Tiniest microphone ever
German researchers led by physicists from Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich have built a so-called "nano-ear", capable of hearing sounds an astonishing six orders of magnitude more quiet than the human ear can hear. The device uses an optical tweezer device trapping a gold nanoparticle, and could detect sounds from future MEMS machines, or perhaps even from bacteria. Listening to bacteria? I like it! Finally, we’ll find out who will be the next Bacterial Idol!!! (Theme song.)
Robots inspired by lizard tails
A team of Berkely biologists and engineers have studied the way lizards use their tails for torque in mid-flight, and have applied that technique to robotic cars. By giving the car an actively-controlled tail, it can better ensure a landing at the right pitch. Alright, I refuse to watch robot cars jump like that, until they paint it like a ‘69 Dodge Charger. Leave off the racist flag on the hood if you like. (Picture of Dukes of Hazard car.)
Record-setting quantum computation
Until now, the biggest quantum computation ever performed was to factor one hundred forty-three using four qubits. Now, Canadian firm D-Wave Systems has beaten that record by calculating two-color Ramsey numbers, in an astonishing two hundred and seventy milliseconds. The system used 28 qubits for computation and 56 for error correction, to answer a Theorem on Friends and Strangers problem, about sets of people at a party who may or may not know each other, and how to ensure that they must mingle. Come on, engineers. If you want guests to mingle, just serve booze and play that scavenger hunt game. No need to get all qubitty.
Interplanetary rovers powered by bacteria
Some tasks performed by interplanetary robotic explorers require very little power that is very reliable. Now, researchers at the US Naval Research Laboratory Spacecraft Engineering Department are looking into the feasibility of microbial fuel cells, powered by the the reproduction of bacteria, to power a small autonomous microrover for interplanetary missions. And don’t worry, Martians! This isn’t some excuse to infect your planet with smallpox. Here, warm yourself with this blanket!
Largest battery ever
The trouble with wind and solar is the need for energy storage. Now, Chinese battery manufacturer BYD, in partnership with the State Grid Corporation of China, has created a utility-scale battery to add to the wind and solar power plant in the city of Zhangbei. The renewable energy plant, capable of a hundred and forty megawatts, will now have the world’s largest rechargeable battery, for storing up to thirty-six megawatt-hours of energy. My only hope is that someday, I will travel to China, and say, "Hey, Vince... dare you to put your tongue on those terminals!"
Bridge construction with dish soap
This week, Nevada construction crews replaced two bridges on Interstate 15 in Nevada near Mesquite, and only detoured traffic for 56 hours, by sliding the bridge into place with dish soap as lubricant. The bridges were built elsewhere and then transported to the site, where hydraulic jacks and cranes slid them onto Teflon rails lubricated with Dawn brand dishwashing detergent. Of course, my biggest problem with bridge construction is it dries out your hands. I build my bridges with Palmolive!