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Go Fusion with C-Mod

Go Fusion with C-Mod

The fusion control room Our current nuclear (called fission) power has a little sibling, who just might be able to power the world safely one day when he grows up. This reaction, known as fusion, is the same type of energy we get from the sun’s. The idea of fusion as a viable power source is a popular one because a fusion plant operation produces no emissions, fuel sources are potentially abundant, and it produces relatively little (and short-lived) radioactive waste. But it still faces a lot of hurdles before it can come to market. Fusion could be the universal, green power source that the world needs.

The Alcator C-Mod reactor, which was originally created back in 1993, has the highest magnetic field and the highest plasma pressure of any fusion reactor in the world. In addition it is the largest fusion reactor operated by any university.

One of the most vexing issues facing those trying to construct a fusion plant is making sure that it can produce more power than it consumes, something never achieved even in lab experiments. The main issue is how one would propel the hot plasma (an electrically charged gas) around inside the donut-shaped reactor chamber. This is necessary to keep it from losing its heat of millions of degrees to the cooler vessel walls. Now, the MIT scientists think they may have found a way.

Thanks to two brillant researchers we may not only have that solution, but also have the ability to make the process more stable. Those researchers are physicist Yijun Lin and principal research scientist John Rice. They have led experiments that demonstrate a very efficient method for using radio-frequency waves to push the plasma around inside the vessel, not only keeping it from losing heat to the walls but also preventing internal turbulence that can reduce the efficiency of fusion reactions.

Lin says that “some of these results are surprising to theorists,” and as yet there is no satisfying theoretical foundation for why it works as it does. But the experimental results so far show that the method works, which could be crucial to the success of ITER and future power-generating fusion reactors. Lack of a controllable mechanism for propelling the plasma around the reactor “is potentially a showstopper,” Rice says, and the ITER team is “very concerned about this.”

One of these is a method developed by Dennis Whyte and Robert Granetz for preventing a kind of runaway effect that could cause severe damage to reactor components. When a fusion reactor is in operation, any disruption of the magnetic field that confines the super-hot plasma could cause a very powerful beam of “runaway electrons,” with enough energy to melt through solid steel. This would not be dangerous to personnel because everything is well-shielded, but it could cause hardware damage that would be expensive and time-consuming to repair.

So, its not perfect yet, but its a step in the right direction.

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That Robot Pulled Me Out Of My Collapsed House

That Robot Pulled Me Out Of My Collapsed House

OK, so no one has gotten to say it yet, but they might get to in the near future. A new breed of robot rescuers is being tested in order to take some of the strain and risk off of the shoulders of human first responders, and get to trapped people in places where humans would never be able to go, or find potentially dangerous chemicals.

Theses prototype bots were recently put to the test.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) held a rescue robot exercise in Texas last week in which about three dozen robots were tested by developers and first responders in order to develop a standard suite of performance tests to help evaluate candidate mechanical rescuers. This exercise was sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate to develop performance standards for robots for use in urban search and rescue missions.

Robot in a simulated forest This also represents a new level of equality in robotics research, where data can be compares in an apples to apples and not an apples to oranges situation. “It is challenging to develop the test standards as the robots are still evolving,” explained Elena Messina, acting chief of the Intelligent Systems Division, “because standards are usually set for products already in use. But it is critical for developers to be able to compare results, which is not possible without reproducible test environments. So, we have reproducible rough terrain that everyone can build in their labs, whereas you can’t reproduce a rubble pile. This way, developers in Japan can run tests, and people in Chicago can understand what the robot achieved.”

Exercises included testing battery capacity by having robots perform figure eights on an undulating terrain and mobility tests in which robots ran through increasingly challenging exercises beginning with climbing steps and escalating to climbing ramps and then making it up steps with unequal gaps. A new mapping challenge introduced at this event tests how accurate a robot-generated map can be—the robot must traverse a simulated “wooded area” that has uneven terrain and PVC pipes for trees, and create a map using its sensors.

If you happen to be wondering what that looks like you can see the video at the Disaster City TEEX Web site: I strongly recomend checking it out.

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Powered by Light

Powered by Light

Can light move things?

Current solar cells are too weak to have the sun power our cars, unless you plan on putting panels on a whole semi truck that is.

What about without the specialized cells — can things be moved then?

Yale thinks that you can.

Researchers who hale from the Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science have shown that the force of light indeed can be harnessed to drive machines. For now there is just one catch: it only works when the process is scaled to nano-proportions.

The devices all run on semiconductors that harness the weak force of light and translate it into energy for motion.

The Semiconductor

So, how far are we from having the dream of many a science fiction writer come true? Well, it could be a while.

“While the force of light is far too weak for us to feel in everyday life, we have found that it can be harnessed and used at the nanoscale,” said team leader Hong Tang, assistant professor at Yale. “Our work demonstrates the advantage of using nano-objects as “targets” for the force of light — using devices that are a billion-billion times smaller than a space sail, and that match the size of today’s typical transistors.”

So, what could this technology be used to do once it grows up a bit?

Well the current target categories include devices that are designed for information processing and sensing devices, as well as telecommunications that run at ultra-high speed and consume little power.

I bet you are wondering how this is different than current solar technologies. Well, lets go back to the expert for that answer.

“When researchers talk about optical forces, they are generally referring to the radiation pressure light applies in the direction of the flow of light,” said Tang. “The new force we have investigated actually kicks out to the side of that light flow.” The researchers showed that when the concentrated light was guided through a nanoscale mechanical device, significant light force could be generated — enough, in fact, to operate nanoscale machinery on a silicon chip.

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The Short Film, As Made By Facebookers

The Short Film, As Made By Facebookers

facebook logoHave you ever wanted to be part of a team that makes an animated film like Shrek, Cars or Surfs Up? Think you can do as good a job as the pro’s?

Well, now is your shot to put your money where your mouth is and help in the creation of a brand new animated short film from the comfort of your Facebook profile thanks to Intel.

The project is called Mass Animation and it is the first collaborative, worldwide effort to produce a computer-generated animated short film for theatrical release. Starting today, artists around the world are invited to animate the shots of a 5-minute, CGI short film titled “Live Music,” which is produced and directed by Yair Landau, former president of Sony Pictures Digital. The collaboration, through a unique application built on the Facebook Platform, will run through Jan. 30. Animators, regardless of experience, may begin work immediately.

“Live Music” is inspired by Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and early CGI films. Set in a musical instrument store, the story follows Riff, a rock ‘n’ roll guitar, who, as Landau describes it, “falls in love to the wrong song but ends up with Vanessa, the classical violin of his dreams.” The story is conveyed through the universal language of music, allowing the expressions and actions of the characters to be instantly relatable globally. The instruments are brought to life through original compositions and familiar rock tunes played principally by legendary guitarist Steve Vai as Riff and acclaimed violinist Ann Marie Calhoun as Vanessa.

The tools and 3-D models that animators will need to collaborate on this project including a limited duration version of Autodesk Maya 3D Animation software are provided, and can be accessed through the Mass Animation application on Facebook built by Aniboom.

Dell will be awarding a Dell Studio XPS desktop PC powered by an Intel Core i7 processor to animators whose creation is rated the best by the community on a weekly basis. An international jury of animation experts will select the shots to be considered for the film. As director, Landau will have the final say as to which submissions make the final cut. Animators whose work makes it into the finished product will receive on-screen credit and US$500 in compensation.

In addition to Intel and thousands of participants in the project, Mass Animation’s partners in making “Live Music” include Dell, Autodesk, Reel FX Entertainment and Aniboom.

Community voting on the animation clips will open Nov. 24 at

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Now Faster Than Ever, Thanks to… Electricity

Now Faster Than Ever, Thanks to… Electricity

a drillWhen we think about mind blowing speed, lets be honest, we tend not to think about electricity. Maybe because of all of the propaganda out there about electric cars, or maybe because electricity conjures up so many other images first, like the lights that go on at home or giant bolts of lightning, which by the way are actually pretty fast. So, it probably should not be a shocker (OK I promise no more puns) that electricity just helped to break a new world speed record.

In order to drive these rotary applications directly, efficiently and in a controlled fashion, there must be electrical drive systems with the appropriate rpm and engine power. Up to now, industrially-deployed motors have normally reached 250,000 revolutions per minute. Now, however, researchers from ETH Zurich’s Department of Power Electronics have developed a drive system in cooperation with its industrial partners that can achieve over 1,000,000 rpm.

Of course, this speed record was set in a lab, not on a track and it’s more to do with revoltions than it is with MPH, but still, you may at some point find it driving down the street next to you, or even in the sky above you. In future it can be expected that the drill used in material processing will become even faster and the compressor used for vehicles and airplanes even more compact.

Of course, you may end us seeing it used to make the technology in the palm of your hand too. Based upon the results of this research, Christof Zwyssig and Martin Bartholet, also a post-graduate in the same department, founded the spin-off company, Celeroton, in August 2008. It will make the lab partners industrially viable with a view to providing ultra-high revolution electrical drive systems for different branches of industry and areas of application. Celeroton is set to become a supplier for manufacturers of, for example, fast-spinning drill or milling machines.

The trend towards increasingly smaller cell phones and other electrical appliances means that increasingly smaller holes have to be drilled for the elec-tronics. This is only possible using a drive system that boasts a high rotational speed. “In my view, a spin-off company is the most direct way of transferring research results to industry. Our findings will rapidly be converted into concrete applications and products,” explains Johann Kolar, Head of the Department of Power Electronics.

Now you are wondering how big this thing that it can drill tiny holes in the cell phones of the future. The new drive system, which generates an output of 100 watts, is barely bigger than a matchbox.

As for construction, the recipie goes a little something like this, The rotor construction has a titanium shell that is able to withstand extreme centrifugal forces and the ball bearings are optimized for extremely high speeds. Ultra-thin copper wire is used for the windings which are inserted in a cylinder made of special iron previously unused for machines. In addition, the machine is fed by electronics specifically designed for such engine speeds.

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Preventing Tomorrow’s Headlines: Election Machine Problems – Time Sensitive

Preventing Tomorrow’s Headlines: Election Machine Problems – Time Sensitive

A voting boothOK, I know on the site that we usually talk about the technology that will come into the far future, but today I want to talk about a piece of technology that will come into your life tomorrow, at least if you live in the USA, your voting machine.

As many of us, or at least those of us in swing states, have learned in previous elections that voting machines do not always do what you tell them to do. That is why today, I am posting a little bit on how to make sure that your vote is counted correctly*.

  • Bring a marked-up sample ballot to the polling place. This will enable voters to quickly and accurately transfer the information from the sample ballot to the real thing, saving time and cutting down the likelihood of errors due to snap decisions.
  • Voters using touch screen or other electronic voting systems should pay careful attention to the review screen. The screen will highlight any races or ballot questions where the voter has not made a selection or has marked the ballot incorrectly.
  • Voters using paper ballot/optical scan systems will have to be more vigilant. These systems don’t have review pages that highlight skipped or missing votes. Some vote scanners do have a small screen that alerts voters who did not make a selection in a specific race or who made more selections than allowed in a given race. (It is impossible to make the latter “overvote” error on electronic systems.)
  • Once voters realize they’ve forgotten to make a selection on a paper ballot, the remedy is simply to fill in the oval and make the choice. But, the remedy for a wrong selection is to start over with a new paper ballot and discard the old one. Voters who cross out one choice and fill in the oval for another are likely to have that vote nullified because the scanner will treat them as two votes in a single race, an overvote.
  • If voting on paper and casting a write-in vote, be sure to fill in the oval, complete the arrow, or do whatever is required to alert the machine that a write-in selection has been made.

How common are voting booth problems? Well Paul S. Herrnson, a University of Maryland political scientist said, “In our experiments, even with the simplest ballot design and the most user-friendly machines, we found voters still cast their ballots for the wrong candidate about three percent of the time,” Herrnson adds. “Depending on which polls you believe, that’s enough of a margin to affect the outcome on Tuesday. Most often, when voters make a mistake, they not only fail to cast their ballot for the candidate they want, they end up voting for the opponent. So it’s a double whammy.”

* These tips come from “Voting Technology: The Not-so-Simple Act of Casting a Ballot”, a publication by Paul S. Herrnson is a University of Maryland political scientist who led a multi-year, multi-state study comparing voter use of electronic and paper/optical scan systems. That means you are getting expert advice here, and ot just my take on things.

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New Yorkers: Bring the Street Fighter Pain

New Yorkers: Bring the Street Fighter Pain

Street Fighter ClubFollowing the success of a similar beat-down held in LA three months ago, a massive Street Fighter tournament is coming to Brooklyn, N.Y. on October 24.

Street Fighter Club will feature console versions of Street Fighter IV (out now in arcades, if you can find one) and the upcoming Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix. Both games will be played on high definition screens, providing breathtaking visuals as your ass gets handed to you.

To make things nerdier (and somehow cooler), commemorative shirts designed by geek-chic artist Meat Bun will be available at the event. I Am 8 Bit creator Jon Gibson will set the mood with decorations, and word is they’ll have soap, a la Fight Club, as well.

SIgn up at the official site. Since there’s no time or location announced yet, presumably you’ll get an e-mail or phone call telling you where to be and when as the date approaches.

Of course, some of us in the know can tell you there’s already a place in NYC where you can get your SFIV on. Just head to Chinatown Fair, 8 Mott St., and get a thorough beating in the fighting game of your choice.

If you prefer to play the game comfortably at home, you’re out of luck. SFIV won’t be out until next year, and no date has been announced for SFII Turbo HD Remix.

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