Archive for November, 2012

Michigan State University

Michigan State University

The new philosopher’s stone

November 28th, 2012 by Gene
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We’re not sure this qualifies as engineering, but whatever it is, it’s pretty nifty: a 21st century version of the ancient philosopher’s stone. Turning – stuff – into gold. Today, on Engineering Works!

It’s easy to sneer at the centuries-long efforts of alchemists to find some way to turn base metals – iron, lead, whatever – into gold. Looking back from here, the idea seems obviously silly. But ‘way back then, it made as much sense as some of the other real chemical processes they were discovering. Even the brilliant mathematician Sir Isaac Newton spent a lot of time in the search. The problem they all had was it didn’t work.

Turn down your skeptical meter for a minute. It looks like researchers have found a way to get gold from what looks like nothing.

This is nothing like what the old alchemists tried to do. This process starts with solutions that contain vanishingly small amounts of gold. An especially constructed bacterium eats, metabolizes, the solutions and excretes tiny specks of gold. The process isn’t fast, but you end up with usable amounts of gold.

Some people want to turn the bacterium loose on seawater, which carries lots of minerals in a very, very dilute solution. The researchers want to find out if the bacterium could metabolize gold in seawater into the next mother lode. Stay tuned.

We’re done talking about gold 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

For more:

http://www.gizmag.com/great-work-of-the-metal-lover/24510/

http://news.msu.edu/story/superman-strength-bacteria-produces-gold/

National Institute of Standards and Technology

National Institute of Standards and Technology

Secret life of a house

November 21st, 2012 by Gene
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From the outside, the house looks at home in a suburban setting. Inside is something else again. We’ll take a peek. Today, on Engineering Works!

The only thing you see that makes a house built by the National Institute of Standards and Technology different are the solar panels on the roof. And even they’re becoming more common. Inside is another story.

First, the house is designed and built to be energy-neutral. It will produce as much energy as it uses. When the sun shines, a solar photovoltaic system will produce enough electricity to operate lights and appliances. Excess electricity will go out to the electric grid. Appliances are the most energy efficient available. Hot water is heated by a solar system. The house meets the Green Building Council’s highest standards for sustainability.

Second, nobody will live in the house. It will be inhabited, for the first year at least, only by computers and mechanical equipment that will make the house feel like people live there. Lights will turn on and off at the times people turn them on and off. The hot water will run and the stove will heat up as if people were taking showers or cooking meals. Other devices will produce heat and humidity, just like people. In fact, humans won’t be allowed into the house at all while the first measurements are going on.

Our house doesn’t act like this, but we still like 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: Only one question: how does the cost of a house like this compare to conventional construction? If it’s close enough that you could reasonably get back your investment, it’s great. Otherwise … What do you think?

For more:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120913162708.htm

http://www.nist.gov/el/nzertf/

Upper Great Plains Wind Energy Programmatic EIS

Upper Great Plains Wind Energy Programmatic EIS

The numbers of taller wind turbines

November 14th, 2012 by Gene
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If you’ve been paying attention, you remember that numbers play a big part in engineering. Here’s a neat one. The numbers of new wind turbines. Today, on Engineering Works.

You probably can’t tell just by looking, but wind turbines are getting taller. The newest are about 100 meters – about 325 feet tall at the hub the blades spin around. This is quite a leap from the original turbines. Many of them were only about 125 feet tall at the hub. From there, they grew to about 260 feet tall. And now to more than 300.

The first wind farm with 100-meter-tall turbines is now being built in Minnesota. When it’s completed, developers estimate it will produce about 30 megawatts of power. That’s enough to power about 10,000 homes. There’s a reason for this upward growth spurt. Weather data – more numbers – show that wind at 325 feet off the ground blows between 4  and 5 percent faster than at 260 feet. Raising the turbines the additional 65 feet needed to catch it consistently should let the taller turbines harvest 14 percent more energy than the shorter ones.

The propeller-like blades of wind turbines are growing, too. Longer blades cover more area than shorter blades. This means they can produce more power without spinning faster. This sounds like a small thing, but as blades turn faster, they make more noise. And people living nearby don’t like that.

Our electricity comes from a regular old power plant, and we’re 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: Wind turbines are still pretty controversial for some people. It seems to us that we’ve got a choice to make: we don’t want less electricity, so we need to decide how we’re going to produce it. Let us know what you think.

For more:

http://www.startribune.com/business/169258976.html?refer=y

Deccan Chronicle

Deccan Chronicle

Four-footed high tech

November 7th, 2012 by Gene
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Who needs a shiny new car to carry around your wireless connection? We know some people that have their wireless gear mounted on donkeys. Check it out. Today, on Engineering Works!

If you pay much attention to the ads on TV, you already know that many new vehicles, from luxury sedans to pickup trucks, come equipped with equipment that lets you go wireless from the driver’s seat. Pretty cool. Now, some donkeys in Israel are getting in on the wireless game.

These donkeys carry visitors to the Biblically themed Kfar Kedem theme park near Nazareth in northern Israel through the park’s sprawling array of exhibits from Bible times. The idea is simplicity itself. The donkeys carry battery-powered wireless routers on straps around their necks, sort of like an electronic feedbag. The routers turn each router-equipped donkey into a moving hot spot. Park visitors who use the donkeys to travel around in the park can use their smart phones or tablets to upload photos and videos of the park to social media or send them to friends and family. Instant communication. No waiting until you get back to the hotel to share your visit

We’re not sure this is an improvement over what we’ve done before, but the park operators say visitors are using the donkey hot spots and seem to like being able to connect instantly.

We’re done for today, so we’re going to leave this hot spot and head 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: We’re not at all sure this is a good idea. As a man we used to know said, this looks like a solution in search of a problem. What do you think? Would you use a donkey-mounted hot spot on vacation?

For more:

http://www.sci-tech-today.com/story.xhtml?story_id=84548

http://digitaljournal.com/article/331580#ixzz29Tk1CSfk

See a video of donkey wi-fi hot spots in action:

http://digitaljournal.com/article/331580

wwwsouthampton.ac.uk

wwwsouthampton.ac.uk

Supercomputing done cheap

November 3rd, 2012 by Gene
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If you’ve ever wanted your own supercomputer, but knew you could never afford it, this one’s for you. Build your own. Today, on Engineering Works!

If you like numbers and problems involving numbers, the ultimate toy is a supercomputer. Conventional supercomputers have been around since the 1960s. They’re used for extremely complex problems in quantum physics, weather forecasting, climate research and modeling things like the behavior of airplanes in wind tunnels. Problems that would take decades to calculate on your desktop computer. All this comes at a cost, of course: $130 million. Or more.

Now, computational engineers in England – with help from a six-year-old – have combined inexpensive credit card-sized computers with off-the-shelf hardware and mounted in towers built with Legos. And got a working supercomputer.

The computers are called Raspberry Pi, that’s PI, as in Greek. The Raspberry Pi was developed to teach computer programming in British schools. They cost about $35 each, and you can connect one to a keyboard and TV set, and you’re ready to go. The first problem put to the new supercomputer by its creators? Calculating pi, of course.

The Raspberry Pi-based supercomputer came in at a little more than$4,000, plus the cost of Ethernet switches. That’s still not cheap, but it’s lots less than IBM’s Sequoia or the latest Cray.

Our laptop at home isn’t a supercomputer – Raspberry Pi or any other kind, but it does what we need it to do. 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: Budget supercomputing like Raspberry Pi could be a real help to researchers with big projects and small budgets. How else might we use the idea?

For more:

http://www.sci-tech-today.com/story.xhtml?story_id=84821

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

http://www.southampton.ac.uk/mediacentre/features/raspberry_pi_supercomputer.shtml

http://www.raspberrypi.org/faqs

If you want to build your own Raspberry Pi supercomputer, check out:

http://www.soton.ac.uk/~sjc/raspberrypi