Tag Archives: train

Coradia iLint.

Germany rolls out the first hydrogen-powered trains in the world

Germany can boast running the first hydrogen-powered trains in the world.

Coradia iLint.

Image credits Frank Paukstat / Flickr.

As of this Monday, passengers from the towns of Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, Bremervoerde, and Buxtehude (all of them just west of Hamburg) can embark on a unique experience — on a train. Two Coradia iLint locomotives — designed and built by Alstom, the same company behind the bullet train — will ‘burn’ through hydrogen fuel cells to take these passengers for a ride.

Trainspotting

People like fast trains. At the time of their unveiling, trains such as Japan’s bullet train and the French TGV made headlines, set records, and captured the public’s imagination. But going fast isn’t the only desirable quality in a train. For example, the TGV imposed itself, along with its electric transmission, during the 1973 oil crisis in France.

As Europe works to decouple its economy from fossil fuels, French company Alstom wants to provide them with trains made to measure. The company is now working to replace Germany’s old diesel-powered trains with hydrogen ones. Alstom CEO Henri Poupart-Lafarge inaugurated the first pair of such trains — christened Coradia iLint — at a ceremony in Bremervoerde, where the trains will undergo hydrogen refueling.

“The world’s first hydrogen train is entering into commercial service and is ready for serial production,” he said during the event.

The trains, painted bright blue, will run along a 100-kilometer (62-mile) long stretch of track. However, they can travel up to 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) on a single tank of hydrogen, the company reports.

Hydrogen engines draw on fuel cells to produce electricity. Hydrogen in these cells is combined with oxygen in the atmosphere to generate power, and their only exhaust product is pure water and steam. The engines in the Coradia iLints are very efficient, so the vehicles come equipped with banks of ion-lithium to make sure no charge is wasted.

They’re much quieter than their diesel-fueled counterparts, more eco-friendly, and have the upper hand on electric trains as they can run on any stretch of track, electrified or not. Their only down-side is a higher initial cost.

“Sure, buying a hydrogen train is somewhat more expensive than a diesel train, but it is cheaper to run,” says Stefan Schrank, Alstom’s project manager.

For their part, Germans seem to really dig the trains. Alstom reported that it has already signed a contract to deliver 14 trains in the Lower Saxony (northern Germany) region by 2021. The trains will be delivered to the local transport authority of Lower Saxony (LNVG), which will, in turn, lease them to a contracted train operator, the Eisenbahnen und Verkehrsbetriebe Elbe-Weser GmbH (EVB).

France is also working to acquire hydrogen-powered trains, which it plans to have ready by 2022. Other European countries, including the U.K, Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, and Italy, have also expressed an interest in such vehicles, as did Canada.

The Coradia iLint was first showcased at the rail industry trade fair InnoTrans in 2016, where the company boldly named it “train of the future”; we can only hope that their boast proves true.

Waving away mosquitoes teaches them to stop bothering prey

A female mosquito dining at a fancy… human?
Source: Pixabay/skeeze

Mosquitoes rely on smell to choose victims. In a new study published in Current Biology, mosquitoes learned to associate smells with vibrations mimicking human hand movements. After subsequent exposures to the same smell, the arthropods avoided the respective odor. This behavior suggests that the insects learned that certain scents were associated with a near-death experience.

The smell of fear

Mosquitoes, these tiny, annoying vampires, bother everyone from birds to humans. They are not just terribly vexing, but dangerous as well. Even though the word ‘mosquito’ comes from Spanish and means ‘little fly’, the insects are not innocent at all. Mosquitoes are considered the deadliest animals on Earth, causing 725,000 deaths per year, according to a 2014 World Health Organization survey. Malaria, a mosquito-borne infectious disease, killed 445,000 people in 2016, states WHO.

These alarming numbers are the main reason why scientists are now trying to come up with different methods to reduce mosquito bites.

Previously, researchers discovered that each mosquito species shows a proclivity towards a certain type of host animal, even towards distinct individuals within those species. Unfortunately, the exact mechanisms through which this insect chooses its prey are still unknown. For example, generalist mosquito Culex tarsalis primarily torments birds in the summer but feeds on both mammals and birds in the winter.

Researchers at the University of Washington conducted an experiment to see if mosquito preferences could be learned. The team, led by Jeffrey Riffell, employed mosquitoes, rats, chickens and a machine named the “vortexer”. Scientists first presented the insects with an animal smell — a rat, for example. Next, the vortexer was used to inflict small mechanical shocks on mosquitoes.

A mosquito in the “vortexer” machine, which simulates swats. (Image: Kiley Riffell)

The following step was to assess if the mosquitoes learned something. Two groups of mosquitoes took part in the study: a control group of untrained mosquitoes and a group of previously trained ones. Researchers discovered that trained mosquitoes did not attack the rats, as the untrained ones did. When scientists repeated the experiment — but this time with chickens — they observed that the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes encountered some difficulty acquiring avian odors. The reason might be that the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes predominantly suck human blood, so they would be inclined to learn mammal smells faster.

“Once mosquitoes learned odors in an aversive manner, those odors caused aversive responses on the same order as responses to DEET, which is one of the most effective mosquito repellents,” said Riffell in a statement. “Moreover, mosquitoes remember the trained odors for days.” he added.

Scientists wondered how the small mosquito brain could process such a large amount of information. One answer came to mind: dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is frequently used in learning processes (especially in remembering with the help of good or bad stimuli) by mammals and insects alike.

The team had one more thing to do: to prove their theory right. So, they genetically engineered mosquitoes that lacked dopamine receptors and glued them to a rack in order to monitor their neuron activity when introducing them to different odors. The researchers discovered that neurons were less likely to fire when presented various smells due to their inability to process dopamine.

A mosquito glued to a 3D-printed rack. (Image: Kiley Riffell)

“By understanding how mosquitoes are making decisions on whom to bite, and how learning influences those behaviors, we can better understand the genes and neuronal bases of the behaviors,” said Riffell. “This could lead to more effective tools for mosquito control.”

So, if a mosquito is troubling you, feel free to wiggle your hands at it. You might not kill it, but there is a good chance it will leave you alone.

There is no ‘Nazi Train’, Polish geophysicists find

This summer in Poland, two treasure hunters discovered what they believe was a WWII Nazi train filled with treasure, in a buried tunnel. Poland’s Deputy Culture Minister Piotr Zuchowski said authorities were led to the spot and that he was 99% convinced that the treasure had been located. But according to scientists Krakow’s AGH University of Science and Technology, we shouldn’t believe the hype.

Geophysicists examining the site of the alleged train.

From the very start, there was something unclear about this story. The evidence for the 99% belief in the Nazi train was based on so-called GPR (ground penetrating radar)… except the image they published wasn’t from GPR. I’m not sure what it was from, but I’ve worked with similar equipment in recent years, and have consulted with people who have done so even more – everyone agreed that it’s not GPR. That’s when the first question marks emerged about the validity of the involved science. Now, a team of researchers from Krakow University of Science and Technology came back to look in more detail – using magnetic and gravity measurements.

While ground penetrating radar works by emitting an electromagnetic pulse and recording its return, gravity and magnetic measurements measure existing fields. Gravity is suited for detecting large structures and underground voids – as they create a high enough contrast. Meanwhile, magnetic measurements are highly susceptible to metals, so if there were a treasure or some load of guns there, you’d definitely expect to see it. Even if there was a train, it would definitely have lots of metal you would see through magnetics… except you don’t. The team from AGH University was convinced there was no Nazi train.

“There may be a tunnel,” Janusz Madej, leader of the team, said at a press conference. “But there is no train.”

This seems to translate into “we found some kind of buried structure, but there was no indication of anything metallic.” Piotr Koper and Andreas Richter, the two men who claimed to have located the train in Walbrzych, Poland, still stand by their discovery, but the science seems to claim otherwise.

“There can’t be a mistake,” Koper said Tuesday, according to the newspaper.

Investigations will likely continue in the future, and using more geophysical methods in conjunction with each other could fill in the gaps, because there is always uncertainty with any remote detection method. Drills will also be carried on to directly see what’s down there.

Between 1943 and 1945, the Nazis forced prisoners of war to dig more than 9km of tunnels near Walbrzych, probably to be used as factories. However, popular folklore believes the Nazis wanted to establish a secret command centre linked by tunnels to the Owl Mountains south-east of the city. People have been chasing the legend of the train for decades, and apparently, they’ll have to keep looking.