auto pollution, and it's easy to visualize heavy traffic grinding
along expressways or cars idling in mid-town gridlock. But most
vehicle emissions occur when you start your car, and in the first
few minutes thereafter. Only a tiny amount of fuel needs to be injected
into a car's intake valves to get the engine revving. But for
a number of failsafe reasons, about 10 times the necessary amount
is actually brought in. The little bit that's used to start
the car is vaporized, the rest forms a puddle of liquid and eventually
burns off as highly toxic emissions. Even the catalytic converter
is of no help in scrubbing these unnecessary emissions because at
this early stage, it has not warmed enough to operate.
at the University of Texas at Austin's College of Engineering,
working in conjunction with the Ford Motor Co., have developed a
processactually a system that works like a mini oil refinerythat
could cut emissions by more than 50 percent. Ronald Matthews, a
professor of mechanical engineering, says the notion of having two
fuelsa small amount of a highly volatile one for ignition,
and conventional gasoline for the continuing running of the engineis
one that automakers have long realized would cut pollutants. The
trouble has been that there has been no practical or economically
feasible way to accomplish that. Until now, he hopes.
The idea came
from a former graduate student , Rudy Stanglmaier, who now works
for Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. It was a
very clever idea he had when he was still a student, explains
Matthews, who with Stanglmaier and two Ford engineers has patented
the system, which is a distillation process. Matthews explains that
as the fuel first vaporizes, the system captures that part of it
that's easiest to ignite and stores enough to start the car
in an auxiliary tank. Each time the car is started, the process
is repeated and the auxiliary tank is refilled. The system has worked
well in the lab with ethanol 85, he says, but gasoline is
an even easier fuel to work with, so I'm optimistic.
that mass production could be 18 to 24 months away, as they work
to prove its effectiveness and bring costs down to about $60 per
unit. If he's right, we may all breathe a bit easier.
morning in suburbia and the drone of scores of lawnmowers fills
the air. What a racket! Can't anyone design a quieter lawnmower?
thought Courtney B. Burroughs, an associate professor of acoustics
at Pennsylvania State University. So he decided to give that problem
to the 11 graduate studentsall working engineerswho
are taking his class, "Noise Control Engineering." Just
one problem: it's a distance-learning classpart of Penn's
online World Campusand Burroughs' students won't even touch
the mower, let alone hear it. To solve the dilemma, Burroughs had
one of his on-campus graduate students measure all the relevant
data, which has been put on a CD-ROM. Sensors to record some of
the data were placed on the mower's blades.
had software designed that could mimic the lab equipment an engineer
would normally use to analyze the datavirtual instruments,
essentially. "It's been a real challenge," he admits.
He relied mainly on students to design the "goof-proof"
software. "I certainly didn't do it," he admits. But he
calls the end result a reasonable duplication of the lab experience.
Another hurdle was getting all the students to work as a team, since
they're spread all over the country. That's mainly been accomplished
lawnmower is a thorny problemif the solution were obvious,
mowers wouldn't be so noisy. So there is no "right" answer
for the students. As the blades cut through the air, pressure builds
on them and that causes noiselots of it. It's not dissimilar
to the whooping din of helicopters. The trick is redesigning the
blades so they make less sound, but still effectively cut grass.
"We wanted the kind of problem they [the students] see everyday,
one with no clean solution," Burroughs says.
manufacturer donated the machine, a large riding model. If the students
come up with a useful remedy, it'll be forwarded to the company.
Who knows? Saturday mornings in suburbia may one day be a bit more
ear-friendly. Then again, there are also those infernal leaf-blowers.
British schoolgirls getting smarter than British schoolboys? Consider:
Last year, Britain's 170 universities awarded first-class honors
degrees to more than 11,000 women and 10,800 men. In 1999, men outpaced
women 10,500 to 10,200. Moreover, high-school-aged girls last year
for the first time did better than boys in college entrance exams.
and media pundits are of two schools of thought in explaining the
trend. Some feel that years of efforts to bring female students
on par with their male classmates are finally paying off, whileothers
worry that too many young men are falling victim to a laddish
culture that's overly macho and disdains education as uncool.
Pirie, who heads the Adam Smith Institute, a conservative think
tank, thinks both notions are wrong. Instead, in an article in The
Spectator, Pirie says the reason for the
better performance among women is that tests have become unconsciously
feminized. Boys, he posits, tend to not do well with
details, but see the big picture and will take risks. Girls, he
says, are more systematic, do well with details, but sometimes miss
the overall theme.
been restructured since the late 1980s, Pirie says, and the old
tests favored risk-taking and grasp of the big picture, rather
than the more systematic, consistent, attention-to-detail qualities
which favor girls. He adds: It is not that one approach
is better than the other, just that they are different. One brings
out the strengths of boys, the other brings out the strengths of
girls. His is not a new observation. I.Q. tests have long
realized gender differences in test-taking.
To which Joan
Whitehead says, Pshaw! An expert in gender and academics
at Cambridge University's School of Education, Whitehead says
Pirie's article is a collection of myths that could have
been written in the 19th century. Whenever female students
do better than men, she says, the reaction is something is
wrong, there must be some explanation.Most of that research,
Whitehead adds, starts with the faulty premise that men are academically
superior to women, so how come they're not performing? Those
kinds of arguments still underpin this debate, she says, adding
that collegiate assessment processes have changed in recent years,
but not in any way that favors wo- men. Final university exams,
for instance, now factor in other things beyond a final three-hour
exam, including continual performance, projects, and lab work, if
applicable. How is keeping a lab notebook feminine?
she asks wryly.