Archive for June, 2011

Harvard University

Harvard University

Getting the goods on greenhouse gases

June 29th, 2011 by Gene

[show_podcast]

It seems that every time somebody says, greenhouse gases, or climate change, the argument starts again. Here’s something that may help. Today, on Engineering Works!

Depending on your politics, greenhouse gases could be fighting words. But some engineers are gearing up for a five-year effort to find out more about just how much people have to do with the problem.

They’ve come up with what they think will be a practical way to measure how much carbon dioxide, or CO2, people are actually putting into the air. CO2 is a major contributor to climate change.

Most measurements of CO2 in the air are estimates, based on how much fossil fuel is burned, how many trees are cut down, how much landfills grow. Stuff like that.

The new measuring effort will use a network of a-hundred sensors, called cavity ring-down spectroscopes to measure how much CO2 is actually in the air. The sensors are pretty cool, and pretty simple for what they measure. They bounce lasers off mirrors in a cavity that collects air from the atmosphere. Then they compare the light’s speed and how it moves with lasers bouncing around in empty cavities. The difference tells them about gases in the test cavity.

Fifty of the sensors will be located in the United States and 50 in other places around the world.

We’ve put our share of gas into the air for today, so we’re going 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: One of the best ways to settle arguments is to get real information, not just estimates. Maybe this will help settle the greenhouse gas argument. What do you think?

For more:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/12/AR2011011200050.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cavity_ring-down_spectroscopy

http://www.arp.harvard.edu/atmobs/sciobj/instrument/cr.html

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www.bulawayo24.com

www.bulawayo24.com

Soccer under a cloud

June 22nd, 2011 by Gene
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We don’t usually hear soccer and engineering in the same sentence. This time it fits. We’ll show you how,  today on Engineering Works!

The connection is a little easier to make when you mention where the 2022 world championship competition in soccer, the World Cup, will be held. The final series of games will be played in Qatar, a small country on the Persian Gulf, east of Saudi Arabia.

And they’ll be played in the summer, when daytime temperatures in Qatar usually reach at least a-hundred-and-five degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures as hot as 122 F.  have been recorded. Not the best conditions to play – or watch – soccer.

World Cup organizers in Qatar say they’re going to use unusual technology to keep temperatures in the soccer stadiums bearable. They plan to deploy a sort of steerable cloud over the stadiums while games are going on. These won’t be real water vapor clouds. They’ll be a sort of combination of aircraft and helium balloon that will float between the stadiums and the sun while games are being played.

Big balloon-like envelopes filled with helium will provide shade for the stadium. Remote-controlled lightweight aircraft made of carbon fiber and driven by solar-powered electric motors will keep the clouds where they need to be.

Nobody has built or flown one of the powered clouds yet, but engineers in Qatar are confident the idea will work.

The clouds we see outside are the normal kind, and we’re done. 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: We’re not too sure about this one, but if it works, it would be pretty cool, literally. What do you think?

For more:

http://www.gizmag.com/artificial-clouds-for-qatar-2022-world-cup/18241/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1369575/World-Cup-2022-Qatars-man-cloud-operated-remote-control.html

naturenet.net

naturenet.net

Engineering’s smelly side

June 15th, 2011 by Gene
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engineering’s smelly side/voice

Engineers usually deal with cool stuff. But sometimes they do good things with stuff we’d rather not think about. We’ll take a look. Today, on Engineering Works!

Sewerage is something we like to pretend doesn’t exist. It smells bad and if it gets into water or food, it can be dangerous. But it’s a big part of life. New York City, for example, churns out more than a billion with a B gallons of wastewater. Every day. It costs a lot to treat it, and they’ve still got to find someplace to put the sludge that’s left.

Engineers have some nifty ideas on what to do about the problem. Let’s start with the sludge that’s the main product of treating wastewater. That sludge can give methane gas, which can be burned to heat houses and other buildings. The algae that grows on the surface of sewerage lagoons and treatment tanks can be tapped for, butanol. Butanol can fuel your car, just like gasoline.

Methane already covers about half the energy needed to run New York’s treatment plants, but engineers there want to take care of the other half, too. Eventually, they think it could be used to produce electricity that could be sold to the national electric grid.

The engineers also are looking into putting two-hundred-thousand square-feet of solar panels on the roof at one treatment plant. And a wind turbine at another.

Our sludge is all treated, so we’re going 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: Energy can come from some unexpected places, but we need to start thinking about actually using it. What are some of the other odd places we might find energy? Let us know.

For more:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/09/science/09sewage.html?_r=1

http://news.cnet.com/Turning-sewage-sludge-into-gasoline/2100-11389_3-6089033.html

http://www.enn.com/press_releases/2505

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:William_Kamkwambas_old_windmill.jpg

The low-tech end of wind engineering

June 8th, 2011 by Gene
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Note for readers who also listen to Engineering Works! on KAMU-FM: due to a scheduling glitch, the segment that appears here is out of sync with the segment broadcast 8 June. We should be back in step 15 June. Thanks for your understanding.

Important engineering doesn’t have to be slick and high-tech. Let’s look at some that’s important and low-tech. Windmills in Africa. Today, on Engineering Works!

In the United States, we take water pretty much for granted. We have lots. And we use lots, hundreds of gallons a day, each. Things are different in many parts of Africa. Your morning shower uses more water than people in many countries use all day. In Malawi, for instance, people get by on a little more than a-thousand-gallons. A year. A lot of us splash through that much in a couple of weeks.

One young self-trained engineer in Malawi has put himself to work inventing low-tech ways to get water out of the ground to where people can get to it. His first design was a windmill built from bicycle parts and junk he scavenged from a local junk yard. The first one pumps water in his home village and he’s planning another one for Malawi’s capital Lilongwe. They’re definitely not high-tech. In fact, they look kind of, well, junky. But they get water up out of the ground to where people can use it, and that’s worth a lot.

And just in case you don’t want a windmill, he’s also designing and building solar-powered water pumps. Like the windmills, the solar-powered pumps are intended to provide access to water for people in rural parts of the world.

We’re done for now, and it’s time to get a drink. 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: Water isn’t a big deal in most parts of the United States, the way it is in some other places. But it’s likely to be in the coming decades. Something to keep in mind.

For more:

William Kamkwamba, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope; Harper Perennial, 2010

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

acsm.suddenlaunch3.com

acsm.suddenlaunch3.com

The technology we share with terrorists

June 1st, 2011 by Gene
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Here’s a strange thought to start your day: You probably have something in common with a terrorist. We’ll think about that, today on Engineering Works!

We usually don’t think of terrorists as firing up the grill for a backyard barbecue. That’s something folks like us do. But the chances are pretty good that when you hit the switch to light your gas-fired grill, you’re using technology terrorists use for what they do.

Sounds scary, huh? It’s not, really. Here’s what’s going on. When you push that button to ignite the gas to grill your steak, the pressure from your finger bends a small crystal down in the switch. Just a little. Engineers call it a piezoelectric crystal. That bending causes stresses in the crystal and out comes an electric current. Enough to make a spark to touch off the gas.

One of terrorists’ favorite weapons is a rocket launcher called an RPG. If you were an explosives expert, you could take apart the warhead of an RPG rocket. Don’t try this at home, kids. Inside, there’s a thing called a detonator that makes the explosive explode when the rocket hits something.

Inside the detonator is a piezoelectric crystal, a lot like the one in your gas grill. When the rocket hits something, the force bends that crystal, and the electricity it makes touches off the warhead.

Our crystal has taken about all the pressure we can stand, so we’re out of here. We’ll 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: Useful technology has a habit of showing up all over the place. Where else do we use piezoelectric crystals? Let us know what you come up with.

For more:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocket-propelled_grenade

http://www.militaryfactory.com/smallarms/detail.asp?smallarms_id=10

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