Category Archives: Engineering

Into the Wildfire

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Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratories and elsewhere are investigating other aspects of fire propagation, like how big fires create their own weather — a process that has contributed to some of the most devastating fires in recent years.

The setup in the photo above is known as a “fire-whirl generator” and is used to better understand the physics of a flame.

Read more about fire science here

A whole new meaning to “Deadhead”

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Above is a representation of former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart’s brain.  It will be used on his upcoming tour as both a visual and as a way for his mind to power the stage’s lighting.  Hart explains:

“I was just looking at it and watching it fire, and you see the colors moving and the different rhythm patterns and realizing, that’s me!”

We specify “representation” because the visuals are part of a collaboration between Hart and UCSF researcher Adam Gazzaley.  Gazzaley is quick to say that the images are stylized for the sake of special effects, but the method in which to read Hart’s brain in real time has much larger scientific and medical implications.

Read more here

The Science of Balancing on a Bike

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“Every time I show the film — whether it’s to film students at USC or UCLA or I’m going to a festival — that’s always the first question: How did Kermit ride the bicycle? And my stock answer is: I put him on a three-wheeler until he got his balance, and then I put him on the two-wheeler.”

— James Frawley, director of The Muppet Movie

There are a lot of companies that design bicycles, but actually little scientific understanding of how the parameters of a bike affect riding dynamics or a person’s (or muppet’s) ability to control the bike.

What makes one bicycle harder to control? How can we fine tune the vehicle to make it easier to balance?

Engineers at UC Davis are studying how we ride bikes in order to answer these questions.

Watch the video here

The “Pope of Foam” and the science behind beer


UC Davis brewing science professor Charles Bamforth is known as the “pope of foam.” His lab delves into the science behind creating the perfect beer foam, which is essential to a great tasting brew. That’s because most of the flavor of beer is detected by smell, which is why Bamforth says you must drink beer from a glass and not straight from a bottle or can. He explains beer-making and reveals how to pick the freshest pint when you’re at a pub.

Saving California’s olive industry

mechanicalChances are the olives in your kitchen come from California. Watch how researchers are finding new ways to harvest this tasty crop.

“The United States is the world’s largest table olive and olive oil market. Traditionally olives have been harvested by pickers wearing gloves and they stripped down the branch into a twenty-pound bucket they wear around their waist.  Unfortunately the cost is becoming prohibitive and labor availability is decreasing sharply.  What we’re really hoping is the mechanical harvesting will be cheaper, be more reliable than trying to find an uneven labor force and it will allow us to sustain an industry that has a nice long history in California.”  – Louise Ferguson, UC Davis Extension Specialist

The Science of Music and Algorithms

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“I can understand why it’s an issue if you’ve got an extremely romanticized view of what art is,” he says. “But Bach peed, and he shat, and he had a lot of kids. We’re all just people.”

– David Cope, UC Santa Cruz, emeritus professor

“To some extent, this match is a defense of the whole human race. Computers play such a huge role in society. They are everywhere. But there is a frontier they must not cross. They must not cross into the area of human creativity. It would threaten the existence of human control in such areas as arts, literature, and music.”

So said Gary Kasparov, chess grandmaster, one year before he lost to Deep Blue, IBM’s chess-playing supercomputer. Meanwhile, a relatively anonymous professor of music in California had created a computer program capable of composing pieces of music in the style of great composers that most people could not differentiate from authentic compositions. The professor, David Cope, named this program Experiments in Musical Intelligence, or “Emmy”. Since then, Cope and his successive programs have been the objects of both celebration and scorn, challenging the world’s perception of what musical creativity entails.

Cope’s argument, and the basis for his software, is that creativity is essentially recombinant: consciously or not, all composers plagiarize their progenitors and contemporaries. What makes his (or Emmy’s) work superior to the stilted and awkward compositions of earlier programs are two fundamental insights into the syntax of music. Rather than rely on the traditional divisions of musical notation, Cope developed an analytic musical syntax that goes into what Douglas Hofstadter (of Gödel, Escher, Bach) terms the “tension-resolution status” of a piece, the two forces that underlie all music. Secondly, though the program composes according to formal rules, it also uses heuristics that allow it to sometimes ‘break’ its own rules in innovative ways.

Alex Tesar (Source Art & Science Journal)

More stories can be found here.