Friday, April 18, 2008

Engineers Without Borders Bring Tech to Villages Without Power

Engineers Malcolm Knapp and Heather Fleming helped design a low-cost turbine that will be deployed in the rural areas surrounding Quetzaltenango, Guatemala's second largest city. Photo courtesy Jim Merithew/

A group of volunteer engineers are finishing the design for a home-brewed wind turbine that will bring electricity to off-the-grid Guatemalan villages by this summer.

After the U.S. engineers finish the design, local workers in the town of Quetzaltenango will manufacture the small-scale turbine. It will produce 10-15 watts of electricity, enough to charge a 12-volt battery that can power simple devices like LED lights.

"They're replacing kerosene lamps, if anything at all," said Matt McLean, a mechanical engineer by day and leader of the wind-turbine project by night. "The biggest driver is just keeping the cost way down. We're shooting for under $100, which is a challenge, but we're in that range."

The effort comes amidst recent efforts to bring new light and power to small towns in the developing world. An estimated 1.6 billion people worldwide are without electricity, and many of them are forced to light their homes with kerosene. Using one of these lamps is like smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, says the World Bank, and the lamps present a significant fire risk. That's why many startup companies, such as d.Light, are trying to bring cheaper LED lights to homes, but they still need a solution for producing power locally.

That's where organizations like Engineers Without Borders come in. Founded in 2002 by Bernard Amadie, a professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder, it has grown to more than 10,000 members in over 250 chapters. According to Cathy Leslie, the executive director of the U.S. organization, 340 projects are underway.

The turbine was created by the Appropriate Technology Design Team of EWB's San Francisco chapter. Team members like Malcolm Knapp and Heather Fleming spend their nights and weekends inside D2M's design shop trying to perfect low-tech gadgets for people 2,500 miles away. D2M, which is Knapp and Fleming's employer, donates the lab space for after-hours use by the EWB team.

Unlike the large-scale assemblies found in wind farms, the roughly two-foot-wide and three-foot-tall turbine has a vertical axis. McLean said that orientation worked better in the choppy conditions likely to meet the turbine out in the field, where it'll be bolted on to buildings, towers or even trees.

The turbine, which Fleming refers to as a "she," is undergoing its final tweaks. Next Sunday, the prototype will undergo its next-to-last build before Fleming and another volunteer head down to the Guatemalan manufacturing facility, XelaTeco, with the building plans in hand.

The engineering team had to make their design simple enough that it could be assembled from cheap and widely available components. As a result, their plans call for building the turbine out of hard plastic (or canvas) bolted on to a steel-tube structure. The rotor, which creates mechanical energy from the movement of the blades, runs into an alternator (actually a cheap DC motor running in reverse), which converts the mechanical energy into electricity.

"We've had to simplify the way we were thinking and get rid of the idea that everything had to be as efficient as possible," McLean said.

For instance, one key obstacle was creating a good bearing system to reduce friction within the turbine. Steel bearings proved unavailable to the Guatemalan manufacturer. Instead, the designers were forced to dig deep into their bag of tricks, eventually pulling out Teflon tape.

"It's normally used for sealing pipes," said McLean. "But it's a very low cost way of reducing friction."

XelaTeco, for its part, received seed funding from the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group, a nonprofit dedicated to incubating for-profit businesses in developing countries. AIDG's goal is not just to bring cheap wind-powered generators to Guatemalan villages, but also to build self-sustaining businesses that are well integrated with the local economy.

"For us, this is hopefully the start of a lot more projects like this in other areas as we start more businesses," said Peter Haas, executive director of the AIDG.

Scientists Build World's Smallest Transistor, Gordon Moore Sighs With Relief

British researchers have unveiled the world's smallest transistor, which measures one atom thick and ten atoms across.

The newly announced transistor is more than three times smaller than the 32 nanometer transistors at the cutting edge of silicon-based electronics.

"It's molecular electronics with the standard top-down approach which can be used in any semiconductor factory," said Kostya Novoselov, a researcher at the University of Manchester and a co-author of a new paper on the transistor in the journal Science.
Transistors form the logic gates that underpin computing. Finding new ways to make them smaller is key to the continuation of Moore's Law, which holds that the number of transistors on a chip will double every two years. That doubling translates into performance gains for computers. While expected improvements to processes and materials, namely silicon, seem likely to keep the law going for the next ten years, even Gordon Moore questions technology's ability to keep pace after that.

This new transistor may extend Moore's Law for a while longer.

The transistor is made out of graphene, a new material exactly one-atom thick that was discovered by Novoselov' s research team in 2004.

Made of intricately linked carbon atoms, graphene has the ability to retain several important properties when only one atom thick -- most importantly conductivity.
When current silicon transistor technology goes below 10 nanometers in size, it's predicted it will run into the laws of physics and will no longer be able to create reliable transistors.

Graphene, on the other hand, is already seeing working transistors in the sub-10 nanometer range. The researchers say their latest, unpublished work has used graphene to make transistors a single nanometer across. "

From the point of view of physics, graphene is a goldmine," said Novoselov. "You can study it for ages."

The researchers created the graphene transistors using standard semiconductor fabrication technology. They begin with a small sheet of graphene and carve channels into the material using electron beam lithography. What remains is a quantum dot with a tiny circular cage at the center known as the central island. Voltage can change the conductivity of these quantum dots, allowing them to store logic states just like standard field-effect transistors.

In the picture above, the scale bar indicates 20 nanometers, but Novoselov claims the team's recently created one nanometer graphene transistor could represent the end of the line for Moore's Law.

"It's about the smallest you can get," said Novoselov.

With the creation of what could be the smallest possible transistor, the long line of technology that extends from the first transistor, created at Bell Labs in 1947 and (a replica of which is pictured at left), could come to an end.

For all the new transistors' promise, Novoselov noted that it is currently impossible to produce large amounts of graphene. They can only produce graphene crystals about 100 microns or 0.1 millimeters across, far too small for industrial production at Intel's scale. But the scientist believes that a process for producing graphene wafers is already in the foreseeable future.
"Probably this problem will be solved in the next couple of years," he said.
Image 1: Courtesy Mesoscopic Physics group at the University of Manchester
Image 2: Public domain image

Rocket Racing to Take Off This Summer

The Rocket Racing League announced this week that their first Exhibition Race would take place at the famed Oshkosh AirVenture EAA Airshow in Wisconsin August 1-2. Two racers will be on the course which combines the thrill of motorsports with the power of rocket engines in flight. The Rocket Racing League will also hold Exhibition Races this year at the Reno Air Races, at Aviation Nation (also in Nevada), and at the X Prize Cup in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Teams can also now opt for rocket engines provided by Doom and Quake creator and president of Armadillo Aerospace, John Carmack. The engines will run on liquid oxygen (LOX) and ethanol and include a special dose of salt water to make the rocket engines flare all the more visible from the ground (think colored smoke from an aerobatic plane). I can't wait to see one in person.

The two planes will race around a two lap course in the sky using heads up displays to see the virtual gates in the sky they must fly through at each checkpoint. Over 700,000 people are expected to watch the races at Oshkosh alone.

The Rocket Racing League was create in 2005 by X Prize Chairman Peter Diamandis and two time Indianapolis 500 winning team partner Granger Whitelaw. There are six teams in the league including former U.S. Navy pilots and former Air Force pilots and the league itself boasts former Space Shuttle Commander Rick Searfoss as a pilot.

The goal? "To advance the technology and increase the publics awareness of space travel." Having a couple dozen more people with extensive day in and day out knowledge of rocket engine design, maintenance, and operation would probably do a lot for aerospace. That is the kind of experience base we are going to need to be a space faring civilization. Then maybe all those video games you have been playing will pay off...

Rocket Racing League Announces First Exhibition Race [Rocket Racing League]

Father of Chaos Theory, Edward Lorenz, Dies

Edward Lorenz, a long-time MIT meteorologist, died in his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts today. He was 90.

Lorenz is famous for having introduced the world to chaos theory, which holds that small differences in the initial conditions of a system can have outsized impacts on its functioning, a phenomenon sometimes called the "butterfly effect."

The AP has an obituary out by veteran science writer Seth Borenstein.

Neuroscience Art Show Shows EEG-Driven Robots, Beauty of Brain Scans

Courtesy : Wired Science...

Our New York metro area readers have three days left to catch the Brainwave: Common Senses neuroscience show at the Exit Art gallery, which ends April 19.

In the Scienceline video (sorry, we couldn't embed it) on the topic, we saw beautiful brain scan images by Suzanne Anker, and the robot at the right, which is driven by a computational interpretation of an artist's brainwaves during REM sleep. Its creators, Fernando Orellana and Brendan Burns, hopes the technology will evolve to the point where robots can reenact our dreams.

You're not going to find a ton of science in the video, but we appreciate fresh perspectives on brains from people working with the left right side of theirs.

Japan Captures HDTV of Full Earth "Rise" from Lunar Orbit

The Japanese lunar orbiter "Kaguya" saw earth, moon and sun line up on April 6, 2008 and captured another "Earth-rise" and "Earth-set" HDTV video- this time when the Earth was full. (The original November videos were taken when the Earth was wanning (not quite full).

According to the website, the line up occurs only twice a year and allows the orbiter to take these movies as it comes from around the back side of the moon and into view of the Earth. If you haven't worked out how that happens (I haven't either), the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has kindly provided a diagram after the jump... (Thanks to Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society for the montage above).

Ok, I don't quite understand it either. But I love a good thought experiment. So...

For the Earth to look "full" the moon has to be between the earth and the sun and looking at the fully illuminated Earth. When the moon is between the Earth and the sun it would be a New Moon (since we on Earth are looking at its unilluminated side). The moon doesn't block the sunlight from falling on Earth since it's small and orbiting at a 5 degree tilt to the plane of Earth's orbit, so it is usually above or below the line of sight of the sun - see animation link below.) If you look at a lunar calendar April 6th was New Moon and the day these videos were taken.

Now, there is a New Moon every month, so why can it only capture the "Full Earth" twice a year? Check out this link for a cool animation of the moon orbiting the Earth from the perspective of the sun to help visualize why the moon only lines up directly with the earth and the sun twice a year. The animation gives a good sense of why lunar eclipses only happen twice (or four times) a year, but I am not clear about how that relates to Earth's fullness. I welcome comments from people who really know.

Note that the Apollo missions picture of "Earth-rise" did not happen to fall during "full-Earth" and had an Earth that was about 3/4's full. JAXA thinks this is the first full Earth picture to be captured, if not, it certainly is the first full Earth captured in HDTV...

JAXA has a beautiful flash site of the images it has taken with Kaguya. They also have a gallery of HDTV videos from Kaguya that are easier to navigate if you can read Japanese. The HDTV videos are not full resolution. JAXA has not released those versions yet. It is believed that their partner, the Japanese Public Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) are reserving them for future commercial and educational purposes.

I will also update this post as I learn more.
Original Press Release [JAXA] (in Japanese)

Three Smart Things You Should Know About Helium

1 Although helium is the second-most-plentiful element in the cosmos — it's synthesized in stars by nuclear fusion — Earth is running short of the noble gas. Extracted from natural gas, our supply accumulated in the planet's crust over billions of years — the result of radioactive decay. One-third of that stash lies in the Texas panhandle, and if it continues to be consumed at the current rate, it'll be gone in nine years.

2 Macy's is rumored to be the second-largest helium customer in the world — Curse you, Red Baron! — but the element is used for more than just floating things. Two quick examples: It's perfect for pressurizing space shuttle fuel tanks (only helium remains a gas at the frigid temperature of liquid-hydrogen rocket fuel) and for cooling the superconducting electromagnets in MRI devices (helium boasts the coldest liquid state of any element).

3 Inhaling helium lets you croon like Alvin & Co. because the gas is only one-seventh as dense as air. When helium is streaming out of your lungs as you yodel, the sound waves produced by your vocal cords travel much faster, which alters the tone quality of your voice. The result: that endlessly funny squeak.

U Me Aur Hum Watch Download Movie Online

U Me Aur Hum is divided into 2 parts. The first half is basically a simple love story on how Ajay (Ajay Devgan) woos Piya (Kajol). The second half tells us that marriage is not just sharing happy moments together but being there for each other at the time of distress. It’s also about fullfilling each other’s dreams and promises made to each other. On a cruise, Ajay falls head over heals in love with Piya at the first sight. Although his first impression was disastrous, Ajay doesn’t give up and tries everything possible to woo Piya. And by hook or crook he succeeds in paving his way to her heart. The two soon develop a strong and special bond of love but not for long. Lies and deceit puts an end to their newly blossomed yet strong relationship. But love brings them together again and despite the failing relationships of their friends, the two tie the nuptial knot. Soon their marriage becomes the ideal marriage for their friends to look upon and learn. Watch Movie U Me Aur Hum Online [Part-I]

Download U Me Aur Hum Movie Online
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Are you a Breakthrough Thinker?

Well what can i say.. Another interesting blog from Ken Hudson in his Idea Space.. thought it would interest my readers as well.....

Are you a Breakthrough Thinker? - Kens Blog - The Idea Space

On my business card I have called myself The Idea Space: Chief Breakthrough Thinker. This begs the question what is a breakthrough thinker and why is it important?

I will deal with the second question first. To be a breakthrough thinker is the most important qualification you can have on your resume. In an information rich world, the ability to create new concepts from existing information is vital. More and more, the nature of work in organisations today is generative rather than process. In other-words the people who can generate new ideas, insights and concepts to adapt to a rapidly changing world will be the most valued.

But what is a breakthrough thinker? If you can answer yes to the following five questions then you probably are:

1. Do you generate a regular flow of original ideas?
2. Can you escape from what has gone on in the past?
3. Do you challenge existing assumptions, beliefs and conventions?
4. Can you create big, new ideas quickly?
5. Do you ’see’ opportunities before others?

If the answers are yes to all these questions and you are working for a large organisation. Ask for a pay rise immediately and/or leave. You will have a much better and more enjoyable time running your own business.

Ken Hudson

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The Duck and the Devil

There was a little boy visiting his grandparents on their farm.
He was given a slingshot to play with out in the woods. He practiced in the woods, but he could never hit the target.
Getting A little discouraged, he headed back for dinner. As he was walking back he saw Grandma's pet duck.
Just out of impulse, he let the slingshot fly, hit the duck Square in the head, and killed it. He was shocked and grieved.
In a panic, he hid the dead duck in the wood pile, only to see His sister watching! Sally had seen it all, but she said nothing.
After lunch the next day Grandma said, "Sally, let's wash the Dishes." But Sally said, "Grandma, Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen."
Then she whispered to him, "Remember the duck?" So Johnny did the dishes.
Later that day, Grandpa asked if the children wanted to go Fishing and Grandma said, "I'm sorry but I need Sally to help make Supper."
Sally just smiled and said," Well that's all right because Johnny told Me he wanted to help." She whispered again, "Remember the duck?" So Sally Went fishing and Johnny stayed to help.

After several days of Johnny doing both his chores and Sally's, He finally couldn't stand it any longer. He came to Grandma and confessed that he had killed the duck.
Grandma knelt down, gave him a hug, and said, "Sweetheart, I know. You see, I was standing at the window and I saw the whole thing, but because I love you, I forgave you. I was just wondering how long You would let Sally make a slave of you."
Thought for the day and every day thereafter?
Whatever is in your past, whatever you have done... And the devil Keeps throwing it up in your face (lying, cheating, debt, fear, bad Habits, hatred, anger, bitterness, etc.) ....whatever it is....You need to know that God was standing at the window and He saw the whole thing..... He has seen your whole life.

He wants you to know that He loves you and that you are forgiven.
He's just wondering how long you will let the devil make a slave of you.
The great thing about God is that when you ask for forgiveness, He Not only forgives you, but He forgets. It is by God's grace and Mercy that we are saved.
Go ahead and make the difference in someone's life today. Share this with a friend and always remember: God is at the window.