Engineering a Better Football

Posted on December 28, 2009  Comments (5)

The football (soccer ball) for the 2010 FIFA World Cup features completely new, ground-breaking technology. Eight 3-D spherically formed panels are moulded together, harmoniously enveloping the inner carcass. The result is an energetic unit combined with perfect roundness.

Aero grooves create the clearly visible profile on the ball’s surface. The Grip’n’Groove profile circles around the entire ball in an optimal aerodynamic way. The integrated grooves provide unmatched flight characteristics, making this the most stable and most accurate Adidas football. The ground breaking performance features have been confirmed in comprehensive comparison tests at Loughborough University in England and countless checks in wind tunnel and the Adidas football laboratory in Scheinfeld, Germany.

The process, shown in the video, for manufacturing the footballs is way more complicate than I thought it would be.

Related: Full Adidas press releaseThe Science of the Football SwerveEngineering Basketball FlopSports Engineering

Microcosm by Carl Zimmer

Posted on December 26, 2009  Comments (0)

cover of Microcosm by Carl Zimmer

Microcosm: E. Coli and the New Science of Life by Carl Zimmer is an excellent book. It is full of fascinating information and as usual Carl Zimmer’s writing is engaging and makes complex topics clear.

E-coli keep the level of oxygen low in the gut making the resident microbes comfortable. At any time a person will have as many as 30 strains of E. coli in their gut and it is very rare for someone ever to be free of E. coli. [page 53]

In 1943, Luria and Delbruck published the results that won them the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in which they showed that bacteria and viruses pass down their traits using genes (though it took quite some time for the scientific community at large to accept this). [page 70]

during a crisis E coli’s mutation rates could soar a hundred – or even a thousandfold… Normally, natural selection favors low mutation rates, since most mutations are harmful. But in times of stress extra mutations may raise the odds that organisms will hit on a way out of their crisis… [alternatively, perhaps] In times of stress, E coli. may not be able to afford the luxury of accurate DNA repair. Instead, it turns to the cheaper lo-fi polymerases. While they may do a sloppier job, E coli. comes out ahead [page 106]
Hybridization is not the only way foreign DNA got into our cells. Some 3 billion years ago our single-celled ancestors engulfed oxygen-breathing bacteria, which became the mitochondria on which we depend. And, like E. coli, our genomes have taken in virus upon virus. Scientists have identified more than 98,000 viruses in the human genome, along with our mutant vestiges of 150,00 others… If we were to strip out all our transgenic DNA, we would become extinct.

I highly recommend Microcosm, just as I highly recommend Parasite Rex, by Carl Zimmer.

Related: Bacteriophages: The Most Common Life-Like Form on EarthForeign Cells Outnumber Human Cells in Our BodiesAmazing Designs of LifeAmazing Science: RetrovirusesOne Species’ Genome Discovered Inside Another’s

How the Practice and Instruction of Engineering Must Change

Posted on December 23, 2009  Comments (0)

Chief Scientist for the Rocky Mountain Institute and MacArthur Fellow, Amory Lovins, describes how small gains in efficiency at the consumption point can trigger gains that are magnitudes larger at higher levels and discusses how engineering must be practiced and taught fundamentally different.

Related: MIT Hosts Student Vehicle Design Summit59 MPG Toyota iQ Diesel Available in EuropeWebcast: Engineering Education in the 21st Century

Bionic Vision

Posted on December 22, 2009  Comments (6)

Micro Machines and Opto-Electronics on a Contact Lense

Fiction now meets reality with prototype contact lenses developed by Babak Parviz at the University of Washington, in Seattle. Dr. Parviz’s prototype lenses can be used as biosensors to display body chemistry or as a heads up display (HUD). Powered by radio waves and 330 microwatts of power from a loop antenna that picks up power beamed from nearby radio sources, future versions will also be able to harvest power from a cell phone.

In his early 2008 lab tests, rabbits safely wore contact lenses with metal connectors for electronic circuits. The prototype lenses contained an electric circuit as well as red light-emitting diodes for a display. The lenses were tested on rabbits for up to 20 minutes and the animals showed no adverse effects.

Contact lenses as replacements for smart phone displays — even to monitor blood glucose levels — might best be done while not operating heavy equipment. “The true promise of this research is not just the actual system we end up making, whether it’s a display, a biosensor, or both,” comments Dr. Parviz. “We already see a future in which the humble contact lens becomes a real platform, like the iPhone is today, with lots of developers contributing their ideas and inventions. As far as we’re concerned, the possibilities extend as far as the eye can see, and beyond.”

Related: A Journey Into the Human Eye3-D Images of EyesScientists Discover How Our Eyes Focus When We Read

Soren Bisgaard 1951-2009

Posted on December 20, 2009  Comments (3)

photo of Soren Bisgaard

Soren Bisgaard died earlier this month of cancer. Soren was a student (Ph.D., statistics) of my father’s who shared the commitment to using applied statistics to improve people’s lives. I know this seem odd to many (I tried to describe this idea previously and read his acceptance of the 2002 William G. Hunter award).

Most recently Soren Bisgaard, Ph.D. was Professor of technology management at Eugene M. Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. He was an ASQ Fellow; recipient of Shewart Medal, Hunter Award, George Box Medal, among many others awards. Soren also served as the director of the Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (founded by William Hunter and George Box) for several years.

I will remember the passion he brought to his work. He reminded me of my father in his desire to improve how things are done and provide people the opportunity to lead better lives. Those that bring passion to their work in management improvement are unsung heroes. It seems odd, to many, to see that you can bring improvement to people’s lives through work. But we spend huge amounts of our time at work. And by improving the systems we work in we can improve people’s lives. Soren will be missed, by those who knew him and those who didn’t (even if they never realize it).

The Future of Quality Technology: From a Manufacturing to a Knowledge Economy and From Defects to Innovations (pdf) by Soren Bisgaard. Read more articles by Søren Bisgaard.

Related: The Work of Peter ScholtesMistakes in Experimental Design and InterpretationThe Scientific Context of Quality Improvement by George Box and Soren Bisgaard, 1987 – William G. Hunter Award 2008: Ronald Does

Obituary Søren Bisgaard at ENBIS:
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Briggs-Rauscher Oscillating Reaction

Posted on December 18, 2009  Comments (0)

video showing the Briggs-Rauscher Oscillating Reaction. From Wikipedia:

The first known homogeneous oscillating chemical reaction, reported by W. C. Bray in 1921, was between hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and iodate (IO3) in acidic solution. Due to experimental difficulty, it attracted little attention and was unsuitable as a demonstration. In 1958 B. P. Belousov in the Soviet Union discovered the Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction (BZ reaction), is suitable as a demonstration, but it too met with skepticism (largely because such oscillatory behavior was unheard of up to that time) until A. M. Zhabotinsky, also in the USSR, learned of it and in 1964 published his research. In May of 1972 a pair of articles in the Journal of Chemical Education brought it to the attention of two science instructors at Galileo High School in San Francisco. They discovered the Briggs–Rauscher oscillating reaction by replacing bromate (BrO3) in the BZ reaction by iodate and adding hydrogen peroxide. They produced the striking visual demonstration by adding starch indicator.

The detailed mechanism of this reaction is quite complex. Nevertheless, a good general explanation can be given.
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Cuts for British Science

Posted on December 17, 2009  Comments (1)

Cuts mark ‘sad day for British science’

Britain’s physics community is reeling from a “disastrous” day of funding cuts that will force scientists to withdraw from major research facilities and see PhD studentships fall by a quarter. Space missions and projects across astronomy, nuclear and particle physics are being cancelled to save at least £115m, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) said today.

Fellowships and student grants for PhD projects will be cut by 25% from next year. The announcement has appalled senior physicists who warn the cuts threaten Britain’s future as a leading player in science.

In February, Gordon Brown delivered his first speech on science in Oxford and stated: “The downturn is no time to slow down our investment in science but to build more vigorously for the future.”

Politicians like to talk about funding science investment. And they do so to some extent. However, they are more reluctant to actually spend money than to talk about the wonders of science. Several countries in Asia are not just talking, they continue to invest, large amounts of money. The USA seems to be willing to put some money (not the kind of funds paid to protect bankers bonuses but significant amounts). Still the amounts the USA is investing is, I believe, falling as a percentage of global investment.

Related: posts on funding investments in scienceBritain’s Doctors of InnovationEconomic Strength Through Technology LeadershipScience and Engineering in Global EconomicsScience and Engineering Workforce IndicatorsThe value of investing in science and engineeringSaving FermilabNanotechnology Investment as Strategic National Economic Policy

10 Simple Science Tricks for Parties

Posted on December 16, 2009  Comments (3)

Fun video by Richard Wiseman on his top 10 science stunts for Christmas parties.

Related: How a Microwave HeatsNinja ProfessorsScience Toys You Can Make With Your Kids

Monkey Bridge

Posted on December 10, 2009  Comments (2)

Monkey see Monkey do

When you visit Diani Beach, Kenya’s version the Florida keys, look up and you’ll see 20 rope bridges swinging over the highway – what’s that little bulge with a tail? Before you flash by, you will realise that it’s a monkey sitting up there. Yes it’s watching you! And then, a burst of action as an entire troop of black and white might start galloping across the wildly swaying bridge!

Being naturally shy, the colobus initially stared at the bridges gadgets with disdain until the more inquisitive and daring Sykes monkey began to see the logic. Once the Sykes and even vervet monkeys started using the bridges, the colobus followed suit, and are now very comfortable with their arboreal walkways.

Related: Colobus TrustEngineering a Better World: Bike Corn-Sheller‘Refrigerator’ Without ElectricityMassive Gorilla Population FoundOrangutan Attempts to Hunt Fish with Spear

Unless We Take Decisive Action, Climate Change Will Ravage Our Planet

Posted on December 6, 2009  Comments (7)

Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park photo by John Hunterphoto by John Hunter at Glacier National Park.

Tomorrow 56 newspapers, in 45 countries, are taking the unprecedented step of publishing the same editorial. The editorial will appear in 20 languages, as the United Nations Climate Change Conference is set to begin in Copenhagen.

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone.

The science is complex but the facts are clear. The world needs to take steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years.

Few believe that Copenhagen can any longer produce a fully polished treaty; real progress towards one could only begin with the arrival of President Obama in the White House and the reversal of years of US obstructionism. Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US Congress has done so.

the rich world is responsible for most of the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere – three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emitted since 1850. It must now take a lead, and every developed country must commit to deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a decade to very substantially less than their 1990 level.

The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for bailing out global finance — and far less costly than the consequences of doing nothing.

Many of us, particularly in the developed world, will have to change our lifestyles. The era of flights that cost less than the taxi ride to the airport is drawing to a close. We will have to shop, eat and travel more intelligently. We will have to pay more for our energy, and use less of it.

Kicking our carbon habit within a few short decades will require a feat of engineering and innovation to match anything in our history. But whereas putting a man on the moon or splitting the atom were born of conflict and competition, the coming carbon race must be driven by a collaborative effort to achieve collective salvation.

The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history’s judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice.

Most of the newspapers have taken the unusual step of featuring the editorial on their front page. Even with the overwhelming evidence and tremendous consequences I don’t expect politicians to make the right decisions. We know full well what the choices are. We just choice to avoid the unpleasant choices. To bad so many that don’t get to choose are going to suffer. The politicians will be weak. They will play to those that pay them money. They will delay taking important steps now. We have chosen to elect non-leaders for quite some time. We can’t really expect them to act with courage, vision, wisdom and leadership given who we elect. The politicians are responsible for their failing but we are more responsible for electing them. Some politicians, even now, do possess fine qualities but not nearly enough. Maybe I will be proven wrong, but I doubt it.

Related: What’s Up With the Weather?Arctic System on Trajectory to New, Seasonally Ice-Free StateScientists Denounce Global Warming Report EditsDeforestation and Global WarmingMIT’s Energy ‘Manhattan Project’Global Installed Wind Power Now Over 1.5% of Global Electricity DemandBigger Impact: 15 to 18 mpg or 50 to 100 mpg?Solar Thermal in Desert, to Beat Coal by 202076 Nobel Laureates in Science Endorse Obama

Statistics Insights for Scientists and Engineers

Posted on December 5, 2009  Comments (2)

My father was a engineer and statistician. Along with George Box and Stu Hunter (no relation) they wrote Statistics for Experimenters (one of the potential titles had been Statistics for Engineers). They had an interest in bringing applied statistics to the work of scientists and engineers and I have that interest also. To me the key trait for applied statistics is to help experimenters learn quickly: it is an aid in the discovery process. It should not be a passive tool for analysis (which is how people often think of statistics).

José Ramírez studied applied and industrial statistics at the University of Wisconsin – Madison with my father and George Box. And now has a book and blog on taking statistics to engineers and scientists

The book is primarily written for engineers and scientists who need to use statistics and JMP to make sense of data and make sound decisions based on their analyses. This includes, for example, people working in semiconductor, automotive, chemical and aerospace industries. Other professionals in these industries who will find it valuable include quality engineers, reliability engineers, Six Sigma Black Belts and statisticians.

For those who want a reference for how to solve common problems using statistics and JMP, we walk through different case studies using a seven-step problem-solving framework, with heavy emphasis on the problem setup, interpretation, and translation of the results in the context of the problem.

For those who want to learn more about the statistical techniques and concepts, we provide a practical overview of the underpinnings and provide appropriate references. Finally, for those who want to learn how to benefit from the power of JMP, we have loaded the book with many step-by-step instructions and tips and tricks.

Related: Highlights from George Box Speech at JMP conference Nov 2009Controlled Experiments for Software SolutionsMistakes in Experimental Design and InterpretationFlorence Nightingale: The passionate statistician

Stat Insights is a blog by José and Brenda Ramírez.

Analyzing and Interpreting Continuous Data Using JMP by José and Brenda Ramírez. view chapter 1 online.

[We] have focused on making statistics both accessible and effective in helping to solve common problems found in an industrial setting. Statistical techniques are introduced not as a collection of formulas to be followed, but as a catalyst to enhance and speed up the engineering and scientific problem-solving process. Each chapter uses a 7-step problem-solving framework to make sure that the right problem is being solved with an appropriate selection of tools.