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Small is Powerful

A new generation of microtechnologies received had its coming-out party this week at the annual meeting of the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science). "MECS" -- Microtechnology-based Energy and Chemical Systems -- have the potential to channel large amounts of liquid or gas through microscopic channels allowing for heat transfer, chemical reactions, or material identification.

Chemical and biological warfare suits worn in warm climates, such as the Iraqi desert, can become unbearably hot. The solution may be a portable cooling system that weighs just several pounds.

The concept that makes this possible also is leading to miniature sensors for detecting chemical and biological toxins, as well as tiny chemical reactors for hydrogen fuel processing or environmental cleanup.

In a nutshell, small is powerful. These devices send large amounts of liquid or gas through thousands of microchannels that stand roughly as tall as a human hair. In each channel, heat transfer or chemical reactions happen more efficiently than they do in larger spaces, permitting better process control, shorter channel lengths and overall system miniaturization.

"The channels are to microfluidic devices what wires are to microelectronics," said panelist Brian Paul of Oregon State University.

More pieces coming together for a world filled with realtime observation and analysis of environmental conditions. (Via Ken Novak's Weblog)

Comments (1)

Stefan Thomas:

Wow! Comfortable bioweapon-proof suits! Where can I get one? What a breakthrough for human progress!


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