Imagine having to build a bridge — a strong bridge — out of nothing but epoxy and spaghetti.

Yeah, hard. Just ask one of the 160 high schoolers who recently finished Engineering Innovation, a rigorous, monthlong summer camp run by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and a handful of other cities. They didn’t just have to imagine it; they had to do it.

Students come from all over the world to get what is, for many, their first real taste of engineering in the classroom. The idea behind the program is simple: Give students a chance to explore complex ideas using remarkably simple tools.

Example: Measure the distance between two spires on the Hopkins campus using nothing but a few measuring sticks, string and tape.

Students also have to design a mousetrap out of nothing but paper, glue and rubber bands.

But the grand finale — the last big test for students — is the spaghetti bridge.

Teaching Students To Use Their Noodles

Photo and GIF credit: Lydia Thompson/NPR


Weekend Diversion: The Living Bridges Of India

“This is all possible thanks to the unique way these particular rubber trees grow: often high on a cliff or boulder, with their roots extending far down to the low water level below. By shaping these malleable roots carefully over long stretches of time — particularly if there are two good trees on opposite banks — spans in excess of 30 meters (100 feet) can easily be crossed.”

The self-strengthening root bridges of India have lasted for hundreds of years, and only get stronger with time. Forget steel, concrete and modern alloys; the rubber tree Ficus Elastica seems to be the greatest architectural material of all!


Meili & Peter - Mursteg footbridge, Murau 1995. Initially built as part of a timber construction exhibition, the bridge allows pedestrians and cyclists to traverse the Mur river, crossing the body of water and compensating for multiple elevations on each bank through four separate entries. The entire bridge envelope is actually a large scale Vierendeel girder, which unlike a traditional truss that relies on diagonal connections, allows for large rectangular openings. The walls adjacent to the entries of the bridge act as the vertical transverse stiffeners, and the roof and platform serve as the bottom and top chords. This strategy allows for a large opening in the center of the bridge, creating a beautiful picture window that captures the river and surrounding town. These vertical members are also slightly staggered in plan, ensuring that there is diagonal sheer strength while also forming separate circulation pathways for pedestrians and cyclists.  

While a traditional Vierendeel girder is constructed with steel, the Mursteg bridge is constructed almost entirely of wood, creating an unprecedented set of technical complications. Each timber element is fastened with a unique method in order to support the structural forces within; the top and bottom chords are made of pneumatically pressed glue laminated wood planks assembled in pieces, which were connected on site with an epoxy glue. The vertical sheer walls were similarly glue-lammed, but then reinforced with a dense nailing pattern. A post-tensioned cable was installed on the lower chord; and in tandem with the dead-weight of the roof, stiffens the entire structure. The complex engineering performed by the architects in conjunction with Jürg Conzett and Kaufmann Holzbau results in a deceivingly simple and beautiful landmark for the town, in which the spatial design is a direct manifestation and expression of the inherent structural properties of timber. Photos © Margherita Spiluttini.  



How To Take Notes is officially in video form, so please go ahead and check it out!

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Figuring Out How to Fold Solar Panels, Airplane Wings

The art of paper-folding called origami can produce complex shapes that are both beautiful and useful. It is being used to understand how DNA works, to make powerful microscopes out of paper, and to improve architecture and medicine

But if you want to convert something flat into another shape to reduce its size for packing and shipping, origami folds need to get even more complex for thicker objects. How, for instance, would you fold a space mirror for delivery into orbit or a new generation of retracting roofs, shape-shifting airplane wings or solar panels?

The answer, according to researchers at Oxford and China’s Tianjin University, is that you need to add hinges, extra material and crease offsets to produce origami’s smart folds in thick objects. Learn more and see more images below.

Keep reading


Vines by Terry Virts Aboard the ISS.



Human greatness

3D-printing has something to tell also in Medicine. This case is particularly impressive due to the short age of the baby, and because we’re speaking about none other than a “whole brain shrinking plastic surgery… Oh, and also because the money was raised thanks to a collect in the Internet. A touching history, certainly.

Via 3-Year-Old with Extremely Large Head Receives Groundbreaking Skull Replacement Surgery