Engineering News (September 2017)

Use your imagination, slip into the mind of Spiderman, and imagine what could happen if you could lift an object 165 times your body weight, without passing a single drop of sweat.

This imaginative dream could be about to become reality. Engineers from the Department of Material Science and Engineering at the School of Engineering at Rutgers Univeresity have uncovered a simplified way to achieve this with nanotechnology with a device called a Nano-electro chemical actuator. The device can match the powers of any super hero, just on a smaller scale. The actuator weights just 1.6 milligrams, about the same weight as a Poppy seed, and studies have shown it can lift approximately 265 milligrams, the weight of approximately 825 poppy seeds. In additional to this, Nano has the ability to repeat this action many times recurrently.

Researchers have discovered a way to generate strength.  The Nano-electro chemical actuator uses electrical ions which are simply inserted and removed between thin layers of Molybdenum Disulphide (MoS2), an inorganic crystalline mineral compound most commonly used in engineering lubricants such as WD40. The device works in the same way as muscles, by converting the electrical energy into mechanical energy. “We found that by applying a small amount of voltage, the device can lift something that’s far heavier than itself,” said Professor Manish Chhowalla.

“This is an important finding in the field of electrochemical actuators. The simple restacking of atomically thin sheets of metallic MoS2 leads to actuators that can withstand stresses and strains comparable to or greater than other actuator materials.”

Actuators are often used in a wide variety of electrical systems and in a range of robotic machinery. The study has shown that they could be used as steerable catheters, or in the wings of aircrafts when adapting to changing atmospheric conditions and also for the  reduction of drag in wind turbines.

Credit for the discovery at Rutgers University in New Brunswick goes to Muharrem Acerce, who was a student studying for his doctorate in Chhowalla’s group. Assistance in the study was provided by E Koray Akdoan, an Assistant Professor in the Material Science and Engineering Department.

Chhowalla is also the Rutgers Institutes director for Advanced Materials, Devices and Nanotechnology. MoS2 takes the form of a layered material, like that of graphite. It has a strong chemical bond within its layers, however it is also weak between those layers. This allows for it to be separated into thin sheets easily via chemical reactions.

The separation of the layers forms nanosheets, and those nanosheets separate when in solvents such as water. Once the nanosheets have been separated, they can then be reassembled into stacks. To achieve this, the solution is put on to flexible sheets, and the solvent is allowed to evaporate. Once the sheets have been restacked, they can then be used as electrodes. These are similar to the electrodes used in batteries. They have a high level of electrical conductivity, and when in this configuraton, they can insert and remove ions. By adding and removing ions, it allows the nanosheets to expand and contract, producing a more forceful movement of the flexible surface.

Chhowalla’s next step forward is to increase the scale of the device, to make an actuators with more lifting power.

The Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) have been carrying out more tests on their latest spacecraft the Dream Chaser. The test was called a ‘captive carry’, and the results of this test have taken the reusable vehicle closer to being used in an orbital flight.

Dream Chaser has been designed to carry cargo to and from the International Space Station (ISS). It will be launched on Atlas V and Ariane 5 rockets to get there. The spacecraft has similar characteristics to that of the Space Shuttle, however it travels automatically and under its own power once it is in orbit, docking automatically with the ISS. On it’s return journey and having entered the Earth’s atmosphere, Dream Chaser then glides to the ground and lands in a conventional way on a runway. On average, each Dream Chaser will be able to be reused up to 15 times according to the SNC.

Prior to any launch, the gathering and analysis of data is very important in order to assess how the Dream Chaser is going to perform in flight. In the latest round of tests carried out by the SNC the Dream Chaser was taken to altitude by a Chinook helicopter and remained attached during the entirety of the testing. The team on the ground from the SNC sent messages to the Dream Chaser and recorded the responses.

Lee “Bru” Archambault the director of flight operations for the Dream Chaser programme said, “We are very pleased with results from the captive carry test, and everything we have seen points to a successful test with useful data for the next round of testing.”

Following on from the success of the first tests, a second round of captive carry tests are now planned in the coming months, with the SNC hoping to have completed the first free flight by the end of 2017. The tests that are being carried out are based around the Dream Chaser being unmanned. A second model of the Dream Chaser is currently under development that will allow for manned spaceflight. The Dream Chaser is only 9 metres long, and will only be able to carry a maximum of 7 astronauts, the same amount as a normal space shuttle.

Steve Lindsey, Vice President of Space Exploration for SNC indicated that the Dream Chaser is on schedule to meet the milestones needed for orbital spaceflights.

Ken Ulbrich (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons

The Royal Navy have been working on developing futuristic submarine concepts. They have now reached a point where they are ready to reveal these designs. They have a clear aim, which is to lead the way in underwater combat technology of the future. There is also a somewhat questionable likeness between the Royal Navy’s developments, with more than a passing resemblance to the Stingray submarine from Gerry Anderson’s TV puppet series.

The mothership is crewed and looks like a manta ray. They have also designed cone like torpedoes which seek and surround the enemy target. These designs have been released following work by a group of some of the UK’s future engineers and scientists at UKNEST. The Royal Navy challenged the group to design what submarines would look like in 50 years’ time. They also wanted to know how it would be used to keep Britain safe in the years to come.

The Royal Navy is deemed one of the top in terms of advanced weapons technology around the globe, due to their open minded approach with new ideas and challenges. Commander Peter Pipkin, the Royal Navy’s Fleet Robotics Officer would like to see these new ideas become reality, putting the Royal Navy at the top of the game.

The submarines of the current era perform multiple roles in one hull. The aim for the Royal Navy is to operate a family of submarines, consisting of different shapes and sizes. Some of these will be manned while others will be unmanned; they will be used for multiple roles and also some very different tasks.

The materials that would be used to build the Mothership would be super-strong alloys and acrylic, with surfaces that are able able to morph in shape. The mothership would be powered by hybrid algae-electric propulsion, along with propulsion technologies like the tunnel drives that are currently used in Dyson bladeless fans. The aim is to generate speeds of up to 150 knots.

The MOD want to continue to encourage and support the engineers of the future. They want to see bold engineers that will continue to push boundaries, whilst remaining successful with technological and human skills. With the rate of the worlds innovation increasing, the MOD want to see the UK leading the race, and have high hopes that the next generation of engineers and scientists will evolve to meet these ambitious goals.

Closing ten of the platforms at Waterloo station would not have been a popular decision, nor could it have been done without causing incident. However, the station has now reopened following its revamp costing a total of £800 million. This will now begin to benefit those who use Waterloo, as it has increased the station’s capacity. The platforms initially came back into use on the Tuesday following the August Bank Holiday, but on the day itself, Network Rail found a signalling problem. Due to that issue, the new franchise holders South Western Railway were left informing their customers of 10 minute delays.

Some lines also still required buses to be used as an alternative; trains to Shepperton, Hampton Court and Chessington South all had replacement bus connections between Weybridge and Virginia Water. Similarly, some of the stations that lead to Waterloo were also closed. Problems in Hampshire on the Eastleigh to Southampton line were reported caused by a broken down freight train, whilst a broken down train blocked the line between Leatherhead and Effingham in Surrey.

Network Rail were sending out the message that Waterloo station had reopened after one of the ‘largest and most complex’ improvements in the history of the station. It is reported that a team of over 1,000 engineers and trackside staff had been working around the clock for the past three and a half weeks in order to complete the work. The work was to boost the capacity of the station by up to 30%. This work will provide room for up to another 45,000 passengers in peak times both morning and evening.

Network Rail’s Route Managing Director Becky Lumlock gave apologies for the delays and thanked passengers for their patience. Lumlock explained that the work undertaken will benefit passengers for many years, maybe decades to come. With longer platforms creating extra space for longer trains, passengers should enjoy a more comfortable journey, especially during peak times. The final stages of works on old Eurostar International Terminal are to take place over the next 16 months.

Unfortunately, passengers on the South-Western Railway are yet to see any benefits.  The Independent Transport Watchdog have urged passengers to claim compensation following upgrade failures that saw disappointments with the booking systems, leading to cancellations, delays and revised services. They want passengers voices heard, and thye are of the opinion that a clear message needs to be sent to the industry that commuters expect more.

Waterloo Station oversees more than 99 million passenger journeys annually, with an average of 270,000 journeys made every day to and from the station, and operates 1,600 trains, amounting to 651,000 passengers daily. South Western has been deemed the busiest commuter operator in Europe.

Bjørn Christian Tørrissen [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

A team of students from the university of Munich, have just completed the latest test runs at its Hyperloop track in Nevada. During these tests, the speed record was broken twice. Speed of 201mph were reached by their prototype. They achieved the speed while their pod was passing through the mile-long airless test tube.  That record was shortlived.

Following on from the tests in Nevada just a couple of days later, SpaceX, the company owned by Elon Musk, who originally had the idea of the Hyperloop, took the opportunity to send its invention the ‘Pusher Pod’ down the hyperloop test track. The role of the pusher pod is to propel the prototypes down the track.

A new record speed of 220mph was set when the ‘pusher pod’ went down the track by itself. Musk commented that once improvements have been made, track speeds could  become as fast as 310mph. This will equate to nearly half the speed of sound. Elon thinks this will happen within the next month.

Elon Musk also owns a boring company responsible for building tunnels. He intends to link the Hyperloop system and the boring company together to build tunnels into California. There is also the potential to build a Hyperloop from Washington DC to New York. If this is successfully achieved, then a journey of 225 miles that would normally take hours could merely take as long 29 minutes door-to-door.

Musk announced on Twitter that he had been given the government go-ahead to build the Hyperloop system to New York. Another example of the Hyperloop in action will soon be seen is Dubai. The project being overseen by Californian based startup company Hyperloop One, has raised over $160 million so far in funding. The route, from Dubai to Abu-Dhabi is a 99-mile journey and takes just 12 minutes to complete. Future expansion of the system would link the United Arab Emirates with its neighbours in the Gulf –  the journey time between Dubai and the Saudi capital Riyadh, which is currently a two hour air flight, could be completed in as little as 50 minutes.

Engineering News – August 2017

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