The Latest Scientific Inventions and Cool New Research

The Latest Scientific Inventions and Cool New Research
There is always something new happening in the world of science. In fact, there are so many new scientific discoveries and inventions, that it’s virtually impossible to stay abreast of all the new information. Here are a few really cool new inventions that are under development.

Using flying beetles for search and rescue
New research, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has demonstrated how flying beetles could one day be used surveillance purposes or for search-and-rescue and similar missions.

Michel Maharbiz is trying to take advantage of the beetle's natural abilities by melding insect and machine. The team has wirelessly controlled a giant flower beetle with implanted electrodes and a radio receiver on its back. With a nearby computer they can send wireless signals to the beetle including commands to take off, hover in place, turn left, and turn right and land.

Oscillating electrical pulses delivered to the beetle's optic lobes trigger takeoff, while a single short pulse ceases flight. Sending electrical signals to the left or right basilar flight muscles make the animal turn right or left, respectively.

The reason behind the selection of the giant flower beetle is that it is large and can carry a heavy payload. It would need to carry a camera and heat sensor for search-and-rescue missions for example.

Artificial gecko feet using carbon nanotubes

Scientists have been trying to duplicate the adhesiveness of gecko feet for years without success. Liming Dai, a professor at the University of Dayton, and Zhong Wang, director of the Center for Nanostructure Characterization at Georgia tech, have developed a new adhesive that closely mimics the structures on gecko feet.

Gecko feet are covered with millions of micro-scale hairs which branch into even smaller hairs. The hairs each have a weak electrical interaction with a surface, and add up to a strong force over the area of the foot.

The researches came up with an adhesive made of carbon nanotubes whose structure closely resembles that of gecko feet. The material is 10 times more adhesive than the geckos' feet and it’s easy to lift back up

Dai’s group, using a silicon substrate, grew arrays of vertically aligned carbon nanotubes topped with an unaligned layer of nanotubes, like rows of trees with branching tops. The adhesive force of these nanotube arrays is very strong, about 100 newtons per square centimeter. That’s enough for a .15 inch x .15 inch square to support a 3 pound weight. The adhesive properties stayed the same when tested on surfaces, including glass plates, polymer films, and rough sandpaper.

One problem with these materials is that when the material gets dirty they don’t work well. No one has been able to do that. Dai says that carbon nanotubes' versatility may help overcome the dirt problem. Dai is developing adhesive nanotube arrays that have the nanotubes coated with proteins that change their shape in response to temperature changes. The idea is that robot feet could heat up when they get clogged, sloughing off the dirt so that it can keep walking.

Self-cleaning clothing

Researchers at Monash University, in Victoria, Australia, led by organic chemist and nanomaterials researcher Walid Daoud, have discovered a way to coat fibers with titanium dioxide nanocrystals, which break down food and dirt in sunlight. They have coated natural fibers such as wool, silk, and hemp so that they will automatically shed food, grime, and even red-wine stains when exposed to sunlight.

Titanium dioxide is used in sunscreens, toothpaste, and paint, and it is a strong photo catalyst. In the presence of water vapor and ultraviolet light, it forms hydroxyl radicals, or decompose organic matter. However, says Daoud, "these nanocrystals cannot decompose wool and are harmless to skin." The nanocrystal coating doesn’t change the look or feel of the material.

Titanium dioxide also destroys bacteria in the presence of sunlight by breaking down the cell walls of the microorganisms. Self-cleaning fabrics would be useful in hospitals and other medical settings.

The material stands up to red-wine stains, which are very difficult to remove. After 20 hours of exposure to simulated sunlight, titanium-dioxide-coated wool shows almost no sign of the red stain, while the untreated wool remains boldly stained. Other stains disappear faster: coffee stains fade away in two hours, while blue-ink stains disappear in seventeen hours.

Materials that use nanoparticles have been developed in the past. Stain-repellant fabrics and paints that are currently on the market typically have a nanoparticle or nanofiber coating that causes drops of liquid to roll off instead of getting absorbed into the material, taking small particles of dirt and grime with them.

The sunlight requirement has not stopped the technology from getting commercial interest. Several wool manufacturers have suggested that they'd like to evaluate the technology, Daoud says.

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