• How building design changed after 9/11

    When buildings collapse killing hundreds – or thousands – of people, it’s a tragedy. It’s also an important engineering problem. For structural engineers like me, that meant figuring out what happened, and doing extensive research on how to improve buildings’ ability to withstand a terrorist attack. Research has found ways to keep columns and beams strong even when they are stressed and bent. This property is called ductility, and higher ductility could reduce the chance of progressive collapse. Mixing millions of high-strength needle-like steel microfibers into concrete – to prevent the spreading of any cracks that occur because of an explosion or other extreme force – creates material which is superstrong and very ductile. This material, called ultra-high-performance fiber-reinforced concrete, is extremely resistant to blast damage. As a result, we can expect future designers and builders to use this material to further harden their buildings against attack. It’s just one way we are contributing to the efforts to prevent these sorts of tragedies from happening in the future.

  • Climate change increased chances of record rains in Louisiana by at least 40 percent

    Human-caused climate warming increased the chances of the torrential rains that unleashed devastating floods in south Louisiana in mid-August by at least 40 percent, according to a team of NOAA and partner scientists. “We found human-caused, heat-trapping greenhouse gases can play a measurable role in events such as the August rains that resulted in such devastating floods, affecting so many people,” says the lead author of a new study.

  • Climate change likely to increase frequency, magnitude of severe U.K. flooding events

    Last December, following severe flooding across parts of Northern England and Scotland and on the eve of the climate summit in Paris – which was held 30 November – 12 December 2015 — Lord Deben, chairman of the U.. Committee on Climate Change, said: “Defenses that might historically have provided protection against a 1 in 100 year flood will, with climate change, provide a much lower level of protection and be overtopped more frequently. The latest projections suggest periods of intense rainfall could increase in frequency by a factor of five this century as global temperatures rise.”

  • Oklahoma shuts down 37 wells after Saturday’s 5.6 magnitude earthquake

    Oklahoma ordered the shutting down of 37 wells after Saturday’s 5.6 magnitude earthquake. Experts note that the significant increase in the number earthquakes measuring 3.0 or higher in Oklahoma has been linked to the practice of underground disposal of wastewater from oil and natural gas production. Only three earthquakes 3.0 magnitude or higher were recorded in 2009. Last year, the state had 907 such quakes. So far this year, there have been more than 400.

  • Solar-powered Ring Garden combines desalination, agriculture for drought-stricken California

    With roughly 80 percent of California’s already-scarce water supply going to agriculture, it is crucial for the state to embrace new technologies that shrink the amount of water required to grow food. Alexandru Predonu has designed an elegant solution which uses solar energy to power a rotating desalination plant and farm that not only produces clean drinking water for the city of Santa Monica, but also food crops — including algae.

  • Solar-powered Pipe desalinizes 1.5 billion gallons of drinking water for California

    The infrastructure California needs to generate energy for electricity and clean water, which will be significant, need not blight the landscape. Designs like The Pipe demonstrate how the provision of public services like these can be knitted into every day life in a healthy, aesthetically pleasing way.

  • Preventing human-caused, fracking-related earthquakes

    The 31 May 2014 earthquake that rumbled below Colorado’s eastern plains surprised both local residents and local seismologists. The earthquake happened in an area that had seen no seismic activity in at least four decades. It was likely caused by the injection of industrial wastewater deep underground. New research shows actions taken by drillers and regulators can lessen risk in the case of earthquakes likely caused by the injection of industrial wastewater deep underground.

  • Structural, regulatory, and human errors contributed to Washington bridge collapse

    When an important bridge collapsed on Interstate 5 near Mount Vernon, Washington, in 2013, questions were raised about how such a catastrophic failure could occur. A new analysis outlines the many factors that led to the collapse, as well as steps that transportation departments can take to prevent such accidents on other bridges of similar design.

  • Chicago becomes first city to launch Array of Things, an innovative urban sensing project

    This week in Chicago, the Array of Things team begins the first phase of the groundbreaking urban sensing project, installing the first of an eventual 500 nodes on city streets. By measuring data on air quality, climate, traffic, and other urban features, these pilot nodes kick off an innovative partnership among different organizations aiming better to understand, serve, and improve cities.

  • Assessing climate change vulnerability in urban America

    Impacts of climate change – rising sea levels, heat waves, rising rates of diseases caused by ticks, fleas, and mosquitoes, and many more — will affect cities across the country. One of the first efforts systematically to assess how cities are preparing for climate change shows that city planners have yet fully to assess their vulnerability to climate change, leaving serious risks unaddressed. Most city planners have yet to prepare for climate-related risks and the consequences.

  • New cooling method for large data centers to save millions of gallons of water

    In different parts of the country, people discuss gray-water recycling and rainwater capture to minimize the millions of gallons of groundwater required to cool large data centers. But the simple answer in many climates is to use liquid refrigerant. A cooling system – if installed next year at Sandia National Laboratories computing center – is expected to save 4 million to 5 million gallons annually in New Mexico, and hundreds of millions of gallons nationally if the method is widely adopted.

  • Water pollution across three continents poses health risks to hundreds of millions

    Water pollution has risen across three continents, placing hundreds of millions of people at risk of contracting life-threatening diseases like cholera and typhoid. Pathogen and organic pollution rise in more than 50 percent of river stretches in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Asia hit hardest by rise in severe pathogen pollution, with up to a half of all river stretches affected. Up to 323 million people on three continents at risk of infection from diseases caused by pathogens in water.

  • Underground radar locates post-Katrina damage

    An innovative underground radar technology is helping a city of in south Louisiana to identify and document underground infrastructure damage that had gone undetected in the months and years following Hurricane Katrina. This radar technology is a pipe-penetrating scanning system based on a new technology called ultra-wide band (UWB) pulsed radar. UWB allows for the inspection of buried pipelines, tunnels, and culverts to detect fractures, quantify corrosion, and determine the presence of voids in the surrounding soil often caused by storm water leaks and flooding.

  • Italy’s deadly earthquake is the latest in a history of destruction

    The Appenines region of central Italy has been struck by a deadly earthquake, with a magnitude of 6.2. This earthquake is no surprise. Italy is prone to earthquakes; it sits above the boundary of the African and European plates. The Appenines region’s earthquake history can be traced back over seven centuries. Within the region, there is excellent and continuously improving scientific information about the hazard. But the knowledge of the hazard has not always translated well into measures that directly reduce economic loss and fatalities in earthquakes. Numerous vulnerable buildings remain, and the recovery process is commonly plagued by long disruptions and inadequate government funding to recover rapidly. Both the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake and this most recent quake highlight just how important it is to translate hazard assessments into improving the resilience of infrastructure to strong shaking. The focus should remain on linking science, engineering and policy, this is often the biggest challenge globally.

  • Large-scale metamaterials could earthquake-proof buildings in tremor-prone regions

    Metamaterials – artificial structures that exhibit extraordinary vibrational properties – could come to the rescue of regions threatened by earthquakes, according to new research. The study, performed by researchers in Europe and involving detailed computer simulations, shows that large-scale metamaterials can attenuate the energy and amplitude of harmful low-frequency vibrations associated with seismic shocks.