer future robots greater flexibility and lighter weight than a machine joint, expanding and contracting again and again. Although there are plenty of awesome robotic examples and prototype bionic uses, artificial muscles have been limited by many factors, like their response times or their power requirements. Now comes a new nanofiber muscle combining carbon nanotubes with candle wax, which might outperform any previous artificial muscle.

These nanotube fibers can lift more than 100,000 times their own weight and generate 85 times more mechanical power during contraction than natural muscles of the same size, according to scientists at the University of Texas at Dallas and collaborators from Australia, China, South Korea, Canada and Brazil.

They work by combining a waxy substance with a yarn made of carbon nanotubes. The wax expands in response to heat (or a voltage), and the yarn volume increases while its length contracts. This happens because it’s twisting, as a news release from UT Dallas explains. As the wax melts or solidifies, it twists and untwists, generating motion. The yarn can be looped, sewn, braided or whatever else you do with yarn, so it could be easy to use it in new types of textiles. You could design blankets that get thinner when it’s warm, maybe, or tapestries that tell you which chemicals are in the air.

Yarn muscle could be commercialized for small motors, the researchers say. Unfortunately, they won’t be replacing our fragile human parts anytime soon.

“While we are excited about near-term applications, these artificial muscles are presently unsuitable for directly replacing muscles in the human body,” said the research team leader, UT Dallas chemistry professor Ray Baughman.

The paper will be published tomorrow in the journal Science.


from Popular Science – New Technology, Science News, The Future Now

From Popular Science – New Technology, Science News, The Future Now: 7 Amazing Ways Nanotechnology Is Changing The World

Gold Nanoparticles Wellcome Images
Tiny nanoparticles are a huge part of our lives, for better or for worse.”Everything, when miniaturized to the sub-100-nanometer scale, has new properties, regardless of what it is,” says Chad Mirkin, professor of chemistry (and materials science, engineering, medicine, biomedical engineering and chemical and biological engineering) at Northwestern University. This is what makes nanoparticles the materials of the future. They have strange chemical and physical properties compared to their larger-particle kin. The thing that matters about nanoparticles is their scale.

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Nanoscale materials are used in everything from sunscreen to chemical catalysts to antibacterial agents–from the mundane to the lifesaving. “I spilled wine at a Christmas party once, and I was terrified. Red wine on a white carpet. And it wipes right up,” Mirkin recalled. “The reason is the nano-particulate used to coat the carpet keeps that material from absorbing into the carpet and staining the carpet.”

On a more sophisticated side, researchers are developing nanoscale assays used to screen for cancer, infection and even genes. Gold nanoparticles that have been doped with DNA can be used to detect bacteria in a person’s bloodstream, determining whether a patient has infection and what kind. Or they can be used to detect changes in a person’s immune system that reflect the presence of cancer. Nano-flares can measure the genetic content of cells, and light up–or flare–when they detect a specific cell of a doctor’s choosing, maybe cancer, stem cells or even the reaction to a small molecule used in a new drug.

So why do nanoscale things act this way? The scale allows for unique interactions among atoms and their constituent parts, and there are a few ways that this happens. For non-biological nanoparticles, it helps to think of a bowling ball, and where all its atoms are located. The vast majority are inside the ball, with a finite number at the surface, interacting with the air or the wooden lanes. Atoms inside the ball interact with atoms just like themselves, but atoms at the surface interact with ones very different than themselves, Mirkin explained. Now shrink that ball to molecular scales.

“The smaller you go, the ratio of surface to bulk atoms goes up,” he said. “At a larger scale, the atoms at the surface are relatively inconsequential. But at nanoscales, you could have a particle that is almost all surface. Those atoms begin to contribute very significantly to the overall properties of the material.”

These interactions play out in electronics, too, making material like graphene and quantum dots useful for tiny computers and communication devices. Nanoscale materials offer a smaller area for electrons to move around. And maybe most importantly for current research, on the nanoscale, you’re on the scale of biology.

Given all these uses and future promises, Mirkin said, most people generally embrace nanotechnology in everyday life, even though most don’t know what that actually means. Even controversial uses like sunscreen are pretty widely used, and often without knowledge of it.

“Much of it is going to be embedded in conventional products that we buy and don’t even think about,” Mirkin said. “There’s nothing inherently good or bad in terms of making things small. The issue ultimately is, what do they do, and what are they used for? Given the application, have we considered the proper safety analyses and implications? And so far, I think we’ve done a pretty good job.”

from Popular Science – New Technology, Science News, The Future Now

From Popular Science – New Technology, Science News, The Future Now: This Escape Pod Could Save Lives In A Tsunami

Safety Capsule Matt Duncan with his four-man Tsunami Survival Pod. Gold Coast Bulletin
Watching footage of the 2011 Japanese tsunami inspired Matt Duncan’s design.Australian business owner Matt Duncan usually builds steel-hulled houseboats, but he was so affected by last year’s devastating tsunami in Japan that he’s turned his focus to seaworthy survival craft. His bright orange Tsunami Survival Pod can accommodate four people for two and a half hours.

Duncan tells the Gold Coast Bulletin that he couldn’t take his eyes off the TV last spring after a tsunami ravaged Japan. “I was home the day the tsunami hit, watching it on television and just thinking, ‘What could I have done to save these people?'” he recalled. He watched hours of footage and observed how different objects responded to the action of the waves and the other debris pulled out to sea.

Within a few days, he’d designed this safety pod, using the spiral-welded steel he uses for his houseboats. It has crumple zones to absorb impacts; racing-style seats and five-point safety harnesses for four passengers; a flashing beacon to alert rescuers; and hooks for helicopters to grab and lift it to safety. It even has one-inch-thick polycarbonate windows so you don’t feel claustrophobic.

He said the pods will retail for $8,500 in Australian dollars, or about $8,872 USD, and they can fit in an average garage. A tsunami usually comes with at least some warning, so someone could conceivably wheel it out and hop in before the water rises. Check out some more images of it here.


from Popular Science – New Technology, Science News, The Future Now