It’s a cold morning in San Francisco and I’m in an Uber wishing I’d had time to rent a bike. We’re meandering slowly through commuter traffic to get to a talk with what now feels like the toughest audience I have ever faced. I’m talking about the 321 five to 11-year old students of North Hillsborough School, a respected primary in the suburbs of this great city. As CEO of a UK clean-tech company, Pavegen, I suddenly feel exposed and nervous. Will the slides work on the school’s set-up? Do I have any jokes for this age group? Will the kids get it?
I needn’t have worried. The children and their teachers were amazing. We’ve had a good deal of experience in schools, but I’m always blown away by the intensity of the reaction that our technology inspires in young people.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Transcending languages, they cross oceans, reach out from space and show us inside the human body. In December, the winners of the 2017 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering will receive their award at Buckingham Palace. They are to be honoured for creating digital imaging sensors. Together, they have revolutionised the way we see and capture the world around us.
Digital imaging allows people worldwide access to a vast array of pictures and videos. They have enable high-speed, low-cost colour imaging at a resolution and sensitivity that can exceed that of the human eye. From snaps of individual cells to stars billions of light years away, image sensors have transformed our lives.
A team of engineers at RMIT University in Melbourne have found a novel use for the trillions of cigarette butts that litter our streets.
By coating discarded butts in paraffin or bitumen, the team can mix them into asphalt concrete, making a new building material. this new asphalt mixture can create cooler, greener pavements in cities and towns. By lowering the asphalt’s density, pavements become more porous, draining surface water away. Another useful property is the asphalt’s lower thermal conductivity. By soaking up less of the sun’s heat, the cool pavements could cut the ‘urban heat island’ effect felt in many cities.
Engineering is responsible for the pulleys, wheels and bows and arrows that carried us towards civilisation. It powered the SS Great Britain across the Atlantic and raised the Eiffel Tower. Without engineering, we wouldn’t have powerful computers tucked away in pockets or a direct line to outer space. Since its inception thousands of years ago, engineering has undoubtedly shaped our world. The question we’re addressing this month, however, is what happens next?
Winner of the 2017 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, Dr Michael Tompsett, was last night awarded the Royal Photographic Society’s top prize.
Established in 1878, the Progress Medal recognises the inventions, research, publication or contribution that has resulted in an important advance in the scientific or technological development of photographic imaging in the widest sense.
Tompsett received the honour for the invention of the imaging semiconductor circuit and analogue-to-digital converter chip at the heart of the charge coupled device (CCD). The CCD image sensor is found in early digital cameras and is packed with light-capturing cells called pixels. When particles of light, or ‘photons’ hit these pixels, they produce an electrical pulse. Brighter lights produce a stronger electrical pulse.
From the early days of all-things-kale to adopting acai bowls and bibimbap, western culture is no stranger to ‘fashionable’ foods. Thanks to a team of taste scientists in Denmark, jellyfish ‘crisps’ could become a healthier alternative to the humble potato chip.
They may not be your first choice of a healthy snack, but jellyfish are a long-standing delicacy in parts of Asia. To prevent them spoiling, fresh caught jellies are preserved in a month-long salting process. Salt is added and the water content is gradually reduced, turning their ‘jelly’ solid and rubbery. This can then be shredded and rehydrated at a late date, making a protein-rich treat.
Helicopters play a key role in many aspects of our modern society. They fly as air ambulances, search and rescue teams and in military operations. We also use them for urban transport and off-shore oil and gas operations. Some organisations even rely on helicopters for monitoring national electric grids.
Vibrations are one of the main considerations when designing and manufacturing rotorcraft vehicles. As well as causing damage to aircraft, excessive vibrations can result in higher fuel and maintenance costs, not to mention a bumpy ride for passengers. There are many causes of vibrations, but the prime source is the helicopter’s main rotor. In order to fly, the main rotor blades move through the air and create a force that lifts the helicopter. However, the interaction between the rotor blades and the air is very complex. As the blade moves in a circular trajectory, the aerodynamic forces change as it spins. This causes a type of vibration that is not encountered in fixed-wing planes.
In just one hour, our sun provides enough energy to supply the world’s electricity for an entire year. This, and many other arguments for solar energy, have made their way into people’s awareness since the 1960s. More recently, concerns over our changing climate have led to an increased interest. Yet solar power has still not been fully embraced. At the time of writing, solar power accounts for a meager 1% of total global energy production.
The technology to capture solar energy exists. Additionally, cheaper and more efficient solar cells are racing their way to industrialization., But ‘more efficient’ doesn’t always ensure adoption by consumers, homeowners and cityscapes. More importantly, adopting a green technology doesn’t always ensure green behavior by the those who use it!