TWIE 77: New SPAM - Now With Glowing Bacteria

This Week in Engineering - Tevatron shuts down; offshore wind energy storage; ultra-efficient shrimp farming; sponge cleans up CO2; car that runs on coffee; and hiding messages in glowing bacteria.

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Tevatron shuts down.
Fermilab, just outside of Chicago, has been the home of the Tevatron particle accelerator since 1983. Now, the Tevatron has shut down, sending all interesting particle physics work to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. But some physicists believe that smashing hadrons is soooo 2010, and perhaps the future is in smashing muons -- charged particles, heavier than electrons, that last only microseconds. But, using some time-bending effects of relativity, it might be possible to smash some muons in an accelerator that fits inside the Fermilab footprint. Let¦s hope they build it, because until they do, the only particles getting smashed in Chicago belong to their quarterback. Look, I just think he could use some pass protection.

Ultra-efficient shrimp farming
Researchers in yee-haw Texas have developed a system of indoor aquaculture called (super-intensive stacked raceways÷, that uses a computer-controlled water-recirculation system that generate almost twenty times more shrimp per unit of water than the most efficient conventional outdoor ponds. America currently imports most of its shrimp, so a water-efficient farming technique could help us here in drought-stricken Texas, where we like our shrimp the same way we like our belt buckles. Jumbo!

Car that runs on coffee
Led by Martin Bacon, a team from Durham, England, has set a world speed record of over sixty-six miles per hour, for a car powered only by organic waste. Their fuel? Coffee grounds discarded by coffee shops. Heated grounds create carbon dioxide and water vapor, which are reduced to carbon monoxide and hydrogen, which are filtered, cooled, and pumped into the engine. What a great idea! Worried you¦ll run out of gas before you get to the next biofuel station? Not me! I¦ll pass three Starbucks before I get out of my parking garage.

Offshore wind energy storage
Swedish company Ehrnberg Solutions AB has tested a prototype of the SeaTwirl, an offshore wind turbine that stores kinetic energy by pumping water into the outer rim of a flywheel. The rotation can later power the turbines, even when there is no wind. Well, that¦s the Swedish version. But in America, I say instead of weighing the flywheel with water, let¦s just install a jogging track for overweight Americans. Two birds, one stone!

Sponge cleans up CO2
Chemists from Northwestern University have developed a new kind of sponge, called a metal-organic framework, that soaks up carbon dioxide and converts it into carbonate. The sponges can later release the CO2 in a controlled environment and then be reused. The sponge is all-natural -- its main ingredient is gamma-cyclodextrin, a kind of sugar made from corn, held in a crystalline structure of metals derived from salts. The sponge is so non-toxic, it can actually be eaten. But if I¦m hungry enough to eat a smokestack-scrubbing sponge, global warming is the least of my worries. That argument also holds for a garden burger.

Hiding messages in glowing bacteria
Researchers led by David Walt from Tufts University have developed a method of encrypting messages in genetically engineered strains of e-coli bacteria, modified with fluorescent proteins that glow in seven different colors. Strains are engineered with resistance to a certain antibiotic, which could be considered a private key. After receiving a thin film with the bacteria, a recipient could use secret combinations of antibiotics to see the message as a pattern of glowing colors. The new method is called (Steganography by printed arrays of microbes÷, or SPAM. So named because the term (SPAM÷ doesn¦t have enough unpleasant connotations. Really? You want me to associate it with nasty, unnatural, colored bacteria? Jokes on you: I already do.