TWIE 112: Lightest Solid Ever Developed

This Week in Engineering - Self-healing graphene; exoplanet pictures; cancer cell camera; lightest solid ever; domestic drones; and sheep with cell phones.

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Self-healing graphene
A team led by Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester has now shown that grahene, the one-atom-thick layer of bonded atoms, can absorb some surrounding carbon atoms to repair a hole. The team etched holes into a graphene sheet using an electron beam, and added some nickel and palladium to stabilize the holes. Then, using an electron microscope, the team discovered that extra carbon atoms would replace the metal, and repair the holes. The research has implications in how we can grow graphene. Materials that heal themselves? I don¦t mean to alarm anyone, but I think we¦ve figured out what the T-1000 was made of.

Exoplanet pictures
Thousands of exoplanets are known to exist, not because our telescopes have seen them, but instead because the light we can see from their star gets dim when they pass in front. Now, astronomers at Palomar Observatory have begun using Project 1640 to filter out starlight from exoplanet images. The adaptive optics system, equipped with a coronagraph and a spectrograph, can apply over 7 million active mirror deformations per second with a precision better than 1 nm. Direct optical observation of exoplanets should tell us about their atmospheres and surfaces. I only wish telescopes could take demon-eye out of my family portraits. I really should learn to use photoshop.

Cancer cell camera
Engineers at UCLA have created the fastest camera ever made, with a shutter speed of just 27 ps, for analyzing cells for cancer. The camera uses a method called STEAM: serial time-encoded amplified microscopy, that takes pictures of cells moving through a microfluidic system by firing short laser pulses. The system can process 100,000 cells per second, and should allow doctors to detect metastatic cancer cells, or other rare cells.

Lightest solid ever
Materials scientists from the Hamburg University of Technology and the University of Kiel have developed Aerographite, a sponge made of carbon nanotubes with a density of less than 200 ug/cm3, making it the lightest solid ever developed. The material is also electrically conductive, and it will retain its shape when compressed, like a sponge. Aerographite is synthesized by chemical vapor deposition synthesis based on zinc oxide networks.

Domestic drones
The Federal Aviation Administration has been directed to integrate unmanned aerial vehicles into U.S. airspace over the next couple of years, and the drones need to share the air safely with conventional aircraft and other drones. Now, the Army has successfully completed a two-week trial of Ground-Based Sense and Avoid System, which tracks aircraft and notifies them to change course if they are on dangerous paths. The army plans to start deploying the system as early as March of 2014. I dunno; you guys want drones flying in the US, but I only want them in dangerous, third-world hellholes. The only thing we agree on, is drones are cool in Detroit.

Sheep with cell phones
Erard Louw, a shepherd from South Africa, developed a unique way to protect his livestock from theft. He equipped four of his sheep with devices that call his personal cell phone when the sheep start running. The four equipped sheep are in different flocks, and the message in the phone call identifies the flock. The devices have already led to the arrest of one would-be thief. Sheep with cellphones? Hope they have an unlimited data plan, cause you know they¦re always watching Ewetube. Oh, that¦s baaaaaaad!