Devices, Snapping Sea Species, Having a Ball
AUSTRALIAWith fear of flying at an all-time high, here's
one more worry: life jackets. An Australian researcher notes the devices
are engineered in so many different ways that passengers can easily
become confused during life-threatening crises when every second counts.
Based on recent research, she calls for a standard design to be used
globally by the aviation industry.
Bauer, senior lecturer in the school of nursing sciences at James Cook
University in the northeastern city of Townsville, examined 98 safety
cards from 53 airlines around the world, categorizing them to identify
the range of designs in use. She found that 12 different categories
of life jackets were carried, with some airlines using more than one
type. What's more, not all seat-pocket safety cards accurately
depicted the jackets actually on board.
pictured two different jacket designs on the same card. Two carriers'
cards even changed the type of life jacket half-way through their step-by-step
illustrated donning procedure. Some cards failed to give clear and easily-understood
travelers routinely ignore in-flight safety demonstrations and may therefore
remain unaware that life jackets on board differ from those depicted
on safety cards, she observed.
are too many designs, said Bauer, whose study was sparked by air
crash photographs showing empty jackets bobbing among debris in the
water. She believes that some passengers, in their rush to escape, simply
gave up trying to don them.
is calling for large-scale studies of the life-jacket issue, including
simulations with passengers in aircraft cabins to evaluate jackets and
Deep Sea Digital
biology, admits Dave Smith, a computer engineer at the Harbor Branch
Oceanographic Institute (HBOI) in Fort Pierce, Fla., still relies on
nets to learn about species of the deep. It is the only science
still using 150-year-old technology, he complains. The sea creatures
we know anything about are the slow, the stupid and the greedy,
Smith says, because all of the other countless ocean denizens avoid
the nets. Submarines and robotic submersibles equipped with cameras
haven't proved too useful, either, because not only are they expensive
to operate but the lights they need to illuminate the underwater world
scare off most animals. Enter the eye-in-the-sea camera,
developed for HBOI by Harvey Mudd College, an engineering and science
school in Claremont, Calif. The digital camerawhich takes both
still photos and videoscan operate to a depth of 3,000 feet. The
Phillips black-and-white surveillance camera uses 20 LED light sources
that produce an infrared light that most sea creatures cannot detect,
yet is sufficient to capture images of anything up to six feet away.
It also is fitted with a sensitive image intensifier and a fairly fast
lens. The camera's computer, designed by the HMC students, is connected
to a sensor that detects bioluminescence. Smith explains that most sea
creaturesin some regions up to 90 percentare luminescent
to varying degrees. The sensor activates the shutter. The camera also
can be programed to snap photos every few secondsor sooner if
the sensor detects something near by. All images taken by the camera
are saved on a hard drive, and the camera can be reprogrammed from above
the surface. Sounds like a net technological gain for marine biologists.
A Hole in One
the science of building and operating machines atomic in size, will
require drills that can make holes one-thousandth of a millimeter in
diameter. Clearly, nanotechnologists can't run down to Home Depot
for a drill bit that size, so laser beams are the likely solution. However,
while beams projected through a glass lens create a sharper ray, they
don't quite do the job. Now researchers at Iowa State University
may have the answer: shooting pulsating, high-intensity laser beams
through a beaker of liquid. Mechanical engineering professor Palaniappa
Molia and graduate student Diwakar Ramanathan use a beaker full of carbon
disulfide, a toxic chemical. Ramanathan notes that that chemical is
one of several liquids with the properties that bring the laser
beam to focus over a very short distance. Liquid lenses should
prove useful in the micro-machining of holes and patterns on different
materials, including computer chips, he says. Not only does a
liquid lens create a finer, more precise beam, but it may have a longer
shelf life. Glass lenses eventually wear out after constant zapping
by laser beams. Then, too, so do the glass beakers holding the liquid.
But as Ramanathan points out, it's much, much cheaper to replace
a beaker than a precision-made lens.
The Nobel Prize
the fields of medicine and information distribution have made huge leaps
forward devising and implementing new technology, environmental engineeringwater
quality in particularsubsists on advances made decades or even
centuries in the past. It is with this in mind that the Water Environment
Research Foundation (WERF) has started a new award, the Paul L. Busch
Award, for innovation in applied water quality research.
award is the most prestigious of its kind. But unlike most prizes that
are doled out to scientists generally at the end of their career, this
award will be given to an individual or research team who shows promise
by making big contributions to research and its practical application
early or in mid-career.
new award seeks to support and promote work that blazes new trails and
brings new benefits to the water quality community, such as utilities,
industries, environmental firms, and the water-using public. The inaugural
recipient of the award is Nancy Love, associate professor of the department
of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech. Her research
focuses on studying the molecular-level mechanisms that govern activated
sludge systems, the bacteria that keep most wastewater in check.
seeking to develop a fingerprinting sensor technique to be used at wastewater
treatment plants so that operators can figure out what is upsetting
Busch was the CEO of Malcolm Pirnie, Inc. environmental engineers and
researchers until his death in 1999. A graduate of Harvard and MIT,
Busch pursued innovation in environmental management. He was president
of the American Association of Environmental Engineers, a National Academy
of Engineers member, and chairman of WERF. During his 40-year career,
he encouraged many environmental engineers in academia to make research
relevant to practitioners, legislators, regulators, and the public and
to seek new technologies for environmental problems.
Bridge Over the
ENGLANDSome products or structures serve their functions so well
that's it hard to think how they can be improved. Take the drawbridge.
When a boat that's too tall to pass beneath it comes along, the
bridge opens up to let it through. Hard to beat the logic in that design.
But the town of Gateshead in northeast England may have come up with
a better idea. To connect a new arts and leisure development with Newcastle
Quay across the River Tyne, it built a foot bridge. But instead of opening
to let tall ships pass, the Gateshead Millennium Bridge rotates skyward,
like a gigantic blinking eyelid. To accomplish that feat, it uses a
world-first tilting mechanism that turns on pivots on each
bank. In its up position, the $32 million bridge has a clearance
of 164 feet. Its total span is 413 feet, but it's manufactured
to a tolerance of just 1/8th of an inch to accommodate the pivoting
action. Each opening and closing maneuver takes four minutes. And because
it's built so efficiently, it uses only about $5 of electricity
each time it's operated. City officials expect it will be rotated
open about 200 times a year. The Millennium Bridge has other cool features,
as well. It's whitish-blue in color in daytime. But at night, it's
lit by a multi-colored light show that's further enhanced by its
reflection in the river. And any litter on the bridge automatically
slides into special traps at each end when it opens, helping to keep
the river clean. So proud of the edifice were city officials, that celebrationsincluding
a foot race and the brewing of special alewere held to commemorate
its opening in September.
hope that Gateshead's Millennium Bridge meets a better fate than
the Millennium Bridge built across London's River Thames for pedestrians.
Two days after it officially opened in June 2000, the London bridge
was closed because of excessive sway. The beautifully-designed span,
meant to connote a blade of light, apparently wobbles because of the
synchronized footfall that occurs when hundreds of people walk across
it. Engineers say the bridge is not unsafemerely disorienting.
Still, it was closed while special shock absorbers were installed beneath
it to correct the problem. The London Millennium Bridge was scheduled
to reopen last monthif there was no footdragging on the repair
Toss Me That Robot
fiction, robot sidekicks are usually vaguely human-looking, like Star
Wars' 3CP0. And even R2D2 had head and arm-like features. But in
science fact, the first android helper in space will look more like,
well, a softball. NASA is developing what it calls a PSA, or Personal
Satellite Assistant, to help astronauts aboard space shuttles and the
International Space Station. The autonomous, floating sphere will not
only be self-propelled, but fitted with sensors to allow it monitor
environmental conditions, including oxygen, carbon dioxide, bacteria
growth, temperature, and air pressure. Sound cool? But wait, there's
orb will also have wireless network connections, a camera for video
conferencing and a voice-recognition system to receive commands from
its human masters. It's an intelligent robot that essentially
can serve as another set of eyes, ears, and nose for the crew and ground-support
personnel, says Yuri Gawdiak, principal in-vestigator for the
project at NASA's Ames Research Center in California. Gawdiak says
shuttle crews suggested the development of handheld, wireless por-table
data assistants, and NASA scientists took that, er, ball and ran with
it. The idea is that the PSA can zip around in the tight spaces of a
space ship, and keep the astronauts' hands free to do other chores.
NASA expects to have PSAs aboard shuttles in two years, and working
in the space station a year later. Maybe it could at least paint a happy
face on them.
Filtering Out Foreign
students have long been an important resource for American universities.
In 1999-2000, 514,723 students from overseas attended U.S. institutions.
Just over 66,300 of them were in California, where their presence contributed
$1.6 billion to the state's economy. Moreover, as David Ward, president
of the American Council on Education, a lobbying organization for U.S.
universities, points out, the advances in high technology that lit the
last decade's economic boom would not have occurred without
student and faculty exchange programs that brought so many talented
people to this country. But the door to U.S. schools may be partly
closed in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York
and Washington. Higher-education officials worry that the government
may further tighten visa rules and that will lead to a fall off in enrollments
from overseas. Even before the attacks, Washington was taking a tougher
stance on student applications from China. Ward, in testimony before
a U.S. House subcommittee, agreed that the government must ensure that
foreign students do not become a source of criminal behavior,
and that schools must cooperate with these efforts. And toward that
goal he suggested better funding for the State Department offices that
vet student applications. But that said, Ward also made a plea for allowing
more, not fewer, foreign students into American classrooms. If
we wish to increase international understanding, we ought to increase
the opportunities for foreign students, he said, providing that
there are safeguards that students who come here to study pose
absolutely no threat to American safety and security. Ward noted
that the vast majority of international students return to their homes
as fans of America, making them goodwill ambassadors. Moreover, he said
that, so far, no one directly involved with the September atrocities
had a student visa. U.S. universities also welcome a long-delayed plan
to better monitor foreign students and to more quickly alert the Immigration
and Naturalization Service (INS) when a student's status changes,
Ward said. But the schools strongly oppose an INS plan to make the students
pay a $95 fee to finance the program. That could reduce the number of
foreign student applications, he said, and force schools into acting
as bill collectors for the government. Ward urged Congress
to provide government funding to implement the program. Another group,
NAFSA: Association of International Educators, accepts the need for
the monitoring system as well, but also wants Washington to foot the