Quiet Aircraft Engines, Super Resolution Microscopes and a Cure for Hiccups

June 24

This week we find out to reduce the noise from aircraft engines. We investigate a new way to turn a microscope into a super resolution microscope and a more energy dense organic battery for Electric Vehicles. Finally we discover a cure for hiccups. An age old problem finally solved by science.

Aircraft engines as quiet as a Hairdryer?

Researchers at the University of Bath have developed a new honeycomb like material that can reduce aircraft engine noise to the level of a hairdryer. Made from graphene oxide polyvinyl alcohol aerogel it weighs 2.1kg per cubic meter.

The aerogel’s meringue-like structure makes it extremely light. Within an aircraft engine it reduces the 105 decibel sound on takeoff by 16 decibels. This is a similar sound level to the hairdryer that some of you use everyday.

The structure was developed by using a liquid combination of graphene oxide and a polymer which are formed with whipped air bubbles and freeze casted. It is similar to whipping egg whites to create meringues. Given the ultra light weight of the material it will add very little weight to an aircraft when fitted. It is possible that it may be retrofitted to current aircraft engines within the next 18 months.

The initial applications are focused on aerospace however future applications will include motor vehicles (ICE engines) and other noisy urban situations.

Super Resolution Microscopes

An Atom Force Microscope is a specialized piece of equipment that “feels” the atoms on the surface of an object. Scientists are Weill Cornell Medicine have developed a new computational technique that greatly increases the resolution of these specialized devices.

This new method allows us to “see” atomic level details on proteins and other biological structures under normal conditions. This opens a new window on cell biology and virology. Previously proteins were studied by loading them onto a scaffold of crystals or by freezing them at ultra cold temperatures. Atomic Force Microscopy can analyze biological molecules under normal conditions however to date the images were blurry and low resolution.

Imaging individual molecules as they carry out their functions could open entirely new methods of analysis. One further advantage of the technique is that it can be applied retroactively to images taken using the AFM technique over the past few decades.

Organic based Solid State Lithium battery

Lithium-metal anodes are considered to be the “holy grail” for improving energy density in electric vehicle batteries. Researchers at University of Houston and Rice University have demonstrated a two-fold improvement in energy density for organic based solid state lithium batteries using a solvent assisted process which alters the electrode microstructure.

This new process will allow the development of low-cost, earth abundant, cobalt free, organic cathode materials for solid state batteries. It is also a step forward in increasing the energy density of EV batteries. The organic compound lithium batteries are also more easily recycled.

Over the past ten years the cost of EV batteries has declined to nearly 10% of their original cost. This is a pivotable step in the process towards more sustainable and energy dense batteries. Who knows what the next decade of research will bring.

A Straw that cures hiccups

There are many old tales of how to cure hiccups. Hold your breath, drink a glass of water whilst upside down from the back of the cup or have someone scare the life out of you. Whilst these cures sometimes work (and are fun to inflict when you are the scarer), there must be a better way.

Science has come to the rescue. Firstly what are hiccups? They re involuntary contractions of the diaphragm, the muscle between your chest and abdomen. A sudden contraction of your vocal cords caused by the diaphragm contraction produces the hiccup sound.

Now a “forced inspiratory suction and swallow tool” (FISST) called HiccAway has solved the hiccup problem. The straw like object has an L-shape with a mouthpiece at one end and an adjustable cap at the other. The cap has a pressure valve. Place the device into a glass of water, take a sip and the hiccups will disappear.

The vigorous suction required to draw water through the straw and swallow, activates the two nerves responsible for hiccups. The phrenic nerve triggers a contraction of the diaphragm and the vagus nerve activates the swallow. This activation will stop hiccups immediately. A simple device to have around particularly for those prone to regular annoying bouts of hiccups.

Paying it Forward

If you have a start-up or know of a start-up that has a product ready for market please let me know. I would be happy to have a look and feature the startup in this newsletter. Also if any startups need introductions please get in touch and I will help where I can.

If you have any questions or comments please email me via my website craigcarlyon.com or comment below.

I would also appreciate it if you could forward this newsletter to anyone that you think might be interested.

Till next week.