Shirley Meng: Becoming an Engineer

Shirley Meng

Shirley Meng

Inspired by her father, motivated by her curiosity, and driven by her passion for connecting people, Shirley Meng, a professor of nanoengineering at the University of California, San Diego, discovered her love for science.

Although, she had originally thought her interests would lead her to pursue another path, particularly law.

However, because of the instability of the law system in China, where Meng is originally from, her father encouraged Meng to pursue other opportunities. That’s when she began considering a career in the sciences. (more…)

Lead engineers, Xiaobo Yin and Ronggui Yang.
Image credit: Glenn Asakawa/CU-Boulder

According to Forbes, engineers at the University of Colorado Boulder have created a new material that works like an air conditioning system for structures—cooling rooftops with zero energy consumption.

The material, about the same thickness as aluminum foil, is rolled across the surface of a rooftop, reflecting incoming solar energy back into space while simultaneously purging its own heat. Adding to its appeal, the material is adaptable and cost-effective for use in large-scale residential and commercial applications, as it can be manufactured on rolls. (more…)

Printing Body Parts: The Bionic Eye

Prototype for a “bionic eye”

Credit: University of Minnesota, McAlpine Group

We’ve all heard of the bionic man, the famous 1970’s movie and comic book story of a man who, after a tragic accident, damaged body was rebuilt and replaced with bionic, high tech parts, creating a superhuman, out-of-this-world, specimen. It turns out this sci-fi tale may soon become a reality.

According to the University of Minnesota, researchers there have successfully created the first fully 3D printed bionic eye prototype, complete with an array of light receptors that could one day help blind people see.
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According to the Georgia Institute of Technology, crab shells and trees may soon replace the flexible plastic packaging used to keep food fresh. The innovative process involves spraying multiple layers of chitin from crab shells and cellulose from trees to form a flexible film similar to plastic packaging film. Once fully dried, the material is flexible, strong, transparent, and compostable.

Not only will these lifeforms become a source of sustainable and renewable wrapping, but they will also help improve food quality. Compared to conventional plastic packaging, the new technology offers a 67 percent reduction in oxygen permeability, allowing food to stay fresh even longer.

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Jan Talbot (center) with Wendy Coulson (left) and Nicole Pacheco (right), Talbot’s graduate students.

One of the pioneers for women in engineering, Jan Talbot retired from the University of California San Diego on July 1, 2018.

Talbot was one of two women in her chemical engineering class at Penn State University. In 1970, when she started her program, there were only seven women and nearly 3,000 men in engineering.

According to the National Science Foundation, in 1973, 576 women in the U.S. graduated with a bachelor’s degree in engineering. Two years later, Talbot was one of the 372 women that earned a master’s.

After completing her degrees at Penn State, she became one of two women in her class to graduate from the University of Minnesota in 1986 with a doctorate in engineering and one of 225 women to earn that degree in the whole country.

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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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