A “Star Wars” laser bullet – this is what it really looks like

Action-packed science-fiction movies often feature colourful laser bolts. But what would a real laser missile look like during flight, if we could only make it out? How would it illuminate its surroundings? The answers lie in a film made at the Laser Centre of the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences in cooperation with the Faculty of Physics at the University of Warsaw. Continue reading A “Star Wars” laser bullet – this is what it really looks like

Water-based nuclear battery can be used to generate electrical energy

Long-lasting batteries could be used for emergency equipment and in spaceflight

Structure and mechanism of the plasmon-assisted radiolytic water splitter

Structure and mechanism of the plasmon-assisted radiolytic water splitter

COLUMBIA, Mo. – From cell phones to cars and flashlights, batteries play an important role in everyday life. Scientists and technology companies constantly are seeking ways to improve battery life and efficiency. Now, for the first time using a water-based solution, researchers at the University of Missouri have created a long-lasting and more efficient nuclear battery that could be used for many applications such as a reliable energy source in automobiles and also in complicated applications such as space flight.

“Betavoltaics, a battery technology that generates power from radiation, has been studied as an energy source since the 1950s,” said Jae W. Kwon, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and nuclear engineering in the College of Engineering at MU. “Controlled nuclear technologies are not inherently dangerous. We already have many commercial uses of nuclear technologies in our lives including fire detectors in bedrooms and emergency exit signs in buildings.”

The battery uses a radioactive isotope called strontium-90 that boosts electrochemcial energy in a water-based solution. A nanostructured titanium dioxide electrode (the common element found in sunscreens and UV blockers) with a platinum coating collects and effectively converts energy into electrons.

“Water acts as a buffer and surface plasmons created in the device turned out to be very useful in increasing its efficiency,” Kwon said. “The ionic solution is not easily frozen at very low temperatures and could work in a wide variety of applications including car batteries and, if packaged properly, perhaps spacecraft.”

The research, “Plasmon-assisted radiolytic energy conversion in aqueous solutions,” was conducted by Kwon’s research group at MU, and was published in Nature.

Robots that can adapt like natural animals

The video shows the Intelligent Trial and Error Algorithm in action for two different damage conditions: a leg that has lost power and a broken leg. Initially, when the robot is undamaged, a hand-designed, classic tripod gait, performs well. Once damage occurs, however, this reference gait no longer works. The Intelligent Trial and Error Algorithm is initiated and quickly finds fast, compensatory behaviors for both damage conditions.

A Look Inside SLAC’s Battery Lab

In this video, Stanford materials science and engineering graduate student Zhi Wei Seh shows how he prepares battery materials in SLAC’s energy storage laboratory, assembles dime-sized prototype “coin cells” and then tests them to see how many charge-discharge cycles they can endure without losing their ability to hold a charge. Results to date have already set records: After 1,000 cycles, they retain 70 percent of their original charge.

Read also: Stanford team aims to improve storage in batteries used in cellphones, iPods, more and Interconnected hollow carbon nanospheres for stable lithium metal anodes

Flying 3D printer could seal off nuclear waste

“BEWARE: WILD ROBOTS AHEAD” reads the sign on the cage. Inside, a hexacopter – a drone with six rotors – hovers menacingly. A quadcopter – with four – rests on the ground.

They aren’t really wild robots, of course, and the test arena isn’t much of an ecosystem, but the quadcopter in particular has a rather special skill: it can build its own nest out of foam. In effect, it’s the world’s first flying 3D printer. One day such drones might work together to help remove waste from nuclear sites or help patch up damaged buildings. Continue reading Flying 3D printer could seal off nuclear waste