Archive for September, 2006

Fixing Failing Hearts

September 27th, 2006 by Gene
Human Heart
 

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We take our hearts for granted most of the time. But sometimes things go wrong. Engineers are working on ways to help hearts heal from heart attacks. We’ll take a look today, on Engineering Works.

For most of us, our hearts work just fine most of the time. They thump along, keeping our blood flowing through our veins and arteries. Until we have a heart attack. More than 650,000 of us have heart attacks every year. Doctors can often repair the damage from the heart attack, but sometimes that heart attack is the beginning of a condition called congestive heart failure.

Congestive heart failure is what happens when the muscles of the heart start to come undone. They get flabby and they don’t pump as well as they used to. Sometimes they get so weak that even standing up out of your chair is hard.
An engineer at Texas A&M University has come up with a device he says should help damaged hearts heal. It’s a flexible cup that fits around your heart and squeezes in time to your heartbeat. The additional pressure helps pump blood almost normally. This kind of assist should help the heart muscles recover from heart attack damage.

They’re still testing the device in animals, so it’ll be a while before they’re available.

Our heart feels like it’s beating just fine, even without help. See you next time.

EngineeringWorks! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. We’re on the World Wide Web, too. Visit us at engineeringworks.tamu.edu.

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Ferris Wheels

September 20th, 2006 by Gene
Ferris Wheels
 

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We’re going to take a ride down memory lane — Ferris wheels. Today, on Engineering Works!

Ferris wheels have been a part of county fairs, carnivals and amusement parks for 100 years. We’ve ridden on them, and we bet you have, too.

The first Ferris wheel was designed and built for the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. The fair’s promoters wanted something that would be as spectacular as the iron tower that Gustav Eiffel designed and built as the centerpiece of the 1889 world’s fair in Paris. They got the Ferris wheel.

That first Ferris wheel got its name from engineer George Ferris, who designed it. The wheel itself was 250 feet across – almost the length of a football field. The axle it turned around was 45 feet long and mounted on top of two 140-foot steel towers. At that time, that 45-foot axle was the biggest steel forging ever made.

Two 1,000-horsepower engines turned the wheel, which carried 36 wooden cars with seats for fairgoers. Each car carried 60 people.

The Ferris wheel was popular, too. After expenses, it cleared more than $300,000. It was taken down in 1894, after the fair was over, but they put it up again at the Saint Louis Exposition in 1904.

That original wheel was broken up for scrap in 1906, but Ferris wheels have been part of carnivals and amusement parks ever since.

It’s time for us to catch a ride on our Ferris wheel. See you next time.

EngineeringWorks! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU_FM in College Station. We’re on the World Wide Web, too. Visit us at engineeringworks.tamu.edu.

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Crime Scene

September 13th, 2006 by Gene
Meth Injection
 

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If you’re a CSI fan, you’re going to like this one. It’s a new tool for crime scene investigators. We’ll check it out. Today, on Engineering Works!

One of the important things Gil Grissom and his crew do is find and identify stuff evidence at crime scenes — blood, poisons, fingerprints. And drugs.

Being able to tell if drugs are on the scene can be important even before there is a crime scene. Engineers are helping, with a gadget called the Illicit Drug Detector, or IDD. The IDD looks sort of like a streamlined blowdryer. It shines a particular kind of light that makes methamphetamine – crystal meth – glow, or fluoresce. If police stop someone because they’re driving erratically, all they have to do is shine the IDD on the car door handle and they can tell if the driver has been handling crystal meth.

Being able to tell if someone has handled crystal meth is important because methamphetamine has become the drug of choice for a growing number of drug users. Investigators like the IDD because you can carry it with you to crime scenes. It works almost instantaneously. And it finds traces of crystal meth so small you can’t see them.

So far, crystal meth is the only kind of drugs the IDD can find, but engineers are working on updated versions that will be able to identify half a dozen more illegal drugs.

It’s time for us to shine our light somewhere else. See you next time.

EngineeringWorks! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. We’re on the World Wide Web, too. Visit us at engineeringworks.tamu.edu.

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Vacuum Cleaners

September 6th, 2006 by Gene
Vacuum Cleaners
 

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Nobody likes to clean house. We’ll check into one of the gadgets that make house-cleaning easier than it used to be — vacuum cleaners. Today, on Engineering Works!

Most of us grew up with vacuum cleaners. It’s been a love-hate relationship. Nobody likes to use their vacuum cleaner, but we like it a lot better than a broom.

Cleaning devices vaguely like vacuum cleaners began to appear in the 1850s, but it wasn’t until about 1900 that they began to look, or work, like the Hoover we use today. In fact, the first modern version of the vacuum cleaner didn’t use a vacuum at all. It used compressed air to blow the dirt away. That didn’t work very well and in 1901, an engineer named Herbert Bothe came up with the idea of using a vacuum to suck up the dirt instead of just blowing it around.

Bothe’s first vacuum cleaners were huge, so big that they rode in horse-drawn wagons and stayed outside in the street while they cleaned. They made a lot of noise and frightened horses passing by. But they worked.

Later, when engineers designed and built small electric motors, vacuum cleaners began to look, and work, like the ones we use today. In fact, most of the vacuum cleaners we use today aren’t that different from the ones your grandparents used in 1920.

Someone’s getting out the vacuum cleaner and looking in our direction, so we’ll get out of the way. See you next time.

EngineeringWorks! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. We’re on the World Wide Web, too. Visit us at engineeringworks.tamu.edu.

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