In near future, images can be stored in liquid crystals

When S Krishna Prasad and co-workers at the Center for Light Crystal Research in Bangalore shone a light on a class of liquid crystals, it induced the crystal molecules to change shape on a quick time-scale. This finding suggests that the system is a potential candidate for storage of images or other optical data.

Phase transitions of shape, induced by temperature, are common in nature; for example ice is transformed to water when it is heated. In recent years, however, it has been found that light can mimic the role played by temperature in bringing about a phase transition. This occurs in certain materials with properties that are in between that of a solid and liquid, namely liquid crystals.

Prasad and his colleagues discovered that the key to such phase transitions in these materials (like azobenzene) is the change in shape driven by light. In its ground state, the azobenzene molecule, for instance, exists in an arrangement known as trans conformation. But when it is irradiated with light of suitable wavelength (365 nanometre), it undergoes a conformational change to the cis state.

Along with this conformational transformation, the molecule changes shape — in the trans state the molecule has a rod-like shape, but it the cis configuration it is bent like a boomerang. The reverse transformation can be brought about by illuminating the molecule with visible light, although it can also occur spontaneously in the dark by a process known as thermal back relaxation.

What makes this shape change useful is that the rod-like shape supports liquid crystallinity, whereas the bent shape destabilises the liquid-crystal phase. “The change from the trans to the cis form can induce an isothermal transition from the liquid-crystal phase to a liquid phase,” says Prasad, adding: “The concomitant change in the related optical properties can be exploited to create a high-resolution, light-driven image storing system.”

Furthermore, the changes can be tailor-made to have extremely high long-term stability; holograms (photographic patterns having three dimensions) stored in this way hardly degrade.

Prasad and colleagues summarize various aspects of their investigations by stating that photo-induced phase transition can take place on an extremely quick time-scale of less than a microsecond — a millionth of a second. “Our observations are very significant from the point of view of storing optical images. Moreover, the time-scale of transition can be further improved by embedding the material in a polymer matrix,” concludes Prasad.

To Treat Toxic Wastewater Without Chemicals, Scientists Develop Nano-Material From Seaweed

Treatment of wastewater containing industrial dyes and toxic heavy metals is a major environmental problem as available treatment techniques are not very efficient and environment-friendly. Now, a team of Indian scientists has developed a nano material drawn from seaweed for effective treatment of toxic wastewater without using any chemicals.

Membrane-based filtration processes are generally used to treat industrial wastewater but they can’t fully filter out heavy metal contaminants. In order to address this problem, processes that use activated carbon, graphene or carbon nano tubes are being developed as carbon-based processes can help remove dyes and heavy metals through adsorption.

Researchers at the Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute, Bhavnagar, have gone a step further to make carbon-based cleaning process fully green by using seaweed as starting material. They have synthesised graphene-iron sulfide nanocomposite from abundantly found seaweed – Ulva fasciata – through direct pyrolysis technique.

Seaweeds are known as carbon sinks. In some earlier studies, biomass of Ulva fasciata has been directly employed for adsorbing copper and zinc ions from water but the uptake capacities were relatively low. This problem has been overcome by deriving thin carbon sheets from seaweed at very high temperature. These graphene sheets are doped with iron. The nanocomposite obtained from seaweed has shown very high adsorption capacity for various cationic and anionic dyes as well as lead and chromium.

The nano composite can be used in up to eight cleaning cycles, with only nominal loss of its adsorption capacity. Even mixed dyes could also be adsorbed. A maximum adsorption capacity of 645 mg per gram for lead was achieved at neutral pH. This is the highest ever reported for any biomass derived carbon material, scientists have claimed in their study published in Journal of Hazardous Materials. It could also remove highly toxic hexavalent chromium from wastewater.

“Presence of high concentration of salts had negligible effect on the adsorption properties of the nano composite, making it a suitable candidate for the pre-treatment of highly contaminated waste waters,” explained Dr. Ramavatar Meena, who led the team, while speaking to India Science Wire.

Innovative Technologies To Improve Supply Chain Management

One of the most important business areas in any industrial facility is, of course, the supply chain. This is the point of operations that not only determine distribution efficiency but also the quality of the product a customer buys. Supply chain management is a key component of productivity and this has necessitated a paradigm shift in the way it is done. One of the most significant changes is the adoption of modern technology to enhance efficiency and accountability in the entire supply chain.

Computerized chain management has revolutionized modern business by allowing for better visibility and tracking. The technology allows for real-time monitoring of the entire chain including shipping and invoicing. The dynamism in technology products including smartphones, GPS devices, and tablets among others has also seen a steady rise in portable supply chain technology which is invaluable in monitoring the supply chain using wireless technology.

The key take away from this revolutionary technology is, of course, the flexibility it offers logistical managers in tracking and monitoring the entire chain. Supply managers can now make adjustments on the fly which averts disruptions in the supply chain. This in enhances customer satisfaction.

Global brands such as The John Deere Company are leveraging logistic management software to improve productivity in the supply chain. Others like Nike, in collaboration with DHL Supply Chain, are leveraging this technology to enable real-time monitoring of the warehousing and distribution process. In simple speak, integrating technology in supply chain management ensures:

  • Reduction in operational costs
  • Improved efficiency through reduction of errors
  • Greater customer satisfaction on the other end.

To appreciate the need for supply chain management (SCM) technologies, consider some practical innovations that have been adopted by industry leaders:

  • Radio Technology
    One of the greatest headaches for any supply chain manager is the increase in anomalies when an order is in transit. This not only leads to losses but eventually also has a negative impact on a brand. If a product is lost during transit, the supplier bears all the costs and moreover, they have to bear with the ensuing cost of disruption. By adoption of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, a company can effectively monitor every product both at the production line and in the supply line. RFID chips are placed on all items which helps employees to quickly detect any anomalies in an order. It is an innovative way of correcting a problem before it ruins the entire supply chain.
  • Advanced Weighing Technology
    One of the greatest encumbrances in the supply chain is in the weighing process. Outdated truck scales are still used in most industrial facilities which greatly compromise efficiency. Luckily, modern technology includes the ingenious on-board truck scales.These allow for seamless operations when access to platform scales is not available. The scales measure payload weight and the truck’s gross weight. They enhance productivity by ensuring a truck carries the maximum weight right from the point of loading while also saving time and money. The on-board truck scales have also been adopted as a safety guarantee to ensure operators within a warehouse for instance only carry the allowed weight on their lifts.
  • Social Media Revolution
    There are over 1.3 billion Facebook monthly active users (MAUs) and about 320 million MAUs. With such numbers, it makes more sense for modern businesses to leverage the power of social media to optimize their supply chain operations. It is an ingenious way to open more channels and remain in touch in real-time with all stakeholders in the supply chain. It is easy to respond to questions, report in real-time about incidences in the supply chain, report price changes, and also enhance visibility of the company.
  • Transport Management Software
    Computerized supplies management is the future of the business. The use of computerized shipping and tracking systems helps to integrate all operations from one panel. Moreover, it is now possible to have such a panel in your mobile device meaning you can organize your inventory data, manage shipping, monitor distribution and create an electronic bill of landing, all in the comfort of your office or while on the go. This enhances customer experience and reduces errors in the entire process.
  • Data Analytics
    The 21st century has aptly been labeled the information age and this is because of the amount of data readily available. Every new tool is generating copious volumes of data that is driving intelligence which the supply chain management can use effectively. Think of all sources of data from RFID, customer surveys, CRM transactions and call center logs and you appreciate that supplies management will soon be driven by big data just like the modern stock exchange market.
    Final Word
    The whole idea of adopting technology in supplies management is to simplify the process, thus eliminating redundancy. By allowing a seamless process, modern technology will not only help reduce costs but also minimize the risks imminent in the supply chain. This is an innovative way to stay ahead of the competition by enhancing customer satisfaction and improving efficiency.

‘Neo’ Magnets May Capture Half The World Market For Permanent Magnets By Ad 2000

THE ‘movers and shakers of modern technology’, magnets attract little notice. Now a quiet revolution is underway, with the discovery of new materials that could provide greater magnetic potency in smaller packages. The discovery of ‘neo’ magnets by Sumitomo and General Motors in 1983, strongly influenced modern technology. Made from a compound of iron, neodymium, and boron, these levitating magnets are 10 times more powerful than ferrite magnets, and over 100 times as powerful as steel magnets.

The development of neo magnets is the latest step in a series that stretches back to the time of Plato. The only material known to humans at that time was lodestone, or magnetite, an oxide of iron with the formula Fe304, Magnetite continued to be used as a material for permanent magnets until the early 18th century, when strong magnets made from carbon steel were first produced in the UK. Advances in steel-making in the 19th and early 20th centuries led to the discovery of alloy steels. Steel magnets were surpassed in the 1930s by iron- based magnets and hard ferrites were introduced in the 1950s.

But the most exciting advance was the introduction of rare-earth magnets in the 1970s and 1980s. The unsur passed coercivities and energy product of these materials meant that small magnets could do the same job as the much larger ferrites. Applications of these magnets in motors and other devices began to grow rapidly. Still, the high cost of these early rare-earth magnets limited their use mainly to military applications. They also found a niche in small commercial products such as wrist watches, where the amount of material needed is so little that manufacturing costs predominate over raw material costs. A typical quartz watch, for example, contains a rare-earth magnet of barely two to three millimetres in diameter.

When used in conjunction with magnetically sensitive electrical elements, these magnets make possible a variety of systems for monitoring position, velocity, torque, and other aspects of automotive, aircraft, and industrial control systems. A car’s cruise control, for example, relies on such magnets. By retaining information about the direction of a magnetising field, tiny magnetic particles store most of the world’s data including personal information on credit and ATM cards, movies on video-tape, and information on a computer’s hard disk.

Neo magnets are now rapidly replacing the earlier cobalt-samariurn rare-earth magnets in many applications. They are also opening up new applications for permanent magnets, such as in high-power electric motors, that had previously relied upon electro magnets. The dramatic rise in coercivity and energy production has allowed substantial reduction in the size and weight of motors and speakers.

The technology on which neo magnets have probably exerted the greatest impact is that of electric motors. Neo magnets have allowed the construction of efficient 1,000 hp motors that are five times lighter and smaller than traditional motors of the same power. In magnetic resonance imaging systems, the best permanent magnet so far is the neo. Generating a magnetic field of 0.2 tesla requires 21 tonnes of ferrite magnets but only 2.6 tonnes of neo magnets. However, neo magnets have their short-comings, such as a low resistance to corrosion, a rapid decrease in performance as temperature rises and a relatively high cost.

Where material cost remains the dominant consideration, ferrite magnets are used. But for a rapidly growing fraction of magnet applications, neo magnets are being chosen to do the job. The production and use of neo magnets has grown rapidly. If the trend continues, neo magnets will account for close to half of the permanent magnet market by 2000. The multitude of magnets that enhance our daily lives remain hidden. Yet, magnets are ubiquitous, providing the steady magnetic fields that exert force on current- carrying wires to make electric motors spin and loudspeakers blare. Magnets are thus literally the movers and shakers of modern technology. And neo magnets will be more often doing the moving and shaking from now on.