February 07, 2016

DARPA plans to record 1 million neurons at the same time by 2020 compared to 500 neurons today

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) started a new project this week to dramatically increase the number of human brain neurons that can be read simultaneously, according to the MIT Technology Review. In four years, DARPA wants a breakthrough from neuroscientists that will record from 1 million neurons simultaneously.

The initiative stems from the disappointing predictions of progress in this field based on Stevenson’s Law. Similarly to how Moore’s Law has predicted exponential growth in the number of transistors on a silicon chip since 1965, Stevenson’s Law predicts exponential growth in the number of neurons that can be read simultaneously. According to Stevenson’s Law, the number of neurons that can be recorded simultaneously will double every seven years, and currently sits at about 500. DARPA’s goal of 1 million neurons will substantially break out from the limits of Stevenson’s Law.

The goal of recording or “reading” brain neuron states is the goal to stimulate or “write to” at least 100,000 neurons in the brain. The stimulating device should be the size of a nickel or smaller and will operate wirelessly. Some of the research will involve studies on human subjects, requiring research teams to obtain investigational device exemptions from the FDA and follow the agency’s safety standards.

China should have an operation squadron of J-20 stealth fighters by 2017

China is flying the first airframe in the inaugural production batch of J-20 stealth fighters.

The first J-20 squadron expected to be fully delivered by year's end, the China Flight Testing Evaluation regiment will being developing operating procedures, tactics and technical proficiency to bring the J-20 to combat readiness. At this pace, it is expected that in 2017-2018, the Chinese Air Force will have its first operational stealth fighter squadron.

The J-20 currently relies on Russian AL-31 series turbofan engines (the powerful domestic WS-15 engine will enter service in 2019-2021), everything else on the J-20 is Chinese; its stealth coating, infrared sensor, powerful AESA radar, are all domestically made.

Development of the WS-15 began in the 1990s. The thrust target was reported as 180 kilonewtons (40,000 lbf) in 2012. In 2009, it was known that the prototype was able to achieve 160 kilonewtons (36,000 lbf).

China has about a ten year lead on building and using domestically developed stealth fighters versus other Asian rivals (domestic Indian, Japanese and Korean stealth fighters are not expected to enter service until after 2027). In addition to J-20 and the soon to follow in production J-31 stealth fighter, Chinese plans also call for stealthy drones, bombers and advanced cruise missiles.

First self-assembled 3D superconductor structure created

Prof. Ulrich Wiesner, material science and engineering, created the first ever self-assembled, three-dimensional superconductor with a research group of graduate students and professors of different disciplines.

This is the first time a superconductor has self-assembled into a porous, three-dimensional gyroidal structure. After years of collaboration with co-author Prof. Sol Gruner, physics, Wiesner developed the idea for the gyroidal structure, employing niobium nitride as the superconducting material brought the idea to fruition.

“The superconductors have this so-called gyroid nanostructure which provides a network of nanopores of around 15 nanometers that percolates the entire superconducting structure,” Wiesner said. “The width of the superconducting struts separating the pores itself is only of order 10 to 20 nanometers.”

Diverging from the typical bulk material used to create superconductors, Wiesner’s team utilized a self-assembling, synthetic block copolymer assembled in Wiesner’s labs.

Wiesner’s achievement also expands possibilities for the future research and creation of superconductors, he said.

“The gyroid structure is only one of many, many spontaneous structures that polymers and other self-assembly systems form,” Wiesner said. “We can now start to test how these structures will change the properties of superconductors.”

GA structure and sample/structure evolution from initial compounds to final NbN superconductors. (A) GA before and after processing, with the unit cell indicated by the black cube. (B) (Top) Chemical structures of compounds and (bottom) schematic of synthesis and processing steps with photographs of the final materials. Block terpolymers (ISO) are combined with the Nb2O5 sol-gel precursors in a common solvent. Hybrid block copolymer/Nb2O5 GA structures are generated by solvent evaporation–induced self-assembly. After calcination in air, the mesoporous Nb2O5 GAs are transformed to NbN GAs in a two-step nitriding process. Scale bars in all photographs represent 1 cm. NH3, ammonia.

Science Advances - Block copolymer self-assembly–directed synthesis of mesoporous gyroidal superconductors

Stephen Hawking’s latest black-hole paper could be a fresh way to solve a black-hole conundrum

Almost a month after Stephen Hawking and his colleagues posted a paper about black holes online, physicists still cannot agree on what it means.

Some support the preprint’s claim — that it provides a promising way to tackle a conundrum known as the black hole information paradox, which Hawking identified more than 40 years ago. “I think there is a general sense of excitement that we have a new way of looking at things that may get us out of the logjam,” says Andrew Strominger, a physicist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a co-author of the latest paper.

Others are not so sure that the approach can solve the paradox, although some say that the work illuminates various problems in physics. In the mid-1970s, Hawking discovered that black holes are not truly black, and in fact emit some radiation. According to quantum physics, pairs of particles must appear out of quantum fluctuations just outside the event horizon — the black hole’s point of no return. Some of these particles escape the pull of the black hole but take a portion of its mass with them, causing the black hole to slowly shrink and eventually disappear.

In a paper published in 1976, Hawking pointed out that the outflowing particles — now known as Hawking radiation — would have completely random properties. As a result, once the black hole was gone, the information carried by anything that had previously fallen into the hole would be lost to the Universe. But this result clashes with laws of physics that say that information, like energy, is conserved, creating the paradox. “That paper was responsible for more sleepless nights among theoretical physicists than any paper in history,” Strominger said during his talk.

The mistake, Strominger explained, was to ignore the potential for the empty space to carry information. In their paper, he and Hawking, along with their third co-author Malcolm Perry, also at the University of Cambridge, turn to soft particles. These are low-energy versions of photons, hypothetical particles known as gravitons and other particles. Until recently, these were mainly used to make calculations in particle physics. But the authors note that the vacuum in which a black hole sits need not be devoid of particles — only energy — and therefore that soft particles are present there in a zero-energy state.

Arxiv - Soft Hair on Black Holes

Russia has engine tests for PAK-DA strategic stealth bomber and see delays in first flight to 2021

The prototype russian PAK DA stealth bomber may hit the skies before 2021. Russia is trying to spin this as a good thing.

The National Interest notes that his is a two year delay from a prior plan to fly in 2019.

“The maiden flight should be performed in 2019. State tests and supplies will be completed in 2023,” Russian Air Force chief Col. Gen. Bondarev told RIA Novosti in May 2014. Under the previous plan, the bomber had been expected to become operational in 2025. However, that timeline was always optimistic. With the first flight delayed, the rest of the PAK-DA’s schedule is likely to shift to as well—with operational testing and operational capability being delayed by several years.

The PAK-DA is expected to be a subsonic flying-wing aircraft that is roughly analogous to the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit and the U.S. Air Force’s forthcoming Long Range Strike-Bomber. Flying wings lend themselves well to low observable characteristics—particularly against low frequency radars operating in the UHF and VHF bands—but manufacturing could still be an issue. The PAK-DA will likely feature advanced avionics—including a new radar, communications suite and electronic warfare systems. Meanwhile, the PAK-DA’s engines, which are being developed by the Kuznetsov design bureau, are an advanced derivative of the Tu-160’s NK-32 turbofans.

The PAK-DA will not be a small aircraft. It is expected to have a maximum gross take-off weight of about 250,000lbs—about the size of a Boeing 757 airliner.

Field tests of the first prototype engine of the PAK DA long-range aviation aircraft were undertaken successfully recently, engine maker JSC Kuznestsov said. This marks another milestone in the development of the aircraft.

By 2014, the project reached development stages: the developers identified and formed the tactical and technical data of the PAK DA, including an approximate weight of 125 tons (with a combat load of 30 tons), a range of 12,500 km, and subsonic flight.

Lightweight anti-concussion collar could prevent mild concussions in football players and other sports atheletes

Could a neck-worn device protect the brains of athletes and soldiers against traumatic injury? That’s the promise of technology that researchers are beginning to test in humans after several years of animal studies.

The idea behind such a “collar,” which was originally inspired by studies of animals that tolerate repeated blows to the head, is to slightly increase the amount of blood in the brain and thereby cushion it in a way no helmet can, says Julian Bailes, a co-inventor of the technology, chairman of neurosurgery at NorthShore University HealthSystem, and co-director of the NorthShore Neurological Institute in Evanston, Illinois.

The new type a lightweight and pressurized neck collar may help prevent mild concussions during sports, according to the developers of the device.

The collar, which weighs four to five ounces -- is designed to exert a minimal amount of continual pressure on the large neck veins that carry blood from the heart to the head, and back again.

That slight pressure, which is similar to the pressure of a tie knot, triggers a slight drop in the amount of blood that flows out of the head. That leaves a little extra fluid in the brain, which helps cushion it in case of impact, the researchers said.

The end result, said Cincinnati Children's Hospital's Gregory Myer, is the production of "a natural bubble-wrap for our brain."

Speaking at a news briefing on the new technology this week in New York City, Myer said, "It's the same principle behind seatbelts and airbags," both of which serve to significantly lower the g-force associated with sudden impacts.

February 06, 2016

Optical lens just a billionth of a meter thick can make lighter mobile phones and cameras

A flat optical lens just a billionth of a meter thick will let us see living creatures as small as a single bacterium better than ever before. The new lens, developed by researchers at Swinburne University of Technology, promises to revolutionize much of the technology around us.

Driven by developments in photonic chips and nano-optics, the global race to create a practical ultrathin lens that breaks the diffraction limit — enabling a focus less than half the wavelength of light — had been gathering pace since the turn of the millennium.

The new lens, developed by researchers at Swinburne University of Technology, promises to revolutionize much of the technology around us.

The design of the GO lens. (a) Conceptual design and laser fabrication of the GO ultrathin lens. (b) Amplitude and phase modulations provided by the transmission and refractive index difference, respectively, between the GO and rGO zones.

Nature Communications - Highly efficient and ultra-broadband graphene oxide ultrathin lenses with three-dimensional subwavelength focusing

Army Paladin self-propelled howitzer fired high velocity projectile which could be used in any 155-mm and 5-inch guns

The USA Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) was set up four years ago to find and develop new uses for existing technologies, as well as making them cheaper and faster to get into service with troops.

One of the SCO’s priorities was adapting technology from “railguns”. Such guns use neither explosives nor propellant, but instead rely on electromagnetic forces to fire projectiles at speeds of up to 4,500mph – 50pc faster than conventional weapons – with greater range and destructive force.

The high velocity projectile is being adapted for Navy 5-Inch; Navy, Marine Corps, and Army 155-mm systems; and future electromagnetic (EM) railguns.

BAE has been working with the US Navy for years, and landed several development contracts to develop railguns and the so-called “hypervelocity” projectiles they fire. Mr Carter said some of the advances from the research are being used in existing weapons.

“The SCO has got a project on gun-based missile defence, where we’re taking some of the same hypervelocity smart projectiles that we developed for the electromagnetic gun – that’s the railgun,” Mr Carter said.

He said that instead of using railguns’ projectiles for offensive purposes, they could be used defensively in conventional systems, for purposes such as shooting down other missiles.

Just over month ago the SCO had tested firing high-speed missiles from a Paladin self-propelled howitzer – a system built by BAE – and found that it “significantly increased” the weapon’s range.

The US military has “hundreds” of Paladins in its arsenal that could benefit from the advance, Mr Carter said.

AE's Paladin self-propelled guns have test-fired the hyper-velocity projectiles

The Hyper Velocity Projectile is basically a flying hypersonic spike and is launched in a similar fashion as the sabot rounds fired by Main Battle Tanks. The super low-drag spike of a projectile whizzes through the air at hyper-velocity speeds (around 5,600mph), hence its name. Oh yeah, and it is guided.

The HVP’s sleek design allows it travel much farther than tradition naval gun shells, from 30 to over 100 miles depending on what it’s fired out of.

The HPV projectile will have different versions
* an air burst
* a kinetic energy penetrator
* high-explosive round.

Because of its high-speed and miniaturized and hardened internal guidance, it could be used against surface and a ground targets, but it could also be employed against air threats, as well.

If network connectivity is added to the HVP’s design, it could be guided in-flight with command updates coming from external sensors. This means it can hit moving vehicles using a remote sensor’s data, such as from an unmanned aircraft or a ship’s radar system. Under such a scenario, a HVP could be launched from 100 miles away, toward an enemy land mass, and a loitering unmanned aircraft tracking a vehicle could provide the projectile with terminal targeting information. The whole engagement would last about one minute.

It also means that the HVP could one day become more deadly than a surface-to-air missile, as its speed makes it almost impossible to defend against.

“BAE Systems is applying its expertise and technology to develop a hyper velocity projectile (HVP) using innovative and proven technologies,” said Joe Senftle, vice president and general manager of the company’s weapon systems business. “The HVP is a next-generation, guided projectile that will give the US Navy increased velocity, precision and extended range to address a variety of current and future threats.”

Mile high skyscraper proposed for Tokyo would be twice as tall as Burj Khalifa

Grumman will show off its sixth generation stealth jet fighter design during the Superbowl

Northrop Grumman appears poised to show off its Sixth generation fighter during Super Bowl Sunday. The defense titan released a new commercial online Friday.

Northrop Grumman provided a first look at its vision for the sixth-generation fighter in December. One of the most complicated parts, analysts have noted, is that if the stealthy planes include lasers, they will need to be built in a way in which the heat doesn’t give them away on enemy radar.

The United States Air Force and United States Navy are anticipated to field their first sixth-generation fighters in the 2025–30 time frame. The USAF is pursuing development and acquisition of a sixth-generation fighter through the F-X program to replace the F-22 Raptor, and the U.S. Navy is pursuing a similar program called the Next Generation Air Dominance to replace the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

First Korean APR-1400 1400 megawatt nuclear reactor connected to the Grid

Unit 3 of South Korea's Shin Kori nuclear power plant was connected to the grid on 15 January and has started supplying electricity, plant owner Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP) announced yesterday.

Shin Kori 3 - construction of which began in October 2008 - is the first Korean-designed Advanced Pressurised Reactor-1400 (APR-1400) to start up.

Having been issued with an operating licence for the unit by the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission on 30 October, KHNP began loading 241 fuel assemblies into the reactor on 4 November. The unit achieved first criticality on 29 December.

KHNP has since been conducting commissioning tests at the unit. These tests involve checking the unit's performance as its output is gradually increased to full capacity.

Shin Kori 3 is expected to enter commercial operation in May following the completion of these tests, KHNP said. It becomes South Korea's 25th operable power reactor.

Unit 4 at Shin Kori - also an APR-1400 - is expected to start operating in early 2017. Unit 3 had originally been due to begin operating at the end of 2013, with unit 4 following in September 2014. However, their operation has been delayed by the need to test safety-related control cabling and its subsequent replacement.

Two more of the 1350 MWe pressurized water reactors are under construction as units 1 and 2 of the Shin Hanul site in South Korea. Those units are expected to enter service in April 2017 and February 2018, respectively.

Two further APR-1400 units are planned for both the Shin Kori and Shin Hanul sites.

Four more APR-1400s are under construction at Barakah in the United Arab Emirates. All four are scheduled to be in operation by 2020.

China will build a high temperature nuclear reactor for Saudi Arabia

China and Saudi Arabia have signed a memorandum of understanding on the construction of a high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTR). It was one of 14 agreements and memoranda of understanding signed yesterday during a meeting in Riyadh of Chinese president Xi Jinping and Saudi's Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz.

A demonstration HTR-PM unit is under construction at Shidaowan near Weihai city in China's Shandong province. That plant will initially comprise twin HTR-PM reactor modules driving a single 210 MWe steam turbine. Construction started in late 2012 and it is scheduled to start commercial operation in late 2017.

A proposal to construct two 600 MWe HTRs at Ruijin city in China's Jiangxi province passed a preliminary feasibility review in early 2015. The design of the Ruijin HTRs is based on the smaller Shidaowan demonstration HTR-PM. Construction of the Ruijin reactors is expected to start next year, with grid connection in 2021.

CNEC said it is actively promoting its HTR technology overseas and has already signed memoranda of understanding with Saudi Arabia, Dubai, South Africa "and other countries and regions" to consider the construction of HTR plants.

Although Saudi Arabia's nuclear program is in its infancy, the Kingdom has plans to construct 16 nuclear power reactors over the next 20 years. A 2010 royal decree identified nuclear power as essential to help meet growing energy demand for both electricity generation and water desalination, while reducing reliance on depleting hydrocarbon resources.

Last September contracts were signed between the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) and KA-CARE (King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy) to support their cooperation in developing KAERI's SMART (System-integrated Modular Advanced Reactor). This is a 330 MWt (100 MWe) pressurised water reactor with integral steam generators and advanced safety features.

February 05, 2016

In July 2015 there were electric planes crossing the English Channel and electric engines 5 times larger are being tested

On July 9, 2015 pilot Hugues Duwal appeared to cross the channel in a tiny Columban Cri-Cri. It’s name comes from French for “cricket”, and it is an unbelievably tiny airplane. If the E-Fan is a Smart Car, the Cri-Cri designed in the 1970s, resembles nothing so much as a Peel Trident, the world’s second-smallest car. The Cri-Cri is a half-sized cockpit put into the middle of a quarter-scale plane, with two small engines powering propellers that stick out in front of the cockpit like catfish whiskers. The wingspan is just 16 feet, so flying the whole plane is like wearing giant wings. If Duwal’s flight was indeed successful, and his CriCri was indeed an electric one and not the two-stroke engines common to Cri-Cris, then he may have under the cover of darkness snuck past Airbus and into the history books, or at least the books of minor aviation feats.

On July 10, 2015 an Airbus E-Fan crossed the english channel. The E-Fan is an electric plane that looks like the tiny, electric-smartcar version of an A-10 fighter. Powered only by batteries, it has two fans situated behind the cockpit, promising up to 45 minutes of flight time with a top speed of 137 mph. The E-Fan crossed the channel in about 40 minutes.

Airbus has stated that there are plans for development of a commercial regional electric powered aircraft in the near future.

The E-Fan 2.0 will go into production by 2017 with a side-by-side seating layout

E-Fan Specs

Crew: one
Capacity: one passenger
Length: 6.67 m (21 ft 11 in)
Wingspan: 9.50 m (31 ft 2 in)
Max takeoff weight: 550 kg (1,213 lb)
Powerplant: 2 × Electric motor , 30 kW (40 hp) each via eight-blade ducted fans,each producing thrust of 0.75 kN (266 lb st), Battery: Lithium-ion 18650, with 207 Wh/kg per cel, total of 29 kWh at a battery weight of 167 kg

Maximum speed: 220 km/h (137 mph; 119 kn) all performance figures estimated
Cruising speed: 160 km/h (99 mph; 86 kn)
Endurance: 60 min
Lift-to-drag: 16:1

Another electric plane—the Pipistrel Alpha Electro—should've crossed the Channel as well, but the flight was reportedly blocked due to a dispute between the plane maker and Siemens (which made the electric motor in the Airbus Alpha Electro).

In 2014 China’s first passenger electric plane, the RX1E Ruixiang, was produced.

The RX1E Ruixiang isn’t just the first passenger electric plane produced in China, though. It is “the world’s first electric passenger plane that received an airworthiness certificate.”

The RX1E Ruixiang’s range is not that different from the range of the two-seat E-Fan that Didier Esteyne just used to fly across the English Channel. While Esteyne’s plane has about 50 minutes of flying time on a full charge, the RX1E has about 40 minutes of flying time. The RX1E maximizes its range with the use of lightweight carbon fiber, and its battery charges in about 1½ hours.

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