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Wednesday, 8 June 2011

National Science Foundation articles, "Mathematicians Advance Next Generation Auto Safety Systems" and " New Nanotechnology Could Protect Emergency Responders From Toxins"

The National Science Foundation
June 2011

Mathematicians Advance Next Generation Auto Safety Systems

An algorithm developed by NSF-funded mathematicians has the potential to radically improve auto safety.

Today's automobiles use computer-controlled safety systems to stabilize vehicles in dangerous conditions, such as when skidding on ice. The safety system reads the vehicle's direction and speed and measures all four tire speeds. It applies braking and distributes torque differentially to each wheel, takes over the steering, and brings the car safely to rest. This safety technology uses sophisticated algorithms to apply controlling mechanisms based on sensor readings.

During a postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute for Mathematics and Its Applications, Dan Bates, now assistant professor of mathematics at Colorado State University, together with visiting scientists Ioannis Fotiou and Philipp Rostalski from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich), came up with a breakthrough algorithm that improves upon current systems. Instead of devising a control law--a rule by which a system responds to sensor readings--they devised a computer algorithm that takes into account a succession of sensor readings to provide fast, optimal activation of vehicle control mechanisms. The advantage of this new algorithm is that it can bring a system under control faster and more efficiently than existing methods that only optimize for vehicle control.

This research was funded by award number 0439734.

New Nanotechnology Could Protect Emergency Responders From Toxins

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego and Tyco Electronics have developed, as described in the journal Advanced Materials, a carbon nanostructure that could operate as a sensor for filters in respirators. The sensor would alert emergency responders when the carbon filters in their respirators have become saturated to the point at which toxic fumes could be inhaled. The research team, led by Michael Sailor, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and bioengineering at UC San Diego, assembled nanofibers to form photonic crystals of repeating structures that reflect specific colors. The color of the sensors changes as the nanofibers absorb chemicals. Less than half the width of a human hair, the sensors could be inserted into respirator cartridges and provide a visual indicator for when a filter needs to be changed.

The timing of filter changes is currently based on the length of time the respirator has been in use because it is difficult to accurately assess the effectiveness of a filter. As a result, emergency workers may inhale toxic chemicals while thinking that the filters in their respirators are still effective. "The new sensors would provide a more accurate reading of how much material the carbon in the filters has actually absorbed," said Sailor.

Funding for this research was provided by NSF (award number 0806859), the Department of Homeland Security, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and Tyco Electronics.


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