Sci-Tech

  • Examining fire safety concerns raised by green buildings

    In 2012, the “Fire Safety Challenges of Green Buildings” report assembled a list of seventy-eight green building features and construction elements that could have implications for fire safety. The authors then derived a list of potential hazards associated with the features and elements, including greater flammability, faster burn rate, and increased hindrance to firefighters, as compared with conventional construction. A 3-year project, funded with a $1 million grant from DHS, will enable the further exploration of some of the potential risks and hazards identified in the 2012 report.

  • Determining long-term effects of West Virginia chemical spill

    A chemical mixture called crude 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM) is used during the separation and cleaning of coal products. More than 10,000 gallons of the chemical leaked from a storage tank near Charleston, West Virginia, and entered the river upstream of a water-treatment plant on 9 January. The drinking water of more than 300,000 West Virginians was contaminated. Water restrictions began to be lifted on 13 January, but residents are still detecting the telltale odors of MCHM. Virginia Tech faculty engineers and students are unravelling fundamental chemical and health properties of MCHM.

  • “Encouraged” bacteria cleaning up more effectively after oil spills

    Bioremediation is nature’s way of cleaning up. Plants, bacterial decomposers, or enzymes are used to remove contaminants and restore the balance of nature in the wake of pollution incidents. What is surprising is that given the right kind of encouragement, bacteria can be even more effective. Researchers in Norway have achieved surprising results by exploiting nature’s own ability to clean up after oil spills.

  • New technique allows better monitoring of water quality

    Researchers have developed a new technique that uses existing technology to allow researchers and natural resource managers to collect significantly more information on water quality to better inform policy decisions. In addition to its utility for natural resource managers, the technique will also allow researchers to develop more sophisticated models that address water quality questions.

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  • High level of “brain waste” among highly educated immigrants

    Many highly educated immigrants coming to the United States without a job lined up have been unable to find work at their level of education, leading to considerable “brain waste,” researchers have found. The prevalence of such “brain waste” exceeded 40 percent for immigrants with a bachelor’s degree, 50 percent for those with a doctoral or professional degree, and 75 percent for those with a master’s degree.

  • Compact UV laser for biological, chemical detection

    In addition to detecting chemical and biological agents in the field — or at home to protect against mass terror attacks — UV lasers have many other uses. The new class of UV lasers envisioned by DARPA’s Laser UV Sources for Tactical Efficient Raman (LUSTER) program is expected to be of use for a broad range of applications such as point-of-need medical diagnostics, advanced manufacturing, and compact atomic clocks.

  • Connecting individual K-12 STEM subjects for better results

    A new report from the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council examines current efforts to connect the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines in K-12 education, both in formal classroom settings and informal learning environments, and suggests research to help determine the conditions most likely to lead to positive outcomes such as greater student retention and achievement, improved college-readiness skills, and increased interest in pursuing a STEM-related career.

  • Biometric security for mobile devices becoming mainstream

    Biometric security such as fingerprint, face, and voice recognition is set to hit the mainstream as global technology companies market the systems as convenient and easy to use. The latest biometric technologies are not without their security issues, but they are marketed as more convenient than traditional methods rather than more secure, and encourage adoption by people who currently do not have any security on their phone at all.

  • Platform for operating systems would outwit cyber criminals

    As smartphone use surges, consumers are just beginning to realize their devices are not quite as secure as they thought. A Swedish research team is working on a way to secure mobile operating systems so that consumers can be confident that their data is protected.

  • App helps save people trapped by avalanche

    For the person buried under the weight of an avalanche, each minute is precious. A person saved from the snow mass within fifteen minutes has a 90 percent chance of survival. After forty-five minutes that chance has diminished considerably. Researchers develop an app that makes it possible for skiers with smartphones to find people buried in the snow.

  • Too much too young? Teaching children about violent extremism

    Dealing with the rise of homegrown terrorism has prompted governments to take novel approaches in combating such threats. The U.K. government, for example, has recently pushed for schools to teach children as young as four about the dangers of violent extremism. One counter-radicalization strategy adopted by the U.K. government is Prevent, which has been used effectively in British secondary schools. Prevent has in the past been viewed with suspicion, however, particularly by British Muslim communities, as Prevent funding has previously been tied directly to the number of Muslim schools in an area. What Australia can learn from the British example is ensuring that certain communities do not feel alienated. Instead, any attempts at education should focus on the problem of radicalization as a whole.

  • Virtual lab for nuclear waste repository research

    A nuclear waste repository must seal in radioactive waste safely for one million years. Researchers currently have to study repositories and their processes in real underground laboratories, but a virtual underground laboratory will soon simplify their work.

  • Flood risk in Europe could double by 2050

    Losses from extreme floods in Europe could more than double by 2050 because of climate change and socioeconomic development. Floods in the European Union averaged 4.9 billion euros a year from 2000 to 2012. These average losses could increase to 23.5 billion euros by 2050. In addition, large events such as the 2013 European floods are likely to increase in frequency from an average of once every sixteen years to a probability of once every ten years by 2050. Understanding the risk posed by large-scale floods is of growing importance and will be a key for managing climate adaptation.

  • What use are apps when your web infrastructure is underwater?

    This winter has seen unprecedented high winds and flooding resulting in widespread and in some cases, long-lasting power outages in the United Kingdom, particularly in the west of England. Time and time again, companies have advised their customers to go online to check their Web sites for the latest information. Some organizations have even created apps specifically designed to assist flood victims; others have established Facebook self-help groups. There is a fundamental problem here: There are two primary ways in which we gain access to the Web, via a landline and using a mobile connection. Within our homes the landline connects to a wireless router and also, for a lot of homes, a cordless telephone, both of which need electrical power to work. So, when the lights go out, your router and cordless phones are useless. The result is that at times of crisis, the customers in most need are often the ones with no access.

  • People want to save water, but do not know how

    Many Americans are confused about the best ways to conserve water and have a slippery grasp on how much water different activities use, according to a national online survey. Experts say the best strategy for conserving water is to focus on efficiency improvements such as replacing toilets and retrofitting washing machines. The largest group of the participants, however, nearly 43 percent, cited taking shorter showers, which does save water but may not be the most effective action.