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Illustration by John CeballosLearning from Insect Engineers

Harare, Zimbabwe — It may not look like a termite mound, but the Eastgate office and shopping complex downtown here is cooled like one.

Local architect Mick Pearce designed the nine-story building after learning about the natural ventilation systems that keep termites at a constant temperature in the African sun. So while the building's glass-tower neighbors rely on expensive imported air-conditioning systems, Eastgate stores cool night air within its heavy, concrete edifice.

During Harare's brisk, high-altitude nights, giant fans draw in fresh air at the base of the structure. Seven times per hour, a complete change of air flows through the honeycomb chambers between all of the floors and out the 48 chimneys on the roof. The stored "coolth," as Pearce calls it, is released throughout the day as the air-exchange rate slows to two times per hour.

Avoiding air-conditioning reduces electricity expenditures by at least half and saved about 10 percent on the building costs in the $35 million complex, but the initial engineering outlay was higher. Pearce says that while architects typically bring in engineers to design the ventilation system at the end, he had to work with them from the start. "The space that you live and work in had to become the air duct," he explains. The careful planning paid off. When subtropical daytime temperatures rise to 95 degrees (35 C), the offices remain a comfortable 77 degrees (25 C).

Such a design would be of little use in the low-altitude tropics, where temperatures remain high at night. But Pearce believes that alternatives to fossil fuels for heating and cooling can be found all over the world. He is currently designing a building in Belgium that will take advantage of heat from deep, abandoned coal mine shafts.

—Don Boroughs

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Up-to-Date on French Research

Paris — Francophiles who can't afford a trip to France this year can at least keep up with the latest science and technology issues from the birthplace of such engineering marvels as the Eiffel Tower, the X-ray, and the seamless bra. The Science and Technology Office of the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., is producing a twice-weekly review of science articles culled from French media. Called FAST (for French Advances in Science and Technology), it's a virtual newsletter and it's free.

Subscribers receive FAST via e-mail on Wednesday and Friday mornings, so they can catch up on the news while munching on their breakfast croissants. FAST, published in English, is edited in Paris by Timothy Carlson, an American working for France's national science center. Stephanie Rupp, of the Science and Technology Office, says FAST was inaugurated to help promote French science to an American audience and covers discoveries, developments, fundamental research, science policies, public debate, and international research efforts within France.

One recent article focused on a $60 million plan to dismantle a 36-year-old, 35-megawatt nuclear reactor in Grenoble, a project that should offer engineers valuable lessons in how best to return nuclear sites to public use. Another item discussed the lack of MRI units in France, even though French MRI technology is among the most advanced in the world.

To subscribe, e-mail a request to fast@amb-wash.fr . If you first want to see what FAST looks like, back issues are available at its website: www.france-science.org/english .

Bonne lecture!

—Thomas K. Grose

Entrepreneurs

Is your country's stagnant economy getting you down? Try starting a new business.

That's the advice from the new Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) study conducted by the London Business School and Babson College. Entrepreneurship is an important factor in the economic well-being of a country, according to the study, which compared and analyzed countries' entrepreneurial activity and its effects on domestic economic growth.

The findings showed a wide disparity among industrialized nations. An impressive 8.4 percent of the workforce in the United States is involved in entrepreneurship of some kind, with Canada (6.8 percent) and Israel (5.4 percent) close behind. At the other end of the spectrum, France, Japan, and Finland all had less than 2 percent of their workforce involved in entrepreneurial activity. The study also indicates that entrepreneurship accounts for roughly one-third of the difference in growth rates among the countries studied.

But why do some countries seem to have more entrepreneurs? Social and cultural influences may be key. "The extent to which society regards the pursuit of opportunity as socially legitimate will impact the level of entrepreneurial activity," says Michael Camp, a GEM project director. "A set of social and cultural values that encourages new enterprise is a prerequisite of entrepreneurial activity and a defining feature of an entrepreneurial society."

For more information on the GEM study, see www.entreworld.org

Rahul Chadha

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