MM: Turning Nuclear Waste Into Diamond Batteries, Nylon Artificial Muscles

In this episode of Manufacturing Minute, turning nuclear waste into diamond batteries and using nylon to produce artificial muscles.

Nuclear Waste Diamond Batteries

Disposing of nuclear waste is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. But the problem usually isn’t so much about disposal, but long-term storage. Spent nuclear fuel contains valuable radioactive isotopes that are essential in industry and medicine, or can be reprocessed into more fuel, so storage is less about keeping waste safe than about the ability to access it when needed. 

To solve this problem, researchers at the University of Bristol found a way to convert nuclear waste into man-made diamond batteries that can generate a small electric current that will last longer than the entire history of human civilization. 

In their process, the researchers removed Carbon-14 from graphite blocks used in reactor decommissioning in the UK. Once formed into man-made diamonds, beta particles interact with the diamond's crystal lattice, throwing off electrons and generating electricity. These diamonds are still radioactive, so they are given a second non-radioactive diamond coating to act as a radiation shield that gives off as much radiation as a banana. Additionally, the hardness of the diamonds helps keep the radioactive material safe.

The team built a prototype diamond battery using the isotope Nickel-63 and is now moving on to using Carbon-14, which will be more efficient. Because of the long half life of Carbon-14, the team estimates a diamond battery would still generate 50 percent of its capacity after 5,730 years. 

SO, WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Would this be a great way to safely dispose of some of our nuclear waste? What could the diamond batteries be used for? Tell us what you think by leaving your comments below.

Using Nylon To Produce Artificial Muscles

A new study suggests that the next step in robotics could be made not with highly advanced, next-generation materials, but instead with humble nylon.

Research has already showed how coiled nylon fibers can contract and extend like human muscles, but a system developed by researchers from MIT demonstrated that specifically shaped and heated nylon could approximate the bending action of human fingers or limbs.

In essence, researchers selectively heated one side of the nylon fibers, which caused that side to begin contracting faster than the heat could penetrate to the other side — producing a bending motion with no additional mechanical elements.

Changing the direction of the heating could also easily generate more complex motions, and the heat could be applied by a wide variety of sources. 

More importantly, the method is relatively simple and low-cost. 

It also maintains its performance after at least 100,000 bending cycles, and can bend and retract at least 17 times per second.

The technique could lead to robots that can bend and grip more easily — and therefore accomplish more complicated tasks.

Researchers also suggested that bending nylon fibers could lead to airplane or vehicle panels that tweak themselves to be more aerodynamic, as well as self-adjusting biomedical devices and even clothes that conform to their wearers.

SO, WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Could simple nylon be the secret to creating a host of self-adjusting materials and gadgets? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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