Technical Difficulties from on Top of the Mountain
2004-09-30
  Strange Materials
Besides nanotechnology machines (like accelerometers and micromirrors), the other great play in molecular engineering is in material science. Researchers are either building or discovering nano structures like Aerogel, Airglass, Cerbide, Foamed Aluminum, and Nanosteel (developed in Idaho of all places). My newest discovery is Zeolite.

Zeolite is actually a family of aluminosilicate ceramics which are porous, leading to their use in filters (air and water), molecular sieves (for separating gases or liquids), desiccants (trapping water and keeping the environment dry), or even molecular storage. I ran across it first looking for alternatives to alcohol distillation since standard distillation can only reach 96.8% purity. Zeolite filters however can be acquired with 3 Angstrom openings as a way to separate alcohol and water since water molecules are 2.5 Angstroms across while Alcohol is 4.5 Angstroms.

Various forms of zerolite are being tapped for the chambers their lattice creates. One potential application is the safe storage of hydrogen (requiring neither excessive pressure or cryogenic temperatures). The DOE is looking at zeolite as well as activated carbon as a mineral carrier for hydrogen. One gram of zeolite (ZSM-5) which is like a spec, has a surface area of 430 square meters (4600 sq feet or 1/10th of an acre).

Its property as an absorbent is used in this cool cryogenic vacuum pump, where by cooling the absorbent material, it literally sucks all the air out of a chamber and traps it in its matrix. By heating it back up, it releases all the gasses trapped inside and can be used again. One of these can easily evacuate a 100 liter chamber, and three can do a 200 liter volume in just under ten minutes (by staging them). No moving parts, no electricity, and under normal operating conditions they'll last forever. Pretty darn cool.

Though if you're into cool, you might also check out this self cooling beer keg.

Operating similar to an icy-ball, the zeolite is used as an absorber for water, letting it boil off and chill the beer in the center of the container. Actually, a zeolite/water chiller might make a great alternative to the salt/ammonia

 
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The second best villain of all times.

Feb '04
Oops I dropped by satellite.
New Jets create excitement in the air.
The audience is not listening.

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Neat chemicals you don't want to mess with.
The Lack of Practise Effect

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Scramjets take to the air
Doing dangerous things in the fire.
The Real Way to get a job

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Checking out cool tools (with the kids)
A master geek (Ink Tank flashback)
How to play with your kids

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