Reports from the edge of science
New tubes for next-generation subs
A smarter way to bend metal is at the heart of Britain's new Astute class nuclear-powered attack submarines. Engineers developed an all-electric pipe-bender that can make parts from a single length of tubing. This allows complex pipe parts to be quickly manufactured to fit perfectly into the tight spaces available in subs and eliminates time-consuming and expensive X-ray and crack-detection tests required of welded joints. The first Astute sub will be delivered to the Royal Navy by BAE Systems sometime this year.
Secrets of a fossilised fish brain
French and American scientists using a particle accelerator to examine a 300 million-year-old fish skull were shocked to discover a fossilised brain inside, the oldest soft tissue of an animal brain ever discovered. Researchers were able to scan previously unseen nerve structures of the extinct fish.
Finding Earth's lost mountains
An international team of scientists has mapped the Gamburtsev province of the Antarctic, the location of the last unexplored mountain range on the planet. The peaks and valleys are comparable to the European Alps, but their existence remained uncertain because they're buried under 4 km of ice. The team used seismic sensors on the ice and seaplanes equipped with radar to survey the mountains.
A team at Massachusetts General Hospital has succeeded in growing a human thumb bone using a 3D printer. The machine places layers of biodgradable scaffolding, which is injected with stem cells. The scaffold is implanted under the skin of a mouse for six weeks, during which time human bone cells grow to replace the scaffolding, creating a copy of the thumb bone. The next hurdle is to ensure that blood vessels will connect to the replacement when it is implanted.
Bent blades for quiet helicopters
A US Defence Department programme aims to develop "on-the-fly morphing rotor technology" for helicopters that would reduce vibration by 90 per cent, making them more quiet and increasing their payload and range. Each rotor blade cuts through the turbulent air left by the blade in front of it, which causes a vibration; the new system uses piezoelectric blades that can rapidly change shape when an electric field is applied. Wind-tunnel tests show that pulsing electricity into the morphing rotor blades helps cancel out the vibration, cutting noise in half.
How to melt a diamond
Smashing projectiles into 1,9-carat targets, researchers at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico have determined the pressures at which diamond turns into liquid carbon. Scientists in California will use the results in 2010 when they shoot diamonds with lasers to research nuclear fusion.