Britain’s railways have stood the test of time. Built over 150 years ago by the Victorians, Britain’s railway network carries over 3 million people every day, making 1.3 billion journeys each year. By 2020 another 400 million rail journeys each year are forecast. And it’s not just people commuting to work or travelling for fun. Britain’s railways carry goods we need, fuel for our power stations and materials to build our environment. But with only 20,000 miles of track, there’s a limit on how many journeys the current infrastructure can accommodate. So, to create extra capacity, new lines are being constructed, bottlenecks removed and digital technologies developed to allow longer trains to run more frequently.
At Fun Kids, the UK’s radio station for children, we want to help children explore the engineering and technology underlying a ‘digital age’ railway. We are working on a project called ‘Engineering Britain’s railways for a digital age,’ which is supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering Ingenious programme. As part of the project, we will create a series of 20 short audio programmes that will look at how to run more trains more frequently, tunnelling under major cities, re-building operational stations, electrification and alternative energy, and communications between trains, signalmen and the rest of the world.
Engineers at Columbia University in New York have discovered a new way to create super-strong materials, taking their inspiration from nature.
The shimmering, iridescent coating on the inside of some sea shells is called ‘nacre’ or ‘mother of pearl’. A naturally occurring composite material, nacre is made up of calcium carbonate and protein. Its rigid structure makes shells resistant to cracking, protecting the soft molluscs inside.
Hexagonal plates of aragonite, a type of calcium carbonate, are arranged into continuous sheets that are stacked on top of one another. Sandwiched in between each brittle sheet is a thin layer of chitin, an elastic ‘biopolymer’ made from protein. Together, this ‘brick and mortar’ construction gives oysters extraordinary mechanical properties, such as great strength and resilience.
In the five years since she graduated from the American university in Cairo, Dena Hegab, 26, has become one of the first few women to drill for BP in the Mediterranean. She talks about her experiences on board a rig as a woman among 179 men – and why she’s keen to break down stereotypes in the oil and gas industry, in North Africa and beyond.
It seems that I’m one of the first few women to drill in the Mediterranean Sea…
Five years into my career with BP, that gives me a great deal of satisfaction. I joined on the Challenge (graduate) programme after six months elsewhere, so I was pretty much a fresh graduate of petroleum and energy engineering. There are many stereotypes, around women doing what’s perceived as a ‘tough’ drilling job in a male-dominated environment. I don’t think women avoid this field because it’s challenging though, there’s just a lack of female role models.
Have you ever settled yourself down in front of an animated movie and marvelled at how the 3D figures are brought to life?
From Sulley’s wind-ruffled fur as he strides across the ‘Monsters’ University’ campus to the heart-wrenching fade-out of Riley’s imaginary friend, Bing Bong, in ‘Inside Out’, it’s the play of light across these 3D scenes that brings the characters so vividly to life. Each moment is painstakingly animated, textured and rendered to give a carefully crafted illusion of reality.
In these more recent productions, a technique called ‘ray tracing’ maps out each ray of light in a scene, giving rise to the shadows, reflections and 3D appearance of characters. Even with the help of vast banks of powerful computers, the rendering process takes hundreds of thousands of computing hours, and films can take years to finish.
Ladakh, ‘the land of high passes’, lies high in the mountains of northern India, resting against the Tibetan border. Although one of the most sparsely populated areas in the states of Jammu and Kashmir, communities have nevertheless made their home in the mountain desert since the dawn of the New Stone Age.
Villages are found at altitudes from 2,700m to 4,000m above sea level, where winter temperatures plummet to more than 30 degrees below freezing. With an annual rain and snowfall of just 100mm, settlements thrive around the glacial streams that feed the Indus and other rivers in the area.
Inspired by insect wings that kill bacteria on contact, Indian researchers have developed a method to treat the surface of titanium orthopaedic implants at nano-scales so that they resist bacterial infection — a complication that often develops following surgery.
Orthopaedic implants like hip joints, knee joints, plates and screws can be treated to resist bacteria without the use of antibiotics, says a paper published online in Scientific Reports (23 January).
People around the world throw away more than 1.3 billion tonnes of out-of-date food each year. At Fresh Check, we’re guilty of wasting both food and money by throwing away food that is past its use-by date. In fact, almost everyone we’ve spoken to has walked the fine line between saving money and food poisoning a few times, or at least had an argument about it with their families, friends or flatmates! The same is certainly true for us, and it was from this frustration that Fresh Check was born.
Our simple technology started as a smart solution to detect food spoilage which centred on visualising harmful bacterial contamination with a blue to orange colour change. The material remains blue in safe settings and turns orange in areas that might cause harm. Since developing the initial technology our product and business model have grown and changed, but we’ve always stuck to the detection of poor hygiene. Now we look not only at food packaging, but have developed a blue to orange colour-changing spray for use in restaurants, hospitals, food producing plants and at home, to warn users of any health risks.
“Don’t play with your food” is a saying that MIT researchers are taking with a grain or two of salt. The team is finding ways to make the dining experience interactive and fun, with food that can transform its shape when water is added.