Archive for July, 2010

Robot Lifeguard

Robotic Lifeguard To Begin Patrolling US Beaches.

Popular Science (6/25, Calderin) reported, “This summer, EMILY (for EMergency Integrated Lifesaving lanYard) began patrolling Malibu’s dangerous Zuma Beach and will watch over about 25 more by December.” The autonomous robot, which is capable of achieving 28 mph in the water, uses sonar to “scan for the underwater movements associated with swimmers in distress.” It also has a “camera and speakers [to] let an onshore lifeguard calm the person and instruct him to wait for human help or to hold on as EMILY ferries him back.”

Reposted from ASEE First Bell for May 28, 2010

Reducing Jet Engine Emissions

U.Va. Aerospace Engineer Awarded $1.5 Million from Rolls-Royce and Commonwealth to Further Reduce Environmental Impact of Jet Engines

July 9, 2010 — Harsha Chelliah, a University of Virginia professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, recently secured a four-year research grant to better understand and, it is hoped, eliminate soot particle formation produced by gas turbine engines. The grant, seeded by Rolls-Royce, the Commonwealth of Virginia and other partners, totals roughly $1.5 million.

Working from a lab in U.Va.’s decommissioned nuclear reactor facility, Chelliah and his graduate and undergraduate student research team have built two model reactors to study how to reduce the production of soot particles. The first experimental reactor operates at normal atmospheric pressure and has allowed the team to fine-tune experimental tools and methods.

Testing will soon begin on a second reactor that can burn jet fuel at 40 to 50 atmospheric pressures, which is equivalent to real jet-engine flight conditions. This undertaking fills a void in research at such high-pressure conditions and will help aerospace engine manufacturers meet anticipated U.S. Federal Aviation Administration regulations on soot particle emissions.

“While the aerospace industry has taken significant steps to reduce soot particles, there is still work to be done,” Chelliah said. “A major reduction or complete elimination of particulate matter formation by gas turbine engines is possible, with advanced diagnostic techniques being developed around the world.

“This research is expected to improve air quality near major airports and also reduce contrail formation in the upper atmosphere,” he added.

Both laboratory reactors are outfitted with advanced diagnostic equipment to capture soot particles illuminated by lasers. The process allows the research team to quantify the presence of particles at different burn conditions. Data produced will be used to create more reliable computational models for development of next-generation jet engines.

The project is one in an array of research activities born of a partnership among Rolls-Royce, the commonwealth, the U.Va. Engineering School and the Virginia Tech College of Engineering, formed in 2007 when Rolls-Royce announced it would build a new aerospace facility in Prince George County. Construction is now under way.

Jet-fueled, gas turbine engines produce vapor trails, or contrails – short for condensation trails – made up of droplets that form around nanoscale soot particles. From the naked eye, these are observed as jet trails often crisscrossing the sky, appearing as merely white lines in the atmosphere. According to some studies, contrails formed in the upper atmosphere may cause shifts in the global energy balance by trapping heat that radiates from the Earth, while soot particles emitted near airports during landing and take-off may have implications for human health.

The project funding supports several graduate and undergraduate students and research staff. The U.Va research team is working in collaboration with the Chemical Kinetics and Modeling Group at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, where Chelliah spent a year of sabbatical leave in 2008.

— by Zak Richards; reposted from UVa Today, July 12, 2010

Beware — Pride Goes Before a Fall

Technological “Hubris” Leads To Disasters, Experts Say.

The AP (7/12, Borenstein) reports on a “familiar” scenario: first there is “a technological disaster, then a presidential commission examining what went wrong,” then “a discovery that while technology marches on, concern for safety lags. Technology isn’t as foolproof as it seemed.” A “common thread” in these disasters, including the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig – “which the new presidential oil spill commission will be looking for – often is technological arrogance and hubris…the belief by those in charge that they’re the experts, that they know what they’re doing is safe. Add to that the human weaknesses of avoidance, greed and sloppiness, say academics who study disasters.” Bob Bea, a UC Berkeley engineering professor and disaster expert, “categorizes disasters into four groups.” Bea believes BP falls into a group in which “an organization simply ignores warning signs through overconfidence and incompetence.” The article also quotes analysis by experts from Rutgers, Yale, Carnegie Mellon, Rice and Stanford.

Reposted from ASEE First Bell for July 12, 2010

UVa Microsoft Research Fellow

July 12, 2010 — abhi shelat, assistant professor of computer science at the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, was recently selected as a Microsoft Research Faculty Fellow for 2010.

The fellowship award includes an unrestricted cash gift of $200,000 and access to other Microsoft resources, such as software, invitations to conferences and engagements with Microsoft Research, the company’s worldwide research organization.

shelat will use the award to support his research in the field of computer cryptography, which is essential for securing information that is exchanged on everything from wireless networks to automated teller machines to Internet banking sites.

“This award recognizes abhi’s brilliance as a researcher and it will help him advance his work in the field of cryptography,” said Mary Lou Soffa, chair of the U.Va. Department of Computer Science. “We are honored to have him as a colleague.”

This year was particularly competitive because Microsoft combined the domestic and international competitions for the awards. There were only seven fellows chosen from Latin America and the Caribbean; Europe, the Middle East, and Africa; the United States; and Canada.

“abhi possesses a rare combination of vision and creativity that enables him to select highly original research topics that are both theoretically significant as well as applicable in practice,” said Gabriel Robins, a professor in the Department of Computer Science. “I found it refreshing that abhi also cares a great deal about teaching and pedagogy. We often have long conversations and exchange ideas about how to better explain to students deep and subtle theoretical concepts.”

Reposted from UVa Today July 13, 2010

Working While You Sleep…

Software That Carries Out Tasks On Behalf Of Sleeping Computers Could Lead To Energy Savings.

Technology Review (6/30, Graham-Rowe) reports, “Networked PCs are increasingly being left on 24/7 to allow for out-of-hours access by employees, says Yuvraj Agarwal, a professor of computer science at the University of California, San Diego.” Agarwal, along with other UCSD professors, developed an energy-saving solution wherein they “create a stripped down, virtual copy of a machine. Software running on a remote server maintains a version of a PC’s operating systems and applications. The software, called SleepServer, carries on tasks on behalf of the desktop machine while it is put into a low-energy sleep mode.” And, if “complex activity is required, the software wakes up the computer, says Agarwal, a process that typically takes less than 10 seconds.”

Reposted from the June 30, 2010 ASEE First Bell

Oil Spill and Restoration Info

Looking for authoritative information about oil spills, clean-up and restoration?  Give this resource a try:

Resources on Oil Spills, Response and Restoration: a Selected Bibliography

This is listed on the NOAA Central Library Subject Guides and Bibliographies page, along with numerous others:

New VIRGO Catalog Coming Soon!

We are very pleased to report that starting July 15th, 2010, the U.Va. Library will move to a new search interface, VIRGOnew, for our online catalog. With the new VIRGO you can:

  • Search items the Library has catalogued, including books, journal titles, DVDs, CDs, sheet music, websites, and microfilm, and also, in the same search for the first time, digital collections of images and texts;
  • Filter your results by format, dates, and keywords;
  • Sort your results by relevancy ranking, date received, author, title or call number;
  • Save and share your searches and results in Delicious, RefWorks, and Zotero;
  • Select, save, print, e-mail, and SMS multiple records;
  • Generate an RSS feed for your search, so you can be notified when the Library acquires materials in your subject area.

We thank you for your feedback and support as we continue to develop this exciting new research tool. Answers to some of the questions you may have about the new interface are available at: Or, please feel free to contact the Information Desk in the Brown Science and Engineering Library at 434-924-3628 for more information.  You may also contact your subject librarian listed here:

To learn even more about what the new VIRGO can do, take a sneak peak and try it out at:

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July 2010