The New Search for E.T.

If extraterrestrials are trying to communicate with us, they’re probably using lasers, not radio waves

11 min read
The new telescope at Oak Ridge Observatory, in Harvard, Mass.

Night Watch: The new telescope at Oak Ridge Observatory, in Harvard, Mass., waits patiently for nanosecond light pulses that a distant civilization might be sending our way.

Photo: Bob O’Connor

It doesn’t look like much: just a clapboard shed in a clearing, surrounded by tall pines. No plaque or other marking announces what goes on here. Inside stands a 4-meter-tall black metal frame covered in Mylar, looking sort of like a giant’s box kite ­waiting for a stiff breeze. Beneath the shroud of plastic are a largish mirrored disk, a second smaller mirror, and some cables and electronics.

Suddenly, the roof begins to glide backward on steel tracks, revealing the night sky overhead. Even as the contraption tilts slowly into place, its exact angle controlled by a computer in the next room, the true purpose of this unassuming apparatus might be unclear to the casual observer. But it constitutes the most sophisticated implementation of a concept that a few technologists, including me, have been pushing for more than four decades—a telescope dedicated to answering an age-old question: Is anybody out there?

Keep reading...Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

New Faraday Cages Can Be Switched Off and On

Built out of a novel material called MXene, these cages could block and allow signals as desired

3 min read
New Faraday Cages Can Be Switched Off and On

Radio waves interacting with a MXene film.

Chong Min Koo

Advanced new Faraday cages—the metal mesh enclosures that can block wireless signals—can also be switched on and off for reversible protection against noise, a new study finds.

In addition, these new shields can be easily fabricated through a technique akin to spray-painting, which could help them find use in electronics, researchers say.

Similarly to how window blinds can help adjust how much visible light enters a room, engineers want dynamic control over the electromagnetic waves used in wireless communications. This ability would let devices receive and transmit signals when desired but also protect them against electromagnetic interference, such as static and jamming, and hide from being spied on.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

Fine-Tuning the Factory: Simulation App Helps Optimize Additive Manufacturing Facility

Additive manufacturing processes can provide rapid and customizable production of high-quality components

7 min read
Fine-Tuning the Factory: Simulation App Helps Optimize Additive Manufacturing Facility

An example of a part produced through the metal powder bed fusion process.

This sponsored article is brought to you by COMSOL.

History teaches that the Industrial Revolution began in England in the mid-18th century. While that era of sooty foundries and mills is long past, manufacturing remains essential — and challenging. One promising way to meet modern industrial challenges is by using additive manufacturing (AM) processes, such as powder bed fusion and other emerging techniques. To fulfill its promise of rapid, precise, and customizable production, AM demands more than just a retooling of factory equipment; it also calls for new approaches to factory operation and management.

Keep Reading ↓Show less