Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Engineered beauty

First LightTinselAirpucks
Sagrada FamiliaFractalSpikes
Each year Microsoft invites students and staff at the University of Cambridge's engineering department to submit photos that are "beautiful, fascinating, intriguing, amusing, or possibly all of these things." Here are nine images, including the three winners, from the 2008 Microsoft Photography Competition.

Moth (third prize)Moth
A thin, elastic metal film made of PDMS (polydimethylsiloxane) and gold, used to make stretchable electronics.

Laser-Drilled Micro-Sized Hole ArrayArray
Holes drilled in stainless steel using a pulsed fibre laser firing 500,000 pulses per second. It took 0.1 milliseconds (50 pulses) to drill each hole.

First Bar of an AriaAria
Computer-generated analysis of the tempo of the first two bars of the aria from the Goldberg Variations by J. S. Bach. The x axis corresponds to time and the y axis to tempo. Computer analysis of musical tempo is a first step in developing "machine listening."

First Light (second prize)First Light
Taken at sunset [on March 15, 2007], this unenhanced photograph captures the first night of power for the secluded Masai village of Essilanke. The village school provided the site for the first trial of a project that [photographer Sam Cocks] spent three months working on in Kenya: developing a small-scale wind turbine capable of providing a practical solution for electrifying remote regions.

Crystal TinselAria
Scanning electron micrograph of zinc oxide nanowires growing on carbon fibers.

Air PucksAir Pucks
High-pressure air is blown through the brass connector and comes out through a hole in the base to create a low-friction air bearing. These pucks were used in "air sleds" for research into how the brain controls arm movements. The sled supports the weight of a subject's arm on a cushion of air during the experiment and constrains its movements within a plane.

Sagrada FamiliaSagrada Familia
A seashell-like stairwell at Gaudi's unfinished cathedral in Barcelona. Photographer Brendan Baker writes: "The stairs are a glimpse at how natural forms can be used as design inspiration, a strong underlying theme of recent biomimetic approaches to materials and product design." (Biomimetics is the application of biological systems to engineering design.)

The Surface of a Hyper-Complex Escape-Time FractalFractals
Engineers often exploit a mathematical trick for combining two or more regular numbers into one complex number, allowing them to carry twice the information inside their equations. These simple equations can generate astonishingly detailed fractals. This is a three-dimensional "slice" through the four-dimensional surface of one such fractal.

Blue Spikes (first prize)Spikes
Liquid crystals, described by photographer Sonja Findeisen-Tandel as "neither crystalline nor liquid but something in between."


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