Archive for October, 2005

Rebuilding Iraq

October 26th, 2005 by Gene

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Everybody hears the bad news out of Iraq. We’ll check out some good news, today on Engineering Works!

Getting rid of Saddam Hussein was a good thing. The problem is that fighting on the scale that’s been going on in Iraq breaks things — power plants, bridges, water systems. Things people need to live normal lives.

Engineers – both military and civilian contractors – are working hard to put it all back together. It’s harder than it should be. Lots of this stuff hadn’t been taken care of for years. Even before the war.

When coalition forces turned over power to the Iraqi government a year ago, about 200 reconstruction projects were under way. Now, engineers are working on more than 2,700. They’ve finished more than 1,600.

All kinds of projects, like rebuilding a 200-bed maternity hospital near Mosul. It’ll have a reverse osmosis water purifier, elevators. A new roof. Almost 30 hospitals and clinics are under construction or finished.

Near Kirkuk, the Tameem railroad station was looted and seriously damaged after Saddam fell. It’s being rebuilt to handle even more freight than before. A new water treatment plant near Fallujah will provide more than 2.5 million gallons of clean water a day when it’s done.

And schools. All across the country, more than 675 schools have already been built, with 65 to go.

Everybody’ll be happier when the fighting in Iraq is over. Even before that happens, engineers are in the middle of making life better for millions of Iraqis.

Photo courtesy of Bechtel National, Inc., from USAID. The Al Nijoom school playground in Iraq; workers are employed by Alsabah construction firm.


Sex and the seat

October 19th, 2005 by Gene

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Sex – and engineers? You bet. We’ll check it out. But don’t worry — this is a family show. Today on Engineering Works!

You’d have to look pretty hard to find anything more wholesome than riding your bicycle. It’s good for your heart and the whole family can do it together. But riding that bike a lot can be bad news for your sex life. Especially if you’re a guy.

A bunch of new research has found that if you ride your bike a lot and your seat is the usual kind – long and narrow – you’re probably damaging blood vessels that are important to that part of your life. It’s caused some guys a lot of trouble. Bad stuff like impotence. Some gals, too. But not as many.

If you just ride your bike now and then, it’s probably not a big deal. But if you ride a lot, these seats could be trouble. But not to worry.

Engineers have gotten together with reproductive health experts to design a new kind of bike seat. It lets you ride as much as you want without taking a chance of hurting your sex life. This one doesn’t have the long, narrow shape that causes the problem. It’s sort of blocky and it’s divided in half so you can adjust it to fit your anatomy without putting pressure on those important blood vessels.

Well, we’ve got our new seat and it’s time to hit the road. See you next time.


Smart ankles

October 13th, 2005 by Gene

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Falling. It’s one of the things older people fear most. Engineers are helping. We’ll see how, today on Engineering Works!

If you’re over 65, falling is a big deal. One in three people over 65 will fall between now and this time next year. It’s more than an inconvenience. One fall in 200 will mean a broken hip. Half of those broken hips will be crippling. One in four will die within six months. Scary, huh?

Engineers are working on a new ankle brace that could reduce the number of potentially crippling falls. It’s no ordinary ankle brace. It’s a smart brace that warns you if you’re getting ready to fall.

Here’s how it works. As we get older, we lose the ability to sense our bodies’ position. Especially our feet. It’s hard to keep your balance if you can’t keep track of where your feet are. A computer chip inside the brace monitors how your ankles roll as you walk. The amount they roll is an indicator of how stable you are on your feet. If your ankles roll too much, you could fall.

When the chip feels too much ankle roll, it sets off a buzzer in the brace. You can feel the vibration in your leg, and the idea is that if you know your ankles are in an unstable position, you’ll do something about it. And you won’t fall.

It’s time for us to roll on out of here. See you next time.


Bionic Arms

October 5th, 2005 by dstmartin

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It used to be science fiction; now it’s engineering and medical fact. We’ll take a look, today on Engineering Works!

Before now, if you lost an arm to injury or illness, it was a bad deal. Even replacement arms didn’t do anything. They just looked like the arm you lost.

Now, biomedical engineers and surgeons have come up with a replacement arm that works just like the arm you were born with – almost. The first one works well enough that the man it belongs to can pick up an egg without breaking it or a glass of water without spilling. Here’s how it works.

A computer in the forearm of the new arm is wired to a mechanical hand and to a sort of plunger on the man’s chest. Under the plunger are nerves that used to connect to his arm. Surgeons moved them after he lost his arm.

When sensors in the new hand feel something, the computer signals the plunger, and it pushes on the nerves in his chest. To them, it’s something touching his fingers. His brain can’t tell the difference.

When he wants to pick up something, he thinks about moving his hand and fingers. His nerves signal the computer and it signals tiny electric motors in his new arm. They move his arm, wrist and fingers.

It’s not perfect yet. But it’s coming.

We’re going to move our arm, wrist and fingers – and the rest of us – on out of here. See you later.