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  • Making silica aerogel at home

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Published on August 13th, 2013 | Edited by: Eileen De Guire

Bay area mechanical engineer Ben Krasnow makes silica aerogel in this demonstration in his home laboratory, one of many he has published on YouTube. (Credit: Krasnow; YouTube.)

I learned a new word today—“polymath: a person of wide-ranging knowledge or learning.”

Students of history describe to Benjamin Franklin as a polymath, referring to his skills as a politician, author, scientist, inventor, and more. In addition to discovering the connection between lightening and electricity, he invented bifocals (thank you, Ben), the lightning rod, odometer, Franklin stove, and more.

A modern-day polymath with the same first moniker came to my attention today. Ben Krasnow, a mechanical engineer in the San Francisco Bay area, is an inventor and tinkerer, too. He likes to tinker with materials science, too.

Krasnow says on his LinkedIn profile, “I enjoy building mechanical and electronic systems. When I am not producing something that is valuable to other people, I spend my time building things just for the fun of it. There is little distinction between work and play as long as there is good engineering involved.”

Krasnow takes us along with him into his home laboratory via YouTube videos. (Had YouTube been available to Franklin, I am confident he would have used it to maximum effect, too. But, alas, electricity had to be understood first.) He has posted many videos on a range of tech-rich topics, such as how to make aerogel, evaporating ITO coatings on mirrors, how to build a scanning electron microscope, as well as some just rich topics like how to make fondant cakes. Other topics include X-ray imaging, woodworking, optics, and mechanics.

Obviously, Krasnow’s mind, like Franklin’s, is a busy one.

He calls the collection “Having Fun with Applied Science,” and watching the videos is like riding sidecar while Krasnow drives and narrates. But I think he does more than just share the delight of his mind with us. Through his narration, he demonstrates what engineering is by talking us through the engineering thought process. He shows us how to break a big problem into smaller problems, how to set up a an experiment or prototype, how to test and troubleshoot, and finally, how to tweak by going back and trying again.

These are informative and fun. The production quality of the videos is good—steady video with good sound and some editing. Nobody should be surprised!

  • How Much Science Can You Fit Into 6 Seconds? - GE

Video Science in 6 Seconds

Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, GE published a series of six-second videos through their blog Edison’s Desk that coincides with the start of the new school year. The blogs-plus-video feature scientists like Grigorii Soloveichik and his work on flow batteries for electric vehicles. The blog includes his six-second video published via Twitter’s video technology, Vine. Similar to Twitter’s 140 character limit, Vine has a limit of six seconds, so obviously, the scientists who took on the challenge had to get to the point pretty fast. Soloveichik implies in the blog that making a “meaningful six-second video” is challenging.

I came across the blog and video earlier this week but did not pursue it, mostly because I figured that, like me, many of you don’t Vine, even if you tweet. Thankfully—mercifully?—GE patched some of the snippets together into a four-minute YouTube video, and thankfully—mercifully?—PBS writer Joe Hanson put together a synopsis of the 40 selected six-second videos. The list is published on his blog “It’s Okay to be Smart.” It looks like Soloveichik’s Vine video did not make the cut, but you can watch it on the blog link above.

Some of the GE experiments will look familiar from grammar school science projects. But, if you were the kind of kid who can’t get enough of exploding baking soda volcanoes, potato-amped lightbulbs, and other very cool stuff, you will enjoy this video.

(Hat tip to David Crotty at The Scholarly Kitchen blog.)


  • 3D Printing of Liquid Metals at Room Temperature

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We know, we know…we’re the American CERAMIC Society. But this bit of video from North Carolina State University (Raleigh), where researchers at the university have used 3D printing to produce free-standing structures made of liquid metal at room temperature, was just too cool to pass up.

“It’s difficult to create structures out of liquids, because liquids want to bead up,” says Michael Dickey in anews release. “But we’ve found that a liquid metal alloy of gallium and indium reacts to the oxygen in the air at room temperature to form a ‘skin’ that allows the liquid metal structures to retain their shapes.” Dickey is an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and coauthor of apaper in Advanced Materials (DOI: 10.1002/adma.201301400) describing the work.

The researchers say the structures could be used, for example, to connect electronic components in three dimensions. They’ve developed multiple techniques for stacking droplets atop each other, creating metal wires, and producing other structures. As for the end of the video, when 3D printing is used to fashion liquid metal droplet “antennae” for an insect…well, that’s just showing off. The scientists do note, however, that the bug was not harmed during production—it had already been killed by a spider.

Theatrics aside, the research team is moving forward by evaluating how to use the techniques they’ve developed in electronics applications and in conjunction with established 3D printing technologies.

  • Visualizing microscopic structure of simulated model basalt melt - Post-Graduation

Video Education Basalt

Computers & Geosciences

Volume 57, August 2013, Pages 166--174

Visualizing microscopic structure of simulated model basalt melt

Bidur Bohara, Bijaya B. Karki

Division of Computer Science and Engineering, Department of Geology and Geophysics, and Center for Computation and Technology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803, USA

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