Friday, August 27, 2010

Apple Prepares for Next Great Leap Forward: Liquid Metal


"Everyone -- ourselves included -- coos and squeals about Apple's design genius. But the real secret might be their astonishing manufacturing capabilities; the reason your iPhone 4 or MacBook Pro look so slick is that they're made with cutting-edge manufacturing.

Apple's about to get one step better, having just ordered "the most advanced manufacturing machine on the planet," which uses something called Liquidmetal. (Yes, Liquidmetal. No T-1000 jokes allowed.) Though the machine is still a first prototype, Apple has already paid a reported $11 million to the Liquidmetal company to license its tech. Its engineers will soon start exploring its capabilities using their new toy."

Read more here

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Self-Cleaning Solar Panels

From Technology Review published by MIT...

"One of the best places to put a solar panel is in the desert, where it's sunny. But deserts are also dusty, which means the panels have to be washed frequently so the dust doesn't stop them from capturing sunlight. New technology could provide a solution--by letting solar panels clean themselves."

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MIT Inventors Create Robot Swarm for Mopping Up Oil Spills


"Forget skimmer ships, top kill, and any gibberish that came out of James Cameron's mouth: MIT researchers have invented a super-absorbent robot that can lap up oil faster than you can say Deepwater Horizon.

Seaswarm, as they call it, basically works like a maxi pad. A patented hydrophobic nanofabric devours as much as 20 times its own weight in oil without collecting water. To capture the oil, the nanofabric's draped over a conveyor belt that's then dispatched on the surface of the ocean like "a rolling carpet," to quote Assaf Biderman, associate director of MIT's Senseable City Lab. The robot's entirely autonomous; it swims along, powered by a pair of solar panels."

Read more and watch video here

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

In India, Many Potholes and Not Enough Engineers

From the New York Times...

"Despite this nation’s rise as a technology titan with some of the best engineering minds in the world, its full economic potential is stifled by potholed roads, collapsing bridges, rickety railroads and a power grid so unreliable that many modern office buildings run their own diesel generators to make sure the lights and computers stay on.

It is not for want of money. The Indian government aims to spend $500 billion on infrastructure by 2012 and twice that amount in the following five years.

The problem is a dearth of engineers — or at least of civil engineers with the skill and expertise to make sure those ambitious projects are done on time and to specification."

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Fighting Disaster with Crowdsourcing

From Technology Review published by MIT...

"David Kobia, the 2010 TR35 Humanitarian of the Year, explains how Ushahidi grew from a single blog post to a sophisticated online platform that can manage crises around the world."

Watch video here

"The Ushahidi project brings crowd­sourcing to bear on some of the most desperate situations people face around the world. Its downloadable software allows users to submit eyewitness reports during a conflict or disaster; the collected reports are displayed on a map. At times when ordinary sources of news and public information are unavailable, Ushahidi gives users a way to share information and shape political opinion, guide rescuers, or pool resources. Ushahidi has been used to monitor elections in Sudan, document violence in Gaza, track the BP oil slick, and assist earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti."

Read more here

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Scholars Test Web Alternative to Peer Review

From the New York Times...

"For professors, publishing in elite journals is an unavoidable part of university life. The grueling process of subjecting work to the up-or-down judgment of credentialed scholarly peers has been a cornerstone of academic culture since at least the mid-20th century.

Now some humanities scholars have begun to challenge the monopoly that peer review has on admission to career-making journals and, as a consequence, to the charmed circle of tenured academe. They argue that in an era of digital media there is a better way to assess the quality of work. Instead of relying on a few experts selected by leading publications, they advocate using the Internet to expose scholarly thinking to the swift collective judgment of a much broader interested audience."

Read more here

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Why Physics and Not Biomechanics Determines Human Throwing Accuracy

From Technology Review published by MIT...

"Here's a straightforward question. Imagine you are throwing a ball into a bin. Are you better off using an overarm or an underarm throw?

It turns out that this question has been surprisingly hard to get to grips with for physicists and biomechanicists alike. Today, however, Madhusudhan Venkadesany and Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan at Harvard University's Applied Math Lab, throw some additional light on the problem.

The difficulty is in the complexity of the problem. The arm, shoulder and wrist make up a many-jointed system that allows a large number of variations in throwing style. In addition, the parameters involved in throwing are difficult to compare. For example, a 5 per cent error in throwing angle does not easily stack up against a 5 per cent error in throwing speed because these quantities have different dimensions. It's like comparing apples and bananas.

Venkadesany and Mahadevan have a neat way round this conundrum. First, they consider only the simplest type of throwing model: an arm consisting of a lever pivoted at the "shoulder" which can throw either underarm or overarm. These throws can be described by two parameters: the angular velocity of the swing and the angle of the arm at release. Second, they introduce a natural length scale, called the arm length, and use this to make their analysis of launch angle and velocity dimensionless."

Read more here

Monday, August 16, 2010

TED Cube Building in Taiwan/ BIG Architects


"TED is a public building in Taiwan that uses a form and highly mixed program to encourage a large cross section of users. Designed by BIG Architects, the 57 meter cubed building has an open section, or ‘street’ to allow full public access through the building. The access rises and dilates near the top of the building and opens onto a rooftop garden. The roof is to be a public park and informal performance area. Radiating from the street will be hotel, retail, office, restaurants, etc, with no particular formal arrangement. The building is an expression of a city bock packed into a more vertical system. The ribs, evocative of the underside of a mushroom form stairs through the structure and is repeated on the walls and ceiling thus creating a visually continuous facade. The access through the building allows for ventilation, shade, and increased fenestration for the occupants. The building site is not yet disclosed."

Read more here

Stone House in Portugal


"Inspired by the Flintstones cartoons, this stunning house was constructed between two giant stones on the hillside of Fafe mountains in Portugal. Because of its unusual design, the house attracts many tourists from all over the world."

Read more here

Abstract of the Dissertation Defense for Kyle Butler

Abstract 1

Aircraft engineers turn to biomimicry for greener designs


"Birds do it. Bees do it. And now, increasingly, aircraft engineers are falling in love with the idea of studying the natural world to find solutions that can be adapted and applied to the design of more fuel-efficient airliners.

The science of biomimicry is taken seriously by aircraft manufacturers, and there is the potential for some quite mind-boggling tricks of nature to be emulated and used in aviation to reduce drag and better enable aircraft to adapt to changing conditions during flight."

Read more here

Saturday, August 7, 2010

AP Enterprise: Scientists think Gulf can recover

From the Associated Press on Google News...

"Want to know the future of the oil-stained Gulf of Mexico ecosystem? Look first to its muddy, polluted past.

The recent ecological history of the Gulf gives scientists reason for hope. In an extensive survey of Gulf of Mexico researchers by The Associated Press, at least 10 of them separately volunteered the same word to describe the body of water: "resilient."

This is buttressed by a government report that claims that all but 53 million gallons of the leaked oil from BP's Deepwater Horizon well are gone. The report issued Wednesday says the cleanup extracted a lot of it, but the natural processes that break up, evaporate and dissolve oil took care of 84 million gallons — more than twice the amount human efforts removed.

At the same time, more progress was made in sealing the well for good as BP finished pumping cement into it on Thursday."

Read more here

Thursday, August 5, 2010

NASA Mind Training Tackles Motion Sickness

From Discovery News...

"Is quelling motion sickness a question of mind over matter? Possibly so, given the proper training, say researchers who are testing a NASA biofeedback system developed to try to help astronauts adjust to microgravity.

The disorientating effects of spaceflight will sound familiar to anyone who has ever grown dizzy, nauseous or faint riding in a car, flying in an airplane or sailing on a ship."

Read more here

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Strata: World’s First Skyscraper with Built-in Wind Turbines


"It rises 143 meters above central London, making it the district’s tallest residential structure. Its nickname is ‘The Razor” owing to its sharp angular design. It’s also the first skyscraper to have electricity-generating wind turbines built into its core design “fabric”.

In a city not as suited for solar power, as say Phoenix , AZ, London is now starting to take advantage of one of its more plentiful, renewable resources: wind.

While there are other, much taller buildings with turbines added on following the finish of their primary construction, the Strata has included them in the architectural plan from the get-go. The threesome of integrated wind turbines, at full capacity, will generate 8% of the buildings energy needs. This may not seem like very much, but it amounts to several dozen mega (million) watt hours annually–saving the owners and residents a great deal of money (and freeing up extra capacity from traditional utilities)."

Read more here

Monday, August 2, 2010

Plagiarism Lines Blur for Students in Digital Age

From the New York Times...

"At Rhode Island College, a freshman copied and pasted from a Web site’s frequently asked questions page about homelessness — and did not think he needed to credit a source in his assignment because the page did not include author information.

At DePaul University, the tip-off to one student’s copying was the purple shade of several paragraphs he had lifted from the Web; when confronted by a writing tutor his professor had sent him to, he was not defensive — he just wanted to know how to change purple text to black.

And at the University of Maryland, a student reprimanded for copying from Wikipedia in a paper on the Great Depression said he thought its entries — unsigned and collectively written — did not need to be credited since they counted, essentially, as common knowledge.

Professors used to deal with plagiarism by admonishing students to give credit to others and to follow the style guide for citations, and pretty much left it at that.

But these cases — typical ones, according to writing tutors and officials responsible for discipline at the three schools who described the plagiarism — suggest that many students simply do not grasp that using words they did not write is a serious misdeed."

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A theory of power-law distributions in financial market fluctuations

From Letters to Nature...

"Insights into the dynamics of a complex system are often gained by focusing on large fluctuations. For the financial system, huge databases now exist that facilitate the analysis of large fluctuations and the characterization of their statistical behaviour [1,2]. Power laws appear to describe histograms of relevant financial fluctuations, such as fluctuations in stock price, trading volume and the number of trades [3-10]. Surprisingly, the exponents that characterize these power laws are similar for different types and sizes of markets, for different market trends and even for different countries--suggesting that a generic theoretical basis may underlie these phenomena. Here we propose a model, based on a plausible set of assumptions, which provides an explanation for these empirical power laws. Our model is based on the hypothesis that large movements in stock market activity arise from the trades of large participants. Starting from an empirical characterization of the size distribution of those large market participants (mutual funds), we show that the power laws observed in financial data arise when the trading behaviour is performed in an optimal way. Our model additionally explains certain striking empirical regularities that describe the relationship between large fluctuations in prices, trading volume and the number of trades."

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A Richter Scale for Markets

From the New York Times...

"It’s tempting to pull out the old earthquake metaphor when talking about the latest financial crises. How else to describe the economic devastation — the tremors in the subprime mortgage market, the seismic collapse of Lehman Brothers, and the aftershocks reverberating in Europe?

But some academics are now taking the metaphor seriously, pursuing a new approach to economics they call econophysics. The field represents a significant break from traditional economics, by studying financial earthquakes in much the same way geologists study those on terra firma. “New approaches are needed to address the fundamental and practical challenges of our financial, economic and social system,” a group of econophysicists wrote recently in an open letter to George Soros, the billionaire investor and philanthropist."

Read more here