Coming to an airport near you soon, maybe, circular runways

Wednesday, 12 April, 2017

Henk Hesselink, a Dutch engineer, has developed an idea for circle shaped runways. His design would eliminate all sorts of problems associated with flight, including cross wind landings.

They’d also be better for the environment, and would allow aircraft noise to be more evenly shared in areas surrounding airports.

I like the concept, but I’m wondering what a pilot would make of trying to land on a circular runway, as opposed to a straight one?

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Souichi Hatakenaka, an illustrator of precision monochrome works

Wednesday, 15 March, 2017

Illustration by Souichi Hatakenaka

Osaka based Souichi Hatakenaka graduated from university with a degree in precision engineering, but has since turned his energies to illustration, work he calls precision monochrome. There’s a career change that was, in my opinion, a good call.

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Will a space elevator be our first stop on the way to the stars?

Tuesday, 12 April, 2016

Space elevators will make moving objects, such as satellites, components for space stations, and anything else we want to place in space, a whole lot cheaper than using rockets. They could solve a number of space travel related problems as well, but they are not without their dangers.

Sorry, did I not explain what a space elevator was? You should find this helpful then.

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Bridges can often be a bridge too far in movies

Monday, 23 November, 2015

Bridges in movies do not behave as they would in the real world, when blown up or attacked, says structural engineer Alex Weinberg, who contends that audiences are being duped by the way filmmakers depict bridges that have somehow been damaged. And it’s Christopher Nolan, of all people, who appears to be the worst offender in this regard:

Imagine stringing a clothesline between two buildings and putting some shirts out to dry. Now, cut the line in the middle. In our world, the line loses all its capacity and the shirts all fall to the ground. In Christopher Nolan’s world, the clothesline is unharmed and, who knows, may actually be stronger. I consider this the worst suspension bridge destruction scene in motion picture history. The Golden Gate Bridge collapse in The Core is somehow more realistic than this. Nolan, who famously hired astrophysicist Kip Thorne to advise him on black holes for Interstellar, failed to hire a sophomore engineering student to explain regular gravity here on Earth.

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A water repelling plant leaf, have you ever heard of such a thing?

Monday, 30 June, 2014

Curious as to why drops of water formed marble-like shapes on the leaves of certain plants in his garden, rather than sitting in flat, pancake-like fashion, US engineer Aatish Bhatia decided, with the help of Janine Nunes, to find out what was causing the leaf to become superhydrophobic.

But how does a leaf become superhydrophobic? The trick to this, Janine explained, is that the water isn’t really sitting on the surface. A superhydrophobic surface is a little like a bed of nails. The nails touch the water, but there are gaps in between them. So there’s fewer points of contact, which means the surface can’t tug on the water as much, and so the drop stays round.

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After thousands of years it’s about time we reinvented… the axe

Friday, 9 May, 2014

Just because the design of a tool – or once upon a time – weapon, has changed little in centuries, should it be assumed it cannot be improved on in anyway? Take the axe, for example, were its current design to be given some thought, could a better chopping tool be forthcoming?

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An animated guide to the workings of a car engine

Thursday, 12 September, 2013

An animated guide to the workings of the internal combustion, or car, engine.

Quite awesome really.

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The laws of spacecraft design, or the laws of life?

Tuesday, 22 January, 2013

Akin’s Laws of Spacecraft Design… though I think the application of some of these need not be restricted to spacecraft design:

  • At the start of any design effort, the person who most wants to be team leader is least likely to be capable of it
  • In nature, the optimum is almost always in the middle somewhere. Distrust assertions that the optimum is at an extreme point
  • A bad design with a good presentation is doomed eventually. A good design with a bad presentation is doomed immediately
  • Half of everything you hear in a classroom is crap. Education is figuring out which half is which
  • You can’t get to the moon by climbing successively taller trees

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And now the real reason why aeroplane windows can’t be opened

Wednesday, 3 October, 2012

While you wouldn’t be sucked out of an aeroplane cruising at high altitude should one of the windows somehow open, as per the popular perception, it still wouldn’t be an especially pleasant experience:

An open window would create powerful suction immediately around it, though it would not suck everything out as you see in movies. Mostly passengers inside would feel short of breath and start to pass out. Small objects might be pulled out the window. There would be a loud pop and after that, the sound of a power-sustained gust of wind, as air flowed out of the inside of the airplane. Air would keep flowing out of the open window until the pressure inside the plane was the same as the pressure outside – in most cases, this would mean making up about 22,000 feet worth of pressure in minutes.

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A bag of potato chips shouldn’t be too easy to open

Friday, 11 May, 2012

All good design is a trade off. A bag of potato chips may be mildly difficult to open but the sealing process prevents it from opening sooner than intended.

Variations in atmospheric pressure, say as the chips are transported from a sea level to an area of high altitude, may be enough to cause the packets to open, something that most certainly necessitates a strong seal.

In a heat seal, you are attempting to melt the adhesive polymer and get it to flow into the other layer. Upon cooling, the two layers are now entangled and show adhesion. The strength of a heat-seal depends on three and only three variables: time, temperature and pressure. Increasing any of this will increase the strength of the bond, but most manufacturing engineers are really only open to increasing pressure. Increasing sealing time slows the entire process, and increase the sealing temperature also slows the process since it takes longer to heat the adhesives to the higher temperature, that adds to the time as well. The best option was to develop an adhesive that sealed at a lower temperature, something that was successfully accomplished, or so I’m led to believe from all the complaints that colleagues pile on me now that they know I’m that guy.

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