May R&D Round Up

E-mail Melanie Martella

This month, smarter turbine blades, a brain injury monitoring prototype, and talking plants.

Smarter Blades for Wind Turbines
In the quest for better wind turbines, researchers from Purdue University and Sandia National Laboratories are testing out wind turbine blades that incorporate embedded accelerometers. The sensors' measurements will be used to monitor the turbine blades' response to wind gusts as well as background winds and gravity. According to the Science Daily article "'Smart Turbine Blades' To Improve Wind Power", the ultimate aim is to optimize wind turbine operation, which, because of the intermittent and changeable nature of the wind, presents something of a challenge. By assessing the forces experienced by the blades during operation (garnered from sensor readings interpreted with estimator model software developed at Sandia), researchers could develop turbine blades with airplane-wing-like control surfaces, wringing the most electrical generation out of the available wind. In addition, the sensors could also give early warning of blade fatigue.

Better Brain Trauma Monitoring
What weighs about 3 lb., is grey and squishy, and controls all human behavior, conscious or unconscious? That would be the brain, which is simultaneously immensely powerful and unfortunately fragile. Now, researchers from the University of Cincinnati's Neuroscience Institute have developed a working model of a smart brain catheter for patients who have suffered traumatic brain injury. The device can simultaneously monitor intracranial glucose, oxygen, temperature, and pressure and sensors within the spirally rolled tube can measure the biochemistry of cerebrospinal fluid and keep a watchful eye on any changes in the brain tissue itself. Further, the catheter reduces to one the number of holes that need to be drilled into the patient's skull. By providing a continuous watch on the patient's condition, doctors can (ideally) treat the patient more quickly and effectively, minimizing post-injury swelling and damage. More details can be found in the article "Researchers Develop 'Lab on a Tube' Monitoring Device", courtesy of the University of Cincinnati's Academic Health Center news service. (I admit that I found the photo of the catheter inserted through a fake skull rather disturbing. Illustrative, but disturbing.)

Plants Phone Home
Farmers may soon be receiving messages from their plants, telling them if their crops are parched, happy, or awash. Come 2010, AgriHouse will be selling leaf sensors that clip to plant leaves and measure just how hydrated the plant is—or isn't—and then send text messages with that information to the grower. The sensors on the leaves actually transmit their data to a field station where the information is collected and then sent to a secure Web portal over a cellular network. Based on the results, the field station can control an irrigation system or alert the grower. The technology was originally developed at the University of Colorado at Boulder for NASA's human space missions but promises both water and energy savings for terrestrial farming. For more information, read "New Device Lets Plants Talk" from IEEE Spectrum Online.