RocketA team of engineers from Monash University have successfully test-fired the world’s first 3D printed rocket engine. By utilizing a unique aerospike design, the team, led by ECS fellow Nick Birbilis, was able to increase efficiency levels over that of traditional bell-shaped rockets.

This from The Standard:

Its design works by firing the gases along a spike and using atmospheric pressure to create a virtual bell.

The shape of the spike allows the engine to maintain high efficiency over a wider range of altitude and air pressures. It’s a much more complex design but is difficult to build using traditional technology.

Read the full article.

“We were able to focus on the features that boost the engine’s performance, including the nozzle geometry and the embedded cooling network,” Birbilis says. “These are normally balanced against the need to consider how on earth someone is going to manufacture such a complex piece of equipment. Not so with additive manufacturing. Going from concept to testing in just four months is an amazing achievement.”

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CorrosionCorrosion costs the U.S. economy over $450 billion per year. In an effort to better predict the effects of corrosion, ECS Fellow Robert Kelly has built something akin to a time machine at the University of Virginia.

Kelly, who has recently been awarded ECS’s Corrosion Division H. H. Uhlig Award, is launching pieces of metal into the future to accelerate corrosion rates and observe how they will degrade over time. Being able to see the degradation of materials prior to application could be key to drastically cutting funds used to repair infrastructure when corrosion takes its toll.

Recently, Kelly applied his testing technique to Rolls-Royce’s small jet engine compressor blades to see how they would inevitably hold up in an airplane turbine. By aggressively spraying salt on the parts, Kelly could effectively predict how it will react when jet engines take in salt water in the form of sea salt aerosols. Rolls-Royce currently coats the blades with ceramic material – which if used in too small a quantity could lead to corrosion, but if used in too excessive a quantity could lead to slow, heavy blades. The tests conducted by Kelly and his team could help the company create a blade with the perfect balance of ceramic coating.

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EV Charging StationCurrently, electric vehicles depend on a complex interplay of batteries and supercapacitors to get you where you’re going. But a recently published paper, co-authored by ECS Fellow Hector Abruna, details the development of a new material that can take away some of the complexity of EVs.

“Our material combines the best of both worlds — the ability to store large amounts of electrical energy or charge, like a battery, and the ability to charge and discharge rapidly, like a supercapacitor,” says William Dichtel, lead author of the study.

This from Northwestern University:

[The research team] combined a COF — a strong, stiff polymer with an abundance of tiny pores suitable for storing energy — with a very conductive material to create the first modified redox-active COF that closes the gap with other older porous carbon-based electrodes.

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The system consists of a temporary tattoo (left) and a circuit board (right).Image: UC San Diego

The system consists of a temporary tattoo (left) and a circuit board (right).
Image: UC San Diego

A team of researchers form the University of California, San Diego has developed a flexible, wearable sensor that can accurately measure a person’s blood alcohol level from sweat and transmit the results wirelessly in real time.

The new development provides a continuous, non-invasive alternative to current alcohol level detection methods. Researchers state it also provides a more accurate reading than breathalyzers.

The device consists of a temporary tattoo, which adheres to the skin, induces sweat, and electrochemically detects alcohol levels. The sensor also incorporates a portable, flexible electronic circuit board, which connects to the tattoo and wirelessly communicates the information.

“Lots of accidents on the road are caused by drunk driving,” says Joseph Wang, ECS member and co-author of the study. “This technology provides an accurate, convenient and quick way to monitor alcohol consumption to help prevent people from driving while intoxicated.”

In addition to applications in law enforcement and medicine, Wang believes this device could potentially be integrated with a car’s alcohol ignition interlocks, or used by people to check their own alcohol level before getting behind the wheel.

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Making the New Silicon

Shown here is the smallest laptop power adapter ever, made using GaN transistors.
Image: Cambridge Electronics

Recent discussions in the electronics industry have revolved around the future of technology in light of the perceived end of Moore’s law. But what if the iconic law doesn’t have to end? Researchers from MIT believe they have exactly what it takes to keep up with the constantly accelerating pace of Moore’s law.

More efficient materials

For the scientists, the trick is in the utilization of a material other than silicon in semiconductors for power electronics. With extremely high efficiency levels that could potentially reduce worldwide energy consumption, some believe that material could be gallium nitride (GaN).

MIT spin-out Cambridge Electronics Inc. (CEI) has recently produced a line of GaN transistors and power electronic circuits. The goal is to cut energy usage in data centers, electric cars, and consumer devices by 10 to 20 percent worldwide by 2025.

Semiconductors shaping society

Since its discovery in 1947, the transistor has helped make possible many wonders of modern life – including smartphones, solar cells, and even airplanes.

Over time, as predicted by Moore’s law, transistors became smaller and more efficient at an accelerated pace – opening doors to even more technological advancements.

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Artificial limbs have experience tremendous evolution in their long history. Throughout history, we’ve gone from the peg leg of the Dark Ages to technologically advanced modern day prosthesis that mimic the function of a natural limb. However, most prosthesis still lack a sense of touch.

Zhenan Bao, past ECS member and chemical engineer at Stanford University, is at the forefront of the research looking to change that.

(MORE: Read Bao’s past meeting abstracts in the ECS Digital Library for free.)

Recently on NPR’s All Things Considered, Bao described her work in developing a plastic artificial skin that can essentially do all the things organic skin can do, including sensing and self-healing.


The self-healing plastic Bao uses mimics the electrical properties of silicon and contains a nano-scale pressure sensor. The sensor is then connected to electrical circuits that connect to the brain, transmitting the pressure to the brain to analyze as feeling.

Additionally, the skin is set to be powered by polymers that can turn light into electricity.

While there is still much work to be done, Bao and her colleagues believe that this product could help people who have lost their limbs regain their sense of touch.

New Device to Capture Bio-Data

An interdisciplinary team from multiple institutions in South Korea has recently developed a novel stretchable memory device that can be applied to the skin and used to monitor heart rate, which they believe outpaces current biosensor technology in this field.

With bio-data capturing devices on the rise in popular culture, researchers are working to increase efficiency and stability in these devices. The main problem with the current technologies is that the devices do not sit close enough to the skin. To combat this issues, the researchers have developed a new array that can be applied directly to the skin and can withstand stretching.

This from TechXplore:

The memory array is nonvolatile and made from fully multiplexed silicon and nanocrystal floating gates. The resulting device architecture built by the team is approximately the size of a human thumb and consists of two main parts, an array of ECG electrodes that are used for reading the heart rate, and the memory array—the two are connected together by a bit of electronics that also serve as amplifiers. The result is a patch-like device that is able to be stretched because the membrane material between each of the tiny squares circuits that make up both of the arrays, is flexible.

Read the full article.

A team lead by Bradley Bundy, chemical engineering associate professor, is paving the way for new life-saving vaccine technology.Image: Mark A. Philbrick

A team lead by Brad Bundy, chemical engineering associate professor, is paving the way for new life-saving vaccine technology.
Image: Mark A. Philbrick

When viruses emerge—spreading in a rapid and extensive way—researchers must scramble to create life-saving vaccines. At Brigham Young University, researchers are working to speed up that process.

A team of chemical engineers has devised a way to create machinery for vaccine production en masse, freeze drying the produced vaccines and stockpiling them for future use. This development could aid in relief efforts when new viruses hit populations, allowing researchers to rapidly produce vaccines.

“You could just pull it off the shelf and make it,” says Brad Bundy, senior author of the study. “We could make the vaccine and be ready for distribution in a day.”

This from Brigham Young University:

Bundy’s idea is a new angle on the emerging method of ‘cell-free protein synthesis,’ a process that combines DNA to make proteins needed for drugs (instead of growing protein in a cell). His lab is creating a system where the majority of the work is done beforehand so vaccine kits can be ready to go and be activated at the drop of a dime.

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Ingestible Sensor to Improved Diagnostics

Researchers from MIT have unveiled new opportunities in diagnostics through the development of an ingestible sensor with the ability to continuously monitor vital signs. The device, which measures heart rate and breathing from within the gastrointestinal track, has the potential to offer beneficial assessment of trauma patients, soldiers in battle, and those with chronic illness.


“Through characterization of the acoustic wave, recorded from different parts of the GI tract, we found that we could measure both heart rate and respiratory rate with good accuracy,” says Giovanni Traverso, one of the lead authors of the study.

The development of pulse sensors such as this are beginning to outpace the traditional stethoscope. However, the pulse sensors that currently exist wrest on the patient’s skin, which is problematic for those with skin sensitivity such as burn victims.

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There are more than 250 million cars and trucks on U.S. roads. From these vehicles, roughly 135 billion gallons of gasoline are consumed each year in the United States. In fact, 28 percent of energy used in the country is in the transportation sector.

While many may think that the majority of this consumption would come from planes or trains, personal cars and trucks actually consume 60 percent of all energy used here. Unfortunately, most of that energy is lost to heat and other inefficiencies within the vehicles, leaving only about 10 to 16 percent of a car’s fuel being used to actually drive and overcome road resistance.

However, the researchers at Virginia Tech may have a partial solution to this problem: harvesting energy from a car’s suspension.

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