The bicycle can tell us how to make it better

Over the years bicycle design has changed. Materials were upgraded as technology advanced, and accumulated knowledge helped bicycle builders make improvements along the way. But deep analysis with the intent to make meaningful improvements has not been widely embraced. Reasearchers at UC Davis are looking to expand into this frontier by letting the bicycle tell us how it can be improved. This is one of the test bikes they’ve been working on, which is mainly aimed at data harvesting. They’re hoping to find some real improvements based mostly on how the machine can get out of the rider’s way as much as possible. The thought here is that the rider’s body makes up 80-90% of the volume of the vehicle and should be accommodated in every way possible.

Sure, this could be a case of trying to build a better mouse trap. But listening to the discussion in the video after the break really drives home the complex issues of stability and locomotion that go into these seemingly simple vehicles. We’re going to guess the final recommendations will not involve making the bike five times taller.

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Destroying stuff for the good of all mankind

NC state’s constructed facilities laboratory is a place where things get broken for science. We’ve shared several videos lately of things being sliced, diced, sheared, exploded, and smashed, purely for the fun of it, and now we feel like we should compensate a little bit. No, we’re not going to undergo physical punishment, instead, we’ll share some educational destruction.

In the video after the break, you can see a few things pushed to their absolute limits, then a bit further. The Constructed Facilities Laboratory is a research lab that tests the limits of some of the infrastructure that we rely on daily. Bridges, roads, walls, support beams. Someone needs to figure out what they can really handle. Even more interesting than the short video below, are all the different videos in the tour that explain how the facility is constructed an how they operate. Take a few minutes and enjoy the tour.

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Lego Mindstorms used to automate tedious laboratory tasks

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Modern society owes so much to medical research, though what happens behind the scenes in a laboratory is usually far less than glamorous. A group of scientists at the University of Cambridge are working to develop synthetic bone tissue, but the process to create the samples used in the study is incredibly tedious.

To make the bones, a substructure must be dipped in a mixture of calcium and protein, rinsed, then dipped in a mixture of phosphate and protein…hundreds and hundreds of times. Equipment that can automate the process is available but very cost prohibitive, so the scientists did what they do best and built a set of robots to do the work for them.

Their new bone manufacturing setup was constructed using Lego Mindstorm kits, which were a perfect solution to their problem in several ways. The kits are relatively cheap, easy to construct, easy to program, and able to perform the same function precisely for days on end.

Now instead of burning time manually creating synthetic bone samples, the group can focus on the more important facets of their research.

Continue reading to see a video presented at the 2012 Google Science Fair, showing how everything came together for the crew at Cambridge.

[via Make]

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Brewing up some quantum dots

We’re taking a field trip from the backyard, garage, and basement hacking in order to look in on what research scientists are up to these days. A group from the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology has been manufacturing quantum dots for use in the medical field. Made up of Cadmium Selenide, this is a nanomaterial that you can think of as individual crystals of the smallest size possible. Quantum dots have many uses. Here, [Charli Dvoracek] takes the recently manufactured dots and activates them with antibodies capable of targeting cancer cells. Once mixed with a biological sample, the dots embed themselves in the walls of the cancer, allowing the researchers to find those cells thanks to the phosphorescent properties of the dots.

The video after the breaks walks us through the various steps involved in growing these dots. [Charli] has the benefit of a fully outfitted lab, using tools like an argon-filled glove box to protect her from harmful off-gases. You’re not likely have this sort of thing in your home laboratory, but as we’ve seen before, you can make some of your own equipment, and produce interesting chemicals with simple processes. If you’re someone who already tinkers with chemistry experiments we want to hear about your exploits so please drop us a tip about what you’re up to.

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Power All Over Your Body

We know that you can transform the mechanical motions of your body into electrical energy, like when you turn the crank or shake a mechanically-powered flashlight. These types of mechanical motions are quite large compared to many of the day-to-day (and minute-to-minute) actions you perform–for example walking, breathing, and thumb wrestling.

What if we could harvest energy from these tiny movements? Researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology are seeking the answer to this question with piezoelectric barium titanate. The electrical output of their devices is very small (in the nanoAmps) but over a long period and over many repetitions it would be possible to run a small electric device–even a biologically-embedded one. An alternative to blood power?

There is clearly a lot of potential in this technology, and we’ll be interested to see if and when we can start messing around with this stuff. Heck, it’s already been used to power a small LED and you all know just how much everyone would jump at the chance to cover themselves in self-powered LEDs…

Experimental Robotic Platform

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Introducing ERP: Experimental Robotic Platform. This is an open source, modular robotics platform that, as you can see above, didn’t fair too poorly in the Robogames 2009. [John] has been working on this platform for roughly 2 years and states that it will never be “finished”. It is a development platform, and is always changing and being updated.  You can follow along on the project page to see the major design changes as they happen, such as the wheel suspension system cut from a single piece of plastic. All of the pieces, schematics, and software are available for download. Be sure to scroll down and see ERP’s reaction to some of crabfu’s inventions.