Science Briefs: Material developed to turn car engine’s heat into electricity

The daddy longlegs silhouetted on this leav is an eight-legged arthropods.
The daddy longlegs silhouetted on this leav is an eight-legged arthropods.

Car engine heat turned into electricity

A report in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces announces the development of a material that could convert engine heat that’s otherwise wasted into electrical energy to help keep a car running – and reduce the need for fuels.

The researchers started with a material called strontium titanium dioxide and added a small amount of graphene, a stable material with excellent conductive properties. The resulting composite was able to capture and convert heat into electric current efficiently over a broad temperature range.

Computer program ID’s more sketches than humans do

A computer program called Sketch-a-Net can correctly identifying the subject of sketches 74.9 percent of the time compared to humans that only managed a success rate of 73.1 percent.

As sketching becomes more relevant with increasing use of touchscreens, the development could provide a foundation for new ways to interact with computers. Touchscreens could understand what you are drawing, enabling you to retrieve a specific image by drawing it with your fingers, which is more natural than keyword searches for finding items.

The research also showed that the program, developed at Queen Mary University of London, performed better at determining finer details in sketches. For example, it successfully distinguished bird variants “seagull,” “flying-bird,” “standing-bird” and “pigeon” with 42.5 percent accuracy, while people only achieved 24.8 percent.

N.C. State: Composite metal foams block dangerous rays

Research from N.C. State University shows that lightweight composite metal foams are effective at blocking X-rays, gamma rays and neutron radiation, and can absorb the energy of high impact collisions. The finding means the metal foams hold promise for use in nuclear safety, space exploration and medical technology applications.

“This work means there’s an opportunity to use composite metal foam to develop safer systems for transporting nuclear waste, more efficient designs for spacecraft and nuclear structures, and new shielding for use in CT scanners,” said Afsaneh Rabiei, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at N.C. State. She is corresponding author of a paper on the work published in Radiation Physics and Chemistry.

The most effective composite metal foam against all three forms of radiation is called “high-Z steel-steel.” It was made up largely of stainless steel but incorporated a small amount of tungsten.

Spiders, shrimp, insects in spotlight Saturday at Discovery Place

About 85 percent of all known animals in the world are arthropods – spiders, insects, centipedes, mites, ticks, lobsters, crabs, shrimp, crayfish, krill, barnacles, scorpions and more. Arthropod Day will be 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Aug. 1 at Discovery Place, 301 N. Tryon St. Educators will help you look at arthropods through microscopes. Other activities include live cockroach races and the chance to taste special arthropod appetizers. Events are free with museum admission: $15; $12 for ages 2-13 and 60 and older. Details: Staff reports

Visit with archaeologists in real-time on Tuesdays

Paleontologists from the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences are excavating dinosaurs in two areas of the Utah desert as part of the Dinosaurs of the Dawn project and a new initiative, Founders Fauna. And you can talk with them.

At 11 a.m. Tuesdays – July 28, Aug. 4 and Aug. 11 – they will answer questions for at least 30 minutes via live broadcasts to the Daily Planet Theater at the downtown Raleigh museum. Admission: free. If you can’t attend, you can tweet your questions to @naturalsciences for the scientists to answer. Details: Note: the crew also has a field blog: Staff Reports