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Engineers in GE labs have been studying the Morph butterfly to understand what gives it, at least in part, its iridescent coat. The result is an advance in radio frequency sensors – this one the size of a penny – that will allow the detection of explosives and other chemicals.

Radislav Potyrailo, a chemical-sensing principal scientist, is leading the team responsible for the detector at GE Global Research. He spent several years studying the scales of the Morpho butterflies and found their complex structures absorb and bend light when chemical molecules lodge themselves in the scales on the wings. That is what gives the Morpho (and others) their shimmering, colorful coats.

General Electric Co.'s research lab in Niskayuna is known for churning out cutting-edge discoveries by its scientists and engineers that often become significant GE products.

But GE's scientists are a well-rounded bunch with varied outside interests.

Writing is one of those interests, and a book by a GE scientist recently reached The New York Times Best Sellers list.

That would be Mark Cheverton, a physicist at GE Global Research who specializes in additive manufacturing and 3D printing.

Cheverton has written a series of children's books called GAMEKNIGHT999 that are based on the popular Minecraft game and focus on the triumph over cyber-bullying.

In the first week of February, the GAMEKNIGHT999 series made it to ninth on the Times's list for a children's series.

Ars Technica visited GE Global Research's Munich location to see the ways GE is trying to make machines smarter.

This isn’t a Skynet scenario—we’re not talking about actually building sentient robots to take over the world. Instead, there were three main areas where we got a chance to focus out lens: automated manufacturing, sensor-enabled machining, and big data and analytics. Under the guidance of GE’s Dr. Matthew Beaumont, who manages the research center’s composite manufacturing lab, we talked to the individual scientists and researchers who are driving these technologies forward.

MUNICH—As a perennial fan of "How It’s Made" videos, my visit last month to GE’s Global Research Center in Munich was particularly fascinating. Although the campus is not involved with any actual large-scale manufacturing, the scientists and researchers there dofocus on finding ways to take manufacturing processes and make them better. There were endless miniature manufacturing nooks and crannies that we got to poke our noses into over the course of our week.

I came away fixated on carbon fiber. It’s most famously used as a lightweight, high-strength construction material in exotic cars and aircraft, but it’s becoming downright common these days. Today carbon fiber is in bicycles and golf clubs, and you can even get yourself a carbon fiber wallet if you’re so inclined. But its growing presence in everyday life belies its beauty and complexity—there’s nothing common about this increasingly common material.

GE builds jet engines for most of the airlines. These days, the engines are loaded with sensors that gather a terabyte of data on every flight. The data is getting so detailed, and the computer models of engines so good, GE can understand the different ways jets perform in cities that have different altitudes, pollutants, winds and so on.

The company then uses the computer models to constantly tweak engines and tune them based on the primary routes they fly. If a startup even dreamed of competing in jet engines, it would take decades to catch up to GE’s trove of data and match the sophistication GE can build into the technology.

For public safety agencies, sniffing out explosives and other contraband is a tricky task. Handheld explosive detectors can be as small as a purse, but still must be manually operated. Permanently mounted sensors need to be even bigger. Dogs are useful in some scenarios, but they’re expensive to deploy en masse and must always have a handler.

That’s why GE Global Research is working on a new way to detect dangerous substances, one that costs about a nickel, can be deployed anywhere, and doesn't need human supervision.

Proving that big business can move at the speed of startups: As part of a quest to commercialize cheap and efficient fuel cell technology, GE has launched GE Fuel Cells, an internal startup that has its own milestone-based funding and board of directors. At the same time, the agile startup has the resources, brainpower, and credibility of a large company to fall back on.

Scientists at General Electric Co.'s research lab in Niskayuna have channeled their inner Ron Popeil with a new postage-stamp-sized sensor that can detect explosives and dangerous chemicals anywhere and at any time.

The small, ultra-thin radio sensor is just one-tenth as thick as a piece of hair and can be placed almost anywhere — such as inside a shipping container, for example — to help authorities uncover potential terrorist or criminal activity in the early stages.

And like famous TV huckster Popeil used to say, you can set it and forget it.

In its continuing efforts to power our lives, General Electric opens an oil and gas research center in downtown Oklahoma City. Former Oklahoma energy secretary Michael Ming is heading up the venture and spoke about the facility's enormous potential.

In this video, The Globe and Mail takes an in-depth look at an unusual start-up company formed within General Electric that is breaking new ground in the production of fuel cells. Fuel cells are an extremely promising clean energy technology so GE used a start-up model to speed their development and production.

General Electric made a massive investment (more than $1 billion) to build a software “Center of Excellence” in San Ramon, California to manage the data explosion created by the increasing intelligence of its industrial machines. GE has hired 1,000 software engineers and data scientists to provide enhanced software and analytical skills across GE’s many businesses. GE is now approaching $1 billion in new revenue annually from their expanded software and data activities. Here’s a brief account of how GE quickly scaled up a sizable software start-up within a big, successful conglomerate.

 

Ars Technica sent journalists to GE's China Technology Center in Shanghai to visit some of the labs and talk to several of the people who run research programs there. The interviews included in the series get into the technical details of the research and also provide a broad overview of the research and some idea of how GE Shanghai operates. The Chasing Brilliance series is a partnership between GE and Ars Technica that will also include visits to GE Global Research sites in Munich and San Ramon, California.