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Could Lasers Divert Lightning From Buildings?

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by Michael Keller

The standard advice authorities offer when lightning starts crackling across the sky is for people to take shelter inside buildings. Substantial structures offer protection through lightning rods affixed to the roof, electrical wiring and plumbing that can direct the electricity away from occupants and into the ground.

But what is there to protect the buildings themselves from more than 5 billion Joules of energy in a typical lightning strike, which is enough juice to toast 100,000 bread slices? The problem is no small one—the Empire State Building (above) in New York City gets hit by lightning an average of 25 times a year. And Underwriters Laboratories reports that lightning accounts for more than $1 billion in building damage in the U.S. every year. 

Many buildings install lightning protection systems to direct lightning’s energy into the ground, which the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety says are highly effective at preventing fires and destructive electrical surges after a strike.

Now researchers say there might be a next-generation protective system that prevents lightning from hitting a building at all. Their secret weapon? High-intensity lasers.

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Txch This Week: April Fools’ Day and New Candidate For Extraterrestrial Life

 by Norman Rozenberg

This week on Txchnologist, we looked at the newest innovations changing the world around us. First, Dutch architects are using 3-D printing technology to build an iconic canal house. They hope their work will offer a sustainable and quick way of providing housing for the world’s growing population.

Biofuels might one day blast off in the field of rocketry. Georgia Tech scientists have boosted output from genetically engineered bacteria that secrete pinene, a hydrocarbon perfect for high-powered fuels needed to launch rockets and missiles. NASA and Boeing, meanwhile, have tested jet actuators  that could lead to smaller airplane tails, which would make planes lighter and consume less fuel.

Art and cultural objects are priceless priceless components of civilization that often require delicate preservation. Cutting edge science is helping to conserve art and a new generation of conservationists are being taught how to ply their craft.     

On the subject of educating future professionals, medical school students and researchers are starting to get their hands on some new tools. Instead of pouring over a real cadaver, students can now study the human body virtually. Users can manipulate, dissect and explore a hologram-like cadaver using joysticks and projectors.

And now we’re bringing you the news and trends we’ve been following this week in the world of science, technology and innovation.

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Predicting Where Water Will Go In A Hurricane

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by Joel N. Shurkin, Inside Science

In most hurricanes the greatest damage is done not by the wind but from the storm surge, the mountain of water pushed by raging winds from the ocean to deluge the land.

There is always a level of unpredictability when dealing with Mother Nature, but knowing where the water would go when a storm is bearing down on the coast would be useful, particularly in densely populated coastal cities such as New York, which maintains complex systems of houses, office buildings, sidewalks, basements, alleys, subway stations, and streets clogged with parked cars.

Scientists at the College of William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences at Gloucester Point, Va., reported they have a computer model that may do that, starting about 30 hours before the storm comes ashore. At least it worked in retrospect with the Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the East Coast in 2012.

Click through for an interactive map of New York City flooding and a video.

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Smartphones Could Help Predict Storms

by Marsha Lewis, Inside Science TV

They help us stay connected, but could your smartphone also help weather forecasters predict a coming storm?

New research suggests that cell phones carried around in pockets and purses could be used by meteorologists to improve weather forecasts.

“We could potentially have 100 or 1,000 times more surface reports than we’re getting today,” said Cliff Mass, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle.

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