Infrastructure

  • EarthquakesOur new anti-earthquake technology could protect cities from destruction

    By Pierfrancesco Cacciola

    Protecting cities from earthquakes is still a grand challenge that needs addressing, as recent disasters in Nepal, Japan, Haiti, and Chile confirm. Although significant progress has been made in understanding seismic activity and developing building technology, we still don’t have a satisfactory way of protecting buildings on a large scale. This is a serious problem, since large numbers of buildings that don’t have built-in protection exist in earthquake zones, particularly in developing countries where replacing them or introducing stricter — and more expensive — building codes aren’t seen as an option. Researchers have designed a novel vibrating barrier (ViBa) to reduce the vibrations of nearby structures caused by an earthquake’s ground waves. The device would be buried in the soil and detached from surrounding buildings, and should be able to absorb a significant portion of the dynamic energy arising from the ground motion with a consequent reduction of seismic response (between 40-80 percent).

  • CybersecurityDuqu 2.0: New, menacing programming concept

    In 2011, the security world was rocked by the announcement of a newly discovered virus named Stuxnet. This malware, unlike previous viruses, was targeted at one particular victim. That target was Iran’s nuclear program.Following on the heels of Stuxnet was a variant named Duqu.Duqu is different from Stuxnet, however, in that it was designed to gather information for future attacks, rather than perform the attack itself.There is evidence that the malware was used to gather information on the U.S. talks with Iran over the Iranian nuclear program.Since this worm is able to move laterally, and runs only in system memory, a given computer can be easily re-infected from elsewhere in the home network, without using any mechanisms that would provide persistence. Duqu 2.0 represents programming concepts never used before that make it extremely dangerous.

  • Infrastructure protectionMuons from cosmic rays used to find fraying infrastructure

    In the United States, electricity comes with the flip of a switch and heat arrives with the push of a button. Behind such convenience lies a massive infrastructure network that produces and distributes energy. And just like roads wear down and need to be repaved occasionally, this energy infrastructure degrades over time. Pipes can corrode and concrete can wear thin. Failure can be catastrophic. Seeking a better way to identify faulty energy infrastructure before it fails, researchers are using subatomic particles called muons to analyze the thickness of concrete slabs and metal pipes. Subatomic particles naturally generated when cosmic rays collide with molecules in the atmosphere, and they can be used to locate weak points in pipes and concrete.

  • Food securityRising fossil fuel energy costs risk global food security

    Ongoing efforts to feed a growing global population are threatened by rising fossil-fuel energy costs and breakdowns in transportation infrastructure. Without new ways to preserve, store, and transport food products, the likelihood of shortages looms in the future. In an analysis of food preservation and transportation trends, scientists warn that new sustainable technologies will be needed for humanity just to stay even in the arms race against the microorganisms that can rapidly spoil the outputs of the modern food system.

  • view counter
  • FloodsMajor Midwest flood risk underestimated by as much as five feet: Study

    As floodwaters surge along major rivers in the Midwestern United States, a new study suggests federal agencies are underestimating historic 100-year flood levels on these rivers by as much as five feet, a miscalculation that has serious implications for future flood risks, flood insurance, and business development in an expanding floodplain. Moreover, high-water marks are inching higher as global warming makes megafloods more common.

  • Nuclear powerA new look for nuclear power

    By Nancy W. Stauffer

    Many experts cite nuclear power as a critical component of a low-carbon energy future. Nuclear plants are steady, reliable sources of large amounts of power; they run on inexpensive and abundant fuel; and they emit no carbon dioxide (CO2). A novel nuclear power plant that will float eight or more miles out to sea promises to be safer, cheaper, and easier to deploy than today’s land-based plants.

  • view counter
  • WaterOur mostly dry planetary neighbors once had lots of water -- what does that imply for us?

    By David A. Weintraub

    Our two closest solar system neighbors, Venus and Mars, once had oceans — planet-encircling, globe-girdling, Earth-like oceans, but neither Venus nor Mars could hold onto their water for long enough to nurture advanced life forms until they could flourish. The lessons from Venus and Mars are clear and simple: water worlds are delicate and fragile. Water worlds that can survive the ravages of aging, whether natural or inflicted by their inhabitants — and can nurture and sustain life over the long term — are rare and precious. If we allow the temperature of our planet to rise a degree or two, we may survive it as a minor environmental catastrophe. But beyond a few degrees, if we allow a runaway greenhouse effect to kick up the temperature a few more notches, do we know the point at which global warming sends our atmosphere into a runaway death spiral, turning Earth into Venus? We know what the endgame looks like.

  • CybersecurityAbu Dhabi’s power system to be used for critical infrastructure cybersecurity study

    Abu Dhabi, UAE-based Masdar Institute of Science and Technology and MIT will use Abu Dhabi’s power system as a case study for developing a knowledge map of the power system and its cybersecurity shortcomings. The project is due to run for two years. At the end of this two year period, the collaborating institutions hope that data from the analysis of Abu Dhabi’s power system could be compared against data from the projects running concurrently in New York and Singapore to develop a comprehensive knowledge map, capable of being applied to critical infrastructure worldwide.

  • Oil spillsEco-friendly oil spill solution developed

    Chemists have developed an eco-friendly biodegradable green “herding” agent that can be used to clean up light crude oil spills on water. Derived from the plant-based small molecule phytol abundant in the marine environment, the new substance would potentially replace chemical herders currently in use.

  • Coastal resilienceSea-level rise threatens $40 billion of national park assets, historical and cultural infrastructure

    U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell last week released a report revealing that national park infrastructure and historic and cultural resources totaling more than $40 billion are at high risk of damage from sea-level rise caused by climate change. The report was conducted by scientists from the National Park Service and Western Carolina University and is based on an examination of forty parks — about one-third of those considered threatened by sea-level rise — and the survey is on-going.

  • IranIran offered nuclear help in exchange for tighter restrictions on weapons-related technology

    The talks between the P5+1 and Iran over a nuclear deal resumed on Wednesday, and sources say that Western powers have offered Iran high-tech reactors in exchange for further curbs on those aspects of Iran’s nuclear program which would make it possible for it to “break out” of the confines of the deal and build a nuclear weapon. The Western powers promised to supply Iran with light-water nuclear reactors instead of its nearly completed heavy-water facility at Arak, which could produce enough plutonium for several bombs a year if completed as planned. One of the major goals of the P5+1 negotiators has been to reduce the Arak reactor’s plutonium output, thus blocking Iran’s plutonium path to the bomb. It offers cooperation with Iran in the fields of nuclear safety, nuclear medicine, research, nuclear waste removal, and other peaceful applications.

  • Community resilienceTen universities join natural disaster preparedness initiative

    In March, Texas A&M urban planning researchers formed a new initiative with scientists from ten other universities to help communities prepare for and recover from natural disasters. The headquarters of the coalition, the Community Resilience Center of Excellence, is based at Colorado State University. Colorado is centrally located in the United States, but the universities involved are spread across the country to maximize the reach of the research. Other universities — such as Rice University, the University of Oklahoma, and Texas A&M University-Kingsville — are contributing to the research to help create resilient communities through their own models of information.

  • Coastal resilienceUNC-Chapel Hill launches Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence

    The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill officially launched its new Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC), made possible through a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate, Office of University Programs five-year, $20 million grant. The CRC initiative led by UNC-Chapel Hill will include collaboration with more than a dozen partner universities to address the challenges facing communities across the United States which are vulnerable to coastal hazards.

  • Coastal resilienceProtecting coastal communities, critical infrastructure

    University of South Alabama (USA) researchers are joining a nationwide effort to help communities recover from disasters. The effort is the centerpiece of the Community Resilience Center of Excellence, which will be based at Colorado State University, and USA is one of ten universities offering their expertise. USA’s department of civil engineering will provide their unique coastal engineering knowledge related to hurricane storm surge and waves. “With well over 50 percent of the U.S. population living within fifty miles of a coastline, much of our nation’s critical infrastructure is vulnerable to coastal hazards and the expected impacts of long-term sea level rise,” said Prof. Bret Webb, an associate professor of civil engineering at USA.

  • WaterCalifornia Republicans introduce bill to improve Western water reliability

    Republican members of the California congressional delegation yesterday introducing a bill to modernize water policies in California and throughout the Western United States. The bill has the support of the entire California Republican delegation, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, and chairman of the Western Caucus. The bill’s authors say that H.R. 2898, the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015, aims to make more water available to families, farmers, and communities in California and bordering Western states. The bill takes aim at what the authors describe as the “dedication of vast quantities of water to protect certain species of fish listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) [which] is a significant obstacle hindering water delivery in Central and Southern California.” H.R. 2898 will require federal agencies to use current and reliable data when making regulatory decisions, which in turn will provide more water for communities in need.