Archive for November, 2011

High-tech straw cleans dirty drinking water

November 30th, 2011 by Gene
Play

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

Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

Far into the desert sky

November 23rd, 2011 by Gene
Play

Buildings keep getting taller and taller. We’ll see how tall, today on Engineering Works!

There was a time when the Empire State Building in New York City was the tallest building in the world. That time is long gone, and the Empire State Building is a long way from the top from the current list of tallest buildings.

In the decades since 1931, when it was opened, the building has slid all the way to number 12. At only 1250 feet tall, it’s well behind the tallest building in the United States, the Willis Tower in Chicago. And the Willis Tower, we used to know it as the Sears Tower, is only number seven.

A new tallest building is getting ready to take over the top spot, pushing the Burj Khalifa in Dubai back to second. When it’s completed, the new number one will be the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. And it’s not even a near thing. When construction wraps up, the top of the Kingdom Tower will stand almost three-thousand-300-feet tall. That’s more than six-tenths of a mile, and almost 570 feet taller than the Burj Khalifa.

The tower’s other numbers are pretty impressive, too. It will include 57 million square feet of space, and people in it will use 59 elevators to get from floor to floor. It will cost $1.2 billion with a B to build.

Our head is spinning from these big numbers, 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: Speculative fiction often includes descriptions of really tall buildings, but these buildings are happening now. It’s pretty cool. What do you think?

For more:

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

http://www.gizmag.com/kingdom-tower-to-be-worlds-tallest-building/19424/?utm_source=Gizmag+Subscribers&utm_campaign=dfb2d19011-UA-2235360-4&utm_medium=email

http://smithgill.com/media/pdfs/Kingdom_for_web4.pdf

Dealing with the drought — or not

November 16th, 2011 by Gene
Play

Some problems engineers may not be able to solve. Dealing with the drought. Today, on Engineering Works!

If you’re anywhere near the United States, you know the weather’s been goofy. Storms and floods in the Northeast. Heat and drought in Texas. Since we live in Texas, we’re interested in the drought and ideas people have come up with to deal with it.

One of the most enduring drought solutions is to bring water from somewhere it’s wet to the dry places. It’s an idea that’s been around for awhile, and not just in Texas. Visionaries in Nevada have dreamed about a pipeline network that would stage water from the Mississippi River to Las Vegas. Engineers in France have calculated simulations of towing icebergs to dry areas of Africa.

Moving water seems reasonable. There’s enough water. 2011’s tropical storm Lee carried enough excess rain on the Gulf Coast, Mid-Atlantic and northeast to spread almost 10-inches of rain across every county in Texas if we could get it there. One problem: none of them will work.

Moving enough water to make a difference is complicated and expensive. Building the structures and equipment to move it is incredibly expensive and takes a long time. Long enough that by the time you’re done, you may not need the extra water. We’d do better to concentrate on conserving the water we have and developing new sources.

Talking about water is thirsty work and it’s time for 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: Engineers may not be able to move enough water from wet places to dry places, but they are working on innovative ways to conserve water and get more from unconventional sources. Tell us what new stuff you know about.

For more:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/industries/could-water-be-moved-from-drenched-east-to-drought-stricken-texas-fantastical-ideas-abound/2011/09/09/gIQAAPAaFK_story.html

http://www.pacinst.org/about_us/staff_board/gleick/

http://rglennon.com/books/unquenchable/

http://www.snwa.com/

http://www.waterbag.com/

Wikipedia.org

Stringing you along

November 9th, 2011 by Gene
Play

Stringing along your yard work. Maybe it’s stringing you around. We’ll see what’s going on, today on Engineering Works!

Just about everybody recognizes the sound of a weed eater. If you mow your lawn, you probably own one of the little electric- or gas-powered gadgets.

Weed eaters have been around for almost 40 years. They give us an easy way to keep our lawns neat, without crawling along with garden shears. How they came to be is an odd bit of bottom-up technology development.

Sometime in the early 1970s, a man in Houston, Texas, hired a guy to keep his big lawn neat. One day while clipping around some shrubs, the gardener stirred up a copperhead, and the snake bit him. The man who’d hired him started looking for a way to trim lawn edges without having to move your hands along the ground.

He poked through his garage and ended up with an empty coffee can, an electric lawn edger – the tool you use to make a neat edge along the sidewalk – and some string — monofilament fishing line. He bolted the can to the edger, punched a hole in the can, and threaded the fishing line through it. Voila! The first weed eater.

It was ugly and noisy and didn’t work too well. But it worked well enough that he hired an engineer to smooth out the design, and he started selling them. The rest is history.

Well, our lawn’s a-waiting. 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: Lots of the technology we use every day has interesting stories behind it; the weed eater is only one example. If you know of some interesting technology stories, let us know.

For more:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303763404576416121846117348.html

http://news.consumerreports.org/home/2011/06/remembering-george-ballas-inventor-of-the-weed-eater.html

collectSPACE.com

collectSPACE.com

Strange cargoes

November 2nd, 2011 by Gene
Play

Flights of the space shuttle carried valuable scientific stuff into orbit, right? Not all the time. We’ll check out what else flew, today on Engineering Works!

Almost all the cargo that went into orbit on shuttle missions was indeed experiments that depended on microgravity or supplies for the International Space Station. But now and then some fun stuff sneaked in.

How about a foot-tall Buzz Lightyear, from the “Toy Story” movie? Yep, Buzz is a real astronaut now. He spent 468 days at the International Space Station before returning to earth in 2009. By the way, Buzz was named for a real astronaut, Buzz Aldrin.

Then there was the capsule that held the cremated ashes of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. It orbited in 1992. And Luke Skywalker’s light saber, the original used by actor Mark Hamill in the first Star Wars movies.

Getting a little more down to earth, the New York Mets’ home plate from Shea Stadium in New York City orbited in 2009. It’s now on display at the team’s new ballpark, Citi Field. A pinch of dirt from the pitcher’s mound in Yankee Stadium flew on the shuttle Endeavour in 2008.

Then there’ve been NASCAR starter flags, all kinds of athletic jerseys, from a yellow jersey cyclist Lance Armstrong wore during the Tour de France to the shirt Houston Astros second baseman Craig Biggio wore in the last game he played.

We’re ready to orbit for 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 this is pretty silly, but we still think it’s neat. What do you think about it?

For more:

http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2011/0708/The-9-weirdest-things-ever-flown-on-the-Space-Shuttle/Cans-of-Coca-Cola-Pepsi

http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2011/07/02/8-surprising-space-shuttle-facts/