As a society, we increasingly rely on digital technologies in most aspects of our life, such as social media and online banking. These technologies have had a significant impact on our personal and business interactions.
However, what can be less obvious is the extent to which digital technologies underpin critical services, whose failure can lead to human harm. These ‘safety-critical systems’ have traditionally been dominated by aviation, rail and nuclear power generation; all industries with an impressive track record in achieving high levels of safety.
With its hilly location in south-west England and World Heritage status, development projects in Bath must contend with many practical and regulatory challenges. In our upcoming project, young people reject all the rules to commit heritage heresy and re-imagine a future city where absolutely anything is possible.
‘Heritage Heresy’ is an exciting weekend event being held for local young people aged 10-13 in Bath later this year. They will join up with real engineers, architects and city planners to think about the built environment around them and create new visions of Bath.
A newly developed, hands-free musical instrument could be the next novel rehabilitation therapy for patients with motor disabilities.
The ‘Encephalophone’ is an instrument that can be controlled by the mind alone, with no external stimuli needed. The researchers hope it could play an important role in empowering and rehabilitating those diagnosed with motor neurone disease, spinal cord injuries, stroke or amputation. It was designed by Thomas Deuel, a neurologist and neuroscientist at Swedish Medical Centre.
“I am a musician and a neurologist, and I have seen many patients who played music prior to their stroke or other motor impairment, who can no longer play an instrument or sing,” said Deuel. “I thought it would be great to use a brain-computer instrument to enable patients to play music again without requiring movement.”
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.