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Caltech

— Environment

Wind turbine placement to optimize wind power generation for a given area

Although wind power energy production in 2010 was estimated to be only about 2.5 percent of worldwide electricity usage, wind turbines are considered a mature technology with many experts suggesting that we’re approaching the theoretical limit of individual wind turbine efficiency. For this reason, researchers are now looking at new approaches to wind farm design to increase the power output of wind farms. Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have been conducting a field study and claim the power output of wind farms can be increased at least tenfold by optimizing the placement of turbines on a given plot of land. Read More
— Health & Wellbeing

Paralyzed man regains voluntary leg movement with electrode array implant

In a move that gives cautious hope to the millions of people suffering some form of paralysis, a team of researchers from UCLA, Caltech and the University of Louisville has given a man rendered paralyzed from the chest down after a hit-and-run accident in 2006 the ability to stand and take his first tentative steps in four years. The team used a stimulating electrode array implanted into the man’s body to provide continual direct electrical stimulation to the lower part of the spinal cord that controls movement of the hips, knees, ankles and toes, to mimic the signals the brain usually sends to initiate movement. Read More
— Science

Metallic glass parts can now be created in milliseconds

What do you do if you want a material that’s as hard as glass, but that can bend without shattering, like steel? Well, if you’re a researcher at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), you invent metallic glass. There are several types of metallic glass – which is said to be stronger than steel or titanium – all of which consist of a metal with the disordered atomic structure of glass. Although it’s been possible to produce the material in bulk since the early 90s, the production process has limitations, that have kept metallic glass from coming into common use. Now, however, a Caltech team has come up with a new process, in which the material can be shaped as easily as plastic. Read More
— Science

Superstrong metallic glass developed

It seems hard to believe that glass could be stronger than steel, but a team of researchers has developed a super-strong metallic glass that has incredible plasticity when placed under stress, making it as strong and tough as metal. Typically, the structure of glass is strong but brittle which can cause cracks to develop and spread. The new metallic glass features palladium which has a high “bulk-to-shear” stiffness ratio. This allows the metallic glass to bend rather than crack – giving it a fracture toughness that goes beyond the limits of some of the strongest and toughest materials known. Read More
— Science

Jellyfish inspire flexible pumps

We’ve seen the swimming motions of fish emulated by underwater robots several times before, but jellyfish (with an exception or two) don’t seem to inspire mechanical imitation quite as much. A student at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena (Caltech), however, thinks that their unique propulsion system might be the perfect model for another type of technology: tiny pumps that can be implanted in peoples’ bodies, or used in soft robotics. Read More
— Electronics

Putting waste heat from electronics to good use

Researchers at two different institutions have recently announced the development of technologies for converting waste heat from electronics into something useful. At the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), they’ve created a silicon nanomesh film that could collect heat from electric appliances such as computers or refrigerators and convert it to electricity. Meanwhile, their colleagues at Ohio State University (OSU) have been working with a semiconducting material that has the capacity to turn waste heat from computers into additional processing power. Read More
— Good Thinking

Schooling fish inspire new approach to wind farming

Schooling fish, it turns out, have a lot to teach us about setting up wind farms. That’s the conclusion reached by John Dabiri, a fluid dynamics expert from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). One of the biggest current problems with wind farms is the large land area that they require - if you place the turbines too close to one another, they will be adversely effected by each other’s turbulence. By applying principles learned from observing fish, however, Dabiri thinks he might have found a solution. Read More
— Science

New metamaterial could lead to more efficient solar cells

Metamaterials are manmade substances designed to do some very weird things that natural materials don’t. The path of a beam of light through a natural material like glass is predictable, but scientists from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have engineered an optical material that bends light in the wrong direction. This new negative-index metamaterial (NIM) could have several valuable uses including invisibility cloaking, superlensing (imaging nano-scale objects using visible light) and improved light collection in solar cells. Read More
— Medical

Sound lasers inch closer to reality

Fifty years after the invention of the optical laser, two separate research groups have independently made important steps toward making phonon lasers — a type of laser that emits very high-frequency, coordinated sound rather than light waves — a reality. The studies, published in the journal Physical Review Letters, could lead to a completely new kind of laser that could find interesting applications in medical imaging. Read More
— Science

Less is more for highly absorbing, flexible, cheaper solar cells

Using arrays of long, thin silicon wires embedded in a polymer substrate, a team of researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have created a new type of flexible solar cell. Promising enhanced sunlight absorption and efficient conversion of photons into electrons, the new solar cell uses only a fraction of the expensive semiconductor materials required by conventional solar cells, and because they are flexible, they will be cheaper to manufacture. Read More
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