MIT Spins Qubits Round And Round

Quantum computers are coming, but there are still many problems with realizing practical machines. One is finding a reliable and affordable way to encode qubits — the basic unit for quantum computers. MIT researchers have a proposal. By using two slightly different colored lasers, they can manipulate nuclear spin. This isn’t the first time someone’s tried to use light to impact spin, but according to MIT, the other methods use an indirect coupling which is more prone to noise, something that limits the viability of quantum computers. They published a recent paper on the process if you want to read more.

Nuclear spin has weak interactions, but the new method doesn’t require intermediate steps, so it may be much more practical than previous methods. MIT mentions that typical quantum elements have coherence time limits, which means data stored in them becomes useless in less than a second. The new method promises to have coherence times measured in hours.

The method is known as the optonuclear quadrupolar effect or ONQ. From the paper:

[The ONQ effect] is second order in the electric field and nuclear spin I, as mediated by the quadrupole electric coupling, and is thus one of the nonlinear optical (NLO) responses of materials present in perfect crystals. Via the ONQ effect, nuclear spins can be coherently controlled by two-color photons, without electron spins as the media.

If you understood that, you should probably head over and read the rest of the paper. Meanwhile, the rest of us are waiting for our quantum Arduino.

A black quadcopter sits on a grey surface. In place of traditional propellers are four figure eight propellers with sharp tips where the top and bottom of the eight would be.

Toroidal Propellers Make Drones Less Annoying

Despite being integral to aviation for more than a century, propellers have changed remarkably little since the Wright Brothers. A team at MIT’s Lincoln Lab has developed a new propeller shape that significantly reduces the noise associated with drones. [PDF via NewAtlas]

Inspired by some of the experiments with “ring wings” in the early 20th Century, researchers iterated on various toroidal propeller geometries until arriving at one that significantly reduces the sound produced by the rotors, particularly in the range of human hearing. The team suspects the reduction in noise is due to vortices being distributed over the whole propeller instead of just the tips.

Experiments show the drones can get twice as close before becoming a nuisance for human ears which should be great news for anyone hoping to launch Skynet commercial drone deliveries. Since the rotors are easily fabricated via 3D printing they should be easy to adapt to a number of different drones.

If you want to explore some more interesting drones, checkout this one that can fly and swim or this one that only uses a single propeller.

A multi-colored chair with a stainless steel frame sits on wooden legs against a grey background.

Recycled Chairs Bring The Subway To Your Living Room

Public transit seats have a rough life. Enduring a number of wear cycles that would make your sofa weep, they take a beating and have to keep looking presentable. When trains and buses are retired, where do the old seats go? A team from the MIT Hobby Shop investigated what was happening to the seats from retiring MBTA Red Line cars and recycled them into stylish chairs.

After some sleuthing and many emails, the MBTA relinquished a number of old subway seats to the team. Since the subway seats didn’t have legs, wood from old church pews was used to create bases. It took one pew end support to create each set of legs, which were cut out on a bandsaw. The old dark stain was sanded off, and the bases were finished with three coats of gel topcoat, letting the natural beauty of the old oak shine through.

We love seeing old things given new life here at Hackaday. If you want to see some more recycled furniture, check out this tire table, this upcycled jeans chair, or these best practices for making box forts.

Move Over Silicon, A New Semiconductor Is In Town

Silicon has had a long run as the king of semiconductors, and why not? It’s plentiful and works well. However, working well and working ideally are two different things. In particular, electrons flow better than holes through the material. Silicon also is a poor heat conductor as we’ve all noticed when working with high-speed or high-power electronics. Researchers at MIT, the University of Houston, and other institutions are proposing cubic boron arsenide to overcome these limitations.

According to researchers, this material is a superior semiconductor and, possibly, the best possible semiconductor. Unfortunately, the material isn’t nearly as common as silicon. Labs have created small amounts of the material and there is still a problem with fabricating uniform samples.

Early experiments show the material has very high mobility for electrons and holes along with thermal conductivity almost ten times greater than that of silicon. It also has a good bandgap, making it very attractive as a semiconductor material. In fact, only diamond and isotopically enriched cubic boron nitride have better thermal conductivity.

However, there are still unknowns about how to use the material in practical devices. Long-term stability tests are as lacking. So maybe it will wipe out silicon or maybe it won’t. Time will tell.

We are always on the lookout for the next big semiconductor material. However, we suspect this tech will be out of reach to the home semiconductor fab, at least for a little while.

Design Your Next Robot Hand In Minutes

MIT complains that designing a robot hand is time-consuming and takes a lot of iterations. They want to improve that using a unique approach by giving a modular hand tactile sensors. They claim this can reduce the design time down to minutes for many practical applications. For example, cutting paper. You can see a video about the paper below as well as read the text itself.

Each style of manipulator has an associated graph. Predefined elements let you assemble a palm and specialized fingers. You deform the fingers to match the use of the hand. Then a sensor that looks like a mitten provides feedback fo the task.

Continue reading “Design Your Next Robot Hand In Minutes”

This $4 Desalination Device Provides Drinking Water For The Whole Family

Researchers at MIT and in China have improved the old-fashioned solar still with a new inexpensive device that harnesses the sun to remove salt from water. Traditionally, these kinds of systems use a wick to draw water, but once the wick becomes fouled with salt, the device needs cleaning or other maintenance. Not exactly what you want in a survival situation. You can read the paper in Nature if you want more details.

The key to this new technique is black paint and polyurethane with 2.5-millimeter holes drilled in it. The idea is that warmer water above the insulating medium causes the salt to concentrate in the cooler water beneath the insulator allowing efficient vaporization of the water.  As the water evaporates, it causes the salt concentration at the top to rise, which then sinks due to the higher density and lower-concentration salt water rises to the top to evaporate.

Because the materials are commonplace, the team says a one-meter-square system costs about $4 to produce. A system that size could provide a family’s daily drinking water.

So far, the prototype system has worked in the lab for at least a week without accumulating salt. The next challenge is to scale it to something more practical, but due to the low cost and simplicity of the system, it seems it would be easy enough to make that happen or to reproduce the device for your own testing.

Desalination is a problem you can approach from many different angles. You can also harvest clean water from fog, something else that started at MIT.

High Temp Heat Engine Achieves 40% Efficiency

People generate lots of waste heat. It makes sense that there is a desire to convert that heat into usable energy. The problem is one of efficiency. Researchers from MIT and the National Renewable Energy Lab have announced a new heat converter that they claim has 40% efficiency. Of course, there’s a catch. The temperature range for the devices starts at 1,900 °C .

The thermophotovoltaic cells are tandem devices with two cells mated on one substrate. Each cell is multiple layers of very thin and somewhat exotic materials. So this probably isn’t something you will cobble up in your basement anytime soon unless you’re already manufacturing ICs down there. It appears that the secret is in the multiple layers including a reflective one that sends any missed photons back through the stack.

The paper is pretty dense, but there’s a Sunday-supplement summary over on the MIT site. Using heat storage leads to the ability to make heat batteries, more or less, and harness what would otherwise be waste energy.

We’ve noticed a lot of interest in drawing power from hot pipes lately. All of them techniques we’ve seen rely on some kind of exotic materials.