On Monday, NASA launched the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, mission, to attempt to solve the mystery of why Mars lost its atmosphere, and hence its flowing liquid water, while the Earth did not. The leading theory is that Mars lost its intrinsic magnetic field, protecting the atmosphere from erosion by the solar wind. MAVEN is scheduled to orbit the Red Planet on September 22, 2014, in an elliptical path that varies between 3800 miles and just 93 miles from the planet’s surface. During its mission, it will dip five times to just 77 miles up -- close enough to sample high atmosphere gases and measure solar radiation and the planet’s magnetic field.
World’s largest tunnel-borer
The city of Seattle is currently constructing a 1.7-mile tunnel for Route 99, a highway severely damaged by an earthquake in 2001. And drilling the tunnel is Bertha, a tunnel-boring machine with a head over 57 feet wide, making it the largest machine of its kind. Bertha is advancing an average of 35 feet per day. The machine is electric but has its own power source, so that the 25,000-horsepower engine does not burden the grid. Great machine -- too bad it’s driven by a homicidal turncoat madman with five kids to feed.
Ink-jet circuit boards
Researchers from Georgia Tech have created a technique to use a desktop inkjet printer to lay down conductive circuits on resin coated paper, photo paper or polyethylene terephthalate films. The technique, originally from the University of Tokyo and Microsoft Research, lays out silver nanoparticle ink into circuits in as little as 60 seconds. All necessary parts are available to consumers, and the entire machine can be made for around three hundred dollars. Nice -- just don’t let your first circuit board be a Windows logo test page.
Flying, swimming, driving drone
Sandia National Laboratory has premiered the “Multi-Modal Vehicle Concept” -- or MMVC -- a military drone that can fly as a UAV, then jettison its wings, dive and swim submerged through water, and finally sprout wheels and travel on land. The lab has categorized the project as a “mature concept”, implying that hardware has seen some limited testing, but the lab is seeking funding for a prototype for further testing. If successful, the MMVC could enable flexibility for very complex military scenarios.
Researchers from Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Science have developed a proof-of-concept transistor that uses plasticity to mimic the neuron cell’s ability to strengthen or weaken synaptic connections in order to learn. The transistor is composed of a samarium nickelate semiconductor between platinum electrodes near an ionic liquid. As voltage is applied, the concentration of ions in the nickelate changes, causing an increase or decrease in the circuit’s conductance. Maybe now we can teach computers that nuclear war is bad using Tic-Tac-Toe. My brain is actual neurons, and I had trouble connecting those dots.
Researchers from Purdue University have made a tiny hologram floating thousandths of an inch above a layer of gold foil, only a few nanometers thick. The gold was etched into tiny V shapes, and laser light was shined through it. The light scattered in a predictable way, producing a hologram of the school’s name, “Purdue”. The researchers demonstrated the ability to adjust the timing and phase of individual light waves, which could have implications in high speed digital data transmission -- since light travels faster than the propagation of electrons. Excellent work! But researchers, the correct first hologram is always “Help me, OB-Wan Kenobi.” Everything else is unacceptable.