To extract the most energy out of fuel and burn it cleanly, it is crucial to have the best possible mixture of fuel and air. That's what the injectors try to do in an internal combustion engine, but so far its been really hard for engineers to study some aspects of how fluids behave: "standard laser characterization techniques have been unsuccessful due to the high density of the fuel jet near the injector opening. Scientists have been forced to study the fuel far away from the nozzle and extrapolate its dispersal pattern. The resulting models of breakup are highly speculative, oversimplified and often not validated by experiments."
This is about to change thanks to a new high-energy X-ray technique that could lead to better, and cleaner, automobiles.
Fezzaa and his colleagues, along with collaborators from the Mayo Clinic and Visteon Corp. developed a new ultrafast synchrotron X-ray full-field phase contrast imaging technique and used it to reveal instantaneous velocity and internal structure of these optically dense sprays. [...]
A key to the experiment was taking advantage of the special properties of the X-ray beam generated at the APS. Unlike hospital x-rays, the synchrotron x-rays are a trillion times brighter and come in very short pulses with durations as little as 100 nanoseconds.
As much as we wish the internal combustion engine would exit stage right, it's probably not going to happen for a while, so if this new tool which gives engineers an order of magnitude more detail can help bring cleaner cars to the market in the meantime, that's good. It probably won't help too much with global warming because we need more than slightly higher efficiency to solve that problem, but air quality could improve significantly (some places really need it).
This technology can also probably improve airplane and ship engines, and there's lots of gains to be made there.