Smart dust particles consist of a computer chip, about a millimetre in dimension, surrounded by a polymer sheath that can be made to wrinkle or smooth out by applying a small voltage. Roughening the surface of the polymer means the drag on the smart dust particle increases and it floats higher in the air; conversely, smoothing out the surface causes the particle to sink. Simulations show that by switching between rough and smooth modes, the smart dust particles can gradually hop towards a target, even in swirling winds.
Professor John Barker, who will be describing possible applications of smart dust at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting in Preston on 18th April said, “The concept of using smart dust swarms for planetary exploration has been talked about for some time, but this is the first time anyone has looked at how it could actually be achieved. Computer chips of the size and sophistication needed to make a smart dust particle now exist and we are looking through the range of polymers available to find one that matches our requirements for high deformation using minimal voltages.”
Smart dust particles would use wireless networking to communicate with each other and form swarms. Professor Barker explains, “We envisage that most of the particles can only talk to their nearest neighbours but a few can communicate at much longer distances. In our simulations we’ve shown that a swarm of 50 smart dust particles can organise themselves into a star formation, even in turbulent wind. The ability to fly in formation means that the smart dust could form a phased array. It would then be possible to process information between the distributed computer chips and collectively beam a signal back to an orbiting spacecraft.”
In order for the smart dust to be useful in planetary exploration, they would need to carry sensors. With current technology, chemical sensors tend to be rather large for the sand-grain sized particles that could be carried by the thin Martian atmosphere. However, the atmosphere of Venus is much denser and could carry smart sensors up to a few centimetres in size. Professor Barker said, “Scientific studies could theoretically be carried out on Venus using the technology we have now. However, miniaturisation is coming on rapidly. By 2020, we should have chips that have components which are just a few nanometres across, which means our smart particles would behave more like macro-molecules diffusing through an atmosphere rather than dust grains.”
The group at Glasgow thinks it will be some years before smart dust is ready to launched into space. Professor Barker said, “We are still at an early stage, working on simulations and components. We have a lot of obstacles to overcome before we are even ready to physically test our designs. However, the potential applications of smart dust for space exploration are very exciting. Our first close-up studies of extra-solar planets could come from a smart dust swarm delivered to another solar system by ion-drive.”
Significantly more productivity in USP lasers
06.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Lasertechnik ILT
Shape matters when light meets atom
05.12.2016 | Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
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07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine
07.12.2016 | Life Sciences
07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine