Archive for April, 2011

Ishikawa Ken/Flickr.com

Ishikawa Ken/Flickr.com

It’s super aluminum

April 27th, 2011 by Gene
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We’re going to take a look at new stuff people are doing with the most common metal there is. Aluminum. Today, on Engineering Works!

Aluminum has always been neat stuff. It’s light and fairly strong, and we use it for all kinds of things. Airplanes and engine blocks. Cooking utensils and baseball bats. Aluminum foil. Beer cans.

Aluminum is the most abundant metal on earth and the third most-abundant element, behind oxygen and silicon. It weighs about a third as much as steel, but it’s only a third as strong. First produced almost 200 years ago. The cap that covered the pyramid-shaped tip of the Washington Monument when it was completed in 1884 was made of aluminum. At that time, aluminum was worth about as much as silver.

Add a little zinc and magnesium, put about 850,000 pounds per square inch pressure on it and twist, and it gets as strong as the strongest steel. Three times as strong as conventional aluminum.

This pressure makes grains of aluminum smaller and forces the zinc and aluminum atoms to cluster together. Researchers aren’t sure why this makes aluminum stronger, but it does. And unlike a lot of nifty discoveries, engineers say scaling this one up to produce useful amounts of the super aluminum should be pretty easy.

We’re done for this time, so we’re going to toss our aluminum can in the recycle bin 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: Aluminum in cool stuff and it’s good to know it’s good for more than aluminum foil and beer cans. What’s next for aluminum?

For more:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/26/business/energy-environment/26smart.html

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

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

University of Maryland Libraries

University of Maryland Libraries

The biggest glass house

April 20th, 2011 by Gene
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People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, they say. Let’s look at the biggest glass house of them all. Today, on Engineering Works!

In 1850, the British government had an unusual problem. They wanted to hold an international exposition, but they didn’t have a building big enough to house it. Designing that building was harder than anybody expected. A royal commission dithered about the design for weeks, until Joseph Paxton, not even an engineer, had what turned out to be a brilliant idea. Paxton was head gardener for the Duke of Devonshire. And he thought of building a giant greenhouse. It worked.

The building that became known as the Crystal Palace was unlike anything built before. Builders used no bricks, no mortar. No foundation. Just an assembly of iron trusses and almost 300,000 panes of glass. That’s a third of the glass Britain produced in a year. It covered 19 acres, more than eight-hundred-thousand square feet.

When the Crystal Palace was done, it was exactly 1,851 feet long, a tribute to the year of the Great Exposition of the Works of Industry of All Nations. One of the amazing things about this amazing project is that – start to finish – it took just 15 months to build it.

And for all that the Crystal Palace was an untried design by a non-engineer, it survived a move across London and stood until 1938.

Our palace isn’t crystal, but it’s still time to head 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: Some of the most memorable feats of engineering seem to happen almost by accident. The Crystal Palace certainly did. Can you think of other “accidental” engineering projects?

For more:

Bill Bryson, At Home (Doubleday, 2010)

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

http://www.victorianweb.org/history/1851/index.html

Sam Churchill

Sam Churchill

The end of cell phone towers?

April 13th, 2011 by Gene
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It’s hard to step outside without seeing a cell tower. Think how nice it would be if they went away. Maybe they will. We’ll see, today on Engineering Works!

The idea for cell phones has been around in the 1940s, and the first cell phone network began operating in the 1980s. Cell phones are so useful, it’s hard to imagine life without them.

Except for the towers that keep you in touch with the cellular network. Nobody likes them. And now engineers at the Alcatel-Lucent technology company thinks they have a way to get rid of them. They want to replace the tall towers with arrays of little box-shaped antennas about the size of Rubik’s cubes. They think the little antennas, called – lightRadio cubes – will do a lot for the cell phone system.

The first thing you’ll probably notice is no more cell towers. Or at least no new ones. The engineers see these cubes – one at a time or in clusters – replacing the ugly towers. They could be mounted almost anywhere, even indoors. All they’ll need to work is electric power and a connection to the network.

The cubes have another feature people will like. They’ll mean smaller cells, the area served by individual cell towers. Smaller cells will mean that fewer cell phone calls are trying to get into each antenna. Better service and clearer calls.

Our cell phone is ringing and we better answer it. 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: These lightRadio cubes sound like a nifty idea. It’s nice when new technology helps things work better and cleans up the view outdoors, too.

For more:

http://www2.alcatel-lucent.com/blogs/corporate/2011/02/no-mobile-gridlock-universal-coverage-lightradio-saves-the-mobile-industry-billions/

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

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_tec_wireless_everywhere

NREL/DOE

NREL/DOE

Zero energy

April 6th, 2011 by Gene
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Imagine that you could live your life without drawing energy from the grid. For some folks in Colorado, it’s every workday. We’ll check it out. Today on Engineering Works!

This zero-energy environment comes to us courtesy of the federal National Renewable Energy Laboratory near Golden, Colorado. The laboratory’s new support facility there uses the highest of high-tech to essentially produce as much energy as it uses. Here’s how it works.

At the heart of it all is a computer that monitors the environment, both inside the building and outside. It keeps track of things like how much sun is hitting the photovoltaic cell array on the roof and when to rotate reflective window louvers to reflect light into offices inside.

Other design features, like lower-than-usual cubical walls, allow air to circulate so efficiently that there’s no heating and air conditioning system. Only small speakers here and there that sound like conventional air conditioning. One of the most promising parts of the building is the price tag. At $64 million, it cost about $77 a squarefoot less to build than conventional approaches to energy-efficient commercial buildings. Another good thing is that all the technology that makes it work is off-the-shelf stuff. Nothing exotic.

Commercial buildings, like the NREL facility, use almost 20-percent of the energy we use these days, so demonstrating how to reduce that amount could pay big dividends.

We wish our office was as neat as this. 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: Buildings like this look like the future of technology-assisted energy conservation. Why aren’t they more common?

For more:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/15/science/15building.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero-energy_building