Archive for May, 2010

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Brookhaven National Laboratory

The technology nobody sees

May 26th, 2010 by Gene
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What happens to technology after it’s had its 15-minutes of fame? We’ll take a look. Nanotechnology. Today, on Engineering Works!

Not that long ago, nanotechnology was the hottest thing around. It was going to help us do miraculous things. Medical robots that would slide inside our bodies to fix what’s wrong. Ultra-tiny electronics. It’s a long list. But these days it’s hard to find nanotechnology at all.

Or is it? Engineers say nanotechnology is right where it needs to be: hard at work in research and development labs and high-tech factories. Its image problem comes from the fact that very little nano stuff is consumer products. You’ll probably never go the mall to buy a nanoparticle. But you already may be buying products made possible by nanotechnology. And some of the products nanotechnology is making possible are really cool.

Take, for example, the diagnostic system engineers at a Massachusetts company are developing. This device, about the size of a laptop, will let doctors run diagnostic screens on blood and urine samples right in their offices. Almost instantly, without sending them out to a lab. Experts suggest it could cut the costs of such tests by a third. Sexy? No. Important? You bet. Or how about the next generation of computer chips? Look to nano to make them real. Or cancer drugs that will target and attack tumors more precisely. Nanotech again.

Nano or not, this is it for today. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web.

http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

Learn more:

http://www.boston.com/news/science/articles/2010/03

/29/nanotechnologys_small_wonders_opening_new_frontiers/?page=full

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanotechnology

http://www.nano.gov/

http://www.scientificamerican.com/topic.cfm?id=nanotechnology

JanneM/Flickr.com

JanneM/Flickr.com

Body heat and utility bills

May 19th, 2010 by Gene

Nobody likes crowds, it seems. Except for engineers. They’re making all those people add up to a good thing. Body heat and utility bills. Today, on Engineering Works!

We don’t ride the train to work, but people who do say the crowds in big train stations can really heat things up. For most of us, that’s just uncomfortable. But engineers in Sweden have come up with a way to use that heat. About 250,000 people crowd through Stockholm’s main train station every day. Swedish engineers have worked out a way to use that body heat for wintertime heating.

They use the station’s ventilation system to move the heated air to big underground tanks of water. Heat the water and you’ve got a big heat source.

It’s not a new idea. The Mall of America in Minneapolis recycles the heat produced by shoppers to help keep the 220-acre building warm during Minnesota winters. The engineers in Sweden have taken the idea one better. They’re using the hot air from the station to heat a new office building a couple of hundred yards away. The commuter-heated water cuts heating bills for the office building by about 20 percent.

It’s a nifty idea, but it isn’t magic. You can’t pump the water too far before it loses its heat. But in places like Sweden where energy is expensive, it works.

All this talking has warmed us up nicely, but it’s still time to go. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web.

http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

Learn more:

http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1981919,00.html

http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1945379_1944307,00.html

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Mattell

Mattell

Barbie the computer engineer

May 12th, 2010 by Gene
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There’s a new recruit for the engineering profession. It’s Barbie the computer engineer. Today, on Engineering Works!

Most people don’t see much connection between dolls and engineers. It’s not obvious. But there is one. It’s Barbie.

After a 125 incarnations as everything from nurse to TV news anchor, in Barbie’s 126th career, she’s an engineer. A computer engineer. She’s properly geeky with a pink laptop, smart phone, pink-framed glasses, Bluetooth earpiece. She’s cool. And if you look closely, you’ll see that the binary code on her laptop screen spells, BARBIE. Barbie. Slick. The doll’s packaging and store displays are designed to emphasize the idea, too.

It’s easy to chuckle a little at Barbie as computer engineer, but Mattel is serious. The idea was chosen by a vote of Barbie fans, and the voting went viral among women engineers. Mattel did its homework on this one, too. They worked with the National Academy of Engineering and the Society of Women Engineers to hone Barbie’s image. The company wants to make money on it, of course. But it also set out to present engineering to young girls as a cool and creative career. One they should consider.

That’s a good message and one young girls need to hear. Women in the United States receive only about 11 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer science and 15 percent in computer engineering. We need to fix that.

So, go get ‘em, computer engineer Barbie. See everybody next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web.

http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

For more:

http://www.neatorama.com/2010/02/12/barbie-the-computer-engineer/

http://campustechnology.com/Articles/2007/11/Women-Lose-Ground-in-IT-Computer-Science.aspx?Page=2

http://www.ncwit.org/


purplemattfish/Flickr.com

purplemattfish/Flickr.com

Driving by wire

May 5th, 2010 by Gene
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If you haven’t been following Toyota’s troubles with the computers that help make its cars go, here’s a little background. Computers on wheels. Today, on Engineering Works!

Computers and cars have been rolling along together for quite a while now. Henry Ford wouldn’t know what to think.

The first computer control unit in a production automobile seems to be one in a 1977 Oldsmobile Toronado that controlled spark plug timing in the engine. In 1978, the Cadillac Seville had a trip computer controlled by a computer chip. By 1980, electronic control units operated exhaust emission control system in several cars.

These days, microprocessor-controlled devices, or electronic control units, keep track of and operate all sorts of things. Acceleration and braking, the features that bedevil Toyota. Brakes, cruise control, engine valve timing, anti-skip brakes, traction control, door locks.

It’s not just high-end vehicles. Even basic econoboxes usually have at least 30 of them. Some luxury cars have as many as 100. And these are not simple little chips. Many of the cars and trucks we drive have at least 100-million lines of computer code on board. That’s more than many jet fighter planes.

Using computers to help operate the vehicle makes sense. They can process information from sensors in vehicle operating systems almost instantaneously and act on it much faster than human drivers can. But when something goes wrong, sometimes it’s really wrong.

Our computer is processing nicely, and it’s taking us home now. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web.

http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

For more:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/05/technology/05electronics.html

http://auto.howstuffworks.com/under-the-hood/trends-innovations/car-computer.htm

http://www.gizmag.com/go/4176/