With a major research university right in our backyard, a strong military presence and innovative companies throughout the metro region, there’s often a plethora of interesting science and technology news to be found in Southern Arizona. Here’s a breakdown of the most interesting recent developments.
Microbes vs. Toxic Explosives. In an attempt to reduce deadly incidents, the U.S. military is developing explosive compounds that can’t be detonated accidentally, though little is known about these new chemicals’ effect on the environment. The new “insensitive high explosives compounds” being developed by the military include 2,4-dinitroanisole or DNAN, which is similar to a toxic TNT, and can easily absorb into soil. But a team of UA researchers, led by chemical and environmental engineering professor Jim Field, is developing multiple new methods to remove these compounds from the environment. Using a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program, the UA team is working with microorganisms which can feed on toxic compounds like DNAN and turn them into harmless compounds, such as carbon dioxide. The microorganisms can survive ingesting the compounds and will continue to do so as long as they are present.
Raytheon Merges with United Technologies. In one of the largest corporate mergers of 2019, defense contractor Raytheon announced plans to combine with the United Technologies manufacturing conglomerate in an “all-stock deal.” The combined company, called Raytheon Technologies Corporation, will have an annual revenue of $74 billion, with United Technologies shareholders owning 57 percent of the company. Raytheon is one of the largest employers in Tucson, with over 11,000 employees. The combined company’s board of directors will comprise 15 members: eight from United Technologies and seven from Raytheon. Lead director of Raytheon Tom Kennedy will be appointed executive chairman of the new company and United Technologies chairman Greg Hayes will be named CEO. There is no expected change to either Raytheon or United Technologies’ financial outlook for 2019. The merger is expected to close in the first half of 2020.
STTRAM, not RAM. University of Arizona electrical and computer engineering professor Tosiron Adegbija is researching an alternative kind of computer memory to reduce energy consumption and save space in mobile devices. Whereas many computers store data in the form of random-access memory, or RAM as it’s commonly known, Adegbija is researching “spin-transfer torque random-access memory,” or STTRAM. This RAM-alternative can store the same amount of data, but does so using only one-quarter to one-ninth the space, which is especially useful for small devices like cell phones. The downside is that STTRAM generally retains data for much longer than standard RAM, making it less energy efficient. But Adegbija and his team are redesigning STTRAM systems to retain data for only as long as needed by a program, reducing energy consumption by up to 84 percent. This way, computer systems can benefit from the space-saving quality of STTRAM and consume less energy.
16-Day Stratollite Mission. World View Enterprises, a Tucson-based near-space exploration and technology company, recently announced the completion of a 16-day mission by their “stratollite” high-altitude balloon vehicle. The mission launched from “Spaceport Tucson” on May 18 and traveled more than 3,000 miles in the stratosphere over the next two weeks, finally landing in Nevada. During its time in the air, the stratollite demonstrated one of its key advantages over traditional high-altitude balloons: being able to stay within a designated location. During the mission, the stratollite, which remained controlled from Tucson, demonstrated 6.5 hours of continuous “station-keeping” within a 9 kilometer area. At the end of the 16 days, the stratollite also demonstrated its precision descent system, landing within 400 feet of its targeted waypoint in the Nevada Desert.