Archive for August, 2012

Wikipedia Commons

Wikipedia Commons

Sniffing out land mines

August 29th, 2012 by Gene
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Most of the dangers of war are plain to see. Engineers have come up with a new way to find dangers you can’t see. Finding land mines. Today, on Engineering Works!

Land mines have been used in warfare for more than 800 years, and they’re deadly — often, long after the war is over. The UN estimates that at least 110 million land mines remain hidden around the world as a result of declared and undeclared wars. Mines kill or injure about 24,000 people every year.

The big problem with land mines is that they’re hard to find. Some are made of plastic or wood so that they’ll be hard to find. Others are shaped like rocks or animal dung.

Now, engineers have come up with a special film that detects vapors given off by the explosive inside mines, even underground. The film uses sensitive nanofibers to detect tiny quantities of vapor from TNT, HMX and RDX, even beyond what we think of a trace amounts. For instance, it sniffs out HMX at a tenth of a part per trillion, with a T. That’s almost not there at all.

The film is fast and accurate, although it’s still not as good as a trained sniffer dog. But the film doesn’t get tired, as dogs do, and it can tell the difference between one device and another, which dogs sometimes can’t do.

There’s no mines on our way home, so we’re going to go there 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:

For more:

http://www.gizmag.com/explosives-detecting-nanofibrous-film/23576/

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/adfm.201200047/abstract

http://www.newint.org/features/1997/09/05/facts/

http://www.unicef.org/sowc96pk/hidekill.htm

intellectualventureslab.com

intellectualventureslab.com

Star wars reborn?

August 22nd, 2012 by Gene
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Sometimes it’s hard to know whether to take an engineering project seriously. This is one of those times. Laser weapons to kill mosquitoes. Today, on Engineering Works!

If you’re a Star Wars fan, or if you lived through the Strategic Defense Initiative anti-missile defense project in the 1980s, you know all about using lasers as weapons. From Han Solo’s laser pistol to the Death Star, laser beams lanced out and zapped whatever was in front of them. Great stuff, in a movie. A similar idea, to use powerful lasers to destroy ballistic missiles, was proposed in the 1980s. It never quite worked, and after a while the money ran out.

Now, engineers are hard at work developing laser weapons to go after somewhat smaller targets. These lasers are aimed at mosquitoes. The engineers are quite serious. Mosquitoes infect more than 700 million people a year with malaria and other diseases. The idea is that small computer-controlled lasers will zap the mosquitoes before they can bite humans.

It works in demonstrations just like in the movies. The main problems involve calibrating the computers that identify targets so the lasers don’t shoot at humans or good bugs. Everyone involved is confident they can make it work.

As for us, we’re going to stick with good old mosquito repellent. 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: It’s easy to poke fun at ideas like this, but if it works, it’s nothing to laugh at. Malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases are serious problems in many areas, and any good idea to cut down on them probably should be looked into.

For more:

http://phys.org/news156423566.html

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123680870885500701.html

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/12/using-lasers-to-zap-mosquitoes/

nzwood.co.nz

nzwood.co.nz

Not your father’s plywood

August 15th, 2012 by Gene
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Here’s a new look at one of the oldest construction materials there is. Wood. Plywood, to be precise. Today, on Engineering Works!

People have been building things with wood longer than any other material except stone. We still do. If you’re sitting at home, the chances are pretty good that you’re surrounded by wood. Most residential buildings, single-family houses and apartment buildings, are built mostly of wood.

Engineers and architects are coming up with new ways to use wood to build structures that are bigger, taller and stronger than before. Consider this: a nine-story apartment building in London is wood from the second floor up. It’s one of the tallest wooden residential structures in the world.

Its upper stories are built from what’s called cross-laminated-timber, or CLT. CLT is like plywood on steroids. Imagine sheets of plywood 30-feet-long and 6-inches-thick. Strong. Just about every part of the building is built from CL T. Even elevator shafts and stairwells. It’s solid stuff. In fact, an 8-foot wall built with CLT has about six times as much wood as one built with conventional two-by-four studs.

Builders use a lot of CLT in Europe, but it hasn’t caught on yet in the United States. So far, only one US company is building CLT buildings.

Building with CLT brings an interesting environmental benefit, too. All that wood locks up a lot of carbon dioxide.

We like our old-fashioned wood house just fine, and we’re headed there 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: Cross-laminated timbers sound to us like a great way to build lots of things. You get a lot of the strength and durability of steel, without the weight and environmental baggage. Has anybody seen any CLT buildings? If you have, let us know.

For more:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/05/science/lofty-ambitions-for-cross-laminated-timber-panels.html?_r=1&ref=science

DARPA

DARPA

Measuring the invisible jolt

August 8th, 2012 by Gene
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The wound known as traumatic brain injury, or TBI, has become the signature injury of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Engineers are helping treat the wounded. Today, on Engineering Works!

Traumatic brain injury can happen when your brain gets a sudden hard jolt, like the one you’d get if a roadside bomb or other improvised explosive device exploded near you. Military authorities estimate that more than 200,000 troops have experienced TBIs.

TBIs are sneaky. Soldiers and marines can have TBIs without shedding a drop of blood, and yet be disabled for the rest of their lives. Because the damage happens inside, where medics can’t see it.

Engineers and doctors working for the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency, or DARPA, are testing a new device that tells medics if a trooper has been close enough to a blast to be at risk of TBI, even without a visible injury. The wristwatch-sized device is called – you guessed it – a blast gauge. It rides at the back of the head on the webbing that holds soldiers’ helmets onto their heads.

It measures the acceleration – how fast your head moves – and pressure your head and your brain undergo. It’s the sudden violent jolt of being near an explosion that causes TBI. A simple green-amber-red readout tips off medics even if the trooper tries to downplay the injury.

We haven’t been near any explosions lately, but our readout tells us our brain has had enough 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: Any kind of wound is a bad thing, but it’s nifty when technology can help frontline medics diagnose wounds as sneaky and potentially serious as traumatic brain injury.

For more:

http://www.gizmag.com/darpa-blast-gauge/22758/?utm_source=Gizmag+Subscribers&utm_campaign=07af151c43-UA-2235360-4&utm_medium=email

http://www.darpa.mil/NewsEvents/Releases/2012/05/21.aspx

zyfbear/flickr.com

zyfbear/flickr.com

Looking for fuel savings? Get a truck

August 1st, 2012 by Gene
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When somebody says “hybrid vehicle”, most of us think of cars. Some engineers are thinking bigger. Bigger as in trucks. Trucks that get great gas mileage. Today, on Engineering Works!

This approach to fuel efficiency turns the hybrid idea upside down. Hybrid cars usually run on fuel-efficient gasoline engines with help from battery-powered electric motors. And it works pretty well. But a new hybrid system aimed at mid-sized commercial trucks does it differently.

This hybrid runs primarily on an electric motor with help from a generator that keeps its batteries topped up as it goes. In this drive system, the engine powering the generator can be smaller than the most fuel-efficient conventional engine because it doesn’t have to move the loaded truck from a stop or up hills. All it has to do is spin the generator so the battery is charged.

Sophisticated computer software controls the electric motor speed and shifts the transmission so the truck hauls its load just like its gas-powered counterparts.

Engineers at the Silicon Valley company that developed the new system say fuel-saving efforts aimed at mid-sized commercial trucks will actually pay off bigger than trying to save gas with more efficient cars. That’s because mid-sized commercial trucks – think UPS truck – drive more miles and use a lot more fuel than cars. And there are more than two-million of them on the road.

Our truck still gets us home the old-fashioned way. 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: Sometimes the discussion of fuel efficiency gets focused pretty tightly, as if cars were the only vehicles that could benefit from better fuel efficiency. Maybe we need to look at the problem more broadly.

For more:

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/commercial-trucks-save-more-than-20x-fuel-of-100-mpg-car-152367845.html

http://www.environmentalleader.com/2012/06/15/wrightspeed-saves-commercial-trucks-more-than-20-times-the-fuel-of-a-100-mpg-car/

http://www.wrightspeed.com