Tag Archives: ucr

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.

What engineers can learn from animals

The mantis shrimp

Genghis Khan bathed in sherbet ice cream.

This is how The Oatmeal described the violent AND beautiful mantis shrimp in their comic: “Why the mantis shrimp is my new favorite animal.

These little guys, along with 20 other animals, will serve as inspiration for a team of engineers and researchers –– led by UC Riverside’s David Kisailus.  Of particular interest is the mantis shrimp’s clubs (or “murder sticks” as they’re referred to in the comic), which it uses to kill prey and break apart oysters, crabs, and mollusks.

Working with biologists and chemists, these engineers will study their biological systems and cellular structures to see if they can use those insights to develop stronger, tougher materials. Natural structures like shells, beaks and antlers are particularly interesting because they are composed of relatively simple materials (aka not industrial strength), yet display incredible strength and mechanical performance.

This multidisciplinary research will highlight the value in biologically-inspired materials allowing the next generation of materials development to take advantage of what nature has known for millennia.

Experiments in Happiness

Being happy isn’t always easy.  Humans are complicated creatures and although our brains might be capable of performing wildly complex tasks, they can also sabotage our well-being.

“Not everyone is going to be naturally happy all the time,” Sonja Lyubomirsky suggests. As a professor of psychology at UC Riverside, she has devoted her career to the study of happiness: what is it, what it does, and why does it exist.

Her studies have investigated two components of happiness: cognitive (a sense of satisfaction with life) and emotional (the raw experience of joy). For many of us, experiencing these two components simultaneously is rare, but according to Lyubomirsky, “there are certain strategies we can all use to maximize our happiness.”

To uncover these strategies, Lyubomirsky and her team designed a series of experiments called “happiness interventions.”

In one of these studies, one set of volunteers was asked to keep a gratitude journal once a week, while another set was asked to do so three times a week. Those who counted their blessings once a week exhibited a marked increase in happiness – but those who did so three times a week displayed no such uptick. Lyubomirsky speculates that for the latter group, gratitude became a chore or, worse, they ran out of things to be grateful for. The initial burst of happiness was thus deflated by monotony and irritation.

In fact, much of Lyubomirsky’s work explodes common myths and misunderstandings about happiness.

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