Tag Archives: University of Texas at Dallas

Atomic force microscope (AFM) shrunk down to a dime-sized device?

Before getting to the announcement, here’s a little background from Dexter Johnson’s Feb. 21, 2017 posting on his NanoClast blog (on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website; Note: Links have been removed),

Ever since the 1980s, when Gerd Binnig of IBM first heard that “beautiful noise” made by the tip of the first scanning tunneling microscope (STM) dragging across the surface of an atom, and he later developed the atomic force microscope (AFM), these microscopy tools have been the bedrock of nanotechnology research and development.

AFMs have continued to evolve over the years, and at one time, IBM even looked into using them as the basis of a memory technology in the company’s Millipede project. Despite all this development, AFMs have remained bulky and expensive devices, costing as much as $50,000 [or more].

Now, here’s the announcement in a Feb. 15, 2017 news item on Nanowerk,

Researchers at The University of Texas at Dallas have created an atomic force microscope on a chip, dramatically shrinking the size — and, hopefully, the price tag — of a high-tech device commonly used to characterize material properties.

“A standard atomic force microscope is a large, bulky instrument, with multiple control loops, electronics and amplifiers,” said Dr. Reza Moheimani, professor of mechanical engineering at UT Dallas. “We have managed to miniaturize all of the electromechanical components down onto a single small chip.”

A Feb. 15, 2017 University of Texas at Dallas news release, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

An atomic force microscope (AFM) is a scientific tool that is used to create detailed three-dimensional images of the surfaces of materials, down to the nanometer scale — that’s roughly on the scale of individual molecules.

The basic AFM design consists of a tiny cantilever, or arm, that has a sharp tip attached to one end. As the apparatus scans back and forth across the surface of a sample, or the sample moves under it, the interactive forces between the sample and the tip cause the cantilever to move up and down as the tip follows the contours of the surface. Those movements are then translated into an image.

“An AFM is a microscope that ‘sees’ a surface kind of the way a visually impaired person might, by touching. You can get a resolution that is well beyond what an optical microscope can achieve,” said Moheimani, who holds the James Von Ehr Distinguished Chair in Science and Technology in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science. “It can capture features that are very, very small.”

The UT Dallas team created its prototype on-chip AFM using a microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) approach.

“A classic example of MEMS technology are the accelerometers and gyroscopes found in smartphones,” said Dr. Anthony Fowler, a research scientist in Moheimani’s Laboratory for Dynamics and Control of Nanosystems and one of the article’s co-authors. “These used to be big, expensive, mechanical devices, but using MEMS technology, accelerometers have shrunk down onto a single chip, which can be manufactured for just a few dollars apiece.”

The MEMS-based AFM is about 1 square centimeter in size, or a little smaller than a dime. It is attached to a small printed circuit board, about half the size of a credit card, which contains circuitry, sensors and other miniaturized components that control the movement and other aspects of the device.

Conventional AFMs operate in various modes. Some map out a sample’s features by maintaining a constant force as the probe tip drags across the surface, while others do so by maintaining a constant distance between the two.

“The problem with using a constant height approach is that the tip is applying varying forces on a sample all the time, which can damage a sample that is very soft,” Fowler said. “Or, if you are scanning a very hard surface, you could wear down the tip,”

The MEMS-based AFM operates in “tapping mode,” which means the cantilever and tip oscillate up and down perpendicular to the sample, and the tip alternately contacts then lifts off from the surface. As the probe moves back and forth across a sample material, a feedback loop maintains the height of that oscillation, ultimately creating an image.

“In tapping mode, as the oscillating cantilever moves across the surface topography, the amplitude of the oscillation wants to change as it interacts with sample,” said Dr. Mohammad Maroufi, a research associate in mechanical engineering and co-author of the paper. “This device creates an image by maintaining the amplitude of oscillation.”

Because conventional AFMs require lasers and other large components to operate, their use can be limited. They’re also expensive.

“An educational version can cost about $30,000 or $40,000, and a laboratory-level AFM can run $500,000 or more,” Moheimani said. “Our MEMS approach to AFM design has the potential to significantly reduce the complexity and cost of the instrument.

“One of the attractive aspects about MEMS is that you can mass produce them, building hundreds or thousands of them in one shot, so the price of each chip would only be a few dollars. As a result, you might be able to offer the whole miniature AFM system for a few thousand dollars.”

A reduced size and price tag also could expand the AFMs’ utility beyond current scientific applications.

“For example, the semiconductor industry might benefit from these small devices, in particular companies that manufacture the silicon wafers from which computer chips are made,” Moheimani said. “With our technology, you might have an array of AFMs to characterize the wafer’s surface to find micro-faults before the product is shipped out.”

The lab prototype is a first-generation device, Moheimani said, and the group is already working on ways to improve and streamline the fabrication of the device.

“This is one of those technologies where, as they say, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ We anticipate finding many applications as the technology matures,” Moheimani said.

In addition to the UT Dallas researchers, Michael Ruppert, a visiting graduate student from the University of Newcastle in Australia, was a co-author of the journal article. Moheimani was Ruppert’s doctoral advisor.

So, an AFM that could cost as much as $500,000 for a laboratory has been shrunk to this size and become far less expensive,

A MEMS-based atomic force microscope developed by engineers at UT Dallas is about 1 square centimeter in size (top center). Here it is attached to a small printed circuit board that contains circuitry, sensors and other miniaturized components that control the movement and other aspects of the device. Courtesy: University of Texas at Dallas

Of course, there’s still more work to be done as you’ll note when reading Dexter’s Feb. 21, 2017 posting where he features answers to questions he directed to the researchers.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

On-Chip Dynamic Mode Atomic Force Microscopy: A Silicon-on-Insulator MEMS Approach by  Michael G. Ruppert, Anthony G. Fowler, Mohammad Maroufi, S. O. Reza Moheimani. IEEE Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems Volume: 26 Issue: 1  Feb. 2017 DOI: 10.1109/JMEMS.2016.2628890 Date of Publication: 06 December 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

A 2015 nanotechnology conference for the security and defense sectors

According to an August 25, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now, a security and defence conference (NanoSD 2015) will be held in September 2015 in Spain,

Nano for Security & Defense International Conference (NanoSD2015) will be held in Madrid, Spain (September 22-25, 2015). The conference will provide an opportunity to discuss general issues and important impacts of nanotechnology in the development of security and defense. A broad range of defense and security technologies and applications, such as nanostructures, nanosensors, nano energy sources, and nanoelectronics which are influencing these days will be discussed.

The NanoSD 2015 website notes this on its homepage,

After a first edition organised in Avila [Spain], NanoSD 2015 will again provide an opportunity to discuss general issues and important impacts of nanotechnology in the development of security and defense. …

It is evident that nanotechnology can bring many innovations into the defense world such as new innovate products, materials and power sources. Therefore, NanoSD 2015 will present current developments, research findings and relevant information on nanotechnology that will impact the security and defense.

The Phantoms Foundation (event organizers) August 24, 2015 press release, which originated the news item, provides a few more details,

NanoSD2015 Topics
Sensors | Textiles | Nano-Optics | Nanophotonics | Nanoelectronics | Nanomaterials | Nanobio & Nanomedicine | Energy | Nanofood | Forensic Science

Do not miss presentations from well known institutions
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (USA) | Ministry of Economy, Industry and Digital (France) | European Defence Agency (Belgium) | Metamaterial Technologies Inc. (Canada) | Graphenea (Spain) | Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (Italy) | Gemalto SA (France) | ICFO (Spain) | The University of Texas at Dallas (USA) | International Commercialisation Alliance of Israel | Grupo Antolin (Spain), among others

Do not miss the opportunity to meet the key players of the Security & Defense industry. Prices starting from 350€ and 495€ for students and seniors respectively.

The deadline for poster submission is September 04.

My most recent piece on nanotechnology and security is an Aug. 19, 2014 posting about a then upcoming NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) workshop on aiding chemical and biological defenses. It took place in Sept. 2014 in Turkey.

Two Irelands-US research initiative: UNITE

Happy St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, 2015! Researchers, building on an earlier collaborative effort (FOCUS), have announced a new US-Ireland initiative, from a March 9, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

A three-year US-Ireland collaborative scientific project aims to reduce power consumption and increase battery life in mobile devices. Researchers will explore new semiconducting materials in the miniaturisation of transistors which are essential to all portable devices.

Leading researchers from the Republic of Ireland (Tyndall National Institute & Dublin City University), Northern Ireland (Queens University Belfast) and the US (University of Texas at Dallas) – each funded by their respective government agencies – are collaborating to develop ultra-efficient electronic materials through the UNITE project: Understanding the Nature of Interfaces in Two-Dimensional Electronic Devices.

A March 9, 2015 (?) Tyndall National Institute press release, which originated the news item, details the project, the researchers, and the hoped for applications,

UNITE will create and test the properties of atomically-thin, 2-dimensional layers of semiconductors called, Transition Metal Dichalcogenides or TMD’s for short. These layers are 100,000 times smaller than the smallest thing the human eye can see. The properties these materials have displayed to date suggest that they could facilitate extremely efficient power usage and high performance computing.

Tyndall’s lead researcher Dr. Paul Hurley explains that, “materials that we are currently reliant on, such as silicon, are soon expected to reach the limit of their performance. If we want to continue to increase performance, while maintaining or even reducing power consumption, it is important to explore these new TMD materials.”

The application of these materials in transistors could prolong the battery charge life of portable devices and phones, as well as having applications in larger more power intensive operations like data storage and server centres. This will have obvious environmental benefits through the reduction of electrical energy consumed by information and communication technologies as well as benefitting consumers.

UNITE builds on a previous highly successful US-Ireland collaborative project between these academic research partners called FOCUS. The success of this project played a role in demonstrating why funders should back the new project, including training for five graduate students in the USA and Ireland, as well as student exchanges between the Institutes, which will provide a broader scientific and cultural experience for the graduates involved.

The press release goes on to describe FOCUS, the researchers’ prior collaborative project,

UNITE builds on a previous highly successful US-Ireland collaborative project between these academic research partners called FOCUS. The success of this project played a role in demonstrating why funders should back the new project, including training for five graduate students in the USA and Ireland, as well as student exchanges between the Institutes, which will provide a broader scientific and cultural experience for the graduates involved.

A March 13, 2015 (?) Tyndall National Institute press release describes both an event to celebrate the success enjoyed by FOCUS and gives specifics about the achievements,

FOCUS, a US-Ireland collaborative project will be presented as a research success highlight to An Taoiseach Enda Kenny on St. Patrick’s Day along with industry and academic leaders, at a Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) event in Washington DC. The event is to celebrate the SFI St. Patrick’s Day Science Medal Award and is an important occasion on the St. Patrick’s Day schedule in the USA.

Funded under the US-Ireland R&D Partnership Programme, FOCUS (Future Oxides and Channel Materials for Ultimate Scaling) linked researchers in Tyndall National Institute (Dr Paul Hurley), Dublin City University (Prof. Greg Hughes), Queen’s University Belfast (Dr David McNeill) and the University of Texas at Dallas (Prof. Robert Wallace).

Billions of silicon-based transistors are crammed onto a single chip and used in billions of electronic devices around the world such as computers, laptops and mobile phones. The FOCUS project group investigated if it was possible to use alternative materials to silicon in the active channels of transistors to improve their energy efficiency and battery life.

The consortium explored using Germanium and Indium-Gallium-Arsenide in combination with high dielectric constant oxides as a viable alternative to silicon. Their research was able to improve the electronic properties of these alternative semiconductor/oxide interfaces to the level needed for practical device applications and the outcomes of their research have now moved to industry for practical application.

The key achievements from the project include:

  • Strong collaboration with Intel USA and Intel Ireland resulting in Paul Hurley receiving the Intel Outstanding Researcher Award in 2012
  • Presentation of the project findings at the annual Intel European Research and Innovation Conference
  • 3 Postdocs trained and 5 PhDs awarded in areas of strong interest to semiconductor manufacturers
  • 35 journal papers published
  • 2011 article on InGaAs surface treatment optimisation listed as one of the top 10 most cited articles in the Journal of Applied Physics in 2012
  • 10 invited presentations at key scientific conferences
  • University research partnership established between Tyndall National Institute and University of Texas at Dallas
  • Project highlighted in Irish press, The Times of India and The Irish Voice
  • Visit by the Consul General of Ireland to University of Texas at Dallas
  • Numerous students and staff exchanges between all partner institutions

Good luck to the UNITE project!

Acoustics and carbon nanotubes

Mikhail Koslov from the University of Texas at Dallas has written a Dec. 18, 2014 Nanowerk Spotlight article about his research into carbon nanotubes and their acoustic properties,

Carbon nanotube assemblies enabled design of a hybrid thermo-electromagnetic sound transducer with unique sound generation features that are not available from conventional diaphragm and thermo-acoustic speakers.

EM image of multi-walled carbon nanotube sheet used for thermo-electromagnetic sound transducer. (Image: Mikhail Kozlov, University of Texas at Dallas)

EM image of multi-walled carbon nanotube sheet used for thermo-electromagnetic sound transducer. (Image: Mikhail Kozlov, University of Texas at Dallas)

Kozlov goes on to explain his work in more detail,

… a hybrid thermo-electromagnetic sound transducer (TEMST) [was] fabricated using highly porous multi-walled carbon nanotube sheet that was placed in the proximity of a permanent magnet. Upon electrical AC excitation, thermal response of the material is combined with diaphragm-like sheet oscillations induced by the electromagnetic action of the Lorentz force.

Unlike conventional diaphragm loudspeaker, acoustic spectrum of the TEMST device consists of a superposition of TA and EM responses that can be altered by applied bias voltage. Variation of bias voltage changes spectral intensity and spatial distribution of generated sound.

In particular, propagation direction of the sound can be reversed by switching bias polarity that somewhat resembles voltage-controlled acoustic reflection. Such uncommon behavior was explained by interference of the two contributions being beneficial for diverse sound management applications.

It was found also that amplitude of first TEMST harmonic changes a lot with applied magnetic field, while the second one remains almost field independent. This unusual feature is convenient for magnetic sensing similar to that enabled by Lorentz force magnetometers. The magnetic field detection in the TEMST device is facilitated by the audio sensing system.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Thermo-electromagnetic sound transducer based on carbon nanotube sheet by Mikhail Kozlov and Jiyoung Oh. J. Appl. Phys. 116, 094301 (2014); http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4894143 Published online Sept. 2, 2014

This paper is behind a paywall.

It takes more than research to change energy sources and use

Much of the talk about reducing or eliminating dependency on fossil fuels is focused on research to accomplish these goals or policies to support and promote new patterns of energy use as opposed to the details needed to implement a change in the infrastructures. For example, one frequently sees news about various energy research efforts such as this one at the University of Texas at Dallas featured in a Feb. 14, 2013 news item on Azonano,

University of Texas at Dallas researchers and their colleagues at other institutions are investigating ways to harvest energy from such diverse sources as mechanical vibrations, wasted heat, radio waves, light and even movements of the human body.

The goal is to develop ways to convert this unused energy into a form that can self-power the next generation of electronics, eliminating or reducing the need for bulky, limited-life batteries.

Beyond the more familiar wind and solar power, energy harvesting has a wide range of potential applications. These include: powering wireless sensor networks placed in “intelligent” buildings, or in hard-to-reach or dangerous areas; monitoring the structural health of aircraft; and biomedical implants that might transmit health data to your doctor or treat a chronic condition.

The Feb. 14, 2013 University of Texas at Dallas news release, which originated the news item, describes a recent energy research event and highlights some of the work being performed by the Center for Energy Harvesting Materials and Systems (CEHMS) consortium (Note: A link has been removed),

At a recent scientific conference held at UT Dallas, experts from academia, industry and government labs gathered to share their latest research on energy harvesting. Energy Summit 2013 focused on research initiatives at UT Dallas, Virginia Tech and Leibniz University in Germany, which form a consortium called the Center for Energy Harvesting Materials and Systems (CEHMS).

Founded in 2010, CEHMS is an Industry/University Cooperative Research Center funded in part by the National Science Foundation. It includes not only academic institutions, but also corporate members who collaborate on research projects and also provide funding for the center.  Roger Nessen, manager of sales and marketing at Exelis Inc. is chairman of the CEHMS advisory board.

Here are some examples of the research,

For example, Dr. Mario Rotea, the Erik Jonsson Chair and head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at UT Dallas, discussed some of his work aimed at advancing the development of wind energy systems. He represents UT Dallas in a proposed new consortium of universities and companies called WindSTAR that would collaborate with CEHMS on wind energy science and technology issues.

On the chemistry front, Smith’s [Dennis Smith, co-director of CEHMS and the Robert A. Welch Distinguished Chair in Chemistry at UT Dallas] synthetic chemistry lab is working with advanced materials that use piezoelectrics. If a piezoelectric material is deformed by a mechanical stress – such as stepping on it or subjecting it to vibrations – it produces an electric current. Smith’s lab is investigating whether the addition of nanoparticles to certain piezoelectric materials can boost this so-called piezoelectric effect.

CEHMS co-director Dr. Shashank Priya, professor of mechanical engineering and the James and Elizabeth Turner Fellow of Engineering at Virginia Tech, collaborates with Smith on piezoelectric research. Among many projects, researchers at Virginia Tech are incorporating piezoelectrics into “smart” tiles that produce electricity when stepped upon, as well as into materials that might be applied like wallpaper to gather light and vibrational energy from walls.

Other university and industry projects include:

  • Investigating how to redesign systems to require less power.
  • An intelligent tire system that harvests energy from the vibrations in a rotating tire, powering embedded sensors that gather and report data on tire pressure, tire conditions and road conditions.
  • A new class of magnetoelectric materials that can simultaneously convert magnetic fields and vibrations into energy.
  • A textile-type material that converts wasted thermal energy into electricity, which could be wrapped around hot pipes or auto exhaust pipes to generate power.
  • Flexible solar cells that could be integrated into textiles, and worn by hikers or soldiers to power portable electronic devices far away from an electric socket.

It’s exciting to talk about research, startups, and policies but at some point one needs to develop an infrastructure to support these efforts as Kyle Vanhemert points out (in an elliptical fashion) in his Feb.14, 2013 article, A Deeply Thought-Out Plan for EV [electric vehicle] Charging Stations, on the Fast Company website,

Currently, the best estimates suggest that upwards of 80% of electric vehicle charging happens at home. … If we want to see wider adoption of EVs, however, one thing is obvious: We need to make it possible for drivers to charge in places other than their garage. It’s a more complex problem than it might seem, but a series of reports by the New York-based architecture and design studio WXY will at least give urban planners and prospective charging station entrepreneurs a place to start.

The studies, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, address a major obstacle standing in the way of more ubiquitous charging–namely, that no one knows exactly what ubiquitous charging looks like. And in fairness, that’s because it doesn’t look like any one thing.  …

The WXY design studio has developed guidelines for these hypothetical EV charging stations,

The study identifies 22 design elements in all, divided into three categories: installation, access, and operation. The first looks at the infrastructural nuts and bolts of the site, including factors like physical dimensions of the station and its proximity to the power grid. Access deals with the factors that shape the basic user experience, things like proximity to traffic and building entrances, lighting, and signage. …

Vanhemert’s article includes some design diagrams, more details about these charging stations, and links to the design studio’s report and other reports that have been commissioned for the US Northeast Electric Vehicle Network.

Thank you to Kyle Vanhemert for a thought-provoking article, which raises questions about what kinds of changes will need to be made to infrastructure and everyday gadgets as we transition to new energy sources.

Robotic sea jellies (jellyfish) and carbon nanotubes

After my recent experience at the Vancouver Aquarium (Jan.19.12 posting) where I was informed that jellyfish are now called sea jellies, I was not expecting to see the term jellyfish still in use. I gather the new name is not being used universally yet, which explains the title for a March 23, 2012 news item on Nanowerk, Robotic jellyfish built on nanotechnology,

Researchers at The University of Texas at Dallas and Virginia Tech have created an undersea vehicle inspired by the common jellyfish that runs on renewable energy and could be used in ocean rescue and surveillance missions.

In a study published this week in Smart Materials and Structures (“Hydrogen-fuel-powered bell segments of biomimetic jellyfish”), scientists created a robotic jellyfish, dubbed Robojelly, that feeds off hydrogen and oxygen gases found in water.

“We’ve created an underwater robot that doesn’t need batteries or electricity,” said Dr. Yonas Tadesse, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at UT Dallas and lead author of the study. “The only waste released as it travels is more water.”

Engineers and scientists have increasingly turned to nature for inspiration when creating new technologies. The simple yet powerful movement of the moon jellyfish made it an appealing animal to simulate.

The March 22, 2012 press release from the University of Texas at Dallas features images and a video in addition to its text. From the press release,

The Robojelly consists of two bell-like structures made of silicone that fold like an umbrella. Connecting the umbrella are muscles that contract to move.

Here’s a computer-aided image,

A computer-aided model of Robojelly shows the vehicle's two bell-like structures.

Here’s what the robojelly looks like,

The Robojelly, shown here out of water, has an outer structure made out of silicone.

This robojelly differs from the original model,which was battery-powered. Here’s a video of the original robojelly,

The new robojelly has artificial muscles(from the Mar. 22, 2012 University of Texas at Dallas press release),

In this study, researchers upgraded the original, battery-powered Robojelly to be self-powered. They did that through a combination of high-tech materials, including artificial muscles that contract when heated.

These muscles are made of a nickel-titanium alloy wrapped in carbon nanotubes, coated with platinum and housed in a pipe. As the mixture of hydrogen and oxygen encounters the platinum, heat and water vapor are created. That heat causes a contraction that moves the muscles of the device, pumping out the water and starting the cycle again.

“It could stay underwater and refuel itself while it is performing surveillance,” Tadesse said.

In addition to military surveillance, Tadesse said, the device could be used to detect pollutants in water.

This is a study that has been funded by the US Office of Naval Research. At the next stage, researchers want to make the robojelly’s legs work independently so it can travel in more than one direction.

Asia’s research effort in nano-, bio-, and information technology integrated in Asian Research Network

The Feb. 29, 2012 news item by Cameron Chai on Azonano spells it out,

An Asian Research Network (ARN) has been formed by the Hanyang University of Korea and RIKEN of Japan in collaboration with other institutes and universities in Asia. This network has been launched to reinforce a strong education and research collaboration throughout Asia.

The Asian Research Network website is here. You will need to use your scroll bars as it appears to be partially constructed (or maybe my system is so creaky that I just can’t see everything on the page). Towards the bottom (right side) of the home page,there are a couple of red buttons for PDFs of the ARN Pamphlet and Research Articles.

From page 2 of the ARN pamphlet, here’s a listing of the member organizations,

KOREA

Hanyang University
Samsung Electronics
Electronics and Telecommunication Research Institute
Seoul National University
Institute of Pasteur Korea
Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology
Korea Advanced Nano Fab Center

JAPAN

RIKEN

INDIA

National Chemical Laboratory
Shivaji University
Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research
Pune University
Indian Institute of Technology-Madras (In Progress)
Indian Institute of Science (In Progress)

USA

University of Texas at Dallas
UCLA (In Progress)
f d i i ( )

CHINA

National Center for Nanoscience and Technology
Peking University

SINGAPORE

National University of Singapore
Nanyang Technological University (In Progress)
Stanford University In Progress)
University of Maryland (In Progress)

ISRAEL

Weizmann Institute of Science (In Progress)
Hebrew University Jerusalem

THAILAND

National Science and Technology Development Agency (In Progress)

I was a little surprised to see Israel on the list and on an even more insular note, why no Canada?

Getting back to the ARN, here are their aims, from page 2 of the ARN pamphlet,

We are committed to fostering talented human resources, creating a research network in which researchers in the region share their knowledge and experiences, and establishing a future-oriented partnership to globalize our research capabilities. To this end, we will achieve excellence in all aspects of education, research, and development in the area of fusion research between BT [biotechnology] and IT [information technology] based on NT [nanotechnology] in general. We will make a substantial contribution to the betterment of the global community as well as the Asian society.

I look forward to hearing more from them in the future.

Science comic books

Some time before Christmas I came across (via Twitter, sorry I can’t remember who) a listing of comic books that focus on science. The list is on a University of Texas at Dallas web space for their CINDI educational website. From the CINDI home page,

The Coupled Ion Neutral Dynamics Investigation (CINDI) is a joint NASA/US Air Force funded ionospheric (upper atmosphere) plasma sensors built by the Center for Space Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas. This instrument package is now flying on the Air Force’s Communication/Navigation Outage Forecast Satellite (C/NOFS) launched in spring 2008. On this site you will find a collection of teaching and education resources for grades 6-9 about the CINDI project, the Earth’s atmosphere, space weather, the scale in the Earth-Moon system, satellites and rockets and more.

Amongst other outreach initiatives, they’ve produced a series of ‘Cindi’ comic books. Here’s a copy of one of the covers.

)”]This particular issue is intended for students from grades 6 – 9.

The Cindi series was featured in an article by Dan Stillman for NASA (US National Aeronautics and Space Administration). From the article,

… Cindi, a spiky-haired android space girl, and her two space dogs, Teks and Taks, are stars of a comic book series that just released its second installment. With more than enough colorful pictures to go around, the comic books serve up a hearty helping of knowledge about the CINDI mission and the ionosphere, with a side of humor.

“Science is threatening to a lot of people. And even if it’s not threatening, most people have this misconception that ‘science is too hard for me to understand,'” said Hairston, [Mark Hairston]who together with Urquhart [Mary Urquhart] dreamed up the Cindi character and storyline. “But a comic book is not threatening. It’s pretty, it’s entertaining, and it’s easy to understand. So we can get people to read — and read all the way to the end.

“It grabs their interest and attention, and once we have that, we can then smuggle an amazing amount of scientific ideas and concepts into their minds.”

Even for Cindi, it’s no easy task to explain how atoms become ions and what NASA’s CINDI instruments do as they fly aboard an Air Force research satellite. The first Cindi comic book — “Cindi in Space,” published in 2005 — breaks the ice with an analogy involving Cindi’s dogs.

Getting back to where I started, the organizers have created a list of other science-focused comic books including a series from the Solar-Terrestrial Environment Laboratory (STEL) at  Nagoya University (Japan),which are manga-influenced. At this time, nine have been translated into English. Here’s copy of the cover from their latest,

Cover for What is the Sun-Climate Relationship? manga (STEL project at Nagoya University, Japan)

The Cindi folks also mention Jim Ottaviani and G. T. Labs, which has produced a number of graphic novels/comic books including, Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards about 19th century dinosaur bone hunters and a very bitter feud between two of them, and Dignifying Science which features stories about women scientists. I went over to the G. T. Labs website where they were featuring their latest, Feynman which was published in August 2011 (from the Feynman webpage),

Physicist . . . Nobel winner . . . bestselling author . . . safe-cracker.

Feynman tells the story of a great man’s life, from his childhood in Long Island to his work on the Manhattan Project and the Challenger disaster. You’ll see him help build the first atomic bomb, give a lecture to Einstein, become a safecracker, try not to win a Nobel Prize (but do it anyway), fall in love, learn how to become an artist, and discover the world.

Anyone who ever wanted to know more about quantum electrodynamics, the fine art of the bongo drums, the outrageously obscure nation of Tuva, or the development and popularization of physics in the United States need look no further!

Feynman explores a wonderful life, lived to the fullest.

Ottaviani’s Dec. 14, 2011 blog posting notes this about Feynman,

Though come to think of it, the context is sort of crazy, as in Feynman is nominated for the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s [AAAS] SB&F Prize, and it was also featured on Oprah.com’s “BookFinder” last week.

Congratulations to Ottaviani and G. T. Labs. (Sidebar: The AAAS 2012 annual meeting will be in Vancouver, Canada this February.)

Aussies, Yanks, Canucks, and Koreans collaborate on artificial muscles

I received a media release (from the University of British Columbia [UBC]) about artificial muscles. I was expecting to see Dr. Hongbin Li’s name as one of the researchers but this is an entirely different kind of artificial muscle. Dr. Li works with artificial proteins to create new biomaterials (my May 5, 2010 posting). This latest work published in Science Express, Oct. 13, 2011,  involves carbon nanotubes and teams from Australia, Canada, Korea, and the US. From the Oct. 13, 2011, UBC media release,

An international team of researchers has invented new artificial muscles strong enough to rotate objects a thousand times their own weight, but with the same flexibility of an elephant’s trunk or octopus limbs.

In a paper published online today on Science Express, the scientists and engineers from the University of British Columbia, the University of Wollongong in Australia, the University of Texas at Dallas and Hanyang University in Korea detail their innovation. The study elaborates on a discovery made by research fellow Javad Foroughi at the University of Wollongong.

Using yarns of carbon nanotubes that are enormously strong, tough and highly flexible, the researchers developed artificial muscles that can rotate 250 degrees per millimetre of muscle length. This is more than a thousand times that of available artificial muscles composed of shape memory alloys, conducting organic polymers or ferroelectrics, a class of materials that can hold both positive and negative electric charges, even in the absence of voltage.

Here’s how the UBC media release recounts the story of these artificial muscles (Aside: The Australians take a different approach; I haven’t seen any material from the University of Texas at Dallas or the University of Hanyang),

The new material was devised at the University of Texas at Dallas and then tested as an artificial muscle in Madden’s [Associate Professor, John Madden, Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering] lab at UBC. A chance discovery by collaborators from Wollongong showed the enormous twist developed by the device. Guided by theory at UBC and further experiments in Wollongong and Texas, the team was able to extract considerable torsion and power from the yarns.

The Australians, not unnaturally focus on their own contributions, and, somewhat unexpectedly discuss nanorobots. From the ARC (Australian Research Council) Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) at the University of Wollongong news release (?) [ETA Oct. 17, 2011: I forgot to include a link to the Australian news item; and here’s a link to the Oct. 16, 2011 Australian news item on Nanowerk] ,

The possibility of a doctor using tiny robots in your body to diagnose and treat medical conditions is one step closer to becoming reality today, with the development of artificial muscles small and strong enough to push the tiny Nanobots along.

Although Nanorobots (Nanobots) have received much attention for the potential medical use in the body, such as cancer fighting, drug delivery and parasite removal, one major hurdle in their development has been the issue of how to propel them along in the bloodstream.

An international collaborative team led by researchers at UOW’s Intelligent Polymer Research Institute, part of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES), have developed a new twisting artificial muscle that could be used for propelling nanobots.   The muscles use very tough and highly flexible yarns of carbon nanotubes (nanoscale cylinders of carbon), which are twist-spun into the required form.  When voltage is applied, the yarns rotate up to 600 revolutions per minute, then rotate in reverse when the voltage is changed.

Due to their complexity, conventional motors are very difficult to miniaturise, making them unsuitable for use in nanorobotics.  The twisting artificial muscles, on the other hand, are simple and inexpensive to construct either in very long, or in millimetre lengths.

Interesting, non?

There’s an animation illustrating the nanorobots and the muscles,

In the animated video below, you first see a few bacteria like creatures swimming about. Their rotating flagella are highlighted with some detail of the flagella motor turning the “hook” and “filament” parts of the tail. We next see a similar type of rotating tail produced by a length of carbon nanotube thread that is inside a futuristic microbot. The yarn is immersed in a liquid electrolyte along with another electrode wire. Batteries and an electrical circuit are also inside the bot. When a voltage is applied the yarn partially untwists and turns the filament. Slow discharging of the yarn causes it to re-twist. In this way, we can imagine the micro-bot is propelled along in a series of short spurts.

I think the graphics resemble conception complete with sperm and eggs but I can see the nanorobots too. Here’s your chance to take a look,

ETA Oct. 14, 2011 11:20 am PST: I found a copy of the University of Texas at Dallas news release posted on Oct. 13, 2011 at Nanowerk. No mention of nanobots but if you’re looking for additional technical explanations, this would be good to read.

University of Texas at Dallas lab demos cloaking device visible to naked eye

Invisibility cloaks have been everywhere lately and I’ve been getting a little blasé about them but then I saw this Oct. 4, 2011 news item on physorg.com,

Scientists have created a working cloaking device that not only takes advantage of one of nature’s most bizarre phenomenon, but also boasts unique features; it has an ‘on and off’ switch and is best used underwater.

For the first time, I was able to see an invisibility cloak in action, here’s the video,

For the curious here’s how it works (from the Oct. 4, 2011 news release on the Institute of Physics website),

This novel design, presented today, Tuesday 4 September [Tuesday 4 October?], in IOP [Institute of Physics] Publishing’s journal Nanotechnology, makes use of sheets of carbon nanotubes (CNT) – one-molecule-thick sheets of carbon wrapped up into cylindrical tubes.

CNTs have such unique properties, such as having the density of air but the strength of steel, that they have been extensively studied and put forward for numerous applications; however it is their exceptional ability to conduct heat and transfer it to surrounding areas that makes them an ideal material to exploit the so-called “mirage effect”.

The most common example of a mirage is when an observer appears to see pools of water on the ground. This occurs because the air near the ground is a lot warmer than the air higher up, causing lights rays to bend upward towards the viewer’s eye rather than bounce off the surface.

This results in an image of the sky appearing on the ground which the viewer perceives as water actually reflecting the sky; the brain sees this as a more likely occurrence.

Through electrical stimulation, the transparent sheet of highly aligned CNTs can be easily heated to high temperatures. They then have the ability to transfer that heat to its surrounding areas, causing a steep temperature gradient. Just like a mirage, this steep temperature gradient causes the light rays to bend away from the object concealed behind the device, making it appear invisible.

With this method, it is more practical to demonstrate cloaking underwater as all of the apparatus can be contained in a petri dish. It is the ease with which the CNTs can be heated that gives the device its unique ‘on and off’ feature.

Congratulations to Dr. Ali Aliev (lead author) and the rest of the University of Texas at Dallas team!

ETA Oct. 5, 2011: I added the preposition ‘of’ to the title and I’m adding a comment about invisibility cloaks.

Comment: Most of the invisibility cloaks I’ve read about are at the nanoscale which means none of us outside a laboratory could possibly observe the cloak in action. Seeing this video demonstrating an invisibility cloak in the range of visible light and at a macroscale was a dream come true, so to speak.