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,
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,
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