Archive for July, 2011

Argonne National Laboratory

Argonne National Laboratory

Connecting the quantum dots

July 27th, 2011 by Gene
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Sometimes, as we know, smaller can be better. Especially if you’re talking about dots. Quantum dots. Today, on Engineering Works!

Quantum dots sound pretty exotic, but they’ve been around for awhile. Quantum dots are nanoscale semiconductors. They’re so small you could line up a billion or so along a meter stick. What they do depends on their size and shape. Engineers are finding ways to use them for applications from quantum computing to medical imaging and optical displays. Using them for displays is especially interesting because their small size could give really bright, crisp images.

They have lots of promising applications, but engineers are finding that they’re difficult to deal with when you try to assemble them into large displays, like computer monitors or TV screens. Until now the most practical way to do this seems to be a process sort of like an ink-jet printer. The problem is that to spray them through an ink-jet means you have to put them into some sort of liquid carrier. And that carrier usually makes colors duller and images less sharp.

Now, engineers are trying an updated version of a centuries-old technology to print large displays. They’re stamping the displays, like an old ink stamp, using an etched silicon wafer for the stamp. It’s more complicated than it sounds, but the researchers think it’s going to work.

We’ve stamped our last image for today. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web.

http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

Start the discussion: The potential for some of these things – like quantum dots – is mind-boggling sometimes. What other applications for quantum dots might be on the way?

For more:

http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110220/full/news.2011.109.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_dot_display

http://www.technologyreview.com/computing/32407/?a=f

Theodore Scott/flickr.com

Theodore Scott/flickr.com

The numbers of energy

July 20th, 2011 by Gene
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Let’s talk about energy, where it comes from and how we use it. Today, on Engineering Works!

In the United States, we get energy from five sources. Petroleum, natural gas, coal, nuclear power. And what we usually call alternative, or renewable, energy: hydro, or water, power, solar power, wind and biomass.

Petroleum – oil – gives us more than 35 percent of our energy. Almost three-quarters of that goes to transportation. Cars, trucks, trains, aircraft. Natural gas gives us almost a quarter of our energy. Industry uses about a third, and heating our homes and businesses uses another third. And almost another third goes to generate electricity.

Coal gives us almost a-fifth of our energy. About 90-percent of it powers electric generator plants. Small amounts go to heat homes and businesses and to industry. Nuclear power provides about eight percent of our energy. Essentially all of that generates electricity. Renewable energy sources give us less than eight percent of our energy. Half of that generates electricity. Another quarter provides heat for industrial processes.

Okay. So what? Two big things. One: a lot of the energy we use still comes from oil. And two: much as we like to talk about alternative energy, it’s not having much of an impact on energy production. Yet.

Our personal energy is gone for today. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web.

http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

Start the discussion: Everybody says we need to use more alternative sources of energy. That’s true: we do need to start using more, but we’ve got a long way to go before it’s significant. How do we get moving?

For more:

http://www.eia.doe.gov/aer/overview.html

http://www.eia.doe.gov/aer/pecss_diagram.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_in_the_United_States

Curt Smith/Flickr.com

Curt Smith/Flickr.com

Spidey engineering

July 13th, 2011 by Gene
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Spider silk is some of the coolest stuff there is. But what do engineers have to do with it? We’ll see, today on Engineering Works!

Spider silk has fascinated materials engineers for a long time. Different kinds of spider silk have wildly different properties. Some of them could be really useful. Some spider silk is stronger than steel, and lighter. Other kinds can stop bullets better than Kevlar or other ballistic fabrics. And again, they’re very light. Still others can be strong glues. Some spiders make as many as five different kinds of silk.

So spider silk has lots of promise. Except for one thing: spiders don’t make much silk at a time. Look at a spider web. Even the biggest webs don’t add up to much silk. Nowhere near enough to braid a cable or build a bullet-resistant vest. And when engineers look at the way spider silk is put together, its molecular structure, complicated only begins to describe it. Nobody’s been able to duplicate it yet.

Some biomedical engineers are finding ways to use artificial silk that’s almost spider silk to make nifty things, like silk-based artificial corneas to help restore sight, or gratings that could be used to build biosensors that could be implanted in the body, or deliver drugs as the silk dissolved.

So we may not have spider silk cables or ballistic vests anytime soon, but we may not miss them.

We’ve spun our web and we’re done. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web.

http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

Start the discussion: Spider silk is really cool stuff. Do you think we will ever be able to reproduce it in anything like useful quantities? How would you go about doing it?

For more:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spider_silk

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/08/science/08silk.html?_r=1

http://www.gizmag.com/secrets-of-spider-silk-unraveled/18042/

BPG Werks

BPG Werks

Making tracks

July 6th, 2011 by Gene
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Engineering is usually serious stuff, but here’s engineering that’s just fun. We’ll check it out, today on Engineering Works!

Skateboards have been part of our lives for a long time now. We see kids riding them anywhere there are smooth surfaces for the wheels to roll on. But how about a sort-of skateboard that you could take to the woods? It’s here.

A company in Great Britain has engineered a vehicle, we suppose, that looks like a skateboard crossed with a jet ski and a miniature tank. Or maybe a snowmobile. And it’ll take you cross country, pretty rough country at that, at speeds faster than 30 miles an hour. To ride it, you stand on a small skateboard shaped platform mounted on a set of miniature tracks. Grip a set of handlebars like those on a jet ski and you’re ready to go.

The manufacturers claim it’ll do most of the same things a dirt bike or an all-terrain vehicle can do, but in something that’s small and light enough you can carry it home in the trunk of your car.

The whatever-it-is, isn’t completely frivolous, though. The U.S. Army is looking at it with the idea that it might be a way for individual soldiers to move across rough ground quickly. And it can pull a trailer. And be operated by radio control.

After this, our truck seems pretty pedestrian, but it’s what we’ve got. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web.

http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

Start the discussion: This thing sounds pretty silly to us, but we have to admit, it looks like fun. Would you buy one?

For more:

http://www.gizmag.com/dtv-shredder-tracked-vehicle/16668

http://bpg-werks.com/