Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Solar-Powered Laser; Environmentally Friendly Fridges; A Robotic Polar Aircraft and More!

From MIT's Technology Review:

A new laser could convert magnesium into energy.

A new kind of efficient, solar-powered laser has been developed by researchers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in Japan. They hope to use the laser to help them realize their goal of developing a magnesium combustion engine. The researchers described the new laser in a recent issue of Applied Physics Letters.

The idea, says Takashi Yabe, a professor of mechanical engineering and science at the Tokyo Institute, is to make a powerful laser capable of combusting the magnesium content of seawater. In the process, large amounts of heat and hydrogen are given off....

A new magnetic-cooling system could lead to more-energy-efficient refrigerators.

Modern coolers and fridges may not cause holes in the ozone layer like their pre-1994 counterparts, but they still use greenhouse gases that are warming the planet. Their compressors also consume a lot of energy: air conditioners and refrigerators used about 340 billion kilowatt hours in 2005--nearly 30 percent of the total energy used in U.S. homes.

Researchers at the Risoe National Laboratory, in Roskilde, Denmark, are now one step closer to building a magnetic-cooling system that promises energy-efficient, environmentally friendly, and completely silent fridges. Temperatures in conventional fridges swing between −20 and 20 ºC. Achieving this 40 ºC temperature span is one of the most significant challenges with magnetic refrigeration. The Danish researchers have built a refrigerator that can vary temperature by almost 9 ºC....

To gain a better understanding of ice-sheet disintegration, Kansas researchers are building an unmanned plane with cutting-edge radar for better mapping.

Seeing beneath the vast Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets--and, in particular, seeing whether any water sits between ice and ground--is critical to understanding how fast ice might slide into the sea in the future. But many areas are still uncharted territory. Now, engineers at the University of Kansas, in Lawrence, are in the final stages of constructing, from scratch, an unmanned aircraft that will carry ground-penetrating radar and other sensors....

Technologies being developed to make massive multiplayer games handle more people could be beneficial to the financial industry.

As more and more players sign up for online games, companies are employing increasingly sophisticated server architecture to support them. A new trend of keeping lots of players within a single world is pushing the envelope even farther.

While some massive multiplayer online games (MMOs) already involve a lot of people--Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft recently passed the nine-million-player mark--players usually aren't truly together, inside one world. Instead, a game company makes many copies, called shards, of the world, each of which holds several thousand players. These worlds exist in parallel, and players can't move seamlessly from one shard to another. Dave Laux, global executive for games and interactive entertainment at IBM, says that sharding is popular in part because it's easy to add more shards to accommodate new players as a game grows in popularity, and because it can prevent overcrowding in small virtual worlds....