Archive for 2011

Radiological Society of North America

Radiological Society of North America

Technology challenges the master violinmaker

December 28th, 2011 by Gene
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Most people consider Italian violinmaker Antonio Stradivari the greatest violinmaker of all time. He’s getting some competition from technology. Today, on Engineering Works!.

A team of modern violinmakers and a doctor is using technology the 18th-century luthier never dreamed of to measure and duplicate – almost exactly – violins built by the master.

The doctor, a radiologist, or specialist in medical imaging, also is an amateur violinist. He came up the idea of using computed tomography, or CT, imaging to get exact three-D images of one of the 500 or so Stradivari violins that have survived to today. The CT scan produced more than 1,000 images of the 300-year-old violin.

Then they converted the CT images to computer files that programmed a computer numerically controlled, or CNC, router. The

CNC router is a machine tool that can shape new violin parts to almost exactly the dimensions of the originals. The scans also show the density of the wood in individual parts. This allows modern violin makers to use different woods to match the density of the original. The newly made parts seem to match the originals.

One of the best things about this approach is that the original instruments aren’t disassembled or damaged. The researchers say the imaging is so detailed that it could also be used to identify individual instruments and track repairs to them over the years since Stradivari made them.

We’re going to quit while our strings are still in tune. 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

Start the discussion: Some purists worry about whether doing things like imaging original Stradivari instruments is misusing them in some way. We think it’s cool. What do you think?

For more:

http://www.gizmag.com/computed-tomography-recreate-stradivarius-violin/20718/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/01/stradivarius-violin-recreated_n_1123984.html

http://www.engadget.com/2011/11/30/stradivarius-violin-recreated-from-cat-scan-sounds-amazingly-s/

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

image in raw images: credit Mitch Huang

Peter Shanks

Peter Shanks

Goodbye, silicon?

December 21st, 2011 by Gene
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For decades, silicon has been king of the computer. What if something better came along to push it off its throne? We’ll see what’s happening. Today, on Engineering Works!

The semiconducting mineral silicon has been at the center of computing for decades. It’s the basic material for transistors and microchips, the devices that make computers work. But now, materials researchers in Switzerland say a new material may do everything silicon does, and do it better.

It’s a mineral called molybdenite, one form of the metal molybdenum. We usually use molybdenite as a lubricant, much like graphite, and sometimes as an ingredient in steel alloys. Molybdenite also is a semiconductor much like silicon, but with some important differences.

It’s more energy efficient than silicon. This means devices built with molybdenite chips will need less power to operate than those with conventional silicon chips. And molybdenite can be formed into very thin sheets, about a third as thick as the thinnest silicon sheets. This means smaller transistors and chips.

As an added bonus, the thinner molybdenite chips are flexible. This leads to some interesting ideas, like computers built in to your clothes or other things made of fabric.

We know that molybdenite chips are more than just a good idea. They work. The Swiss researchers have tested simple microchips made from the new semiconductor, and they function just fine.

Our silicon chipped-computer seems to be working just fine, but we’re still done 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

Start the discussion: This new material could have a big impact on the way computers are built. Is this a real new development or a differentiation without a real difference? Let us know what you think.

For more:

http://www.gizmag.com/molybdenite-microchip-prototype-testing-transistors/20754/

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111205082255.htm

http://actu.epfl.ch/news/first-molybdenite-microchip/

Wikipedia.org

Wikipedia.org

Silencing the biggest bang

December 14th, 2011 by Gene
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Engineers usually spend their time designing and building things. But sometimes they take them apart. Silencing the biggest bang. Today, on Engineering Works!

If you grew up during the 1950s, as we did, the words atomic bomb set off a special little shiver. The 1950s were the height of the cold war. Fallout shelters and air raid drills and the DEW line. A big piece of that time is going away. Nuclear engineers at a special facility in the Texas Panhandle are dismantling the last example of the biggest atomic bombs ever built.

The bomb was called the B-53. It was bigger than an SUV and weighed more than 10,000 pounds. Five parachutes carried it to the ground, where it could produce an explosion equivalent to more than nine million tons of TNT. That’s 600 times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.

Taking the bomb apart safely was a bit of a trick. It was designed and built using technology that’s long obsolete, and the engineers who designed and built it are dead or long retired. That meant the engineers had to start over to understand how it fit together and how to take it apart safely.

Defense experts say we won’t miss the big bomb. Current defense plans are based on smaller bombs, and plans call for us to reduce the number of those we have.

We’re not dismantling any bombs today, and we’re just as glad we’re not. 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

Start the discussion: Nuclear weapons are always a controversial topic. Should we have them? Can we get along without them? We’ve heard good arguments on both sides. What’s yours?

For more:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-15453872

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-10-24/u-s-dismantles-last-10-000-pound-cold-war-era-nuclear-bomb.html

http://articles.sfgate.com/2011-10-26/news/30326880_1_bombs-hans-kristensen-nuclear-material

Oil? We don’t need no stinkin’ oil

December 7th, 2011 by Gene
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While everybody worries about fossil fuels and climate change, one answer to our energy needs could be under our feet. Find out more, today on Engineering Works!

New technology and new research could be combining to make energy from the earth’s own heat – geothermal energy – available to more people than we used to think possible. People have been using geothermal energy for a long time. Archaeologists say that Paleolithic people soaked in hot springs. The Romans used geothermal energy to heat bathwater and keep their homes warm.

We’re using geothermal energy to generate electricity right now in the United States, about 2,700  megawatts worth. Enough to power 3-1/2 million homes — 60 million barrels of oil worth. Big numbers, but only a small fraction of the energy we need. About three percent.

Most geothermal energy, in the United States and around the world, is produced near areas where there are volcanoes. New research, however, suggests that useful amounts of geothermal energy can be found in lots of other places, too.  That means in the United States alone, geothermal energy could produce almost three million megawatts of power. Right now, all the geothermal energy produced everywhere adds up to only about 9,000 megawatts. This is possible because new technology based on that used to make oil wells more productive should let us get usable heat from the earth far away from volcano zones.

This is hot work, but it’s time for us to cool off and go home. 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

Start the discussion: This sounds like really promising stuff. What will it take to get it out of the lab and out on the ground producing electricity?d

For more:

http://www.smu.edu/News/2011/geothermal-24oct2011.aspx

http://www.google.org/egs/

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

See more about geothermal energy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=O6r_3AI49Y#!

High-tech straw cleans dirty drinking water

November 30th, 2011 by Gene
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In the world we live in, we don’t think too much about the water we drink. Some engineers do. We’ll see why, today on Engineering Works!

Around the world, almost 900 million people, that’s three times the population of the United States, drink dirty water every day. It’s no surprise that diarrheal diseases, mostly caused by drinking contaminated water, is a common ailment. About 1-1/2 million children die each year of diseases brought on by drinking dirty water.

Engineers have come up with a solution. It’s a sort of high-tech drinking straw that filters dirty water as you drink. The water starts out dirty, but by the time it gets to your mouth, it’s clean and safe. The straw is a plastic tube about 10 inches long and 2 inches in diameter. Inside is a series of filters.

First, there’s a mesh screen that catches dirt and sediment. Next comes another screen with openings about a tenth the diameter of a human hair – a micron – across. This catches illness-causing bacteria. After that there’s a section of tiny beads coated with iodine. This kills viruses, bacteria and parasites. Following that is activated charcoal that takes out the taste of the iodine.

Each LifeStraw, the company calls it, costs about $20 and purifies enough water to keep you hydrated for a year. A larger version cleans enough water for a whole family.

This is pretty cool, but we’re still glad our clean water comes out of the tap. 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

Start the discussion: Clean water and getting enough of it in the right places is a problem that never goes away. Point us to other nifty engineering that helps people get the clean water they need. We’ll try to use the info on down the road.

For more:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/27/health/27straw.html?_r=1

http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-tech/remediation/lifestraw1.htm

http://www.vestergaard-frandsen.com/lifestraw/lifestraw