Friday, January 29, 2010

Turn 'Em Off...For Just One Earth Hour!

There's no hurry, but mark the time: March 27, 2010 from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm, EST. That's this year's Earth Hour, when hundreds of millions of people, organizations, corporations and governments will come together to make a bold statement about their concern for climate change by doing something quite simple—turning off non-essential lights and other electrical appliances for one hour. Earth Hour, organized by the World Wildlife Fund, symbolizes that by working together, each of us can have a positive impact in the fight against climate change, protecting our future and that of future generations.

What happens when the lights go out? When Chicago flipped the switch to OFF during the 2008 Earth Hour, the city kept 840,000 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Now, if your mind has the muscle, imagine what the total figure came to when cities and towns went dark all over the world. That's a lot of gas.

Check out this video and you'll see what Earth Hour is all about and what the world looked like when the lights went off in 2009.

Turn 'Em Off...For Just One Earth Hour!

There's no hurry, but mark the time: March 27, 2010 from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm, EST. That's this year's Earth Hour, when hundreds of millions of people, organizations, corporations and governments will come together to make a bold statement about their concern for climate change by doing something quite simple—turning off non-essential lights and other electrical appliances for one hour. Earth Hour, organized by the World Wildlife Fund, symbolizes that by working together, each of us can have a positive impact in the fight against climate change, protecting our future and that of future generations.

What happens when the lights go out? When Chicago flipped the switch to OFF during the 2008 Earth Hour, the city kept 840,000 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Now, if your mind has the muscle, imagine what the total figure came to when cities and towns went dark all over the world. That's a lot of gas.

Check out this video and you'll see what Earth Hour is all about and what the world looked like when the lights went off in 2009.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Attitudes -- Predictors of Entrepreneurial Potential


Which young people have entrepreneurial chops? There's now a test that could help identify the next generation of gifted impresarios. Devised by an academic at Kingston University in South West London, the test identifies students who are more likely than others to start their own business and show a flair for self-employed enterprise.

The test is divided into two sections. The first includes questions about attitudes related to risk-taking measures, creativity, intuition, leadership skills, the amount of control students feel they have over their futures, and the likelihood that they'll set up an enterprise. The second section of the test gathers information about ethnicity, gender and parents' occupations. Currently, the University of Michigan's Kettering University is using the test, as are universities in London universities; Zagreb, Croatia; Australia and South Africa.

Overall, the study showed that boys, private school pupils and young black people are more positive about self-employment than other groups. Self-confidence seems to be the characteristic that most influences a young person's enterprise potential.

Attitudes -- Predictors of Entrepreneurial Potential


Which young people have entrepreneurial chops? There's now a test that could help identify the next generation of gifted impresarios. Devised by an academic at Kingston University in South West London, the test identifies students who are more likely than others to start their own business and show a flair for self-employed enterprise.

The test is divided into two sections. The first includes questions about attitudes related to risk-taking measures, creativity, intuition, leadership skills, the amount of control students feel they have over their futures, and the likelihood that they'll set up an enterprise. The second section of the test gathers information about ethnicity, gender and parents' occupations. Currently, the University of Michigan's Kettering University is using the test, as are universities in London universities; Zagreb, Croatia; Australia and South Africa.

Overall, the study showed that boys, private school pupils and young black people are more positive about self-employment than other groups. Self-confidence seems to be the characteristic that most influences a young person's enterprise potential.

Friday, January 15, 2010

How to Plug Hybrids in the Marketplace


The appeal and benefits of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles aren't the same in Wyoming as they are in New York. Consumers vary, region by region according to income, life stage, family size and other factors that shape consumers' needs and desires. One-size-fits-all strategies won't cut the mustard when making important decisions about marketing and government subsidies. More...

How to Plug Hybrids in the Marketplace


The appeal and benefits of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles aren't the same in Wyoming as they are in New York. Consumers vary, region by region according to income, life stage, family size and other factors that shape consumers' needs and desires. One-size-fits-all strategies won't cut the mustard when making important decisions about marketing and government subsidies. More...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Earthquake – Shock and Aftershock


The recent 7.0 earthquake in Haiti, according to the Red Cross, left between 45,000 and 50,000 dead and 300,000 homeless. The quake was the largest the island has suffered in more than 200 years and was felt as far away as Cuba. The devastation and the inevitability of future quakes have elevated interest in research that might ameliorate the effects of these catastrophic events. A quick survey shows that a great deal of work is in progress.

Researchers at the University of Michigan have performed laboratory simulations of an off-the-charts earthquake to test their new technique for bracing high-rise concrete buildings. The engineers used steel fiber-reinforced concrete to develop a better kind of coupling beam that requires less reinforcement and is easier to construct. Coupling beams connect the walls of high rises around openings such as doorways, windows and elevator shafts. These openings can weaken walls significantly.
The Michigan engineers envision that builders would cast this new type of beam off-site and then deliver quantities as they’re needed. Currently, builders construct the beams, steel skeletons and all, bit by bit, as they're building skyscrapers.
Other ongoing research at various locations around the world includes borehole geophysics and rock mechanics, crustal structure and deformation, earthquake geology, strong motion seismology.

The U.S. Geological Survey operates an earthquake hazards program that includes maps and real-time listings of earthquakes in the United States and around the world.

Helping Haiti

The State Department Operations Center has set up the following number for Americans seeking information about family members in Haiti: 1-888-407-4747 (due to heavy volume, some callers may receive a recording). Our embassy is still in the early stages of contacting American Citizens through our Warden Network. Communications are very difficult within Haiti at this time.

Private Offers of Assistance for Haiti Relief Efforts

Anyone wishing to donate or provide assistance in Haiti following the devastating earthquake that struck near Port au Prince on Jan 12, 2010, is asked to contact the Center for International Disaster Information.  The Center, operated under a grant from the United States Agency for International Development's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and initial support from IBM, has become a valuable resource to the public, as well as US government agencies, foreign embassies and international corporations. CIDI has established a dedicated page to coordinate Haiti support at:  http://www.cidi.org/incident/haiti-10a/

You can also text "HAITI" to "90999" and a donation of $10 will be given automatically to the Red Cross to help with relief efforts, charged to your cell phone bill. Or you can go online to organizations like the Red Cross and Mercy Corps to make a contribution to the disaster relief efforts.

Earthquake – Shock and Aftershock


The recent 7.0 earthquake in Haiti, according to the Red Cross, left between 45,000 and 50,000 dead and 300,000 homeless. The quake was the largest the island has suffered in more than 200 years and was felt as far away as Cuba. The devastation and the inevitability of future quakes have elevated interest in research that might ameliorate the effects of these catastrophic events. A quick survey shows that a great deal of work is in progress.

Researchers at the University of Michigan have performed laboratory simulations of an off-the-charts earthquake to test their new technique for bracing high-rise concrete buildings. The engineers used steel fiber-reinforced concrete to develop a better kind of coupling beam that requires less reinforcement and is easier to construct. Coupling beams connect the walls of high rises around openings such as doorways, windows and elevator shafts. These openings can weaken walls significantly.
The Michigan engineers envision that builders would cast this new type of beam off-site and then deliver quantities as they’re needed. Currently, builders construct the beams, steel skeletons and all, bit by bit, as they're building skyscrapers.
Other ongoing research at various locations around the world includes borehole geophysics and rock mechanics, crustal structure and deformation, earthquake geology, strong motion seismology.

The U.S. Geological Survey operates an earthquake hazards program that includes maps and real-time listings of earthquakes in the United States and around the world.

Helping Haiti

The State Department Operations Center has set up the following number for Americans seeking information about family members in Haiti: 1-888-407-4747 (due to heavy volume, some callers may receive a recording). Our embassy is still in the early stages of contacting American Citizens through our Warden Network. Communications are very difficult within Haiti at this time.

Private Offers of Assistance for Haiti Relief Efforts

Anyone wishing to donate or provide assistance in Haiti following the devastating earthquake that struck near Port au Prince on Jan 12, 2010, is asked to contact the Center for International Disaster Information.  The Center, operated under a grant from the United States Agency for International Development's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and initial support from IBM, has become a valuable resource to the public, as well as US government agencies, foreign embassies and international corporations. CIDI has established a dedicated page to coordinate Haiti support at:  http://www.cidi.org/incident/haiti-10a/

You can also text "HAITI" to "90999" and a donation of $10 will be given automatically to the Red Cross to help with relief efforts, charged to your cell phone bill. Or you can go online to organizations like the Red Cross and Mercy Corps to make a contribution to the disaster relief efforts.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Bridges That Talk

America has more than a half million bridges that are masterpieces engineering, as much a part of the American scene as are red barns and white churches of the countryside, and skyscrapers that tower over large cities. Their history, as Henry Petroski points out in “Pushing the Limits, New Adventures in Engineering" points out that some of the greatest engineering achievements have been dwarfed by later ones. For example, a pedestrian who in five minutes can walk between the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge, once the longest span in the world, would need 20 minutes to walk from tower to tower of Japan's Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, today's longest.

In addition to getting longer, America’s bridges are getting old and rickety. Engineers recognized the problem decades ago, but the technology of the day was too inadequate to allow any meaningful action. A little more than a decade ago,  engineers were exploring the idea of using acoustic-emission sensors to make wooden bridges smart, able to examine themselves. But the technology to achieve their goals was still far out of reach.

Fortunately, engineers have broken through the barrier, developing devices that can tell inspectors a bridge's aches and pains are and how severe they’ve become. University of Michigan Engineering professor Jerry Lynch, known as “the bridge whisperer,” is developing sensor technology that continuously diagnoses, monitors and reports on the health of a bridge. 

Lynch Making Bridges Smarter



University of Michigan's smart-bridge program went into high gear a year and a half after the I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis, undertaking a $19-million, five-year project that aims to create the ultimate infrastructure monitoring system and install it on several test bridges throughout the country. The investigative team is developing four types of data-gathering sensors that will feed a system which organizes the information into meaningful displays and communicates with inspectors.

"The technologies from this project could prove very beneficial to the citizens of Michigan in the longer lasting, smarter, safer and ultimately more sustainable roadways," said Michigan Transportation Director Kirk Steudle. "Recognizing that our nation's infrastructure is the backbone of our economy, this type of innovative research is critical to the future of Michigan and the United States. The Michigan Department of Transportation is pleased to partner with the University of Michigan on this important engineering project."

Lynch said that if smart-sensor systems were installed on all bridges, researchers could make statistical comparisons among bridges, enabling engineers to determine, for example, if all suspension bridges developed certain dangerous signs of wear after a certain age. Implementing such a system, however, would be monumentally costly. Lynch said that the next generation of sensors to monitor bridge health will be wireless, eliminating miles of wires between bridges and computers and, in the process, lowering the cost of installation.

Already a few bridges in South Korea, China and Taiwan have tested wireless sensors, with great success.

[Slide Show] "Smart" Bridges Harness Technology to Stay Safe


Bridges That Talk

America has more than a half million bridges that are masterpieces engineering, as much a part of the American scene as are red barns and white churches of the countryside, and skyscrapers that tower over large cities. Their history, as Henry Petroski points out in “Pushing the Limits, New Adventures in Engineering" points out that some of the greatest engineering achievements have been dwarfed by later ones. For example, a pedestrian who in five minutes can walk between the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge, once the longest span in the world, would need 20 minutes to walk from tower to tower of Japan's Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, today's longest.

In addition to getting longer, America’s bridges are getting old and rickety. Engineers recognized the problem decades ago, but the technology of the day was too inadequate to allow any meaningful action. A little more than a decade ago,  engineers were exploring the idea of using acoustic-emission sensors to make wooden bridges smart, able to examine themselves. But the technology to achieve their goals was still far out of reach.

Fortunately, engineers have broken through the barrier, developing devices that can tell inspectors a bridge's aches and pains are and how severe they’ve become. University of Michigan Engineering professor Jerry Lynch, known as “the bridge whisperer,” is developing sensor technology that continuously diagnoses, monitors and reports on the health of a bridge. 

Lynch Making Bridges Smarter



University of Michigan's smart-bridge program went into high gear a year and a half after the I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis, undertaking a $19-million, five-year project that aims to create the ultimate infrastructure monitoring system and install it on several test bridges throughout the country. The investigative team is developing four types of data-gathering sensors that will feed a system which organizes the information into meaningful displays and communicates with inspectors.

"The technologies from this project could prove very beneficial to the citizens of Michigan in the longer lasting, smarter, safer and ultimately more sustainable roadways," said Michigan Transportation Director Kirk Steudle. "Recognizing that our nation's infrastructure is the backbone of our economy, this type of innovative research is critical to the future of Michigan and the United States. The Michigan Department of Transportation is pleased to partner with the University of Michigan on this important engineering project."

Lynch said that if smart-sensor systems were installed on all bridges, researchers could make statistical comparisons among bridges, enabling engineers to determine, for example, if all suspension bridges developed certain dangerous signs of wear after a certain age. Implementing such a system, however, would be monumentally costly. Lynch said that the next generation of sensors to monitor bridge health will be wireless, eliminating miles of wires between bridges and computers and, in the process, lowering the cost of installation.

Already a few bridges in South Korea, China and Taiwan have tested wireless sensors, with great success.

[Slide Show] "Smart" Bridges Harness Technology to Stay Safe


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Build Green, Build Smart

Drive smart. Go hybrid. Conserve water. Recycle. Turn off the lights. Ratchet down the AC. We could do all of that and more but still not do as much for the Green Movement as we would if we got smarter about the way we build and refurbish buildings.

Residential and commercial buildings have a huge environmental, economic and psychological impact. About 81 million structures in the United States alone consume 37 percent of the nation’s total energy – that’s more than any other economic category, including transportation and industry. Almost half of that energy goes into heating and cooling. They gobble up 65 percent of the nation’s electricity, 25 percent of its water supplies and 30 percent of its wood and materials. Likewise, buildings account for 35 percent of the nation’s solid waste, 36 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, 46 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions, 19 percent of nitrous oxide emissions and 10 percent of fine particulate emissions.


Green building has increased 50 percent since 2007, a figure that raised the eyebrows of those who are struggling to put a dent in our current economic woes. A new study by the U.S. Green Building Council shows that green building will support nearly 8 million U.S. jobs over next 4 years and, between 2009 and 2013, will contribute $554 billion to U.S. GDP.

Using natural daylight in office buildings constitutes a major green objective, over and above the reduction of energy costs. Research shows that natural light in buildings increases productivity – in general, green workplaces boost employees’ output by as much as 15 percent a year, and sales in shopping malls increase as much as 40 percent in stores lit with skylights. Green structures brighten up education, too, with students in naturally lit classrooms performing up to 20 percent better. And according to Stephen Kaplan, a professor of environmental psychology at the University of Michigan, environment “shapes a person's development over a lifetime by providing safety, diversity, refuges from noise and distraction, and access to nature. This access to nature plays a central role in recovery from mental fatigue. Even a few trees viewed from a window have repeatedly been shown to have remarkably strong effects.” 

Barton Malow is a construction management company that pours a lot of its energy into building green, environmentally responsible and healthy places to live and work. Jennifer Macks is a Barton Malow project director and a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Accredited Professional. She’s developed a specialty in building hospitals and, in recent years, administered construction of the award-winning 656,000-square-foot  South Hospital Addition at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan. "It's really an exciting time for green buildings," she said. "Owners are actually demanding it now, where it used to be something that a small constituency cared about. I think people are finally starting to understand the tangible benefits that it brings to building occupants, and understand that there aren't significant cost premiums if you do it right.  Building sustainable is just a part of the decision-making process during design, just as you look at where to site a building, what function the building will have, and how it will be constructed.”

The EPA is using a number of problems to assess and promote Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ). Improving IEQ involves designing, constructing, commissioning, operating and maintaining buildings in ways that reduce pollution sources and remove indoor pollutants while ensuring that fresh air is continually supplied and properly circulated. The program focuses on major building types including offices and institutional buildings, hospitals, schools and homes. Even the simple act of using better materials could build a green construction industry. The EPA publishes an array of online green indoor environment resources.

In 2008, groups from the public and private sectors came together to form the High-Performance Green Building Partnership Consortia, committing themselves to high-performance green buildings and net-zero energy commercial buildings. That same year, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) launched its NAHB National Green Building Program, an education, verification and certification program for building green homes, with attention paid to water, energy and resource efficiency; lot and site development; indoor environmental quality; global impact; and homeowner education. The Program's objective: to entice builders to construct homes that meet NAHB standards, for which the homes and builders receive national certification from the NAHB Research Center.

Read more about:

Green building

How green building works

Malcolm Wells, an iconoclastic architect who advocated environmentally responsible design long before it was a fashionable topic.

Build Green, Build Smart

Drive smart. Go hybrid. Conserve water. Recycle. Turn off the lights. Ratchet down the AC. We could do all of that and more but still not do as much for the Green Movement as we would if we got smarter about the way we build and refurbish buildings.

Residential and commercial buildings have a huge environmental, economic and psychological impact. About 81 million structures in the United States alone consume 37 percent of the nation’s total energy – that’s more than any other economic category, including transportation and industry. Almost half of that energy goes into heating and cooling. They gobble up 65 percent of the nation’s electricity, 25 percent of its water supplies and 30 percent of its wood and materials. Likewise, buildings account for 35 percent of the nation’s solid waste, 36 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, 46 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions, 19 percent of nitrous oxide emissions and 10 percent of fine particulate emissions.


Green building has increased 50 percent since 2007, a figure that raised the eyebrows of those who are struggling to put a dent in our current economic woes. A new study by the U.S. Green Building Council shows that green building will support nearly 8 million U.S. jobs over next 4 years and, between 2009 and 2013, will contribute $554 billion to U.S. GDP.

Using natural daylight in office buildings constitutes a major green objective, over and above the reduction of energy costs. Research shows that natural light in buildings increases productivity – in general, green workplaces boost employees’ output by as much as 15 percent a year, and sales in shopping malls increase as much as 40 percent in stores lit with skylights. Green structures brighten up education, too, with students in naturally lit classrooms performing up to 20 percent better. And according to Stephen Kaplan, a professor of environmental psychology at the University of Michigan, environment “shapes a person's development over a lifetime by providing safety, diversity, refuges from noise and distraction, and access to nature. This access to nature plays a central role in recovery from mental fatigue. Even a few trees viewed from a window have repeatedly been shown to have remarkably strong effects.” 

Barton Malow is a construction management company that pours a lot of its energy into building green, environmentally responsible and healthy places to live and work. Jennifer Macks is a Barton Malow project director and a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Accredited Professional. She’s developed a specialty in building hospitals and, in recent years, administered construction of the award-winning 656,000-square-foot  South Hospital Addition at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan. "It's really an exciting time for green buildings," she said. "Owners are actually demanding it now, where it used to be something that a small constituency cared about. I think people are finally starting to understand the tangible benefits that it brings to building occupants, and understand that there aren't significant cost premiums if you do it right.  Building sustainable is just a part of the decision-making process during design, just as you look at where to site a building, what function the building will have, and how it will be constructed.”

The EPA is using a number of problems to assess and promote Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ). Improving IEQ involves designing, constructing, commissioning, operating and maintaining buildings in ways that reduce pollution sources and remove indoor pollutants while ensuring that fresh air is continually supplied and properly circulated. The program focuses on major building types including offices and institutional buildings, hospitals, schools and homes. Even the simple act of using better materials could build a green construction industry. The EPA publishes an array of online green indoor environment resources.

In 2008, groups from the public and private sectors came together to form the High-Performance Green Building Partnership Consortia, committing themselves to high-performance green buildings and net-zero energy commercial buildings. That same year, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) launched its NAHB National Green Building Program, an education, verification and certification program for building green homes, with attention paid to water, energy and resource efficiency; lot and site development; indoor environmental quality; global impact; and homeowner education. The Program's objective: to entice builders to construct homes that meet NAHB standards, for which the homes and builders receive national certification from the NAHB Research Center.

Read more about:

Green building

How green building works

Malcolm Wells, an iconoclastic architect who advocated environmentally responsible design long before it was a fashionable topic.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Layer-by-layer Assembly of Carbon Nanocolloids for Fuel Cells -- Flat-Out Amazing


In the search for sustainable energy alternatives, hydrogen-based solutions still have a lot of heft, despite the popularity of wind, solar, water and geothermal possibilities. But hydrogen-based solutions will always face a monumental barrier: membranes that are highly productive in recovering pure hydrogen must also be very thin and robust. To consume the energy stored in hydrogen in devices such as fuel cells, membranes must also be highly conductive, able to promote the efficiency of catalytic reactions. 

Peter Ho, working in the University of Michigan labs of engineering professor Nik Kotov, has been investigating the use of layer-by-layer (LBL) assembly of nanostructures in fuel cells because this technique produces membranes that not only are robust but have controlled nanoscale structures that can be incorporated seamlessly into energy applications. The LBL technique presents an ideal opportunity to create an organic-inorganic interface for efficient catalytic reactions because catalyst nanoparticles can easily be embedded in an LBL matrix. With size-controlled catalyst nanoparticles deposited in the matrix, Ho expects layer-by-layer assembly of carbon nanocolloids to make substantial improvements in the performance of fuel-cell electrodes by optimizing catalytic reactions and transport behavior.

Learn more about layer-by-layer assembly...


Layer-by-layer Assembly of Carbon Nanocolloids for Fuel Cells -- Flat-Out Amazing


In the search for sustainable energy alternatives, hydrogen-based solutions still have a lot of heft, despite the popularity of wind, solar, water and geothermal possibilities. But hydrogen-based solutions will always face a monumental barrier: membranes that are highly productive in recovering pure hydrogen must also be very thin and robust. To consume the energy stored in hydrogen in devices such as fuel cells, membranes must also be highly conductive, able to promote the efficiency of catalytic reactions. 

Peter Ho, working in the University of Michigan labs of engineering professor Nik Kotov, has been investigating the use of layer-by-layer (LBL) assembly of nanostructures in fuel cells because this technique produces membranes that not only are robust but have controlled nanoscale structures that can be incorporated seamlessly into energy applications. The LBL technique presents an ideal opportunity to create an organic-inorganic interface for efficient catalytic reactions because catalyst nanoparticles can easily be embedded in an LBL matrix. With size-controlled catalyst nanoparticles deposited in the matrix, Ho expects layer-by-layer assembly of carbon nanocolloids to make substantial improvements in the performance of fuel-cell electrodes by optimizing catalytic reactions and transport behavior.

Learn more about layer-by-layer assembly...