• Dissipating earthquakes to provide earthquake protection

    Earthquakes and explosions damage thousands of structures worldwide each year, destroying countless lives in their wake, but a team of researchers at Penn State is examining a completely new way of safeguarding key infrastructure.“The structural design for earthquakes now requires the whole building to shake, which you can design for, but it’s quite an expensive proposition. Our idea is that if you can dissipate the earthquake before it gets to the structure, then you don’t have to design it to resist that ground motion,” says one researcher.

  • Possible correlation found between TMI meltdown and thyroid cancers

    Three Mile Island (TMI), located near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, had a partial meltdown accident on 28 March 1979. During the accident, radiation was released into the environment, which the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission said was in small amounts with no detectable health effects. Penn State College of Medicine researchers have shown, for the first time, a possible correlation between the partial meltdown at TMI and thyroid cancers in the counties surrounding the plant.

  • Feeling the impact of fracking

    Fracking involves drilling holes deep into layers of subterranean shale and then pumping in millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals to release oil and natural gas trapped in the rock. In some shale formations, a large volume of toxic water comes up along with the hydrocarbons. The injection of the wastewater from the process back into the earth can trigger seismic activity, scientists say. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there were approximately 26,000 hydraulically fractured wells for natural gas in the United States in 2000. By 2015, the number had grown to 300,000. Researchers are studying the link between fracking and earthquakes

  • Grenfell fire aftermath: how 20th-century buildings can be made safer, not more dangerous

    Despite the horror of the fire at Grenfell Tower, UK regulations for tall buildings are ahead of the curve in comparison with other countries. There have been huge improvements in construction materials and technological solutions throughout the modern era. And testing and certification methods have became even more rigorous, to ensure the quality of new products. Of course, many people are now asking what more could have been done to prevent the tragic loss of life in the Grenfell blaze. The truth is, while architects and engineers can work to mitigate the risk of fire, it cannot be completely eliminated. The addition of some materials to buildings, such as cladding, will obviously now come under scrutiny. But there are several improvements that can be made to old 20th-century tower blocks like Grenfell, to make them safer places to live.

  • Inflatable plug for subway tunnels demonstrated

    A giant, inflatable structure designed to prevent flooding in subways was rolled out, literally, for media observers inside a full-scale, mock subway tunnel. In a demonstration, the plug, in under five minutes, nearly filled with pressurized air, created a flexible but extremely strong barrier. Full inflation is complete in less than twelve minutes.

  • Water management interventions push water scarcity downstream

    Human interventions to harness water resources, such as reservoirs, dams, and irrigation measures, have increased water availability for much of the global population, but at the same time, swept water scarcity problems downstream.

  • Grenfell Tower disaster: how did the fire spread so quickly?

    In the middle of the night, while most residents were sleeping, a devastating fire started at Grenfell Tower in London. From an engineering perspective, there are a number of factors in the design of the 24-storey tower block that may have contributed to the speed and scale of the blaze. Most of the current guidelines across the world contain detailed design requirements for fire safety such as evacuation routes, compartmentation and structural fire design. But Grenfell Tower was built in 1974. At that time, the rules and regulations were not as clear and well-developed as they are now.

  • New materials to make buildings better, safer

    A new type of construction material, called cross-laminated timber, is currently approved for buildings with up to six stories. Designers would like to use it in taller buildings because it is environmentally sustainable and can speed the construction process. To use it for those taller buildings, the industry needs to understand how the timber would perform during a fire. NIST experiments are measuring the material’s structural performance and the amount of energy the timber contributes to the fire.

  • Helping repair California's water infrastructure

    Recent extreme weather has put increased stress on California’s aging water infrastructure and highlighted the fact that the state must invest billions to improve and repair its civil infrastructure. The California Policy Center reports the infrastructure is currently designed to serve 20 million people in a state with a population of 40 million. The state relies on CSU water management, engineering, agriculture, and construction management experts to renovate aging dams, canals and aqueducts.

  • Protecting the world’s longest floating bridge from strong wind

    The Bjørnafjord crossing in Norway will become the longest floating bridge in the world, that is, a bridge where the vertical load is supported by floating pontoons. In order to build the bridge, the engineers need to know exactly how the wind behaves on the bridge site. Scientists are working on a new method for wind measurements.

  • Stuxnet, the sequel: Dangerous malware aims to disrupt industrial control systems

    A cybersecurity firm has identified a new, dangerous malware, dubbed Industroyer, capable of performing an attack on power supply infrastructure. The malware was likely involved in the December 2016 cyberattack on Ukraine’s power grid that deprived part of its capital, Kiev, of power for over an hour. is capable of directly controlling electricity substation switches and circuit breakers. It uses industrial communication protocols used worldwide in power supply infrastructure, transportation control systems, and other critical infrastructure. The potential impact may range from simply turning off power distribution, triggering a cascade of failures, to more serious damage to equipment.

  • New cracks found in aging Belgian nuclear power plant

    More micro-cracks have been discovered at the Belgian Tihange 2 nuclear reactor near the German border. safe. The worries in Germany about radiation leaks from the old reactor are strong. Last year, the government of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, which is on the other side of the Belgian-German border, purchased iodine tablets for distribution to the public in the event of radiation leak. Belgium relies on its two 40-year old nuclear reactors for 39 percent of its energy needs, and has extended the operational life of both, even though they were supposed to be decommissioned a decade ago.

  • Remote detection of hazardous radioactive substances

    Remote detection of radioactive materials is impossible when the measurement location is far from its source. A typical radiation detectors, like Geiger-Muller counters can detect 1 milli Curie (mCi) of Cobalt-60 (60Co) at a maximum distance of 3.5 meters, but are inefficient at measuring lower levels of radioactivity or at longer distances. Researchers have developed a method for the remote detection of hazardous radioactive substances. With the help of this newly developed detection device, the detection of various types of radioactive materials can be done from a remote distance.

  • Miniaturizing America's tallest dam to prevent future disasters

    Engineers at Utah State University’s Utah Water Research Laboratory have constructed a 1:50 scale model of the Oroville Dam spillway. The model will provide useful information about hydraulic conditions in and around the damaged spillway.

  • 2016 was a record-breaking year for renewable energy

    Additions in installed renewable power capacity set new records in 2016, with 161 gigawatts (GW) installed, increasing total global capacity by almost 9 percent over 2015, to nearly 2,017 GW. Solar PV accounted for around 47 percent of the capacity added, followed by wind power at 34 percent and hydropower at 15.5 percent, Global energy-related CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industry remained stable for a third year in a row despite a 3 percent growth in the global economy and an increased demand for energy. This can be attributed primarily to the decline of coal, but also to the growth in renewable energy capacity and to improvements in energy efficiency.