Getting clear on glass. Portrait of a nanoparticle. And our self-driving brains. In this week’s edition of the Engineering360 news brief we’ll be exploring the inner workings of materials and systems that are only beginning to be fully understood.
Getting Clear on Glass
You might not think about the structure of glass very often, but it’s really one of nature’s marvels. What we think of as “glass” is actually an amorphous material state stuck between liquid and solid forms. Liquids that can be cooled into glass enter a state known as the “glass transition.” And although we’ve been making use of glass since ancient times, we do not fully understand the dynamics involved.
Now, Japanese researchers working with electronic systems have discovered that they can create glass from organic metal using rapid cooling. They believe that their research will provide better understanding of the fundamental properties involved in glass transition. And this could lead to the development of products such as DVDs or Blu-Ray discs that store data by altering their state of matter.
Portrait of a Nanoparticle
Nanoparticles of any material may all look the same from a distance, but zoom in and you’ll find that tiny differences between them can cause very different behaviors. Using a combination of electron and optical microscopes, researchers from two Scandinavian universities have produced virtual “portraits” of individual nanoparticles. These portraits map out how each nanoparticle will react when it comes into contact with hydrogen – the sort of knowledge that can be used to develop better hydrogen detectors to help keep hydrogen cars safe.
The researchers’ method for nanoparticle mapping also opens up a nearly infinite range of research and development possibilities for electronics, fuel cells, textiles, biotech and more. Some believe that, in the future, almost all new technology will be based on some form of nanotech.
Our Self-Driving Brains
Your brain transmits information through a complex network of nerve fibers, mostly hardwired before birth according to a genetic blueprint. How these fibers find their way to the correct region of the brain during growth is the subject of recent research in Germany. The fibers are controlled by a navigation system similar to what is used by self-driving cars: Vehicles exchange information with signals and each other in order to reach their destination. What’s particularly unusual from a biological standpoint is that these fibers are guided not by one strong signal, but by a ratio of several signals. The researchers believe that this highly refined regulation of signals is done to minimize the energy expended for hardwiring, which allows nature to achieve top performance for creating the “cognition computer” inside our heads.
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