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Laser-Triggered, Origami-Like Pixie Dust

May 1, 2013
By George I. Seffers

U.S. Army researchers have developed micro materials that fold when hit with a low-intensity laser. The advance may eliminate the need for relatively bulky power systems—such as battery packs—on tiny robotic systems. It also could enable robotic microthrusters, unattended ground sensors, or even—theoretically—programmable, easily changeable camouflage patterns.

The microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) are shaped like stars with four, six or eight legs. The legs fold—like origami—when heated slightly with light from a low-level laser. That folding action is accomplished without the materials being tethered to batteries, wires or other any other power supply.

One of the most likely applications would be a new kind of switch that prevents electricity leakage when a device is turned off. “You could turn on a structure or turn off a structure from a distance by shining a light on it,” explains Chris Morris, an Army Research Laboratory (ARL) electronics engineer who leads the On-chip Energetics and MEMS team. “And when the structure is in an off state, it would be truly off, unlike a solid-state electrical switch where there’s always some leaking through even when it’s off.”

Microrobotic applications are more futuristic. “I could see this as potentially being a way to enable very, very small robotic-like platforms where you have little legs that would move in response to light—and potentially even different colors of light, so they could be directed to walk in one direction or another depending on what color of light you’re flashing at them,” Morris explains. “That’s one interesting aspect that circumvents the current power supply challenge with small-scale robotic systems for surveillance and reconnaissance. The power supplies are so bulky and heavy that in order to get something big enough to carry the power supply, you no longer have a small, cheap, disposable package. You have something the size of a kid’s remote-control car.”

Second Skin for 
a Lighter Warfighter

May 1, 2013
By Max Cacas

Academic, research and industry teams join forces to improve uniform materials.

New fabrics now under development will one day relieve troops from the burden of wearing additional garments to protect from chemical and biological attack. The effort, dubbed Second Skin, is being led by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Chemical and Biological Technologies Department. The goal is to weave a new generation of multifunctional materials that can be manufactured into everyday military uniforms but use molecular-level technologies to protect against such attacks as soon as the wearer enters a contaminated area. The program is budgeted for $30 million over the next five years.

Hooded, heavy and cumbersome suits in hot desert climates worn in anticipation of possible chemical attacks and the accompanying discomfort would become a thing of the past if the Second Skin program is successful, according to Tracee Harris, science and technology manager for Novel Materials, Chemical and Biological (CB) Technologies Department, at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. “The vision of dynamic multifunctional materials for Second Skin technology is to enable the manufacture of autonomous protective garments—in other words, garments that can respond to a CB threat by optimizing the balance between the CB protection that the garment can offer and thermal comfort for the wearer,” she explains.

Harris cites studies performed by the U.S. Army Research Institute for Environmental Medicine that show a physiological effect that current suits have on soldiers’ abilities to perform their mission. “They’re performing moderate work, marching under those conditions, under high relative humidity, and high temperatures,” she says, adding that in normal use, soldiers usually must rest after wearing the suit for one hour. Generally, suits are issued to troops for use only in situations where they may be marching into a known threat.

Many Issues Cloud the Future for the Military

January 31, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman




Micrometer Materials Form 3-D Military Tools

January 9, 2013
By Rita Boland

Researchers at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and Johns Hopkins University have discovered methods to control folding pathways and enable sequential folding on a millimeter scale using a low-intensity laser beam. Lasers at a low intensity worked as a trigger for tagging applications. Developers are fabricating sheets of millimeter-size structures that serve as battery-free wireless actuators that fold when exposed to a laser operating at eye-safe infrared wavelengths. The metallic structures may respond even to high-powered LED lighting. At the millimeter scale, the structures could attach, jump, apply friction and perform as mechanical switches serving a number of defense functions such as the remote initiation of energetic materials, micro thrusters for robotics and the attachment of transponder tags to fabric surfaces. They also could possibly integrate with logic/memory circuits, sensors, transponder tags and optical modules such as light emitting diodes.

Future Bright for Nanoparticles in Radiation Detection

July 9, 2012

Materials researchers at the Sandia National Laboratories have developed a new class of nanoporous materials that could lead to more effective and less costly radiation detectors for homeland security inspectors. The new material works with plastic scintillators to make them glow brightly in the presence of charged particles or high-energy photons. Sandia officials say though more work is needed, they are currently seeking commercial partners to license the technology.

General, We Shrunk the Kits

June 3, 2011
By Beverly Schaeffer

Nanotechnologies aim to streamline military gear and miniaturize equipment used by U.S. forces, under efforts by the U.S. Army Research Office Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies.

Two Universities Receive Contract for New Computer Paradigm Devices

October 1, 2010
By George Seffers

The University of Notre Dame and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) are each being awarded cost reimbursement contracts for the NV Logic program, which will enable a completely new computing paradigm based on nano-magnetic devices that will achieve 100 times better computing performance relative to that attainable with current technology. Notre Dame is receiving a nearly $10 million contract, UCLA more than $8 million. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is the contracting activity.

IBM Research

June 10, 2008
By H. Mosher

A longtime leader in computer and electronics research, IBM is committed to furthering nanotechnology research. The goal of the company's work is to develop new atomic and molecular-scale structures and devices to enhance information technologies. The IBM home page offers links highlighting a number of projects such as bionanotechnology, materials characterization and tools, nanoelectronics, nanomaterials and self-assembly, nanomechanics, and quantum coherent systems. Two examples of the firm's research are self-organizing nanocrystals that can be formed into thin-films and organic thin-film transistors that can be used in applications such as electronic paper, print circuitry and displays.

National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI)

June 9, 2008
By Henry Kenyon

The NNI was launched in 2001 to coordinate the U.S. federal government's nanotechnology research and development. Its mission is to provide a guiding vision for the long term opportunities and benefits of nanotechnology and to serve as a center for communication, cooperation and collaboration between all the participating government agencies. The NNI's home page provides information about federal advisory groups such as the National Science and Technology Council and its Nanoscale Science Engineering and Technology subcommittee. Visitors can download the NNI's fiscal year 2009 budget documents and a variety of papers, brochures and reports from the initiative's home page. The site also provides a list of NNI research centers such as the Center for Functional Nanomaterials at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Visit the site at

Professor Zhong L. Wang's Nano Research Group

June 3, 2008
By Henry Kenyon

Nanostructures have a range of applications in electronics and materials research, but before they can be mass-produced, the processes to grow them consistently and accurately must be understood. A part of the Georgia Institute of Technology's School of Materials Science, this research group focuses its work on the physical and chemical processes in nanomaterials growth, the unique properties of nanosystems, new measurement techniques and new applications for nanoscale objects. The group's home page features its research on a range of nanostructures such as nanogenerators, nanobows, nanopropellor arrays, nanowire bundles, nanosaws and nanorods. Information about these projects can be downloaded from the site.


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