How Captain America inspired new fuel efficient cars

Materials scientist Suveen Mathaudhu shows us how both our favorite superheroes and real-world scientists create materials to save the world every day.

Some of Mathaudhu’s own research at UC Riverside has been inspired by Captain America’s shield: is it possible to make a material that is both incredibly strong and super lightweight?

Advances in this area have already made a real impact, particularly in transportation. Lighter vehicles mean better fuel efficiency, making cars cheaper to run and better for the environment.

The Ford F-150, the top-selling pickup truck in the US, shifted from a steel frame to an aluminum frame, increasing the fuel economy of the vehicle by taking over seven hundred pounds out of the frame of the vehicle.

Making the frame weigh less is a big start, but there’s another less obvious source of weight: wiring. The average automobile has between 45 – 110 pounds (20 -50 kg) of electrical cabling.

“Most of it is thick copper cable, and copper cable is heavy – and now copper is very expensive,” said Mathaudhu. “If we could get a fraction of that conductivity in aluminum, it would not only be cheaper to implement, it would be lighter weight even though it will never have the conductivity that copper will inherently have.”

Mathaudhu’s research has shown how you can use nanostructured features in aluminum to maintain its conductivity, while simultaneously boosting the strength of the aluminum. Aluminum is both cheaper and lighter, so by moving toward aluminum cabling, car manufacturers can solve two problems at once.

Do Spoilers Actually Ruin Stories?

Dodging spoilers on the internet is no easy task, especially if your ex is using them as a form of revenge. Many of us live in fear of reading a spoiler about our favorite TV show or an upcoming blockbuster.

But should we be working so hard to avoid spoilers? Do they actually ruin stories?

We’ve long assumed that the suspense makes a story interesting and the reason we keep on watching (or reading) is because we don’t know what happens next. Removing the element of surprise intuitively seems like it would make fiction less enjoyable.

Yet people rewatch their favorite movies all the time and read classic stories like “Romeo and Juliet,” even though they know what’s going to happen.

UC San Diego psychology professor Nicholas Christenfeld wanted to put spoilers to the test in the most straightforward way possible: by spoiling stories for people.

According to his research, spoilers should really be called “enhancers”: people consistently enjoyed spoiled stories more than unspoiled stories in experiments.

But this doesn’t mean that plot doesn’t matter.

“The plot is in some ways like a coat hanger, displaying a garment,” said Christenfeld. “If it’s just a crumpled heap of fabric on the floor, you couldn’t admire the garment.”

Knowing the ending can be useful because it allows you to focus on other aspects of the narrative (characters, themes, style, symbolism) and to more easily understand how the story is unfolding.

Can Lasers Make The Internet Faster?

Faster, faster, more and more data. Our demands for Internet speed are outpacing the technology. UC San Diego alum Janelle Shane has an answer: lasers.

As we try to fit more and more data on wires, we are running up against the limit of what electricity can do. Wires heat up, and interfere with each other. Fiber-optic cables, using light instead of electricity, have solved many of these problems for long-distance transfer – but inside your computer or your cell phone, the problems persist.

Janelle Shane, alum to the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego, shows how lasers could provide the next breakthrough for data transfer. But first, how can we shrink a laser to work on the scale of a microchip?

Read more about Janelle Shane’s work with whispering gallery lasers: Lasers could make the Internet faster – and cleaner.

Could Poop Power Our Cars?

Is brown the new green? UCLA researchers are using waste matter (yes, including poop) to make a new generation of advanced biofuels.

The U.S. alone annually produces over 1 billion tons of manure from agriculture, which produces nitrous oxide methane emissions, greenhouse gases 325 times more potent than carbon dioxide. But what if all this poop could have another use – one that could stimulate a sustainable biofuel movement?

Graduate researcher David Wernick talks about ongoing work at UCLA to turn manure, sewage, plant waste and even carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere into feed stocks for producing biofuels, and for making the process of manufacturing biofuels clean and sustainable.

Learn more about David Wernick’s work to turn poop (and other waste streams) into sustainable fuel sources:  Will Cars Of The Future Run On Poop?

The research highlighted in this video was supported in part by the UCLA-DOE Institute of Genomics and Proteomics and a grant from the National Science Foundation.

The Climate Change Facts You Need to Know

This week, world leaders are converging in Paris to talk about climate policy. Under current guidelines, the planet is on target to warm by 2 degrees Celsius in 2050 and by 4 degrees in 2100, triggering serious large-scale problems by the end of the century.

“Drought, heat waves, forest fires — we are already seeing this,” says V. Ramanathan, an atmospheric scientist.

Ramanathan, who will be speaking at the conference, accurately predicted this trend back in 1980. In the video above, he explains how we might be able to change our course on climate.

The Science Behind Hollywood Explosions

Nobody blows things up like Hollywood. Frequently, those jaw-dropping pyrotechnics are digitally created in post-production.

Now, with the help of a tool called Wavelet Turbulence, filmmakers can generate realistic swirling smoke and fiery explosions that are more detailed, easier to control and faster to create.

UCSB researcher Theodore Kim (along with three collaborators) developed the software, which won an Academy Award in 2012. So far, Wavelet Turbulence has been used in a number of major Hollywood films including Avatar, Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, and Super 8.

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What Does Sugar Actually Do To Your Body?

The effects of sugar can take your body down a vicious cycle known as metabolic syndrome. UC Davis’ Kimber Stanhope altered the diets of a group of volunteers for her study. Instead of her subjects eating food like rice, pasta or bread, she had them consume a sugary beverage. The effects on the body started in the liver and from there Stanhope explains how that set off a chain of responses in the body.

Learn more at:

FEATURING: Kimber Stanhope, UC Davis

The research highlighted in this video has been supported in part by the National Institutes of Health, University of California, Office of the President and the Tanita Healthy Weight Foundation.