Iowa State University

June 1997

News about Science, Technology and Engineering at Iowa State University

Solar armada

Forty futuristic, low-riding cars that only burn solar power will be trekking across the Midwest during Sunrayce 97. The biennial solar car race will begin in Indianapolis on June 19 and end 1,230 miles later in Colorado Springs, Colo., on June 28. Along the way the cars, built and operated by college students from all over North America, will pass through towns like Terre Haute, Ind., Fulton, Mo., Lees Summit, Mo., and Manhattan, Kan. Iowa State University's Team PrISUm has put the finishing touches on ExCYtor, their entry in Sunrayce, and will be participating in final qualifiers for the race June 15-17. The ISU team had to scramble to repair their car, which was damaged in an April 29 accident while being transported back to Ames. Daily race updates can be obtained from the Sunrayce 97 website at Team PrISUm's performance will be updated daily by the ISU News Service. For more information contact Skip Derra, News Service, (515) 294-4917.

Micropump power

Research by Iowa State University associate professor of chemistry Marc Porter could shrink desk-top sized laboratory instruments to about the size of a silver dollar. In a project sponsored by NASA, Porter and his colleagues have developed a micropump that is driven by the changing shape of mercury when subjected to an electric charge. The concept, which is being developed for miniature liquid chromatographs, could also be used for chemical process control or drug delivery. NASA is interested in Porter's work because miniature liquid chromatographs could be used to test for contaminants in fluids, which will be recycled and reused in long-range space flight. Contact Porter at (515) 294-6433 or Anita Rollins, IPRT Communications, (515) 294-1113.

Happy hogs

Pleasantly plump pigs mean more profits for pork producers. But research shows that "uncomfortable" pigs do not gain weight as they should. That's why Hongwei Xin (pronounced Shin), Iowa State University assistant professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, is developing a computer vision system that measures hogs' comfort levels and makes appropriate adjustments to their environment. A camera, hooked up to Xin's computer, photographs pigs in their pens. The image records pigs' behavior such as huddling together or spreading apart. The computer analyzes their conditions and makes necessary environmental control adjustments. Air temperature, drafts, humidity and floor conditions all affect a pig's comfort level. Conventional, air temperature-based control alone does not reflect the true environment the pigs are experiencing. "Pork producers are very conscientious about the animal's well being," said Xin. "However, farmers cannot be out in the barn 24 hours a day. But this computer system can." Contact Xin at (515) 294-9778 or Michele Mihalovich, Engineering Communications, (515) 294- 4344.

Waste detector

Scientists at Iowa State University and Ames Laboratory have developed a heavy metal detector that can identify radioactive and hazardous chemical wastes at processing facilities, Superfund sites or abandoned mines. The K-edge detector is portable and can be used to identify and quantify even small amounts of a hazardous substance. The detector's non-invasive, x-ray technique eliminates human contact with contaminants and is cost-effective, fast, and accurate. The K-edge detector has been tested at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory in decommissioning work of radioactive materials processing facilities. Contact Joe Gray, Center for Nondestructive Evaluation, (515) 294-9745; Terry Jensen, Center for Nondestructive Evaluation, (515) 294-6788; or Steve Karsjen, Ames Laboratory Public Affairs, (515) 294-5643.

Waste not, want not

The chemical industry's move into "green chemistry," where unwanted chemical by-products are avoided through the use of highly specific processing, is getting a boost from recent work on the reactivity of hydrogen peroxide. The work is becoming valuable in the search for environmentally acceptable reagents that bring about the desired chemical change by making every atom count and avoiding unwanted by- products, such as salts and certain solvents. Work by Jim Espenson, an Iowa State distinguished professor of chemistry and Ames Laboratory program director for molecular processes, has shown methylrhenium trioxide (MTO) is a promising catalyst that activates the otherwise extremely slow reaction of hydrogen peroxide. The catalytic activity of MTO is very high, and the reactions are very clean -- water and nitrogen are the only materials produced, Espenson said. The work has applications in the petrochemical industry. Contact Espenson at (515) 294-5730 or Saren Johnston, Ames Laboratory Public Affairs, (515) 294-3474.

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