Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

An airplane’s nervous system is its electrical wiring, and on many older aircraft, nerves are a bit raw. The polymer sheaths covering wires are subjected to “everything from deicing salts to Coca-Cola, airborne particles, vibration and rubbing against sharp corners,” says Northwestern University materials scientist Thomas Mason. Cracks, holes and thin spots in the sheaths can cause breakdowns or disaster: Investigators suspect a faulty fuel-gauge wire caused the 1996 explosion of TWA Flight 800.

Wires are for the most part inspected visually, but that’s difficult when they run through inaccessible parts of the plane. And pulling brittle wires out to look at them can actually damage them more. But Mason and other researchers in a three-year project at Northwestern aim to engineer a noninvasive wiring test by using a technique called impedance/dielectric spectroscopy, which measures the response of a wire to a range of frequencies of alternating current. Comparing the impedance response, or “signature,” of an older wire to that of a fresh, new wire could reveal the kind of damage-abrasion, holes or chemical assault-to the wire’s polymer sheathing, as well as the degree of degradation and perhaps even its location along the wire. That’s the hope, anyway. L. Catherine Brinson, leader of the Federal Aviation Administration-funded project, estimates a working prototype is at least five years off.

0 comments about this story. Start the discussion »

Tagged: Computing

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me