Engineering

  • China, U.K. pursue major rail projects; U.S. does not

    Unlike almost every other developed nation, the United States has no national transportation strategy; the nation fails to raise taxes that are supposed to pay for roads and rails. Gasoline taxes, for example, cover only about 50 percent of road projects, much lower than in the past, according to recent Federal Highway Administration figures; once the U.S. recognizes that it needs diversified and integrated air, rail and road transportation, it could well end up importing the technologies, products and expertise it has failed to develop

  • Laws of traditional physics would foil Santa's effort to carry out mission

    Santa has 31 hours to visit 378 million Christian children; at the rate of 3.5 children per household, and assuming at least one good child per home, this comes to 108 million homes; if each child receives no more than a medium sized Lego set (two pounds), the sleigh would be carrying more than 500 thousand tons, not counting Santa himself; Santa would thus need at least 360,000 Reindeer to pull the sleigh; since Santa must visit 108 million homes in 31 hours, he will have to travel at 650 miles per second — 3,000 times the speed of sound; at that speed, the lead pair of Reindeer would absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy per second each and vaporize – indeed, the entire Reindeer team would be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second; Santa himself would be subjected to forces of 17,500 Gs; a 250 pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of the sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force, and be crushed

  • String theory explains Santa Claus

    Calculations maintain that the laws of physics should prevent Santa Claus from delivering all his gifts and that Santa would burn up in the atmosphere if he tried; the Norwegian Internet magazine, forskning.no, has put together a team of four top researchers to look into the case; the panel’s conclusion is clear: Santa can do the job and Christmas is saved!

  • Slowing climate warming may require geoengineering

    Scientists warn that to avoid excessive warming, sea level rise, and extreme weather, CO2 in the atmosphere needs to be reduced to 350 parts-per-million (ppm) by the end of this century from the current level of around 390 ppm; one way to reduce atmospheric CO2 by the end of the century is by setting up fields of air-capture devices that absorb CO2, very similar to the carbon capture and storage technology being developed for coal plants

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  • Geoengineering may affect different regions differently

    Geoengineering approaches would succeed in restoring the average global temperature to “normal” levels, but some regions would remain too warm, whereas others would “overshoot” and cool too much; in addition, average rainfall would be reduced

  • Northeastern to build homeland security research center

    A $12 million gift from an alum will allow Northeastern University to build a homeland security research facility on its Burlington campus; the George J. Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security will be designed to Department of Defense specifications so Northeastern can gain clearances to conduct secure research on areas pertaining to national security, including cryptography, data security, information assurance, explosives detection, and energy harvesting

  • New Florida museum is glass-covered hurricane-proof fortress

    The new Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg is designed to withstand category 5 hurricanes; the roof is 12-inch thick solid concrete; the walls are even thicker, at eighteen inches; the glass, which makes up big sections of the outside of the museum, can hold up to a category 3 hurricane; if that glass breaks, letting rain, wind, and debris into the facility, the art will still be safe: storm doors will shield the galleries on the third floor, and the vault, which is on the second floor (all of the art is placed on the second and third floors, above the 30-foot storm surge of a category 5 storm)

  • China's Three Gorges Dam's showing cracks

    The Three Gorges Dam is China’s largest construction project since the Great Wall; the dam was hailed as an engineering feat that could withstand the worst flood in 100 years, but this year’s torrential rains have severely tested its capacity to control the surging Yangtze

  • The world (supposedly) safest locks easily defeated by paper clips, screw drivers

    Security experts demonstrate how locks which tout themselves as the safest lock available — fingerprints-based Biolock Model 333; Kwikset, a programmable “smartkey” lock , the innovative iLoq C10S which uses the action of a key being pushed into the lock to generate power for electronics that then checked data in a chip on the key to determine whether the user is cleared for access; AMSEC electronic safe Model es1014; KABA InSync deadbolt — can be easily defeated by using nothing more than wires, magnets, air, shock, paper clips, screw drivers, and other improvised tools

  • $1.4 million prize for best oil clean-up technology

    X Prize Foundation is offering $1.4 million in prize money for new technologies to clean up oil spills; competitors will be invited to test their technologies in 2011 in a 203- by 20-metre tank owned by the U.S. government’s Minerals Management Service (MMS); a moving bridge that simulates a boat pulling cleanup equipment and a wave generator create ocean-like conditions in the New Jersey-based facility

  • Good business: Developers make buildings more disaster-secure than building code requires

    A Florida developer hopes to get more business by making his building hurricane-proof; with debris-resistant windows on all thirty-five of its stories, the developer says the building would withstand a Category 5 hurricane without significant damage; the extra hurricane proofing built into the Miami building shows that sometimes the private market can overtake the public sector when it comes to building design and safety standards; for example, in New York and Washington, D.C., some developers have put in anti-terrorism safeguards that exceed building codes

  • Particle injection into the stratosphere could mitigate effects of climate change

    In what scientists describe as Plan D, or an insurance policy for the situation in which Earth hits a tipping point in climate change quickly, a 20-kilometer pipe — “garden hose to the sky” — would be deployed to spray a shield of sulphate particles into the stratosphere; the idea is to emulate the eruption of volcanoes which spew sulphur-rich gas that spread worldwide, blocking sunlight and lowering temperatures

  • Leaking well may be sealed ahead of schedule

    The Deepwater Horizon may be sealed a month or so ahead of schedule — during the second half of July rather than the second half of August — owing to three positive developments: one of two relief wells being drilled will be in a position to engage in “bottom kill” in several days; the containment ship Helix Producer, capable of capturing an additional 53,000 barrels of oil a day, is on station; BP is pressing ahead with plans to swap the current leaky containment cap with a new, no-leak, bolt-down cap

  • U.K. approves well-capping and containment study; new prevention, mitigation solutions sought

    In response to BP’s Gulf disaster, the U.K. offshore oil and gas advisory group charged its technical review group to proceed with developing new solutions for preventing or mitigating similar catastrophes in the future; over the past twenty years nearly 7,000 wells have been successfully drilled in the U.K. continental shelf

  • Louisiana, coastal scientists in bitter dispute over how to limit damage of oil spill

    Louisiana leaders, desperate to prevent oil from the hitting Barataria Bay, a vast estuary in southeast Louisiana that boasts one of the most productive fisheries in the country, want to build a rock dikes across several major tidal inlets between the bay and the Gulf of Mexico to block and then capture the oil; about 100,000 tons of rock began being loaded onto 75 barges on the Mississippi River for transport to the coast; scientists say the dikes would do irreversible damage to existing barrier islands and coastal wetlands, and the Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit for the project