Fri, 7 Jul 2017

Hello Earth!

New technological advances that have been inspired by Nature provide our society with new, advanced products. Some examples of these available and up-coming products include bio-inspired photonic cosmetics without chemical pigments, new unusual fabrics for the use in the fashion industry, paper with exceptional whiteness and brightness, and many others [1,2].  Someday, to this list of technological advances we will add our sensors for rapid and very sensitive temperature detection and thermal imaging as reported in our most recent article in Nature Photonics.

We took the trip to our new discovery in early 2007, when our research paper on the acute vapor sensing using nanostructures of Morpho butterflies has been published as a cover story in Nature Photonics [3] and I blogged about this exciting discovery.  My colleagues at GE Global Research and around the world were congratulating our research team with this discovery and were asking “Radislav, what’s next?”  This and many other good questions facilitated our new fundamental studies of Morpho butterfly nanostructure properties to explore their new technological opportunities.

Our team is very excited that results of our study on thermal response of Morpho butterfly nanostructure have been just published in Nature Photonics.

Starting from our initial experiments in early 2008 and followed by more detailed studies over 2009 – 2010, we have found that scales of Morpho butterfly wings can serve as low thermal mass optical resonators and rapidly respond to temperature changes with very high sensitivity.

I have been fortunate to assemble a research team that included Professor Helen Ghiradella from the Department of Biological Sciences, University at Albany; and Andrew Pris, Yogen Utturkar, Cheryl Surman, William Morris, Alexey Vert, Sergiy Zalyubovskiy, and Tao Deng from GE Global Research.  Our team has found that in these resonators, the optical cavity is modulated by its thermal expansion and refractive index change, resulting in conversion of infrared heat into visible iridescence changes. We further decorated the Morpho butterfly scales with single-walled carbon nanotubes and achieved heat detection with the temperature resolution of 0.02 – 0.06 oC and 35 – 40 Hz response rate without the need to use a heat sink for heat removal. In the thermographic image below you can see me first holding and then breathing onto a Morpho butterfly.


The nanoscale pitch and the extremely small thermal mass of individual “pixels” of this Morphobutterfly nanostructure promise significant improvements compared to existing detectors in the cost of detectors, response speed, temperature resolution, the ability to obtain more crisp thermal images, and to have thermal images from different infrared spectral regions – all these factors being critical for the much broader acceptance of thermal imaging technologies in consumer electronic products.

Stay tuned for more news from GE Research!

Read more in the official press release from GE here.


Morpho butterfly scales decorated with single-walled carbon nanotubes, efficiently detect mid-wave infrared light as visible iridescence changes.  GE’s butterfly-inspired design could enable a new class of thermal imaging sensors with enhanced heat sensitivity and response speed.



A close-up view of the nanostructure observed on Morpho butterfly wing scales.  When decorated with single-walled carbon nanotubes, GE researchers discovered that the butterfly structures can serve as efficient thermal sensors.



Thermal image of a Morpho butterfly.


(1) Luke, S. M.; Vukusic, P., An introduction to biomimetic photonic design, Europhysics News 201142(3), 20-23.
(2) Structural Colors in Biological Systems.  Principles and Applications; Kinoshita, S.; Yoshioka, S., Ed.; Osaka University Press: Osaka, Japan, 2005.
(3) Potyrailo, R. A.; Ghiradella, H.; Vertiatchikh, A.; Dovidenko, K.; Cournoyer, J. R.; Olson, E., Morpho butterfly wing scales demonstrate highly selective vapour response, Nature Photonics 20071, 123-128.

Fri, 7 Jul 2017

Hello Earth !

I am excited that recently I was able to attend Pittcon 2013, the 64th Conference and Exposition for Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy that was held in Philadelphia.  This year, with more than 18,000 attendees and more than 1000 exhibiting companies, Pittcon provided an excellent forum for reporting new technical achievements in analytical chemistry, measurement science, and materials characterization and providing the opportunity of learning about new products that support our research and make it more productive.

Together with Prof. Fiorenzo Omenetto from the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Tufts University I co-organized an Invited Symposium “Sensors for food quality and safety: from the lab to unobtrusive applications”. We had speakers from US Government (Dr. Betsy Jean Yakes from US Food and Drug Administration), academia (Prof. Michael McAlpine from Princeton University and Prof. Fiorenzo Omenetto from Tufts University), and industry (Dr. Leonardo Bonifacio from Opaluxand Dr. Radislav Potyrailo from GE Global Research) who demonstrated new opportunities in sensors for food quality and safety that are emerging from the recent developments in sensor technology.

Invited speakers and co-organizers of the Invited Symposium “Sensors for food quality and safety: from the lab to unobtrusive applications” that was held at Pittcon 2013 in Philadelphia, PA March 17-21, 2013. From left: Prof. Michael McAlpine (Princeton University), Prof. Fiorenzo Omenetto (Tufts University), Dr. Radislav Potyrailo (GE Global Research), Dr. Betsy Jean Yakes (US Food and Drug Administration), and Dr. Leonardo Bonifacio (Opalux).

Our speakers critically analyzed innovative strategies on how to accomplish measurements of food condition, freshness, and quality using sensors based on photonic, radio-frequency, microwave, and terahertz detection modalities and how to advance these sensor developments from the detailed studies in the laboratory to their practical unobtrusive applications.  At this symposium we have discussed that recent innovations in transducer technologies, sensing materials, data processing, and fabrication principles have facilitated significant achievements in chemical and biological sensing. We showed that modern sensors have demonstrated detection limits down to single molecule levels and sub-second response times, the ability to reject environmental interferences and preserve sensor-response accuracy.  These and many other recent advances in sensing science are facilitating the applications of sensors for the real time determination of food quality and insuring food safety with previously unavailable capabilities.

Fri, 7 Jul 2017

Hello Earth!

We have reached a significant milestone with GE’s radio-frequency identification (RFID) sensors! Our GE Global Research team (see Figure 1 below) has developed sensors for detection and quantitation of chemical threats such as explosives and oxidizers and has tested these sensors in collaboration with our partners. The significance of this accomplishment is in accurate quantitation of minute amounts of these chemicals with our individual RFID sensors outside the pristine conditions of GE labs.

We have reached a mid-way point in development and commercialization of these sensors that will complement conventional analytical instruments for detection of chemical threats.  In airports today, chemical threats are often screened using desktop systems — suspicious surfaces are swabbed and separately analyzed, consuming substantial time, space and power. Compared to such desktop detectors, our sensor system is 300 times smaller, weighs 100 times less, and uses 100 times less power. Also, compared to the arrays of multiple sensors needed with desktop detectors, our RFID sensors so sensitive that we achieve accuracy by using only individual sensors.

Of course, the question is – how can a single simple sensor compete with the detection performance of more sophisticated conventional analytical instruments or sensor arrays? Indeed, our sensors look very simple (see Figure 2 below), but there are four key new features that enable their desired performance – a sensing material, a matching transducer, a sensor reader, and data analytics.  Together, these features make our sensors “multivariable sensors” and boost their performance without a change in their appearance. As well put by William Shakespeare, “appearance can be deceiving.”

GE Global Research RFID Sensor Team
Fig. 1: GE Global Research team develops wireless, battery-free RFID sensors for detection of chemical threats. The team from left to right: Davide Simone, Radislav A. Potyrailo, Binil Kandapallil, Zhexiong Tang, and Igor Tokarev

To build our multivariable RFID sensors, we carefully design a sensing material for a particular application scenario and match its response with the right geometry of our RFID sensor antenna.  The multivariable sensor response is measured using a cell phone-sized sensor reader device. The sensor reader is responsible for the accuracy of sensor response and its ability to correct for fluctuations of ambient temperature and other environmental instabilities. A more conventional way to measure responses of RFID sensors is to use near-field communication (NFC) that is available in many modern smartphones. At present, commercially available RFID sensors and NFC phones are successfully applied for quantitation of humidity and temperature (Read more herehere, and here.) NFC sensors will continue to expand their applications in situations where sensor response is not expected to suffer from interferences. Otherwise, NFC sensors cannot provide detection selectivity and require conventional arrays of sensors with their well-known practical challenges. Our individual RFID sensors solve this problem by having all data analytics “smarts” located in the sensor reader, rather than in the sensor.  Apple founder Steve Jobs once said that “software is going to be a major enabler in our society.” In our sensor applications, we see data analytics as the key enabler in achieving sensor performance.

The principles of our data analytics are shared among different types of multivariable sensors that we are developing at GE. Indeed, while our multivariable sensors can be based on RFID or bio-inspired sensing principles, the common themes include collection of response from a simple, cost-effective, and often single-use multivariable sensor and data processing using a non-disposable sensor reader so all the “smarts” reside in the sensor reader.

Our GE teams are developing multivariable sensors to perform measurements with accuracy and reliability in complex environments, confined spaces, and without available external power.

GE’s approach for RFID sensing of explosives and oxidizers.  Conventional RFID tags of different form factors converted into sensors by applying a sensing material on one side of the tag.  A model sensing material is the white coating seen on the RFID sensor tags. (A) The uncoated side of sensors shows their antenna inlays and (B) The coated side of sensors .
Fig. 2: GE’s approach for RFID sensing of explosives and oxidizers. Conventional RFID tags of different form factors converted into sensors by applying a sensing material on one side of the tag. A model sensing material is the white coating seen on the RFID sensor tags. (A) The uncoated side of sensors shows their antenna inlays and (B) The coated side of sensors .

But what if in future it isn’t just sensors that are inexpensive – less than 50 cents each – but also the sensor readers? What if the readers cost less than a cup of coffee?

Stay tuned… Share your thoughts…  This future is here!

Read more about this technology in Wired and GE Reports.

Fri, 7 Jul 2017

It may be hard to believe, but in today’s world of faster, stronger, smarter and cheaper, the good old train system remains the most energy efficient way to move goods from one place to another. But the locomotives that pull these trains aren’t the clunky, dirty, primitive steam engine workhorses depicted in old western movies; no, these machines are a sophisticated integration of power production, thermal management and system control technologies. Some of the recent advancements include dual fuel (diesel and natural gas) operation, the capability to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Tier 4 emission requirements, and Trip Optimizer implementation.

Revolutionizing an aging industry like railway transportation requires bright minds and innovative solutions. Today at GE Global Research, we celebrate the hundreds of  employees who work every day to bring change to an industry that some may say reached its peak in technological advancement long ago. For us, we relish in the challenge of powering a new era that will define the industry and help support people, businesses and the national economy.



A move towards cleaner technology
On January 1, 2015 the EPA’s Tier 4 emission standards will go into effect, reducing the amount of particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) that locomotives can emit. When plans for the single largest emission reduction in the rail sector’s history were announced ten years ago, it prompted GE to take a good hard look at the technology behind its locomotives.

GE Global Research and GE Transportation spent several years building, experimenting and testing a new engine design that could effectively and efficiently meet these strict requirements. The team at GE Global Research utilized a single cylinder engine for testing, gathered detailed measurements of the exhaust and plugged the information into custom software models designed to simulate a full-scale engine.

The final result — the Evolution® Tier 4 engine — decreases emissions by more than 70 percent. It also saves customers more than $1.5 billion in urea infrastructure and operational costs by eliminating the 4,000-pound catalytic converter. The Evolution Tier 4 is the only locomotive engine that meets the EPA’s Tier 4 requirements without any after-treatment technology. Development of the ecomagination®-certified engine was part of a $600 million investment in the Evolution Series by GE Transportation.

A natural alternative
Diesel is the fuel of choice for locomotives, but natural gas is cheaper, produces less CO2 emissions, and is abundantly available. That’s the premise behind GE’s work to develop a duel fuel locomotive –incorporating natural gas as an engine fuel to reduce emissions and potentially cut fuel costs by 50 percent while not compromising performance.

Development of the capability is ongoing, and GE Global Research continues to study advanced combustion in locomotive engines to extend fuel flexibility between diesel and natural gas. In the meantime, GE engineers have rolled out the NextFuel™ natural gas retrofit kit for EPA Tier 2+/Tier 3 locomotives.

NextFuel offers 100 percent diesel operability with up to 80 percent natural gas substitution. This capability can reduce locomotive fuel costs by up to 50 percent.

A more efficient journey
GE Global Research has its hand in revolutionizing the locomotive’s ancillary systems. While the engine itself plays a major role in the locomotive’s operation, system-level improvements can have a great impact on overall efficiency.

Take, for example, the development of Trip Optimizer. The system creates a trip profile that minimizes braking by automatically learning a train’s characteristics. It considers such factors as train length, weight, grade, track conditions, weather and locomotive performance. Trip Optimizer is comprised of a sophisticated network of on-board computers with GPS systems that continuously update the profile and adjust for changes so the train can arrive on time. It is proven to not only cut fuel costs, but reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Our team at GE Global Research has and continues to develop Trip Optimizer so it can positively impact overall systems operations. On the current rail system it takes less than one gallon of fuel to transport one ton of freight from Washington, D.C., to Boston , MA, and we are working hard to continually improve that freight movement efficiency.

So while the nation may take one day per year to celebrate the history, evolution and future of our trains, just remember that there are many employees at GE Global Research who spend every day working to develop the next big thing for the railway transportation industry.

Fri, 7 Jul 2017

While certainly not applicable to all Moms, I think many of us in deeply technical fields share a common experience of trying to explain to our Mom what someone pays us to do. As a mother’s love is unconditional, I’m sure no matter what we tell them; there will be a streak of pride. But as scientists and engineers, we are obsessed with precision and accuracy and love recognition.  So when faced with an inescapable question, like “so what exactly is Cloud Computing?”, we are left with no choice but to tap into the right side of our left-skewed brains—and get creative.

Communication Tactic: Analogies

“Sweater, n.:  garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly.” – Ambrose Bierce

The whole point of an analogy is to explain something new by comparing it to something known.  The trouble with analogies is they are inherently imperfect and can lead to incorrectly assuming properties of the known also apply to the new.  Additionally, the known may be so comfortable to the audience that it superimposes itself on what you do.

Cutting Computing Architectures Down to Size

As part of my job, I regularly talk about advances in computer technology – most notably processors and computers built with multitudes of processors. But why is this hard? Can’t you just buy “the best” processor from Intel or IBM or NVIDIA? The challenge is the myriad of different problems we try to solve with a computing platform – mapped to a complex universe of possible solutions across combinations of hardware and software choices.

After many flawed analogies, the simplest I’ve come to employ is yard work. Many of our Moms assigned yard work chores while we were growing up. On any given Saturday, two tasks I may have performed were mowing the lawn and cutting down an old tree. Abstractly, these are the same task: employ a machine to sever plant material.

I was willing to spend more time, care, and fuel on the tree task than a single blade of grass. Thus, a chainsaw is the tool of choice for the job.  But to cut the lawn with a chainsaw would result in poor quality, wasted time and fuel, and perhaps cause the neighbors to hide behind shuttered windows! Similarly, while a mower is time-efficient at cutting grass (a very large number of blades of grass cut simultaneously in a “massively parallel” process), it lacks the capability to chop down a tree.

So what do Computer Architecture and yard work have in common? You need to understand the variety of tools, particularly as new ones are invented, and then properly select and apply them to the required task. The risk is overhearing Mom then repeat: “He is a computer gardener” – but the payoff is eerily lucent: “He is trying to invent a lawnmower that works on forests.  But it’s really computers and data.”

Putting Cloud Computing Through the Wringer

The buzz around “Cloud Computing” is so pervasive, even Mom asks what’s the big deal. My favorite analogy first appeared in Christofer Hoff’s Rational Survivability blog: Laundry. You have a home computer for data. You have a home washer /dryer for clothes. They are designed to carry a workload proportional to expected historic use at a point of need. There is a clear value in knowing your washer is available and that the intimates you put in it stay in the house. But you had to purchase the washer and dryer, make an informed choice in doing so, and you expect it to work for many years.  Most likely you do not employ all of its features and over that time do not benefit from advances in washer/dryer technology improvements.

Now suppose you host a family reunion and suddenly the demand for clothes washing spikes, either you can inefficiently employ your domestic appliances or load up baskets and either drive to a Laundromat (Infrastructure-as-a-Service/IaaS) or have these picked up by a Laundry Service (Software-as-a-Service/SaaS). The advantages here include: someone with more expertise than yourself selected the appliances, purchased them, maintains them, and you only pay when you use them – for the small part of their life you use. Because their purpose is to serve a market of users (multitenancy) there is a much larger capacity collectively (and perhaps even individually) than at home.

So rather than running 8 loads one after another, you can stuff 4 larger machines at once and complete the task in 1/8th of the time. If a laundry service, you even benefit from their expertise in operating the machines and using detergents, and offloading the labor involved in the process from dirty to wash to dry to fold.

However – there are some inconveniences and risks. You need to be able to pay at time of service (perhaps with a bucket of quarters), you incur a delay in the movement of your clothes to and from these machines, others are using the machines, so it’s possible you may need to wait or that your intimates may be seen by others if care is not taken, or you may even lose something in the process.

There are many flaws to this model – it is incomplete, exaggerates some aspects, and clothes are not digital (yet) so cannot be replicated or transmitted (like a virtual closet). But as a canonical task often lovingly delegated to Mom (particularly in the college years), laundry is a familiar experience from which to discuss “The Cloud.”  This analogy is also ironic and potentially confusing on two fronts: One, GE obviously manufactures actual washers/dryers, and two, GE Aviation builds computers for aircraft that literally operate in the clouds.

Pleasing Mom

There is a clear benefit to this exercise, no matter how tedious or seemingly futile. We, as passionate practitioners of engineering and science, directly benefit from being able to clearly communicate our work to non-technical people. We need the ability to describe how our work is important to our employer and customers, what we actually do, and why it is challenging. The fact that our Mom wants to get the low down on our highly technical job, and has the patience to listen is actually a gift and great practice.

I lead a Computing lab that frequently collaborates with Mechanical Engineers, Physicists, Biologists, Chemists, etc., so it’s not unusual that a courageously asked naïve question actually leads to a novel approach at problem-solving.  Our discussion with Mom becomes an “outside” viewpoint that forces us to think about a technical problem from a radically different angle.  These outside viewpoints can lead to insights and connect us with new colleagues (which should please Mom as she always wants you to make new friends.)

At Your Mother’s Knee

One of the greatest gifts of Mothers is a strong foundation from which we build everything we become. We can thank Mom for fostering us being curious, observant, disciplined, and patient. To then reach into the darkness where nobody has before imagined, taking the calculated risks needed to reap great reward – we are ever-armed with the confidence, the safe harbor, and the encouragement of our Mothers.  Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms out there and I hope your day is spent on a cloud that needs no explanation — cloud nine.

 “No one in the world can take the place of your mother.
Right or wrong, from her viewpoint you are always right.
She may scold you for little things, but never for the big ones.”  – Harry Truman

Fri, 7 Jul 2017

On Friday, I hosted a live Reddit Q&A  on the Science Behind Superheroes along with several other GE researchers, including Chief Scientist Jim Bray, Physicist Scott Price and Edison Engineer Justin McHugh. We had a great time answering questions on topics that ranged from shoe treads for running at super speed to a Mom looking for a truth-compelling lasso to use on her teenaged kids. While we tried to stick to the science, we did have some fun with some of the answers as well. Click here to view the Reddit Q&A or check out this article written about the chat by Jay Deitcher, an educator on comic history.


We also received questions via Twitter, and you can read our responses below. Take a look and feel free to leave any of your questions you have in the comment box beneath this post. Also, with all of the excitement around Superheroes, we were inspired to create a superhero of our own: GENIUS MAN. Genius Man sprung from our imagination, but the technologies he possesses are real and impact the world today.

Be sure to check him out and share him with your kids to show them that you don’t have to be a Superhero, to have superpowers. You can become an engineer or scientist and employ technologies to make possible what was only dreamed of in the past.


Our Chief Scientist doing calculations on the back of a napkin during the live Q&A!
Our Chief Scientist doing calculations on the back of a napkin during the live Q&A!

Questions on the Science Behind Superheroes asked via Twitter

Can I become invisible? – @Xafaryab
By the known laws of physics, it is impossible to become invisible in the sense of becoming undetectable by any means. It would be possible to bend light around you by a large gravity field, but that would put you in great danger. Some ‘metamaterials’ can deflect light around you, but for only certain wavelengths.

How deep of a crater are we talking for #manofsteel to take off standing still on concrete? – @LCfromLCVA
Worst case would be if he wanted to get somewhere as fast as possible (near the speed of light), which would require all the energy he could produce (since light speed requires infinite energy), which would produce maximum breakage of the concrete.

Do you believe there is alien life outside of the Milky Way? – @Psolocup14
I absolutely do, simply by the statistics of the number of stars and planets that exist.  The question is whether humans would ever encounter that life and to what extent it is intelligent (rather than something simple like algae).  For a fun read on possible answers to Fermi’s Paradox (look it up on Wikipedia) see

Is X-ray vision even possible? – @AlyssaAlda  
It is possible with technology in the sense that our medical and inspection x-ray machines do it all the time. The superman way is not very realistic. What is the source of the X-rays? Why do they penetrate walls of the building but not also what is inside? How do those X-Rays return to his eyes with the information? X-ray technology has a source of x-rays that go through the object then separately a detector to read information from them.

Could the Sun give someone from another galaxy super strength? – @DustyiD
No. Our sun type and emission is common throughout the universe.  If a yellow sun makes a red sun alien get such powers – as yellow sun creatures, would humans have similar boosts in a blue sun’s system? Also note the energies giving him this power must be able to penetrate the earth’s core since he is not hampered at night. I tend to prefer the “heavier gravity of Krypton” explanation for his flight (jumping), strength and toughness powers (ignoring heat vision, x-ray vision, etc.)

How come no one ever saw a cape crammed inside of Clark Kent’s dress shirt? – @AudioGasoline 
Everyone knows Clark Kent is superman. No one is willing to call him on it. That is why he does not bother with a mask. I mean really, would you? It is easiest and safest to just play along.

But you know what GE, I’ll humor you: how does Spider-Man stick to walls through his suit? – @Doncates
According to the comics, or at least a battle with electro from the 90s some time (I was a kid so I don’t recall the issue), it is “static”. Electro uses his powers to render spidey unable to for a while.

I’m interested in obtaining Spiderman powers… any suggestions? – @karynrae
Probably not a good idea to use trial and error on this with an empirical study.  There are some really nasty spiders out there.

Let’s be honest – we all want to fly! What would make #ManofSteel type of flight happen? – @JLanie 4m
Nothing, although jet packs are probably closest to it. Some base jumpers with ‘squirrel suits’ consider themselves a flying as they fall.

How much upward force would Superman need to generate to save a falling 747 assuming free fall and full passenger load?  – @The_Nuch
Most likely his tiny hands would create points of stress on the airframe and thus more power. He’d do better to guide and glide it to a safe landing than try to hold it.

Can GE build an Iron man suit?  – @sc2pace
Not like in the movies, but some elements (e.g., armor, exoskeleton strength) are possible.

How does Superman shave? – @WVPLCommish
I think Bill Nye’s answer was best, but I enjoyed all the responses. Gillette did a nice job with that YouTube page.

About the sonic boom. Is it possible something with that little mass to make a boom as loud as shown? – @Adnab80
All supersonic objects create a sonic boom, but the size of the boom does depend on the size and shape of the object.  A Bullet or the tip of a Bullwhip are examples of small mass objects that “boom”.

Would Superman’s top speed be limited to the speed of light?  If not, does moving faster make him invisible? – @cyclist19591m
Some equations predict the speed of light is self-limiting, that your size and mass grow as you approach it, so you are never able to achieve it without infinite energy.

Fri, 7 Jul 2017

I’m excited to highlight some progress GE Research has made in modeling the formation of ice from water droplets in contact with cold surfaces. For several years, a multi-disciplinary team of researchers at GE Global Research has been developing “icephobic” surfaces. We have observed that certain types of surfaces hinder ice formation, but the exact mechanism was unknown. We use simulations as a means to gain insight into the conditions under which ice can be suppressed. Many industrial systems that operate in cold environments stand to benefit from resisting ice including wind turbines and offshore Oil & Gas drilling and production rigs operating in extremely cold environments. I sat down with Dr. Masako Yamada who works in the Advanced Computing Lab I lead and discussed recent results she has collected in computationally modeling the formation of ice (also called “ice nucleation” – as solid water is a crystal that grows from a “nucleus” that forms out of the liquid.)

MasakoWe are running these simulations on the Titan Cray XK7supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Lab – why do we need so large a machine?

The computational technique we use, molecular dynamics, is notoriously time-consuming. “Molecular” means we track the position of every single water molecule. “Dynamics” means we calculate very short slices of time (specifically: femtosecond slices –  [Wikipedia: a femtosecond is to a second what a second is to about 31.7 million years].) It’s analogous to creating a high-speed video using an atomic microscope. Titan is one of the few resources in the world that can handle our need. We have won 80 million CPU hours through the Department of Energy ASCR Leadership Computing Challenge to run these calculations. We are constantly pursuing higher performance. We recently achieved 5x speedup by converting our code to run not only on the CPUs but also the GPUs (graphics processing units) as “accelerators.” Even so, we can only model water droplets that are about 50 nanometers in size (far smaller than real world droplets) and we still cannot run our models to simulate as long a time period as we would like.

Simulation of ice spreading through a water droplet. This is not just an animation/cartoon. It’s a real scientific model that’s being developed on Titan, the #1 ranked supercomputer in the USA. Video credits: Mike Matheson (Oak Ridge National Lab)

How are icephobic surfaces typically developed?

This is a field of tremendous interest across industry, academia and the government labs. At present, experiments drive most of the science. Usually, many candidate surfaces are fabricated and the effectiveness of the surfaces is evaluated by placing water in contact with the surface and measuring the depression of freezing temperature, delay in onset of freezing, or reduction in adhesion strength of ice. The experimental setup can be as complex as using microdroplet generators, high speed cameras, thermocouples, wind tunnels and centrifuges… or as simple as putting different surfaces outside in the winter and visually comparing ice buildup.

How do we make sure a computer model gives us a good result compared to a physical test?

Nobody trusts modeling data on its own. We would typically model a “dummy” system that is simpler than the target system and compare against experimental results. We might also change just a few variables (such as temperature and pressure) to confirm that the trends are in sync with experiment. Only then can models be used for prediction. Nature is very complex and results from the models might not exactly match experimental results. However, highly complex simulations that were previously inaccessible are now being executed thanks to the growth in supercomputing power.

360 view of the ice crystal inside the water droplet. Video credits: Mike Matheson (Oak Ridge National Lab)

What advantages are there to virtual engineering test over physical tests?

In the virtual world, we can monitor the position of every single molecule in femtosecond increments. We can see exactly how the water molecules interact with the surfaces. This is simply impossible using any physical test. In addition, in the virtual world, the results are not impacted by dirt, defects and other random sources of noise. These imperfections certainly need to be accounted for in real life, but in the research stage, it’s helpful to be able to develop the surfaces in a perfect environment.

How would icephobic surfaces impact everyday sorts of problems like ice cream scoops or car windshields?

Icephobic surfaces can alter cold water contacting a cold surface by: 1) lowering freezing temperature, 2) delaying onset of freezing, 3) reducing adhesion (stickiness) between ice and surface, and/or 4) bouncing water droplets off before they can freeze. Surface composition and features may impact one, some or all of these effects. For the ice cream scooper, since the ice cream is already frozen and it’s not moving, the primary function would likely be (3). (Although there could also be aspects of (1) that might be part of the process, as depressing the freezing temp by even a few degrees would be helpful.  For the car windshield, depending on whether the car is moving or still, and whether the water is liquid or ice/snow, and ambient temperature, any one of the four functions would be involved.

Fri, 7 Jul 2017

I’m Mark, a mechanical engineer with 32 years’ experience at GE Research. My career has spanned development of superconducting MR magnets, X-ray sources, and aerospace composite structures. I presently lead projects developing novel composites manufacturing methods as well as a 3 Tesla head-only magnet system.

I’m also enjoying a part-time role as coordinator of the GE Global Research A Course, which gives me a chance to greatly increase the span of one of my favorite activities – education and mentoring. I was the x-ray tubes instructor for several years, and now enjoy providing this opportunity for Global Research’s new and mid-career staff to enhance their technical and business understanding, as well as network with some of our top experts in many technical fields.

The ‘A course’ provides 32 lectures that span GE’s major business units including Energy, Healthcare, and Aviation, with special focus on the areas that Global Research applies significant effort.

In the accompanying video, I explain the program and its relevance as well as its roots. Over the next few months, our Edison Engineers will be sharing their their thoughts and takeaways from the sessions in the course right here on the blog so you can take part in our learning as well.

Feel free to ask our engineers (or instructors) questions in the comments field and we look forward to engaging with you around some great topics and discussions!


Fri, 7 Jul 2017

The Brazil Technology Center is up and running! You can imagine all of the excitement in Rio de Janeiro – the location of GE’s newest research and development center. I’d like to take a minute to fill you in on some of the key milestones we’ve achieved and share with you relevant links, so that you can follow our progress online.

The Brazil Technology Center (BTC) has grown to over 60 people—mostly scientists and engineers working to fulfill our mission of solving the toughest challenges for GE’s strategic customers in Brazil. While GE’s other research units are involved in core technology development and base research, the BTC differs by focusing more on application. In other words, we’re driving innovation for our customers in a shorter timeframe. You can learn more about our technology focus areas by vising the BTC section of this website. You can also keep up with our progress online by visiting our Brazilian Facebook page!

We recently held a groundbreaking event to commemorate the BTC. GE’s Chief Technology Officer, Mark Little, participated along with key partners and stakeholders, and the Governor and Mayor of Rio de Janeiro. Ken Herd, the leader of the BTC, kicked off the festivities by welcoming all to “celebrate the visible beginning of a new era for GE and its partners.” On this day, GE announced a R$500 million investment in the Center – another proof point of the company’s commitment to speed the pace of innovation and ensure we’re delivering the right technologies and products to the right markets at the right time.


Apart from our groundbreaking event, we’ve made an effort to actively participate in key conferences and local events. A great example is our involvement in Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, which took place in Rio. Sustainability is a big focus for Brazil. To demonstrate GE’s involvement in this area, we partnered with the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro to host workshops with thought leaders on the future of fuels and water. The discussions were very interesting and included participation of representatives of several companies, universities and research institutions.

There’s a lot more coming up for the BTC. Be sure to follow us and stay tuned for more exciting news on our growth in the region!

O Centro Brasileiro de Tecnologia (BTC em ingles) está operando a todo o vapor! Voces podem imaginar todo o entusiasmo no Rio de Janeiro – cidade sede do mais novo centro de pesquisa e desenvolvimento da GE. Eu gostaria de passar para voces alguns dos marcos principais que alcançamos e dividir alguns links de relevância, para que possam acompanhar nosso progresso online.

O BTC atingiu a marca de 60 pessoas – a maioria cientistas e engenheiros trabalhando para completar nossa missão de resolver os mais dificeis desafios para os clientes estratégicos da GE no Brasil. Enquanto os outros centros de pesquisa da GE estão envolvidos no desenvolvimento de technologia de base e pesquisa fundamental, o BTC difere dos demais pelo foco nas aplicações. Em outras palavras, estamos introduzindo inovação para nossos clientes em um horizonte de tempo mais curto. Voce pode aprender mais sobre as nossas áreas tecnológicas em foco visitando a sessão sobre o BTC neste website. Voce também pode acompanhar nosso progresso online visitando nossa página no Facebook:

Tivemos recentemente a cerimônia de lançamento da pedra fundamental para o BTC. O Diretor Geral de Tecnologia da GE Mark Little participou do evento, junto a outros parceiros e oficiais, o Governador do Estado e o Prefeito da cidade do Rio de Janeiro. O Diretor Geral do BTC Ken Herd deu lançamento às festividades convidando a todos para “celebrar o princípio claro de uma nova era para GE e seus parceiros”. Neste mesmo dia a GE anunciou um investimento de R$500 milhões no centro de pesquisas – outra prova do compromisso da compania para acelerar a inovação e assegurar que estamos oferecendo tecnologia e produtos certos para o mercado certo e no tempo certo.

Além do lançamento da pedra fundamental, concentramos esforcos para participar ativamente em conferências chave e eventos locais. Um grande exemplo disso foi nosso envolvimento na Rio+20, Conferência das Nações Unidas para Desenvolvimento Sustentável, que aconteceu no Rio. Sustentabilidade é um grande tema no Brasil e para mostrar o envolvimento da GE nesta área nós fizemos uma parceria com a UFRJ para sediar workshops com líderes diversos sobre o futuro dos combustíveis e o futuro da água. As discussões foram muito interessantes e contaram com a participação de diversos representantes de diversas companias, universidades e instituições de pesquisa.

Há muito mais por acontecer no BTC. Não se esqueça de acompanhar-nos online e fiquem ligados para mais notícias extraordinárias sobre nosso crescimento na região!

Fri, 7 Jul 2017

In 2012, we hosted a workshop at the Brazil Technology Center in Rio de Janeiro for the (then) recently created Subsea Systems Center of Excellence (CoE). A research manager from Petrobras made the interesting observation that the “gold rush” toward pre-salt deep water exploration was much more complicated than the race to the moon in the late 1960s. His reasoning was that we have actual footprints of a man on the moon (ok, several, if one counts all landing parties from Apollo missions), but so far no man has ever set actual foot on  the deep sea floor (James Cameron, and others who made excursions bellow 1000 km [621+ miles] depth, never actually left the subs they were in).

Subsea oil exploration started at very shallow depths and rapidly has grown to astonishing water depths. Take, for example, the following chart that Petrobras uses in 10 out of 11 presentations given in technical congresses.

Slide from Petrobras presentation

This chart shows the Christ Redeemer statue (at left) in Rio (note that the statue is not by the shore as depicted this is for visual reference only) and several water depth drilling and completion records along with the year in which those records were achieved.

Pre-salt levels are even deeper than depicted here. A well can easily be 300km (186+ miles) from the shore and the sea bottom might be at 4000m (2,485 miles) below that. But to reach oil, you still have to drill through several kilometers of salt layer and only then will you reach the reservoir, also known as the “pre-salt” layer; shallower wells above the salt layer are called “post-salt.”

Into the darkness

At 4km (about 2.5 miles) depth you can`t see any light. It is as dark (or darker) than deep space. In fact, about 90% of all ocean volume on earth is aphotic, meaning it is not reached by sunlight. It is even hard to find deep sea beauties such as viper fish or angler fish, which can be found typically down to 2km.

Regarding temperatures, after 1km the temperature stabilizes pretty much at 4˚C (39.2F), reaching maybe even -1˚C depending on salinity, without ever reaching solid state (we use salt on streets to melt snow right? But not here in Rio, of course).


And finally pressure. At 4km you have about 400 bars of pressure (an easy rule of thumb is 1 bar for every 10m). To give you a sense of how much pressure that is, imagine a load of 4000 tons, or 16 locomotives, concentrated on a single square meter. At this pressure you have to design components and equipment that can withstand extreme pressure without crushing in on themselves. Either they can survive at these extreme pressures or you have to shield them within a pressure vessel in which the internal pressure will always be exactly the same as the atmospheric pressure on the surface. This requires a huge and bulky metal chamber with several centimeters of wall thickness. The picture here shows an aluminum cylinder crushed under pressure.

By now I’m sure you realize that operating in a subsea environment is extremely hard, extremely dangerous and extremely expensive. Operating in a subsea environment requires a vast number of resources to prospect, drill, and explore a well. And most importantly, every step must be carried out in a safe manner to assure the risk of any serious accident is kept low, with very tight and conservative control.

Filling the need

GE currently has several business units that produce equipment to be used in harsh environments, with a goal of enabling oil operators to build and extract oil from wells. But many of them are not qualified to reach water depths where pre-salt levels are found. As with the Aviation business, qualifying parts and procedures takes a considerable amount of time and can be costly.

The Offshore and Subsea CoE at the Brazil Technology Center was created specifically to help customers (externals like oil operators such as Petrobras, Chevron, Statoil, BG, BP, Repsol and internals like several GE business units) currently producing or interested in producing equipment for well and subsea exploration. To simulate the harsh pressure conditions, the CoE will use a hyperbaric chamber where components will be pushed to their design boundaries using pressures and temperatures of near real conditions to where these components are intended to work.

The CoE also will collaborate with a material lab to develop a new generation of materials and will design new manufacturing processes to make subsea structures more robust, most durable, and lighter than the traditional metal alloy-heavy structures. The CoE team also has joined forces with several well exploration technical domains such as flow assurance, drilling, production, subsea processing, control and inspection.

In the home stretch

The building of the new BTC research center is very close to being finished and soon we all will see brand new equipment in our CoE lab spaces. There are now more than 110 colleagues at the site, including researchers, our functional team and two co-located groups. These are GE Flexibles (formerly Wellstream), which will be located on the BTC site in a huge building that will house their massive test rigs for flexible pipes (a spool can have a 10m radius!) and GE Measurement & Control, which is building a new Customer Application Center on our site to house several high end inspection devices such as the V-Tomex Industrial CT scan. Please stay tuned for upcoming news on this site.