Backtalk 4/23/09

April 21, 2009
More fatal accidents occur at night by a 3:1 margin , says the National Safety Council, as 90% of a driver’s reaction depends on visibility

HID makes night driving safer
More fatal accidents occur at night by a 3:1 margin , says the National Safety Council, as 90% of a driver’s reaction depends on visibility. Help is on the way. High intensity discharge lighting (HID) delivers three times the light of halogen headlamps and uses light more efficiently, thereby increasing luminosity and improving nighttime vision.

Another alternative is LEDs, which reach full brightness in a few thousandths of a second. These lights are also smaller, lighter, and use less electricity than current headlights.

America’s most-promising young researchers Intel Corp.
has announced the winners of its Intel Science Talent Search. It’s the oldest and most-prestigious precollege competition, bringing together the 40 best and brightest young scientific minds in America to compete for $1.25 million in awards and scholarships.

The grand-prize winner is Eric Larson, 17, of Eugene, Oreg., received a $100,000 scholarship for his research project that classified mathematical objects called fusion categories.

The second-place prize of a $75,000 scholarship went to William Sun, 17, of Chesterfield, Mo. His biochemistry project studied the effects of a recently discovered molecule that could treat bacterial infections or prevent neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Rounding out the top three is Philip Streich, 18, of Platteville, Wis. He received a $50,000 scholarship for his project on carbon nanotubes that may lead to ultrastrong materials and ultrafast nanoelectronics. Philip’s work has resulted in five provisional patent filings.

Seventh through tenth-place winners each receive $20,000.

Each finalist receives $5,000 from the Intel Foundation; a new laptop with Intel Centrino Duo Mobile Technology; an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C.; an opportunity to meet with government officials, including the President or Vice President; a chance to interact with leading scientists; and have their research displayed at the National Academy of Sciences.

Beginner’s luck
It was a case of beginner’s luck for a team from St. Olaf College recently, when they won the 22nd-annual national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest at Purdue Univ. recently.

The private liberal-arts school in Northfield, Minn., has no engineering program and was competing for the first time. The science-minded students designed a machine around a “Mad Scientists” theme. The machine, which featured mousetraps, magnets, pool balls, lasers, and photo sensors, took 239 steps to turn off an incandescent light and turn on dozens of LED lights spelling out “St. Olaf.”

This year’s task was to replace an incandescent light bulb with a more energy-efficient, light-emitting design. The machine must take at least 20 steps and, if a team must intervene to help the machine complete its task, points are deducted. Teams are given three chances to complete two successful runs.

Team member Tom Hildreth, a junior in physics and math, said about 3,000 hr were spent on the machine, beginning in September. The team decided to compete in the contest thanks to an engineeringdesign class taught by Jason Engbrecht, an assistant professor of physics, who included a Rube Goldberg proj e c t in the class.

Next year’s contest will require machines to dispense an appropriate amount of hand sanitizer into someone’s hand.

Sponsors for this year’s event were BAE Systems, Bosch Group, Bose, BP, Lockheed Martin, Lutron Electronics, Omega Engineering, Priio, Rockwell Collins, and Purdue’s School of Mechanical Engineering and College of Technology.

The contest is named for the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who specialized in drawing whimsical machines with complex mechanisms to perform simple tasks.

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