Robot makes cookies (almost) from scratch

Publication:   Date: August 3, 2011   View Article

The future of robots is shaping up to be wonderful for couch potatoes: they can fetch beers, fold laundry, and now they can even bake cookies.

This latest breakthrough comes from the Distributed Robotics Lab at MIT where graduate student Mario Bollini is plugging away at code that allows robots to make decisions for themselves as they accomplish specific tasks.

Disk drive tech may aid farming

Publication:   Date: July 26, 2011   View Article

Plowshares coated with the same diamond-like carbon material used to protect computer hard disks could allow farmers to save on fuel costs and improve the quality of their soils, according to German researchers.

The slippery material “reduces the friction between soil and the plow,” Martin Hoerner, a physicist at the Fraunhofer Institute of the Mechanics of Materials in Freiberg who is working on the project, told me Tuesday via email.

Computer software helps engineer organisms

Publication:   Date: July 21, 2011   View Article

A computer software program is outfitting biotechnology companies with the ability to determine the genetic plans they need to engineer microorganisms for the production of products such as building materials, drugs and biofuels.

Companies routinely use microorganisms such as E. coli to manufacture products such as insulin. This has primarily been done by cutting and pasting DNA found in nature into organisms that can be grown in the lab, explained Howard Salis, a synthetic biologist at Pennsylvania State University.

Grow a new language in your head

Publication:   Date: June 23, 2011   View Article

For adults, learning a new language is often a long, frustrating process that inevitably ends up in failure. A memory expert and a neuroscientist hope to change that with a new online software package designed to make learning the vocabulary of a foreign language fast, fun and rewarding.

“Really good successful learning needs to be vivid, imaginative and creative. It needs to be active. And if you can make it a bit social, that’s great,” Greg Detre, a neuroscientist and co-founder of Memrise, the online destination to learn foreign words quickly, told me today.

Tiny circuit big boost for electronics

Publication:   Date: June 9, 2011   View Article

Wireless communications took a small leap forward today with the announcement that researchers have created a functional integrated circuit smaller than a grain of salt.

The circuit is a broadband frequency mixer, which is “one of the most fundamental and important circuits in essentially all wireless communication devices and equipment,” Yu-Ming Lin, an IBM researcher who led the effort, told me today.

3-D model mimics volcanic blast

Publication:   Date: June 1, 2011   View Article

A new 3-D model that realistically mimics the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens is helping scientists understand the dynamics of such blasts and may help them map potential blast flows at dangerous volcanoes around the world.

The eruption of the volcano in Washington killed 57 people, leveled forests and sent a torrent of mud and debris down rivers that wiped out hundreds of homes and dozens of bridges.

The damage stems from a fast-moving current of superheated gas and hot rock and debris that was blasted out sideways from the volcano, Barry Voight, an emeritus professor of geology at Penn State, explained to me today.

Software can point to climate tech

Publication:   Date: May 19, 2011   View Article

A team of U.S. researchers has developed a model to identify technologies that are on the fast track to constant improvement. When applied to energy, it could help investors and policymakers sort out which ones will help us avoid catastrophic climate change.

“That is certainly an inspiration for this kind of work,” Jessika Trancik, an assistant professor of engineering systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told me on Wednesday.

International climate negotiators have set a goal of limiting climate warming to 2 degrees Celsius, which will require keeping a lid on concentrations of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to between 450 and 550 parts per million.

“If you look at the international goals that have been set limiting greenhouse gas emissions, you can see that we really need to move quickly,” Trancik said.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach