Graphene still v water purifier

I am old enough to have been an engineer when carbon nanotubes were discovered, not that long after buckyballs. I remember the excitement of all the vast potential. It was immediately obvious to very many engineers how they could be used in lots of different ways. Mostly we all came up with the same ideas, but a few were different. My main different contribution was the electron pipe, which allows a billion times as much data transfer as optical fibre.

Graphene is the new wonder material equivalent now. Short diversion: briefly, graphene it is just the latest new arrangement of carbon atoms. So now we have a ball, a tube, and a plane as well as common graphite and diamond. We don’t yet have the carbon cone, the pyramid, the cube. Then think pasta, and all the shapes you get that in, carbon should be able to do all those too. Then think of just about any other pattern in 3D, and you can probably build that out of variants. OK, diversion over.

Graphene Still

Graphene apparently lets water through but not alcohol. So, graphene stills won’t be far away. Refining that idea, all you need is a container with a graphene membrane, i.e. a bag made of graphene, or a porous bag coated with graphene. Water will migrate to one side, leaving concentrated solution of alcohol on the other. Naturally, you’d make the graphene membrane highly convoluted to maximise surface area.

If that works, and graphene also doesn’t allow salt or dirt through, then you could also make a desalinator or water purifier the same way.

Graphene desalinator

I have no idea if this will work, but I bet the guys that invented it know and if it could, they must have it on a very long list of things to do.


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TV advertising: Slow motion adverts for fast forwarding people

Many of us now skip over ads in TV programmes by fast forwarding them. So it is pretty obvious how to solve it: broadcast an ad at 30 times slower speed so that when is fast forwarded it looks right. You won’t the the sound, but at least a video message will work fine.

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Putting compasses into paper maps

With all the capabilities now to print basic electronics,and the cheapness of compasses in some wristwatches,  it should be relatively straightforward to imprint a compass into a paper map, making it much easier to navigate. Many people take such functionality for granted on portable GPS systems, smart-phones and pads. It would be good to see some competition coming back from the paper products industry.

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Electronic ink for electronic signatures

e-ink is used for some electronic book readers. But that’s not what I am talking about here.  As electronic circuit components continue to shrink, we are fast approaching a time when we will be able to suspend tiny particles of computer memory in ink. A pen with ink loaded with these particles could be used to sign important or valuable papers. The document could contain not just a visible signature but an electronic one too, embedded in the ink.

A pen would write to the particles as they leave the pen. The signature could be authenticated with the fingerprints on the pen, the IDs of nearby gadgets such as mobile phones or other digital identifiers as well as a secure timestamp.

Ideally, the kind of memory used could only be written to once, or use something like flash ROM. If the electronic signature can’t be embedded when the pen is used to sign, then the ink would have to be made preloaded with a unique signature authenticated elsewhere as belonging to that user. The problem here of course would be that anyone could use the pen. Hybrids where some particles are pre-written and a few during the signature would also be possible.

Another minor variant would be to use magnetic particle suspension, written again as the paper is signed.

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Over the horizon comms

High speed battlefield communications benefit from having a secure channel. Encryption works, but a secure cable would work wonders and give even greater security. Of course, it is hard to lay a cable across a large distance during war, and it wouldn’t stay with a group as they wander through a battlefield. However, suppose operators at both ends were to shine fairly high power laser beams up into roughly the same area of sky and scan them round. A high power laser ionises the air as it travels through. As the two beams (one from each side) cross each other, an electrical circuit would be formed from end to end – effectively a cable. The link could be deliberately broken and re-established according to a time schedule to add security.

I can immediately see a few problems but problems aren’t always fatal. First, there exist such things as laser seeking missiles. Secondly, I am not sure whether the beam would radiate the signals so the transmissions might be easily intercepted, making it no better than a secure radio channel. Needs work but shows potential.


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Major medical breakthrough

It is well known that the placebo effect accounts for up to a third of the effects of almost every drug out there. Even if a ‘drug’ is a sugar pill, as long as the patient believes it is a good drug, it is likely to work in a third of cases.

So why don’t government, NHS, big pharmaceutical companies and some top scientists all form a top-secret consortium to come up with a new wonder drug that is really just a cleverly concocted placebo? It would need to be convincing, so a few awards would need to be sprinkled around, and some conspicuous research spending (really being spent on real drug research), and a fair bit on publicity. And the media would need to be blocked from spilling the beans. But then we could all take this pill knowing it will cure loads of stuff, and we would all be healthier, and happier, while health care costs would plummet so we’d even be richer. But don’t tell anyone.

I wonder if aspirin or statins are already in this category?


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Linear induction bike lanes

I invented this a few years ago but as far as I know, no-one has built it yet, but it really ought to work.

As someone who loves cycling (in spite of common belief), is impatient, often lazy, and who spends far too much time in airports, the moving walkways that we see in airports inspired me to wonder about the economics of adding bicycle conveyors on commuting roads. I have no real idea how fast I normally ride, but let’s say 7.5m/s on the flat. If there was a conveyor belt moving also at 7.5m’s along the road, it would half the time it take me to get somewhere, and greatly reduce the speed differential between me and passing traffic, making it safer to ride.

At first glance this looks a ridiculous idea, because we immediately think as engineers of the obvious fact that the first falling leaf would clog the system up, rain would cause havoc, cars encroaching on the path would cause mechanical stress because of the speed differential between a conveyor and the road surface, and pedestrians would also try to step on to it and cause yet more havoc. The idea ought to be a total non-starter.

However…Suppose instead that we add a metal plate to the bike, close to the road surface, and add linear induction motors to the idea! Maybe even the wheels would suffice as the plate, or widening the wheel rims, or flattening the tyres, someone else can do the physics. Suddenly there is no problem with clogging, rain, cars or pedestrians. There is a small problem of vandals trying to send metal objects at high speed along the road of course, but it is an easily soluble one.

Since roads usually have good electrical supplies along them for street lighting and cable runs, this ought to be worth looking at. If it could be solved, it would be a good way of encouraging cycling as a viable transport solution, and reducing carbon production. It can be rolled out gracefully according to demand, works well with cycle paths on roadsides, even those shared with pedestrians.

The amount of extra force given to the cyclist could be variable. Bicycles could be given RFID chips to identify them and the personal tastes of that cyclist indulged alongside billing. Some people might want lots of assistance or to go very fast, other want less assistance or to go slower. Since induction plates can be individually controlled, and the bicycle plates can also be tweaked for height or inductance, it is easily customisable in real time

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