Reports from the edge of science
Full circle recycling
Full-circle recycling talk about repurposing: Caterpillar is converting its abandoned buildings into engine parts. When the company decided to shut down a foundry in Peoria, Illinois, it realised that recycling the steel in the structures would yield more money than selling the facility. The demolition teams use excavators with special grappling and shearing attachments to pull and hack apart the buildings. When completed, approximately 3 600 tons of steel will be harvested to produce components for CAT’s diesel engines. – Kimberly Grzybala
World’s smartest prosthetic lifts vets
An Iraq veteran who lost both legs to a roadside bomb became the first patient to receive a new version of the Power Knee, a prosthetic that incorporates artificial intelligence to replace lost muscles. Developed by Icelandic company Ossur, the new prosthetic has quieter actuators that are controlled with input from ground sensors. A full commercial release of the new knee is planned for 2010.
Flexible and fireproof
Firefighters need clothes that allow them to be agile, but if they’re caught in the middle of a blaze, they want the thickest protection possible. DuPont has developed a flame-resistant material that remains thin and flexible under normal conditions but expands when the temperature exceeds 120 degrees. The added thickness provides up to 20 per cent more thermal protection by trapping air within the fibres.
Steering beyond the speed of sound
When you’re travelling at 10 times the speed of sound in a scramjet-powered aircraft, you can’t afford to let the steering wheel wobble. Researchers at Ohio State University, in collaboration with the US Air Force Research Laboratory, have developed a high-fidelity adaptive control system to pilot hypersonic vehicles. The system uses input from sensors to calculate necessary adjustments to keep an aircraft stable and on course. Research into hypersonic controls has increased since Nasa’s X-43A hypersonic jet reached Mach 9,6 in a 2004 flight. A possible milestone hypersonic flight of the Air Force’s X-51A is scheduled for October.
The colour of impending failure
Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a polymer that changes colour when it becomes overstressed. Maintenance and safety workers will be alerted to structural weakness when chemical bonds inside the material break, altering its colour. Possible uses include bridge supports, aircraft wings and parachute cords.