Tech Universe: Friday 19 July

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

UPLIFTING SOUNDS: Sound waves with frequencies just above human hearing can levitate tiny particles and liquid droplets and even move them around. Researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology found a way to move droplets of liquid by using multiple vibrating plates, each generating its own sound frequency. Varying the frequency allowed them to move the acoustic field and the liquid trapped inside. The team were also able to merge liquids with solids, dissolving coffee in a water droplet, and to lift and spin larger objects, such as toothpicks. They aim to eventually move dense objects such as steel by changing the shape of the reflecting surface to create a stronger acoustic force. This technique could perhaps be developed to allow chemical components to be combined without touching hard surfaces that could contaminate them, or in working with DNA. A sound prospect.

BOTS IN BALANCE: The gymnast spins round the horizontal bar, releases, and executes a perfect landing.

This isn't the Olympic Games though, but a bipedal robot gymnast capable of executing flips, handsprings, and high-bar acrobatics. Now I want to see them on the rings.

PUZZLE PROOF: Jigsaw puzzles for kids have a few large pieces, while those for adults have many and more delicate parts. The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology though used sophisticated injection moulding tools to create a jigsaw puzzle that has only 3 pieces, each less than 1 mm in size. They used lithography, electrodeposition, and moulding, while the moulds themselves are created with the help of X-ray deep-etch lithography. The puzzle pieces prove a highly accurate precision process for producing microstructures from various metals, ceramics, or plastics. Such tiny parts may be used in watches, engines, or medical products. And tiny jigsaw puzzles.

JUST ADD WATER: Cube satellites orbiting Earth have become popular recently, but how about sending the tiny spacecraft deeper into space? That's the idea behind the CubeSat Ambipolar Thruster — to send a 5 kg satellite into deep space to explore asteroids and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, but at 1/1000th the cost of previous missions. The propellant for the thruster is unusual: water, ionised into a superheated plasma and exhausted behind the craft to drive it forwards. The thrust is low, but long in duration and very efficient. The spacecraft will be launched into low Earth orbit then climb into deep space in a spiral pattern to escape Earth.

DEEP MARS: The Mars Express spacecraft carries High Resolution Stereo Cameras as part of its mission to study the martian atmosphere and climate, mineralogy and geology, and to search for traces of water. Thanks to those cameras we can now fly through Hebes Chasma in the northernmost part of Valles Marineris in high resolution. The almost 5 minute movie starts by zooming in on the whole planet to locate the 8 Km deep Hebes Chasma not far from the equator on Mars and then tours the area in stunning detail. That's a superb way to make what could be dry data real.

Miraz Jordan,

- NZ Herald

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