The most complex chemistry lab on the planet is growing in your neighborhood. There might be a tree in your own backyard, cranking out chemicals as it converts sunlight to food, wards off pests, and circulates water and nutrients through it roots, branches, and leaves.
So diverse is the chemical compendium produced by trees that we get aspirin (willow bark is a natural source of salicylic acid and has been used to treat pain since ancient times), the ink Leonardo used in his notebooks (from leaf galls produced by wasp larvae), and natural antibacterials (the fiber in cedar chips is used to make hospital gowns).
Flushing the toilet stirred up a good idea in four young women from Walla Walla High School. They recognized that families use hundreds of gallons of water per day, a real problem in places faced with water shortages. To ease that, Karen Maldonado, Edlyn Carvajal, Sandra Escobedo de la Cruz, and Ruth Garcia developed a trapping system using an inexpensive charcoal filter to recycle wastewater back to the toilet tank.
The Walla Walla teens took their plan to the Alaska Airlines Imagine Tomorrow competition, an annual problem-solving challenge at Washington State University that encourages high school students to propose and present ideas … » More …
Traveling to the stars is one thing. Living there is another.
Washington State University is tackling challenges that could enable future astronauts to survive indefinitely on Mars and other extraterrestrial locations.
At the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture, for example, a team of students designed a domed habitat that could be built robotically from Martian or Lunar soil with a special 3D printer. Dubbed the WazzuDOME, it was selected by NASA as a finalist in a design competition last year and earned the team a trip to the world’s largest science fair, the annual Maker Faire, in New York City.
Rahul Panat, an engineering professor at Washington State University’s Voiland College, and his colleagues Professor Indranath Dutta and graduate student Yeasir Arafat, recently demonstrated a significant advance in flexible electronics by showing that the metal indium, deposited as a thin film on a polymer substrate, can be stretched to twice its length without breaking—“a quantum improvement,” Panat says, over current methods.
On its own, the gleaming silver skeletal hand looks like a disembodied limb from The Terminator. Strap it on a human and it becomes a glove to grasp things within virtual, computer-generated worlds.
Hakan Gurocak, the mechanical engineering professor at Washington State University Vancouver who designed the glove with his former graduate student Randy Bullion, says the haptic interface can be used in conjunction with virtual reality headsets and position sensors to add a new sense of touch to the experience of being in a digital environment.
More than just immersive computer games or movies, virtual reality and … » More …
Being put to the test at the ground zero of climate change
There’s the day the polar bear mangled the meteorological instruments. Or when a massive storm smashed two humidity sensors. Days of howling winds, extremely limited visibility, and weather so cold that power cords snapped like twigs.
Keeping a watchful eye in remote environments with aerial drones
Stealing through the shadowed plantation, an orangutan stops to feed on the tender shoots of a palm sapling. An instant later, she crumples from a rifle shot, her baby crying out in fear. The infant is eventually rescued and spirited away to a rehabilitation center for release back into the wild.
“At one time there were 2,500 of these orphans in Borneo,” says Chuck Pezeshki, a professor of mechanical and materials engineering at Washington State University. “It’s an enormous tragedy and the apes are now on the endangered list.”
Wearable electronics are leaving the lab and hitting the runway
From smart phones to FitBits, mobile electronics have been woven into the very fabric of our lives. But things are about to get a lot more literal as e-devices begin to be incorporated into the clothing we wear.
Imagine a “smart” shirt or other item of clothing that can monitor your biometrics and ping your doctor when something is out of the ordinary. Or, to manage diabetes, we’ll use a contact lens or pair of glasses to monitor blood glucose levels—and leave behind forever the expensive and annoying finger prick test kit. But wearable … » More …
Early science fiction authors tossed around the idea of mining the asteroids near Earth decades ago. Asimov, Heinlein, Pournelle, and other sci-fi luminaries wrote the concept into their stories of robots and space-bound pioneers since the 1940s. As with many of those authors’ ideas, we’re on the edge of fiction becoming reality.
Companies such as Redmond-based Planetary Resources plan to send robot harvesters up to the asteroids, likely within a decade, to extract water and rare minerals. CEO Chris Lewicki told me they are already in the prospecting phase, sending satellites to probe for likely mining candidates. The conference room where we met has … » More …