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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The sky will be the limit for the world’s first space elevator

Friday, 24 February, 2012

Featuring in the sci-fi novels of authors such as Arthur C. Clarke, space elevators could be in use within forty years if a Japanese construction company succeeds in its bid to build one of the travel mechanisms.

In Obayashi’s project, a cable would be stretched up to 96,000 kilometers, or about one-fourth of the distance between the Earth and the moon. One end of the cable would be anchored at a spaceport on the ground, while the other would be fitted with a counterweight. The terminal station would house laboratories and living space. The car could carry up to 30 people to the station at 200 kilometers per hour, which would mean a 7-1/2 day trip to reach the station. Magnetic linear motors are one possible means of propulsion for the car, according to Obayashi.

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Don’t underestimate the utility of obsolete slide rules just yet

Friday, 15 April, 2011

Using slide rules, described as mechanical analog computers, and once a tool favoured by the likes of architects and engineers, to solve multiplication and division problems, may still be of educational value, writes mathematician and programmer, John D. Cook.

I’m not saying that being able to use a slide rule is a valuable skill. It’s not anymore. But the process of using a slide rule for a little while might teach some skills that are valuable.

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The laws of spacecraft design are laws that cannot be broken

Wednesday, 12 January, 2011

A 40 point list by David Akin, Space Systems Laboratory Director at the University of Maryland, of items to consider in the design of spacecraft.

Space is a completely unforgiving environment. If you screw up the engineering, somebody dies (and there’s no partial credit because most of the analysis was right…)

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Photos from the day they turned off the taps at Niagara Falls

Tuesday, 21 December, 2010

Amazing, though mildly eerie, photos of Niagara Falls taken in June 1969 when US engineers temporarily diverted the flow of water that usually streams over the edge of the iconic waterfall, revealing an otherwise desolate, and somewhat underwhelming, rock face.

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