IN THIS JOB, I’m continually promising that this or that field will change your life. And so if you’re dubious when I say it again here, I understand. But really, I mean it: Materials science will change your life. In truth, it already has. I’m an avid and very mediocre surfer at the breaks near my home in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Preston Lerner should be commended for his excellent writing in “Light Speed” [September]. The DeltaWing and its creators are characters in a riveting story. I wonder how many enthusiasts would pay to ride in that racecar? I certainly would.
Last December, U.S. astronaut Don Pettit launched from Kazakhstan in a Russian Soyuz space capsule and arrived at the International Space Station, where he spent the next 191 days. While there, Pettit orbited the Earth 3,088 times and witnessed the arrival of the SpaceX Dragon, the first commercial craft to dock at the ISS.
Photographers post more than five million Images from their phones to Instagram every day. Yet even the most sophisticated phone can’t match the Image resolution and quality of a camera. In an attempt to make uploading photos from a camera as easy as It Is from a smartphone, manufacturers began adding WI-FI radios to their cameras last year, but the software interfaces were so difficult to navigate that few people actually used them.
Will the world end on December 21, 2012? Probably not. But disaster doesn’t always mean fire and brimstone. These tools will help you through any catastrophe. The 12-ounce OmniLite stove can burn almost any fuel, including propane, diesel, and jet fuel.
How a cordless drill replaces an entire workbench's worth of gear
Black & Decker Matrix Quick Connect System
For everyday jobs, a do-it-yourselfer needs—at minimum—a drill, saw, and sander. Black & Decker engineers have created a tool, the Matrix, that replaces all three, plus many more. The 20-volt Matrix drill has a detachable head, which users can replace with any of six others (Including a sander, an Impact driver, a jigsaw, and an oscillating tool), each with the gearing necessary for its specific task.
The warmest, lightest jackets and sleeping bags all have one thing in common: down insulation. Down, the soft underlayer of a goose's or duck’s feathers, traps body heat when it’s dry, but flattens into a soggy mass when it’s wet. This year, three companies developed methods of waterproofing the feathers without losing loft.
The Mavia dongle enables car owners to diagnose engine troubles and track their vehicles remotely. Once plugged into the car’s standard diagnostic port, the device collects data every 30 seconds about average and maximum speeds, engine performance, and fuel efficiency; internal cellular and GPS radios send data to the cloud, which the owner can access through an accompanying smartphone app. $169 plus $5/month service fee (available December)
The seven-inch Next GATE display puts a dozen iPhone apps at eye level. Drivers suction-cup the screen to their windshield and connect their iPhone 4 or 4S, which serves as the gadget's brain. Users can also plug it into the standard diagnostic port for engine updates, or connect it to the car's stereo to listen to one of its three text-to-speech apps, which read back a driver's Facebook, Twitter, and RSS feeds. $270
The Minikit Neo speakerphone clips to the sun visor. When a driver gets in the car, a vibration sensor signals the 2.5-ounce device to power on and pair with his smartphone via Bluetooth. Neo downloads the phone’s contacts and enables voice dialing. Drivers can also use the Neo smartphone app to set an auto-reply SMS setting, which sends a “busy" text to incoming callers, or to find their car in a parking lot. $100
How 3-D printing will turn homes into mini factories
IN 1984, inventor Charles Hull built the first rapid-prototyping machine, a massive device that turned digital blueprints into plastic models constructed layer by ultrathin layer. Since then, 3-D printers have shrunk from room-filling behemoths to tabletop boxes just larger than a typical ink jet.
Why living cells are the future of data processing
NOT ALL COMPUTERS are made of silicon. By definition, a computer is anything that processes data, performs calculations, or uses so-called logic gates to turn inputs (for example, 1s and 0s in binary code) into outputs. And now, a small international community of scientists is working to expand the realm of computers to include cells, animals, and other living organisms.
Remotely operated excavators for mining In the abyss
HOW TO MINE THE SEAFLOOR
Centuries of underwater volcanic activity have blanketed the ocean floor in precious metals. Now, with the aid of the world’s most powerful excavation machines, a company called Nautilus Minerals Is set to begin extracting those metals from the first largescale deep-sea mine.
"We wanted to make a robot that could squeeze through holes and change its shape"
"If you don’t have legs, you can propel yourself by deforming your body. Earthworms do this through peristaltic locomotion: The muscles in one body segment contract while others relax, which creates a traveling wave that moves them forward.
Circumnavigating the world to map the polluted skies
First circumnavigations of the globe
In the atmosphere, soot traps heat like carbon dioxide does. But unlike CO2, soot stays near its source and falls to Earth in weeks, so it’s considered low-hanging fruit in the fight against global warming. The first step to reducing atmospheric soot is to find it, which scientists have been doing since the 1980s with a particle-measuring tool called an aethalometer.
By twisting light beams, engineers could produce the fastest Internet ever. Today, for the speediest broadband, fiber-optic cables transmit information in pulses of light. Since the early 2000s, physicists have been working to make data travel even faster by bouncing light off a liquid crystal to twist it.
How the science of tribology could smooth the way to a better energy system
IN 1964, a lubrication expert named Peter Jost gathered with his colleagues at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in Cardiff, Wales, to discuss a vexing paradox. Factory machinery everywhere was producing more and better goods than ever before.
The smarter, safer, stronger, far-out future of stuff
MATERIALS SCIENCE has been at the root of material progress, and indeed all progress, for so long that we may be tempted to think that its greatest contributions are behind us. The Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age: They were all defined by dramatic improvements in how we manufactured and manipulated everyday objects, from knapped flint for sharper ax heads to alloyed aluminum for lighter airplane wings.
Human tissue tears all too easily; spider silk is stronger than steel. So at Utah State, researchers are spinning spider silk into a fix for damaged shoulders and knees. They bred transgenic goats to produce large volumes of spider-silk proteins, spun those proteins into strands, and braided the strands into a fiber.
From iron to superconductors, material's greatest hits -L.G.
28,000 B.C. Paleolithic humans fire ceramic figures from clay, showing early aptitude in materials processing. 5,000 B.C. People near modernday Turkey learn they can not only extract liquid copper from malachite and azurlte, but also cast it into various shapes.
Today's aircraft have nowhere near the agility and precision of nature's best fliers. "Bats are different from most animals-and from most engineered materials—because they have very flexible wings that offer a lot of interesting aerodynamic properties," says Kenny Breuer, a mechanical engineer at Brown University.
Engineers have been converting mechanical stress into electricity using piezoelectric devices for more than a hundred years, but the goal of powering an iPod by pounding the pavement has remained elusive. Current piezoelectric materials are difficult to manufacture and typically contain toxic metals, such as nickel and lead.
Integrated circuits may have enabled the digital age, but they are still subject to one great limitation: physical damage. A new coating developed at the University of Illinois will be able to bring a dead circuit back to life in less than a millisecond, even if you “take an X-Acto knife and slice through it,” says engineer Nancy Sottos.
Sometimes, the best way to improve a new material is to beat the hell out of it
Failure is supposed to be a bad thing.
MAN ON FIRE
In materials science, however, understanding and predicting how a new fiber, composite material, or type of plastic breaks, snaps, melts, fractures, or rips can mean the difference between life and death. Engineers need to know if an armored steel plate will stop a highvelocity bullet or whether a specialized car-seat foam will effectively absorb the impact of a crash.
Astronauts can only travel so far in existing space suits. What will it take to see the universe?
The Launch Suit
The Exploration Suit
The Future Suit
The Dream Suit
BY THE TIME the alarms go off, he’s back on his feet, hoping the rover wasn’t filming, but knowing that it was— that his face-first sprawl on the surface of Phobos has been recorded for posterity. The visor’s fiber-optic display flashes ominously:
How well does Hollywood hew to reality? We asked actual space suit designers to weigh in on three of the most distinctive suits in film.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) According to Chris Gilman, who designs space suits for aerospace company Orbital Outfitters as well as for Hollywood, the accordion-armed models from Stanley Kubrick's pioneering classic aren’t just iconic:
What do scientists know about mining's final frontier?
Types of Asteroids
Locations of Known Asteroids
Birth of a Minable Asteroid
A Selection of Asteroid Visitations
Laura Geggel and Katie Peek
In April, Planetary Resources, a newly formed private space company, announced that It would begin mining asteroids for water In 2020. Asteroids, the firm said, could also be a valuable source of platinum-group elements (PGEs), six metals used in Industrial chemical reactions and devices such as catalytic converters.
A lone Italian inventor says he has built a machine that can power the world. Could the answer to humanity’s energy troubles be so simple?
What's in the Box?
In a warehouse in Bologna, he switched on a strange contraption that looked like a leg of lamb wrapped in aluminum foil. He called it the “E-Cat,” short for “energy catalyzer.” It contained a pinch of powdered nickel, a puff of hydrogen gas, and a dash of a secret catalyst.
A submarine simulator that soaks lollygagging players
BUILDING A SIM SUBMARINE
TWO MORE GAMES
ON JULY 19, a dozen teams gathered in hackerspaces around the country to await the rules of a 72-hour build petition. Red Bull, the energy drink rand and sponsor, announced the challenge at shortly after 6 p.m. Pacific time: Construct a game of games.
Student engineers rely on 3-D printing to boost the performance of a custom-built electric racecar
Two More Printed Projects
For the Formula Student 2012, a motocross competition held at England’s Silverstone Circuit, 124 teams from universities around the globe spent a year designing and building single-seat racecars. Student engineers from Group T, a postsecondary institution near Brussels, took the challenge to an extreme:
Water hides itself really well. Its molecules can form weak chemical bonds with many substances, allowing it to remain concealed within their crystal structures. There’s no sign of water’s presence—no dampness, no softness, no anything—until something triggers its release.
Through Twitter, Curiosity has found its voice. The NASA-issued @MarsCuriosity tweets provide a play-by-play of the rover’s exploits on Mars. They’ve also inspired parody accounts. Case in point: the following exchange between Curiosity, a Martian rock, and Curiosity’s sarcastic alter ego.
Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte may flash a diamond-studded, patriotic grill when he smiles from the winner’s podium, but artist Alsen Caro Chacin can use hers to listen to Public Enemy. Play-A-Grill, a project she developed at Parsons The New School for Design, transmits music through the wearer’s teeth to the inner ear.
Everyone knows the hardest material on Earth is diamond, says George Pharr, director of the Joint Institute for Advanced Materials at the University of Tennessee. But when it comes to the softest stuff on the planet, “there’s no one definition,” he says.
Q: How much weight can you gain from Thanksgiving dinner?
Postprandial weight gain is all a matter of timing. In the short term—I mean the very short term—any food and drink that you put into your body will make you exactly that much heavier. Eat a pound of marshmallows, and you’ll have added one pound to your mass, at least until your body starts to excrete the food or use It for energy.
In 1914, French explorer Arpad Kirner descended 800 feet Into Italy’s Stromboli volcano and became the first researcher to witness volcanic eruptions from within a crater. Steel armor protected him from flying rocks, but Kirner needed a fireproof, flexible fabric for his suit and rope lifeline out of danger.