Tag Archives: engineering

US plumbing codes are based on century-old data

Parts of the plumbing code in the country require a major overhaul, a team of engineers warn. There is a dire need for research to produce updated plans.

Image credits: Samuel Sianipar.

Many things have changed in recent years. Our technology has changed, our habits have changed, and in many ways, society has changed, too. But plumbing hasn’t changed all that much, and at least some features are still the same way they were designed in the 1920s.

Of course, saying that any infrastructure component is a hundred years old sounds pretty damning — and, in a sense, it is — but that’s not saying the whole story. Changing the way plumbing is designed implies changes on a massive scale, and any changes of this magnitude require serious research.

This is what engineers are essentially saying in this new report: we know things are antiquated, but we’re not really sure of the best way to improve them — so let’s start researching.

In a new “technical note”, engineers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) address the most pressing issues to be researched.

“Plumbing design approaches, codes and standards have not kept pace with these changes, in large part because of the existence of significant technical knowledge gaps. Research is needed to address these gaps in support of water efficiency and water quality goals to ensure the effectiveness of these systems today and in the future.”

“This report documents specific research needs to advance plumbing system design, operation and maintenance, as well as the standards, codes and guidelines that apply to these systems.”

The aged concept at the core of the problem is something called Hunter’s curve.

Roy B. Hunter was an innovative engineer whose work in the 1920s through the 1940s revolutionized plumbing standards. Hunter developed a mathematical formula for calculating how much water a particular building needs, based on the number of fixtures inside. For most rental properties, the number of fixtures remains pretty stable — it’s not every day that you install or remove a new sink or toilet, so it’s a pretty reliable approximation.

But as access to water and different plumbing materials changed (and as requirements changed), the model stayed as it is. Hunter himself did tremendous work finessing his model, but it was ultimately out of his hands. Some pipes remained unused and inefficient, while others struggled to keep up with the demand and changing scenarios. Performance standards lagged the robustness of a modern approach.

Because it was such a gargantuan task, engineers constantly postponed adapting Hunter’s curve, and this procrastination has led to many buildings (even new ones) using an older model.

It’s not even just about efficiency — a lot of it is about sanitation. Essentially, the antiquated standard makes water more prone to developing bacteria.

At present, Hunter’s Curve often overestimates water demand in many places, causing designers to install oversized pipes. Where this happens, the water remains in the plumbing system for longer than the designer intended. This allows additional time for harmful bacteria to grow and for contaminants to leach from the pipes themselves into the water, says Dave Yashar, deputy chief of NIST’s Energy and Environment Division and co-author of the report.

“This document is intended for any organization that is planning plumbing research programs,” said Yashar. “It’s meant to help researchers figure out what information is needed to move industry forward.”

Researchers know water that stays stagnant for too long becomes unsafe — but we don’t really know exactly what “too long” means and how bacteria or contaminants leech in. The chemical and biological interactions at play here are not fully understood, the NIST explains.

Another problem is the lead contamination from aging plumbing infrastructure.

Lead contamination is probably the biggest issue plaguing aging plumbing infrastructure, in terms of its direct harm to residents and the multiple ways lead is entrenched in existing plumbing standards. The NIST explains:

“Lead […] was banned in 1986 as understanding of the dangers of lead exposure increased. However, lead persists as a problem, partially due to the inability to remove lead from existing infrastructure, and partially due to the limited technical understanding of how lead leaches into water.”

All this will take a lot of research to figure out, and a lot of research means a lot of time and money invested.

In the end, the report calls for better plumbing standard, obtained through a better understanding of all the biochemical factors involved, as well as the engineering part itself.

The list of 59 research needs largely draws from discourse among experts in academia, industry and government at a 2018 workshop, in addition to 26 responses to a notice published by NIST in the Federal Register.

World’s first genetically-engineered moths released in the wild

Could genetically-modified pests control themselves? New research aims to prove that yes, they can.

Image credits Mike Pennington.

The study, led by Anthony Shelton, a professor at Cornell University’s Department of Entomology, describes the creation and successful release of gene-edited diamondback moths into an open field setting in collaboration with British biotechnology company Oxitech.

Engineered for failure

“The diamondback moth is a global pest that costs $4-5 billion annually and has developed resistance to most insecticides, making it very difficult to manage,” says Dr Neil Morrison of Oxitec, the study’s corresponding author.

Diamondback moths (Plutella xylostella) is one of the main pests for crops in the brassica family which includes cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, and canola. Certain populations of diamondback moths have shown very stubborn resistance to synthetic insecticides in many settings around the world (including Canada, Australia, the UK, the US, and China); under the right circumstances, their larvae can afflict entire crops, causing farmers to re-plow entire fields of (now-unmarketable) produce.

In order to address the threat, the team describes how they genetically-engineered the species to make it fail. They implanted two genes — a “self-limiting gene and a marker gene” according to Morrison — into the insect’s genome. These genes are meant to be handed down between generations creating “self-limiting moths [that] are non-toxic and non-allergenic.”

The idea behind this approach is for genetically-engineered male moths to make their way into the wide world and sow their wild oats with wild females. They’ll pass on the self-limiting genes, which prevent the female caterpillars from developing normally (so they die off).

But that’s just the theory — the team needed to test this approach in practice. Thus, they became the first group in the world to trial open-field releases of genetically-engineered moths, employing a “mark-release-recapture” method which has been long-used to study insect movements. Their findings suggest that their work is both effective and sustainable as a pest regulation strategy in the long term.

“Our research builds on the sterile insect technique for managing insects that was developed back in the 1950s and celebrated by Rachel Carson in her book, Silent Spring,” says Shelton. “Using genetic engineering is simply a more efficient method to get to the same end.”

“Professor Shelton’s team in Cornell conducted releases of self-limiting male moths alongside non-modified male moths, from the centre of the trial field planted with cabbage,” Morrison adds. “Traps throughout the field were set to recapture a proportion of released moths and, because they were marked with coloured powders, we were able to track their dispersal and lifespan in the field.”

After release, the gene-edited males behaved similarly to their unmodified counterparts in terms of distance traveled and survival. In a lab setting, the team adds, they were just as competent as unmodified males in competing for females. A mathematical model employed by the team further suggests that modified males would be sufficient to control the species’ population without the need for additional insecticides, making it sustainable and eco-friendly. Oxitec is currently evaluating where their technique can be used for the most benefit, in order to organize follow-up studies.

The use of self-limiting insects isn’t novel here — the approach is already in use on Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in Brazil, Panama and the Caribbean in a bid to control the spread of malaria.

The paper “First Field Release of a Genetically Engineered, Self-Limiting Agricultural Pest Insect: Evaluating Its Potential for Future Crop Protection” has been published in the journal Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine launches website about vaccine facts

The work of the National Academies spurs progress by connecting understandings of science, engineering, and medicine to advising national policies and practice. The studies they do have lasting impacts, from guiding NASA’s agenda for space exploration, to charting the course for improving the quality of health care, to proposing effective strategies to guard against cyber attacks. When faced with a complex question, the National Academies bring together experts from across disciplines to look at the evidence with fresh eyes and openness to insights from other fields.

To counter misinformation and pseudoscience about vaccines that is fueling measles outbreaks in the United States and other countries, the National Academies last week launched a website that provides clear, concise, and evidence-based information on the most frequently asked vaccine safety questions.

In a joint statement, the three National Academies presidents said the evidence base includes a number of the group’s studies that examined vaccine access, safety, scheduling, and possible side effects.

“Our work has validated that the science is clear—vaccines are extremely safe,” they said. The presidents are Marcia McNutt, PhD, with the National Academy of Sciences, C.D. Mote, Jr, PhD, with the National Academy of Engineering, and Victor Dzau, MD, with the National Academy of Medicine.

“Given our shared congressional mandate to advise the nation, we are compelled to draw attention to these facts in order to inform better decision-making at a time when it is urgently needed to protect the health of communities in our country and around the world. We call on our professional colleagues everywhere to share these facts as widely as possible.” they wrote.

The National Academy of Sciences was established in 1863 by an Act of Congress, signed by President Lincoln, as a private, nongovernmental institution to advise the nation on issues related to science and technology. Members are elected by their peers for outstanding contributions to research.

The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences to bring the practices of engineering to advising the nation. Members are elected by their peers for extraordinary contributions to engineering.

The National Academy of Medicine (formerly called the Institute of Medicine) was established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences to advise the nation on medical and health issues. Members are elected by their peers for distinguished contributions to medicine and health.

Academy members are among the world’s most distinguished scientists, engineers, physicians, and researchers; more than 300 members are Nobel laureates. The three Academies work together as the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation and conduct other activities to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions.


A brief look at how the idea of elevators came up

Whether they lift you up or bring you down, elevators are a pretty common sight in developed countries. Although they’ve been around in various forms since Antiquity, proper elevators are a rather modern invention, from around 150 years ago — so let’s take a look at how they came to be.


Image via Pixabay.

How it all went down (and up again) — pulleys

Their story begins in Antiquity in the form of pulleys. These simple machines are comprised of blocks and tackle. They help apply force more efficiently when pulling or lifting weights. As a rule of thumb, the force needed to move a given object in a pulley is equal to its weight divided by the number of blocks in the system. You can also view this as the system multiplying force (i.e. it gives a mechanical advantage) by the number of blocks in the pulley system.

Greater mechanical advantage (ME) lets you apply a weaker force over a greater distance to achieve the same task. Let’s consider a weight of 100 kgs. In a system with an ME of 1 (one block), you have to apply 100 kgs of force and pull on 1 m of rope to lift the weight 1 m. In a system with an ME of 2 (two blocks), you only need 50 kgs of force, but you have to pull on 2 m of rope to move the weight 1 m.


This is a block.
Image via Pixabay.

The application of force over a distance is called mechanical work. Pulleys are especially great in pre-industrial societies, which tend to rely heavily on muscle power. Muscle power isn’t very fuel-efficient, and pretty much capped per head of human or animal (unless they can spontaneously grow more muscles). A man on a pulley, however, can perform the work of several without pulleys. It spreads the force over a greater distance, allowing a weak ‘engine’ to perform work on a heavy load.

As such, pulleys (in the form of hoists) saw wide use in construction and freight handling as early as the 3rd century BC — although they were likely used earlier, we have no definitive proof. They were generally muscle-driven, although some evidence of water-driven systems has been found.

Elevating elevator knowledge

Greek inventor and overall awesome guy Archimedes is generally credited with developing the first system we’d recognize as an elevator. This is mostly based on the accounts of Vitruvius. Archimedes was a bright guy, and greatly expanded the understanding of mechanics in his day and age. One of his main areas of interest was the lever and fulcrum, and their workings. Vitruvius writes that his elevator was quite simple — a wooden platform on hemp ropes hoisted around a drum, powered by people (possibly slaves).

Elevator Konrad Kyeser.

A 1405 elevator design by the German engineer Konrad Kyeser.
Image in Public Domain, via Wikimedia.

There is further proof that ancient peoples actually understood the working principles of the pulley, which underpin the elevator, and didn’t play it by ear. It also ties in closely to Archimedes’ work. Writing in Mechanical Problems — an awesome book, dealing with mechanical concepts in a very pleasant way, I find — Aristotle ponders their use thusly:

“Why is it that if one puts two pulleys on two blocks which support each other in opposite directions, and passes a rope round them in a circle […] one can draw up great weights, even if the dragging force is small?” the book reads.

The pulley acts in the same way as the lever, so that even one will draw the weight more easily and will raise a much heavier weight with less pull than by hand. And two pulleys will quickly raise more than twice as much. For the second rope is drawing even less weight than it would be, if it were drawing by itself, when the one rope is passed over the other; for that makes the weight still less.”

Rome also used elevators in style — they brought wild beasts from the belly of the Coliseum up to the blood-soaked sands of the arena.

However, there was one bit still needed to create the Modern Elevator: counterweights. And, as often happens in history, one man’s quest to more easily reach his beloved (mistress) will bring progress into the picture.

Balancing it all out

It’s 1743, you’re the king of France, and your mistress is a scandalous distance away from your affections — living one whole floor above your apartment in the Versailles palace. This can’t possibly stand, can it? Louis XV, patron of arts and architecture, ‘Beloved’ to his people — and the last French king not to lose his head in a guillotine – agreed. This was too much for royalty to bear. So he had an elevator installed in his balcony.

Louis’ elevator, dubbed “The Flying Chair“, is among the first home elevators that we have solid proof of. But it was also one of the first — if not the first — real elevators from a technical standpoint: it had counterweights.

Counterweights are an integral part of elevators today. In essence, they’re a lump of something (anything dense works, really) tied to one end of the rope. This mass makes it easier to lift or lower the cabin on the other end. If we think of elevators as systems of pulleys, and of pulleys as a type of lever, the counterweight helps bring the two ends of the lever close to balance. The result is that you need even less force to raise one end of the lever (since the counterweight provides part of the ‘work’ we talked about earlier). It makes the elevator easier to pull up and harder to pull down.

In practical terms, this counterweight means that any engine powering an elevator only needs to lift a fraction of its real weight. It also acts as a break, slowing the elevator as it goes down, to prevent accidents.

In general, counterweights are designed to be the same weight as the elevator carriage plus 40% to 50% of its intended carrying weight. This is meant to reflect practical realities, as elevators aren’t generally filled to the brim. Limiting the counterweight is a compromise between trying to reduce wear on the engine and other moving parts while still bringing an acceptable level of balance to the whole system.

12 Perfect Gifts for Engineers on Valentine’s Day

If your significant other is an engineer, these Valentine gifts won’t fail to impress. Here are some gifts that will keep the wheels of love turning, at least until next year.

I love you Morse code bracelet

 Buy on Amazon

Nothing says I love you more than dot dot dot dash dot dot…

Love is about sharing a life together, and never letting go of each other when things become difficult. However, sometimes just saying I love you loses the intensity it’s supposed to convey, which is why this one-of-a-kind accessory is as special as your love is. Although you may have chosen to express your affection in a vintage communication medium, Morse Code will never go out of style.

A 3D Printer… for pancakes!

Buy on Amazon

Let’s face it, most engineers don’t exactly treat their bodies as a temple. But how about you try something different for this year’s Valentine morning. Instead of cooking pancakes, here’s a cool idea: you print them!

Amazing 21st-century engineering? Check. Delicious, fluffy pancakes? Check.

An adorable pocket mirror that looks like a MacBook Air

Buy on Amazon

Engineers sure love their MacBooks, but let’s be serious: no one wants to break the bank on a Valentine present. Here’s the next best thing: this cute mirror shaped like a MacBook will surely crack a smile or two.

A levitating flower pot

levitating bonsaiBuy on Amazon

This is what happens when home decor meets science. Magnets keep a pot suspended mid-air producing a cool SciFi effect bound to impress friends and family, as well as that special someone. If your Valentine is into cool science tricks, but also likes flowers, look no further than this awesome gift.

A DIY useless box

Buy on Amazon

This is the perfect gift for your favorite engineer in the world. Put your loved one’s craftsmanship to the test with this DIY kit which is as fun as it is useless. It requires a soldering iron, solder, and a tiny Phillips screwdriver.

Funny coffee mug for your Engeneer

 Buy on Amazon

You’ll both have a good laugh with this one. If your loved one isn’t the best at spelling but still knows his or her engineering, this lovely gift will surely be appreciated.

Cool Einstein physics formula shower curtain

Buy on Amazon

An inspiring gift for those relaxing moments in the shower. It’s sure to be appreciated by your brainy Valentine.

Circuit board scarf

Buy on Amazon

For those special moments when your girlfriend needs to match her outfit with something super nerdy. How fashionable!

Mechanical 3D puzzle safe

Buy on Amazon

This kit is a self-propelled, mechanical wooden model which will entertain for hours and hours. You build your own safe featuring a real working combination lock, perfect for storing some of your most precious small items. It’s a great gift for the mechanical engineer close to your heart.

Tesla coil lighter


 Buy on Amazon

This is by far the coolest way to ignite …anything! What’s more, this is a marvelous work of engineering. It’s rechargeable, flameless, and windproof.

A rocket launch set

rocket launch set

Buy on Amazon

You know our catchphrase here at ZME Science — “not exactly rocket science.” Well, neither is this rocket assembly kit. It’s still a heck load of fun and even practical for those passionate about rocketry, and is capable of soaring up to 1,150 ft. (350 m).

DIY motorized, remote control machines

remote machine

Buy on Amazon

This amazing kit allows you to assemble up to 10 models, although you can actually use many more configurations. It comes with a six-button infrared remote control, three motors that can be combined to assemble complex machinery or vehicles, and numerous springs, cogs, etc.

The engineer’s field bag

engineer bag

Buy on Amazon

Whether in the office or in the field, every engineer needs a trusty bag to carry notebooks, pens, chargers, tools, samples, and so on. Made from heavyweight cotton canvas, this quality and fashionable build is a great way to show that you care.

Aviator safety glasses for the fashionable engineer

safety glasses

Buy on Amazon

Why wear dull, boring safety glasses to work when you can be sexy? Sporting these glasses will definitely turn some heads in the lab.

An Engineer’s Valentine

I thought it’d be cool if I ended this post with an awesome poem written by Matthew Dalton. I’ll just leave it here for you.


I was alone and all was dark
Beneath me and above
My life was full of volts and amps
But not the spark of love

But now that you are here with me
My heart is overjoyed
You’ve turned the square of my heart
Into a sinusoid

You load things from my memory
Onto my system bus
My life was once assembly code
It’s now like C++

I love the way you solder things
My circuits you can fix
The voltage ‘cross your diode is
much more than just point six

With your op-amps and resistors
You have built my integrator
I cannot survive without you
You’re my function generator

You’ve changed my world, increased my gain
And made my math discreet
So now I’ll end my poem here
Control, Alt, and Delete


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Aviation 101 : Flight Dynamics

To most people, the sky is the limit.

To those who love aviation, the sky is home.

All vehicles are free to operate in three dimensions i.e the longitudinal, vertical and horizontal axes. But while cars are limited in that they can’t really take off from the streets, airplanes can really take advantage of all axes.

In an aircraft, movements are known by Pitch, Yaw, and Roll, respectively.


Motion about the lateral axis is called pitch. This is a measure of how far an airplane’s nose is tilted up or down and is controlled by the elevator.



Motion about the perpendicular axes is called yaw. It determines which way the nose of the aircraft is pointing.

This is controlled by the movement of the rudder.



Motion about the longitudinal axis is called roll and in aircraft determines how much the wings are banked.


This is controlled by the movement of the aileron.


                                                        The position of the Aileron, Elevator and the Rudder on an airplane

Where do you use it?

Although usually, plane flights are quite monotonous and employ just one type of movement at a time, there is a wide variety of times where all the three have to be employed, like in the crosswind landing. Crosswind landing is a landing maneuver in which a significant component of the prevailing wind is perpendicular to the runway center line.


The above maneuver is known as Crabbing.

The nose points towards the wind so that the aircraft approaches the runway slightly skewed with respect to the runway centerline ( depends on the direction of the wind ). Upon approaching the runway threshold, moments before landing, the pilot aligns the aircraft with the centerline.


And this is easier said than done as it involves the meticulous control of the pitching, yawing and the rolling of the aircraft in order to stick the landing ( as is seen in the animation )

Some more examples

One need not restrict the usage of these terms merely to aircrafts, but can extend it other objects of interest as well.

Cars also experience pitch, roll, and yaw, but the amounts are relatively small and are usually the result of the suspension reacting to turns, accelerations, and road conditions.



For a human- Pitch is like saying Yes. Yaw is when you say No! And roll is when you just wave your head.

Pitch, Yaw and Roll and that’s all there is to it.


The new displays enabled by blue-liquid crystals could be extremely useful in VR applications where a high resolution on a small screen is desirable. Credit: Pixabay.

Thought 4K was impressive? New tech can triple the sharpness of TVs and other displays while reducing power demand

The new displays enabled by blue-liquid crystals could be extremely useful in VR applications where a high resolution on a small screen is desirable. Credit: Pixabay.

The new displays enabled by blue-liquid crystals could be extremely useful in VR applications where a high resolution on a small screen is desirable. Credit: Pixabay.

The resolution density of today’s displays is nearing its limits. But an international team of scientists has found a way to cram in more pixels per square inch than ever before. Using a new type of blue-phase liquid crystal optimized for field-sequential color liquid crystal displays (LCDs), the team claims it’s possible to up the resolution density three fold compared to the state of the art. Moreover, the new technology consumes less power.

“Today’s Apple Retina displays have a resolution density of about 500 pixels per inch,” said Shin-Tson Wu, who led the research team at the University of Central Florida’s College of Optics and Photonics (CREOL). “With our new technology, a resolution density of 1500 pixels per inch could be achieved on the same sized screen. This is especially attractive for virtual reality headsets or augmented reality technology, which must achieve high resolution in a small screen to look sharp when placed close to our eyes.”

12K displays?

The current state of the art in display screen resolution. The new tech could triple the sharpness.

Your typical LCD screen is comprised of a thin layer of nematic liquid crystal onto which white light is fired from LEDs. This incoming backlight is modulated by thin-film transistors to display graphics while colours are produced by combining red, green, and blue filters.

Experiments suggest that blue-phase liquid crystals can be switched on and off by transistors almost ten times faster than the nematic variety. This incredibly fast sub-millisecond response time means that different coloured LEDs (red, green, and blue) can fire light at different times. The switching frequency is so fast that you brain can’t process the variation and instead you’ll feel like it’s all a continuous experience. Basically, this feature removes the need for colour filters drastically saving space in a display device.

Scientists think this configuration can triple the number of pixels per square inch. It ought to triple the optical efficiency as well since the light isn’t required to pass through filters anymore — these used to limit light transmittance to only 30 percent.

Blue-phase liquid crystals aren’t exactly new. Samsung first demonstrated an LCD display prototype based on blue-phase crystals for the first in 2008. However, it proved difficult at the time to scale the technology commercially due to high operational voltage and slow capacitor charging time.

Wu and colleagues collaborated with academic and industry partners to try to solve these issues. Their efforts eventually paid off after the international team of researchers combined the liquid crystals with a special performance-enhancing electrode structure that lets the electric field penetrate the liquid crystals more deeply.

The triangular electrode structure penetrates the crystals so the electric field is stronger. Credit: OSA.

The triangular electrode structure penetrates the crystals so the electric field is stronger. Credit: OSA.

This configuration successfully reduced the operational voltage to 15 volts per pixel and achieved a light transmittance of 74 percent, as reported in the Optical Materials Express journal. These figures suggest field-sequential color displays are now practical and could soon see commercial development.

“We achieved an operational voltage low enough to allow each pixel to be driven by a single transistor while also achieving a response time of less than 1 millisecond,” said Haiwei Chen, a doctoral student in Wu’s lab. “This delicate balance between operational voltage and response time is key for enabling field sequential color displays.”

A working prototype might be available as soon as next year, Wu said.

biggest engine in the world

This is what 109,000 horsepower looks like — meet the biggest and most powerful engine in the world

biggest engine in the world

This jaw-dropper is the Wärtsilä RT-flex96C, the world’s largest and most powerful diesel engine.

largest engine

Built in Finland, the RT-flex96C’s fourteen cylinders can generate 107,389HP with more than 7,000,000Nm of torque — that’s enough to power an entire suburban town.


The engine weighs 2,300 tons and stands 44-feet tall and 90-feet long – more than a four-story building. Redline is at 102 RPM, but the torque is enough to tear a tank to shreds.

turboHow’s that for a turbo boost? 

Each of the 14 built-in cylinders devours 6.5 ounces of diesel in one cycle that produces 5700 kW of energy. That might sound like a lot, but the engine is actually highly efficient and one of the least polluting of its kind.


You might wonder what kind of behemoth would need so much power. In 2006, the Wärtsilä RT-flex96C engine was installed and finally set sail on the Emma Mærsk, a cargo ship that can carry 11,000 20-foot shipping containers at a breakneck speed of 31 knots, whereas most other ships in its class typically cruise with 20 knots.

Container ship Emma Maersk  in Hamburg, June 2014. Credit: Hummelhummel, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Container ship Emma Maersk in Hamburg, June 2014. Credit: Hummelhummel, CC BY-SA 3.0.

The ship regularly ferries cargo from China to the U.S, which it can deliver four days earlier than its competition, saving a lot of money. There are currently 25 such engines roaming the world’s oceans, and another 86 are on the way.

What the engine looks like installed in the ship. 

All in all, this is one of the most amazing feats of human engineering.


Rockets 101 – How to turn during flight

Outstanding control is what distinguishes a toy rocket from a real one. And it is of quintessence to be able to channel the rocket’s direction. In the case of a NASA launch, failure can mean hundreds of millions and years of work down the drain. In the most extreme, it can mean the difference between life and death. To be able to fly is cool, but what’s cooler is being able to pinpoint the destination and the trajectory of a rocket or shuttle.

In most modern rockets, this is accomplished by a system known as Gimbaled Thrust.


In a Gimbaled thrust system, the exhaust nozzle of the rocket can be swiveled from side to side. As the nozzle is moved, the direction of the thrust is changed relative to the center of gravity of the rocket and a torque is generated.

As a result, the rocket changes direction. After necessary corrections are made, the exhaust nozzle is brought back to its initial state.



The angle by which the rocket’s nozzle swivels is known as the Gimbaled Angle.

Up, Up and Away!



PC: NASA, learnengineering, achingtentacles,campnavigator

A low-cost sustainable water filter system developed by Dr Askwar Hilonga from the The Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science & Technology, Tanzania. The system was one of the 12 science projects shortlisted for the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, sponsored by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng).

Science in Africa is making steps forward, but it needs leaps

Over the past few years there has been much talk about the importance of scientific development in Africa. With the international development agenda, including the new Sustainable Development Goals, increasingly recognising the critical importance of science, technology and innovation in human, social, and economic development, the battle for advanced science is beginning to be won. However, for Africa, grand questions remain about exactly how a continent still struggling with some fundamental challenges such as sanitation, poverty and disease, can properly pursue advanced science policies.

For Dr Alvaro Sobrinho, an Angolan philanthropist and Chairman of the Planet Earth Institute, the quest is clear, Africa should seek its own ‘scientific independence’ – the main goal of his foundation, with offices in Angola and Rwanda – and campaign for science to be pushed higher up the priority lists of African governments. For Dr Sobrinho, scientific independence is not about scientific isolation, and he says it should ‘never be about working alone’. For him and the PEI, ‘Scientific development and expertise is built on collaboration, locally, regionally and internationally, and Africa’s scientific development will be both more rapid and far-reaching with support from the best and the brightest across the world. By independence we mean an end to dependency and the ability for Africa to lead it’s own development agenda.’

“Africa as a whole has around 35 scientists and engineers per million inhabitants”

Today, many other efforts are also being made to this end, such as the innovative developments that were recently shortlisted for the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, an initiative sponsored by the Royal Academy of Engineering in the UK. The shortlisted innovations covered a variety of areas such as sanitation, mobile applications, nanotechnology, and agriculture, all of which are key elements that can help improve the quality of life of African citizens across the continent. Shortlisted participants came from scientific, educational, and research institutions in Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Alvaro Sobrinho speaks at the PEI London scientific committee meetings in 2012

Alvaro Sobrinho speaks at the PEI London scientific committee meetings in 2012

This is a greatly welcome initiative, given the fact that, as Dr Alvaro Sobrinho points out: “Africa as a whole has around 35 scientists and engineers per million inhabitants, compared with around 130 in India, 168 for Brazil and 450 in China, never mind the figures of 2,457 and 4,103 for Europe and the United States respectively. I’m not going to say a magic number but it should be obvious to everyone that we need to increase those percentages to around the levels of other fast-developing growth regions. We are now launching a number of seed-funding and research grants and PEI and it’s great to see other organisations doing likewise”

A low-cost sustainable water filter system developed by Dr Askwar Hilonga from the The Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science & Technology, Tanzania. The system was one of the 12 science projects shortlisted for the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, sponsored by the  Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng).

A low-cost sustainable water filter system developed by Dr Askwar Hilonga from the The Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science & Technology, Tanzania. The system was one of the 12 science projects shortlisted for the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, sponsored by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng).

Despite the clear signs of entrepreneurship and talent that exist throughout the continent, however, some the current facts are stark. African countries still lag far behind many other regions in the world. Indeed, even Ghana, a fast-growing nation moving toward middle income status, contributes just 0.5 per cent of its GDP to science and technology, according to a recent report published by the Council for Scientific & Industrial Research. In fact, only two African countries have hit the 1% GDP in R&D target set by African leaders in 2007, with most lagging at 0.2-0.3%. At the same time, however, countries like Finland have increased R&D spend to 3.5% GDP.

[WHERE SCIENCE IS MOST NEEDED] Poor cookware might be lead poisoning an entire continent

In a welcome change, African scientists are now increasingly involved in major summits and policy meetings that give them a forum to argue for this change, and to agree new partnerships with world-leading academic institutions. For example, several high-ranking African leaders were recently invited to visit the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on the occasion of an event devoted to science, technology, development, and innovation in the African context. This remarkable event paved the way for future collaboration between this US institution and various African countries. It is expected that this type of collaboration will have an enormous impact on higher education institutions in Africa, many of which are operating well below their full capacity.

[ENGINEERING IN AFRICA] Kenya Opens World’s Largest Single Turbine Geothermal Plant

Having the support of a prestigious and well-established institution such as MIT can help African universities fulfill one of their main roles, which in Dr Sobrinho’s words is to become places for innovation and “a physical manifestation of a growing recognition of the importance of science”.

More from Alvaro Sobrinho on his blog.



Solar Hourglass might power 1,000 Danish Homes while inspiring Climate Change Action


Every year, the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI) in Copenhagen welcomes renowned designers and engineers to submit designs that integrates renewable energy in harmony with citizens, nature, and the urban environment. This year’s winning entry is a fantastic solar power array that takes the form of a hourglass, unveiled by Argentina-based designer Santiago Muros Cortés. The project, if constructed, would power 1,000 Danish homes right off an industrial brownfield site across the harbor from Copenhagen’s iconic Little Mermaid statue. Both landmark artwork and power generator, the hourglass is set to be a tourist attraction that inspires people to take action against climate change… until it’s too late.



Second place went to the Quiver by Mateusz Góra and Agata Gryszkiewicz from Poland – a tall tower set amidst a field of Miscanthus biofuel crops. Miscanthus (commonly known as Elephant Grass) is a high yielding energy crop that grows over 3 metres tall, resembles bamboo and produces a crop every year without the need for replanting. The rapid growth, low mineral content, and high biomass yield of Miscanthus increasingly make it a favourite choice as a biofuel, outperforming maize (corn) and other alternatives.





Set at the far end of the park, right by the water, the tower is envisioned as a new Copenhagen landmark, integrally powered by biofuel and aeroelastic flutter . Visitors may enter the tower and take an elevator right to top to enjoy a panoramic view. At night, powerful LED lights guide ships coming to and fro Copenhagen’s busy harbor.

generator lani


Antonio Maccà and Flavio Masi from Italy came in third with their  “eMotions” project – a huge, yet eery power generation field comprised of ten distinct areas: the river, the beach, the marine house, the sand dune, the lake, the farm, the arctic, the grassland, the forest and the city. This giant park is meant to generate a whooping 2000 MWh from photovoltaic panels, micro-scale vertical axis wind turbines (VAWT) and horizontal axis wind turbines (HAWT), stacked ceramic multilayer actuators, and piezoelectric wind energy systems.


The whole park was designed to look like a giant generator, with the walkways meant to look like the belts of a genuine mechanical power generating system.


While the Hourglass takes first place for the best combination of renewable energy and art, personally I find the eMotions projects the most ambitious out of all the three hundred interdisciplinary teams from 55 countries that entered LAGI this year.



Tomorrow, October 3rd, the winners will be awarded during a special ceremony.


Engineers create the first unstealable bike

Image via Yerka.

Depending on where you live, bike stealing can be a distant threat or a constant worry, but in most parts of the world, people would rather be safe than sorry, tying their bikes to trees or fences or whatever they could find. But that may very well change in the near future: three engineers from Chile have developed a bike which they claim is impossible to steal.

The Yerka Project is a currently a prototype which runs around and shows the frame of the bike unlatching so that, along with the seat post, the bike frame itself can close around a stationary object. Basically, the frame of the bike itself becomes the lock. If you want to break the lock, you have to break the bike – so there’s no point in stealing it whatsoever. From what I can see from the video they published, it takes about 30 seconds to tie it up, so it’s not a drag either.

The bad thing is, that if you live in a really bad area, your tires can still be stolen – but even so, replacing the tires are much cheaper than replacing the bike. Personally, I’d really like to test it out and see how it works, but we’ll have to wait a while before Yerka actually starts hitting the shelves.

So, what do you think about this? Is it a much needed engineering tweak, a needless update, or not important at all?


Who’s got the most efficient muscle engine : the tuna or the grey whale?


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The humongous grey whale and the skipjack tuna, though of contradicting sizes, both employ similar propelling mechanisms through water. Pound per pound, however, which of the two animals is most energy efficient? Engineers at Northwestern University have developed a new metric for analyzing such problems and found that the two marine animals are almost just as energy efficient despite the great difference in mass. This newly developed metric, or standard, can be applied to almost any animal, be it marine, terrestrial or flying, as well as anthropocentric machinery, like transportation vehicles.  This way, the researchers note, they can understand where a car starts becoming less efficient once it crosses a certain weight barrier and thus design better vehicles.

Whale or tuna: whose muscles are more efficient?

“Our study is about how energy flow changes with size or mass,” said Neelesh A. Patankar, who led the research. “This is good insight to have in the transportation field, whether you are working with cars, ships or planes. What are the limits of how good you can become? Our metric can be used to determine the point where an animal or a vehicle would function most efficiently. We want to know the sweet spot.”

A truck needs more fuel compared to a small car to cover the same distance – everyone knows this this. Likewise, the husky whale consumes more energy to travel the same distance underwater as a tuna. Does it mean that the muscular “engine” propelling the whale is less efficient compared to the tuna or is the higher fuel consumption of the whale an unavoidable consequence of the laws of physics? The whale’s higher fuel consumption is unavoidable, the researchers report, and the engine efficiencies of the whale and tuna are similar.

To reach this conclusion, Patankar and team developed an energy consumption coefficient similarly to the drag coefficient employed in aerospace, which takes into account metabolic rate, muscle mass and physics. The metric was then applied to data of energy consumption by thousands of species of swimming and flying animals, ranging from tiny larval zebrafish to massive mammalian swimmers such as dolphins and whales.

The new metric successfully collapsed energy consumption data on to a single trend with respect to mass — mass that varied almost a trillion times from the smallest to the largest animal. The key idea was not to plot the energy consumption itself versus mass but instead to plot energy consumption normalized by an appropriate scale that accounts for the size of the animal.

“The study helps quench my curiosity about how nature works, but, as an engineer, I also want to see utility,” Patankar said. “The energy consumption coefficient can be an important tool in designing self-propelled underwater vehicles as well as aerial vehicles. And, as a driver, I also would like to know how efficient my car is, information currently not available to me.”

The new Northwestern metric for efficiency that enabled this comparison could be extremely useful in designing underwater vehicles — such as those used to study fragile coral reefs, repair damaged deep-sea oil rigs or investigate sunken ships — to be as efficient and agile as a real fish. Of course, motor vehicles design could also benefit from the findings reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).


A computer model of the Contour Crafting Robotic Construction System. Basically, huge 3-D printers and tools would automatically build civil structures based on input CAD/CAM designs. Source: www.contourcrafting.org

3-D printing an entire house in less than 20 hours – is this the future?

A computer model of the Contour Crafting Robotic Construction System. Basically, huge 3-D printers and tools would automatically build civil structures based on input CAD/CAM designs. Source: www.contourcrafting.org

A computer model of the Contour Crafting Robotic Construction System. Basically, huge 3-D printers and tools would automatically build civil structures based on input CAD/CAM designs. Source: www.contourcrafting.org

We haven’t actually shied away from praising the marvels of 3D printing. We’ve told you all about printing fossils, medical implants,  even skin, bones, bacteria or organs! Of course, these are some eccentric uses since, after all, 3-D printing was designed for manufacturing in mind. It’s easy imagine a not so distant future where most goods are 3-D printed, even by home users themselves, but Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor of Industrial & Systems Engineering at the University of Southern California (USC),  has something different in mind. He wants to 3-D print entire homes, as in actual houses.

Khoshnevis and colleagues are working on a prototype for a machine called ‘Contour Crafting’. They’ve already demonstrated that it’s possible to print an entire 2,500 sqft house in  a whooping 20 hours. We’re not talking of course about a plastic house. Scientists have been using 3-D printers to actually print stem cells, for instance. Printing concrete layer by layer is damn easy using this system, and it’s all automated based on CAD designs.

“Contour Crafting is a fabrication process by which large-scale parts can be fabricated quickly in a layer-by-layer fashion. The chief advantages of the Contour Crafting process over existing technologies are the superior surface finish that is realized and the greatly enhanced speed of fabrication. The success of the technology stems from the automated use of age-old tools normally wielded by hand, combined with conventional robotics and an innovative approach to building three-dimensional objects that allows rapid fabrication times. Actual scale civil structures such as houses may be built by CC. Contour Crafting has been under development under support from the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research.”

[ALSO READ] First fully printed 3-D house looks amazing

Sure, a Chinese engineering team might be able to pull this off even faster and maybe even cheaper, but the implications are pretty huge to me at least. It could revolutionize the way civil engineering is made just a decade from now and offers the starting point for the construction of structures on the moon and Mars, as well as  fine arts on the creation of large ceramic sculptures.

To find out more, I invite you all to check out Khoshnevis’ TED talk, embedded right below.

Health care engineering

Healthcare Engineering Trends Today

In the future, hospitals and other health care institutions will have to adapt to new norms. Photo credit: healtheng.com

In the future, hospitals and other health care institutions will have to adapt to new norms. Photo credit: healtheng.com

Healthcare has been changing at a rapid pace the last few years. Now, with the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), there are even bigger changes in the near future. As the face of healthcare changes, so must the facilities used by healthcare professionals. In an attempt to keep costs down hospitals will become places for the sickest of the sick to be treated, and more emphasis will be placed on other types of care settings and clinics for less urgent needs. These trends in healthcare engineering will usher in the new era of healthcare needs.

Hospitals will quickly become smaller, more compact facilities with an emphasis on emergent care in order to keep costs down. With a large influx of newly insured patients combined with a decrease in the amount of reimbursement per patient on average, there will be a tendency to keep less severe cases out of the hospital and utilizing urgent care, physician’s practices, or similar clinics instead. Many of these urgent care facilities will operate as satellites of bigger hospitals and will be able to offer smooth transitions into more acute care when needed.


Along with a tendency to keep less urgent cases out of the hospital setting, there will also be a greater need for quality rehabilitation centers and senior care centers. In order to keep readmission (which comes with a steep fine in many cases) to a minimum, these rehabilitation facilities will continue care to those who no longer need the intense and expensive care of a hospital, but are not yet ready to go home. Quality rehabilitation and senior care centers will be in high demand.

The emphasis on the continuum of care will likely reach into home healthcare as well. The ACA will fine hospitals who reach a certain readmission rate, so caring for the patient until they are fully back to health, in the least expensive but most effective way possible is of the utmost importance. Likely there will be major advancements to home healthcare technology, even reaching into the virtual world, as the need to keep costs down and quality high continues.

Facilities Design

Healthcare engineering professionals will be tasked with designing these smaller, more compact hospital facilities of the future. The new facilities will need to be efficient, and meet the acute needs of the sickest of the sick. Unlike hospitals of the past which would build new wings in departments that brought in high revenue, these hospitals of the future are likely to cost more than they bring in, and will likely depend on the income of the satellite healthcare facilities.

These new facilities also must focus on providing quality care to their patients. New legislation penalizes hospitals for readmission, hospital acquired infections, and improper or missed diagnoses. Medicare or Medicaid will refuse payment if readmission is too high. Even with an influx of more newly insured patients, hospitals must be careful to give quality care that doesn’t miss a step, else risk losing precious revenue.

There is a link between building design and quality of care. Facility designers and individuals in careers in electrical engineering are tasked with the challenge of meeting the new needs of the healthcare industry. When the facility design follows evidence-based strategies, it is more successful at lowering readmissions and providing quality care to the patients in the facility. These new designs will ideally shorten length of stay, reduce fall hazards, reduce spread of infections, and reduce readmission rates.

Then there is the question of already existing facilities. The ability for engineers and designers to repurpose the existing buildings to meet the needs of the new healthcare system is an important part of the whole picture. Just demolishing these buildings is not the most desirable option, and instead finding a way to adapt the current building to meet the needs of the changing system is much preferred.

The healthcare system is undergoing many changes, some small, others more drastic. Healthcare engineering can and will adapt to meet the changing needs in order to help hospitals and other facilities deliver the most cost efficient and highest quality care possible to their patients.

Dee Fletcher is a freelancer and ghost writer, and also enjoys guest blogging. She writes mostly about current trends or events in various industries, but also writes advice and how to articles. She works from her home in Southern California and loves to visit the beach as often as she can.

The largest stone carving lies on the descent from the raised platform of the Outer Court, heading north towards the Inner Court, behind the Hall of Preserved Harmony.

How to build Beijng’s Forbidden City with 100-tonne stone blocks tens of miles away


(c) Wiki Commons

This “How to” may not be that relevant in modern times, but in the XIV and XV century, I could think of a few civilizations that would have loved to learn how Chinese engineers moved huge volumes of rock from quarries tens of miles away. Such blocks of stone, weighing at least 100 tonnes, were used to build the splendid Forbidden City, which resides in the traditional Beijing center. There were no high power machines during that time, and using brute force alone meant that construction would take forever. Instead, historical documents and a recent computation made by scientists at the University of Science and Technology Beijing, show that raw material for the palace was brought  on wooden sledges along ice roads. Basically, the Chinese engineers took advantage of natural lubrication conditions.

One of the biggest attractions at the Forbidden Palace is the “Large Stone Carving” that graces the stairway to the Hall of Preserving Harmony. Impressive and beautiful figurines and decorations are littered throughout the stone, however the huge monolith is one single block, and it weighs no less then 272 metric tonnes. How on earth did they move this kind of material, considering it came from tens and tens of miles away? Maybe even farther.

The wheel was invented in China well before that, since the 4th century BC actually. Even in the late 1500s, however, Chinese wheeled vehicles could not carry loads exceeding around 86 tonnes, says Thomas Stone, a fluid mechanicist at Princeton University in New Jersey, and a member of the team that performed the study. For great loads,  the use of wooden sledges was required.

Imagine whole tree trunks the size say of a telegraph pole lined up one after the other. The stone, pulled by many men and burden animals, would slide along these tree trunks. In practice, however, this theory is met with a lot of challenges. This would only work on smooth, hard surface to prevent the rollers from becoming mired.  So, again, how did they do it?

Building a palace one (big) stone at a time

Photo by Jakub Hałun.

Luckily, the Chinese kept a lot of documents for their projects be them agriculture, arts or, of course, construction. The researchers found a 500-year-old Chinese record claiming that in 1557,  112-metric-tonne stone was transported over 28 days to the Forbidden City from a quarry by ice sledge. This quarry was located 70 kilometers away from Beijing.

The team of scientists decided to test this historical documentation and they computed the friction, power and delivery time for the same amount of load under various scenarios. Dragging a 112-tonne sledge over bare ground would require more than 1,500 men, however the   same sled across bare ice or across wet, wooden rails would require 330 men to pull. Here’s the interesting part, though: when a thin film of water is poured on top of the ice during the winter when most transports would take place,  fewer than 50 men would be needed to tow the load. Lubricated in this fashion, the stones would have slid along at a stately 0.18 miles (0.29 kilometers) an hour, the analysis finds.\

“I’m not surprised. If you get enough people, enough rope, and enough time, you can move just about anything,” says archaeologist Charles Faulkner of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who was not on the study team. “And they had a lot of time. And a lot of people.”

And certainly, we couldn’t have expected anything less from the people who built the Great Wall of China. Findings and results were reported in a paper published in the journal  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences .

Hydraulic Filters

Hydraulic Filters – What Are They and What Do They Do?

Hydraulic Filters

Hydraulic Filters

Most people may not be aware that for an engine to work at its peak performance, the lubricants used to keep the parts aligned and wet need to be free of any contaminants. There have been studies pointing out that 75% of all fluid engine or mechanical failures can be linked to issues involving contamination. This is what filters are designed to prevent; to remove particles that are not supposed to be part of the fluid. There are many different kinds, too, so it is imperative that you choose the kind that is designed for your particular needs. You can get Hydraulic Filters from many UK companys so lets see what the different types I so you can be informed.

Bag Filters

bag filters

The most common type of filter is a bag filter. This consists (usually) of a cloth (or synthetic material) bag that the hydraulic fluid is pushed through, which then catches all of the solid contaminants, as they get caught in the filter. These types of filters are most common in cars and trucks. They are usually very inexpensive and easy to clean or change.

Screen Filters



Screen filters are similar to bag filters, except very fine wires are used. These are then woven together, much like fabric is, to create a metallic cloth. Because wires are used instead of cloth, the engineers can make the filter as porous as the job and the expect size of contaminants require.

Magnetic Filters

Magnetic Filters

Magnetic Filters

The final type of filter, magnetic, use specially charged plates, which have been magnetized. Any metals that have become entrapped in the fluid will be picked up and held by these types of filters, though it doesn’t prevent dirt and other non-metallic particles from still contaminating the fluids. Filter Construction

Filter Construction

Filter Construction

When you choose the type of filter you need, you will also need to know if the filter has its own housing or if it can be installed as is. There are also different alignment options that each filter has. The most popular option is called in-line alignment, which allows the inlet and the outlet valves to sync up directly with the filter. The opposite type of alignment, called off-line, means the filter is not part of the hydraulic system’s main loops. Another design is called the duplex alignment.

This type is used to be able to change the filters while the system is still online and working, and consists of two different filter types combined together. The final alignment type is called a return-line system, and is needed when the filter must capture any and all contaminants within the hydraulic system, before they cause any damage to the working parts. You will also need to know the maximum flow rate allowance and pressure type that your particular engine requires, as getting the wrong one can cause the filter to lose its performance quicker. The last thing you’ll need to know are the port valve sizes of both the inlet and outlet, as these require a precise fit when the hydraulic fluid system is connected to the filter.


Most filters have ratings, which measure how effective they are at screening out contaminants. A standard code, the ISO 4406, measures how many contaminants are present in the oil. The lower the cleanliness rating, the better the filter is at removing particles. Filters also have a beta ratio (measuring the size differential between particles above the filter and those below). With the beta ratio, the higher the number is, the better the filter is.


Peruvian engineers create water out of thin air through billboards

aquaThe Peruvian capital of Lima, along with its outskirts, is plagued by a vicious drought, which coupled with pollution and unsanitary water extraction methods, has made the water there stagnant, dirty and dangerous. Doing what they know best – fix problems – engineers at Peru’s University for Engineering and Technology have devised an resourceful system that sucks up the moisture out of the air and turns it into clean, drinkable water. To make sure the populace is aware of this, they’ve installed the system under the form of a double paneled billboard which is sure to highlight there is safe water to be found at the location.

“If the problem is water, we’ll make some,” said Alejandro Aponte, one of the people who worked on the project, which was both an engineering feat and a marketing challenge.

The engineers had to think of a way to build a system that’s able to suck enough water from the air, while at the same time letting people know there’s water readily available. Engineers part of the project have installed five generators to suck moisture out of the air and convert it into liquid. The system requires at least 30% moisture in the air for it to be effective, something of the least worry since Lima and its vicinity are often soaked in an unbearably sticky 98 percent, despite the barren landscape where there is very little evident vegetation and not very much actual rainfall.

The UN and other global leaders have recently called for greater solutions to the water crisis, as projections point to the fact that about 60 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities in the next eight years, adding more strain on sanitation systems and resources. In Lima, one million of the more than eight million people lack reliably clean water.

The whole system was then sandwiched  between two huge billboards which advertise the availability of the water. The system produces some 100 liters of water per day, and given the sounding success the Peruvian engineers are currently discussing ways to implement it through the city, country and even overseas.

“We have seen that this has a huge potential if you get to use it in other areas of Lima, or even other countries that have many water problems,” said Aponte, who said he has received overseas queries about the project.

Now, this is the kind of advertising that we really enjoy and support. Less TV shows, Victoria’s Secret and McDonald’s, more water please.

NASA’s moon gravity mapping to come to a crashing end

As I was telling you in a previous article, researchers from NASA have created a high-res gravity map for the Moon, using two twin man-made satellites – Ebb and Flow. The satellites have done their mission well, shedding light on many of the Moon’s features, but NASA isn’t planning a safe return for them: they are currently being prepared for their final descent, which will lead them crashing down to the Moon, somewhere near its North Pole.

Ebb and Flow, the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission probes are being sent down because their low orbit and insufficient fuel reserves prevent them from fulfilling any other scientific purposes; the probes’ prime and extended missions however generated the highest-resolution gravity field map of any celestial body – truly a major accomplishment. Astrophysicists hope this map will give us a better understanding of how the Earth and the Moon were formed, and how our solar system was during its early days.

“It is going to be difficult to say goodbye,” said GRAIL principal investigator Maria Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “Our little robotic twins have been exemplary members of the GRAIL family, and planetary science has advanced in a major way because of their contributions.”

The gravity map of the Moon made by Ebb and Flow

Their sacrifice will not be forgotten, and thankfully for their honor, no footage of their crash will be available; they will crash into the Moon at a terminal velocity of 1.7 kilometers per second, in a region which will be in shadow at the time.

However, Ebb and Flow will conduct one last mission before they go crashing down; they will fire their main engines until their propellant tanks are empty to determine precisely the amount of fuel remaining in their tanks. While it may seem like nothing, this is actually really important in helping NASA engineers validate fuel consumption models to improve predictions of fuel needs for future missions.

“Our lunar twins may be in the twilight of their operational lives, but one thing is for sure, they are going down swinging,” said GRAIL project manager David Lehman of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Even during the last half of their last orbit, we are going to do an engineering experiment that could help future missions operate more efficiently.”

Therefore even now, at the end of the ride, a lot of careful planning and analysis is required.

“Such a unique end-of-mission scenario requires extensive and detailed mission planning and navigation,” said Lehman. “We’ve had our share of challenges during this mission and always come through in flying colors, but nobody I know around here has ever flown into a moon mountain before. It’ll be a first for us, that’s for sure.”

The GRAIL mission is managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. For more information about GRAIL visit their website.


car crash

Self-braking system for cars could save countless lives

car crashThere were 5.4 million automobile crashes on U.S. roads in 2010, killing 33 000 people and injuring more than 2.2 million, according to survey released by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The death toll around the world is much higher. While cars  have been designed to be a lot safer by making them more crash resistant in the past decades, there is still a lot of room for improvement. A new research conducted by scientists at  Virginia Tech’s Center for Injury Biomechanics sought to determine the effectiveness of a proximity warning and a self-brake system potentially employed in motor vehicles. Their findings suggest that serious injuries could be cut in half were such a system be in use today, while many accidents could be potentially averted altogether.

The researchers Clay Gabler, a professor of biomedical engineering, and Ph.D. student Kristofer Kusano, studied a safety systems based on a sort of radar that signal the driver when it is approaching in dangerous proximity to another vehicle. When the the distance between the two cars becomes too narrow, an audio beep signals the driver to slow down or commence braking. Another system offers braking assistance if the driver responds to the warning by applying the brakes, while another type attempts to bring the car to a halt with a huge braking force if the driver has not hit the brake pedal 0.45 seconds before the sensors predict that there will be contact.

To this end, the scientists went through  5000 car crash records, complete with information such as photographs and diagrams of the crash scenes, police, driver, and occupant statements, and vehicle damage assessments,  and inputted the data into a computer simulation where 1400 crashes were recreated. After the safety systems were put in place, findings showed that the electronic safety systems would slow cars down enough to cut the number of serious injuries in half and avoid 7.7 percent of rear-end collisions altogether.

“Even if the driver is distracted and does nothing, a system of this type would brake forcefully enough during that final half second before impact to slow a car traveling at [72 kilometers per hour] by about [10 to 12 km/h],” says Clay Gabler, who is also assistant director of the Center for Injury Biomechanics. “That might not seem like a lot,” he says, “but the aim is to reduce the energy of a collision. And since kinetic energy is related to the square of velocity, this change in speed reduces the likelihood of serious injury by about 35 percent. That’s huge.”

The findings were reported in the journal IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems.

via IEE Spectrum