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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Corning's illustrious history with glass

by Mark Ollig

The future is flexible. The future is here. So says Corning, the famous glassmaker company. 

I originally began writing this column about Corning’s new product called Willow Glass, which is lightweight, and extremely flexible. 

However, while researching it, I stumbled across Corning’s history of glass production, and found myself immersed reading about their many glass innovations.

It was 1879, and Thomas Edison had created an incandescent electric light; however, he was in need of a “bulb-shaped glass encasement.” 

The folks at Corning made the glass bulb he needed.

In those days, glass bulbs were made one at a time, being handcrafted by a skilled worker who would make several hundred of them each day. 

Corning later developed a mass-production method for creating the bulbs, which reduced production costs, making them more affordable.

In 1908, these “glass envelopes,” as Corning called them, accounted for half of their business. 

America’s railroads in the early days of the 20th century used portable, kerosene-lighted, hand-signaling lanterns containing a glass globe bordered by a metal frame. 

The glass globes would occasionally shatter, due to heat and cold conditions which caused them to expand and contract. 

Corning solved this problem in 1912, by creating a new low expansion glass, which was able to withstand extreme hot and cold temperature changes.

The new glass signaling lanterns were extremely durable, and the need for replacing glass globes was significantly reduced. 

Corning began exploring other uses for this heavy-duty, heat-resistant glass material. 

The following year, a Corning physicist, Dr. Jesse Littleton, used a piece of heat-resistant glass to bake a cake with. 

The heat-resistant glass held up “beautifully throughout the baking process,” according to Corning. By the way, Littleton’s wife baked the cake. 

By 1915, Corning had developed a new line of glass cookware under the Pyrex brand name. 

Around 1926, two Corning engineers invented a high-speed “ribbon machine,” which could produce 400,000 glass bulbs within a 24-hour period. 

By 1933, this ribbon machine was also making the glass for vacuum tubes used in radios. 

During this same time, Corning was turning out large glass bulbs used for the cathode ray tubes in electronic oscilloscopes, and experimental televisions. 

In 1934, Corning Glass Work’s Dr. J. Franklin Hyde, an organic chemist, created a type of sticky-glue material that was a cross between plastic and glass. 

This material would change from liquid to a rubbery state. 

Hyde’s “silicone” compounds are today commonly used for a variety of applications. 

His continued research led to the process of producing a highly purified silica compound, using a method called vapor disposition. 

This silica compound would be used in several products, including windows, mirrors in telescopes, optical lenses, and optical fibers. 

In 1935, Dr. George McCauley, a physicist at the Corning Glass Works, designed and directed the production of the largest piece of glass; a 200-inch mirror to be used in the Hale Telescope, located in California. 

The 200-inch mirror was carefully packed and transported to its final location via a specially-designed railroad flatcar. Its final route was traveled atop a large semi-flatbed trailer truck, which included an armed guard standing upon a large, wooden-box encasement containing the mirror. 

Because of World War II, the telescope could not be completed until 1948.

The Hale Telescope is still in use today at the Palomar Observatory in North San Diego County, CA.

The mirrored glass in the Hubble Space Telescope was also made by Corning.

In 1952, Dr. S. Donald Stookey discovered, by accident, an overheated piece of photosensitive glass inside an oven that had malfunctioned. 

The overheated glass had crystallized to a solid; taking on a milky-white, glazed appearance, and it was very resilient. 

The newly named Pyroceram glass was virtually unbreakable. You could cook with it, and when fashioned into a container, keep food hot or cold. 

Stookey had discovered the glass-ceramic material which is known today as CorningWare. 

In 1960, a heat-resistant “space window,” made by Corning Glass Works, was installed on the side of a Mercury space capsule.

Corning also produced the heat-resistant windows used in the Gemini and Apollo spacecraft, and, for the space shuttles.

It was in 1970, when Corning began commercial production of fiber optic cables using its glass strand technology.

By 2007, mobile device makers needed a durable, damage-resistant, glass display cover that repelled scratches, and did not crack if dropped.

Corning answered with their Gorilla Glass product. 

Today, Gorilla Glass is found in most mobile devices, personal computers, computing tablets, televisions, and other display devices. 

Corning recently created a bendable, ultra-slim glass called Willow Glass, which they showed at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. 

Produced using fusion forming, Willow Glass contains heat-resistant borosilicate properties, and it’s only as thick as a business card. 

Willow Glass can be easily rolled through the production spools to be used during the assembly of flexible display screens.

The properties of the glass substrate allow insertion of an electroluminescent light source, so a glass panel can be wrapped around a wall to illuminate, provide information or both.

Next year, look to see some exciting new flexible electronic devices using Corning’s Willow Glass.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Next generation GPS satellites launching soon

by Mark Ollig

Every day, an estimated 1 billion people use the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites in orbit above the Earth.

These satellites orbit our planet at an altitude of about 12,500 miles, and travel approximately 8,700 mph.

Having a personal GPS device is like having an intelligent, electronic navigational roadmap companion.

In our automobile, it visually (and audibly) updates us of our current location as we travel to our destination.

The GPS screen displays street graphics, points of interest, and provides us with real-time navigational assistance.

A variety of GPS devices are available; many include voice prompts, text-to-speech, and voice recognition.

Three common GPS civilian brands used are made by Garmin, Magellan, and TomTom.

I found GPS devices range in price from about $100 to well over $1,000.

The average GPS display screens are sized from about 4 to 7 inches. They are available in portable handheld units, or they can be permanently wired into to an automobile, or plugged into its AC adapter.

GPS access is available in our mobile devices, too, as a navigational app. You can even buy a GPS device to wear on your wrist.

Trucking companies use GPS for tracking deliveries and determining pickup times. When an order comes in, the dispatcher uses a computer to display a map listing available delivery trucks, with detailed information on their status and current location.

Most communication networks, banking systems, financial markets, bank ATMs, and power grids use GPS technology.

GPS technology is implanted in practically every U.S. military resource, rendering our armed forces more effective.

Originally, GPS started out as being used exclusively for the US military.

That changed in May 2000, when President Clinton ordered the US military to stop scrambling the signals coming from the GPS satellite network. This allowed GPS navigational information to become available for all of us.

This action directly benefitted motorists, boaters, and hikers.

Of course, 13 years later, GPS technology has found a variety of new uses.

“GPS-based applications in precision farming are being used for farm planning, field mapping, soil sampling, tractor guidance, crop scouting, variable rate applications, and yield mapping. GPS allows farmers to work during low visibility field conditions, such as rain, dust, fog, and darkness,” stated the US government’s GPS website.

Crop dustering planes equipped with GPS can fly precise, accurate lines over a crop field; spraying chemicals only where needed.

Surveyors use GPS technology to obtain accurate topography mappings.

GPS-based data collection methods save time and labor. Today, a single surveyor using GPS technology can accomplish, in one day, what had previously taken surveying teams, using conventional surveying methods, weeks to do.

Other benefits of the GPS includes providing emergency personnel with the information needed to locate people in stranded vehicles equipped with a GPS device, or even a lost hiker, using their mobile device’s embedded GPS functionality.

GPS has become an integral part of today’s modern emergency response – whether helping find people in search-and- rescue operations caused by floods or other storm-related weather situations, or guiding emergency vehicles to a specified location.

I consider GPS as much a part of our technological infrastructure as the Internet.

In space, using GPS tracking instead of total reliance on ground-based radar is another benefit.

“GPS is transforming the way nations operate in space – from guidance systems for the International Space Station’s return vehicle to the control of communication satellites to entirely new forms of Earth remote sensing. When all is said and done, the power and compass of this new tool will surely surpass what we can imagine now,” said Dr. Tom Yunck, of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

The current GPS satellites in orbit have proved very beneficial – but they are aging.

Newer technology cannot be installed in these satellites.

Lockheed Martin, an advanced technology maker, in cooperation with the US Air Force, is creating the next generation of GPS satellites.

This next generation of cutting-edge tracking satellites is called GPS III. They are being assembled inside a newly-constructed facility in Denver, CO

GPS III satellites will have three times the accuracy, more powerful signaling, increased Earth coverage, and improved efficiencies for military and civilian use.

These new GPS satellites will incorporate programmable flexibility, so future technology enhancements can be uploaded into them from the ground.

A new onboard payload called “Search and Rescue GPS” will support global search-and-rescue efforts.

Each GPS III satellite measures a little over 8 feet wide, almost 6 feet deep, and is a little over 11 feet high.

The GPS III satellite will have 307 feet of deployable solar panel arrays; with two panels being attached on each side.

Nickel-hydrogen rechargeable batteries will power the satellite.

A GPS III satellite can adjust its orbital course via its thrusters using a 100-pound liquid apogee engine.

The GPS III satellites are to be placed 10,898 nautical miles above the Earth.

A new international civil signal (L1C), designed to be interoperable with other country’s global navigational satellite systems, will also be a part of GPS III.

The new satellites will be tracked and controlled while in orbit by a telemetry tracking and command system on Earth.

The new satellites are designed to last 15 years.

The first GPS III satellite is scheduled to be launched in 2014.

About 32 new satellites are planned to be in orbit by 2019.

The government’s official GPS website is packed with information, check it out at

Thursday, February 14, 2013

3D printers create unique items

by Mark Ollig

Looking for a new car? In the not-too-distant future, you will be able to order it to your exact specifications, and have the parts created using a 3D (three dimensional) printer. 

I watched a video of a test model car called an Urbee, as it smartly traveled down the road.

Urbee’s car body was made using a 3D printer. The video is at

In 1982, I was using an IBM 5150 personal computer at the local telephone company. Attached to it was an Epson MX-80 dot-matrix printer. 

I had no idea, 30 years later; we would be connecting a 3D printer to a computer for printing physical items. 

3D printers have developed considerably, and models come in various sizes. 

Almost anyone can buy a reasonably priced 3D printer and create practical working parts, and useful, everyday items. 

Instead of shooting out ink from a laser printer (or using an ink-ribbon being struck with the dot-matrix printing head) onto paper, a 3D printer uses a type of plastic filament string which is dispensed from the 3D printer head that moves up and down, and left and right, as it builds and creates an item layer by layer before your eyes.

Many things can be made using a 3D printer: jewelry, toys, tool parts, art sculptures, game pieces, plastic gears, shirt buttons, hobby pieces . . . the list is endless. 

3D printer-created parts have already been used in prosthetic limbs, dental fixtures, hearing aids, bone implants, and orthodontic devices. 

Looking into the future, many believe human organs needed for transplants will be fashioned and created using special tissue-like filaments, using 3D printer technology.

Top-of-the-line 3D printers are expensive – some can cost well over $100,000. 

More reasonably priced, smaller 3D printers can be found for under $2,500. 

As the cost of the more advanced 3D printers comes down, I look for school technology programs teaching students not only how to design objects, but how to create them using 3D printers in the classrooms. 

As 3D printer technology becomes more widely used, it will eventually become as commonplace in schools as computers, Internet, and iPad tablets are.

I looked at several 3D printers, and found one which caught my attention.

It is said to be a “good starter 3D printer” that anyone can learn to use, is priced reasonably, and is supported by a local Minnesota company called Afinia, a division of Microboards Technology, based in Chanhassen. 

It is called the Afinia H479 3D Printer, and is advertised as a true “Out of the Box 3D Printing Experience.” 

This 3D printer costs $1,599.

The H479 3D Printer can use 17 different-colored ABS plastic filament strings (some being fluorescent), sold on spools, to create an object by means of layering the string material on the printer’s build platform from the print head. 

The printer itself is 9.6-inches wide by 10.2-inches deep by 13.8-inches high.

Its build platform size dimensions are 5.5-inches wide by 5.5-inches deep by 5.3-inches high.

The 3D printer weighs almost 11 pounds, and comes in a burgundy color. 

Afinia’s custom 3D software is included, and is compatible with other drafting and modeling software.

The 3D object software file format used is called, STereoLithograpy or Standard Tessellation Language (STL).

The Afinia H479 3D printer supports the Microsoft Windows operating systems and Apple’s Mac OS 10.6 and higher.

This 3D printer is able to build an individual plastic part a little over 5 inches in size.

The Afinia H479 3D printer is connected to a computer via a USB cable in order to download the STL pattern file for the 3D printer to create. 

It also has built-in flash memory, so after the pattern file is downloaded, the USB cable can be disconnected and the computer removed, while the 3D printer continues creating the object. 

A YouTube video, uploaded by Afinia, gives a brief presentation of the H479 3D Printer at

Afinia’s website is

I envision “home versions” of 3D printers someday being commonly used by us for creating or replacing an item, general maintenance, and repairs.

On the factory manufacturing floors of the future, I look to see colossal-sized 3D printers creating a variety of parts and devices.

3D printers of different sizes and capabilities will be located in retail stores, and independent workshops, too. 

There will be potential for individuals starting a business to use 3D printers for creating custom made parts, replacement parts, and specialty items to sell. 

I have seen websites advertised as 3D printer “marketplaces,” where people are buying and selling 3D printing pattern files and 3D-printed items.

Of course, 3D printers are nowhere near the level of futuristic complexity as used by the “replicator” from the “Star Trek” television series, but who knows – in five years, we might be using 3D printers for creating our own custom-designed golf clubs.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Nanotechnology: Let's get small

by Mark Ollig

“Why cannot we write the entire 24 volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica on the head of a pin?”

You may think this is a recently asked question, when in fact, it was asked in 1959.

This question was proposed by Richard Feynman, a physicist, who was speaking at the American Physical Society meeting at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech).

In his address, he went on to describe a process scientists would conceivably someday use to manipulate and control individual atoms and molecules.

It wasn’t until 1974 when the term “nanotechnology” would first be coined by Norio Taniguchi, a Tokyo science university professor, but nanotechnology, is what Feynman was accurately discussing.

So, exactly how small are we talking here?

The word “nano” means one-billionth, in scientific expressions.

In making some comparisons to understand how small a scale nanotechnology works on, yours truly went out and found a few examples.

A human hair is measured across at about 50,000 to 100,000 nanometers.

The thickness of a sheet of newspaper is about 100,000 nanometers.

The length of an inch equals 25,400,000 nanometers.

Comparatively, if a marble were the size of a nanometer, then one meter (three feet) would equal the size of the Earth.

Our fingernails grow at a rate of one nanometer every second.

Getting back to Feynman’s 1959 question; he reasoned if the head of a pin is 1/16 inch across, and we magnified it by 25,000 diameters, we would then have an area equal to the space needed to fit all the pages of the Encylopaedia Britannica onto.

He then surmised what remained was the method needed to reduce in size all the printed words in the Encyclopaedia Britannica – by a factor of 25,000.

His next question was, “How do we write small?”

Feynman admitted the technique needed was not available in 1959; however, he did attempt to explain one method which might be used.

He said the lenses of an electron microscope could be reversed so it would demagnify, instead of magnify.

A stream of electrically charged electron particles, or ions would be transmitted through this demagnification and focused on a very small location on the pin head. Feynman stated this method would be similar to how they were able to write words on a television, via a cathode-ray (vacuum tube containing an electron gun) oscilloscope.

“I am not inventing antigravity, which is possible someday, only if the laws are not what we think. I am telling you what could be done if the laws are what we think; we are not doing it simply because we haven’t yet gotten around to it,” Feynman said during his speech.

Feynman made a futuristic prediction in 1959.

He used the example of the librarian at Caltech. The librarian needs to go from one building to another in order to keep track of some 120,000 volumes of books, which he said “are stacked from the floor to the ceiling.”

Feynman said in 10 years, this information “can be kept on just one library card.”

Albeit not shrunk onto a single library card, he was accurate about how we would use technology to reduce in size large amounts of information, and place it onto a very small area.

By 1969, IBM had developed an 8-inch memory disk or “flexible disk” coated with a magnetic material; we call it a floppy disk. It had a storage capacity of 80 kilobytes, which could hold about 40 typed pages of information, after having been converted into binary code.

This led to the transference of data stored on paper punched cards to floppy disks in many companies, and, I imagine, in colleges like CalTech, as well.

It wasn’t until 1986, that IBM developed the 3-1/2-inch floppy disk (or diskette) with 1.44 megabytes of storage capacity.

Today, scientists using the latest nanomaterials and nanotechnology are improving efficiencies of many computing-related devices, including computer memory.

Substance’s like graphene and quantum dots particles, which are influenced by means of nanotechnology, are being used in extremely small computers and communication devices.

The 12th International Nanotechnology Exhibition and Conference, better known as Nanotech 2013, took place recently in Tokyo, Japan.

It is known as the world’s largest nanotech fair.

Nanotech 2013 presented cutting-edge nanotechnology and the latest in nanomaterials.

More than 1,000 exhibitors representing 600 companies, along with about 60,000 people from more than 20 countries, attended this event.

A variety of nano-related topics were covered, including healthcare and medical treatments using nanobio-technology.

Exhibits presented nanotechnologies used for creating “green renewable” products. These will be used commercially for the development of renewable raw materials for product manufacturing.

Safer green-related solvents and chemical products for commercial and home use are currently being made using nanotechnology.

Thinner, and more efficient photovoltaic cells used in solar panels, are also now created using nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology is currently shaping how the smallest of nanoparticles can be re-organized and arranged into new materials and devices being used today, and in the future.

For more information, check out the National Nanotechnology Initiative website located at