Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bionic Eyes: Seeing Reality

Blindness is unfortunately common , but it may not be for long. Researchers are using new technology to fix the eyes of people affected with blindness by installing a new chip into the eye. This super thin chip is only 3mm across and is packed with light sensors. Using a thin wire connected to the eye helps the damaged nerves process information. The chip along with the wire helps stimulate the nerves of the patient. The patient also wear a pair of specialized glasses which send the images to the chip where the brain next registers it. The new technology is not perfect, as it can only help patients who possessed some type of sight in the past and can only help patients recognize large objects.

Although this chip is only a prototype Bionic Vision Australia, the company behind the technology, is also working on a High Acuity version. This version will have 1024 electrodes as opposed to the 98 electrodes in the other version. The extra electrodes can help give a more detailed view to the patient.

Perhaps sometime in the future the technology will be perfected and blindness will be a thing of the past.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Fastest, Highest, Most Extreme Skydive

See that guy up there? How far do you think he's falling from? 20,000, maybe 30,000 feet? No that man up there is Joseph Kittinger and on August 16, 1960 he fell to Earth from an incredible 102,800 feet!

Joseph Kittinger was quite possibly the bravest men of his time. Joseph Kittinger was a decorated pilot and after the Korean War he started to work for the  Aerospace Medical Research Laboratories. That is where it all started with Project Excelsior. Project Excelsior was designed around testing parachutes for pilots ejecting from planes. Technology of airplanes was progressing to the point where high altitude planes were becoming a common sight and the safety of these pilots was a growing concern. This is where Kittinger came in. Kittinger's job was to take a balloon to extreme heights and just jump out. 

Kittinger made two jumps prior to his record breaking third attempt. The first one, occurring in November 1959 was at a height of 76,400 feet but due to a malfunction his parachute deployed too early causing him to spiral out of control and subsequently the next attempt was at 74,700 feet. To give you an idea on how high these jumps were most skydivers of today jump between 16,000 to 20,000 ft with the highest civilian skydive capped at 30,000 ft. His third attempt was at the insane height of 102,800 ft. During his initial free fall Kittinger broke the sound barrier falling at 614 mph (988 km/h).

Kittinger 's record for the fastest and highest skydive still stands more than 50 years later, although perhaps not for long. Felix Baumgartner (with coaching from Kittinger) hopes to break that record at last. 

Science Behind Ferrofluid


Ferrofluid is probably one of the strangest materials known. Ferrofluid is a solution which becomes strongly magnetized in the presence of a magnetic field. The solution behaves not only as a liquid but behaves as a metal as well. In order to explain this phenomena we have to look at the composition.

Ferrofluid is composed of magnetic particles suspended in a liquid solution. These magnetic particles are about half the size of a ribosome in a cell (really really small) and are encased in a carrier fluid (usually water). Without a magnetic field the solution has no net magnetization but as soon as a magnetic field is brought near it the particles in the solution orient themselves to their magnetic field lines. Essentially the magnetic fields repel the particles in the solution while gravity and surface tension keep them from splashing everywhere.

So just what are ferrofluids used for? Well there are plenty of uses for it such as in engineering and medicine. With regards to engineering ferrofluids are able to reduce friction and resistance between magnets. Ferrofluids are also being used to detect cancer and possibly as a cure due to its ability to transfer and give off heat. This material is still relatively new so it seems only time will show the other uses of this unique solution.

Where Are the Flying Cars?

One of the most common complaints I hear from people is where the heck are the flying cars? It turns out building a flying car is much harder than people think.

Lets take a look at some attempts at a flying car. One of the first attempts was done in the 1940's by a man named Ted Hall. Hall was an innovative man and to achieve his goal of a flying car he stuck plane wings on a car and no doubt drowned in praise. The crazy thing was it actually flew but the project was scrapped because of structural issues. Another recent attempt took place in 2003 with the Moller Skycar. The Moller Skycar was designed from the ground up and used four rotapower engines to achieve vertical takeoffs. Unfortunately the Moller Skycar was limited to hovering a short distance and failed to achieve full flight.

Moller Skycar
The main problem with creating a flying car aren't just structural problems but practical design problems as well. In order to be practical a flying car first needs to achieve vertical liftoff. The vehicle needs to be able to transition smoothly from ground to sky and because not everyone has a mile of runway at their disposal vertical liftoff is the only possible solution. The vehicle also needs to be able to easy to operate so that the average person can safely drive it without losing control. Added to all that is the ability to cheaply mass produce while retaining safety feature in case of a crash and the reason we don't have flying cars.