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Notes from the Lab

Toward detecting gravity waves

Though Einstein theorized that gravity must involve the action of a type of wave, there is no direct evidence of such a phenomenon (there is, however, strong indirect evidence). This is mainly because gravity is a very weak force. (If it doesn't seem so to someone falling off a fence or a bicycle, that's because Earth is relatively massive.)

Now an MIT-Caltech team is creating what may be the most sensitive measuring instruments ever in hopes of finally measuring gravity waves. The devices, based on a concept of Professor Rainer Weiss of the Department of Physics, will be installed at sites in Louisiana and Washington state. They will feature laser beams that flash between points 2.5 miles apart, with the goal of recording gravity waves-most likely those generated in a collision of stars, since such events are thought to produce the most powerful waves-as they reach Earth. The work is supported by the NSF. (Source: Spectrum, Winter 1995)

An alternative way to make titanium

MIT researchers are developing an alternative way to produce the metal titanium that could be less expensive and more environmentally friendly than the current mode of production.

Titanium is an important strategic metal that is widely used in applications where its non-corrosive and lightweight properties are particularly valuable. For example, it is used in bone pins and other devices implanted in the human body.

At present the metal is extracted from its ore by a process that requires magnesium, chlorine and carbon in the form of coke. The new process being developed by graduate student Naomi Fried and Professor Donald Sadoway of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering does not require any of these reagents. Furthermore, the process, which is conducted in an electrolytic cell, produces oxygen as its main byproduct and is thus an example of "green technology." It is also expected to be considerably less expensive than current methods.

Ms. Fried projects many years of research, however, before it will be feasible to commercialize the new approach. The work is currently without major support, although Ms. Fried is receiving some funds from the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation and the Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium. (Source: PEEER Environmental Calendar, April 1995)

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 10, 1995.

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