Finding extraordinary engineers for exceptional clients

Sweet Power

July 29th, 2014

The carbohydrates found in sugar and other starchy foods are commonly known as an energy source for humans and other animals. What some researchers at Virginia Tech are working on utilizes sugar in a unique matter — as a material giving a battery its “juice.” It gives the term “sugar buzz” a totally new meaning.

Early Research reveals the Promise of Sugar

When compared to their lithium ion counterparts, these new sugar powered batteries developed in the lab are capable of storing 10 times as much energy. More importantly, sugar is much more environmentally friendly than the materials currently used in battery manufacturing. The nation’s landfills stand to benefit if and when these batteries become commercially available.

Improving the Extraction of Electrons from Glucose

Scientists have been aware of the promise of sugar and carbohydrates as a power source. Traditionally, the problem involved the inefficiency when extracting electrons from their glucose units. Previous researchers were happy to harvest one or two electrons from a glucose unit in the lab.

A Virginia Tech professor of biological systems engineering, Percival Zhang, created an enzyme path capable of extracting all 24 electrons from one unit of glucose. A series of chemical reactions using this enzyme path works its magic, producing energy. “We just put everything together, and they do everything by themselves—they are chemically selective catalysts,” said Zhang.

Maltodextrin: not just for Junk Food Anymore

Zhang noted that maltodextrin — a partially hydrolyzed starch normally used in junk food production — is cheaper than other forms of sugar. It also releases its energy in a more controlled fashion. Expect this technology, once it is successfully commercialized, to be used in mobile technology like smartphones, where users would “recharge” their phone by filling the device with a sugar-based solution.

Now instead of mobile phone users misplacing their chargers, they will forget to bring their flask of sugar water!

If the innovations of sweet power inspire you to take your engineering career to its next level, talk to the experts at The Talley Group. One of the top engineering staffing agencies in Washington State, they remain a great source of Seattle engineering jobs. Schedule some time with them today!

An App for Breathing Easier — Yes it Exists

June 20th, 2013

Sure there are a lot of apps for the iOS and Android platforms that involve breathing exercises, yoga, or meditation; but engineers from the University of Washington, Seattle Children’s Hospital, and UW Medicine, actually created an app called SpiroSmart The app helps to test lung function. It provides a mobile platform for spirometry, helping doctors detect any problems that could be hampering a person’s ability to breathe.

“One of the major causes of illness has to do with the lungs,” said Eric Larson, a lead author of the app. “If we can catch a problem early, it can make all the difference. Getting involved with pulmonologists the question became: ‘How do you make a low-cost barometer for lung health?’

Leveraging the Mobile Microphone

Larson’s team had to tweak their algorithms to properly interpret the data that comes from someone blowing into their mobile microphone. Much time was spent on the best ways to read what is essentially an audio signal. The SpiroSmart app offers accuracy within five percent of commercially available lung instruments.

The app also does a nice job guiding the user through performing the test at home. It makes sure the proper test is being run. The entire lung test system, including the app, is currently undergoing a clinical trial period before approval is sought from the FDA.

A Low Cost Option for Spirometry

The researchers hope that SpiroSmart provides a low-cost option for lung telemetry, allowing patients to test out their own lung function at home, and helping doctors check on the efficacy of any treatment plans. A professional spirometer can cost upwards of $3,000, so this app can hopefully bring a similar capability for a mere fraction of the cost.

The software developers working on the SpiroSmart project prove once again that engineering can impact humanity in so many positive ways. Does this kind of engineering work inspire you to take your career to the next level? If so, talk to the engineering staffing experts at The Talley Group, one of the leading engineering recruitment firms in the Northwestern United States. They have the staff on hand to help you improve your career.

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