Tiny cubesat thrusters
MIT professor Paulo Lozano has created tiny lightweight rocket engines for cubesat nanosatellites that use ion beams for propulsion. The micro-thruster is a multi-layered microchip, in which each layer contains smaller and smaller pores, with the bottom layer holding a reservoir of free-floating ions and the top layer containing 500 metallic nozzles. Propulsion comes from applying a small voltage to the chip, forcing ions from the reservoir through the nozzles. One chip only generates about fifty micronewtons of force, but that could be enough to maneuver a 2-3 lb CubeSat to avoid a collision, or even to cause reentry, and hence destruction, after mission completion.
Hypersonic Waverider crashes
The flight test for the X-51A Waverider, intended to last five minutes, ended in just 16 seconds when the plane broke apart after a control fin failed before the scramjet engine could be ignited. The failure happened after the Waverider was dropped from a B-52 off the Southern California coast over the US Navy’s Sea Range at Point Mugu. The Waverider was supposed to hit Mach 6, or roughly 4500 MPH, which is fast enough to fly from London to New York in under an hour. Imagine what this technology could have done for NBC’s Olympic coverage! Footage by courier scramjet! I assume they were using barges, right?
German company Arnold Glas, in order to prevent bird fatalities from collisions with windows, has created a new glass that appears transparent to humans but web-like to birds. The Ornilux Bird Protection Glass uses UV-reflective, criss-crossing lines which birds can see easily but humans can’t, unless they get very close. The biomimetic design of the reflection was inspired by some spider webs, which also use UV reflective properties to deter bird-web collisions. In flight-tunnel tests on live birds, the coated glass prevented about 68% of bird collisions. I still like my solution, of putting a plush cat in every window of my house, which worked for every bird except pigeons. Oh, you stupid, stupid pigeons...
Researchers from MIT, Harvard, and Seoul National University have created “Meshworm”, a soft robot that moves using peristalsis, the way a worm inches forward by alternately squeezing and relaxing muscles along the length of its body. The robot is composed of a flexible mesh tube surrounded by wires of a certain shape-memory alloy of titanium and nickel, which expands and contracts with temperature changes. Made almost entirely of soft materials, the robot can survive being stepped on, or even a direct blow from a hammer.
Researchers from Britain’s National Physical Laboratory, and Imperial College in London, have created a new maser than works at room temperature, and without any powerful magnetic fields or expensive rubies. MASERs, or Microwave (as opposed to Light) Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, were invented before lasers, but previously only worked under difficult conditions. The new maser uses p-terphenyl doped with pentacene, instead of an extremely cold ruby, which could drastically reduce the cost of masers. But, a laser outside the visible light spectrum? That’s very bad for sci-fi! Ever seen an invisible lightsaber? That jedi is lame.
DNA data storage
As digital storage media go, DNA is extremely efficient, packing billions of gigabytes in a single gram. Now, a team led by George Church from Harvard Medical School has stored arbitrary digital information into chemically synthesized DNA on the surface of a glass chip. Digital zeroes were encoded as either the adenine or cytosine of the base pairs, while ones were guanine or thymine. To prove the system worked, the team encoded Church’s own genetics textbook into DNA, which theoretically could last for centuries. Wait, you encoded a textbook? If I want data to outlive the apocalypse, why not a video of cats singing Game of Thrones? And for spite, I’d use a RealPlayer format file. Good luck finding a codec, alien archaeologists!