SWEATY HOMES: When we're hot we sweat, and as the sweat evaporates we cool down. Researchers at ETH Zurich want to apply the same principle to buildings. They've developed a polymer mat that soaks up rain, but as the mat warms in the sun it releases water at its surface which extracts heat from the building. The polymer mat is protected by a water-permeable membrane. If the mat warms in direct sunlight, it shrinks and adopts hydrophobic properties. This forces the water through the membrane to the surface of the mat where it can evaporate. Tests on scale models suggest this could be a good way to cool buildings. And if it doesn't rain for a while, for example, in hot countries? ETH Life explains.
WASTED: Building sites and industries produce a lot of off-cuts and other waste materials that have to be disposed of. The University of Brighton wants to put them to good use. It's creating a building made entirely of excess materials from city construction sites and other industries in the area.
The walls will contain discarded timber products, while solar panels on the roof, whole-house ventilation, and a heat recovery system will make the house eco-friendly. The house will be used as a pilot and for exhibitions. Work should be completed within the next 12 months. It beats sending all that waste to the dump. The Guardian details.
SQUARE EYES: The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder in Western Australia has just begun to to capture radio images. Each of the 36 antennas has a diameter of 12 metres. One of its jobs is to look for black holes. The new array can scan the sky much faster than existing telescopes and will generate a huge amount of data. This telescope forms part of the larger Square Kilometre Array that is to begin construction in 2016. Except, if this is the first part, then it must have already begun construction. BBC has the news.
EYES ON STALKS: Rolls-Royce need to monitor 14,000 engines, flown by 500 airlines on 4000 aircraft worldwide. That's a huge job, especially since the monitoring involves pushing a long fibre-optic tube into 10 millimetre wide ports around the engine and looking for problems. In fact, they don't have enough specialists to provide decent coverage. But maybe a robot could help. They're developing a snake-like robot to go into the engine and feed images back to an expert who controls it remotely. The robot could carry more than just a camera too. A miniature grinding tool could sand down problem areas, while a UV laser could make fractures luminesce. They hope to have the robot available within a couple of years. And meanwhile, just how do we know the planes are actually OK? New Scientist elaborates.
WATCH THE TREES GO: Tropical forests provide important habitat but are increasingly threatened around the world. ForestWatchers matches volunteers with high-resolution Earth imagery. The job of the volunteers is to allow their computer to use idle time to classify segments of images as forest or non-forest. Built-in redundancy of more than one computer classifying an area as being no longer forested provides some assurance against errors and fraud. If an area shows as having been deforested a local group can take action. It's a shame they can only take action after the fact. ForestWatchers has further info. Video here.
Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz