March 1, 2006 4:00 AM PST

Turning nature's design into scientific breakthrough

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The company has filed about 13 patents, with six issued so far in the fields of impellers and heat sinks, or components that help cool PCs. And it has already undergone 13 separate investigations into the underlying intellectual property. So far, no one has found prior art, Harman said.

Now Harman's little company is making its move into the business world, with hopes of being sort of like Dolby Labs to industrial design: A company that licenses its cutting-edge technology to big manufacturers.

In 2004, Paul Hawken joined the company's advisory board. Hawken, co-founder of garden retailer Smith & Hawken and the author of "Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution," which former President Bill Clinton called one of the five most important books in the world, took over management of Pax Scientific patent licenses in specific areas. He is CEO of PaxIT, PaxTurbine, and PaxFan, three offshoots that focus on the sale of products based on Pax's design in various industries.

Revcor, based in Carpentersville, Ill., is one of the largest manufacturers of air flow technology for air conditioners, computer hardware and autos. In 2004, executives from Revcor, through a manufacturing relationship with electronics maker Delphi, asked Pax to develop a design that could improve its kitchen and bathroom fans, which are notoriously noisy and known to be about 96 percent energy-inefficient.

In particular, air conditioners have several parts, including fan blades, heat exchangers and compressors, that can take advantage of the work done at Pax.

Pax's blade design, which mimics the geometries of a whirlpool, reduced the energy required by the fan by between 31 percent and 35 percent, depending on the fan's size. Similarly, its design for the heat exchanger reduced the energy required to operate the fan by 50 percent in computer simulations, according to Harman and Stanford scientists who have evaluated it. Pax is currently working on a design for the compressor.

As a result, Delphi has entered into a three-year deal with PaxFan, a spin-off of Pax Scientific. Delphi has licensed the design for air conditioners, which Revcor will manufacture, that will be used in automobiles.

What impressed experts was the noise reduction of the fans. Iaccarino said the aerodynamics of the spiral-fan design produced an extremely quiet fan compared with a conventional one. The fan and heat exchange designs reduced the air conditioner's noise by 40 percent, Harman said.

Similarly, PC makers are looking to Pax for noise and cooling efficiency.

Cooling is a big problem in computing--roughly 99 percent of the power generated by PCs is converted to wasted heat, according to industry figures. Fans are one target for improvement.

Pax's approach is to look to the thermodynamics of eggs as a model for conserving heat, with sophisticated methods for retaining and dissipating heat, just as a hen's egg manages to retain heat when its mother ventures from the nest.

"We'd love to redesign the whole computer so we could have an impact on heat dissipation," Harman said.

Through PaxIT, another spin-off of Pax Scientific, Delphi has licensed the design to create fans for two major PC manufacturers, which, combined, produce 40 percent of the world's computers. Harman said he could not give the names of the companies because of nondisclosure agreements.

NASA Ames Research Center also contracted Pax to produce a quieter fan for the computer systems at the International Space Station. Astronauts at the space station are forced to wear earplugs because the computing systems are so loud.

Making waves
Drinking water reservoirs could also use Pax's spiral impellers. Pax has been working with several groups testing impellers that have proven more efficient than the giant mixers that are commonly used today to keep water from becoming stagnant.

In a 4 million gallon tank of water that's 40 feet deep, Pax's small impeller, which is 6 inches by 4 inches, creates a whirlpool to circulate the entire tank, improving the water's purity. It can mix the water with about 50 watts, or the power of a household light bulb. The impeller costs about $25,000 to install, but the company hopes to eventually get the price under $5,000.

In contrast, the typical water mixer, which is 20 feet tall, churns the water with about 20 times the power. It costs about $45,000 to install.

The low cost of the impeller could help underdeveloped nations reduce the spread of diseases, such as malaria, caused by mosquitoes attracted to stagnant water.

In fact, Harman said that helping people and the planet are two of the underlying tenets of his business, but first it needs the profits. Stanford's Iaccarino said that if anyone has the chops to pull it off, it's Harman.

"Most of the time," Iaccarino said, "people with great ideas don't take a risk."

 
Correction: Due to incorrect information provided to CNET News.com, the story incorrectly stated the price of Pax's water mixer. It costs $25,000 to install. Also, founder Jay Harman is a permanent resident of the United States.

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24 comments

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so why are people so think intelligent design isnt a concept?
so many times technology imitates nature,so how come no one sees there can be intelligent design?.
by the way there thing technology will never be able to duplicate in nature.
Posted by newcreation (118 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Looking at it in another way...
Nature is extremely stupid, it took millions of
years to get to this point, we've only had a few
hundred. There are still some stupid designs in
nature that will eventually correct themselves
through natural selection...sooner or later.
Posted by Johnny Mnemonic (374 comments )
Link Flag
ID is a belief
Itelligent design is a belief that can neither be proved nor disproved. It is not science.

(And who could believe that man could be the product of anything intelligent?)
Posted by Mad Dog - Chi (22 comments )
Link Flag
Intelligent Design could
be 100% correct, but that isn't enough for Science. Nothing in
Science can be taken on faith. Everything must be tested and
retested, and that's where Intelligent Design fails to qualify since it
cannot be tested. If you want it taught, teach it in church or
possibly a philosophy class, but science class is the the wrong
place.
Posted by Macsaresafer (802 comments )
Link Flag
science is not about what "can" be
Science is not about the things that "can" be; but about the things that cannot be in a different way.

Science is truthful until somebody proves it wrong.
Inteligent Design is not absolutely impossible, yet, it might never be proved, because the day it is, religion cease to be based on faith, and becomes a science.

And a religion which requires or presents proof, ceases to be of interest.

The fact that you "can" be eating an icecream at this moment does not prove you actually are.
Posted by sancat (13 comments )
Link Flag
ID says "superior being" designs what happen it nature.
Evolution says "nature" designs what happen in nature. although design is not the correct word since nature do not have a design plan. Basically it is just a matter of who or what create whatever that is out there. So why bother spending so much time and effort to fight over a "who and what" question, when there are much more important and beneficial things in life to do?
Posted by pjianwei (206 comments )
Link Flag
nothing new here.
We've also been mimmicking nature forever. This is nothing new.

Engineers have been dealing with vortex's for a long time.

So whats the breakthrough? did i miss something?
Posted by Scopip (76 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The breakthrough is subtle,
but it's there if you look at the shape of the blades in the picture.
Most fan blades radiate straight out from the center. These radiate
out and curve up (in the image) as you travel out and towards the
back of the blade. You can almost see it being more efficient.
Posted by Macsaresafer (802 comments )
Link Flag
the problem is
the problem is, that we are still learning from nature, since nature has had several billion of years to solve its problems, where as poor man at best has been working on the basic problems since the industrial age of the 18th century, to modify nature to suit our own needs!

beware, of those that choose, not to think outside the square, and rigidly take everything that is printed and taught ,as an absolute law, for any man who goes around with head in the sand, will never be able to see anything beyond his nose, nor will he ever, be able to learn anything from his mistakes(like one man I know, who could not do even a simple workplace restructure, has now ran away from trying too fix what he did not understand in the first place, but is still perpetuating his flawed concepts in another country, all because his ideas were set in concrete, and people had to conform to his incomplete and inaccurate assessment of real systems)

Oh well, that's life!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Rabbits and ID
If ID is true, then ID has a sense of humor.

Rabbits are so intelligently designed they must eat their own feces to gather enough nutrition.

I was told by a Kansas Science teacher (worked with him in Kansas at a tech company), that Evolution is a farce because all of the dolphins would have drowned before they could evolve a closable blowhole.

I believe on The Onion they "reported" that there will be a new "Theory of Intelligent Falling" because we don't know what gravity is.
Posted by ThePenguin (30 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Flat Earth Theory
The same type of people who once believed that the earth was flat are the same proponents of ID.

I have a relative who went through 8 years of seminary to become a Catholic priest. He told me that Evolution is not contested. He says that we evolved from whatever to a point at which we were "given the spark" or a soul from God.

Reasonable I think.

ID is a belief among the uninformed.

Evolution is used and relied on everyday in the real scientific circles. You can believe in Evolution and be a religious person, but don't try to say that ID is science, it is nothing more than the Falwell/Robertson set trying to salvage their faith from the reality of evolution.

Keep ID in church where it belongs.
Posted by ThePenguin (30 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Reality
About the ice cream...

Whether we are actually eating an ice cream or not is about reality. Reality is created and destroyed every time we blink.

Your reality is not my reality, which is great. But if someone tries to deny that your reality exists, that is the problem.

Reality is tenous at best, unless that ice cream is coconut from Maggie Moo's. <grin>
Posted by ThePenguin (30 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ID is a Concept, not Science
I don't think that anyone is denying that ID is a CONCEPT, I think the problem is when it tries to be SCIENCE.

Star Trek is a concept, until we acutally have warp drive, then it is science.
Posted by ThePenguin (30 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Exactly
Science is about what is repeatable, can be done in the present, again and again.

History is about what we still have a record of happening in the past. Forensics is a related field about what happened in the past when we don't have a eye-witness account (or we need correlative evidence)

Philosophy is about knowledge itself.

Religion or "World view studies" is about how all of these things taken together is used to make sense of the world.

Most people I hope wouldn't have a problem with these definitions.



This issue I think is that there is an argument between two competing "world views" (the religion families: theism vs. materialism) about "origins" (historical models of the beginning of everything: Intelligent Design vs. Macro Evolution) but rather than taking place in religion class, or history class, as one would suppose would be proper. It's taking place in science class.


The reason the debate gets so fierce is that neither side can truly allow the other's model to stand. A strict materialist can't entertain the possibility that "someone who could be called God" to either exist or create the time-space-matter universe we live in.

On the other hand, most theists I know if they were honest would hesitate to believe in a being "who could be called God" who might be so unloving as to have designed and implemented life as we know it, through a process that is driven by pain, suffering, and death.

My question is this, which group tends to be open minded enough to try on the other side's way of thinking? I'm not talking about the rank and file (who are usualy split half and half with the closeminded group taking up most of the 'lay' air time). I'm talking about the intilectual elite of each comunity.
Posted by Bregalag (1 comment )
Link Flag
Similar concepts can be seen in a Chaos Theory view of the world
This is an interestng article. My hat is off to Mr. Harman bot for
maintaining the insight afforded to him by his observations as a
youth, and to his practical applications as a business man.

I would suggest for another interesting view consider the "spiral
observations" of this article in terms of general Chaos Theory.
(For a primer please see this article: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.imho.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.imho.com/</a>
grae/chaos/chaos.html)

The reason why I suggest the chaos article is that the lines of
divergence (from the initial divergence until the first wave of new
repition) predicted by the population graph in the Chaos article
are the sam dimensionsional lines which appear in Mr. Harman's
spirals. I just find it interesting that in a world of steady-states,
bell curves, and repeating cycles that something as obvious as a
spiral can re-occur across mutliple disciplines and nobody really
notices. But hey, what do I know - I am just a computer geek on
my second cup of coffee.
Posted by patrix47 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Loop Qantum Theory
We haven't really identified what works and what doesn't in today's society so everything is too partial like we only did paper and plastic recycling in the past 15 years and that's really it. Oil, infrastructure, neighborhood design, community, ALL too linear still not thinking about the whole picture. One neighborhood is nice but slammed against the other with no park or farm in between has proved disastrous for our suburbs and health. Its not just oil but thats a large part of it.
Everything is made from oil from plastics to fuel and there is nowhere to recycle it.
Science has thought too linearly too and now that's hopefully changing with things like Loop Quantum Theory. I think the universe is more like a wheel then just shooting outward.
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Is currently mostly smoke and mirrors.....
Not many physicists give it any credibility. And it typically is
characterized as one more bit of quantum foam. Whatever, it needs
a lot of work before it has any claim to being a legitimate part of
physics. That's a LOT of work....

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://physicsweb.org/articles/world/16/11/9" target="_newWindow">http://physicsweb.org/articles/world/16/11/9</a>
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
intelligent design is a concept! It's just not Science
What really is important about Harman and Pax Scientifics work is the accelerated advancement of designs based upon real world biosphere observations. That our Planet holds the key to our civilization(s) survival and evolution, and that science and industry can meld an approach that could forge our next steps to diminish our impact on the natural world.
Posted by chart321 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
spiral scientific breakthrough
Is it new?.

Take a look at Tesla's turbine design.

cheers: john McManus
Posted by nohn mcmanus (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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