Tag Archives: engineering

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.

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.

Robotic squirrels vs. rattlesnakes

Picture 2013-01-24 at 3.42.46 PMUC Davis researchers go into rattlesnake country to study the interaction between snakes and squirrels. The snakes are real, but the squirrel is a robot.

“By bringing engineers and biologists together, we’re creating new ways of doing science.  Hopefully making discoveries that would not have been made unless we brought these different fields together.” – Sanjay Joshi

A number of former and current students have built the robosquirrels over the years, primarily from the S. Joshi and D. Owings labs at UC Davis, in close collaboration with the R. Clark lab at SDSU. Former PhD student Aaron Rundus built the first robosquirrel for his laboratory studies, assisted by Nick Giannini and Erin Chin. Former MS student Ryan Johnson built the first outdoor robosquirrel for field studies, with input from Matthew Barbour. Alex Barszap, Zac Dillow, Armen Davtyan, Laine Tennyson, and Travis Kupp have modified the squirrels in various ways for continuing field studies, with help from Bree Putman.