Tag Archive: MIT

  1. Engineers Try Out Material Combinations to Create Stretchy Electronics

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    Engineers have been trying to develop durable flexible electronics for quite some time now, envisioning numerous applications concerning wearables and “smart clothing”. The team that is close to cutting the ribbon first is a group of researchers from the MIT and University of Wisconsin, in the United States.

    The same team of engineers has been working on this project since 2017, and they have previously presented a couple of exciting tentative approaches, so this isn’t coming as a surprise.

    The most recent creation demonstrates a “peel and stack” approach that the engineers use to create films of oxide materials. The peel concerns the controlled removal of a very thin (100 nm) layer, and the stacking of layers of different materials (cobalt, ferrite) to create a single electronic unit. The team feels like they’re building with “LEGO” blocks, as they place wafer upon wafer to end up with a functional device.

    The great thing about this method is that the engineers don’t have to consider the crystalline pattern differences between the various materials, so the limitations of the traditional epitaxy techniques don’t apply on the “peel and stack”. As the team’s leader puts it, whatever you can imagine, you can realize it through this method. Already, they have made sensors, solar cells, small batteries, and computing chips.

    Different combinations of materials are ideal for different electronic units, so there’s a lot of experimentation left to be done yet.

    Thankfully for the team, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research ProjectsAgency) is supporting their effort, as the U.S. Army would be very interested in deploying flexible chips in military uniforms.

    Flexible chips could be used to measure and communicate the soldier’s biometric data, geographic location, status, and more, and DARPA has been actively trying to deliver something tangible in this sector for years now.

  2. MIT Close to Presenting a Feasible Nuclear Fusion Reactor

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    Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

    The MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) has announced that they have received a final push in the form of a $64 million investment, which will allegedly help them take the final step in the development of a working nuclear fusion reactor. The investment group includes MIT’s internal financial support organization called “The Engine”, the Italian energy company Eni, and the “Breakthrough Energy Ventures” investment consortium.

    After 25 years of research, MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center has presented a new reactor technology to the investors, called the “ARC” (affordable, robust, compact), and which costs only a couple of billion dollars. This may sound like a lot, but fusion reactors are very efficient, work on fuel that is abundant on Earth (like deuterium for example), give out significantly more energy for a given weight of fuel compared to fission reactors, and are generally much safer.

    Contrary to nuclear fission reactors that split the atom into two smaller ones while releasing heat, fusion is the merging of elements into a new whole which is heavier than the mass sums of the two. For example, deuterium is combined with tritium, and the fusion generates helium, neutron, and a massive amount of energy which is released in the process. This is exactly what happens in the Sun and all stars, but doing it here on Earth and inside a nuclear fusion reactor is challenging due to the various technical complexities that are involved.

    MIT, however, promises that they have solved almost everything by now, and by 2025 they will be able to introduce a safe, scalable, carbon-free, and limitless energy source that is going to solve humanity’s growing energy supply problem, open new possibilities in space exploration, and change everything forever. First, the team will build a 50-megawatt prototype fusion reactor, while the first wave of commercialized solutions will be at the level of 200 megawatts. If these promises prove to be accurate, the arrival of the ever-elusive nuclear fusion reactor technology comes in a critical time when humanity is under threat from the drastic climate changes that are attributed to conventional fuel pollution.

  3. Technology That Monitors the Wiring in Building and Ships

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    Image from Pixabay

    Have you ever had a shocking experience (pardon the pun) when you received your energy bill? Weep no more. Thanks to the latest NILM (non-intrusive load monitoring) technology, expensive energy and repair bills will soon be something of the past by monitoring the state of electrical appliances.

    The Concept

    Often referred to as a “recording” of an appliance “singing”, NILM can “learn” and record the different “tunes” each appliance generates when switched on.

    By predetermining the current / resonance / fluctuations / voltage e.g. a kettle draws compared to a stove, a clamp on the phase wire “looks” for these characteristics in an electrical cable. With the assistance of a standalone PC and GUI (graphical user interface), a 70% accuracy can be achieved to identify and monitor electrical appliances in ships or buildings.


    • Limited appliances to be connected due to interfering current fluctuations
    • Similar fluctuating devices is hard to distinguish
    • Variable current fluctuation appliances send different “tunes” leading to wrong appliances being identified
    • LED lights drawing low current is also problematic

    Field Trials

    MIT professor of electrical engineering Steven Leeb and seven others at MIT, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the U.S. Naval Academy recently tested the NILM on the Coast Guard cutter, USCGC Spencer, based in Boston.

    The test resulted in the detecting of anomalous amount of power being drawn by a component of the ship’s main diesel engines called a jacket water heater. At closer inspection, severe corrosion and broken insulation was found on the heaters.

    “The NILM also detected a serious shock hazard and may have prevented a class Charlie (electrical) fire in our engine room.” Leeb said.

    Leeb pointed out that the NILM can have multiple applications with early detection, energy savings and maintenance procedures as only a few currently being utilized.

    Leeb says, “the system can be physically and electronically isolated and thus highly resistant to any outside tampering or data theft”.

    The Future

    We can expect the NILM technology to become part of our every day experience, just another advancement operating silently in the background ensuring costs savings and the safekeeping of our hard-earned possessions.

  4. Sustainable Floating Cities Might be the Answer

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    Sustainable Floating Cities Might be the Answer to Rising Sea Levels

    Oceanix/BIG -Bjarke Ingels Group

    Global warming is still the most critical thing that humankind should care about, especially in the wake of rising sea levels that can destroy whole coastal cities. While preventing this from happening is the best solution, a company named Oceanix already has plans for towns and urban areas that will be most affected by this phenomenon, in collaboration with MIT Center for Oceanic Engineering, Mobility in Chain, Sherwood Design Engineers, and Center for Zero Waste Design. Their idea seems pretty straightforward – build fully sustainable floating cities near the coast of affected areas.

    To some, this idea may seem like far-fetched, but it was already discussed at a meeting at the UN, who are seriously considering it for the future. The floating cities are built to be flood-proof and to resist even the most powerful storms, with the last resort being towing the whole town to a safer location. These settlements are entirely eco-friendly and will not have an effect on life in the ocean. “It is not a question of one or the other. The technology exists for us to live on water, without killing marine ecosystems.” Said Marc Collins, co-founder of Oceanix.

    The settlement is aptly named Oceanix City and will have a surface of 75-hectare (around 0.3 square miles) at first, with plans for growing it even bigger in the future thanks to the modular hexagonal platforms. Approximately 300 settlers would dwell on one platform, with the whole city serving around 10,000 people.

    The plan is these cities to be fully sustainable, which means that settlers will grow their food and the energy will ultimately be drawn from renewable sources. Building components will be constructed on the nearest shore and then towed to their final site, to make the housing more affordable to people.

    “The sea is our fate — it may also be our future,” said Bjarke Ingels of BIG, who is one of the most prolific architects of our time, adding “the first sustainable and self-sustained floating community, Oceanix City, is designed as a human-made ecosystem channeling circular flows of energy, water, food, and waste. Oceanix City is a blueprint for a modular maritime metropolis anchored in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”

  5. Engineers Fly The First-Ever Aircraft With No Moving Parts

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    Engineers fly the first-ever aircraft with no moving parts using “ionic wind”

    Airplanes today are one of the most well-engineered things, and they need to be if we want them to be safe. That said, they have too many moving parts, like turbine blades and propellers, that only add to the complexity and therefore, make them less reliable. Thankfully, there is a new advancement in this field – airplanes with no moving parts that use ionic wind as propulsion.

    The concept plane was built by MIT engineers with Steven Barrett, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics, at the helm of the team. “This is the first-ever sustained flight of a plane with no moving parts in the propulsion system,” says Barrett, adding that his inspiration for this aircraft comes from “Star Trek”, his favorite movie and TV series.

    Even the design of the aircraft was under the influence of the ionic propulsion system in “Star Trek”, or as Barrett puts it “in the long-term future, planes shouldn’t have propellers and turbines, they should be more like the shuttles in ‘Star Trek,’ that have just a blue glow and silently glide.”

    The “ionic wind” that this concept aircraft uses is known in physics as electro-aerodynamic thrust and it is created when a current passes between a thick and thin electrode, or in this case thick and thin wires that run across. Right now, even at 40,000 volts, this thrust is only capable of lifting a small aircraft. More precisely, the concept airplane has a 5-meter wingspan and weighs only 5 pounds, near to that of camera drones. For electricity, the team uses lithium-polymer batteries, which are the go-to choice for electric vehicles nowadays.

    Compared to any other propulsion systems, “ionic wind” should be much more reliable, but also almost silent. This may make a big difference to passengers in the plane, but also to other flying objects, like drones for example. Right now, if you record video with sound with a drone, the only thing you’ll hear will be the sound of the propellers.

    The ionic aircraft is only a proof of concept right now – it flew only 60 meters in a test flight across the gymnasium in duPont Athletic Center. However, it repeated the same feat 10 times without any issue, which encouraged the MIT engineers to continue to improve the design and increase the efficiency of the aircraft.