February 21, 2011

New batteries fix themselves

WASHINGTON — A newly created lithium-ion battery that can heal itself may improve the life span and safety of today’s energy-storage technologies, researchers report.

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries power cell phones, laptops and other portable electronics. But, like any batteries, they tend to break down over time.

"There are many different types of degradation that happen, and fixing this degradation could help us make longer-lasting batteries," said Scott White, a materials engineer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who reported the details of the battery February 20 at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

One site of damage is the anode, a battery’s negatively charged terminal. As a battery charges and discharges, the anode swells and shrinks. Over time, this cycling causes damage, creating cracks that can interfere with the flow of current and, ultimately, kill the battery.

To counteract this cracking, White embedded tiny microspheres inside the graphite of an anode. As cracks formed in the anode, they tore open the plastic shells, releasing the contents within: a material called indium gallium arsenide. This liquid metal alloy seeped out of the spheres and filled the cracks in the anode, restoring the flow of electricity.

Damage to a battery — or a short circuit between its components — can cause problems other than a shorter life span. Out-of-control electrical currents have been known to create hot spots that grow into a raging fire.

“It’s not a common occurrence, but when it happens, the consequences are severe,” White said. Battery fires have prompted laptop recalls by Dell and Hewlett-Packard, and the U.S. Department of Transportation has proposed stricter rules for cargo planes that transport large quantities of lithium-ion batteries.

To safeguard against this type of failure, White developed a second kind of microsphere made of solid polyethylene, an inexpensive and widely available plastic. A small quantity of these spheres embedded in the anode and other battery components can function as a safety cutoff switch. If the temperature inside the battery rises above 105° Celsius, the spheres melt into a thin layer of insulating material that shuts off the flow of electricity, preventing a conflagration.

“We’ve tested this in real batteries,” said White, whose research is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. “It works beautifully.” This safety feature, he said, could be useful for the electric cars emerging on the market.

"Lithium-ion batteries will continue to be the technology used for the next 10 to 15 years in electric cars," said Kristin Persson of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, who is looking for new battery materials that not only have better energy storage but also avoid some of the pitfalls of traditional batteries. "It will take at least that amount of time to develop new materials."

Science News

February 8, 2011

Need Forgiveness? - There is an app for that!

The Catholic Church has approved an iPhone app that helps guide worshippers through confession.

The Confession program has gone on sale through iTunes for £1.19 ($1.99).

Described as "the perfect aid for every penitent", it offers users tips and guidelines to help them with the sacrament.

Now senior church officials in both the UK and US have given it their seal of approval, in what is thought to be a first.

The app takes users through the sacrament - in which Catholics admit their wrongdoings - and allows them to keep track of their sins.

It also allows them to examine their conscience based on personalised factors such as age, sex and marital status - but it is not intended to replace traditional confession entirely.

Instead, it encourages users to understand their actions and then visit their priest for absolution.

A spokesperson from the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales told BBC News the app was a "useful tool to help people prepare for the Sacrament of Reconciliation".

"The Church believes in embracing new technology and this creative app will hopefully help people to make a good confession."

It is thought to be the first time the church has approved a mobile phone application, although it is not entirely unfamiliar with the digital world.

Source <www.bbc.co.uk>

February 2, 2011

Are aliens here? Shining white 'UFO' spotted over Jerusalem shrine

A shining ball of light has been filmed hovering above a Jerusalem shrine, in footage which UFO enthusiasts say could finally prove aliens exist.
The clips show the pulsating orb descend and hover above the Dome of the Rock, an ancient Islamic shrine, before shooting up into the night sky. It then descends again and disappears.
Unusually, the sighting has been filmed from different viewpoints, meaning it has been more difficult to dismiss than most.
Object: The 'UFO' (ringed) has been filmed from several perspectives, making the sighting more difficult to dismiss than most

UFO?: The white light hovers over the Dome of the Rock
G-Force: The 'UFO' shoots up into the sky at a rate 'no living thing could survive' according to UFO expert Nick Pope

Highlighted: The mystery blob can be clearly seen in the night sky above the city

The footage was taken in Jerusalem at 1am on Saturday morning and has spread like wildfire on the internet.
It has been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people and prompted fierce debate among UFO enthusiasts and skeptics.

Former Ministry of Defence UFO investigator Nick Pope told The Sun: 'If these are real, they are some of the most incredible videos ever shot.
'If they are not, then this is a very well-planned and coordinated hoax designed to eliminate elements of doubt.'
He said the way the object shoots up suggests it is unmanned: 'We know the Israeli army has some very high-tech drones at its disposal.
'If this is one, it is one of the most advanced pieces of technology created by man.'

Source Daily Mail

January 29, 2011

New Invisibility Cloak Closer to Working "Magic"

Rachel Kaufman
Published January 28, 2011

Harry Potter and Bilbo Baggins, take note: Scientists are a step closer to conquering the "magic" of invisibility.

Many earlier cloaking systems turned objects "invisible" only under wavelengths of light that the human eye can't see. Others could conceal only microscopic objects. (See "Two New Cloaking Devices Close In on True Invisibility.")

But the new system, developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) Centre, works in visible light and can hide objects big enough to see with the naked eye.
The "cloak" is made from two pieces of calcite crystal—a cheap, easily obtained mineral—stuck together in a certain configuration.

Calcite is highly anisotropic, which means that light coming from one side will exit at a different angle than light entering from another side. By using two different pieces of calcite, the researchers were able to bend light around a solid object placed between the crystals.

"Under the assembly there is a wedge-shaped gap," said MIT's George Barbastathis, who helped develop the new system. "The idea is that whatever you put under this gap, it looks from the outside like it is not there."

Invisibility Cloak a Boon for Drivers?
The new invisibility cloak still has its drawbacks: For one, it works best under green light. The researchers designed the cloak this way because the calcite can only be configured for a very narrow wavelength of light, and human eyes are most sensitive to green, Barbastathis said.

(Related: "'Electromagnetic Wormhole' Could Make Objects Invisible.")
In addition, the cloaking effect works only if you look at the hidden object from a certain direction. Viewing the object from another angle will make it "reappear."
Also, the system can only cloak objects that fit under the mineral wedge, which in this case is just two millimeters tall. Still, a larger piece of calcite should be able to hide larger objects.

Barbastathis is confident that his team or another group will come up with a true, three-dimensional invisibility cloak soon. In the meantime, he can think of at least one practical application from the system as it stands. (Also see "Acoustic 'Invisibility' Cloaks Possible, Study Says.")

"I live in Boston, and in Boston a lot of streets converge at very sharp angles, so when you look at the traffic light, it's confusing whether you're seeing the traffic light for you or the light that is for the other street," he said.

With the current cloak, "you could hide certain lights from drivers so they do not get confused."

January 19, 2011

Sex enters robotics age

43038.jpeg"Good morning, I'd like the 3-KPO-3XC, please!" "Is that the full 144-hour 3CX model sir or just the normal dateline 2-hour plug-in?"

This conversation may not belong to the too distant future. Research work by Terrence Aym* "Scientists predict sex robot partners in coming decades" points towards a not-so-distant world in which mankind cohabits with sexbots.

The idea is not that recent either. Ovid's Metamorphoses bring us the story of Pygmalion, a sculptor who fell in love with his creation. Indeed the idea permeates literature through the ages, culminating in Auguste Villiers de l'Isle-Adam's work, L'Eve Futur, in which a scientist creates a female machine with whom (which?) a British Lord falls in love.

We are reminded that the term robot was coined by the Czech Karel Capek in his 1920 play R.U.R. ("Rossum's Universal Robots"), using the Czech word for "work", "robota". Terrence Aym introduces us to a University of Maastricht researcher into Artificial Intelligence, David Levy, who tells us "My forecast is that around 2050, the state of Massachusetts will be the first jurisdiction to legalize marriages with robots."

Other researchers speak of the Longevity Orgasm as sexbots perfect "sexplosive" devices and sex skills, honed on thousands of years and web-pages of inputs and coupled with near-carnal features. As robotics becomes more advanced, so do robots take on more and more human features, continues the article. For that reason, it would not be far-fetched to envisage a world where humans are head over heels in love with their sexbots.

43039.jpegReal Dolls, for instance, is a company that has been working on female sex androids for over a decade. Levy predicts that Artificial Partners will mimic all aspects of human behaviour and that "the robots humans design and build will become virtually indistinguishable from people. They will mimic humans in every way and some humans will literally fall in love with them, lust for them, and enter into sexual relationships with them".

And not far down the line will be the sexbot arriving twenty minutes late for her wedding with her human partner waiting nervously at the end of the aisle. Let us just hope she does not step on an electric cable, go "POING" and disintegrate before the distraught husband-to-be and his guests, because on her side of the church...
*Scientists predict sex robot partners in coming decades

November 4, 2010

Three-dimensional moving holograms breakthrough

A team led by University of Arizona (UA) optical sciences professor Nasser Peyghambarian has developed a new type of “holographic telepresence” that allows remote projection of a three-dimensional, moving image without the need for special eyewear such as 3D glasses or other auxiliary devices.

The technology is likely to take applications ranging from telemedicine, advertising, updatable 3D maps and entertainment to a new level.

The journal Nature chose the technology to feature on the cover of its Nov. 4 issue.

“Holographic telepresence means we can record a three-dimensional image in one location and show it in another location, in real-time, anywhere in the world,” said Peyghambarian, who led the research effort.
“Holographic stereography has been capable of providing excellent resolution and depth reproduction on large-scale 3D static images,” the authors wrote, “but has been missing dynamic updating capability until now.”
“At the heart of the system is a screen made from a novel photorefractive material, capable of refreshing holograms every two seconds, making it the first to achieve a speed that can be described as quasi-real-time,” said Pierre-Alexandre Blanche, an assistant research professor in the UA College of Optical Sciences and lead author of the Nature paper.

The prototype device uses a 10-inch screen, but Peyghambarian’s group is already successfully testing a much larger version with a 17-inch screen. The image is recorded using an array of regular cameras, each of which views the object from a different perspective. The more cameras that are used, the more refined the final holographic presentation will appear.

That information is then encoded onto a fast-pulsed laser beam, which interferes with another beam that serves as a reference. The resulting interference pattern is written into the photorefractive polymer, creating and storing the image. Each laser pulse records an individual “hogel” in the polymer. A hogel (holographic pixel) is the three-dimensional version of a pixel, the basic units that make up the picture.

The hologram fades away by natural dark decay after a couple of minutes or seconds depending on experimental parameters. Or it can be erased by recording a new 3D image, creating a new diffraction structure and deleting the old pattern.

Peyghambarian explained: “Let’s say I want to give a presentation in New York. All I need is an array of cameras here in my Tucson office and a fast Internet connection. At the other end, in New York, there would be the 3D display using our laser system. Everything is fully automated and controlled by computer. As the image signals are transmitted, the lasers inscribe them into the screen and render them into a three-dimensional projection of me speaking.”

The overall recording setup is insensitive to vibration because of the short pulse duration and therefore suited for industrial environment applications without any special need for vibration, noise or temperature control.

One of the system’s major hallmarks never achieved before is what Peyghambarian’s group calls full parallax: “As you move your head left and right or up and down, you see different perspectives. This makes for a very life-like image. Humans are used to seeing things in 3D.”

The work is a result of a collaboration between the UA and Nitto Denko Technical, or NDT, a company in Oceanside, Calif. NDT provided the polymer sample and media preparation. “We have made major advances in photorefractive polymer film fabrication that allow for the very interesting 3D images obtained in our Nature article,” said Michiharu Yamamoto, vice president at NDT and co-author of the paper.

Potential applications of holographic telepresence include advertising, updatable 3D maps and entertainment. Telemedicine is another potential application: “Surgeons at different locations around the world can observe in 3D, in real time, and participate in the surgical procedure,” the authors wrote.

The system is a major advance over computer-generated holograms, which place high demands on computing power and take too long to be generated to be practical for any real-time applications.

Currently, the telepresence system can present in one color only, but Peyghambarian and his team have already demonstrated multi-color 3D display devices capable of writing images at a faster refresh rate, approaching the smooth transitions of images on a TV screen. These devices could be incorporated into a telepresence setup in the near future.

Source: http://www.kurzweilai.net

Pope's astronomer says he would baptise an alien if it asked him

An alien – 'no matter how many tentacles it has' – could have a soul, says pope's astronomer

Aliens might have souls and could choose to be baptised if humans ever met them, a Vatican scientist said today. The official also dismissed intelligent design as "bad theology" that had been "hijacked" by American creationist fundamentalists.

Guy Consolmagno, who is one of the pope's astronomers, said he would be "delighted" if intelligent life was found among the stars. "But the odds of us finding it, of it being intelligent and us being able to communicate with it – when you add them up it's probably not a practical question."

Speaking ahead of a talk at the British Science Festival in Birmingham tomorrow, he said that the traditional definition of a soul was to have intelligence, free will, freedom to love and freedom to make decisions. "Any entity – no matter how many tentacles it has – has a soul." Would he baptise an alien? "Only if they asked."

Consolmagno, who became interested in science through reading science fiction, said that the Vatican was well aware of the latest goings-on in scientific research. "You'd be surprised," he said.

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences, of which Stephen Hawking is a member, keeps the senior cardinals and the pope up-to-date with the latest scientific developments. Responding to Hawking's recent comments that the laws of physics removed the need for God, Consolmagno said: "Steven Hawking is a brilliant physicist and when it comes to theology I can say he's a brilliant physicist."

Consolmagno curates the pope's meteorite collection and is a trained astronomer and planetary scientist at the Vatican's observatory. He dismissed the ideas of intelligent design – a pseudoscientific version of creationism. "The word has been hijacked by a narrow group of creationist fundamentalists in America to mean something it didn't originally mean at all. It's another form of the God of the gaps. It's bad theology in that it turns God once again into the pagan god of thunder and lightning."

Consolmagno's comments came as the pope made his own remarks about science this morning at St Mary's University College in Twickenham. Speaking to pupils, he encouraged them to look at the bigger picture, over and above the subjects they studied. "The world needs good scientists, but a scientific outlook becomes dangerously narrow if it ignores the religious or ethical dimension of life, just as religion becomes narrow if it rejects the legitimate contribution of science to our understanding of the world," he said. "We need good historians and philosophers and economists, but if the account they give of human life within their particular field is too narrowly focused, they can lead us seriously astray."

The pope's astronomer said the Vatican was keen on science and admitted that the church had got it "spectacularly wrong" over its treatment of the 17th century astronomer Galileo Galilei. Galileo confirmed that the Earth went around the sun – and not the other way around – and was charged with heresy in 1633. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest in Tuscany. Only in 1992 did Pope John Paul admit that the church's treatment of Galileo had been a mistake.

Consolmagno said it was a "complete coincidence" that he was speaking at the British Science Festival at the same time as the papal visit.

Source <www.guardian.co.uk>

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