A robot with a tail in the works


Ever imagined a robot with a tail? Well, this is one idea lizards have for robots that has been reported by scientists from the University of California Berkeley. The researchers believe that tails gives lizards more flexibility to swerve away from slips and falls.

The team found that lizards manage to jump successfully even when they slip or fall. An apparent reason for this was the tail which the lizards supposedly swing in the upward direction to avoid falling directly onto a rock.

Lizard Tailbot

“We showed for the first time that lizards swing their tail up or down to counteract the rotation of their body, keeping them stable,” commented Robert J. Full, UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology. “Inspiration from lizard tails will likely lead to far more agile search-and-rescue robots, as well as ones having greater capability to more rapidly detect chemical, biological or nuclear hazards.”

Even dinosaurs used their tails in a particular manner to reflect the right attitude, the scientists believed. The study trailed a hypothesis put forth around 40 years ago, that the tails of two-legged theropod dinosaurs worked as stabilizers to ward off hindrances and attackers.

In this research, the team created a mathematical model, a toy called Tailbot and a tiny gyroscope. The latter is a toy car with a tail transfixed at the rear. When the sensors did not provide any feedback to Tailbot, it seemed to take a nose dive off the platform similar to a lizard’s movement. However, when an update regarding body positions was fed into the tail motor, the robot’s body became steady in midair.

This kind of a controlled tail appeared to effectively set back the body’s angular momentum into the swing of the tail. The phenomenon is usually seen in jumping lizards. The research has opened up a distinct area in this field termed as inertial assisted robotics.

The findings will be published in the journal, Nature.

Dark state helps in increasing efficiency of solar technology: Research

Xiaoyang Zhu We are all very much aware that harnessing solar energy is deemed to go a long way in conserving energy. New research by scientists from the University of Texas at Austin has revealed that the efficacy of solar cells may be substantially elevated, which if affirmed, holds great prospects in the realm of solar energy.

The concerned scientists have disclosed that the number of electrons heaped in by 1 photon of sunlight could be increased significantly. This can be done by two-folds via an organic plastic semiconductor material.

“Plastic semiconductor solar cell production has great advantages, one of which is low cost. Combined with the vast capabilities for molecular design and synthesis, our discovery opens the door to an exciting new approach for solar energy conversion, leading to much higher efficiencies,” remarked chemist Xiaoyang Zhu at The University of Texas at Austin.

The scientists believed that one way of elevating the effectiveness of solar-to-electric power conversion by almost 66% may be by means of getting hold of hot electrons. It was initially affirmed that semiconductor nanocrystals may aid in capturing these hot electrons. However, this process necessitated acutely focused sunlight and not the raw light which normally falls on the solar platform.

To counter these issues, the team developed an alternative. They found that a photon created dark quantum similar to a shadow state which will probably cause a set of 2 electrons to be caught suitably. This will then help in generation of additional energy in the semiconductor pentacene.

This technique should raise solar cell efficacy by almost 44% in the absence of a severely targeted solar beam. The findings may motivate extensive use of solar technology in the future. The report was published in the journal, Science.

God particle displays hints of its existence

Higgs Simulation

The God particle is by far, one of the most puzzling aspects of the Standard Model of physics. In one such research, scientists from the Brookhaven National Laboratory have asserted that if the Higgs boson particle ever existed, it may be sporting a mass between 116 and 130GeV as per ATLAS and in the range of 115 to 127GeV, according to CMS.

Two experiments carried out at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) seemingly discarded the area in which Higgs particle may dwell. The presence of these god particles is mostly temporary and these are deemed to deteriorate in a myriad ways. They decay into an array of particles and scientists have to discover substantial excesses of these particles rather than Higgs itself. The ATLAS and CMS experimenters examined various decay pathways, and the trials showed minute excesses in the low mass portion which was not discarded.

“We’ve now analyzed all or most of the data taken in 2011 in some of the most important Higgs search analyses. I think everybody’s very surprised and pleased at the pace of progress,” commented ATLAS physicist Rik Yoshida of Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago.

Atlas Detector

The researchers apparently found various independent measurements relating to the range of 124 to 126GeV. Considering that this trial is at a preliminary level, it cannot be affirmed that the God particle has indeed been discovered by the scientists.

The team has plans of fine-tuning their findings with the winter particle physics conference coming up in March. Uncovering the kind of Higgs indicated in the Standard Model will most probably affirm a theory unleashed in the 1960s. Even if the researchers stumble upon a particle where they may find the God particle, it necessitates more data and examinations to prove that it is the same particle talked about in the Standard model.

In case the non-Standard Model Higgs is found, it will pave the path to novel physics at the LHC’s complete design energy which is seemingly achievable after 2014. Whether the ATLAS and CMS will succeed in putting forward the Standard Model Higgs boson particle is something only time can tell.

The above report was presented in a seminar conducted at CERN.

A planet made of diamond?

Electron Micrograph01

Can we ever think of living in a planet made of diamonds? Well, scientists from the Ohio State University have unraveled that certain stars in the Milky Way may include carbon super-Earths containing about 50% diamond.

But, one thing is understandable, that if ever there were any such planets, they are likely to be deficient of life. This revelation came from a lab trial where scientists reconstructed the temperature conditions and pressure found in Earth’s lower mantle. The team wished to unfold if solar systems made of carbon could produce planets primarily made of carbon.

Wendy Panero, associate professor in the School of Earth Sciences at Ohio State cited, “Our results are striking, in that they suggest carbon-rich planets can form with a core and a mantle, just as Earth did. However, the cores would likely be very carbon-rich – much like steel – and the mantle would also be dominated by carbon, much in the form of diamond.”

The researchers believed that solar systems rich in carbon may have to adhere to a distinct chemical constitution. The Earth’s atmosphere is conducive for human survival since it contained geothermal energy in the interior.

However, in case of a planet made of diamond, the heat transfer will be so pronounced that the planet may instantly freeze. This implied that such an ambience will not have any kind of geothermal energy, no plate tectonics and finally no atmosphere or magnetic field.

The scientists observed a minute specimen of iron, carbon and oxygen which were subjected to pressures of 65 gigapascals and temperatures that came up to 2,400 Kelvin. As they watched it under a microscope, oxygen got linked to iron converting it to iron oxide, eventually transforming it to diamond.

By accessing computer prototypes of Earth’s interior, the researchers affirmed that our planet apparently had a diamond rich layer incident on its lower mantle. However, when these outcomes were applied to forms of carbon super Earths, they found that the planet could become very huge with a carbon steel outer core. The mantle would comprise huge proportions of carbon in the form of diamond.

The experts are aiming at developing an assortment of conditions that are crucial for ocean formation on any planet. The study was presented at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

World’s lightest material created: Research

Lightest Metal

Can we imagine something to be as light as being able to sit comfortably above dandelion fluff without crushing it? It’s hard to believe but scientists from the University of California, Irvine have claimed to have constituted the lightest material on Earth.

This substance seemingly possesses a density of 0.9mg/cc which is about 100 folds lighter than Styrofoam. This finding reforms the restrictions of lightweight materials because of its one-of-a kind micro lattice structure. By formulating 0.01% solid at the nanometer, millimeter and micron scales, the team could make a material that comprised 99.99% air.

“The trick is to fabricate a lattice of interconnected hollow tubes with a wall thickness 1,000 times thinner than a human hair,” remarked lead author Dr. Tobias Schaedler of HRL.

The mechanical attributes of the metal stay put owing to the metal’s construct and design. Moreover, the material manifested recovery from compression which surpassed 50% force and also showed very high energy absorption. Basically, the researchers engineered a lattice of interlocked hollow tubes with a wall as thick as 1000 folds sleeker than a human strand of hair.

Another aerospace engineer believed that materials become tougher as the dimensions shrink to a nanoscale. This unique material was designed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The substance could be used for battery electrodes, sound, vibration and even shock energy absorption.

This analysis seeks to revolutionize light weight materials by introducing the nano and micro scales in the realm of such substances. The report is published in the November 18 issue of the journal, Science.

‘Light from vacuum’ possible, say scientists

Virtual Photons Mirror

Around 40 years back, scientists predicted that light could be generated from void. Bringing this to effect now, experts from Chalmers have apparently caught hold of certain photons that continually appeared and disappeared in vacuum.

One of the most important aspects of quantum physics came into play here too. The principle stating that vacuum is not emptiness, but it comprised virtual particles that appear and disappear for short moments was implemented by the experts.

In this research, experimenters shifted photons from their virtual state to real photons which manifested as detectable light. A phenomenon known as the dynamical Casimir effect, where virtual photons are conditioned to bounce off a mirror that is traveling at the speed of light, was used in this study.

“Since it’s not possible to get a mirror to move fast enough, we’ve developed another method for achieving the same effect. Instead of varying the physical distance to a mirror, we’ve varied the electrical distance to an electrical short circuit that acts as a mirror for microwaves,” specified Per Delsing, Professor of Experimental Physics at Chalmers.

The mirror comprised a component called SQUID which is very reactive to magnetic fields. By altering the directions of the magnetic field about several billion times per second, the mirror was made to vibrate as swift as 25% of the speed of light.

As a result, photons appeared to come out in pairs from vacuum which could be measured as microwave radiation. Supposedly, the radiation had properties which conformed to the quantum theory.

The mechanism is such that the mirror transferred some of its kinetic energy to virtual photons, which seemed to make them visible. Since the photons did not have mass, very little energy was required to trigger them out of their virtual status.

The scientists believed that it is also possible to create many other particles like protons or electrons from vacuum, but it would necessitate lot more energy. This analysis is an important step towards the realm of quantum computers for which the paired photons will be scrutinized minutely. This trail shed light on vacuum fluctuations that could be remotely linked to dark energy responsible for the expansion of the universe.

The report is published in the journal, Nature.

New laser test identifies fake whisky: Research

University Of St Andrews Logo With occasional alcohol drinking being more common in urban culture, it is vital to tell the difference between genuine and fake alcohol as counterfeiters are on the rise. This research by scientists from the University of St Andrews has unfolded a new method to test if a whisky is real or fake by utilizing laser beams.

This new technique that makes use of a ray of light as thin as a strand of hair can gauge the brand, age and the cask that was used to synthesize a single malt, from a specimen the size of a teardrop.

Physicist Praveen Ashok elaborated, “Counterfeiting is rife in the drinks industry, which is constantly searching for new, powerful and inexpensive methods for liquor analysis. Using the power of light, we have adapted our technology to address a problem related to an industry which is a crucial part of Scottish culture and economy.”

For the research, the scientists placed a minute amount of whisky on a transparent plastic chip similar to the size of a credit card. By accessing optical fibres the breadth of a human hair, the sample of the whisky is lightened by using one fibre and is absorbed by the other. The amount of light scattered by the whisky seems to give the researchers an idea of the contents of the sample.

The principal factor is that the laser is able to identify the amount of alcohol present in the sample. The team believes that if the whisky is genuine, it ought to contain a minimum of 40% alcohol. This avenue takes advantage of features such as fluorescence of whisky and scattering of light to show this result. It apparently exploits an attribute known as Raman signature of light which is characterized by shift in energy when it comes in contact with molecules.

The chip used in this analysis was initially used for detection of bio-analytes in certain biomedical studies. The research is published in the journal Optics Express.

Hybrid solar-thermoelectric systems hold a possibility of replacing solar cells?

Hybrid solar-thermoelectric systems

Although the methods utilized today for harnessing the sun’s energy may be efficient but, researchers at MIT might beg to differ. Based on a new analysis, hybrid solar-thermoelectric systems could possibly hold a significant advantage over solar cells or solar thermal plants that generate electricity through either the use of steam or hot water.

By focusing sunlight directly onto a glass tube with the help of long and curved mirrors, a liquid present within the tube gets heated and further forms steam which can be used for powering a turbine. Incorporating thermoelectrics within solar thermal systems, thermal conductivity can be achieved as the materials filled into the thermosiphons heat up by undergoing a phase change.

A system for a single house could provide both heat and electricity. In a house, you need a lot of heat, but you only need so much electricity. While the thermoelectric efficiency of such a system is relatively low, in a household system you don’t need that much power relative to heat,” commented Evelyn Wang, associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT.

Housing two narrow tubes, one on the top containing the thermoelectric material and the second, finer than the first with the thermosiphon positioned at the center of the apparatus, heat from the thermoelectric cold side is passively transferred through the thermosiphon. The generated heat can also be utilized for heating water, warming a room up or for industrial processes. Additionally, besides the ability of operating at high temperatures unlike solar cells, thermoelectrics might be much cheaper than photovoltaics.

Scientist Tailors Invisibility Cloak Made Of Glass

Glass Resonators CloakWhether it was Tolkien’s ring of power in The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter’s mystical cloak, the human mind has been fascinated by the power of someone or something turning invisible since time immemorial. Imagine a real-world cloak that’s visible at one instance and not at the second. Well, that’s just what a scientist from Michigan Technological University along with colleagues is fabricating. The researcher reveals plans at building an invisibility cloak that really works.

The researcher is said to have discovered methods to use magnetic resonance in a way that it’s capable of capturing rays of visible light and steering them around objects. This would eventually empower these objects with the ability to be invisible to the human eye. The scientists have illustrated the development of a non-metallic cloak that employs identical glass resonators fashioned from chalcogenide glass. The latter is known to be a kind of dielectric material or one that does not conduct electricity. They observed in computer simulations that the cloak rendered objects hit by infrared waves invisible.

These findings have been put forth by Elena Semouchkina, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Michigan Tech accompanied by colleagues at the Pennsylvania State University, where she is also an adjunct professor. Semouchkina reveals that previous efforts by other investigators made use of metal rings and wires and interestingly theirs is the first one to cloak cylindrical objects with glass.

The uncovered invisibility cloak benefits from metamaterials that are artificial materials bearing characteristics which may be nonexistent in nature. It is made of tiny glass resonators arrayed in a concentric pattern in the form of a cylinder. It is the ‘spokes’ of the concentric structure that seems responsible for generating the magnetic resonance needed to bend light waves around a particular object. This property consequently renders the object invisible.

Currently, the team is testing an invisibility cloak that’s rescaled to function at microwave frequencies and fashioned from ceramic resonators. Michigan Tech’s anechoic chamber which is a cave-like compartment in an Electrical Energy Resources Center lab is being used for this purpose. Lined with charcoal-gray foam cones that are highly absorbent, the chamber sports antennas to transmit and receive microwaves. The latter are known to be much longer as much as several centimeters in length when compared to infrared light. Featuring cloaked metal cylinders two to three inches in diameter, they are three to four inches high.

The American Physical Society had labeled metamaterials as one of the top three physics discoveries of the decade. They are known to use small resonators in place of atoms or molecules of natural materials. These materials are additionally revealed to the boundary between materials science and electrical engineering. With specialization in metamaterials, a new researcher is anticipated to join Michigan Tech’s faculty this fall. Co-authors on this research include Douglas Werner and Carlo Pantano of Penn State and George Semouchkin, who works at Michigan Tech and Penn State.

Semouchkina shares that beginning with these experiments, they look forward to taking a step towards higher frequencies and smaller wavelengths. Apparently, the most enthusing applications would be at the frequencies of visible light. While we wonder if the cloak could find a place of use in intelligent agency operations, possibly the police, the Army or a tank, the researcher says that it does have potential in principle but not as of now.

The finding has been recently reported in the journal Applied Physics Letters, published by the American Institute of Physics.