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October 2, 2006, 8:17 PM CT

How To Make A Wood-plastic Composite?

How To Make A Wood-plastic Composite? Image courtesy of
Wood science scientists in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University have developed new wood-plastic composites that are stronger and less expensive than any similar products now available a major breakthrough for this growing industry.

Wood-plastic composites, often used for such things as outdoor decking, are one of the fastest growing components of the wood composites industry. Some projections have suggested that these products, which were used for less than 1 percent of decking in the mid-1990s, may capture 20 percent of that market by 2010.

"Composite products made from wood and plastic are highly desirable for their low maintenance and ability to resist rot," said Kaichang Li, an associate professor in the OSU Department of Wood Science and Engineering. "But their use has been limited because of high cost and low strength, a result of inadequate adhesion between the wood fibers and plastic".

Fundamentally, Li said, this is because wood and plastic are like oil and water, and do not mix well. Wood is hydrophilic it absorbs water and plastic is hydrophobic, repelling it. A "compatibilizer," typically a polymer that bridges the interface between the wood and plastic in these products, improves stress transfer and increases their strength and stiffness.........

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September 28, 2006, 8:38 PM CT

Membranes At The Nanoscale

Membranes At The Nanoscale
The composition of lipid membranes, similar to those that surround living cells, can now be mapped at the nanometer scale. The work, by scientists at Stanford University, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and UC Davis, is reported in the Sept. 29 issue of the journal Science.

All living cells are wrapped in a double-layered membrane of fatty lipid molecules. Components of the membrane can move sideways and organize into patches or other structures. This organization can affect, for example, important cell functions and vulnerability to viruses.

But it is very difficult to study these structures because they are so small, measured in tens of nanometers, said Marjorie Longo, professor of chemical engineering and materials science at UC Davis. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter, or about a thirty-millionth of an inch. Researchers want to address questions such as how dynamic or active the membrane is and how small the lipid patches are, she said. An atomic force microscope, which uses a fine needle to probe surfaces, can give a contour map of the surface but without chemical information.

The research group, led by Steven Boxer of Stanford University, used a highly focused beam of charged particles to scan the surface of artificial lipid membranes containing lipid patches developed in Longo's lab. Components of the membrane were previously labeled with heavy isotopes of carbon and nitrogen, mounted on silicon wafers and flash-freeze-dried to preserve structure.........

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September 27, 2006, 8:57 PM CT

Glue Made From Ethanol More Than The Fuel Itself

Glue Made From Ethanol  More Than The Fuel Itself
Mixing up a batch of ethanol from alfalfa or switchgrass isn't nearly as efficient as creating it from corn, but that doesn't mean growing grass crops for fuel won't pay, says Paul Weimer.

Rather than dwelling on finding ways to squeeze extra ethanol out of biomass from crops such as switchgrass, Weimer is concentrating his research on the leftovers. He thinks that the large heap of fermentation residue from the ethanol-making process - what a number of people consider a byproduct - could be far more valuable than the ethanol itself.

"A lot of people want to do the same thing with biomass material that we've been doing with corn," says Weimer, a research microbiologist at the USDA-ARS Dairy Forage Research Center and associate professor of bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "They want to hit it with enzymes to break it down into sugars, and ferment those sugars into ethanol.

The problem with this, he explains, is that the enzymes needed to break down celluose biomass are very expensive, and they don't work nearly as effectively as the enzymes used to convert starch.

In fact, Weimer adds, both corn and cellulosic biomass must be subjected to costly pretreatment to maximize the ethanol yield.

"Our philosophy is a little bit different," Weimer says. "We believe that the fermentation residue may actually be more valuable than the ethanol. And it may mean that we can do without pretreatment".........

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September 26, 2006, 9:30 PM CT

Steps On The Accelerator Pedal

Steps On The Accelerator Pedal
Two major research centres opened today (19th September), bringing the UK to the forefront of international efforts in Accelerator Science and Technology. The Cockcroft Institute and the John Adams Institute will both be national focal points for UK researchers and companies to develop cutting-edge accelerator technologies for major new projects such as the International Linear Collider and a Neutrino Factory.

Prof Keith Mason, Chief Executive of PPARC said "UK physicists carry the responsibility for key detector components and often hold leadership positions in most major experiments around the world. The establishment of these two centres of excellence will consolidate that position and ensure that the UK continues to make significant scientific and technological contributions to the next generation of frontline accelerators worldwide". Commenting on the technology transfer prospects Prof Mason added, "The new Accelerator Institutes will build strong links between the research community and high technology industry to ensure that knowledge transfer takes place between the two and that UK companies are well positioned to win future contracts for work in this sector".

The International Linear Collider is currently under design in a co-ordinated global effort. It will collide electrons with their antimatter partner, positrons, creating interactions which will reveal how the evolution of the Universe began in its earliest moments. It will provide answers to the most basic questions about the laws which govern this evolution.........

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September 26, 2006, 9:26 PM CT

Student makes dough

Student makes dough sample of dough stretcjed in Ng's lab is far too small for a cookie. Photo / Donna Coveney
Trevor Shen Kuan Ng rolls dough. He also stretches it like Silly Putty, twirls it like taffy and flattens it into rectangles like wide fettuccine.

Ng, an MIT mechanical engineering graduate student, is getting an education in dough. His Ph.D. thesis concerns the mechanical properties of matter--in this case, dough--and how it behaves when subjected to forces. In engineering-speak, this is called rheology, and it provides valuable information for commercial bakeries that need accurate, repeatable techniques for measuring the properties of dough to ensure the tastiest product.

Ng's work is part of the non-Newtonian fluid dynamics research group headed by Gareth H. McKinley, professor of mechanical engineering.

Non-Newtonian fluids are unusual materials. Their viscosity, or slipperiness, changes with the amount of strain applied to them. A number of non-Newtonian fluids have microscopic structures that affect how they react when poked or prodded, and how fast they move when they flow. Picture peanut butter or mayonnaise dripping from a tap--they would not behave like water. Some non-Newtonian fluids such as polymers bounce like a ball if dropped but flow smoothly if placed on a surface.

McKinley's research group looks at DNA, saliva, tree sap and okra, a natural polymer used as a food thickener for thousands of years. Snail slime and such oddities as magnetic fluids also are investigated.........

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September 26, 2006, 9:17 PM CT

New Era For MIT Media Lab

New Era For MIT Media Lab This image shows the plan for the the Media Lab's upper atrium. Image / Maki and Associates
MIT announced recently that it will break ground in spring 2007 for a new Media Lab designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki. The expansion marks a new era of innovation for the Media Lab, which has become legendary for inventions that have ignited the digital revolution, are redefining the potential for creative expression, and, in the future, will push the boundaries of human augmentation.

This milestone signals MIT's commitment to expanding the highly interdisciplinary, often unconventional research that has become the Media Lab's trademark. The 163,000-square-foot, six-story building will feature an open, atelier-style, adaptable architecture specifically designed to provide the flexibility to respond to emerging research priorities. High levels of transparency throughout the building's interior will make ongoing research visible, encouraging connections and collaboration among researchers.

Together with the existing Wiesner Building, designed by MIT alumnus I. M. Pei (1940 B.Arch.), the expanded facility will also house the List Visual Arts Center, the School of Architecture and Planning's Design Lab and Center for Advanced Visual Studies, the Department of Architecture's Visual Arts Program, and MIT's Program in Comparative Media Studies. Another key component of the building will be the Okawa Center for Future Children, established at the Media Lab in 1998 through a $27 million donation from Isao Okawa, the late chairman of CSK Corp. and SEGA Enterprises, Ltd.........

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September 26, 2006, 7:22 PM CT

Powerful HP Graphing Calculator

Powerful HP Graphing Calculator
HP recently introduced the HP 50g graphing calculator, which offers more connectivity options and greater configurability so users can share and work with mathematical data in the way that best suits their needs.

HP's most powerful calculator, the HP 50g is designed for engineering, math and science professionals and students. It features more connectivity options than other graphing calculators in its class, allowing users to transfer data and applications via convenient, industry-standard USB, SD card and serial ports(1) as well as wireless infrared communications.

Users also can customize the calculator by developing and saving programs and macros and by re-assigning key functions so that the most-used functions are at their fingertips.

"With the high-end HP 50g, HP continues to enhance its robust calculator portfolio," said Fred Valdez, general manager, Calculator Division, HP. "HP calculators lead the way in empowering users to do more with their calculating devices by creating well-engineered solutions - from the smart functions that they perform down to the look of the display and feel of the keyboard".

In addition to the standard Algebraic mode, the HP 50g offers the Reverse Polish Notation (RPN)(2) and groundbreaking Textbook data entry modes that are only found on HP calculators. RPN is an efficient sequence that reduces the number of keystrokes needed to make a calculation; Textbook entry allows users to write and edit equations symbolically, as if they were writing on a sheet of paper.........

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September 26, 2006, 6:47 PM CT

Software Developers' Productivity

Software Developers' Productivity
European software developers have to stay technologically up-to-date if they are to maintain their competitive edge on world markets. Now an IST-sponsored research project has constructed a platform to help them deliver state-of-the-art software systems to end-users faster.

European software designers, often working in university laboratories, create some of the world's most sophisticated and reliable software systems. However, it commonly falls to industrial software developers to incorporate these technological advances into marketable products. In fact, due to the growing complexity of software systems, developers find it increasingly difficult to keep pace with end-user demand for updated tools.

The IST-sponsored MODELWARE project has developed a platform that employs the scientific and technical advances of Model-Driven Development (MDD) to significantly reduce the complexity of engineering software systems.

"MDD improves developers' productivity by automating production of most software artefacts, such as tests, documentation and code," says project coordinator Philippe Millot of Palaiseau-based Thales Research & Technology in France. MODELWARE, which began in mid-2004 and ends in September 2006, combined innovations in modelling, tool development, methodologies and standardisation into a platform for large-scale deployment of model-driven development.........

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September 25, 2006, 9:46 PM CT

Laser probe may offer insight into Parkinson's disease

Laser probe may offer insight into Parkinson's disease
In a finding that may offer clues about Parkinson's disease, a team led by Duke University scientists used a sophisticated laser system to gain evidence that a dark brown pigment that accumulates in people's brains consists of layers of two other pigments usually found in hair.

Other researchers previously had determined via chemical analysis that the dark pigment, called neuromelanin, is composed of the two pigments: eumelanin, found in black-haired people, and pheomelanin, found in redheads. But how those pigments are arranged structurally remained unknown -- and this structuring may prove to be of critical importance, as per the researchers.

In addition, in 2005 a Duke team that included some of the same researchers involved in the current study reported using the laser system to establish that pheomelanin is chemically disposed to activate oxygen while eumelanin is not. Oxygen activation is suspected to play a role in the neurogenic cascade of events behind Parkinson's disease.

In the new report, researchers from Duke, North Carolina State University and the Institute of Biomedical Technologies in Segrate, Italy, outlined evidence that neuromelanins isolated from human brains have cores of oxygen-activating pheomelanin covered by a protective surface of eumelanin.........

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September 24, 2006, 9:45 PM CT

To A Billion Electron Volts

To A Billion Electron Volts
Scientists at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, working with colleagues at the University of Oxford, have accelerated electron beams to energies exceeding a billion electron volts (1 GeV) in a distance of just 3.3 centimeters. The researchers report their results in the recent issue of Nature Physics.

By comparison, SLAC, the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, boosts electrons to 50 GeV over a distance of two miles (3.2 kilometers) with radiofrequency cavities whose accelerating electric fields are limited to about 20 million volts per meter.

The electric field of a plasma wave driven by a laser pulse can reach 100 billion volts per meter, however, which has made it possible for the Berkeley Lab group and their Oxford collaborators to achieve a 50th of SLAC's beam energy in just one-100,000th of SLAC's length.

This is only the first step, says Wim Leemans of Berkeley Lab's Accelerator and Fusion Research Division (AFRD). "Billion-electron-volt beams from laser-wakefield accelerators open the way to very compact high-energy experiments and superbright free-electron lasers".

Channeling a path to billion-volt beams.

In the fall of 2004 the Leemans group, dubbed LOASIS (Laser Optics and Accelerator Systems Integrated Studies), was one of three groups to report reaching peak energies of 70 to 200 MeV (million electron volts) with laser wakefields, accelerating bunches of tightly focused electrons with nearly uniform energies.........

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