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Wired: DARPA Contracts Under Audit

The Pentagon’s Inspector General is reportedly auditing every DARPA research contract signed since Regina Dugan became the agency’s director two years ago. The Inspector General is also determining whether any other contracts might have been awarded as a result of conflicts of interest between agency personnel and firms that were ultimately awarded contracts. The review comes amid allegations that millions of dollars’ worth of contracts were made by DARPA with RedXDefense, an explosives detection technology firm Dugan co-founded with her father. Dugan reportedly recused herself from any decisions involving the company, yet it was ultimately awarded US$1.7 million in research contracts. The firm had been awarded US$4.25 million in contracts before she joined the agency. According to Wired, this is only an investigation into the contracting process. The US Inspector General is initiating a second inquiry into “Regina Dugan’s continued financial and familial relations with Darpa contractor RedXDefense,” according to Wired. Another probe is being launched into the relationship between Tony Tether, a former DARPA director, and Aeros. Tether is now as a member of its board of advisors. Stars and Stripes called Wired’s continuing coverage of the issue “some good watchdog journalism.” (Wired)(Stars and Stripes)

New Microscopy Technique Assist Fuel Cell Researchers

A new form of imaging known as electrochemical strain microscopy could provide a better understand of how fuel cell materials work. Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory are specifically looking at how oxygen reduction/evolution reactions in fuel cell materials occur. This could help them solve problems that have prevented the technology from commercialization, and could help them redesign fuel cells and reduce their cost. Typically, fuel cells require platinum, an expensive material that serves as a catalyst in the conversion of chemical energy to electrical energy. More exploration into the chemistry behind the reactions that make fuel cells possible had been impossible. Electron microscopy couldn’t allow researchers to look at nanoscale-level reactions such as ion mobility, while other commonly used techniques covered too large an area. Researchers say this work could bridge the theoretical and applied understanding of fuel cells. Other researchers on the study included scientists from the University of Heidelberg and the National Academy of Science of Ukraine. The research was published in Nature Chemistry.
(redOrbit)(Oak Ridge National Laboratory)(Nature Chemistry)

Broadband for Rural UK Funded

The British government has provided £362 million designed to bring broadband service to rural England and Scotland by 2015. English counties will get £294 million and Scotland £68.8 million, which is being provided by the “digital Britain” fund set aside from television licensing fees. Jeremy Hunt, UK culture secretary, says that 90 percent of the nation’s hard-to-reach communities – namely portions of Cumbria and the Scottish Highlands – would be able to easily download or stream high-quality movies within four years. An estimated 96.2 percent of Cumbria’s residents are eligible for the Internet subsidy, which is designed to help those areas not served by private providers. Local authorities and residents will reportedly decide how the money should be spent on broadband projects in England, while the Scottish government will make funding decisions. Funds have already been provided for broadband expansion in Wales and Northern Ireland. (BBC)(The Guardian)

MIT Researchers Apply Crash Simulation Technology to Detecting Pipe Fractures

A computer model used to test automobile components’ crashworthiness could be applied to oil and gas pipes to help predict how pipes might fracture in offshore drilling accidents. MIT researchers have developed a testing method that combines physical experiments with computer simulations to predict the strength and behavior of materials under severe impacts. As a case study, they applied their model to the structure involved in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico and found it accurately predicted the location and propagation of cracks in the structure. When compared to the actual findings, the model’s reconstruction “closely resembled” images of the actual pipe fracture taken following the accident. They say these types of simulations could help oil and gas companies identify stronger or more flexible pipe materials, thus minimizing future offshore drilling accidents that might occur in the event of a failure. The research, which is being funded in part by Royal Dutch Shell, will continue with the analysis of material samples from retired offshore pipes. The group presented the work at the International Offshore and Polar Engineering Conference in June. (PhysOrg.com)(MIT)

UK Student Engineers Apply Haptics to Surgical Use

So-called “keyhole surgery” is a method surgeons typically use because it provides patients with numerous recovery and health benefits. However, operating through such tiny incisions doesn’t allow surgeons to feel the tissue – which aids in surgeries involving tumors – as they would  in conventional surgery. University of Leeds engineering students have applied haptics to the problem, which they say will allow surgeons to have a sense of touch when operating at a distance with keyhole techniques. The system reportedly uses a computer-generated environment for virtual surgery and a hand-held device that applies pressure feedback. Their system was constructed to simulate liver surgery. “Judging from the feedback the students have received from practicing surgeons, this system has real, clinical potential,” said Dr. Peter Culmer, a Senior Translational Research Fellow in Surgical Technologies at the university, who supervised the project. “In the short-term, it could be used as a training tool to help surgeons get a feel for keyhole surgery -- quite literally. Looking further ahead, systems such as this could become used in operating theatres on a daily basis.” (PhysOrg.com)(University of Leeds)

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