News Feature | May 23, 2022

Bright Ideas — Russia's Latest Laser Weapon Likely All Talk, "Wonder Material" Graphyne Created

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By Abby Proch, former editor


A Russian official has touted a new laser-based weapon capable LEO satellites —but experts aren’t buying the hype. According to Breaking Defense, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov claims the Zadira laser weapon system is more powerful than the Peresvet laser system that debuted in 2018. However, critics say the two are very different weapons, with the Peresvet capable of “blinding” satellites in LEO and the Zadira more likely capable of downing drones, which are seeing widespread use in the Russian war on Ukraine. According to experts, Zadira likely doesn’t have the ability to “burn up” satellites, as Borisov claimed, and an advancement of that kind is not expected from the Russians until 2030, based on a 2022 Defense Intelligence Agency report.

Scientists have made significant strides toward making the “theory” of graphyne a reality for use in optics, electronics, and semiconductor research. Using a combination of alkyne metathesis, thermodynamics, and kinetic control, a group at the University of Colorado Boulder created this novel carbon allotrope, which acts similar to graphene but with improved control. Nobel-prize winning novel carbon forms have been created over the past few decades, including fullerene in 1996 and graphene in 2010, but graphyne is the latest to claim success. UCB scientists are next working toward scalability and cost reduction to the procedure.

Subsea fiber optic cables have enabled worldwide connectivity, and now researchers say they can use them to provide very specific data on earthquakes and ocean currents. The idea of using the cables isn’t new, but until now, researchers have only been able to sense events that affect the entire length of a cable. Now, they’re able to make observations along individual spans between repeaters. In their example, they’re able to not only sense across a 3,641-mile transatlantic cable from Canada to the U.K. but also home in on what’s happening along 28- to 56-mile subsections of cable. More than 400 optical fiber sensors exist along subsea cables; more sensors are expected to bring more specific and diverse  to better track events.

Of all the ways to detect COVID-19 infections, thermal imaging is a less-than-ideal approach. In a recent study published in the Journal of Biomedical Optics, researchers contend that while ideal in its contactless, safe approach, thermal imaging does not provide the specificity needed to accurately identify individuals infected with and experiencing symptoms from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Researchers looked at IR videos to determine breathing patterns as indicated by signal moment, signal texture, and shape moment from five different views of the body. Using machine learning strategies, the features were classified into either a positive or a negative COVID-19 infection. However, in most views, the metrics yielded from the study correctly identified a COVID-19 infection less than 60% of the time.

Looking to reduce costs and save space, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation has developed a new 3D printing method to create satellites after leaving the launchpad, rather than sending them to space already built. In a simulation, the Mitsubishi team used UV radiation to cure a photosensitive resin into a 6.5” satellite dish that performed equally as good as a traditionally built dish. The photosensitive resin can reportedly endure temperatures up to 750 degrees F and does not need atmospheric oxygen to cure. If deployed to space, the dish would be cured by solar light, a different method than an 3D printer already existing at the ISS, which relies on the fuse filament fabrication process.

As part of the Mandrake II program, DARPA and CACI have successfully tested space-to-space optical communications with the latter’s CrossBeam free-space optical terminals. On April 14, 2022, the 40-plus-minute test transmitted 200 GB over more than 100 kilometers in link distance. The test is a significant step toward safer space-based communications networks and now means CACI’s second generation CrossBeam optical terminal will proceed into volume production.

And finally, a new, graphene-based sensor capable of real-time measuring wind speed and rainfall could strengthen meteorologists’ ability to monitor severe weather as it unfolds. The multitasking sensor, designed by a team at Osaka Metropolitan University in Japan, measures electrical resistance as water droplets hit its surface at different sizes and speeds. Paired with a machine learning algorithm called reservoir computing, the data can be used to determine rain volume and wind velocity, something typically conducted much more cumbersome equipment.