VI. Remote Labs (with Leyla Özkan)

VI. Remote Labs (with Leyla Özkan)
Researching in Times of Covid-19

 
 
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In this episode of Researching in Times of Covid-19, host Barry Fitzgerald (Science Communications Officer at TU Eindhoven) speaks to Leyla Özkan, Assistant Professor at the department of Electrical Engineering at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e).

Education at TU/e has changed in the current Covid-19 situation. While traditional lessons have made the transition from the classroom to online platforms, it is more difficult to facilitate such a change when it comes to the delivery of practical lessons in the laboratory.

Remote Labs is an initiative from the Control Systems group at the department of Electrical Engineering that seeks to alleviate this issue by providing students with 24/7 access to test setups using remote login.

In this episode, Leyla talks about Remote Labs, how it has been used thus far, how it will be used in quartile 4 at TU/e, and what might be in store for Remote Labs in the future.

You can also read more about Remote Labs in this TU/e Cursor article.

Stay safe and stay healthy.

V. Safe Aerosol Treatment (with Liza Boormans and René van Donkelaar)

V. Safe Aerosol Treatment (with Liza Boormans and René van Donkelaar)
Researching in Times of Covid-19

 
 
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In this episode of Researching in Times of Covid-19, host Barry Fitzgerald (Science Communications Officer at TU Eindhoven) speaks to Liza Boormans, a 1st year masters student in medical engineering, and René van Donkelaar, Associate Professor at the department of Biomedical Engineering at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e).

Together, they are working on a project or challenge entitled “Safe Aerosol Treatment System for Children”. The aim of the challenge is to develop a safe aerosol treatment system for children in hospitals. Such approaches are used to administer liquid medication in the form of an aerosol to patients with breathing issues.

With the current Covid-19 situation, it is even more important to ensure that this medical treatment can be carried out in safe and reliable manner so that it does not endanger the patient or anyone in the surrounding environment.

In the episode, Liza and René talk about the establishment of the platform “TU/e against Covid-19” at the TU/e Innovation Space. This platform is used to host challenges such as the safe aerosol treatment challenge. They also discuss the process of putting together a student team, problems that need to be solved for this challenge, and the possibility of implementing innovations from the challenge in a clinical setting.

Stay safe and stay healthy.

IV. Suzanne Koch (Biomedical Engineering)

IV. Suzanne Koch (Biomedical Engineering)
Researching in Times of Covid-19

 
 
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In episode 4 of Researching in Times of Covid-19, host Barry Fitzgerald (Science Communication Officer at TU Eindhoven) spoke to Suzanne Koch, a PhD candidate in the department of Biomedical Engineering at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e).

Suzanne is from Utrecht. Before her position at TU/e, Suzanne completed a Bachelors in Biomedical Sciences and Masters in Cardiovascular Research at VU University, Amsterdam. In addition, she spent 8 months in Berlin as part of her graduation project. At TU/e, Suzanne is based in the Soft Tissue Engineering and Mechanobiology group.

In early March, Suzanne and some work colleagues went to Germany for a research visit. However, when they returned to Eindhoven, they came back to a completely different campus as you’ll find out in this episode.

Stay safe, stay positive, and stay healthy.

III. Oded Raz (Electrical Engineering)

III. Oded Raz (Electrical Engineering)
Researching in Times of Covid-19

 
 
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In the third episode of Researching in Times of Covid-19, host Barry Fitzgerald (Science Communication Officer at TU Eindhoven) spoke to Oded Raz, Associate Professor in the department of Electrical Engineering at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e).

Oded is from Israel and he completed his PhD in Tel Aviv. He has been based at TU/e for more than 13 years. His research focuses on photonic integrated devices and teaching is a passion for Oded.

Prior to the quarantine lockdown, Oded was in the middle of teaching a course for more than 200 students. However, the lockdown situation has forced him to shift to online education. In this episode Oded discusses the change to online education and the lessons that he has learned from the process.

Stay safe and stay healthy.

II. Evan Milacic (Chemical Engineering and Chemistry)

II. Evan Milacic (Chemical Engineering and Chemistry)
Researching in Times of Covid-19

 
 
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In the second episode of Researching in Times of Covid-19, host Barry Fitzgerald (Science Communication Officer at TU Eindhoven) spoke to Evan Milacic, a PhD candidate in the department of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e).

Evan is from the Netherlands and his work is focused on the plastic industry. He is working on improving the production of polyolefin using both experiments and computer simulations.

And that’s where things get interesting for Evan. Although he can’t do any more experiments for the moment, his safety net is his work on simulations. However, that also comes with some concerns as you’ll find out in this podcast episode.

Stay safe and stay healthy.

New Podcast “Researching in Times of Covid-19”

New Podcast “Researching in Times of Covid-19”

Podcast is now online at bwscience.com and via podcast providers!


Logo for the podcast “Researching in Times of Covid-19”

The world is currently griped by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has affected almost all facets of society. Streets are empty, shops are closed, bars are shut, and many people are unable to visit their loved ones. The world at the start of 2020 was a very different place.

Many countries have put strict lockdown conditions in place. For instance, in Ireland, people are not allowed to venture more than 2 km from their home, unless in the case of an emergency, for food shopping or medicines, or if they are deemed to be essential frontline workers. In the Netherlands, there is no such 2 km limit but the majority of businesses are closed and many people are working for home. This affects a multitude of people – ranging from bankers to software developers, and from radio reporters to scientific researchers.

I’m currently based at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) where the current lockdown situation has affected the research and teaching of hundreds of TU/e staff. To gauge how researchers are dealing with the changes in their work environment and how the lockdown has affected their work, I’ve just launched a new podcast series. It is called “Researching in Times of Covid-19” and in each episode I speak to a different researcher from a different department at TU/e.

You can listen to the podcast episodes on this website or you can listen on Spotify, Castos, iTunes, Google Podcasts, or Pocket Casts.

You can read more about the podcasts in this news article on the website for Eindhoven University of Technology.

Stay safe and stay healthy!

Barry W. Fitzgerald

I. Maria Pastrama (Biomedical Engineering)

I. Maria Pastrama (Biomedical Engineering)
Researching in Times of Covid-19

 
 
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In the first episode of Researching in Times of Covid-19, host Barry Fitzgerald (Science Communication Officer at TU Eindhoven) spoke to Maria Pastrama, a postdoctoral researcher in the department of Biomedical Engineering at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e).

Maria is originally from Romania, and completed her PhD in Vienna before working as a postdoctoral researcher in Leuven, Belgium. She then moved to her current position at TU/e in November 2018. Her research focuses on cartilage and as of January 1st 2020, she has been working on a 2-year EU funded EuroTech project on cartilage tissue engineering.

In the first half of March 2020 Maria was preparing for a research visit to EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland. However, things did not go as planned as you’ll find out in this podcast episode.

You can read more about the effect of Covid-19 on Maria’s work in a short article on Sparrho.

Stay safe and stay healthy.

“How to Build an Iron Man Suit” Visits Comicasa

Speaking at Comicasa, Feb 21st 2020
Speaking at Comicasa, Enschede, the Netherlands, February 21st 2020

It’s always good to visit home, to where it all started. In terms of my adventures in the Netherlands, home, and where it all started back in 2012, is Enschede. While I lived there the seeds for my superhero escapades were sown, and I couldn’t have imagined speaking about my new book “How to Build an Iron Man Suit” for the first time in the Netherlands anywhere else. On Friday February 21st I did just that when I spoke at the fantastic Comicasa comic book store – a must visit for fans of superheroes and more.

Those in attendance were first treated to a “Iron Man 101” course delivered splendidly by Robert van der Weide-Zeelenberg. Robert outlined the history of the character Iron Man including his inauspicious start at Marvel Comics as well as the evolution of the character and some of the suits that have featured in comic book issues over the years.

Then it was my turn to speak about the science and technology behind the development of an Iron Man suit. The audience experienced the wonder of an exoskeleton suit, EEG brainwave-reading technologies, advanced wound healing treatments, and lots more. Specific scenes from the films were very much in the spotlight, which seemed to please the comic book and film-loving audience no end. The end of the talk was marked by an open discussion on the technological tribulations behind developing a real Iron Man-like suit, and whether such a technology would be of benefit to society.

Many thanks to Robert, Peter, and everyone at Comicasa for hosting the talk. My new book “How to Build an Iron Man Suit“, as well as my other books, are available to purchase at Comicasa. And be sure to visit the store to experience the comic book ambience. It’s such a cool place to sit down and read a comic book or ten.

Stay tuned for more Iron Man banter.

Always think super!

BWF

Secret Science of Santa Claus: How do reindeers fly Santa’s sleigh around the world?

This is an article that I wrote for RTE’s Brainstorm website. The original article can be found here.

For more information on the Secret Science of Santa Claus check out information on my book “Secret Science of Santa Claus“.

In a matter of days, Santa Claus will set out on an incredible round-the-world trip to deliver presents to millions of children. Every year, his schedule gets busier, due in part to the ever-increasing world population. To help him achieve this Christmas delivery goal, Santa uses a truly unique form of transport: a flying sleigh that is guided by a troop of flying reindeers. But how does the sleigh fly? And does it fly in a sustainable way?

Before looking at the science behind Santa’s flying sleigh and flying reindeer, why did Santa Claus pick reindeer to pull the sleigh in the first place? As you already know, Santa Claus’ base of operations is located in the Arctic Circle, which contains parts of Canada, the US, Greenland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Russia. The Arctic Circle is home to many animals such as the Arctic fox, the Arctic hare, polar bears, snowy owls, and of course reindeer.

According to the 2018 Arctic Report Card from NOAA’s Arctic Program, there are roughly two million reindeer in 23 major herds in Arctic regions. For centuries, people living in Arctic regions such as the Sami and Nenets have used reindeer to transport people and goods across vast distances. So you could say that Santa Claus is just copying an old tradition.

Nonetheless, it is puzzling that the sleigh and reindeer don’t have wings like modern aircraft. Well, aeroplanes didn’t exist when Santa Claus and his elf-scientists were creating their reindeer-based flying system in the early 18th century. The first successful flight of any aircraft with an engine took place near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December 3rd 1903. The pilot that day was Orville Wright, who along with his brother Wilbur built an aircraft known as the Wright Flyer I. This means that Santa’s designs couldn’t have been influenced by the work of the Wright Brothers or any other aviation pioneers. And the sleigh doesn’t have jet engines because jet engines were only developed in the middle of the 20th century.

Of course, Santa Claus and the elf-scientists could have invented mechanical wings that could be worn by the reindeer during flight. But these would more than likely have been very awkward to wear for the reindeer. Plus the reindeer are harnessed quite close to each other and they wouldn’t have been able to fully extend their wings. Instead of wings and jet engines, Santa and the elf-scientists turned to something more astounding and sustainable. They turned to magnetic levitation.

What the heck is magnetic levitation?

A magnet – just like that used to keep your summer holiday souvenirs on your fridge – has two magnetic poles, a north pole and a south pole. If you’ve ever played with magnets you’ll know that unlike poles attract like poles repel.

Magnets are being used in modern transport systems such as magnetic levitation or maglev trains. Just like a traditional train, a maglev train travels along a track but, unlike a traditional train, a maglev train does not touch the track. The train essentially floats above the track because magnets on the bottom of the train push off the magnets on the track. Importantly, the magnetic lifting force counteracts the weight of the train due to the force of gravity; otherwise the train could never levitate. Typically maglev trains float about 10cm above the track.

One maglev approach is known as electrodynamic suspension (EDS) and involves the use of superconducting electromagnets. Superconductors are super by name and by nature. When these materials are cooled to very low temperatures, they have zero electrical resistance and generate a magnetic field. In an EDS maglev train, superconducting magnets are located inside the train. As the train passes over the track, the magnetic fields in the track and train repel each other leading to a levitating or floating train.

Because of the lack of friction with the track and the aerodynamic shape of maglev trains they can reach incredibly fast speeds. The fastest speed for a maglev train is 603 km per hour, which was achieved in April 2015 in Japan by JR Central’s L0 train!

Santa’s magnetic levitating reindeer

One of the big problems with superconducting materials is that they need to be cooled to very low temperatures before they can start to act like a magnet. This requires the use of expensive cryogenic cooling systems where liquid helium or liquid nitrogen is used to cool the materials to freezing temperatures.

But Santa Claus doesn’t need to worry about carrying cryogenic cooling systems on his sleigh. That’s because Santa Claus and the elf-scientists have developed the “holy grail” of superconducting materials: a room-temperature superconducting material. This is a material that behaves as a superconductor at much warmer temperatures, i.e. around 20 °C.

Santa and the elves installed this material on the runners of the sleigh and in the shoes worn by the reindeer. When Santa Claus passes electricity through the superconductors they generate a magnetic field. To levitate, this magnetic field needs to push off a second magnetic field, which is the Earth’s magnetic field. Although the Earth’s magnetic field is quite weak (the magnetic field from a fridge magnet is 100 times stronger), Santa’s technology compensates for this. When the sleigh’s magnetic field is high, Santa and the sleigh can fly higher and faster. And when the strength of the sleigh’s magnetic field is decreased, the sleigh flies lower and slows down. 

Just like a car needs a battery to help kick start the engine, Santa’s sleigh also carries a battery to switch on the sleigh’s magnetic field. Rather than using a lithium-based battery (which won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2019), Santa and his elves have opted for an advanced recyclable sodium-based battery. Added to that, the levitating sleigh emits no greenhouse gases or toxic substances into the atmosphere, which can only be a good thing for the environment. So in effect the sleigh is carbon neutral. 

The only minor issue with the whole flying process is that Santa’s reindeer emit methane in the form of reindeer flatulence (basically reindeer farts) during their round-the-world trip. But don’t worry: Santa Claus and the elf-scientists have that covered too!

The Arrival of “How to Build an Iron Man Suit”

In February 2019, I set out on a writing adventure. I had a plan and I hoped that I would be able to stick to it. In my apartment I scribbled some notes, random musings, and a rough timetable on my whiteboard. It was a serious undertaking – to write a book in approximately 6 months from scratch. But I was motivated, intrigued, and suitably placed to write it. The aim was to write a book “How to Build an Iron Man Suit” with the content inspired by the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and real scientific research from around the world.

The process proved to be an incredible adventure. The research part involved reading scientific papers from multiple disciplines and watching the films of the MCU on repeat. I refer to the paper reading process as “academic mining” where I searched through many thousands of papers that could link to the narrative of the book. Some papers were easy to find, some were hard to find. I must admit though that it was a joy to rematch the films once again. Given that the book is based on Tony Stark and his exoskeleton suits, I focused on the films where he had a starring role. For instance, I definitely watched Iron Man (2008) more than 20 times while writing the book. Multiple watches that certainly paid off.

I should emphasise that the book is not about building the Iron Man suit. It is really about building an Iron Person suit – a suit for everyone. I strive to highlight that the technologies within the suit are to be used for good and not for evil. And these technologies need to be developed in an ethical manner, and not in a secretive and secluded manner that mirrors the approach of Tony Stark.The books also acts as my testament to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) thus far. I use scenes from multiple films to motivate the introduction of concepts and technologies – from Iron Man (2008) to The Avengers (2012) and from Captain America: Civil War (2016) to Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019).

There were plenty of occasions where I didn’t think I’d make the deadline – a deadline that I had set for myself. You see I decided to venture into the self-publishing world one more time with this new book – just like my previous books Secrets of Superhero Science and Secret Science of Santa Claus. Self-publishing can be a challenging task as you need to both write the book and arrange the appropriate support structures for the rest of the book such as an editor, illustrator, proof-readers, and layout designers.

In the end it all worked out and the book arrived from the printers on October 29th 2019, the day before my 40th birthday. The official publication date for the book is October 30th 2019 – a present to myself to mark the end of my 4th decade on the 3rd rock from the Sun. You can get further details on the book here.

Over the coming weeks I’ll write a little more about the writing process and the joys and tribulations of self-publishing.

Until then – always think super!

BWF