Yet Another Engineering Marvel

I am late on the bandwagon, but I recently read in greater detail about the new Maglev train technology, and I can safely say that I am simply marvelled.

Maglev (short for magnetic levitation) trains could truly revolutionise transportation of the 21st century, using the basic principles of magnets and electromagnetic propulsion. There are three components to the system: a large electrical power source, metal coils lining a track/guideway, and large guidance magnets attached to the underside of the train. The magnetic field created by the electrified coils in the walls and the track combine to propel the train. (Side note: Japanese engineers are actually developing a technology called an electrodynamic suspension system, which is based on the repelling force of superconducting magnets, therefore eliminating the need for a power supply. It remains expensive as of now, but looks promising.)

A huge advantage of these trains (apart from higher speeds and low maintenance costs)? The positive environmental impact. Indeed, they lack engines, thus eliminate the need/use of fossil fuels.

The first commercial maglev train made its test debut in Shanghai, China, in 2002. The Shanghai Transrapid line currently runs to and from the Longyang Road station at the city’s center and the Pudong airport. Traveling at an average speed of 430 km per hour, the 30 km journey takes less than 10 minutes on the train (as opposed to an hour-long taxi ride!).

Right now, the best maglev train reaches speeds exceeding 400 kilometres per hour. But Deng Zigang, a professor at Southwest Jiaotong University in China believes that these trains can go even faster (as if that wasn’t fast enough already!). Indeed, much of the energy used to propel the train is wasted battling air resistance. Thus, by placing a maglev train inside a vacuum tube, we could virtually eliminate speed’s worst enemy and allow the train to rocket along guideways at 3,000 km per hour.

Just when we feel like we’ve seen/invented it all, new engineering marvels arise. I am exited to see what the future holds for this train technology.

(Source: IEEE Spectrum July 2014 issue)

“Natural Disasters – Live from the MOOC’s Epicentre” Event Rocks Schulich Library!

Natural disasters display

Despite a risk of severe thunderstorms (very fitting for the evening’s theme!), about 50 participants braved their way to Schulich Library of Science and Engineering on Tuesday night for “Natural Disasters – Live from the MOOC’s Epicentre!” to hear all about Montreal-area natural disasters. A big thanks to everyone who joined us, and an even bigger thanks to Professors John Stix and John Gyakum for presenting loads of information on different types of natural disasters and their likelihood of taking place in Montreal. Their presentation was delivered in a conversational, fact-filled and thought-provoking style that inspired the audience.

So what natural disasters could happen here? Earthquakes, ice storms (of course!), and even hurricanes are all possibilities. Even though Professor Stix confirmed that Mount Royal isn’t a volcano, he did recount a dream he once had that Mount Royal erupted and lava came flowing down the middle of campus! (This just goes to show you the kind of things geologists dream about!) The professors also talked about increased risk of natural disasters due to human activities (such as the increased chances of extreme weather events due to rising CO2 emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels and the increased likelihood of earthquakes from fracking to obtain natural gas). Professor Gyakum showed a video that gives the analogy of steroid use by baseball players to explain how climate change works (available here). He also explained that increased water vapor in the atmosphere caused by increased CO2 emissions ups the chances of more extreme weather, such as ice storms in Montreal. We are, after all, in one of North America’s freezing rain capitals. So make sure to keep those candles and bottled water handy this winter!

Their talk generated a lot of questions such as: Is there a risk of Yellowstone erupting anytime soon? Professor Stix says it is a very active geologic area, which may explain this recent news story . However, he also said “I don’t lose sleep over it.” Another participant asked: Generally, how prepared are Montreal’s buildings for an earthquake? Members of the audience concluded that we are not so prepared, especially considering the number of old buildings we have here.

In case you missed the event, you can always come check out the Natural Disasters display with information, photos and specimens related to ice storms, volcanoes and earthquakes. It is located on the main floor of the Schulich Library and will be up until, at least, the end of summer.

Finally, a special thank you to Teaching and Learning Services and Ingrid Birker from the Redpath Museum’s Science Outreach and Public Program for helping to make the evening a success.

Natural Disasters: Live from the MOOC’s Epicentre!

350-public-mooc-natural-disasterAs you may have already heard, there is a MOOC currently being offered on Natural Disasters, which is taught by Professor John Gyakum and Professor John Stix. Related to this, the professors will be giving a talk about natural disasters in the Montreal area. This will include why certain disasters would not happen here and how we can mitigate the impact of natural disasters on our daily lives. They will also be answering your questions about natural disasters.

This event will be held on Tuesday, July 15th from 6:30-8:30pm in the Schulich Library of Science and Engineering. Refreshments will be served.

All are welcome to attend. Registration is required. Please visit to register. I hope to see you there!

Download, create or share your own 3D models

The U.S National Institutes of Health has launched a 3D print exchange website that allows users to download, edit and share models of anatomy, bacteria and lab equipment. Among the current available selections: a frog dissection kit, the base of a cervical spine, a bust of a Macaque, the influenza virus, a microscope, a DNA playset and a “three-dimensional structure of the toxin-delivery particle antifeeding prophage of Serratia entomophila.”