How fabric helped build modern civilization.
- Virginia Postrel, author of "The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World," describes how the pursuit of textiles has led to a vast variety of innovations throughout history. Notably, the launch of the Industrial Revolution started with the machines that mechanized the spinning of thread.
- The term luddite, which has now come to mean "people who have [an] ideological opposition to technology," started with textiles. The original Luddites of the 19th century were weavers who rioted when they began losing their jobs to power looms.
- Postrel states that human beings throughout the world and across history independently discovered different processes for creating cloth. She goes on to say that "weaving is something that is deeply mathematical… It seems to be this kind of human activity that's thinking in ones and zeros that's anticipating our modern computer age."
The EmDrive turns out to be the "um..." drive after all, as a new study dubs any previous encouraging EmDrive results "false positives."
- The proposed EmDrive captured the public's imagination with the promise of super-fast space travel that broke the laws of physics.
- Some researchers have detected thrusts from the EmDrive that seemed to prove its validity as a technology.
- A new, authoritative study says, no, those results were just "false positives."
Now it seems that, yep, it was too good to be true. Scientists at Dresden University of Technology (TU Dresden) appear to have conclusively proven that the EmDrive does not, in fact, produce any thrust. They provide some compelling evidence that small indications of thrust in previous research were simply false positives produced by outside forces.
How the EmDrive is supposed to work
Credit: AndSus/Adobe Stock
In the EmDrive, says
the company that owns rights to the invention, "Thrust is produced by the amplification of the radiation pressure of an electromagnetic wave propagated through a resonant waveguide assembly." In simpler words, trapped microwaves bounce around a specially shaped enclosed container, producing thrust that pushes the whole thing forward.
They also assert that while the EmDrive is not exactly on speaking terms with Newton's Third Law, the company says it's perfectly in line with the second one:
"This relies on Newton's Second Law where force is defined as the rate of change of momentum. Thus, an electromagnetic (EM) wave, traveling at the speed of light has a certain momentum which it will transfer to a reflector, resulting in a tiny force."
Interest in the EmDrive has been understandable considering what it was supposed to do. Speaking to Popular Mechanics last year, Mike McCulloch, the leader of DARPA's EmDrive investigation, describes how the engine could "transform space travel and see craft lifting silently off from launchpads and reaching beyond the solar system." He mentioned his excitement at being able to get from here to Proxima Centauri — 4.2465 light years away — in just 90 human years.
It doesn't work. Yes it does. No, it doesn't.
NASA Eagleworks' EmDriveCredit: NASA/Wikimedia Commons
DARPA, part of the U.S. Department of Defense, is only one of the organizations investigating the claims made for the EmDrive. In 2018 the agency invested $1.3 million to study the device in research that will be wrapping up this May barring any significant last-minute breakthroughs.
Teams from all over the world have been testing Shawyer's idea since it was introduced and releasing often contradictory test results. This may have to do with the fact that teams detecting any EmDrive thrust at all have reported vanishingly small amounts of it, measured in milliNewtons (mN). A mN equals about 0.00022 pounds of force.
"Ever since the introduction of the EmDrive concept in 2001, every few years a group claims to have measured a net force coming from its device. But these researchers are measuring an incredibly tiny effect: a force so small it couldn't even budge a piece of paper. This leads to significant statistical uncertainty and measurement error."
For a sense of how minuscule these results are, consider that the possible thrust force reported by NASA in 2014 of 30-50 micro-Newtons is roughly equivalent to the weight of a big ant. Chinese researchers have claimed detection of 720 mN in their tests. That would be 72 grams of thrust. An iPhone 11 with a case weights 219 grams.
Too small to stand out against background noise
These tiny amounts of EmDrive thrust lie at the heart of what the TU Dresden researchers are saying: The effects are simply too small to rule out effects that don't really come from the EmDrives at all. The researchers have just published three papers. The title of one "High-Accuracy Thrust Measurements of the EmDrive and Elimination of False-Positive Effects" tells the story. The other two studies are here and here.
When the UT Dresden team turned on their EmDrive based on NASA's EmDrive, they, too witnessed tiny amounts of apparent thrust.
However, says Martin Tajmar of UT Dresden to German media outlet GreWi, they soon realized what was going on: "When power flows into the EmDrive, the engine warms up. This also causes the fastening elements on the scale to warp, causing the scale to move to a new zero point. We were able to prevent that in an improved structure."
Putting the kibosh on other researchers' results, the authors of the studies write:
"Using a geometry and operating conditions close to the model by White et al. that reported positive results published in the peer-reviewed literature, we found no thrust values within a wide frequency band including several resonance frequencies. Our data limits any anomalous thrust to below the force equivalent from classical radiation for a given amount of power. This provides strong limits to all proposed theories and rules out previous test results by more than three orders of magnitude."
This would seem to be the definitive end of the EmDrive story.
Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.
- U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
- Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
- While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
The U.S. Navy controls patents for some futuristic and outlandish technologies, some of which, dubbed "the UFO patents," came to life recently. Of particular note are inventions by the somewhat mysterious Dr. Salvatore Cezar Pais, whose tech claims to be able to "engineer reality." His slate of highly-ambitious, borderline sci-fi designs meant for use by the U.S. government range from gravitational wave generators and compact fusion reactors to next-gen hybrid aerospace-underwater crafts with revolutionary propulsion systems, and beyond.
Of course, the existence of patents does not mean these technologies have actually been created, but there is evidence that some demonstrations of operability have been successfully carried out. As investigated and reported by The War Zone, a possible reason why some of the patents may have been taken on by the Navy is that the Chinese military may also be developing similar advanced gadgets.
Among Dr. Pais's patents are designs, approved in 2018, for an aerospace-underwater craft of incredible speed and maneuverability. This cone-shaped vehicle can potentially fly just as well anywhere it may be, whether air, water or space, without leaving any heat signatures. It can achieve this by creating a quantum vacuum around itself with a very dense polarized energy field. This vacuum would allow it to repel any molecule the craft comes in contact with, no matter the medium. Manipulating "quantum field fluctuations in the local vacuum energy state," would help reduce the craft's inertia. The polarized vacuum would dramatically decrease any elemental resistance and lead to "extreme speeds," claims the paper.
Not only that, if the vacuum-creating technology can be engineered, we'd also be able to "engineer the fabric of our reality at the most fundamental level," states the patent. This would lead to major advancements in aerospace propulsion and generating power. Not to mention other reality-changing outcomes that come to mind.
Among Pais's other patents are inventions that stem from similar thinking, outlining pieces of technology necessary to make his creations come to fruition. His paper presented in 2019, titled "Room Temperature Superconducting System for Use on a Hybrid Aerospace Undersea Craft," proposes a system that can achieve superconductivity at room temperatures. This would become "a highly disruptive technology, capable of a total paradigm change in Science and Technology," conveys Pais.
High frequency gravitational wave generator.
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
Another invention devised by Pais is an electromagnetic field generator that could generate "an impenetrable defensive shield to sea and land as well as space-based military and civilian assets." This shield could protect from threats like anti-ship ballistic missiles, cruise missiles that evade radar, coronal mass ejections, military satellites, and even asteroids.
Dr. Pais's ideas center around the phenomenon he dubbed "The Pais Effect". He referred to it in his writings as the "controlled motion of electrically charged matter (from solid to plasma) via accelerated spin and/or accelerated vibration under rapid (yet smooth) acceleration-deceleration-acceleration transients." In less jargon-heavy terms, Pais claims to have figured out how to spin electromagnetic fields in order to contain a fusion reaction – an accomplishment that would lead to a tremendous change in power consumption and an abundance of energy.
According to his bio in a recently published paper on a new Plasma Compression Fusion Device, which could transform energy production, Dr. Pais is a mechanical and aerospace engineer working at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), which is headquartered in Patuxent River, Maryland. Holding a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Pais was a NASA Research Fellow and worked with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. His current Department of Defense work involves his "advanced knowledge of theory, analysis, and modern experimental and computational methods in aerodynamics, along with an understanding of air-vehicle and missile design, especially in the domain of hypersonic power plant and vehicle design." He also has expert knowledge of electrooptics, emerging quantum technologies (laser power generation in particular), high-energy electromagnetic field generation, and the "breakthrough field of room temperature superconductivity, as related to advanced field propulsion."
Suffice it to say, with such a list of research credentials that would make Nikola Tesla proud, Dr. Pais seems well-positioned to carry out groundbreaking work.
A craft using an inertial mass reduction device.
Credit: Salvatore Pais
The patents won't necessarily lead to these technologies ever seeing the light of day. The research has its share of detractors and nonbelievers among other scientists, who think the amount of energy required for the fields described by Pais and his ideas on electromagnetic propulsions are well beyond the scope of current tech and are nearly impossible. Yet investigators at The War Zone found comments from Navy officials that indicate the inventions are being looked at seriously enough, and some tests are taking place.
If you'd like to read through Pais's patents yourself, check them out here.
Laser Augmented Turbojet Propulsion System
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
Meet a spectacular new blue—the first inorganic new blue in some time.
The color you're looking at in the unretouched photo above is a stunning new blue called "YInMn Blue." It's the first new inorganic blue pigment developed in hundreds of years. "YInMn Blue" is a contraction of Yttrium, Indium, and Manganese, and the pigment was invented by a team of chemists led by Mas Subramanian at Oregon State University (OSU).
The color was invented in 2009, but it took until last spring for the EPA to approve it for general use — the agency refers to it as "Blue 10G513." Before that, in 2016, the Shepherd Color Company had licensed it for exterior use, and knockoffs of the color popped up here and there in Etsy offerings. It even inspired a new Crayola color called "Bluetiful." Appropriate.
So, um the color of the sky is...?
Credit: Constant Loubier/Unsplash
YInMn Blue is the latest character in an odd story: humanity's relationship with the color blue.
For a long time, humans apparently took no note of blue, which is weird. Though blue isn't especially common in vegetation and stone, there's no other color that so envelops us — in the sky above and on the face of the oceans that surround us. (BTW, the late George Carlin once lamented a paucity of blue foods.)
There are no ancient European year-old cave paintings with blue pigments, though it does appear in some African cave art. There's no mention of it in the Bible. Though there are plenty of references in Homer's Odyssey to white and black, and a few to red and yellow, there's no blue. He refers to the color of the sea as "wine-dark."
Some historians hypothesize that early humans might have been color-blind, capable only of seeing black, white, red, and eventually yellow and green. Perhaps they just weren't very interested in the idea of color altogether.
Maybe, though, a more likely explanation is that lacking a concept and a word for blue, ancient people lacked a frame of reference for understanding what they were seeing. Radiolab did a fascinating episode about this possibility.
A BBC documentary found that people from a Namibian tribe with no separate words for green and blue couldn't differentiate green from blue squares, though there's some controversy about the experiment. What is true, though, is that Eskimos see more types of snow because they have 50 words for it. (The word "Eskimo" groups together the people of the Inuit and Yupik families.) We see just a few.
Credit: Geert Pieters/Unsplash
While Homer, et al., were stumbling around clueless, it seems that the first folks to get blue were the ancient Egyptians, who were entranced by the semiprecious Afghan stone lapis lazuli about 6,000 years ago. They gave the color a name—ḫsbḏ-ỉrjt—and used the stone liberally in jewelry and headdresses.
The Egyptians even attempted to make paint from the mineral, but failed. In 2,200 B.C. they finally succeeded at producing a light-blue paint, cuprorivaite or "Egyptian blue," from heated limestone, sand, and azurite or malachite. Egypt's precious blue pigments eventually became valued by royalty in Persia, Mesoamerica, and Rome.
The earliest successful lapis lazuli paint—and ultimately Europe's first great blue—appeared in 6th century Buddhist paintings from Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Imported into Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries, ultramarine—from ultramarinus, or "beyond the sea"—was used only in expensive commissioned artwork until a French chemist developed a cheaper, synthetic version in 1826. True ultramarine was both so coveted and pricey that, according to the Metropolitan Museum, Vermeer impoverished his family to purchase it, and there's a story that one of Michelangelo's paintings, "The Entombment," was left unfinished because he couldn't afford the ultramarine it required. At the other end of the cost spectrum was the affordable blue dye indigo, made from the plant Indigofera tinctoria, and imported to Europe in the 16th-century.
Over time, more blues appeared. In 1706, German dye-maker Johann Jacob Diesbach came up with Berliner Blau, or Prussian blue, accidentally when potash he was using to make red pigment was contaminated with animal blood that paradoxically turned it blue. 1802 saw the invention of cobalt blue, based on the 8th- and 9th-century blue pigments used in Chinese porcelain, by French chemist Louis Jacques Thénard. Cerulean blue—from caerulum, meaning "heave" or "sky"—was the last major blue introduced before YInMn Blue. It was invented by Albrecht Höpfner in 1789.
Back to the new blue
The discovery of YInMn Blue occurred when chemistry grad student Andrew Smith was heating manganese oxide to approximately 1200 °C (~2000 °F) to investigate its electronic properties. To his surprise, what emerged from the heat was a brilliant blue compound. Recalls Subramanian: "If I hadn't come from an industry research background — DuPont has a division that developed pigments, and obviously, they are used in paint and many other things — I would not have known this was highly unusual, a discovery with strong commercial potential."
Subramanian knew, he told NPR in 2016, "People have been looking for a good, durable blue color for a couple of centuries." OSU art students soon began experimenting with the new color, incorporating it in watercolors and printing. In 2012, Subramanian's team received a patent for YInMn Blue.
Bonus: Previous blue pigments are prone to fading and are often toxic. These are problems that don't afflict YInMn Blue. "The fact that this pigment was synthesized at such high temperatures signaled that this new compound was extremely stable, a property long sought in a blue pigment," says Subramanian in the study documenting YInMn Blue.
Subramanian and his colleagues have been developing colors ever since, including new bright oranges, new purples, and turquoises and greens. Currently, they're on the hunt for a chromatic Holy Grail: a stable, heat-reflective, and brilliant, red. It's a challenge. While red is among the oldest colors, Subramanian calls the shade he seeks "the most elusive color to synthesize."
Researchers find a way to distort laser light to survive a trip through disordered obstacles.
- Lasers are great for measuring—if they can get a clear view of their target.
- In biomedical applications, there's often disordered stuff in the way of objects needing measurement.
- A new technique leverages that disorder to formulate a custom-made, optimal laser light beam.
Lasers can make amazingly precise measurements. Invaluable for precision construction and manufacturing, they also allow biomedical researchers and doctors to accurately detect the position and movement of microscopic objects, from cells to tissues to tiny biological structures. That is, when the laser can get a direct shot at the target, which is often not possible. In the human body, for example, these objects may be partially obscured by, situated in, or even behind complicated, obfuscating stuff.
Now scientists from Utrecht University (Netherlands) and TU Wien in Austria have devised a cool way to alter lasers so that they can bounce right through such distortion fields, arriving on the other side as an "optimal wave" intact enough to get to work.
Their new system is described in the journal Nature Physics.
Understanding the problem
Credit: gavran333/Adobe Stock
When working with lasers or any other measurement tool, "You always want to achieve the best possible measurement accuracy — that's a central element of all natural sciences," says paper co-author Stefan Rotter of TU Wien in a press release. A highly focused laser beam is an ideal tool for this. However, getting it through a disordered barrier without destroying the integrity of the beam is a challenge.
The researchers describe the problem using the example of the type of frosted glass one might encounter in a bathroom window. Explains Utrecht University's Allan Mosk, another co-author, "Let's imagine a panel of glass that is not perfectly transparent, but rough and unpolished like a bathroom window." To keep people from seeing into the bathroom, "Light can pass through, but not in a straight line. The light waves are altered and scattered, so we can't accurately see an object on the other side of the window with the naked eye."
This is not very different from what happens when a scientist tries to examine some tiny object inside biological tissue. The disordered stuff between the scientist and the object turns the concentrated laser beam into a complex wave pattern that scatters on its way through the visual barrier.
The new solution
Credit: TU Wien
The researchers have found that they can modify a laser's light in anticipation of the way it will travel through the disordered environment so that it hits its target on the other side with sufficient coherence for making accurate measurements.
While that optimal wave may not be a pure, pristine laser light, it's nonetheless just the light wave needed to successfully make its way through that particular barrier. The researchers were able to develop a mathematical procedure that gives them the distortion required to produce such a wave. Says first author Dorian Bouchet, also of Utrecht University, "You can show that for various measurements there are certain waves that deliver a maximum of information as, e.g., on the spatial coordinates at which a certain object is located."
Bouchet adds, "To achieve this, you don't even need to know exactly what the disturbances are. It's enough to first send a set of trial waves through the system to study how they are changed by [it]."
Returning to the glazed bathroom window example, the system would identify an optimal light wave that could travel through the disordered glass and still accurately measure movement of a person behind the glass.
Testing the system
The researchers confirmed that their formula worked in experiments at Utrecht in which they were able to make nano-scale measurements using a laser that successfully transited a turbid plate playing the role of a disordered medium. They also tried simpler and simpler laser beams—reducing the number of photons being used—to see how far they could push their system. They found that it even with the simplest laser possible, it still performed satisfactorily.
Says Mosk, "We see that the precision of our method is only limited by the so-called quantum noise. This noise results from the fact that light consists of photons—nothing can be done about that." Still, he says, "within the limits of what quantum physics allows us to do for a coherent laser beam, we can actually calculate the optimal waves to measure different things. Not only the position, but also the movement or the direction of rotation of objects."