Invention: Aerodynamic 'bellyflaps'
By Justin Mullins Blended wing aircraft – streamlined planes with a fuselage blended together with the wings to form one whole – have significant advantages over conventional planes. They generate less drag, are quieter and use far less fuel. But these improvements come at a cost, as blended wing aircraft are also much less manoeuvrable. In particular, the slow rate at which their nose can pitch up or down makes it hard for a pilot to change altitude quickly. The problem lies with the aerodynamic surfaces that control an aircraft’s pitch, which are closer to the aircraft’s centre of gravity than those on a conventional aircraft. As a result, the aerodynamic forces generated by these surfaces produce less of a turning force when the plane is manoeuvred. Ron Blackwelder, an aerospace engineer at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, US, suggests adding extra control surfaces, or “bellyflaps”, to the underside of the aircraft. These flaps work in conjunction with other aerodynamics surfaces to increase the rate of pitch. This should make the aircraft easier to handle, which could be important for manoeuvring it in an emergency. Read the full aerodynamic bellyflaps patent application. The increased use of nanomaterials in everything from consumer goods to medicines highlights the need to understand the toxicity of these substances better. Various nanomaterials such as fullerenes and carbon nanotubes are known to be toxic in cells at high concentrations but nobody quite understands the molecular and cellular mechanisms behind the effects. Frank Chen, a biologist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Labs in California, US, believes that quantum effects play an important role in the interaction between nanomaterials and the molecular machinery within cells. And now he has built a machine for testing these effects on gene expression. The machine works by measuring how various biological pathways associated within inflammation and cell death are triggered when biological cells are exposed to nanomaterials. In tests, Chen says the idea works well and provides a reliable way to measure the toxicity of nanomaterials that would otherwise go unnoticed, and to work out how the material may be doing its damage. Read the full quantum nanotoxicity patent application. Dehydration can be a serious consequence of many medical conditions. Fluid loss of only a few percent of body weight causes a patient to become tired and irritable with symptoms of dry mouth, less-frequent urination and irregular heartbeat. But diagnosing dehydration is by no means straightforward and usually involves testing the urine or blood in a lab, which is both costly and time consuming. But the electronics company Philips says another way is to measure the stiffness of the skin since it becomes more turgid as dehydration progresses. This can be done by sucking the skin to see how much it distorts. Philips has designed a simple transducer that measures how much the skin deforms when sucked, providing a quick and easy test that can be performed at a patient’s bedside. Read the full skin sucking patent application. Green power specialSchizophrenia spotter, Living bioterror detector, truck-bomb trap, Remote-controlled pills, Heart-powered pacemaker, sea cucumber corneas, metal muscles,