May 01, 2019
The space blanket is quite a marvel of concept and design. Now, with squid skin as the inspiration, space blankets are getting a new feature - temperature control! Enjoy astronauts!
Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.
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*-- Squid skin inspires a better space blanket --*
Astronauts could soon be wrapping themselves in space blankets inspired by squid skin.
The new adaptive space blanket, designed by engineers at the University California, Irvine, will grant the user the ability to control their temperature.
"Ultra-lightweight space blankets have been around for decades -- you see marathon runners wrapping themselves in them to prevent the loss of body heat after a race -- but the key drawback is that the material is static," Alon Gorodetsky, an associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UCI, said in a news release. "We've made a version with changeable properties so you can regulate how much heat is trapped or released."
The skin of squids and other cephalopods is characterized by chromatophores, small embedded pigmented cells which can expand and contract to manipulate the skin's color and texture. In a split second, chromatophores can change from small points to flattened disks.
"We use a similar concept in our work, where we have a layer of these tiny metal 'islands' that border each other," said lead researcher Erica Leung, a graduate student at UCI. "In the relaxed state, the islands are bunched together and the material reflects and traps heat, like a traditional Mylar space blanket. When the material is stretched, the islands spread apart, allowing infrared radiation to go through and heat to escape."
Researchers plan to tweak their squid-inspired technology to manage the temperature inside buildings, tents and even electronic devices. The squid skin-like materials could be incorporated into clothing, too.
"The temperature at which people are comfortable in an office is slightly different for everyone. Where one person might be fine at 70 degrees, the person at the next desk over might prefer 75 degrees," Gorodetsky said. "Our invention could lead to clothing that adjusts to suit the comfort of each person indoors. This could result in potential savings of 30 to 40 percent on heating and air conditioning energy use."
In addition to being highly adaptive, the new material is light weight, cheap and easy to produce and highly durable. Researchers described their squid-inspired smart skin this week in the journal Nature Communications.
*-- Physicists make collimated atomic beam smaller, more precise --*
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have managed to build a cascading silicon peashooter -- a smaller, more precise atomic beam collimator.
The technology could be used to produce exotic quantum phenomena for scientists to study or to improve devices like atomic clocks or accelerometers, a smartphone component.
"A typical device you might make out of this is a next-generation gyroscope for a precision navigation system that is independent of GPS and can be used when you're out of satellite range in a remote region or traveling in space," Chandra Raman, an associate professor of physics at Georgia Tech, said in a news release.
Atomic beam collimators feature a box of atoms, typically rubidium atoms. When heated, the atoms begin to bounce around energetically. A tube connected to the box allows atoms bouncing at just the right trajectory to escape.
The atoms bounce their way down the tube and are shot out the end of the barrel like a pellet from a shotgun. And like the spray of pellets from a shotgun, the atoms form a random spray.
"Collimated atomic beams have been around for decades," Raman said, "But currently, collimators must be large in order to be precise."
Researchers managed to shrink the technology to chip-scale by carving narrow channels on a silicon wafer using lithography, the technique used to etch computer chips. The channels work like a miniature row of shotgun barrels all pointing in the same direction. The tiny channels can shoot out a precise array of atoms.
To make the array even more precise, scientists sliced a pair of tiny gaps across the channels. Atoms bouncing along at a more askew angle bounce their way out of the channels, while atoms moving parallel continue on their straighter trajectory out the end of the barrels.
Unlike a laser beam, which is composed of massless photons, a beam of atoms produced by the collimator has mass, and thus also features momentum and inertia. That allows the technology to be utilized in gyroscopes, which are used to measure motion and changes in location.
Current chip-scale gyroscopes rely on microelectromechanical systems, which are accurate in the short term but become less precise over time -- or "drift" -- as they accumulate deformities from mechanical stress.
"To eliminate that drift, you need an absolutely stable mechanism," said Farrokh Ayazi, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Georgia Tech. "This atomic beam creates that kind of reference on a chip."
Researchers suggest the new chip-scale collimated atomic beam -- described this week in the journal Nature Communications -- could be used to create Rydberg atoms. When atoms become excited by heat, their outermost electron expands its orbit. The electron behaves like the lone electron of a hydrogen atom, while the Rydberg atom acts as if it possesses only one proton.
"You can engineer certain kinds of multi-atom quantum entanglement by using Rydberg states because the atoms interact with each other much more strongly than two atoms in the ground state," Raman said.
"Rydberg atoms could also advance future sensor technologies because they're sensitive to fluxes in force or in electronic fields smaller than an electron in scale," Ayazi said. "They could also be used in quantum information processing."