Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Tensile testing a single molecule

Nanotechnology has enabled things like Atomic Forced Microscopy (AFM) to benefit materials scientists and engineers but there's a use of the same equipment a materials engineer would find extremely amazing and would probably not have thought of using AFM for; tensile testing a single molecule.

This can be done by combining AFM with a piezoelectric positioner. under the cantilever probe of the microscope. The molecule once attached / bound (chemically or otherwise), at one side to the probe and the other side to the positioner, can be stressed by the piezoelectric material which will change height with application of electricity and the tensile testing data will be recorded by AFM's sensors. Now how much information can be acquired by tensile testing a single molecule alone puts materials engineering to a nano scale perspective against the bulk and the macro properties which are often completely different.

Basic operation of the AFM. As the AFM cantilever probes the surface by moving its tip along its contours, or when it pulls on a protein, the movement of the cantilever is detected with a laser beam that is focused to beam to the head of the cantilever and refracts into a photodetecter. The movement, or deflection, of the cantilever deflects the laser correspondingly, and this creates an image or produces other data about the surface or the sample (which may be a molecule). In single molecule force spectroscopy, the cantilever is pressed against a layer of proteins attached to a substrate, and the tip adsorbs a single protein molecule, which is then extended. Extension of the molecule by retraction of the piezoelectric positioner results in deflection of the cantilever. [Oberhauser et al. PNAS (January 2001), Vol. 98 (2): 468-472]

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Quantum confinement

Quantum confinement is to limit the size of the waves like you do in a guitar string by shortening the size of the string with your finger. Only in this case you are doing the same to the wave of light by limiting the wave by decreasing the size of the material to nano scale. That effect results in a change in the colour being emitted given that the colour differences are there due to the change in wavelengths. Hence you are getting a variety of different colours from the same material just like you can get a variety of tunes from the same string by shortening its length by holding it. This can have a wide range of applications (including sensors).

But why does nano gold look red when red has a longer wavelength than yellow? Shouldn't it shift to a colour with smaller wavelength due to quantum confinement? Here's a little Q/A session I had with Professor Daniel Mittleman of RICE University that clears things up a bit further with regard to gold being red in colour as nano particles and metals behaving in similar scenario:

Professor Mittleman: The reason that a chunk of gold is gold-colored has to do with the electronic level structure of the metal. In other words, it is a quantum effect, not easily explained by ordinary classical physics. 

When you make gold small, there are additional effects, completely unrelated to the electronic level structure, which dictate the color.  In other words, the reason that macroscopic gold is gold-colored has essentially nothing to do with the reason that nano-gold is red.  It is not as if this is a shift from yellow to red - instead, it is a completely different mechanism.  In the case of a metal like gold, the mechanism is the excitation of a plasmon, which is a collective oscillation of all the electrons in the nanoparticle.

The brief description of quantum confinement is applicable to semiconductors, where the number of free electrons is small (e.g., one per nanoparticle). When you have just one electron per nanoparticle, the dominant issue is the energy for that electron to be excited or de-excited - that is, the quantum confinement effect.  On the other hand, in a metal the number of electrons is large, even in a nanoparticle (e.g., one per atom), so the description is understandably quite different.  In that case, the electrons do not need to be excited out of chemical bonds in order to be free, so the energy of excitation is no longer an issue.  Instead, you have the possibility of having all the electrons oscillating together, like water sloshing back and forth in a jar.  That's a plasmon.  And that's why nano-gold is red.

Me: So does this mean that metals in general are exceptions to quantum confinement at nano scale given that metals will generally have much more than 1 free electron per nano particle or does this stand for gold only (why not other metals if in this case)? In short, the plasmon concept supersedes in case of all metals?

Secondly, does quantum confinement still have a partial effect on the net result when talking of gold? As in, a participation to a minor extent as the size of the particles still has been reduced? Or does quantum confinement has no effect at all in case of gold for the reasons you gave (having more free electrons) and the change in colour is fully credited to plasmon?

Professor Mittleman: To answer your specific questions:

1. I would not say that metals are an exception.  I would say it a slightly different way.  In semiconductors, the natural size of an electronic excitation (which is really both an electron and a hole, not just an electron) is in the range of 10 nanometers or larger, so quantum confinement is a big deal when your particle size is in that range.  In contrast, in metals, the effective size of a free electron is much smaller, so that they still behave the same even if the metal particle is only 2 nanometers across - they don't feel 'squeezed' at all by the small size of the particle, since they're smaller. Pretty much any metal will exhibit plasmon effects, similar to gold.  Gold is the one we talk about most often because it is one of the easiest nanoparticles to make.  But color changes due to plasmons can be seen in any nano-metal.
2. The change in color of metal nanoparticles is entirely due to plasmonic effects.  (Well, I guess I should say "almost entirely" just to hedge my bets, but I think it is really entirely.)  In other words, you can describe the change in color using purely classical physics, with no quantum mechanics at all (since plasmons are essentially a classical phenomenon).  Quantum confinement (in semiconductor particles) cannot be described using classical physics, so it is really a different thing entirely.
Now the question is how does quantum confinement affect the colour when the the applications of such do not actually go below the size of the atoms (which is ~ 0.1 nm) and actually don't directly squeeze the emission at atomic level? The relation is similar to a skier sking on a mountain and the height of the mountain. In this analogy, electron is the skier ofcourse. This can also be defined in semi conductors in relation to the exciton created by the absorption of light when electrons jump from their valance state to conducting state by absorbing energy. The electron leaves behind a hole and either drifts apart from it due to voltage or the hole and the electron start to orbit each other, hence creating an exciton. These excitons are much larger than a hydrogen atom and are the physical entity being directly affected by the quantum confinement in such cases as they may range from 2.3 nm (in ZnO) to 46 nm (in PbSe). Quantum confinement here directly affects their size and hence the levels at which they can exist due to the size of the material and this changes the colour the emit from red to green and to blue as the size gets smaller. This is also used to create 'quantum wells' by trapping excitons of different energy levels (say red trapped in green) in each other so that they can only travel in their plane and not in 3D. What use is a quantum well to us? They have a wide range of applications starting from DVD and CD lasers as well as the coloured (eg. red) lasers in laser pointers. Mass manufacturing the quantum well lasers are set of parallel processes which makes them inexpensive; a few rupees a piece.

Multiple uses and effects:

  • Quantum confinement in 3D; quantum dots, can be used to form optical fibres with near zero energy loss (hence data loss) over long distances making a possibility for extremely reliable and high data transfer rates.
  • Quantum confinement in 2D; quantum wires, to solve the 'wiring problem' in nanotechnology where we have the nano components but are limited to wire them using larger sized wiring, to create P-N junctions and hence transistors in a whole new paradigm or even to be used as sensors.
  • Quantum confinement in 1D; quantum wells, can be used to create lasers and other light emitters as explained above.

Quantum confinement as a nano-physics concept can be applied to engineering applications that make life easier and technology the high end either in designing sensors or otherwise. Pakistan should soon take up its role on the high end of technology as these are concepts not far from the grasps of Pakistani engineers.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Direction of Passion

Polish Entrepreneur / Blogger, Maciej Biegajewski, posts an interview at KIERUNEK PASJA (Direction of Passion) with me as Highbrows Engineering & Technologies' CEO about our human resource development drive.

(An English version will be posted soon, but you may roughly translate the current polish version at has been a part of Highbrows' skill development drive. The site facilitates the world's top universities to offer free online courses to international students. Although the antecedent post is about an entrepreneurship course, Coursera offers much of the courses relevant to applied sciences. Spreading awareness about such platforms to undergraduates and school students might help them improvise their aspiration or learn on top of their current skills in applied sciences and many related fields.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Crystallography: Snowflakes

Images shared via Alexey Kljatov.

A Russian photographer, Alexey Kljatov created a self made camera-lens combination to take some inexpensive photographs of snowflakes that clearly show the crystallographic structure of each flake.

With each flake having undergone different thermodynamics, no two flakes are alike. What is interesting is that each flake shows the basic most thermodynamic concepts with respect to crystallography at a macro level.

The dendrites grow spaced from each other like leafs on a branch instead of a single solid being frozen because, at the seed's surface and the part yet liquid (solid-liquid interface) at the center, the temperature higher than it is in the solid or liquid due to temperature inversion. This means not only the dendrites tend to equally space away from each other but also grow further away from the interface deep into the liquid depending on the time they get to freeze. This results in the dendrites growing in a pattern of branch and leaf like structure so well, almost as if it was calculated before it was made. Well not almost... it was naturally calculated before it formed. It's thermodynamics in action. During freezing the latent heat of fusion given away by the freezing material is being exchanged at the solid-liquid interface which results in inversion of temperature in this region. The inversion simply denotes the raise in temperature above the freezing point as well as the ambient liquid temperature at the interface. Instead of the inversion of temperature slowing down the process, it instead gives the process a pattern. The material does not wait for this temperature to lower down as it finds a freezing opportunity on as a separate dendrite. Crystal starts forming and growing in shape of dendrites. Depending on what the localized thermodynamic conditions were, each flakes forms in different sizes and shapes, which is remarkably shown in the photography.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Energy Harvesting: Self Sufficient Technologies

When we talk of going green, using solar, wind and other 'green' technologies, mostly we are unknowingly talking about energy harvesting. Harvesting energy from ambiance might be a solution that has been staring at us since a long time. We can totally eliminate the need for powering our electronics with external sources; batteries or fuel. There are a multitude of methods well within our capabilities.

Pakistan can take a great boost by starting with the small but numerous devices. The multitude of dry batteries that we import would not even be needed. A TV remote control can be powered by the same energy that we apply to press the 'button' if we use a piezoelectric material which converts the movement into enough voltage to send the signal. Powering handy devices with body heat, solar cells, piezoelectrics, or even use the excessive background noise that we have in form of radio waves and wifi signals on hundreds of channels to power devices.

On a macro-scale, The vast deserts are a good source of solar, wind and other forms of energy harvesting. Also, humans had always been having good living conditions prior to advent of electricity. Passive solar building design can take down the carbon foot print of a building to near zero.

It's time Pakistan takes steps towards such technologies. It might seem that highly developed nations develop such technologies and then it is transferred to us, but the truth is, most innovative and energy efficient technologies come from developing countries because they have to make do with the least possible resources. There is a huge range of technologies which were either developed for or by developing nations and later introduced to the developed ones.

As I explained in the last post about programmable materials, the processing of information is being decentralized to make it more viable... the power overload may not be any different from the information overload. The fact is, we do not need to reduce our energy consumption, we just need to reduce the wastage. Recycling and harvesting the wasted energy and making most devices self sufficient in regards to power is the obvious solution.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Material Intelligence: The Programmable Matter

The new era is an epoch of smart materials where materials and non living things can have intelligence without any circuits, processing power, mechanical gadgets involved - it comes directly from the materials properties at nano-scale. Intelligent materials are being developed for a lot of purposes and include functionalities like:
  • Piezoelectric materials - convert vibrations to electricity and converse.
  • Shape memory alloys - remember their shape at temperature zones.
  • Magnetostrictive materials - reshape under magnetic influence and converse.
  • Magnetic shape memory alloys - change shape under significant magnetic field.
  • Magnetocaloric materials - reversibly change their temperature in ratio to magnetic field.
  • pH-sensitive polymers - change their volume with ambient pH.
  • Temperature responsive polymers - respond to temperature changes.
  • Halochromic materials - change colour with acidity.
  • Chromogenic systems - change colour with electricity, heat or light. LCDs use such materials.
  • Ferrofluids - strongly magnetizable fluids just by presence of magnetic field.
  • Photomechanical materials - change shape with light.
  • Polymorph materials - mold with hot water.
  • Self-healing materials - heal their own wear and tear.
  • Dielectric elastomers -  produce high strain with electricity.
  • Thermoelectric materials - convert temperature difference to electricity and converse.

This opens the doors to a new science of programming matter itself. Using any combination of materials above or other such materials it is possible to program the material to achieve basic functionalities that would normally take a computer processor or human brain to perform. A BBC news article mentions discovery of shape memory alloys that can be reshaped indefinitely by heating and cooling without wear and tear. The martensite structure of the shape memory alloys allows the materials to 'decide' conditionally and by the use of conditional programming of the materials they can be used to perform functions like automatic window openers or even as the means to guide solar panels on the Hubble Space Telescope to always point towards sun.

The programming of materials opens a front at nano-scale physics that uses the skills of computing and materials science to acquire results with no complexity at the macro level.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Top 10 Space Weapons

While exotic weapons design and 'alien-ware' style weaponry is still a distant future but the speed our current technology and capabilities it is diversifying and moving towards that future is remarkable. lists top ten weapons that have yet been deployed by different nations to work from or in space as a form of space warfare to support operations on earth or a conflict in space. The list ranges from ICBMs, High altitude Non-nuclear EMPs, Cosmic satellites and China's satellite destroying missiles to Soviet Union's Almaz Space Station, DARPA's electromagnetism controlled stream of molten metal and the X-37B, the Orbital Vehicle with capabilities to throw Tungsten rods at targets on earth.

Read the the article on Top 10 Space Weapons for more.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Pi - 3.14 - π

-- Compiled from multiple sources.

Pi (π) is an infinite, non-repeating (sic) decimal - meaning that every possible number combination exists somewhere in pi. Converted into ASCII text, somewhere in that infinite string if digits is the name of every person you will ever love, the date, time and manner of your death, and the answers to all the great questions of the universe.

It is not true that an infinite, non-repeating decimal must contain ‘every possible number combination’. The decimal 0.011000111100000111111 is an easy counterexample. However, if the decimal expansion of π contains every possible finite string of digits, which seems quite likely, then the rest of the statement is indeed correct. Of course, in that case it also contains numerical equivalents of every book that will never be written, among other things.

Let me summarize the things that have been said which are true and add one more thing.
  1. π is not known to have this property, but it is expected to be true.
  2. This property does not follow from the fact that the decimal expansion of π is infinite and does not repeat.
The one more thing is the following. The assertion that the answer to every question you could possibly want to ask is contained somewhere in the digits of π may be true, but it's useless. Here is a string which may make this point clearer: just string together every possible sentence in English, first by length and then by alphabetical order. The resulting string contains the answer to every question you could possibly want to ask, but most of what it contains is garbage, you have no way of knowing what is and isn't garbage a priori, and the only way to refer to a part of the string that isn't garbage is to describe its position in the string, and the bits required to do this themselves constitute a (terrible) encoding of the string. So finding this location is exactly as hard as finding the string itself (that is, finding the answer to whatever question you wanted to ask).

In other words, a string which contains everything contains nothing. Useful communication is useful because of what it does not contain.

You should keep all of the above in mind and then read Jorge Luis Borges' The Library of Babel. (A library which contains every book contains no books.)

Monday, August 26, 2013

Electronic insect

Engineers around the world keep inventing with inspirations from the nature. This one being an insect could be an excellent candidate for surveillance.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Earth sniped

A satirical depiction of how it would look to an astronaut on the Moon if earth gets hit by an ultra hard asteroid at an ultra high speed. A better satirical caption would be, "...all my stuff was there!"

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Electromagnetic Pulse Capacitor Comparison

Happy independence day to all Pakistanis. As a independence day gift, we are releasing high tech interest base research on electromagnetic pulse as a part of this blog.

Electromagnetic Pulse

The term electromagnetic pulse (sometimes abbreviated EMP) is a burst of electromagnetic radiation that results from an explosion (usually from the detonation of a nuclear weapon) and/or a suddenly fluctuating magnetic field. The resulting rapidly changing electric fields or magnetic fields may couple with electrical/electronic systems to produce damaging current and voltage surges.

In military terminology, a nuclear bomb detonated hundreds of kilometers above the Earth’s surface is known as a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (HEMP) device. Nuclear electromagnetic pulse has three distinct time components that result from different physical phenomena. Effects of a HEMP device depend on a very large number of factors, including the altitude of the detonation, energy yield, gamma ray output, interactions with the Earth’s magnetic field, and electromagnetic shielding of targets.

The case of a nuclear electromagnetic pulse differs from other kinds of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) in being a complex electromagnetic multi-pulse. The complex multi-pulse is usually described in terms of three components, and these three components have been defined as such by the international standards commission called the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).

The three components of nuclear EMP, as defined by the IEC, are called E1, E2 and E3.

Capacitor Comparison for EMP use:
    • Ceramic capacitors range from low to high voltage but are vulnerable to aging (and change in crystal structure over time) and have to be reheated up to curie point to reverse the aging effect.
    • Polymeric capacitors produce up to 60,000V but temperature stability is poor; inappropriate for radio frequency applications due to excessive dielectric heating.
    • Glass Capacitors although have a high working temperature and are very stable but their capacitance is in picofarads.
    • Ultra-capacitors have a maximum working voltage upto 24.4 V and hence need a large amount to series connections to build up an EMP device.

      Class II ceramic capacitors provide bet material for the EMP effect to successfully occur over a voltage of ~ 50,000V.

      To further improve the dissipation rate electrical grade castor oil or similar high dielectric constant fluid can be used along with extended foil plates in combination with the ceramic capacitors to use their high voltage to generate EMP.

      Friday, July 26, 2013

      Pakistan develops smallest nuclear weapon the size of a tennis ball

      Shared via Terminalx.

      Over the past few years, Pakistan’s strategic forces, responsible for the country’s primary deterrence program, have been doing extensive research into the design and development of smart weapons i.e. nuclear weapons that have a dynamic and compact form, and which can easily be transported from one location to another.

      Although a variety of warheads already exist, especially in northern Pakistan, these enhanced productions are considered a landmark in strategic deterrence, owing to their size and power. Sources for Terminal X revealed that Pakistan has taken the term ‘ special degree ’ one step ahead by developing what they call, “ the world’s smallest nuclear weapons ”.

      Reportedly, these special weapons are about the size of a tennis ball (which can easily be hand-picked). Officials familiar with the development said that Pakistan’s Strategic Forces Command made it clear it has not signed any treaty preventing it from taking an aggressive reaction (in defence, when provoked or attacked by a hostile enemy).

      It was said that if any mistake was made to initiate force aggression against Pakistan, then these ball-sized nuclear weapons will also be distributed across the Muslim world’s armed forces. In addition to these smart weapons , sources said that the Pakistani military has developed plutonium-based anti tank bullets which can prove very lethal for enemy armored vehicles, especially those of neighboring India.

      TX has received information that a clandestine transfer protocol has been put into place for the past few years after discussions with a few allies, according to which, if in case Pakistan is attacked in the near future, threats of which are in increasing abundance, then the country’s strategic forces will initiate a plan-of-action by which the aforementioned smart weapons will be distributed among friendly armed forces in Africa, the Arab world and South Asia. Of interesting note in this regard is the claim that this entire process of “ emergency transfer and armed protocol ” can be completed from start to finish within 8 hours.

      Drone hacking via GPS Spoofing; how Iran hacked the US drone

      shared via Juggaar under CC-BY-NC-ND license.

      The US stealth drone was captured by Iran spoofing its GPS coordinates tricking the bird to land within the Iranian territory instead of it's actual programmed landing zone, Afghanistan. Iranian engineers, only a few months back, claimed that the drone’s GPS was reconfigured which made it land inside Iran.

      NATO monitors the long Iran-Afghan border for weapon smuggling into Afghanistan. Three years ago the Iranians claimed to have designed their own drone with a range of 300 miles reachable to Israel. The captured stealth drone has been built with very sophisticated technology. A same kind of stealth plane was monitoring the US raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. The captured stealth drone costed up to $6 million and was manufactured by Lockheed Martin.

      According to the US officials, RQ in its name means that it is unarmed and some industry experts who have written about the Sentinel stealth is that its design makes it more of an operational platform not an intelligence gathering aircraft. It was used to fly support during the Bin Laden raid. However, according to the Iranian news, the drone was shot down and recovered almost completely intact which goes as a warning to the US.

      According to an unnamed Iranian engineer who has been working on the US bat-wing RQ-170 Sentinel, the spoofing method used allowed the Iranians to divert the landing of the bird without even hacking into the remote-control signals of the US control centre.

      The GPS weakness of aircraft has been a concern for US since a long time. Such an attack is much more sophisticated than ECM jamming due to being executed under cover and finding out the hacker is not possible until the spoofing has already been done. The attack method allows the GPS receiver to send wrong GPS signals which makes the drone believe that it is located somewhere in space while it is flying at its normal altitude, making it to reduce altitude and actually land. The US officials lay the claim of their loss of the stealth drone on a supposed malfunction from their end.

      The Iranian engineer, however, claims the GPS navigation to be the weakest point. After being “jammed” by sending noise over the normal communications, the bird automatically goes into autopilot mode and doesn’t know what to do next. It can then be tricked and commanded into doing whatever the controller wants.

      None of the current GPS systems are “spoof proof” due to several reasons. The main reason being the near impossibility to validate consistently on a “one way” communications channel because of “replay attacks”. Therefore all the GPS sytems require an additional channel that is not possible to jam.

      Claims have also been made that Iran has sold the stealth to China so that China may undertake serious investigations on the other hand Pakistan is also believed to have shared with China, the stealth technology from the stealth helicopter that crashed in Abbottabad attack.

      Thursday, July 25, 2013

      Researchers create ‘an impossible material’ by mistake

      shared via io9 and plosone under creative commons license.

      In yet another example of scientific serendipity, Uppsala University researchers have created an unprecedented material with record-breaking properties. And most remarkable of all, this new material — which was thought impossible to make for over a century — was the result of an accident in the lab.

      And indeed, the new magnesium carbonate material exhibits some remarkable properties.

      Adsorption, Not Absorption

      Called upsalite in honor of the university where it was discovered, the material features a surface area of 800 square meters per gram. It's got the highest surface area measured for a synthesized alkali metal carbonate. And in addition, upsalite is filled with empty pores all having a diameter smaller than 10 nanometers.

      This means that it can absorb — or more accurately, adsorb — more water at low relative humidities than the most advanced materials currently in existence.

      Unlike absorption, where fluids permeate or are dissolved by a liquid or solid, adsorption involves the adhesion of atoms, ions, or molecules from a gas, liquid, or dissolved solid to a surface. And it does so as a consequence of surface energy (similar to surface tension).

      a) Scanning electron microscope view of upsalite. Scale bar, 1 µm. b) Higher magnification SEM of a region in a) showing the textural porosity of the material. Scale bar, 200 nm. c) image of upsalite showing contrast consistent with a porous material. The image is recorded with under-focused conditions to enhance the contrast from the pores. Scale bar: 50 nm.

      Once refined, upsalite could significantly reduce the amount of energy required to control environmental moisture in electronics and in drug delivery. It could also be used in hockey rinks and warehouses. Perhaps more crucially, the material could be used to suck up toxic waste, dangerous chemicals, and oil spills.

      Scientists have known about natural and ordered forms of magnesium carbonate, both with and without water structure, for quite some time. But creating a water-free disordered version has proven difficult. As early as 1906, German researchers concluded that the material could not be created in the same way as other disordered carbonates, namely by bubbling C02 through an alcoholic suspension. Other studies in 1926 and 1961 came to the same conclusion.

      'We started to get excited'

      But on one fateful Thursday afternoon in 2011 this all changed. A research team led by Johan Goméz de la Torre made some slight changes to the synthesis parameters of an earlier unsuccessful attempt to create a water-free disordered form of magnesium carbonate — and they left it in the reaction chamber by mistake! It sat there for the entire weekend, and when the researchers returned to the lab the following Monday, a rigid gel had formed.

      Surprised and excited, they dried the gel and studied it further. They soon realized that they were onto something.

      After a year of further experiments and refinements, upsalite was born. The new material featured an adsoprtion capacity about 50% larger than that of comparable materials at low relative humidities, and an ability to retain more than 75% of the adsorbed water when the humidity was decreased from 95% to 5% at room temperature.

      “This places the new material in the exclusive class of porous, high surface area materials including mesoporous silica, zeolites, metal organic frameworks, and carbon nanotubes”, noted researcher Maria Strømme through a release. Indeed, it can adsorb more water at low humidities than the best materials available — and with less energy. “This, together with other unique properties of the discovered impossible material is expected to pave the way for new sustainable products in a number of industrial applications”, said Strømme.

      Friday, July 19, 2013

      Applied sciences exclusive: Analyzing Pakistan's need for effective stealth countermeasures

      by Faran Awais Butt via Terminalx. Shared under CC BY-NC-ND license 3.0.

      Before I begin, I would like to familiarize the readers with two acronyms which I would use throughout this article: Electronic Counter Measure (ECM) and Electronic Counter Counter Measure (ECCM).

      ECM is something that intends to disturb the normal working of a radar and ECCM refers to the efforts to overcome ECM. Jamming of the radar by noise or deception were the most notable amongst the ECMs but today, the radars of the world are under the threat of an even more sinister technology which is in possession of a very few countries; this technology, known as 'stealth', makes the target invisible to the radar. Stealth technology has brought up a revolution in the field of ECMs and has exposed the ineffectiveness of thousands of radars all across the world. The stealth aircrafts diffract and/or scatter very low power electromagnetic radiations owning to its special geometry and highly absorbent material. It is essential for the ground-based radars to have the capabilities of ECCM against stealth technology.

      ECMs can be both seen and unseen. After World War II, there has been a significant research work on radar technology but as it progressed, its countermeasures also started to develop. The purpose of ECM is to make the radar less capable of detecting targets, deceiving the system and hence making it dysfunctional. It prevents the enemy radar from detecting the object. In reaction to ECM, there developed another form of electronic warfare which was developed as a reaction to ECM, known as ECCM i.e. electronic counter counter-measures of radar systems.

      Electronic warfare is something in which every nation is trying to gain superiority at. There has been a rapid increase in sophistication of weapons in order to tackle the hostility of threats. ECCM is purely reactionary, that is, it has been developed in response to observed threats. If the ECM effects are observed in a specific system, a solution must be developed especially for a country like Pakistan which is under immense threat of this technology both from the western border (US, NATO forces) and India on the east.

      Although stealth aircraft are in use and possess many qualities which make them superior to other fighter jets, however there still exist limitations to this technology. Many such aircraft are unstable and require a high-integrity sophisticated flight control and a fly-by-wire control system. The Radar Cross Section (RCS) of the aircraft is a parameter which dictates the detectability of the target. The greater the RCS, the easier it would be for the radar to detect it. Below 900 MHz, the target cross section increases exponentially. However, there is increased return from undesirable clutters. Shaping requirements have negative effect on the aerodynamics of the aircraft and hence they cannot be flown without a fly-by-wire control system. Hence, radar designers can exploit these vulnerabilities better than a mono-static radar since the bi-static RCS can be quite different depending upon target scattering characteristics.

      The dramatic incident that took place on 2nd May 2011 at Abbottabad caused a humiliating disgrace to Pakistan when the United States' “modified” Blackhawk helicopters did a violation by covertly doing an operation at a strategically important location in Pakistan.

      The report states that the latest stealth technology was used by the choppers employed in the raid. Helicopters with such technology are undetectable by ordinary radars.

      The reports revealed that all of Pakistan Air Force's radar systems and technical monitoring assets were fully functional on 2nd May and no lapses of vigilance occurred that night on the part of the institution. This implies that there was lack of technology which resulted in the radars being unable to identify the incoming targets. It is evident thus, that radars are of no use if they cannot detect a target owing to ECM, which once again brings us to the conclusion that there needs to be an effective introduction of ECCMs into the system.

      There is a global trend of using monostatic radars i.e. radars which have the same antenna which acts both as a transmitter/receiver and a duplexer which separates the signal. On the other hand, a bistatic radar is one in which there is a separate transmitter/receiver and the distance of the receiver should be considerable to the distance between radar and target. This trend needs to be changed for all the possible stealth-affected countries like Pakistan.

      Stealth-oriented structures usually do not reflect the incoming wave in the same direction, rather they are absorbed and also scattered in different directions away from the radar.

      These locations can be covered by use of multiple receivers at various locations. Pakistan should look for bistatic or a multi-static radar systems which have separated transmitters and receivers and whose receivers are located at a location comparable to the target’s distance.

      Russia’s Sukhoi and Hindustan Aeronautics limited (HAL) are working on a project, 'Perspective Multi-role Fighter' (PMF), whose objective is to make Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA); these planes are expected to be in operation by 2015. India too, is working on autonomous unmanned combat air vehicles developed by the Defence Research & Development Organization (DRDO) for the Air Force.

      Having already unveiled the J-20 Chengdu stealth fighter in January 2011, China is the only country which is developing two separate stealth fighters. The US is developing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in three versions; Russia is working on a single design, the 'PAK-FA', on which India is also collaborating. Separately, Japan is developing the ATD-X demonstrator.

      Pakistan has a very fine air defence system against jamming techniques but there is a need to make efforts to overcome the threats of stealth. India has been working on stealth in collaboration with Russia where as Pakistan did not make any efforts to bring stealth technology to their system. Pakistan should seriously consider collaboration with China in the manufacturing of the'Mighty Dragon' J-20.

      Efforts should be made by Pakistan to bring affordable stealth capabilities to their system. Although it must be acknowledged that this can take a lot of time. Pakistan should instead make efforts to build or design the counter to stealth system. The best radar that Pakistan has is the American TPS-77 which is a phased array radar. Phased array radars have many transmit/receive modules and such radars are very good in countering different types of noise jamming and to some extent, deception jamming. It also has a great deal of graceful degradation and room for modification according to situation.

      Active phased array radars should be deployed since in such systems, there is a separate transmit/receive module which can be modified to have varied polarization, bandwidth and even operating frequency. Pakistan should look to work on active phased array systems in the radar factories at Kamra. Pakistan should also look to utilize radars operating on the lower side of L band of radar on the borders. Since building a multi-static radar approach could be very costly, we can either use modified radar warning receivers on a temporary basis or build a low cost multi-static radar system indigenously.

      Microscopic sunburn

      What a sun burn looks like under a microscope.

      Thursday, June 20, 2013

      In for the free ride

      Remoras get free rides using sucking discs derived from dorsal fins by attaching to other marine animals or ship hulls. For those who know how inventing based on natural engineering has helped form optimal machines; apache helicopter based on dragon fly for example, can get significant inspiration for applied sciences.

      Saturday, June 15, 2013

      Artistic Engineering

      Artistic Engineering: Glowstone mixed in with the cement or concrete to make this glow in the dark driveway.

      Friday, June 7, 2013

      First woman in space ready for ‘one-way flight to Mars'

      Shared via Rianovosti.


      STAR CITY, MOSCOW REGION, June 7 (RIA Novosti) – Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, said Friday that she disapproved of space tourists and would be prepared to leave retirement to undertake a one-way trip to Mars, her favorite planet.

      Tereshkova, 76, was speaking ahead of the 50th anniversary of her June 16, 1963, blastoff, which propelled her into the record books and made her one of the Soviet Union’s most feted astronauts.

      “Of course, it’s a dream to go to Mars and find out whether there was life there or not,” Tereshkova said. “If there was, then why did it die out? What sort of catastrophe happened?”

      While she said that she thought the first manned flight to Mars would be a suicide trip, she volunteered to take part. “I am ready,” she said.

      Tereshkova spent three days orbiting the Earth in 1963 and is one of only three female Russian astronauts to have taken part in a space mission, compared with over 50 of their counterparts in the United States.

      Not all aspects of modern space flight are to Tereshkova’s taste. She said the privilege of going into space should be reserved for scientists and professional astronauts, and not be available to the highest bidder.

      There have been eight space tourists since 2001, with each cosmic jaunt costing upward of $20 million.

      “Only specialists should be making space flights because, while there have been a lot of flights and more than 50 astronauts, there is still a lot that hasn’t been studied,” Tereshkova said. “But if they [the people going into space] are specialists, if they can bring some use working aboard a spaceship, then be my guest.”

      Tereshkova was part of a small team of women assembled by the Soviet authorities as potential astronauts in the wake of the first manned space flight by Yury Gagarin in 1961, but she was the only one who actually went into space. The next Russian woman to do so, Svetlana Savitskaya, blasted off 19 years later, in 1982.

      Tereshkova, whose call sign was "Seagull," also revealed a secret about her pioneering space flight: that a technical error almost precipitated disaster when she was about to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere.

      On landing, Tereshkova said she was approached by Sergei Korolyov, the father of the Soviet space program, who addressed her as "my little seagull" and begged her not to reveal the mistake.

      "So I kept the secret for exactly 30 years," Tereshkova said.

      Sunday, June 2, 2013

      Exclusive: Pakistan expresses interest in non-nuclear EMP weapons technology

      by Zaki Khalid via Terminalx.

      Well-informed sources say that Pakistani security officials have expressed interest in the research and development of non-nuclear EMP (electromagnetic pulse) weapons.

      Sources privy to the development had earlier shared that a panel of Chinese and Russian experts had met in Moscow to discuss means of collaborating for a giant Asian EMP-shield ('umbrella') that would protect regional airspace, particularly that of Russia and China, from intruding systems.

      In this context, Pakistani officials expressed their interest. It is expected that as previously, Pakistan will approach its counterparts in China to map a possible joint R & D venture.

      Wednesday, May 29, 2013

      Design and Fly

      Hosted by GIKI, the event has invited participation of many innovative RC aircraft designs.

      Tuesday, May 28, 2013

      Pakistan’s nuclear bayonet

      While Pakistan celebrates Youm-e-Takbir, I find it fitting to share this article about how nuclear weapons have impacted Pakistan and the region. Applied Sciences some times go far enough to envelope continents, or even the globe, into consequences. This article is a shares content of a Dawn News article considered to be a worth sharing and relevant implication of applied sciences in Pakistan.

      In an enthusiastic moment, Napoleon is said to have remarked: “Bayonets are wonderful! One can do anything with them except sit on them!” Pakistan’s political and military establishment glows with similar enthusiasm about its nuclear weapons. Following the 1998 nuclear tests, it saw “The Bomb” as a panacea for solving Pakistan’s multiple problems. It became axiomatic that, in addition to providing total security, “The Bomb” would give Pakistan international visibility, help liberate Kashmir, create national pride and elevate the country’s technological status. But the hopes and goals were quite different from those of earlier days.

      Back then, there was just one reason for wanting “The Bomb” — Indian nukes had to be countered by Pakistani nukes. Indeed, in 1965, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had uttered his famous statement about “The Bomb”: if India got it “then we shall have to eat grass and get one, or buy one, of our own.” In the famous Multan meeting that followed India’s victory in the 1971 war, Bhutto demanded from Pakistani scientists that they map out a nuclear weapons programme to counter India’s. Pakistan was pushed further into the nuclear arena by the Indian test of May 1974.

      Although challenged again to equalise forces by a series of five Indian nuclear tests in May 1998, Pakistan was initially reluctant to test its own weapons for fear of international sanctions. Much soul-searching followed. But foolish taunts and threats by Indian leaders such as L K Advani and George Fernandes forced Pakistan over the edge that same month, a fact that India now surely regrets.

      Pakistan’s nuclear success changed attitudes instantly. A super-confident military suddenly saw nuclear weapons as a talisman; having nukes-for-nukes became secondary. “The Bomb” became the means for neutralising India’s far larger conventional land, air and sea forces. This thinking soon translated into action. Just months after the 1998 nuclear tests, Pakistani troops and militants, protected by a nuclear shield, crossed the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir into Kargil. Militant Islamic groups freely organised across Pakistan. When the Mumbai attacks eventually followed in 2008, India could do little more than froth and fume.

      A third purpose, which is still emerging, is subtler but critically important: our nukes generate income. Hard economic times have befallen Pakistan: loadshedding and fuel shortages routinely shut down industries and transport for long stretches, imports far exceed exports, inflation is at the double-digit level, foreign direct investment is negligible because of concerns over physical security, tax reform has failed, and corruption remains unchecked. An African country like Somalia or Congo would have long ago sunk under this weight. But, like nuclear North Korea, Pakistan feels protected. It knows that international financial donors are compelled to keep pumping in funds. Else a collapsing Pakistan would be unable to prevent its 80+ Hiroshima-sized nukes from disappearing into the darkness.

      Over time, then, the country’s nuclear bayonet has gained more than just deterrence value; it is a dream instrument for any ruling oligarchy. Unlike Napoleon’s bayonet – painful to sit upon – nukes offer no such discomfort. Unsurprisingly, General (retd) Pervez Musharraf often referred to them as Pakistan’s “crown jewels”. One recalls that immediately after 9/11 he declared these “assets” were to be protected at all costs — even if this meant accepting American demands to dump the Taliban.

      But can our nukes lose their magic? Be stolen, rendered impotent or lose the charm through which they bring in precious revenue? More fundamentally, how and when could they fail to deter?

      A turning point could possibly come with Mumbai-II. This is no idle speculation. The military establishment’s reluctance to clamp down on anti-India jihadi groups, or to punish those who carried out Mumbai-I, makes a second Pakistan-based attack simply a matter of time. Although not officially assisted or sanctioned, it would create fury in India. What then? How would India respond?

      There cannot, of course, be a definite answer. But it is instructive to analyse Operation Parakram, India’s response to the attack on the Indian parliament on December 13, 2001. This 10-month-long mobilisation of nearly half a million soldiers and deployment of troops along the LOC was launched to punish Pakistan for harbouring the Jaish-e-Mohammad, which, at least initially, had claimed responsibility for the attack. When Parakram fizzled out, Pakistan claimed victory and India was left licking its wounds.

      A seminar held in August 2003 in Delhi brought together senior Indian military leaders and top analysts to reflect on Parakram. To quote the main speaker, Major-General Ashok Mehta, the two countries hovered on the brink of war and India’s “coercive diplomacy failed due to the mismatch of India-US diplomacy and India’s failure to think through the end game”. The general gave several reasons for not going to war against Pakistan. These included a negative cost-benefit analysis, lack of enthusiasm in the Indian political establishment, complications arising from the Gujarat riots of 2002 and “a lack of courage”. That Parakram would have America’s unflinching support also turned out to be a false assumption.

      A second important opinion, articulated by the influential former Indian intelligence chief, Lieutenant-General Vikram Sood, was still harsher on India. He expressed regret at not going to war against Pakistan and said that India had “failed to achieve strategic space as well as strategic autonomy”. He went on to say that Musharraf never took India seriously after it lost this golden opportunity to attack a distracted Pakistan that was waging war against the Taliban on the Durand Line. Using the word “imbroglio” for India’s punitive attempt, he pointed out that no political directive had been provided to the service chiefs for execution even as late as August 2002. On the contrary, the Chief of Army Staff was asked to draw up a directive that month to extricate the army.

      Now that the finger-pointing, recriminations and stock-taking are over, one can be sure that India will not permit a second Parakram. Indeed, a new paradigm for dealing with Pakistan has emerged and is encoded into strategies such as Cold Start. These call for quick, salami-slicing thrusts into Pakistan while learning to fight a conventional war under a “nuclear overhang” (by itself an interesting new phrase, used by General Deepak Kapoor in January 2010).

      On this score, recent revelations by WikiLeaks are worthy of consideration. In a classified cable to Washington in February 2010, Tim Roemer, the US ambassador to India, described Cold Start as “not a plan for a comprehensive invasion and occupation of Pakistan” but “for a rapid, time- and distance-limited penetration into Pakistani territory”. He wrote that “it is the collective judgment of the US Mission that India would encounter mixed results.” Warning India against Cold Start, he concluded that “Indian leaders no doubt realise that although Cold Start is designed to punish Pakistan in a limited manner without triggering a nuclear response, they cannot be sure whether Pakistani leaders will in fact refrain from such a response.”

      Roemer is spot on. Implementing Cold Start, which might be triggered by Mumbai-II, may well initiate a nuclear disaster. Indeed, there is no way to predict how such conflicts will end once they start. Therefore a rational Indian leadership – which one can only hope would exist at that particular time – is unlikely to opt for it. But even in this optimistic scenario, Mumbai-II would likely be a bigger disaster for Pakistan than for India. Yes, Pakistani nukes would be unhurt and unused, but their magic would have evaporated.

      The reason is clear: an aggrieved India would campaign – with a high chance of success – for ending all international aid for Pakistan, a trade boycott and stiff sanctions. The world’s fear of loose Pakistani nukes hijacked by Islamist forces would be overcome by the international revulsion of yet another stomach-churning massacre. With little fat to spare in the economy, collapse may happen over weeks rather than months. Bravado in Pakistan would be intense at first but would fast evaporate.

      Foodstuffs, electricity, gas and petrol would disappear. China and Saudi Arabia would send messages of sympathy and some aid, but they would not make up the difference. With scarcity all around, angry mobs would burn grid stations and petrol pumps, loot shops, and plunder the houses of the rich. Today’s barely governable Pakistan would become ungovernable. The government then in power, whether civilian or military, would exist only in name. Religious and regional forces would pounce upon their chances; Pakistan would descend into hellish anarchy.

      In another scenario, could Pakistan’s nukes be stolen by Islamist radicals? America’s worries about this are dismissed by most Pakistanis who consider these fears to be unfounded and suspect such US claims to be hiding bad intent. They point out that the professionalism of Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division (SPD), which has custodial responsibility of the weapons, has been praised by many visitors. Reassuring words have also come from visiting American politicians like Senator Joe Lieberman. With US tutoring and funds, SPD says it has implemented various technical precautions such as improved perimeter security, installation of electronic locks and security devices such as Permissive Action Links, and a personnel reliability programme.

      For all this, procedures and technical fixes are only as good as the men who operate them. For example, more or better weapons could not have prevented Governor Salmaan Taseer from being gunned down by his own guards. This incident, as well as numerous insider attacks upon the military and Inter-Services Intelligence, raise the spectre of a mutiny in nuclear quarters. Given Pakistan’s radicalised and trenchantly anti-American environment, it is hard to argue that this would be impossible in a state of crisis.

      Since the nukes may not be safe from radicals, it is logical to assume that the US must have extensively war-gamed the situation. Contingency plans would be put into operation once there is actionable intelligence of Pakistan’s nukes getting loose, or if a radical regime takes over and makes overt threats. What could these plans be, and would they really work?

      An article published in The New Yorker in November 2009 by Seymour Hersh created waves in Pakistan. He wrote that US emergency plans exist for taking the sting out of Pakistan’s nukes by seizing their trigger mechanisms. He also claimed that an alarm, apparently related to a missing nuclearbomb component, had caused a US rapid response team to fly to Dubai. The alarm proved false and the team was recalled before it reached Pakistan. The Pakistan foreign ministry, as well as the US embassy in Islamabad, vigorously denied any such episode.

      What should one make of Hersh’s claim? First, it is highly unlikely that the US has accurate knowledge of the storage locations of Pakistan’s nukes, especially since they (or look-alike dummies) are mobile. Extensive underground tunnels reportedly exist within which they can be freely moved. Second, even if a location is exactly known, it would be heavily guarded. This implies many casualties on both sides when intruding troops are engaged, thus making a secret operation impossible. Third, attacking a Pakistani nuclear site would be an act of war with totally unacceptable consequences for the US, particularly in view of its Afghan difficulties. All of this suggests that Hersh’s source of information was defective.

      How would the US actually react to theft? Ill-informed TV anchors have screamed hysterically about Blackwater and US forces descending to grab the country’s nukes. But in a hypothetical crisis where the US has decided to take on Pakistan, its preferred military option would not be ground forces. Instead it would opt for precision Massive Ordnance Penetrator 30,000-pound bombs dropped by B-2 bombers or fry the circuit boards of the warheads using short, high-energy bursts of microwave energy from low-flying aircraft. But deeply buried warheads, or those with adequate metallic shielding, would still remain safe.

      A US attack on Pakistan’s nuclear production or storage sites would, however, be monumental stupidity. Even if a single nuke escapes destruction, that last one could cause catastrophic damage. But the situation is immensely more uncertain and dangerous than a single surviving nuke. Even if the US knows the precise numbers of deployed weapons, it simply cannot know all their position coordinates. India, one imagines, would know even less.

      Hence the bottom line: there is no way for any external power, whether America or India, to effectively deal with Pakistan’s nukes. Is this good news? Yes and no. While nuclear survivability increases Pakistani confidence and prevents dangerous knee-jerk reactions, it has also encouraged adventurism — the consequences of which Pakistan had to pay after Kargil.

      An extremist takeover of Pakistan is probably no further than five to 10 years away. Even today, some radical Islamists are advocating war against America. But such a war would end Pakistan as a nation state even if no nukes are ever used. Saving Pakistan from religious extremism will require the army, which alone has power over critical decisions, to stop using its old bag of tricks. It must stop pretending that the threat lies across our borders when in fact the threat lies within. Napoleon’s bayonet ultimately could not save him, and Pakistan’s nuclear bayonet has also had its day. It cannot protect the country. Instead, Pakistan needs peace, economic justice, rule of law, tax reform, a social contract, education and a new federation agreement.

      The author (Pervez Hoodbhoy) is professor of nuclear and high-energy physics at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.

      Rocket-powered bicycle with a new land speed record

      Discovery news has recently reported of a hydrogen peroxide strapped bike to have created a land speed record of 163 MPH.

      Breaking the record of the previous rocket powered bicycle, Gissy has been able to set a new mark at an empty strip of highway in Munchhouse, France.

      See the original post for more.

      Wednesday, May 22, 2013

      SEM Image of house hold dust !

      A (colourized) Scanning Electron Microscope image of house hold dust. Amazing how different things are at microscopic level.

      Solar Sail

      Deployment of a solar sail in space.