- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2003

ULTRAFAST DETONATIONS POSSIBLE

A new, powerful computer simulation shows explosive detonations at speeds faster than current theories predict are possible. James B. Anderson, a chemist and aerospace engineer at Pennsylvania State University, and his colleagues say such detonations could lead to innovative propulsion systems for space travel and a better understanding of detonations in general — including those that occur at supersonic speeds in the tunnels of underground mines. The researchers' chemical model, supported by computers, shows burning particles of highly reactive gas set on fire by an explosive shock wave can leap out in front of the wave and ride it like a surfer, sparking reactions in advance of the wave itself. "All the textbooks say that the velocity of a detonation in a reactive gas mixture can be no faster than the speed of sound in the hot burning gases, but our model shows this assumption may no longer be correct," says Anderson.

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SEEING CELLS IN REAL TIME, 3-D

University of Michigan researchers are trying to capture never-before-seen views of the chemical activity inside living cells in real time and in 3-D. Using synthetic nanoprobes small enough to fit inside a cell without interrupting its normal functions, they hope to measure the activity of metal ions, like zinc and copper, as the cell works. Trafficking metal ions in and out of the cell is crucial to basic functions like muscle contraction and the nervous system but researchers have not yet measured the process in real time. The researchers will look for patterns in the motion of ions to determine when and how individual molecules in the swarm might trigger the cell to act in a certain way at a particular time. Biochemists in the group will provide proteins that bind specifically to zinc and copper ions to help the nanoprobes do their work.

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COMPUTERS THAT TALK BACK

OPCAT, a new software translation tool developed at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, allows people to communicate with computers by talking or writing to them or by drawing a diagram. With the verbal route, OPCAT translates the user's input into diagrams, allowing even average users to make program changes themselves. OPCAT also eliminates waits of days or months for software developers to design systems needed to make such changes. "Programmers translate the design of a system to actual code, but OPCAT generates code automatically from the model, so there is less need for programmers — and a huge saving in time and money" says Professor Dov Dori. OPCAT also is flexible and can slip back and forth between graphics and text. OPCAT stands for Object-Process CASE (Computer Aided Systems Engineering) Tool.

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NEW ROBOTIC SKIN SENSORS

Robots that will replace or assist humans in dangerous or remote situations must have sensory abilities similar to or superior to humans. University of Illinois researchers say the sense of touch is very difficult to duplicate through artificial sensors because of the harsh environments such artificial skins would encounter. To help solve the problem, the team has developed a new polymer-based sensor device that provides contact information while maintaining a flexible, unbroken surface. It is made through an upside-down process whereby a polymer skin containing embedded metal-film wiring and sensors is built on a specially treated surface mould. The treated surface allows the completed device to be easily released. Researcher Jonathan Engel said, "Using this sensor device, a robot will be able to generate a map from the contact information provided, allowing it to identify slippage for delicate gripping, shape recognition, and so forth."

(EDITORS: For more information on DETONATIONS, contact Barbara K. Kennedy at (814) 863-4682 or e-mail [email protected] For CELL ACTIVITY, Karl Leif Bates, (734) 647-1842 or [email protected], for COMPUTER TALK, Martha Molnar, (212) 407-6380 or [email protected], and for ROBOTIC SKIN, Joanne Aslett at [email protected])


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