Posts about Texas

Solar-Powered Desalination

Solar-Powered Desalination

Saudi Arabia meets much of its drinking water needs by removing salt and other minerals from seawater. Now the country plans to use one of its most abundant resources to counter its fresh-water shortage: sunshine.

KACST’s main goal is to reduce the cost of desalinating water. Half of the operating cost of a desalination plant currently comes from energy use, and most current plants run on fossil fuels.

Reducing cost isn’t the only reason that people have dreamed of coupling renewable energy with desalination for decades, says Lisa Henthorne, a director at the International Desalination Association. “Anything we can do to lower this cost over time or reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with that power is a good thing,” Henthorne says. “This is truly a demonstration in order to work out the bugs, to see if the technologies can work well together.”

Saudi Arabia, the top desalinated water producer in the world, uses 1.5 million barrels of oil per day at its plants, according to Arab News.

In a concentrated PV system, lenses or mirrors focus sunlight on ultra-efficient solar cells that convert the light into electricity. The idea is to cut costs by using fewer semiconductor solar cell materials. But multiplying the sun’s power by hundreds of times creates a lot of heat. “If you don’t cool [the device], you end up overheating the circuits and killing them,” says Sharon Nunes, vice president of IBM Big Green Innovations. IBM’s solution is to use a highly conducting liquid metal–an indium gallium alloy–on the underside of silicon computer chips to ferry heat away. Using this liquid metal, the researchers have been able to concentrate 2,300 times the sun’s power onto a one-square-centimeter solar device. That is three times higher than what’s possible with current concentrator systems, says Nunes.

Finding good desalination solution could help many other locations (including southern California). But there is still a long way to go.

Related: Agricultural Irrigation with Salt WaterCheap Drinking Water From Seawater

Fungus-gardening Ant Species Has Given Up Sex Completely

The complete asexuality of a widespread fungus-gardening ant, the only ant species in the world known to have dispensed with males entirely, has been confirmed by a team of Texas and Brazilian researchers.

photo of christian rabeling excavating ants in BrazilGraduate student Christian Rabeling excavating fungus-farming ant nests in Brasilia.

Most social insects—the wasps, ants and bees—are relatively used to daily life without males. Their colonies are well run by swarms of sterile sisters lorded over by an egg-laying queen. But, eventually, all social insect species have the ability to produce a crop of males who go forth in the world to fertilize new queens and propagate.

Queens of the ant Mycocepurus smithii reproduce without fertilization and males appear to be completely absent, report Christian Rabeling, Ulrich Mueller and their Brazilian colleagues in open access journal PLoS ONE this week.

“Animals that are completely asexual are relatively rare, which makes this is a very interesting ant,” says Rabeling, an ecology, evolution and behavior graduate student at The University of Texas at Austin. “Asexual species don’t mix their genes through recombination, so you expect harmful mutations to accumulate over time and for the species to go extinct more quickly than others. They don’t generally persist for very long over evolutionary time.”

Previous studies of the ants from Puerto Rico and Panama have pointed toward the ants being completely asexual. One study in particular, by Mueller and former graduate student Anna Himler (now at Arizona State University), showed that the ants reproduced in the lab without males, and that no amount of stress induced the production of males.

Scientists believed that specimens of male ants previously collected in Brazil in the 1960s could be males of M. smithii. If males of the species existed, it would suggest that—at least from time to time—the ants reproduce sexually.

Rabeling analyzed the males in question and discovered that they belonged to another closely related (sexually reproducing) species of fungus-farmer, Mycocepurus obsoletus, thus establishing that no males are known to exist for M. smithii. He also dissected reproducing M. smithii queens from Brazil and found that their sperm storage organs were empty.

Taken together with the previous studies of the ants, Rabeling and his colleagues have concluded that the species is very likely to be totally asexual across its entire range, from Northern Mexico through Central America to Brazil, including some Caribbean islands.

As for the age of the species, the scientists estimate the ants could have first evolved within the last one to two million years, a very young species given that the fungus-farming ants evolved 50 million years ago.

Rabeling says he is using genetic markers to study the evolution and systematics of the fungus-gardening ants and this will help determine the date of the appearance and genetic mechanism of asexual reproduction more precisely in the near future.

Full press release

Related: Bdelloid Rotifers Abandoned Sex 100 Million Years AgoAmazonian Ant Species is All Female, Reproduces By CloningFemale Sharks Can Reproduce AsexualityAmazon Molly Fish are All Female

Friday Fun: Longest Basketball Shot

Amazing basketball shot from Texas. Popular Science looked at the physics involved:

The horizontal distance to the basket from the launch point is approximately 50 meters, and the launch angle θ is about 20 degrees.

Looking at the horizontal part of the motion and accounting for the launch angle we can then determine the initial speed (v0) of the basketball necessary to cover the horizontal distance in 3.8 seconds. We get

Δx = vhorizontal t = v0cosθt

and therefore v0 = Δx/cosθt = 50 m /[cos 20 (3.8 s)] = 14 m/s

Now if we look at the vertical part of the motion we can determine how far the ball would drop in 3.8 seconds. We’ll then compare our theoretical result to the actual vertical distance from the third deck down to the basket that we observe in the video. (We estimate that drop to be similar to the horizontal distance of about 50 meters.) Therefore, based on the time of flight and the initial velocity that we determined above we calculate a vertical drop of

Δy = v0vertical t + ½ at2 = v0 sin t — ½ gt2 = 14m/s(sin 20)(3.8 s) — ½ (-9.8m/s2 )(3.8)2 = -53 m

Well, this corresponds pretty well to what we see in the video. Even accounting for the effects of air resistance (which we did not address above to keep things simple) the result isn’t altered drastically. The motion recorded in the video (in what appears to be a continuous frame) certainly appears possible according to the laws of physics.

See more videos of circus basketball shots by Dude Perfect.

Related: The Science of the Football SwerveEngineering Basketball FlopDolphin Kick Gives Swimmers Edge

S&P 500 CEO’s: Engineers Stay at the Top

2008 Data from Spencer Stuart on S&P 500 CEO (link broken so it was removed, it is so sad that companies still pay people to manage web sites that don’t even understand basic web usability principles such as web pages must live forever) shows once again more have undergraduate degrees in engineering than any other field, increasing to 22% of CEO’s this year.

% of CEOs

Engineering 22 21 23 20
Economics 16 15 13 11
Business Administration 13 13 12 15
Accounting 9 8 8 7
Liberal Arts 6 6 8 9
No degree or no data 3 3

In 1990 Engineering majors accounted for 6% of the bachelor’s degrees in the USA (1970 5%, 1980 7%). Business accounted for 23% of the majors in 1990 (1970 14%, 1980 21%). Liberal arts 3% in 1980 (1970 1%, 1980 2%).

The report does not show the fields for the rest of the CEO’s. 39% of S&P CEOs have MBAs. 28% have other advanced degrees. The University of Wisconsin-Madison and Harvard tied for the most CEO’s with undergraduate degrees from their universities at 13. Princeton and the University of Texas had 9 and Stanford had 8.

While the CEO’s have engineering education backgrounds the work they have done is often in other functions. The top function that CEO’s that have worked in during their careers: Operations (42%), Finance (31%), Marketing (24%), Sales (17%), Engineering (11%).

Data for previous years is also from Spencer Stuart: S&P 500 CEOs are Engineering Graduates (2007 data) 2006 S&P 500 CEO Education StudyTop degree for S&P 500 CEOs? Engineering (2005 study)

Related: Another Survey Shows Engineering Degree Results in the Highest PayScience and Engineering Degrees lead to Career SuccessThe Future is Engineering

Educating Future Scientists and Engineers

Texas in danger of losing global race

American demand for scientists and engineers is expected to grow four times faster than all other professions over the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet today, only 5 percent of U.S. college undergraduates earn degrees in science and engineering, whereas in China, 42 percent of students do.

Not only are highly qualified Texas science and math teachers in short supply today, but we’re losing literally thousands each year. In 2007 alone, approximately 4,000 math and science teachers left Texas classrooms, costing our state an estimated $27 million to replace them.

Fortunately, there are programs already proven successful in preventing the loss of highly qualified math and science teachers, such as UTeach, a teacher training and support program launched at The University of Texas at Austin in 1997.

The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas — made up of Texas’ Nobel Laureates and National Academies members — has proposed four practical, actionable recommendations for state leaders to adopt, putting Texas on the path to world-class math and science education for our children, and a prosperous future for our state.

Related: $12.5 Million NSF For Educating High School Engineering TeachersThe Importance of Science EducationFIRST Robotics in MinnesotaUSA Teens 29th in Science

$12.5 Million NSF For Educating High School Engineering Teachers

$12.5 Million National Science Foundation Grant

The University of Texas at Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering, College of Natural Sciences and College of Education have been awarded $12.5 million by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to prepare educators to teach engineering to Texas high-school students.

The UTeachEngineering program targets future and current teachers, providing multiple avenues to prepare them to teach high school engineering. University faculty will use half of the five-year grant funding for course development, lab development and salaries. The other half of the grant will provide stipends, scholarships and fellowships to students and teachers working toward engineering teaching certification.

Current teachers will benefit from two curricula developed through the grant: a six-week Engineering Summer Institute for Teachers and a UTeach Master of Arts in Science and Engineering Education, which takes place over three summers. The curriculum for prospective teachers will target undergraduate students in engineering and the natural sciences, and lead to a bachelor’s degree in a scientific or engineering field as well as dual teaching certification in science and engineering. Addressing the need for trained engineering teachers is especially crucial in Texas because of a new law that requires high school graduates starting in 2011 to complete four years of science. One year can be a course in engineering.

Related: Engineering Resources for K-12 TeachersLeadership Initiatives for Teaching and TechnologyEducation Resources for Science and EngineeringIoannis Miaoulis on k-12 Engineering EducationAlumni Return to Redesign High School Engineering Classes

Economic Benefits and Science Higher Education

University Tries to Make Texas a Science Force:

In an effort to make Texas a magnet for scientific and medical research, the University of Texas is planning a $2.5 billion program to expand research and teaching in the sciences, including medicine and technology.

The initiative would be one of the largest investments in expansion by a public university, university officials said.

Related: How to cultivate Your Own Silicon ValleyUniversities Focus on Economic BenefitsEconomic Benefits of EngineeringSingapore Supporting Science Researchers$1 Billion for Indian Research University