TWIE 114: Inflatable Heat Shield

This Week in Engineering - Paint absorbs weaponized chemicals; Pioneer anomaly solved; tires from dandelions; nanobots target Hepatitis-C; Japanese trashcan bot; and inflatable heat shield.

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Paint absorbs weaponized chemicals
Scientists from Britain¦s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, in collaboration with AksoNobel, have developed a topcoat paint that can absorb harmful chemicals, like those in chemical weapons. The topcoat contains a silica gel for absorbing the chemicals, and is applied on top of a sticky but peelable undercoat, for cleaning off the danger after exposure. Future research includes paint that changes color when exposed to chemical attack, or other coatings that neutralize, in addition to absorbing, chemical weapons.

Pioneer Anomaly solved
The Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft were launched in the early seventies to eventually leave the solar system. In the eighties, scientists started to notice that the craft were slowing down very slightly, and they didn¦t know why. Exotic theories included dark matter interference or modifications to our understanding of gravity. Now, a team including scientists from NASA¦s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have calculated that the anomaly is the result of heat emission from electronics and the plutonium power sources radiating out the front, slowing them down. Aw, man! It¦s great that we solved it and all, but heat bleeding was the single boring-est of all the theories. I hate you, Occam¦s razor -- you¦re no fun.

Tires from dandelions
Dutch tire company Apollo Vredestein has created tire prototypes made from two different plants -- the guayule shrub and the Russian dandelion. Most rubber and latex comes from the Hevea brasiliensis, produced only in Asia, so a new plant source would break dependence on the monopoly. Also, the guayule and dandelion do not cause allergic reactions. Tires from dandelions? It¦s like we¦re taking ordinary lawn blight, and turning it into future junkyard blight.

Nanobots target Hepatitis-C
Researchers from the University of Florida have now created nanorobots designed to attack the Hepatitis C virus through its reproduction mechanism. The so-called nanozyme contains two biological parts: an enzyme that destroys the virus¦s messenger RNA, and a DNA oligonucleotide that identifies the target. The system is still in the early research phases, but offer hope to sufferers with limited treatment options, which have a low success rate. Worldwide, about 170 million people are infected by Hepatitis C.

Japanese trashcan bot
A Japanese do-it-yourself inventor has created a robot trash can that will roll across a floor to catch whatever you throw its way. The robot has three wheels, all of which can rotate 360 degrees, and all drive in the same direction. Incoming trash is sensed by a Kinect sensor attached to the wall. Now if someone could only invent me a basketball hoop bot, I might finally got game, yo. That¦s how kids say it, right?

Inflatable heat shield
NASA has successfully tested an inflatable heat shield to be used for atmospheric reentry. The Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment 3, or IRVE-3, consists of a cone of rings covered by a thermal blanket of heat-resistant layers. Just before reentry, nitrogen is pumped into the aeroshell, inflating the ten-foot-wide mushroom-shaped balloon. The test is part of NASA¦s Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator Project. Heat-shield balloons! It¦s only a matter of time until our satellites reenter like the Macy¦s parade. At least they¦ll earn corporate ad dollars.