Terri-Jane Yuzda


Dolphins Are Smart – And Flaky

Every two hours, dolphins completely shed their outermost layer of skin – a fact that has long had biologists scratching their heads. Now Japanese engineers claim to have discovered why the intelligent aquatic animals are such flakes in the skin department.

The reason, according to Mechanical Engineering (New York), is that the skin flakes reduce drag, enabling dolphins to move more easily through the water. Using an extremely detailed computer model, the Japanese researchers at the Kyoto Institute of Technology replicated each flake on a dolphin’s body. The research showed that the peeling process reduces drag-producing vortices, which form on a dolphin’s body as it swims.

Black Box for Body Developed

Investigators greatly depend on black boxes to figure out the causes of airplane crashes. Now engineers are working on similar black boxes for people, Aerospace America (Reston, Va.) reports.

The Crew Physiological Observation Device records such biological information as oxygen in the blood stream and heart rate changes. Designed by Prof. Greg Kovacs of Stanford University and Carsten Mundt of NASA, the device can be worn on the waist. It eliminates the mass of wires that astronauts, for example, must now wear to record data – which is then entered by hand into a laptop computer.

The Art of Engineering

A dramatic 56-metre-tall sculpture being created for the City of Manchester Stadium features 180 spikes of various lengths – supported by only five of the spikes. Called B of the Bang, the $1.8-million US structure will be England’s tallest sculpture, according to Civil Engineering (Reston, Va.).

Senior structural engineer Toby Maclean of Packman Lucas in London calls the sculpture “very much an engineering challenge.” One of the biggest problems was dealing with Manchester’s blustery climate. A scale model of 1/50th of the size was first built to test the impact of various wind speeds and directions.

China Builds Aerial Mass Transit

The Chinese City of Weihai plans to construct the first Aerobus system to serve long-term public transportation needs, Civil Engineering (Reston, Va.) reports. The $100-million US system will feature tall towers and graceful curving suspension cables. The cables, however, will support a mass rapid transit system rather than the traditional roadbed.

The system will carry up to 5,000 passengers per hour in each direction, at speeds reaching 80 kilometres per hour. The project, the first ever for long-term use, involves the government of Weihai, Aerobus International Inc. of Houston and the Shanghai AJ Trust Company.

Catch This Mouse

Using the computer too much? Fortunately, Mechanical Engineering (New York) reports that help is on the way for engineers experiencing discomfort or carpal tunnel problems from over-use.

Two mechanical engineering professors at Iowa State University in Ames have invented a gadget that can replace a mouse when working with computer-aided design programs. And don’t worry; you can also use it to play video games.

Consisting of a flexible, spongy material, the device looks like a joystick. It features a pressure button on top that is controlled by the thumb, eliminating actions that cause arm, wrist, back and shoulder aches.

Not Exactly Perfume

Producing hot-mix asphalt isn’t the most fragrant activity in the world. Now Asphalt Solutions Inc. of Litchfield, Ariz., has a solution to that problem. Chemical Engineering (New York) reports that an asphalt-cement additive made with a benzo-hydrate base neutralizes the bitumen smell.

Food Plants Trim Down

Food Engineering (Troy, Mo.) reports in its annual food plant production survey that new plant construction in the United States was down 3.5 per cent in 2003 from the previous year. Food safety and plant security are cited as the key trends affecting new plants, as well as cost efficiencies. The article notes that engineering staffs continue to be trimmed.

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