Archive | Engineering

Lasers Could Protect Helicopters from Harm

ANN ARBOR, Mich., Sept. 3 (UPI) — A new laser technology could protect helicopters in combat from heat-seeking missiles, University of Michigan researchers say.

Using inexpensive, off-the-shelf telecommunications fiber optics, Mohammed Islam, a professor in the UM Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, has developed sturdy and portable “mid-infrared supercontinuum lasers” that could blind heat-seeking weapons from a distance of 1.8 miles, a university release said.

“Battlefield terrain in places like Afghanistan and Iraq can be so rough that our troops have often had to rely on helicopters, and they can be easy targets for enemies with shoulder-launched missiles,” Islam says.

“Our lasers give off a signal that’s like throwing sand in the eyes of the missile.”

The lasers are promising for helicopter protection because their robust, simple design can withstand the vibrations of helicopter flight.

Most lasers emit light of just one wavelength. But supercontinuum lasers give off a focused beam packed with light from a much broader range of wavelengths.

Islam’s mid-infrared supercontinuum laser is the first to operate in longer infrared wavelengths that heat-seeking missiles use to home in on the infrared radiation that a helicopter engine emits.

By emitting a broad spectrum of infrared light, it can effectively mimic the engine’s electromagnetic signature and confuse any incoming weapons, Islam said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Computers Predicted Gulf Oil Movement

SANTA BARBARA, Calif., Sept. 2 (UPI) — Scientists in California say they were successful in predicting the spread of oil from the Gulf of Mexico spill and when and where it would wash ashore.

Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, used computer models to describe how slicks of oil tend to be stretched into filaments by motion at the sea surface, a university release said.

To produce predictions of oil movement after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, Igor Mezic, a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB who studies fluid dynamics, utilized forecasts of sea surface conditions from a U.S. Navy model.

“We predicted where the oil was going to go,” Mezic said. “We were able to do three-day predictions pretty accurately.”

Mezic and his colleagues computed frequent forecasts of the movement of the spill and provided them to those involved in the cleanup.

“We were on the phone with people, several days in advance, telling them where the oil was going to go,” Mezic said.

They successfully predicted where and when oil washed ashore in the Mississippi River Delta and later at Pensacola, Fla., and they forecast the spill would then move east toward Panama City Beach.

Their predictions were accurate to within a couple of miles of the actual extent of the spill later identified from aerial surveys, the university said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Italian Electric Car to Go on Sale in U.K.

LONDON, Sept. 1 (UPI) — A British retailer of electric vehicles says it will start selling an Italian-made two-seat electric car in its showrooms this month.

EV Stores — which sells electric cars, bikes and scooters — says the Tazzari Zero will go on sale for about $33,000 Sept. 12, BusinessGreen.com reported Wednesday.

he Zero uses rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and can go about 85 miles between charges with a top speed of about 62 mph.

Tazzari is an Italian firm with a background in aluminum casting and engineering services. Use of aluminum in the Zero means the car, with battery pack, weighs less than 1,200 pounds.

The Zero qualifies as a quadricycle under European regulations, meaning it is not required to pass crash tests or meet other safety regulations cars must meet, the Web site said.

Because of its quadricycle designation the Zero will not qualify for the $7,700 rebate the U.K. government plans to make available to purchasers of full-blown electric cars like the upcoming Nissan Leaf, authorities say.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Bacteria Could Make Self-healing Concrete

DELFT, Netherlands, Sept. 1 (UPI) — Concrete might heal its own hairline fractures — as living bone does — if bacteria are added to the wet concrete during mixing, European researchers say.

Cracks in concrete surfaces make them vulnerable, allowing water and tag-along aggressive chemicals in, says Henk Jonkers of Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

Patching cracks in old concrete is a time-consuming business, and rebuilding concrete structures is expensive. Jonkers thinks the answer is to fight nature with nature by packing the concrete with bacteria that use water and calcium lactate “food” to make calcite, a natural cement, NewScientist.com reported Wednesday.

Most organisms can’t survive in a pH above 10, typical of concrete. To find bacteria that are happy in such an alkaline environment, Jonkers and his colleagues looked to soda lakes in Russia and Egypt, where the pH of the water is naturally high, and found strains of Bacillus thriving there.

Bacteria can take on a dormant spore state for long periods — up to 50 years — without food or water. Jonkers compares them to seeds waiting for water to germinate.

When water starts to seep into a hairline crack, Jonkers says, the bacteria would activate and begin to consume calcium. As they fed, they would combine the calcium with oxygen and carbon dioxide to form calcite –- essentially pure limestone.

Jonkers presented his work at the EU-U.S. Frontiers of Engineering symposium in Cambridge, England.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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China Corners World 'rare Earth' Supply

WASHINGTON, Sept. 1 (UPI) — China’s monopoly on elements used in computer disc drives, electric cars, military weapons and other key products could mean a crisis for the West, experts say.

China’s control of the supply of most of the world’s “rare earth” elements, and its increasingly hard-line stand on limiting exports, could create a supply crisis for the United States and other countries, an article in the magazine Chemical & Engineering News says.

China has cornered the global market on the family of chemical elements used in devices like lasers, computer memory, batteries and superconductors and produces most of the world’s supply, the magazine says. China has been raising prices and restricting exports since 2005, most recently this year.

One U.S. response is a plan to boost domestic supplies. U.S. authorities are reconsidering reopening the largest U.S. rare earth mine at Mountain Pass in Southern California, dormant since 2002.

The U.S. Department of Energy and the Department of Defense are among the government agencies involved in seeking solutions to a possible supply crisis, the magazine says.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Students Help End Satellite Mission

BOULDER, Colo., Aug. 31 (UPI) — Colorado students took part in an unusual decommissioning of a satellite, bringing the craft into Earth re-entry to burn up in the atmosphere, scientists say.

University of Colorado at Boulder undergraduates, who have been helping to control five NASA satellites from campus, guided the Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite, or ICESat, out of orbit into Earth’s atmosphere Monday, a university release said.

After seven years of gathering valuable data on the polar regions and helping scientists develop a better understanding of ice sheets and sea ice dynamics, the science package on the satellite failed, leading to the decommissioning.

The control team at the university’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics — made up mostly of undergraduates working alongside LASP professionals — uploaded commands for the satellite to burn its remaining fuel and switched off the transmitter.

“CU-Boulder undergraduates have controlled ICESat for the past seven years from our Mission Operations Center here,” LASP Director Bill Possel said. “Although we are sad to see such a successful science mission come to an end, we are proud of our students’ role in bringing the spacecraft safely out of orbit.”

“They ran calculations to determine where the spacecraft was located and made predictions for NASA ground stations that tracked it,” LASP flight director Darrin Osborne said. “The students did this seven days a week until the decommission was complete.”

“It’s amazing for an undergraduate like me to get hands-on experience controlling multimillion-dollar NASA satellites,” said aerospace engineering sciences student Katelynn Finn, who has been a LASP satellite mission controller for more than a year.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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U.K. Wind Farms Deny Causing Seal Deaths

LONDON, Aug. 25 (UPI) — British wind farm developers have strongly denied allegations their construction ships are responsible for a recent rash of seal deaths, authorities said.

Scientists investigating the killing of at least 33 seals whose mutilated bodies have washed ashore in Norfolk and the surrounding coastline say they believe the deaths were caused by a vessel with a ducted propeller that has caused “corkscrew-style” mutilations on the seals’ bodies, BusinessGreen.com reported Tuesday.

A scientist at St. Andrews University Seal Mammal Research Unit says vessels operating between the Sheringham Shoal wind farm and Wells Harbor in North Norfolk might be the cause.

“Wind farms per se are not to blame,” Callan Duck said. “It’s possible that some of the vessels involved in wind farm construction might be responsible, but we do not know that for sure.”

Engineering firm Scira, Sheringham Shoal’s main contractor, denied the allegations.

“Both Scira and the police have checked all equipment on vessels operating at the site and found no connection,” the company said in a statement.

Wells Harbor authorities issued a statement arguing the boats accused of causing the injuries could not have been responsible.

“These seals began to be found in December 2009 but the fast supply boats using Wells to service the wind farm did not start operating from Wells until April 2010,” the company said.

Harbor officials said they had been operating boats with ducted propellers “for many years with no such problems reported.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Weather's Effect on Old Buildings Eyed

EDINBURGH, Scotland, Aug. 23 (UPI) — Scottish researchers say they’ve developed a method of forecasting weather damage to historic buildings and statues that could help in their preservation.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have devised a method of forecasting decay caused by weather to stone buildings and statues, monuments and other historic sites, as well as modern masonry buildings, a university release said Monday.

The slow deterioration of buildings is often caused by ground water rising up through the stone then evaporating, leaving crystallized salts on the surface. The impact of ice forming and melting during cold weather can also cause physical damage, researchers say.

This weathering damage can cause damage to monuments and buildings and lead to crumbling or collapse.

Higher temperatures and lower humidity expected with global climate change would come increased rates of evaporation and damage, researchers say.

Scientists at the university’s school of engineering have developed a computer model of water movement within stone, the first of its kind, which will allow for predicting effects of future climate changes.

“This research allows us to predict the effect of climate change on water movement through buildings, enabling engineers to decide on the most appropriate method of preservation in the years ahead,” Andrea Hamilton of the University’s School of Engineering said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Insect Found to Have True Bifocal Vision

CINCINNATI, Aug. 23 (UPI) — U.S. researchers say they’ve discovered an insect with bifocal vision, the first evidence of true bifocal lenses in the animal kingdom.

University of Cincinnati researchers say two of the 14 eyes of the larvae of the sunburst diving beetle are equipped with bifocal lenses and two separate retinas to focus the images, a university release said Monday.

By using two retinas and two distinct focal planes that are substantially separated, the larvae can more efficiently use these bifocals — comparable to the glasses humans wear to switch their vision from up-close to distance — the better to see and catch their favorite food, mosquito larvae.

Sunburst diving beetle larvae typically live in creeks and streams in Arizona and the western United States. The larvae lose their intricate bifocal lenses when they become a beetle, the researchers say.

“We’re hoping this discovery could hold implications for humans, pending possible future research in biomedical engineering,” Elke K. Buschbeck, a UC associate professor of biology, said.

“The discovery could also have uses for any imaging technology,” Annette Stowasser, a UC biology doctoral student and first author on the paper, said.

The study is being published in the life-science journal Current Biology.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Engineering, Other0 Comments

Insect Found to Have True Bifocal Vision

CINCINNATI, Aug. 23 (UPI) — U.S. researchers say they’ve discovered an insect with bifocal vision, the first evidence of true bifocal lenses in the animal kingdom.

University of Cincinnati researchers say two of the 14 eyes of the larvae of the sunburst diving beetle are equipped with bifocal lenses and two separate retinas to focus the images, a university release said Monday.

By using two retinas and two distinct focal planes that are substantially separated, the larvae can more efficiently use these bifocals — comparable to the glasses humans wear to switch their vision from up-close to distance — the better to see and catch their favorite food, mosquito larvae.

Sunburst diving beetle larvae typically live in creeks and streams in Arizona and the western United States. The larvae lose their intricate bifocal lenses when they become a beetle, the researchers say.

“We’re hoping this discovery could hold implications for humans, pending possible future research in biomedical engineering,” Elke K. Buschbeck, a UC associate professor of biology, said.

“The discovery could also have uses for any imaging technology,” Annette Stowasser, a UC biology doctoral student and first author on the paper, said.

The study is being published in the life-science journal Current

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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