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Recent Warfare Technologies


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Some links to new chemical technology reports. Some are probably sponsored by the US and or British military. How long between R&D and applications?

1-Tune in for sensitive explosive detection by Anna Roffey in Highlights in Chemical Science, Volume 2010, 02

Scientists in Japan and Ireland have synthesised a fluorescent organic molecule that detects explosive vapours. Tuning the self assembled structure enhances its sensing efficiency by nine times.

Masayuki Takeuchi at the National Institute for Materials Science in Japan and co-workers prepared a charge transfer molecule of binaphthyl functionalised with donor acceptor substituted stilbene. The stilbene has donor and acceptor functional groups and exhibits charge transfer fluorescence, but when in the presence of species with stronger electron acceptor properties, such as the nitro groups on the explosives trinitrotoluene (TNT) the fluorescence switches off.

more can be found at http://rsc.org/Publishing/ChemScience/Volume/2010/02/Tune_in.asp

2-Lab on a piece of paper by Michael Brown in Highlights in Chemical Technology, Volume 2010, 01

Scientists in the US have made a low-cost, disposable paper device to test the purity of drinking water.

George Whitesides, Zihong Nie and colleagues at Harvard University, Cambridge, US have designed a paper-based electrochemical device that can detect tiny concentrations of heavy metal ions in water.

Heavy-metal ions such as mercury, lead, and cadmium are toxic, non-biodegradable, and can find their way into humans and animals via drinking water. Whitesides' device can detect lead in water at levels as low as one part per billon (ppb), which is much lower than the World Health Organization guideline value (<10 ppb) for the safe level of lead in drinking water. What's more, it only costs 2 cents to make and no qualified personnel or complicated instruments are needed to use them.

more can be found at http://rsc.org/Publishing/ChemTech/Volume/2010/01/lab_piece_paper.asp
I am presently reading: Wired for war, by P.W. Singer, Ed. Penguin Books, 2009.

I was wondering what are you thinking about the book and also the topics discussed in it.



Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century

What happens when science fiction becomes battlefield reality?
An amazing revolution is taking place on the battlefield, starting to change not just how wars are fought, but also the politics, economics, laws, and ethics that surround war itself. This upheaval is already afoot -- remote-controlled drones take out terrorists in Afghanistan, while the number of unmanned systems on the ground in Iraq has gone from zero to 12,000 over the last five years.  But it is only the start. Military officers quietly acknowledge that new prototypes will soon make human fighter pilots obsolete, while the Pentagon researches tiny robots the size of flies to carry out reconnaissance work now handled by elite Special Forces troops.
Wired for War takes the reader on a journey to meet all the various players in this strange new world of war: odd-ball roboticists working in latter-day “skunk works” in the midst of suburbia; military pilots flying combat mission from their office cubicles outside Las Vegas; the Iraqi insurgents who are their targets; journalists trying to figure out just how to cover robots at war; and human rights activists wrestling with what is right and wrong in a world where our wars are increasingly being handed over to machines.

P.S.: I have changed the title of the present thread to make it more "topics inclusive" but I was not able to change the topic title.
Antoine said:
I am presently reading: Wired for war, by P.W. Singer, Ed. Penguin Books, 2009.

I was wondering what are you thinking about the book and also the topics discussed in it.



P.S.: I have changed the title of the present thread to make it more "topics inclusive" but I was not able to change the topic title.

I watched an hour TV special on Wired for War and it was very interesting.

However, the two biggest problems that was said were:

1) Computer glitches that kill friendly soldiers such as the anti-aircraft cannon robot in South Africa that had a glitch and leveled it's firing arcs onto friendly troops

2) In a war waged by money, if the $30 dollar soldier with the AK-47 breaks a $1000 robot and he dies it's "worth it".

Because it's oh so obvious that human life is not a priority of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
Body Armor, William G. Schulz, Chemical & Engineering News, March 29, 2010, Volume 88, Number 13


High-tech ceramics protect soldiers from a wide range of ballistic threats:

Soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan face danger every day, but thanks to high-tech ceramics developed since the late 1960s, they have protection against numerous ballistic threats. In best-case scenarios, these ceramics can actually shatter a bullet upon impact, leaving nothing more than possibly a bruise on the warrior.
"As threats change, armor has to change," says James W. McCauley, a materials scientist at the Army Research Laboratory who has studied and helped develop many of the armor ceramics in use today.
Unlike steel, which has long been used as body armor for the military, ceramics have the advantage of being lightweight. They also have a very high degree of hardness—in fact, ceramics are some of the hardest materials known—as well as other desirable properties for ballistic protection.
Most of the ceramic powders used in the U.S.'s body armor are made in Europe or China, says Richard Haber, director of the Ceramic & Composite Materials Center at Rutgers University. However, there is still one manufacturer, Washington Mills Ceramics, in the U.S. Firms that make armor ceramics for the Department of Defense must produce lightweight plates that can withstand more than one ballistic impact, and they must also minimize cost and weight.
How to reduce weight is a primary issue, McCauley says, because it has a direct impact on the mobility of the soldier as well as on the stress placed on the warrior's body. Cost is a factor in the military's standards, given that every solider fighting in today's wars is outfitted with this protection.
The three main types of ceramics used to make body armor are boron carbide, silicon carbide, and aluminum oxide. A fourth type of ceramic is aluminum oxynitride—known as ALON—which can be used to make transparent armor for applications such as goggles and windshields.
The powders used to form these ceramics were once primarily used in abrasives because of their hardness, which is also a useful property for armor, Haber explains. Increasing the hardness of these ceramics, he says, is achieved by grinding them into finer powders. But the more the powder particles are reduced in size, the greater the amount of impurities that are introduced from the grinding equipment. This requires additional cleaning processes. Nanoscale ceramic powders are not currently economically viable, Haber says, and other nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes cannot yet be made affordably in sufficient quantities to be practical.
Producing ceramic powders requires high temperatures. In the common Acheson process, silicon dioxide and graphite or coal-distilled coke starting materials are converted into silicon carbide electrochemically at very high temperatures. The process uses a huge amount of electricity and also produces a huge amount of carbon dioxide, Haber says.
Making boron carbide requires temperatures of 3,000 °C and also produces CO2, but the ceramic is made in a melt process instead of by electrochemical means. "The melt cools, crystallizes, and is crushed," Haber says. Aluminum oxide and ALON powders are processed via similar high-temperature methods.
With the powders in hand, three manufacturing processes are routes to the final ceramic armor plates, Haber explains. All three processes involve high temperature and are "analogous to what you do in art class" to make ceramics, says Ronald Hoffman, a research physicist at the University of Dayton Research Institute.
Hot-press manufacturing involves shaping the materials in a mold and heating them up to 2,200 °C under pressure. With direct sinter, the materials are shaped and subjected to high heat, but without pressure. And in reaction bonding, the materials are formed to shape, chemically reacted, and heated to about 1,400 °C. These different processes enhance certain performance characteristics of the ceramics and result in cost differences.
Silicon carbide is a little bit softer than boron carbide, which is "the second-hardest material after diamond. Boron carbide literally shatters the bullet," says Marc A. King, president of Ceradyne Armor Systems, a supplier of U.S. military ceramic body armor.
Ceradyne uses the hot-press process at its two manufacturing facilities, located in California and Kentucky, King says. The addition of a composite material on the back side of the ceramic plate—usually a type of high-molecular-weight polyethylene—acts as a catcher's mitt for the bullet fragments, he says. Ceradyne provides both stand-alone ceramic armor and ceramic armor plates that are fitted into vests made of Kevlar, a para-aramid synthetic fiber that is also bullet resistant.
At ALON manufacturer Surmet, "we synthesize our own aluminum oxide powder, form it into a shape we want, then put the material through a series of heat treatments," says Lee Goldman, the firm's vice president of R&D. The material is then cut, ground, and polished to give it transparency. The armor's ability to protect against bullets is based on the overall laminate design, he says, and can withstand armor-piercing rounds and improvised-explosive-device blasts. "We've tested a number of threats," Goldman says.
"A lot of chemical and physical improvements have been made in ceramic manufacturing," Hoffman says. "Improvements in powder chemistry and purity, along with particle-size control coupled with efficient densification control, have led to superior ceramic articles."
Although there is no such thing as "bulletproof," today's armor ceramics provide an unprecedented level of protection and mobility for troops on the ground.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2010 American Chemical Society
Interesting take on manufacturing. Laying out parts of soft "wet" titanium hydride, folding them into shape and causing a chemical reaction to transform the part into titanium metal could result in large, seamless hull assemblies which are far lighter and stronger than any existing technology (among other uses)


Printed 3D Titanium Wet Folded Origami

The tiny origami crane sitting on a penny in the picture from University of Illinois professor Jennifer Lewis’ lab heralds a new method for creating complex three-dimensional structures for biocompatible devices, microscaffolding and other microsystems. The penny-sized titanium bird began as a printed sheet of titanium hydride ink.

Small, intricate shapes made of metals, ceramics or polymers have a variety of applications, from biomedical devices to electronics to rapid prototyping. One method of fabricating such structures is by direct-write assembly, which the Lewis group helped pioneer. In this approach, a large printer deposits inks containing metallic, ceramic or plastic particles to assemble a structure layer by layer. Then, the structure is annealed at a high temperature to evaporate the liquid in the ink and bond the particles, leaving a solid object.

However, as more layers are added, the lower layers tend to sag or collapse under their own weight – a problem postdoctoral researcher Bok Yeop Ahn encountered while trying to manufacture titanium scaffolds for tissue engineering. He decided to try a different approach: Print a flat sheet, then roll it up into a spiral – or even fold it into an assortment of shapes. Folding the printed sheets is not as easy as it would first seem.

Lewis, Ahn and their research team solved the problem by mimicking wet-folding origami, in which paper is partially wetted to enhance its foldability. By using a mixture of fast-drying and slow-drying solvents in the ink, the sheet dries partway but stays flexible enough to fold through multiple steps – 15, in the case of the crane.

The U. of I. researchers worked with professor David Dunand, the James and Margie Krebs Professor of Materials Science at Northwestern University, who initially approached Lewis with the possibility of titanium hydride inks. “I knew how to transform hydride into metallic titanium without contamination from the ink, based on prior research in my lab,” said Dunand, who focused on annealing the soft, titanium hydride origami structures into strong, metallic titanium objects.

The marriage of printing and origami techniques allows for greater structural complexity – such as the crane’s overhanging wings, a feature not producible by direct printing methods alone. In addition, Lewis’ team can print sheets with a variety of patterns, adding yet another level of architectural detail.

“By combining these methods, you can rapidly assemble very complex structures that simply cannot be made by conventional fabrication methods,” Lewis said.

Next, the team hopes to expand its origami repertoire to include much larger and much smaller structures, with an expanding array of inks. For example, the method can be extended to a variety of other ceramics and metals ranging from steels to nickel- and cobalt-based alloys to refractory and noble metals, according to Dunand.

The researchers also plan to explore possible applications including lightweight structures, biomedical devices, sensors and more.
High speed comms using ordinary "twisted pair" wiring. I wonder if this technology can be applied to field wire, resulting in combat LANs which provide rich information feeds with a greater degree of security than radio and a lot less expense than fiber optic?


Achieving Fiber-Optic Speeds over Copper Lines

A 100-year-old networking trick could boost transmissions over telephone infrastructure.
By Christopher Mims

Alcatel-Lucent has developed a prototype technology that could dramatically increase the speed of data communications over the copper wires that make up the majority of the world's telephone infrastructure. The technology combines three existing techniques, known as bonding, vectoring, and DSL phantom mode. It can reach speeds of 300 megabits per second at a distance of 400 meters from a communications hub, and 100 megabits per second at one kilometer.

Squeezing more speed out of copper connections is an important goal for telecommunications companies in the United States. They want to compete with the 50-megabit-per-second speeds offered by cable providers, but DSL connections transmit data through telephone lines--a fundamentally different technology from that used by cable companies. Alcatel-Lucent's technology could help these companies extend high-speed Internet access before next-generation fiber-optic networks become widely available.

The first two components of the prototype system, vectoring and bonding, are standard ways to increase the speed of DSL broadband connections: vectoring cancels out noise in a DSL line, and bonding treats multiple lines as if they were a single cable, which increases bandwidth by a multiple almost equal to the number of cables involved. Neither technique is widely used in the United States, but they are deployed to a limited extent in both Asia and Europe, where high urban density makes them more economical.

The third component, "phantom mode," is based on a networking trick invented in 1886 by electrical engineer and telephony pioneer John J. Carty, who later became a vice president at AT&T.

A digital signal is normally transmitted through two wires twisted together--one positive and the other negative. Carty realized that it is possible to send a third signal on top of four wires separated into two twisted pairs. The negative half of this "phantom" connection is sent down one twisted pair (which is already carrying a conventional signal), and the positive half down is sent down other twisted pair. At the destination, analog processors are used to extract all three signals--two real and one "phantom"--from the two pairs.

The challenge, says Stefaan Vanhastel, director of product marketing at Alcatel-Lucent, is that any additional bandwidth gained by creating a phantom channel can easily be swamped by the increased noise that the technique introduces. The noise arises because telephone wires are often bundled tightly into a single cable, allowing for electrical induction, or "cross-talk", between them.

"The obvious solution is to remove the cross-talk, which is why we add [high-speed] DSL vectoring on top of this," Vanhastel says. Vectoring eliminates cross-talk in bundled wires by sending a signal down the cable that is exactly the opposite of the cross-talk signal, cancelling the noise out.

Combining the three techniques has the potential to increase transmission speeds far above what's possible with existing DSL connections. Typical ADSL connections top out at six megabits per second, while advanced, VDSL-powered connections to fiber-optic hubs are advertised at speeds of up to 24 megabits per second. Replacing these VDSL connections with the prototype technology could boost speeds by 300 to 1,000 percent.

There are a few catches, however. One is that a home or business must have at least two lines already connected (in the United States, many do). In addition, says Vanhastel, manufacturers have yet to introduce a three-channel modem for consumer use.

While Alcatel-Lucent is the first company to publicly announce a technology that combines these three techniques, it is not the first to deploy them in the lab or in field trials, according to Stanford University professor John Cioffi, CEO of DSL management company ASSIA. "I've seen it work in the field on customers' lines, but I can't say where and how," Cioffi says. He notes that the cost of bonding and vectoring has deterred telecommunications companies from introducing them until now.

Other approaches are being used to get more speed out of copper connections. Last year Ericsson announced that it had induced a DSL line to transmit data at 500 megabits per second, but that achievement involved bonding six separate lines. Alcatel-Lucent limited its test to two bonded lines, says Vanhastel, because that is the largest number of lines a home or business could realistically be expected to have connected.

Alcatel-Lucent doesn't believe it will roll out the combination technology until after 2011. Even so, that's well ahead of the timetable for extending fiber-optic technology to all areas of the U.S.

One-hundred-megabit DSL is "what we can see" in the next five to 10 years, says Cioffi. That will be just in time to realize the Federal Trade Commission's goal, announced in February, of rolling out 100-megabit-per-second broadband to 100 million U.S. homes by 2020.

Copyright Technology Review 2010.
For hardcore Geeks  8)

Adrian Cho, Quantum Cryptography Hits the Fast Lane, ScienceNow, April 19, 2010


Whether for online bills or military secrets, encryption schemes help keep digital communication secure. In recent years, physicists and engineers have been developing methods that transmit uncrackable encode messages in individual particles of light, or photons. Now, one team has taken such quantum cryptography a long step forward by demonstrating a system that’s fast enough to encrypt a video transmission. “From the applications point of view, it’s very important,” says Hoi-Kwong Lo, a physicist at the University of Toronto in Canada.

A digital message consists of a long string of zeros and ones and can be encrypted in many ways. For example, each bit can be added with one from a stream of random zeros and ones called the key. Adding the key once scrambles the message; adding it a second time unscrambles it. So long as two the people sharing the secret, say, "Alice" and "Bob," do not reuse the key, this “one-time pad” method is uncrackable. However, Alice must somehow pass the key to Bob without anybody intercepting it.

Messages on the Internet are encoded in another way, using so-called public key encryption. In a nutshell, a message is scrambled by running it through a mathematical function that's easy to run forward but very difficult to run backward. However, there’s no guarantee that, given enough computing power, a hacker won’t find a way to crack such a scheme.

So-called quantum key distribution (QKD) would ensure absolute security essentially by letting Alice and Bob pass the key for one-time pad encryption right under the nose of an eavesdropper, "Eve." Researchers have developed several protocols, all of which exploit a crucial feature of quantum mechanics: It’s generally not possible to measure the state of a particle like a photon without altering it. That means that if Alice encodes the key in the photons in the right way, Eve won’t be able to intercept and measure the photons without revealing her presence to Alice and Bob.

Researchers have been developing such systems for more than a decade, and in 2008 they connected six of them together to form a rudimentary quantum network in Vienna. Now, the electronics manufacturer Toshiba, one of the participants in that event, has boosted the rate a which its system can distribute bits of key across a 50-kilometer fiber to a megabit per second, up from a few kilobits per second, says Andrew Shields, an applied physicist and assistant managing director at Toshiba Research Europe Ltd. in Cambridge, United Kingdom. The team has also shown that the system can run continuously for 36 hours, much longer than the few minutes previously achieved at a megabit-per-second rate, it reports today in Applied Physics Letters.

Key to running faster is a better photon detector, Shields says. The Toshiba systems uses devices known as semiconductor avalanche photodiodes, in which a photon hits a bit of semiconductor to trigger an “avalanche” of electric charge. It takes time for that avalanche to build and pass, which limits the detector’s rate. New photodiodes can sense smaller avalanches and, hence, run faster, Shields says. To keep the system running for hours at a time, the Toshiba team also implemented a feedback system to stretch certain meters-long optical fibers within Alice's and Bob’s detectors by a few nanometers, thus keeping the ratio of those lengths constant to a few parts in a billion. Without such stabilization, key distribution would have to stop every few minutes to allow the equipment to recalibrate itself.

The new system will get a tryout in October as part of the Tokyo QKD Network, in which researchers will use various systems to connect two buildings belonging to Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology and three other buildings. Masahide Sasaki, a physicist at the institute, says that the ability to handle video conferencing is key to high-end applications such as governmental communications. Previous systems could handle only voice conferencing, he says.

Researchers still have a way to go to reach the ultimate goal of a completely quantum-mechanical network, however. In the current systems, a secret message must essentially be unscrambled and rescrambled at each node on a network, which are then potentially vulnerable to attack. Ultimately, developers hope to be able to relay a subtle quantum-mechanical connection called entanglement from Alice to Bob across intermediate nodes so that only Bob would ever be able to decode Alice’s message. Such a network requires devices called quantum repeaters, which have yet to be developed.

Without quantum repeaters the current system protects only the optical fibers between nodes. Still, those are the most exposed part of any network and are increasingly vulnerable to attack. “Ironically,” Sasaki says, “advances [made for] QKD, such as new photon detectors with very low noise, low-loss optical circuits, et cetera., could make [such attacks] possible.”

Also more at: www.perimeterinstitute.ca/Outreach/Quantum_Tamers/The_Quantum_Tamers/
A fuel cell that runs on water and air

Water and air make energy, Highlights in Chemical Technology 2010, 28 April 2010:


A fuel cell that produces power using only water and a warm breeze has been developed by researchers in Germany. The cell could be used to power sensors and military monitoring devices in remote areas.
Most fuel cells rely on the spontaneous formation of water from the combination of hydrogen and oxygen, with the energy produced determined by the changes in enthalpy between the anode and cathode. Storage of hazardous materials such as hydrogen, methanol or hydrides are needed to run these cells. Now, Emil Roduner and Andreas Dreizler at the University of Stuttgart have developed a concentration fuel cell that runs on water and air, making it cheap, safe and easy to refuel.
In Roduner's system, water is oxidized catalytically to molecular oxygen, protons and electrons at the anode, while the reverse reaction takes place at the cathode. As in normal fuel cells, the cathode and anode are separated by a polymer electrolyte membrane which allows the protons to cross to the cathode while the electrons are forced to make their way through a wire, creating a current. The water that forms at the cathode is evaporated by the air flow, keeping the water concentration gradient between the two electrodes, which acts as the driving force for the reaction.
Unlike other fuel cells no change in enthalpy occurs as water reacts to form water. This means that typically minor contributions, such as changes in entropy, become key factors in the energy output, explains Roduner. He adds that his inspiration to create the cell came from a desire to demonstrate that 'changes in entropy can still be a driving force [for fuel cells].'
Michael Janik, an expert on fuel cells at the Pennsylvania State University in State College, US, agrees that this is an unexpected method to develop a fuel cell. Janik comments that typically '[fuel cell chemists] just look at the fuel and the difference in the fuel versus the activation chemistry but Roduner uses concentration as their driving force - that's clever.'
The energy output is smaller than typical fuels cells but this system may find use in specific situations where a small energy output is needed, such as for powering small sensors or for an emergency signal. Roduner envisions its use in dry windy places, such as along the coast or a desert, to facilitate water evaporation at the cathode.

Patricia Pantos
The Science Of Feeding Soldiers

Bethany Halford, Chemical & Engineering News 2009, 88, 40


You'll find also a short video at the Hyperlink above.

Chemical innovations make tasty battlefield meals, ready-to-eat

When Neil Gussman joined the Army in 1972, meals for the battlefield were served in little green cans. Open those tins, recalls the Chemical Heritage Foundation's communications manager and Army sergeant, and you were likely to find culinary delights like "gelatinous, fat-coated Spam slices" and "big wads of grease."
Known as C rations, "the 12 main courses were ham and eggs, beans and franks, spaghetti, ham slices, and permutations of Spam," Gussman says.
He reenlisted in 2007 and, to his pleasant surprise, found that the green cans had been replaced with sleek tan packages stamped "MRE," for Meal, Ready-To-Eat.
"When I got my first MRE, I was in gastronomic love," Gussman says. Inside were crunchy crackers, brand-name candy, and a heating bag that gave off no smoke or light signature. Tactical eating no longer meant meals of congealed fat, he says.
But moving from cans of "green eggs and ham" to pouches of moist lemon poppyseed cake and hot beef ravioli requires a lot of scientific innovation. "Everything in the MRE involves chemistry in some way," says Jeremy Whitsitt, the Department of Defense's combat feeding outreach coordinator. From the packaging designed to withstand downpours and airdrops to the chemical heater that warms meals and beverages, the Combat Feeding Directorate at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development & Engineering Center (NSRDEC), in Natick, Mass., has spent years developing the modern MRE.
The unpredictable nature of military life means that battlefield meals must meet a set of strict criteria. MREs need to maintain their freshness for three years when stored below 80 °F, or six months when stored below 100 °F. "They must also be able to withstand rough handling conditions and airdrops from altitudes of 100 feet by helicopter, without a parachute, or 1,200 feet by plane, with a parachute," Whitsitt says.
An MRE's packaging presents the first line of defense in keeping it from getting beaten up during transport and in preventing oxygen, water vapor, and insects from infiltrating and spoiling the food. "It's a critical part of the overall MRE," says Danielle Froio, an NSRDEC materials engineer.
It's also the first thing you notice about an MRE as you pull apart the seal of its tough, tan meal bag made of low-density polyethylene. The food inside this bag is stored in two types of pouches, Froio explains. There's the retort pouch, which holds food that's been sterilized, and the nonretort pouch, which houses food that doesn't need sterilization.
Both pouches have a polyester outer layer that's easy to print on, so nutritional information is included with each of the MRE's components. Beneath the polyester is a layer of foil, which, Froio says, is the ultimate barrier to oxygen, water vapor, and light. A polyolefin layer also makes it possible to seal the package. And retort pouches have a fourth layer of nylon to make them durable enough to withstand the rigors of the sterilization process.
Researchers at NSRDEC are currently working to find a replacement for the foil layer in both types of pouch. "In low-temperature situations it can develop pinhole cracks that reduce the shelf life of the package," Froio explains. Although the group has examined many different polymers as possible replacements, all are permeable to oxygen or water vapor, she notes.
The researchers are now looking toward nanocomposite materials, Froio says, because their nanostructure "creates a tortuous path for the water and oxygen" to travel. They've had some success with montmorillonite- and kaolin-based nanocomposites, and a low-density polyethylene nanocomposite has been used as a meal bag in field tests.
Of course, the guidelines that govern MREs aren't limited to their durability. MREs are, after all, meals, and they have to provide enough nutrition to sustain a soldier engaged in intense physical activity. By regulation, Whitsitt says, each MRE must provide approximately 1,300 calories.
And then there's taste. Responding to the complaints about the old C rations—the ones Gussman describes as variations on Spam—NSRDEC has made an effort to create meals soldiers actually enjoy.
So how do you make cooked pasta and cake that can sit on the shelf for three years? "We build hurdles into these different food matrices to make it hard for 'bugs' to grow in them," Whitsitt says. Using acidic tomato-based sauces keeps the pH low, for example, thereby preventing bacterial growth. As for the baked goods, by tinkering with dough conditioners and adding iron-based oxygen-scavenging packets, the researchers are able to control pH and water levels to keep the breads and cakes tasting fresh.
All items packaged in a retort pouch are also sterilized by boiling. But certain foods simply don't hold up under the extremes of temperature and time—120 °C for 30 minutes—the military uses for this process. For example, says C. Patrick Dunne, the senior adviser in advanced processing and nutritional biochemistry for the Combat Feeding Directorate, "We have yet to get a really good mac and cheese out of the retort pouch."
To expand meal options and improve food quality, NSRDEC has been working on advanced processing techniques for sterilization that use microwave radiation and high pressure. "The challenge we have is to conquer the chemistry that happens during and after the sterilization process that will lead to degradation of quality," Dunne says. "You're not going to get fresh salads all the time, but we would like to give our guys something that goes beyond basic vitamins."
The novel microwave sterilization process that NSRDEC has developed in collaboration with researchers at Washington State University uses a microwave that operates at 915 MHz. This is a lower frequency than the average home microwave uses and penetrates the food to a greater extent. To keep the pouches from exploding, Dunne says, they are placed under pressure in a water bath. All told, the sterilization takes less than 10 minutes.
The one drawback to using this microwave sterilization process is that it doesn't work with the standard retort pouch. Its foil layer can't be placed in a microwave oven. Dunne says NSRDEC is looking into alternative packaging.
The military is currently testing MREs with chicken and dumplings sterilized via the microwave method. There are "benefits in taste, color, and texture" that come from microwave sterilization, Dunne points out. "You can make a salmon filet that tastes like the poached salmon you'd get in a restaurant. It does not taste like cat food."
NSRDEC is also working on high-pressure sterilization. The process places a food pouch under 100,000 psi for about three minutes. Heating is also used if the food being sterilized hasn't been pasteurized.
The result, Dunne explains, is greater variety of food that doesn't have the "tinny" flavor that comes from the current processing method. Mashed potatoes sterilized with this process have already passed the military's shelf-life and field tests.
Perhaps the most tangible chemical contribution to the MREs is the small chemical heater that makes it possible for soldiers in the field to enjoy the comfort of a hot meal and a hot cup of coffee. The heating technology, which gives off no light or smoke, makes use of the exothermic reaction of magnesium metal and water. The heater is composed of a postcard-sized polymeric "tea bag" filled with 9 g of Mg, which sits in a plastic sleeve. A solider adds just 1 oz of water to the sleeve, slips in the MRE entrée, and waits about 10 minutes.
The temperature gets up to about 60 °C, according to NSRDEC chemical engineer Peter Lavigne. "The reaction product, magnesium hydroxide, is essentially milk of magnesia, so it's disposed of without environmental concerns," he says.
The Mg powder pack also contains a little bit of salt and iron. These penetrate the magnesium oxide coating that tends to build up on the metal and prevents it from reacting. Chloride ions react with the Mg(OH)2 product to form MgOHCl, which dissolves the MgO coating. The role of iron is less clear, but it's thought to cause bimetallic corrosion that promotes the reaction between water and Mg.
Although the heater works extremely well, Lavigne says that there is concern about the hydrogen gas generated in the reaction. "We've always had an interest in eliminating hydrogen from a user-safety point of view," he says. NSRDEC is currently exploring heaters based on calcium oxide and phosphorus pentoxide exothermic hydration reactions, as well as Mg oxidation coupled with manganese dioxide to quench hydrogen generation.
"The challenge is to get at the heating profile that's safe to handle yet capable of heating a food product in a short time and is suitable for use with food," Lavigne notes.
As far as soldiers like Sgt. Gussman are concerned, any further improvements to the MRE are a bonus. "The soldiers who only know MREs sometimes bitch about them," he says. "Old soldiers who remember the canned rations know better."

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2010 American Chemical Society
Well, how about materials that do everything?


Game Changing Fuzzy Fiber Nanomaterial

A $3 million Ohio Third Frontier award to the University of Dayton Research Institute will fund the scale-up and production of a “game-changing” new nanomaterial that will allow composites to multitask – a wind turbine tower that can de-ice its own blades in winter, or store energy to release on a calm day, powering a grid even when its blades are not moving. Or a military vehicle whose armor can serve as a battery – powering some of the vehicle’s electrical components.

    Lafdi called the material “game-changing” because of its ability to be produced in continuous sheets to desired sizes like other fabrics. “Everybody is growing carbon nanotubes on substrates,” Lafdi said. “We’re the only people who are producing them on a large-scale and continuous process, and not just in batches. This means we can produce the material at a low cost, and it also means we can produce pieces big enough to cover an aircraft.”

    Lafdi and his team have been producing 500 feet of 12-inch-wide fabric per day at a pilot plant in UDRI’s Shroyer Park Center. The new facility, to be located within Dayton’s Aerospace Hub, will be equipped to produce 60-inch-wide fabric.

    Nicknamed “fuzzy fiber” by its inventor at UDRI, Nano Adaptive Hybrid Fabric (NAHF-XTM) is the first tailored nanomaterial capable of being produced in sizes and quantities large enough to make them affordable and viable for large-scale commercial use. When incorporated into resins, fuzzy fibers enable composites to be tailored for electrical and thermal conductivity, chemical and biological sensing, energy storage and conversion, thermal management and other properties.
less geeky, and a lot more fun and useful:


New Powered Rope Climber can go 10 Feet per Second with up to 1000 Pounds Which is about three times Better than the First Power Climbers from 3 Years Ago

Atlas Devices has a new Powered Rope Ascender can climb can hold a target load capacity up to 600 pounds at a 6-feet per second rate of ascension. The lightweight ATLAS Ascender can pull a fully-loaded soldier or firefighter up a rappelling line at up to 10 ft/sec. The powerful rope not only lifts and lowers, but can tow vehicles and remotely move equipment and casualties as well, making it a valuable tool for VBSS teams. Its high-power, high-density lithium battery will allow a load to ascend 375 feet without recharging.
It is also able to recapture 10 to 15 percent of its potential energy as it descends, which can be used to recharge the battery
Previous versions of climbers had a 3 ft/sec speed and were limited to 300 pounds of lift

    The ATLAS Ascender, originally designed for use in urban combat and cave exploration by the US Army, offers unparalleled benefits in many different scenarios. Its powerful lifting capacity can directly hoist fully-loaded soldiers or firefighters at unprecedented speeds. Utilizing the ATLAS with standard rescue equipment can magnify its capacity even more, enabling effective lifting and towing capacities in excess of 1,000 lbs.
The ultimate problem: super empowered individuals with the ability to create advanced devices, weaponry or biological agents.


Smallpox in the Garage

I joined the Department of Homeland Security to create its Policy office in 2005, not long after the 9/11 commission ascribed those attacks to a failure of imagination on the part of counterterrorism officials. One of my jobs, as I saw it, was to head off future failures of imagination. We needed to spend some time thinking about how technology might enable other attacks -- as shocking and unexpected at 9/11 had been. We did indeed spend time thinking about other risks. Some of them were so likely and so devastating that they haunt me still. That's what led me to write Skating On Stilts: Why We Aren't Stopping Tomorrow's Terrorism. This chapter from Skating On Stilts offers a glimpse of the threat that worries me most.

In January 1970, a German electrician fell ill after a trip to Pakistan. He was hospitalized with what appeared to be typhoid fever. He had been isolated for several days when the doctors realized that he didn't have typhoid fever.

It was smallpox.

Fear riffled through the hospital, and the community beyond. Smallpox has probably killed more human beings than any other disease. And it kills them with particular cruelty. After starting out like a bad flu, after a few days the disease attacks the victim's skin. Tiny spots appear, spread, and then harden into pus-filled blisters. Gradually, with excruciating pain, the blisters pull the outer layer of skin away from the under-layers. Sometimes the skin pulls loose in sheets. Sometimes the blisters attack not just the skin but the eyes, the throat, and every other orifice, ripping loose skin inside the body as well. Desperate with thirst, the victims can't drink; swallowing is just too painful.

Throughout it all, the victim remains fully conscious. A third or more of the victims die. Those who survive are often permanently scarred, or blind or both.

The electrician lived. But many who came into contact with him were infected. Several died.
What was most frightening was how the virus spread. One victim spent only fifteen minutes in the hospital. All he did was ask directions, briefly opening a door that led to a corridor thirty feet from the patient's room. That was enough. He came down with smallpox.

Three other victims were even farther away -- two floors above the electrician's isolation ward. It was January, but tests revealed that opening the hospital windows just a crack allowed currents of air to drift between rooms on different floors. The virus had floated out the patient's window and along the outside wall; it then slipped into three different rooms two stories above, infecting patients in each room.

Seven years later, in 1977, Ali Maow Maalin also fell ill with smallpox. This time, though, it turned out to be good news.

Maalin was a cook from Merca, Somalia -- where smallpox was making its last stand. Vaccination was slowly tightening a noose around the disease. Because smallpox reproduces only in humans, widespread vaccination left fewer and fewer places for the virus to reproduce and spread.

The first vaccination for smallpox--or indeed for any disease -- came in 1796. That was when Edward Jenner realized that milkmaids who caught cowpox seemed to be protected from smallpox, to which cowpox was related. Jenner's vaccine based on cowpox marked the beginning of man's counterattack on smallpox. By the 1970s, vaccinations had gradually reduced the disease's natural range to the wilds of Somalia and Ethiopia.

The World Health Organization hoped to make Ali Maow Maalin the last victim of smallpox in history. It quickly vaccinated everyone who had been in contact with him, then held its breath. Would other cases flare up?

WHO waited.

A year.

Two years.


At last, after three years with no natural cases of smallpox, the World Health Assembly declared victory. It triumphantly called a special 1980 meeting.

"[T]he world and all its peoples have won freedom from smallpox," the assembly declared. This was "an unprecedented achievement in the history of public health." Together, the nations of the assembly had "freed mankind of this ancient scourge."

Copies of the virus were locked away in Atlanta and Moscow for research purposes, but the disease was gone from nature. Vaccinations stopped. Few Americans born after the 1960s have the dimpled scar on their arm that is the last trace of mankind's worst nightmare.

It had taken a bit less than two centuries for vaccination to free the world from "this ancient scourge."

Today, the likelihood that the world will remain free from this ancient scourge is close to zero.

Smallpox is back, or nearly so.

Within ten years, any competent biologist with a good lab and up-to-date DNA synthesis skills will be able to recreate the smallpox virus from scratch. Millions of people will have it in their power to waft this cruel death into the air, where it can feed on a world that has given up its immunity.

How can I be so sure? Easy. I've seen the same thing happen already, and so have you. The very same revolution that made possible the explosion of information technology--and set the table for network attacks--is now transforming biology, with consequences that are both exalting and frightening.

The same relentlessly exponential improvement in technology that gave us Moore's Law and that democratized the computer is now democratizing the technology of life. It is empowering an army of biologists to tinker with biology in ways that will help us all live longer and more comfortable lives.

And then, unless we do something, it will kill us in great numbers.

"Synthetic biology" blends biology, chemistry, and engineering. The field really began to take off when it moved from laboriously replacing a single gene to building whole stretches of the genome from scratch.

DNA is organized like a spiral staircase, and each step on the stairs is called a base pair. Linking base pairs together into longer sequences allows researchers to make more complex genes--and ultimately more complex organisms. So progress in synthetic DNA is measured by how many base pairs have been successfully strung together. In recent years, progress has been exponential.

In 2002, after a two-year effort, a team of researchers announced that they had assembled the entire polio virus. To do that, the team had to assemble 7,500 base pairs of DNA, precisely in order. The next year, scientists managed to knock years off the process, assembling a bacteriophage with 5,300 base pairs in just two weeks.

Two years later, in 2005, researchers' capabilities had tripled. A team managed to synthesize an influenza virus with 14,000 base pairs. Just a year later, they had surpassed that mark by a factor of ten, synthesizing the Epstein-Barr virus, with 170,000 base pairs.

Smallpox has 180,000.

By 2005, whether smallpox would be synthesized was simply a matter of choice, not of capability.

The following year, the outgoing secretary general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, grew alarmed. He pointed to researchers' successes in building an entire virus from scratch and said, "In the right hands, and with the appropriate safety precautions, these are sound scientific endeavours that increase our knowledge of viruses. But if they fall into the wrong hands, they could be catastrophic."

Too late. By 2009, the state of the art had left 180,000 base pairs in the dust. A team of researchers announced that it had assembled a bacterial genome with 583,000 base pairs. Creating smallpox from scratch was no longer even an interesting challenge.

Nor were these capabilities confined to a few specialty laboratories. Foundries sprang up to sell made-to-measure DNA, at ever-declining prices that put Moore's Law to shame. Synthesizing DNA cost $10 per base pair when George W. Bush ran for president in 2000. By the time of his second inauguration, the price was $2 per base pair. When he left office in 2009, the price was down to about 25 cents. For those who don't want to use a foundry, DNA synthesizers are available for sale on eBay.

Kofi Annan was wrong. This technology isn't going to fall into the wrong hands. Just like jet travel and powerful computers, it's going to fall into everybody's hands. The Mayo Clinic. Hezbollah. Pfizer. Al Qaeda. Apple. Ted Kaczynski, Timothy McVeigh, and the Fort Hood shooter.

They won't need their own labs to build bugs to order. Even today, it's possible to obtain long sequences of synthetic DNA simply by sending a message to the private "foundries" that assemble DNA to order.

Struggling to survive in a new market with thin margins, the foundries' sense of responsibility for what they make is, well, limited. The Guardian newspaper in Great Britain demonstrated this when one of its journalists successfully ordered a lightly modified piece of the smallpox genome over the web. The order was mailed to his home, no questions asked. When a dozen foundries were asked whether they screened DNA orders to see whether they were providing sequences that terrorists could turn into weapons, only five answered "yes."

As many as half the foundries questioned by journalists did not routinely screen their orders to make sure that they were not helping terrorists construct a dangerous virus. The order came in, and they filled it, often with no questions asked.

If current trends continue, anyone who can get his hands on a computer virus today will soon be able to get his hands on a custom built biological virus.

And who can get his hands on a computer virus today? In an age of drop-down-menu malware attacks, the answer is simple.

Anyone who wants to.
Scanning for threats becomes a bit easier:


Breakthrough Will Enable Remote Detection of hidden explosives, chemical, biological agents and illegal drugs

Science Daily - A major breakthrough in remote wave sensing by a team of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researchers opens the way for detecting hidden explosives, chemical, biological agents and illegal drugs from a distance of 20 meters.

The new, all-optical system, using terahertz (THz) wave technology, has great potential for homeland security and military uses because it can "see through" clothing and packaging materials and can identify immediately the unique THz "fingerprints" of any hidden materials."We have shown that you can focus a 800 nm laser beam and a 400 nm laser beam together into the air to remotely create a plasma interacting with the THz wave, and use the plasma fluorescence to convey the information of the THz wave back to the local detector," explains Dr. Zhang.

Nature Photonics - Broadband terahertz wave remote sensing using coherent manipulation of fluorescence from asymmetrically ionized gases

Terahertz wave sensing and imaging have received a great deal of attention because of their significant scientific and technological potential in multidisciplinary fields. However, owing to the challenge of dealing with high ambient moisture absorption, the development of remote open-air broadband terahertz spectroscopy is lagging behind the urgent need for the technology that exists in homeland security and the fields of astronomy and environmental monitoring. The requirement for on-site bias or forward collection of the optical signal in conventional terahertz detection techniques has inevitably prohibited their use in remote sensing. We introduce an ‘all-optical’ technique of broadband terahertz wave detection by coherently manipulating the fluorescence emission from asymmetrically ionized gas plasma interacting with terahertz waves. Owing to the high atmospheric transparency and omnidirectional emission pattern of the fluorescence, this technique can be used to measure terahertz pulses at standoff distances with minimal water vapour absorption and unlimited directionality for optical signal collection. We demonstrate coherent terahertz wave detection at a distance of 10 meters.
Thucydides said:
Scanning for threats becomes a bit easier:

Links to Canadian research along these lines here:
The ultimate problem: super empowered individuals with the ability to create advanced devices, weaponry or biological agents.

Absolutely. The number of present or future powerfull and well respected scientists who are incredibly naive, lack of general culture and common sense is, in my opinion, high. Nothing is black and white, but there is a tendency, a direction taken by scientist in general toward: I am payed to discover and publish in famous papers to get more grants and fame, otherwise, on short or long term, the consequence of my research is not my problem.

Sad  :(
IF this software solution is viable, then next generation radios and radio nets will have much more capability and be far more robust than ever:


New project enables mobile phone use in areas with no reception
July 14, 2010 by Lin Edwards

Paul Gardner-Stephen (left) talks with a colleague in the wilderness using his new system. Credit: Village Telco

(PhysOrg.com) -- Australian scientists have invented software that enables mobile (cell) phones to work in remote areas where there is no conventional coverage and in locations where the infrastructure has been destroyed through disaster, or is not economically viable. The technology enables ordinary mobile phones to make and receive calls without the need for phone towers or satellites.

Leader of the team, Dr Paul Gardner-Stephen of Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia, named the project the Serval Project, after an African wildcat renowned for its problem-solving abilities. The aim is to "provide fast, cheap, robust and effective telecommunications systems" for areas where there is currently no telephone infrastructure, or where it has been destroyed by natural disasters or civil unrest.

The project includes two systems that can operate separately or be combined. One is specifically for disaster areas, and consists of a temporary, self-organizing and self-powered mobile phone network that operates via small phone towers dropped into the area by aircraft.

The second system consists of a permanent mesh-based phone network between Wi-Fi enabled mobile phones, with no tower infrastructure required. Eventually, the system will also include the “Batphone,” which will be a specially designed phone able to operate on other unlicensed frequencies.

The systems use open-source software developed by the team and dubbed Distributed Numbering Architecture (DNA). The software allows mobile phones to make calls out and receive calls on their existing numbers. The mesh network technology was developed by Village Telco and is integrated with the software to create a mesh network in which each phone acts as an independent router.

Dr Gardner-Stephen said the device essentially “incorporates a compact version of a mobile phone tower into the phone itself.” It uses the Wi-Fi interface in modern Wi-Fi-enabled phones, carrying voice over it in such a way that it does not need to go back to a tower anywhere.

The current range between phones is only a few hundred meters, which limits the usefulness of the system in remote areas, but Gardner-Stephen said adding small transmitters and more devices could expand the range considerably. The real benefit of the current system would be in disaster areas where there are plenty of phones but the towers are destroyed or the infrastructure is no longer functioning. In the recent Haiti disaster area for example, the mobile phone network was knocked out for over two days after the earthquake struck, and did not return to normal operation for a week.

Director of the Research Centre for Disaster Resilience and Health at Flinders University, Professor Paul Arbon said the systems could prove invaluable in disasters, providing an instant network allowing people to call out and receive calls from concerned relatives, and helping volunteers to coordinate the response. The system could also provide the community with updates and warnings.

The systems have been successfully tested in remote areas of the Flinders Ranges in South Australia where there is no mobile phone reception, with the three researchers creating a network over one square kilometer. The next stages in the project are to increase the range and improve sound quality. The team is also working on developing a method of dropping the temporary towers into disaster areas.

Dr Gardner-Stephen said the system could be operational within 18 months provided the project receives adequate funding. He said his dream was for every mobile phone to be equipped with the system so that if there is a disaster all the phones in the region will automatically switch to the mesh network mode of operation as a fallback.
More good stuff for the comms world: high bandwidth wireless with the potential for 80km of coverage (puts AN/PRC 522's to shame)


Millimeter-wave communication Over 84 Kilometer Range Using Panasonic Gallium Nitride Device

Panasonic has developed a high power Gallium Nitride (GaN) transistor for long-distance communication at millimeter-wave frequencies. A 25GHz wireless transceiver was fabricated using the GaN transistor. The device exhibits a maximum output power of 10.7W at 25GHz which theoretically enables communication over 84km.

25 GHz communication would enable multi-gigabit per second data communication (super fast wireless broadband).

The high power GaN transistor, fabricated on a silicon (Si) substrate is suited for mass production and takes advantages of the large diameter achievable with Si

The fabricated transceiver utilizes orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) which is suited for high capacity data communication. The averaged output power of 2W out of the 10W from the GaN transistor can achieve 84km communication in theory.

The high power GaN transistor enables communication over far longer distances than those obtained using conventional GaAs transistors.
Highlights in Chemical Biology,  July 2010


Logical injury assessment

With the aim of improving the survival rate of injured soldiers, US Scientists have designed a biocomputing system that is capable of diagnosing multiple injuries from a sample of urine or blood.
Explosions on battlefields can result in patients with multiple injuries that need quick diagnosis. Currently, this is done by physical examination and a comprehensive series of laboratory tests in hospital. When an organ is injured, the body releases chemicals that can be used as biomarkers to indicate particular internal injuries. Multiple injuries release a wide range of biomarkers and now a team led by Evgeny Katz from Clarkson University, and Joseph Wang at the University of California San Diego, have developed a diagnostic tool that can be used in the field and is able to differentiate between many chemical inputs to provide a diagnosis.
The system comprises six logic gates made from enzymes that are sensitive to twelve biomarker inputs associated with six different pathological conditions, including soft tissue injury, abdominal trauma and brain injury. The enzyme gates each produce a logic output (1 or 0), which together form a 6-bit 'injury code', that allows full diagnosis of the patient's condition.
Katz says the use of biocomputing, or biomolecular chemical reactions, instead of electronic computers, simplifies the analysis so it can be performed in field conditions. He adds that 'this is the first fundamental result for the use of biocomputing systems for biomedical applications.'
AP de Silva, an expert in molecular sensor technology at Queen's University Belfast in the UK, comments, 'multiplexing several enzyme gates to develop injury codes builds on previous applications of molecular logic in diagnosing electrolyte abnormalities and TB infection.'
The team now intends to develop their work further for other biomedical applications and hope to develop on-body sensors.

By Harriet Brewerton
Antoine said:
Absolutely. The number of present or future powerfull and well respected scientists who are incredibly naive, lack of general culture and common sense is, in my opinion, high. Nothing is black and white, but there is a tendency, a direction taken by scientist in general toward: I am payed to discover and publish in famous papers to get more grants and fame, otherwise, on short or long term, the consequence of my research is not my problem.

Sad  :(

I remember listening with fascination to one of my philosophy professors lecturing on epistemology and the ancient Greeks' take on science vs technology. To them, science was merely the observation of nature and the decyphering of its laws. Technology was a completely different beast. It built on science to create things, to alter environment. The sequential aspect of both phenomena meant that there was time to reflect on the impact of the science before applying it. Today the two have become inextricably linked, and it is rare to see any corporation or university investing in pure research that is not directly linked with expected benefits. Therefore, this pause is now absent and the ethical/philosophical/human consequences of science are more often than not unavoidable.

I read often about all the nuclear scientists in Manhattan project who though their work was fascinating and never really stopped to think about what they were creating. Ken Alibek, #2 of Biopreparat, said the same thing about his work weaponizing tularemia and plague: at first he had some moral doubts, but the work was fascinating. Now read Wired for War (excellent book, I agree) and notice how the roboticists say the same thing: it's friggin cool! Simply put, I think there is not enough distance between scientists and their offspring for them to ponder the human consequences.

Call me a paranoid luddite if you will, but I still think a small, sun-powered cottage in a far remote place is probably an investment I'll make someday soon...just in case.
Interesting post TimBit.

I wonder where can be found the finest balance between technology/science and human factor to insure the success of a mission with the lowest casualty cost ?

I still think a small, sun-powered cottage in a far remote place is probably an investment I'll make someday soon...just in case.

Bella Coola in BC, is the place you are looking for (I was there for a week not long time ago).  :)