SciTech Briefs

Semiconducting ink makes RFID tags

Researchers at Sunchon National University in South Korea and at Rice University in Houston have developed a way to make Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags significantly less expensive. These tags are already used in many applications as a substitute for barcodes, since it is much easier to scan them by simply pointing a scanner in their general direction. However, conventional tags are not used for disposable items since they are made using expensive silicon and cost 50 cents per tag.

The new discovery uses paper and semiconducting ink to bring the cost down to as little as three cents per tag. The ultimate goal is one cent. The ink is made up of carbon nanotubes, which play the part of silicon in the tag.

RFID tags may eliminate lines at the supermarket, said James M. Tour of Rice University. He noted that “you could run your cart by a detector and it tells you instantly what’s in the cart.”

Source: Wired magazine

Artificial mother-of-pearl produced

Nacre, or mother-of-pearl, is a unique substance. It is flameproof, flexible, and strong. However, it hard to come by and is sourced primarily from shellfish. Previous attempts at creating it artificially required a great deal of labor to create even a small amount.

Scientists at the Helsinki University of Technology have developed a method of combining hard clay particles and soft synthetic polymer to produce thin, foot-long sheets of mother-of-pearl in minutes. While there remains some work to be done to remove impurities and improve toughness, the material is already extremely heat resistant. Its creators envision it being used as a cheap way to fireproof buildings and as a component in the protective armor used by soldiers and police officers. Its ability to block oxygen also makes it useful to manufacturers of electronics as a protective casing for sensitive electronics.


Revolutionary boat hopes to circle globe

Frenchman Alain Thebault, captain of the Hydroptere, hopes to halve Phileas Fogg’s circumnavigation time and simultaneously break the world record of circumnavigating the world in a sailboat. His boat is similar to a hydrofoil in that it actually “flies” a few meters above the water with only small “wings” present below the water to anchor the boat.

The fact that only a small fraction of the boat is actually immersed in the water reduces drag and allows the boat to reach speeds of 70 miles an hour. The boat will be powered by wind alone. While the plan is risky, Thebault plans to build a larger version of his boat, to be called the Hydroptere Maxi, that he believes will be able to handle the difficulties of an ocean crossing. While the Maxi, will be ready by 2013, he has another goal closer at hand: He wants to cross the Pacific Ocean in three days in 2011.