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Gizmorama - March 6, 2017

Good Morning,

Robots are being developed to take care of jobs that are deemed too dangerous for humans, working around nuclear facilities. Why can't that be a Transformers movie plot? Right?

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- Scientists developing robots to work in nuclear facilities --*

MANCHESTER, England - A new crop of robots are being prepared to do a job too dangers for humans -- cleaning up and decommissioning aging nuclear facilities.

Cleaning up nuclear facilities is an expensive proposition; it's also a dangerous one, involving a variety of tasks too dangerous for humans. Conditions in nuclear facilities are harsh and toxic, and for many of the cleaning tasks, robots are a necessity.

"If we are to be realistic about clearing up contaminated sites, then we have to invest in this type of technology," Barry Lennox, a professor of robotics at the University of Manchester, said in a news release. "These environments are some of the most extreme that exist, so the benefits of developing this technology can also apply to a wide range of other scenarios."

Robots employed in other industrial capacities aren't yet capable of the kinds of maneuvers and functionality required by nuclear decommissioning. However, a new crop of robots is on the way. British researchers are building robots with the right combination of competencies for work in dangerous nuclear facilities.

The robots must be able to perform simple tasks, like turning valves, while also tackling more difficult challenges, like navigating rough terrain and scaling staircases. Some robots will need to work underwater. The robots will be autonomous, so scientists are programming the bots to communicate with one another and solve problems.

Scientists will unveil prototypes in the coming years for testing in simulated settings and actual nuclear facilities. Researchers believe the technologies produced by their efforts will improve the performance of robots in similarly harsh settings and executing similarly complex tasks -- robots working in deep space or mines, executing search and rescue missions or disposing of bombs.

*-- Scientists forgo kiln, bake ceramics with pressure --*

ZURICH, Switzerland - Industrial kilns, the commercial ovens used to fire bathroom tiles and tableware, operate at temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees Celsius. Scientists at ETH Zurich have found a way to manufacture equally strong ceramic pieces at room temperature using pressure instead of heat.

"The manufacturing process is based on the geological process of rock formation," materials scientist Florian Bouville said in a news release.

Bouville and his colleagues combined calcium carbonate nanopowder and water and subjected the material to compaction forces for an hour. The process is called sintering.

"Our work is the first evidence that a piece of ceramic material can be manufactured at room temperature in such a short amount of time and with relatively low pressures," added ETH professor André Studart.

Scientists used a hydraulic press to produce pressurized ceramic sample disks roughly the size of a Swiss franc. Test results, published in the journal Nature Communications, proved the ceramic material is just as strong and resilient as stone and concrete.

Now, researchers are working on ways to scale up the process.

"The challenge is to generate a sufficiently high pressure for the compacting process. Larger workpieces require a correspondingly greater force," said Bouville.

Industrial kilns use large amounts of energy. An alternative, such as the method developed by Bouville and Studart, could make the ceramic production process more efficient and economical.


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