Sci-Tech

  • Climate change changing intensity, frequency of hurricanes

    Climate change may be the driving force behind fewer, yet more powerful hurricanes and tropical storms. Hurricanes can form when ocean waters are 79 degrees Fahrenheit or more. As the warm water evaporates, it provides the energy a storm needs to become a hurricane. Higher temperatures mean higher levels of energy, which would ultimately affect wind speed.

  • U.S. West's power grid must be “climate-proofed” to lessen risks of power disruption

    Electricity generation and distribution infrastructure in the Western United States must be “climate-proofed” to diminish the risk of future power shortages, according to researchers. Expected increases in extreme heat and drought events will bring changes in precipitation, air and water temperatures, air density, and humidity. the changing conditions could significantly constrain the energy-generation capacity of power plants — unless steps are taken to upgrade systems and technologies to withstand the effects of a generally hotter and drier climate.

  • U Vermont breaks ground for STEM complex, largest capital project in UVM history

    The University of Vermont officially broke ground 15 May on its $104 million STEM project, the largest capital project in UVM history. The 266,000-square-foot STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) complex will include two new buildings for classrooms, science labs, and meeting space. Of the $104 million total project cost, $26 million will come from non-debt sources, including private gifts. To date, $4.6 million has been raised in private gifts.

  • Massive cyberattack by Chinese government hackers on Penn State College of Engineering

    The Penn State College of Engineering has been the target of two sophisticated cyberattacks conducted by so-called “advanced persistent threat” actors. The FireEye cybersecurity forensic unit Mandiant, which was hired by Penn State after the breach was discovered, has confirmed that at least one of the two attacks was carried out by a threat actor based in China, using advanced malware to attack systems in the college. In a coordinated response by Penn State, the College of Engineering’s computer network has been disconnected from the Internet and a large-scale operation to securely recover all systems has been launched. On 21 November 2014 Penn State was alerted by the FBI to a cyberattack of unknown origin and scope on the school’s College of Engineering.

  • Lawmakers pledge to continue supporting Center of Excellence for drone research

    Lawmakers pledge to continue support for FAA Center of Excellence (COE) for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) selected the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE), a consortium of universities headed by Mississippi State University (MSU), to lead the UAS COE. The FAA expects the COE to begin research in 2015 and be fully operational in 2016 in its exploration of evolving new technological developments regarding unmanned aircraft and their uses, including detect-and-avoid technology, low-altitude operations safety, privacy safeguards, and other areas. Research will also involve the deployment of UAS for emergency response, biofuel and clean fuel technologies, law enforcement activities, and agricultural and environmental monitoring.

  • Designing the future of rail travel

    Increased traffic, congestion, security of energy supply, and climate change are just some of the many pressing issues that the EU currently faces. In order fully to tackle these challenges, the railway sector must modernize and take on a larger share of transport demand over the next few decades. EU-funded researchers have just begun work on three exciting projects that could very well determine the shape of rail travel in the coming years.

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  • Strengthening increasingly unstable rail tracks

    The big chunks of rock — crushed limestone or dolomite that engineers call ballast — which keep railroad tracks in place look like a solid footing even as freight cars rumble overhead. Temperature and vibration, however, can destabilize ballast over time, keeping it from safely transferring the weight of a loaded train to the soil below, draining water, and preventing vegetation from crowding the tracks. In some states, a booming industry of mining sand for use by oil and gas drillers in hydraulic fracturing has presented a new challenge: fine grains of sand can leak from rail cars, accumulate in rail bed ballast and, during a rainstorm, turn into mushy, track-loosening mud.

  • 75 percent of L.A. County water systems vulnerable to drought, other challenges

    Despite the importance of potable water to the quality of life, economy, and ecosystems in Los Angeles County, surprisingly little is known about the 228 government and private entities which deliver water, and how vulnerable or resilient they are to withstanding pressures from droughts and climate change. Innovative maps in a Water Atlas compiled by UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation show which areas are most threatened. The Water Atlas finds that 75 percent of community drinking water systems in Los Angeles County exhibit at least one indicator of supply vulnerability due either to dependency on a single type of water source, local groundwater contamination, small size, or a projected increase in extreme heat days over the coming decades.

  • Researchers hack a teleoperated surgical robot, revealing security flaws

    Real-world teleoperated robots, which are controlled by a human who may be in another physical location, are expected to become more commonplace as the technology evolves. They are ideal for situations which are dangerous for people: fighting fires in chemical plants, diffusing explosive devices or extricating earthquake victims from collapsed buildings. Researchers conducted a series of experiments in which they hacked a next generation teleoperated surgical robot — one used only for research purposes — to test how easily a malicious attack could hijack remotely controlled operations in the future and to make those systems more secure.

  • Bomb squads compete at Sandia Labs’ Robot Rodeo

    Robots are life-saving tools for the nation’s hazardous device teams, providing a buffer between danger and first responders. Beginning this past Monday, Sandia Lab hosted its ninth annual Western National Robot Rodeo and Capability Exercise at Sandia National Laboratories. The five-day event – 11-15 May — offers a challenging platform for civilian and military bomb squad teams to practice defusing dangerous situations with robots’ help. 

  • South Africa must start managing its retreat from the coast

    In 2015 there may remain some small uncertainties about the pace and intensity of climate change, but the inevitability of storm surges and sea level rise is not one of them. Due to the warming ocean’s thermal mass, thermal expansion, melting ice, and other complex interactions between air, land, and water, the sea level will rise significantly over the next few centuries. Even if we stopped using fossil fuels today, this is inevitable. African cities and coastlines, like the rest of the world, absolutely need natural coastal defenses: dunes, estuaries, mangroves, reefs, and coastal plains – but in many areas these defense would not be sufficient. In those areas, another approach should be considered: A managed retreat from the coast. In many places along the African coast such retreat is essential to minimize risk to coastal societies and maximize social and economic stability. And if planned properly, it can generate significant economic growth rather than chaos. The alternative is a grim scenario of treacherous coastline littered with rusting hulks of drowned and broken buildings, displaced coastal communities, and attendant impacts on health, food security, disaster risk management, and social and economic stability.

  • More assessment of dispersants used in response to oil spills needed

    Chemical dispersants are widely used in emergency responses to oil spills in marine environments as a means of stimulating microbial degradation of oil. After the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, dispersants were applied to the sea surface and deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the latter of which was unprecedented. S new study argues for further in-depth assessments of the impacts of dispersants on microorganisms to guide their use in response to future oil spills.

  • Invisible inks to help foil counterfeiters

    Counterfeiting is very big business worldwide, with $650 billion per year lost globally, according to the International Chamber of Commerce. Scientists have invented sophisticated fluorescent inks that one day could be used as multicolored barcodes for consumers to authenticate products that are often counterfeited. Snap a photo with your smartphone, and it will tell you if the item is real and worth your money.

  • Students who take a hands-on approach to learning perform better in science

    Students who physically experience scientific concepts understand them more deeply and score better on science tests, according to a new study. Brain scans showed that students who took a hands-on approach to learning had activation in sensory and motor-related parts of the brain when they later thought about concepts such as angular momentum and torque. Activation of these brain areas was associated with better quiz performance by college physics students who participated in the research.

  • Marshes, reefs, beaches can bolster coastal resilience: NOAA

    Coastal erosion, storms, and flooding can reshape the shoreline and threaten coastal property. With approximately 350,000 houses, business, bridges, and other structures located within 500 feet of the U.S. shoreline, erosion is a problem many U.S. coastal communities are addressing. Coastal flooding caused by extreme weather events and sea level rise is of growing global concern. In 2012, just two coastal extreme weather events caused $68 billion in damages — Sandy accounted for $65 billions, and Hurricane Isaac for $3 billion. The resilience of U.S. coastal communities to storms, flooding, erosion, and other threats can be strengthened when they are protected by natural infrastructure such as marshes, reefs, and beaches, or with hybrid approaches, such as a “living shoreline” — a combination of natural habitat and built infrastructure, according to a new NOAA study.