Robots, nanotechnology and other manufacturing of the future can reposition the U.S. as a global technology leader and revitalize the nation’s flagging economy, President Obama said Friday morning. In a visit to Carnegie Mellon University, Obama announced a $500 million investment in advanced technologies, including $70 million for a national robotics initiative.
Girls might just have a new best friend. Diamonds are commonly known as one of the hardest (and shiniest) rocks on the planet, but new simulations show that three other stable forms of pure carbon would sparkle even more than diamonds. If we knew how to synthesize them, that is.
Materials scientists are constantly trying to tweak their products to be a little stronger, a little less brittle, a little more malleable--it’s the engineer’s job to imbue any material with the properties it needs to do its job. That often means striking a compromise between conflicting properties, but perhaps not for much longer. Researchers at the Technical University of Hamburg and the Helmholtz Center Geesthacht have engineered a new nanomaterial that changes from hard to soft with the flip of a switch.
When disaster strikes and permanent structures are leveled, as they were recently by earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand (and more distantly in Haiti), they are usually replaced in the short term by tent cities. Two engineering students thought they could do better and invented Concrete Canvas, a fabric impregnated with concrete that can turn a tent into a hardy, permanent structure in 24 hours. Just add water.
Researchers at the University of Technology Sydney have created a new material that is lighter, less dense, harder, and stronger than steel. But this material isn’t one of those breakthroughs that only sounds good on paper. It is paper, and it could be a game-changer for materials science if it can live up to researchers’ hopes.
Self-healing materials are a thing of the future, but certainly not a distant future. For instance, NASA plans to wrap airliners in a self-healing skin within the next 20 years, and things like flexible, self-healing concrete have already been demonstrated, albeit only in the lab.
Most glues become brittle and lost their stickiness when moisture is removed, but a new peptide-based adhesive developed at Kansas State University does the exact opposite, becoming stickier in drier environments. While that may not mean much for those living in a swamp, this unique property could make adhering objects in outer space a whole lot easier.
Miklós Zrínyi of Semmelweiss University in Budapest, Hungary, has created some gels that are anything but gellin’. In fact, these gels are moving, shaking, and otherwise getting around with a little help from magnetism. The gel “snakes”--made from a mix of polymer and metal particles--bend to match the shape of any magnetic field exerted upon them.
Plastics are great because they are so easily moldable into just about anything, but that manipulability also often introduces a degree of fragility as well. For high strength and durability, what you really want is a metal alloy of some kind. Now Yale scientists are doing away with this strength-moldability tradeoff by developing novel metal alloys that are as moldable as plastic.
In a process much like the materials science equivalent of bioengineering, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Ames Lab have figured out how to replace individual atoms in a solid magnetic compund much as biologists tweak and replace individual genes to alter organisms. The result are magnets with markedly different properties, all from swapping in a few atoms here and there.
Call it science imitating art imitating life. Arizona State researchers are working up a self-diagnosing, self-healing material that can sense the presence of damage and regenerate itself -- just like the Terminator. Like a biological structure, this “autonomous adaptive structure” could be used to develop useable composites that are self-healing, halting the progression of cracks or damage and regenerating material wherever needed to re-strengthen the structure.
Forget invisibility cloaks. Researchers at Imperial College London have demonstrated – on paper, anyhow – a metamaterial “space-time cloak” that can conceal entire events from view, making a viewer see one thing while something entirely different takes place behind the cloak. Paging DARPA.
Printable body armor, better bulletproof glass, and tougher steel are just a few of the applications for a new materials technology developed by Israeli researchers. A team of scientists there have developed a transparent material made of self-assembling nanospheres that is the stiffest organic material ever created, surpassing the properties of stainless steel and even Kevlar.
Hydrophobic materials have all kinds of practical applications, from creating surfaces that never have to be cleaned to making supertankers and container ships glide more efficiently through the water. But practical applications aside, this amazing video from Caltech -- showing the crazy, beautiful ways water droplets interact with a carbon nanotube array --might be mistaken for art rather than science.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.