SCIENCE IN THE NEWS DAILY
MIT Team Plays with Fire to Create Cheap Energy
from the Christian Science Monitor
Cambridge, Mass.—Out on a lawn at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with joggers and traffic passing nearby, Spencer Ahrens is demonstrating what looks like either the future of solar power—or perhaps a death ray.
Thrusting a 12-foot board up into the air in front of a large mirror-covered satellite-type dish, Mr. Ahrens, an MIT graduate student, waves the board, looking for an elusive sweet spot where reflected sun rays converge.
With three student teammates looking on, he steadies the board once its tip begins to glow. Shining white in the reflected solar rays, the wood suddenly bursts into flames. Students laugh as smoke billows in the breeze. This burning-board trick may seem like a YouTube stunt, but it's actually a visceral demonstration of a device with a serious purpose: to make super-cheap solar heat.
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Extreme events, such as super floods and hurricanes, are becoming more common, so civil engineers are trying to adapt civil infrastructure such as bridges to these unpredictable and sometimes devastating meteorological events. Engineer Ana Barros discusses how engineering can prepare us for extreme weather events, but also how changing climate and population conditions can affect the ability of infrastructure to hold up over time.
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