Engineering

  • NukesFloating nuclear plants could ride out tsunamis

    By David L. Chandler

    When an earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant complex in 2011, neither the quake nor the inundation caused the ensuing contamination. Rather, it was the aftereffects — specifically, the lack of cooling for the reactor cores, due to a shutdown of all power at the station — that caused most of the harm. A new design for nuclear plants built on floating platforms, modeled after those used for offshore oil drilling, could help avoid such consequences in the future. Such floating plants would be designed to be automatically cooled by the surrounding seawater in a worst-case scenario, which would indefinitely prevent any melting of fuel rods, or escape of radioactive material.

  • STEM educationWisconsin YES youth business plan contest helps promote STEM education

    The number of skilled individuals needed in STEM industries is enormous, and growing, making it more and more crucial to promote the education of students in these disciplines. Wisconsin Yes! Aims to foster interest in science and tech education and encourages students to be independent, creative thinkers capable of problem solving. The statewide Wisconsin YES! youth business plan contest will close to entries 5 p.m. Monday, 17 March. Public, private, and home-schooled students across Wisconsin are eligible to turn their science- and tech-related ideas into business plans and compete for cash and prizes.

  • STEM educationConnecting 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.

  • Flood defenseUnsupervised robotic construction crew to build flood defenses

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    On the plains of Namibia, millions of tiny termites are building a mound of soil — an 8-foot-tall “lung” for their underground nest. They do so without a supervisor, foreman, or CEO to tell them what to do. During a year of construction, many termites will live and die, wind and rain will erode the structure, and yet the colony’s life-sustaining project will continue. Harvard researchers, inspired by the termites’ resilience and collective intelligence, have created an autonomous robotic construction crew. The system needs no supervisor, no eye in the sky, and no communication: just simple robots — any number of robots — that cooperate by modifying their environment. In the future, similar robots could lay sandbags in advance of a flood, or perform simple construction tasks on Mars.

  • Planetary securityLimitations and side effects of large-scale geoengineering

    Despite international agreements on climate protection and political declarations of intent, global greenhouse gas emissions have not decreased, and with the accelerating industrialization of emerging markets, are not likely to any time soon. Therefore, large-scale methods – called geoengineering or climate engineering — artificially to slow down global warming are increasingly being discussed. Scientists say that the long-term consequences and side effects of these methods have not been adequately studied.

  • STEM educationDassault Systèmes, Georgia Tech expand STEM education collaboration

    Dassault Systèmes the other day announced that the Georgia Institute of Technology will adopt the company’s 3DEXPERIENCE platform for 10,000 users (students and educators), including its range of capabilities in the design authoring, digital manufacturing, collaboration, scientific simulation, and visualization fields. The announcement comes after nearly twelve years of collaboration, in which Georgia Tech and Dassault Systèmes have partnered to establish an ambitious science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education program.

  • STEM educationLockheed Martin launches updated, expanded Engineers in the Classroom (EITC) toolkit

    This week is National Engineers Week, and Lockheed Martin, a company which employs 60,000 of them, is marking the week by launching an updated and expanded Engineers in the Classroom (EITC) toolkit created in partnership with National Geographic. These materials, which can be found on Lockheed Martin’s EITC Web site, will help engineers and scientists engage students in hands-on, creative activities with a goal of inspiring them to consider careers in STEM.

  • STEM educationTransfer of knowledge learned key to improving science education

    Attendees of a workshop at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science were  immersed into “active learning,” an approach inspired by national reports targeting U.S. science education in general, and, more specifically, the 60 percent dropout rate of students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The workshop focused on how science students learn material, but, more importantly, how well they transfer the concepts they have learned into their next class — in the same or a different discipline — or into their jobs.

  • STEM educationMath is important but should it be compulsory?

    By Deborah King

    There was much discussion recently about making it compulsory for year 12 students in New South Wales, Australia to study some mathematics. Over the past ten years at least, the total proportion of students studying Year 12 math has remained stable at around 80 percent, but the trend around the country has been for students studying math to take lower levels of math. The problem of declining math skills is complex and its solution will not be easy, quick or as straightforward as making math compulsory. At the very least the solution will require qualified math teachers in all math classrooms, an engaging curriculum that has clear relevance to the multitude of pathways that students might pursue, including trades and business as well as science, and clear statements from colleges and universities detailing the essential prerequisites that students require for their programs.

  • EarthquakesQuake-vulnerable concrete buildings in Los Angeles area identified

    Researchers have identified nonductile concrete buildings constructed before roughly 1980 in the Los Angeles area. This category of buildings is known from experience in previous earthquakes to have the potential for catastrophic collapse during strong earthquakes. Nonductile concrete buildings were a prevalent construction type in seismically active zones of the United States before the enforcement of codes for ductile concrete which were introduced in the mid-1970s. A companion study estimates that approximately 17,000 nonductile reinforced concrete buildings are located in the most highly seismic areas of California. More than seventy-five million Americans in thirty-nine states live in towns and cities at risk for earthquake devastation.

  • Infrastructure protectionProtecting cities from floods cheaper than post-flood damage repairs

    Researchers say that global warming is here to stay, and thus it is time to start making plans for dealing with the inevitable flooding which will occur as ocean levels rise as a result of warmer water and melting snow and ice. Approximately a billion people currently live in areas which are most at risk — low-lying coastal areas. It is not likely that towns and cities will be moved farther inland, so other measures need to be taken. The researchers say that flood prevention strategies are well established, for example, building levees, barrier islands, etc., so it is not difficult to draw up estimates for such schemes for individual areas.

  • STEM educationSpreading STEM learning opportunities in the San Diego area

    UC San Diego and the San Diego region more broadly are well known for strength in STEM— or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — education. There are numerous STEM pipeline outreach efforts already underway. What has been missing and needed, however, is coordinated and systematic action to spread learning opportunities and to plug “leaks” in the K-20 pipeline to STEM skills, degrees, and careers. The STEM Success Initiative aims to gather community and university resources to lift the region’s K-20 STEM education. The STEM Success Initiative has been launched by the Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence (CREATE) at UCSD.

  • Infrastructure protectionZapping bridges with electricity to test for corrosion

    One out of nine of the nation’s bridges is structurally deficient and that more than 30 percent of bridges have exceeded their 50-year design life; the average age of the nation’s bridges is currently forty-two years. Motorists in the United States make more than 200 million trips across bridges rated structurally deficient or in need of significant maintenance and yearly inspection. Of the more than 17,000 bridges in New York, 12.5 percent are structurally deficient and 27 percent are considered functionally obsolete. One major culprit for bridges’ deterioration: corrosion of reinforcing steel. New testing method could replace expensive, time-consuming visual inspections.

  • STEM educationPurdue selects students for the 2014 future science leaders class

    Emerging Leaders in Science and Society (ELISS) is a program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). “ELISS prepares graduate and professional students to collaborate within a diverse team to understand the key drivers of complex problems and to plan and implement a team project,” said ELISS director Melanie Roberts. “ELISS graduates will be better able to integrate expertise across disciplines and coordinate action across boundaries to tackle our most complex issues.”

  • Infrastructure protectionNIST: Joplin tornado highlights need for building design, construction standards

    Nationally accepted standards for building design and construction, public shelters, and emergency communications can significantly reduce deaths and the steep economic costs of property damage caused by tornadoes. That is the key conclusion of a two-year technical NIST investigation into the impacts of the 22 May 2011 tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri. Report and recommendations released for public comment.