Archive for May, 2012

Sandia National Laboratories

Sandia National Laboratories

Walking by wire

May 30th, 2012 by Gene
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Engineers are taking small but important steps toward artificial limbs amputees can control just as they controlled their original arm, leg or hand. Walking by wire. Today, on Engineering Works!

Artificial limbs, prostheses, have come a long way since Captain Ahab stumped around on his carved wooden leg. But anyone who walks on a prosthesis will tell you that they’ve still got a long way to go. Materials engineers and medical researchers are on the way.

It’s a significant problem. More than two million people in the United States alone have lost one or more limbs. This includes more than 1,400 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Engineers are working with medical researchers on a polymer interface about the size of a dime that’s intended to help the wiring in powered prostheses mesh with the nerve fibers that originally passed signals back and forth between the central nervous system and your fingers or feet. It’s tricky. The interface has to be tolerated by the body. And it can’t interfere with the functioning of the delicate nerve fibers.

The interface they’re working with now made of the same organic polymer that contact lenses are made of. The polymer wafer is etched with holes just big enough to thread a human hair through them. The aim is for nerve fibers to grow through the holes and actually become part of the interface.

We’re still done for this time. 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 work sounds almost like science fiction. Remember Luke Skywalker’s mechanical hand after his fight with Darth Vader? It sounds like these guys are aiming for something just like that.

For more:

http://www.gizmag.com/nerve-prostheses-interface-scaffolds/21646/

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/02/nerve-prosthetics/

https://share.sandia.gov/news/resources/news_releases/prosthetics/

image in raw images: credit Sandia National Laboratory

Michael Dorausch

Michael Dorausch

Flexing stiff joints

May 23rd, 2012 by Gene
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If you have arthritis, or know someone who does, this one’s for you. Engineering to restore your flexibility. Today, on Engineering Works!

Arthritic joints are stiff and painful because cartilage, natural padding between the bones, breaks down. The bones rub together and it hurts. Now, the best way to deal with the pain and lack of mobility is to replace the bone joint with a new joint, usually made of metal and composites.

Materials engineers in Finland have a different idea. Instead of replacing the bone, they’ve come up with a replacement for the cartilage. It’s a polymer implant that acts just like the original cartilage to cushion and lubricate the joint. But it doesn’t stop there. Biologically active substances in the polymer coax your body to produce fiber-like tissue that, over time, replaces the implant. Eventually, the new tissue takes over completely for the implant and all that’s left is what the company that makes them calls a — neojoint.

At this point, the researchers are working on implants that will fit into the small joints of fingers and toes. Nobody’s saying yet if they’re working on larger versions of the implant for knees or other large joints. It’s currently being used by doctors in Europe, but hasn’t been approved yet for use in the United States.

Our joints are doing just fine, thank you, but we’re still done for 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

Start the discussion: Research like this is fascinating, and it takes engineers into areas most people don’t connect with engineering. They’re involved in other strange stuff – tell us about one you know of.

For more:

http://www.gizmag.com/regjoint-biodegradable-joint-implant/21655/?utm_source=Gizmag+Subscribers&utm_campaign=ee2243b-UA-2235360-4&utm_medium=email

http://www.tut.fi/en/current/researchers-develop-world-s-first-biodegradable-joint-implant-p025876c2

Tohoku University

Tohoku University

Taking the boom out of supersonic

May 20th, 2012 by Gene
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A flashback to the early years of aviation may help engineers deal with  one of the peskiest side effects of modern flight. Sonic booms. Today, on Engineering Works!

Sonic booms happen because of turbulence that occurs around an airplane when it approaches the speed of sound. About 770 miles per hour. In the early years of flying, airplanes didn’t fly fast enough to touch off sonic booms, so nobody cared.

They’ve been a problem since the early 1950s, when airplanes regularly started flying supersonic – faster than the speed of sound. Sonic booms can be a real nuisance for people on the ground under the path of a supersonic airplane. So much of one that the supersonic Concorde airliner was only allowed to fly faster than sound over the ocean.

Engineers think they may have figured out how to silence sonic booms by reaching back to a design from the early days. A supersonic biplane, an airplane with two sets of wings, one above the other. The two wings work together to channel the turbulence we hear as sonic booms between the wings so that the boom is canceled out. It still needs some work. So far, the engineers are only working with computer models, and the models suggest that although the biplane design should work well flying faster than sound, it may not fly at all at slower speeds. They’re working on it.

And so are we. But we’re done 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

Start the discussion: if this design can be made to work, it could bring back the concept of supersonic airline travel. Good idea? Tell us what you think.

For more:

http://www.gizmag.com/boomless-biplane/21871/

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

image in raw images: courtesy of Tohoku University

billaday/Flickr.com

billaday/Flickr.com

Gas mileage, then and now

May 9th, 2012 by Gene

[display podcast]

How far can you get on a gallon of gas these days? We’ll figure it out. Gas mileage. Today, on Engineering Works!

We hear so much about how fuel-efficient this new car or that one is that it’s almost boring. Our vehicles are getting better and better at wringing the most mileage possible out of every gallon of gas.

But the truth is that the mileage cars got in the beginning, more than 100 years ago, wasn’t that bad. It’s what happened between then and now that’s the problem.

Henry Ford’s first car, the Model T, got 21-miles-per-gallon. By the mid-1930s, that had dropped to about 14 miles per gallon. Why? Bigger engines powering bigger cars. By 1973, when the Organization of Oil Producing Countries, or OPEC, stopped exporting oil to the United States following the Yom Kippur War with Israel, average gas mileage was around 12 miles per gallon.

By 1975, the Honda Civic was getting more than 40-miles per gallon, but – average – gas mileage was still only about 15 miles per gallon. About the same as in 1935.

Mileage has improved since then. A lot. Today, gas-electric hybrids like the Toyota Prius get more than 40 miles per gallon and all electric cars are getting the equivalent of more than 110-miles-per-gallon. The worst gas mileage? It’s probably the Bugatti Veyron. The Veyron gets about 10 miles per gallon. But you can go 268 miles an hour.

We’re done for this time. Our truck only gets about 20 miles per gallon, but it gets us home.

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: Gas mileage is one of those things, we guess. More is better.

For more:

http://www.csmonitor.com/Innovation/2012/0307/From-Model-T-to-Prius-13-big-moments-in-fuel-economy-history

http://www.pewenvironment.org/uploadedFiles/PEG/Publications/Fact_Sheet/History%20of%20Fuel%20Economy%20Clean%20Energy%20Factsheet.pdf

http://www.fueleconomy.gov

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NASA

NASA

Going up

May 2nd, 2012 by Gene
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Science fiction will become science fact if engineers in Japan have their way. A space elevator. Today, on Engineering Works!

If you read science fiction, you know that space elevators have been around for a long time. A space elevator is essentially an elevator that travels up and down a cable anchored on Earth and extending to a counterweight out in space. The Earth’s rotation keeps it out there. Think of a lead fishing sinker on the end of a piece of fishline. Whirl it in a circle and the weight of the sinker keeps the line taut.

A space elevator would work the same way, but scaled up to a size that could carry passengers and cargo up and down. The Japanese engineers plan to build an elevator that would run almost 60,000 miles out into space. That’s almost a third of the way to the moon.

There’s lots of technical problems to be solved before the space elevator starts carrying people into space. The biggest problem is probably the cable – designing one that’s strong enough to hold the counterweight. The Japanese engineers plan to use carbon nanotubes. Nanotubes are tiny structures that have lots of interesting characteristics. The engineers are most interested in the fact that carbon nanotubes are very strong for their weight and bulk.

Don’t expect to ride the space elevator anytime soon. Plans are for it to start carrying passengers and cargo about 2050.

Going up! 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 people think space elevators are just foolishness: they’ll never work, they say. New technology is being developed all the time, and the new developments could overcome the obstacles. We hope it does work.

For more:

htttp://www.isec.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=14&Itemid=34

http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/305343/20120227/space-elevator-plans-japan.htm

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

http://www.gizmag.com/obayashi-space-elevator/21587/?utm_source=Gizmag+Subscribers&utm_campaign=fcc56a1570-UA-2235360-4&utm_medium=email