Random Samples

Science  24 Nov 2006:
Vol. 314, Issue 5803, pp. 1221
  1. SILENT FLIER

    CREDIT: SILENT AIRCRAFT INITIATIVE

    Engineers with a transatlantic think tank, the Cambridge-MIT Institute (CMI), this month declared success at designing a superquiet passenger jet.

    The 215-seater, called the SAX-40, shown in a computer model above, would be so quiet you would scarcely hear its landing noise above the traffic if you were standing near the airport boundary, say the design team of 40 students and engineers. Plus, they claim, it would burn 25% less fuel than a comparable plane today.

    The key to the SAX-40's low profile is its use of a “flying wing” design rather than the traditional cylinder with fins. This gives it strong lift at low speed, reducing the distance and power needed for takeoff and landing—and also reducing fuel requirements, says Alexander Quayle, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Cambridge who worked on smoothing the undercarriage. In addition, the engine intakes are mounted on top to send noise skyward, and edges are smoothed to reduce noisy airflow fluctuations.

    The U.K. government sank about $4.4 million into the project, mainly to give CMI students a chance to work with industry people. But whether SAX-40 ever gets off the ground will depend on how promising it looks to the private sector. “We got a very warm welcome from Boeing,” says Quayle. The Seattle, Washington-based company is one of about 30 backers who made in-kind contributions to the 3-year project, using its software to test the airframe in simulated flight.

  2. UNDERCOVER FROG

    CREDIT: THE PROCTER & GAMBLE COMPANY

    A 3-centimeter tree frog that resembles a splotch on a leaf makes its scientific debut this month in Memoirs of the Queensland Museum. Named Litoria richardsi after one of its discoverers, herpetologist Stephen Richards of the South Australian Museum in Adelaide, it was found near a swamp in Papua New Guinea. Herpetologist Michael Cunningham of the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa, says the amphibian—one of only two such frogs found—lives high in the rainforest canopy and probably glides through the air using its highly webbed feet.

  3. HOMAGE TO WASHDAY

    It's easy to overlook mundane scientific accomplishments, but the American Chemical Society (ACS) remembers. This year, its “Landmarks of Chemistry” project is honoring a humble laundry detergent: Tide.

    1946 Tide ad. CREDIT: STEPHEN RICHARDS/SOUTH AUSTRALIAN MUSEUM

    Introduced 60 years ago last month, Procter and Gamble's Tide was the first synthetic detergent that could clean really dirty clothes in hard or soft water without, like soap, leaving scummy residues.

    Both synthetic detergents and soap contain molecules that bond to water on one end and fats at the other, pulling oil and grease off clothes into water. But unlike soap, such detergents are not derived from animal or vegetable fats, relying instead on a synthetic molecule. The first product, Dreft, was so-so as a cleaner. But with Tide, scientists learned to balance surfactants, which let water penetrate clothes, and “builders,” which help the surfactants reach embedded dirt. In early attempts, the chemicals in hard water reacted with builders to stiffen clothes—“Your clothes were clean, but you couldn't walk,” says Landmarks project manager Judah Ginsberg. After further tinkering, Tide was launched in 1946, the same year the automatic washing machine was introduced. It was a smash hit, becoming the century's best-selling laundry detergent.

    An ACS landmark “has to have had an impact on both the public and chemistry,” says retired ACS executive Michael Bowen. “[Tide] was an excellent piece of chemical development.”

  4. Crop Circles

    Very like a Paul Klee painting, this satellite image of an area south of Garden City, Kansas, depicts where wheat is grown with center-pivot irrigation that creates circle-shaped fields. Reddest areas are crops that reflect near-infrared wavelengths. Light-colored areas are fallow or harvested fields.

    The wheat snapshot is one of 41 dazzling, zoomable satellite images from the last 30 years put together by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. The Web site also contains an explanation of how remote sensing works and links to teaching materials for grades 5 through 12.

    http://www.earthfromspace.si.edu/