I Just Can’t ‘Kelp’ Myself from This One

I was browsing the internet a few months ago when I came across something interesting.   But before I tell you what I found, I’d like to give some insight into how I went about finding this piece of information.  You see…I’m one of those short-attention spanned college students who researches a topic online, looks it up on wikipedia…and then spends two hours scrolling through random pages about complete nonsense.  I kind of do it in spurts ya know.  One day I’ll have a really important paper to write for school, and I’ll end up finding some information on my ever so trusty source (Wikipedia that is), and then I’ll click on random links, until I slowly end up on a page that tells me Kim Jong Un is a giant fan of American basketball.

See I'm not lying

See I’m not lying

But, searching on Wikipedia can actually be resourceful too (in addition to making me really talented at Wikipedia races).  One time, I was online looking at renewable energy sources (you know, every day things), and I came across a remarkable apartment complex that was recently built in Germany.

Now when we talk about renewable energy, people usually think about wind power, or maybe solar power.  But you see, there are some even crazier sources of renewable energy that engineers have been trying to harness for years now.  For instance, cow poop.  Well, not cow poop…but it’s been recently estimated that cows are responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions.  But, more importantly, 65% of cow manure is made up of the greenhouse gas methane (if you don’t believe me look here: cow poop).

the true culprit of climate change

the true culprit of climate change

But don’t worry; my brother did not complete his project on cow poop.  What he was working on, and what I stumbled upon on the internet, was harnessing energy from algae.  Yes algae, which we also call kelp, or seaweed.  It’s that gross green-stuff that we try not to step up on whenever we go to the beach.  Or, what we don’t want to find in our pools during the summer time.  I mean, let’s be honest, algae can be pretty gross:

the product of swimming in algae (not)

the product of swimming in algae (not)

But…algae is actually slowly becoming a major clean energy source, mostly due to the fact that algae goes through photosynthesis.  If you need a little refresher, photosynthesis is a process that harnesses energy from sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to produce glucose and oxygen.  It’s the main energy reaction for plants and many other organisms (if you didn’t realize, algae are actually protists, not plants- kudos to a friend for reminding me [Nisu]).

Now why does this make algae such a great source of clean energy?  Well, carbon dioxide is the major greenhouse gas that’s released when we burn petroleum as fuel.  To be exact, burning one gallon of gasoline produces 19.6 pounds of carbon dioxide, which slowly drifts off into our atmosphere.  But, algae is so great because it actually uses that carbon dioxide during photosynthesis.  Therefore, not only can one create biodiesel, but using algae would actually help reduce greenhouse gases that are currently trapping solar radiation.

see algae makes us happy

see algae makes us happy

So, now back to the apartment complex.  German engineers recently took up the challenge to try out algae-fuel in a large-scale setting.  And it actually worked really well.  The special thing about this apartment complex is that on its facade there are large panels filled with algae.  It looks like this:

do you like what you sea?

do you like what you sea?

The building is called the Bio Intelligent Quotient (B.I.Q.) building.  The panels compose 129 bioreactors that grow the algae, and are constantly fed water and carbon dioxide to provide a hospitable environment.  Periodically, a company will come to ferment the algae, and transfer into biofuel which will power then power the building.  And to even add on to the pros, the facade also doubles as solar panels.  If you want to read more, you can check it out here: BIQ.

So, maybe this wasn’t too amazing, or enlightening.  Maybe not beautiful or surprising.  But personally, I’m all for efforts for a cleaner environment, especially when those efforts are, quite literally, ‘homegrown’.

-Dadler

Care more about your kelp

Care more about your kelp

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Funny things about ‘Girl Talk’

I’m usually not good at girl talk (obviously), so you’re probably wondering why I’m writing about Girl Talk.  Actually, I should note, we’re not going to talk about girl talk like this girl talk:

Image

we’re not going to talk about this

We’re going to talk about Girl Talk.  Girl Talk looks like this:

Image

This is Girl Talk

Girl Talk is actually Gregg Gillis.  Now if you’re unfamiliar with Gregg, you’d be surprised to know that it’s likely you’ve heard some of his work.  Or really some of the work that he uses.  Girl Talk is a mashup artist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Mashup is a type of music that evolved in the late 1990s.  What mashup artists do is actually steal other artist’s work…in a sense.  Mashups are songs that are created by taking the vocal part of one song and putting it on top of (called ‘overlaying’) the instrumental track of another song.  For instance, if I were to take the beautiful song ‘Jigglin’ by the Ying Yang Twins and combine it with the ever-so elegant ‘Can’t Stop’ by Red Hot Chili Peppers, I’d get this: mashup (I made this in 10th grade with a friend, don’t laugh).  Simple, right?

Thanks for making me famous guys.

Thanks for making me famous guys.

But, creating mashups are actually quite complex.  It takes a lot to overlay tracks at the same bpm, key, get the right volume on the tracks, and then mix all of these samples together into one song.  And Girl Talk has done a pretty good job at it thus far.  Actually, he’s become one of the most famous mashup artists in the world, and it takes a special mind to do something like this.  Well…it takes the mind of an engineer.  See, before becoming a mashup artist, Girl Talk actually went to Case Western to study Biomedical Engineering (hey that’s what I do), with a focus in tissue engineering.  And, funny thing is, even after becoming an artist Girl Talk stuck with his engineering work.  Until 2007, Girl Talk worked a day job in an engineering company where he created medical devices before focusing solely on music.  He actually even kept his ‘night’ work secret for quite a bit, by not allowing Pittsburgh papers to publish his real name next to his stage name.

Girl Talk during the day

Girl Talk during the day

...and then at night.

…and then at night.

If you want to learn more about Girl Talk, you can find his music here: Girl Talk.  He usually posts his music online for free (which is pretty cool…though of course I’m not a proponent of getting music for free off the internet), so you probably won’t have to look too hard if you actually want to download it.

So the mind of an engineer can evolve to become a revolutionary music artist.  Now, maybe you wouldn’t call Girl Talk’s music beautiful, but he is pretty talented.  For me, that’s beautiful enough.

-Dadler

“Spoke”-en Differently

This one’s a little weird.  It’s about using things…unconventionally.  Unconventional inventions are nothing new to nerdy engineers likes us though.  For instance in 1905, 11-year-old Frank Epperson accidentally left a wooden stick outside sitting in a cup of soda.  That night, the temperature dropped below freezing.  He came outside the next morning and removed the soda+stick creation, which later became known as the popsicle.

What Frank found outside of his house

What Frank found outside of his house

Velcro was invented in 1941 by George de Mestral after getting annoyed at the burs of the burdock flowers that kept getting stuck to his jacket and dog’s fur.  He ended up looking at them under a microscope and noticed they resembled tiny hooks.  And thus, the velcro Air Jordan’s were invented (obviously):

and 50 years and you get...

add 50 years and you get… Thanks Georgethese. Thanks George!

But we’re not going to talk about popsicles or shoes.  We’re going to talk about bicycles.

Bicycles were the first human invention to move people using a two-wheeled object.  Originating from the ‘Dandyhorse’ (yes, they really named it Dandyhorse) created by Germany’s Baron Karl von Draise, the vehicles were a response to the large death of horses that occurred due to crop failure in 1816.  But of course, the invention of the bicycle actually comes from years of innovation.  Bicycles are ruled by the laws of physics.  To not get into anything too mind-numbing, when I pedal on a bike, the chain causes the back tire to rotate forward, giving it an angular velocity.  In turn, the back tire pushes backwards on the ground.  We know by Newton’s third law that if you push on something, it’ll push back on you.  Therefore, the bike and the ground create an ‘action-reaction’ pair: the bike pushes backwards on the ground, and the ground pushes you forward.  Yes, there’s actually a little more that’s involved in the process, but you get the gist.

This is me back in the 1800s riding a Dandyhorse

This is me back in the 1800s riding a Dandyhorse

But…recently, someone else found a different way to use a bicycle.  A composer called Johnyrandom decided to turn one of his favorite inventions into a musical instrument…and it worked pretty well.  By doing things such as hitting the rims with mallets, grazing the chain with a slide, and bowing the brake cables, Johnnyrandom created an entire music-soundtrack-esque composition with a bicycle.  You can check a sample out here, and even buy his single on iTunes for only $1:

Bespoken Preview

The single is titled ‘Bespoken’, and I would have never guessed that the sounds were created from a bicycle because they end up sounding beautiful on their own.  The fact that you can create music from everyday objects, invented for completely different purposes, is kind of amazing.  It shows that looking at things in an unconventional manner is the first step to innovation, newfound creativity, or in this case, art.

Queen gets me.

Queen gets me.

So next time you’re riding a bike, or drinking an ICEE, or maybe playing basketball, take a moment to pause and think about how your food or your shoes exist.  Think about how you can be unconventional yourself, and maybe I’ll be looking through the world in your eyes as I use your invention 50 years from now.  Now that’s something beautiful to think about.

-Dadler

 

 

 

 

To provide a little explanation…

This is a blog about two things.  One is the field of engineering, which is seen as a rigorous discipline combining the two wonderfully interesting (depending upon your personality) fields of math and science.  The other, is the beautiful.  But just to spark your interest as to why I might be writing about engineering and the beautiful we can play a little game.  Let’s look at two images.  The first below:

Books

Books courtesy of Google Images

and the second…

You're crazy if you like this

You’re crazy if you like this

Now…raise your right hand if you thought the word beauty sits with the first image better than the second, and your left if you think the opposite.  I could guess where about 95% + of you would fall into place.  The first image is obviously a collections of Dickens book, written by one of the greatest authors of all time, and the second, if you didn’t know…is a case of Euler’s Identity.   Now we all know the beauty in Dickens (some of you might not be the biggest fan of his long descriptions though), but what makes the second image beautiful?  Is it really possible to call Euler’s Identity a beautiful work?

Euler’s identity relates what is considered to be the five most important numbers in mathematics, thus being e, i, pi, 1 and 0 if you think of the formula e^(i*pi) + 1 = 0.  It also relates some of the most important functions we use on a daily basis, including the exponential (e), sine (sin) and cosine (cos).

Now some of you might not be convinced yet that relating all of these things could be considered beauty…but I’ll try to add some more insight.  Without these functions we wouldn’t know anything about this:

Home

Home

nor would we be able to describe this:

A place that's much more appealing than the northeast US right now

A place that’s much more appealing than the northeast US right now

or you wouldn’t be able to make more of these quite as fast:

Courtesy of under Walter White's floorboards

Courtesy of under Walter White’s floorboards

…and let’s be honest, the solar system, a day at the beach, and some dolla dolla bills (y’all) are beautiful things.  Euler’s Identity relates numbers and functions that can model the rotation of our planets, help show the oscillations and cycle of tides, and show how we can accumulate compound interest when we make a bank deposit.  Though the numbers on the page may not be beautiful themselves, the implications of Euler’s Identity produces beauty…and it’s pure simplicity almost makes it beautiful in itself.

So you might not be convinced, and maybe you’ll never be.  But, if you stick with me a little bit, maybe I can help find an engineering topic of interest that you might find some beauty in as well.

-Dadler