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NSF Science Now 2

NSF Science Now 2


DENA HEADLEE: When researchers
at Ohio State University tapped into nature, they discovered
novel engineering ideas on the tiny wings of butterflies.
Their unique ability to cast off dirt and water with just a
flutter could improve the build up of biological material,
called “biofouling,” which plagues everything from
airplanes to medical equipment. Professor Barat Bushan and his
Ph.D. student Gregory Bixler studied the giant blue morpho
butterfly. Its shingle-like wings, create a surface texture
that repels water and dirt, enabling it to fly. The unique
ability to keep itself clean and dry could translate into medical
equipment able to prevent the growth of bacteria. The team
also studied rice leaves. They found that their texture is
suited to helping fluid move more efficiently through oil
pipelines. Building products based on
Mother Nature’s engineering marvels, the team hopes that
goods inspired by the “rice and butterfly wing effect,” will
lead to improved health and cost savings in industries ranging
from medical to manufacturing. Jumping might be much more
complicated than it looks. In an NSF-funded study, Georgia Tech
scientists have found that hopping robots could
dramatically reduce the amount of power they use by adopting a
unique two-part stutter jump. Researchers found that taking a
hop before a big jump makes it possible for spring-based pogo
stick robots to reduce their power demands ten-fold. This
manuever could extend the abilities of future rescue and
exploration robots. The amount of power deliverable
by current motors limits the scope and range of robotic
missions, but the two-step jump could allow robots to complete
longer, more complex missions. Imagine… a home that knows
exactly what you need. What temperature to maintain, when to
turn the lights on, that even reminds you to take your
medication. Armed with an NSF ARRA grant, Washington State
University researcher Diane Cook is looking at ways to give homes
the ability to monitor and make adjustments without human input.
Cook says if you already have a programmable thermostat, you are
already on your way to having a “smart home.” By using sensors
and software the “intelligent agent” will anticipate a
homeowner’s needs and help with tasks around the house.
Eventually a smart home would not only learn the owner’s
habits and preferences, but even catch the early signs of
cognitive decline in older residents. While understanding
the everyday routine of one occupant is fairly simple for
the technology, there is still more testing needed to
accommodate multiple occupants with varied and hectic lives.
Cook is currently testing 31 smart homes across the Pacific
Northwest. A new study proposes a deep
connection between two of Earth’s largest and most active
volcanoes. Researchers at Rice University, the University of
Hawaii and the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory have shown
that slow moving changes in pressure within earth’s upper
mantle could account for both linked and unique patterns of
activity at Kilauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes. Although
historically these two Hawaiian volcanoes appear to have been
competing for the same deep magma supply, inflation or
bulging during the last decade indicates that changes in their
reservoir can result in increased activity at both
simultaneously. It is not yet known if such a deep connection
may exist at other volcanoes. Researchers will continue to
study volcanic activity in Hawaii and elsewhere, to
test the theory of such deep coupling events. For more information about these
stories, visitor our website at www.nsf.gov. This is NSF
Science Now, I’m Dena Headlee.

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