In our world of X-games and Xtreme Eyelash Extensions and Xtreme Motorsports, the word “extreme” has been drained of its meaning somewhat. But take heed: when Johns Hopkins launches a new institute and dubs it extreme, they mean it. Just take a look at that exploding basalt cube if you don’t believe me.
In 1923, a 97-pound bike with seven wings flew, kind of. (It traveled twenty feet and rose two feet in the air.) In 1994, a Japanese built a human-powered craft that hovered for 19 seconds; it only made it 20 centimeters above the ground. For more than a decade, that stood as the world record. Despite all our other advancements in technology, human-powered flight remains frustratingly elusive — so elusive that in 1980 the American Helicopter Society International created the Sikorsky prize: $250,000 to anyone who could achieve 60 seconds of flight at at least 10 feet. But for 30 years, no one’s come close. Until now.
Colin Gore, a PhD student in materials science at the University of Maryland, recently shattered the 1994 record, remaining airborne (well, a foot or two off the ground) for a full 40 seconds. Gore and 35 other UM engineering students worked together to build the Gamera II (named after a flying turtle monster from a Japanese horror movie — sort of a proto-terrapin, if you will), a complex craft that they’re hoping will help snag them the Sikorsky prize.
“Human-powered airplanes have been flying for some decades and a lot of people wonder, ‘Well, what’s so much harder about a helicopter?'” William Staruk, the team’s project manager, told the Atlantic. “The problem is that a helicopter has to lift itself vertically into the air directly against gravity… So we end up requiring on the order of three times more power than a human-powered airplane does.” In other words, the craft requires a lot of power and a lot of efficiency. (The Atlantic has all the juicy details on the carbon fiber micro-truss system the team developed for the project; engineers get your fill here.)
While this is all undeniably cool, it’s still pretty far from what most people consider flight. Nor is it particularly practical. “No one’s ever going to use our helicopter for a practical use,” Staruk admits. But that’s sort of not the point. “Things do not have to be practical to be exciting,” Gore says. Watch a video of Gore’s flight below the jump:
Want to be a doctor/engineer/physicist/chemist? Don’t fill up your class schedule with too many biochemistry and intro to fluid dynamics classes; you might just need to save some of your study time for learning Chinese. At a time when “many of the great STEM [science, technology, engineering and medical] breakthroughs are now occurring in China,” as Kellee Tsai, a vice dean at Johns Hopkins puts it, figuring out how to communicate across cultures becomes increasingly essential.
Which is precisely why Johns Hopkins launched Johns Hopkins-China STEM, an eight week summer program in Nanjing to help the university’s students, faculty, and researchers gain proficiency in Mandarin Chinese. Designed with English-speaking scholars who already have some experience with Mandarin and academic experience in engineering or the health sciences, the program immerses participants in Chinese culture. Along the way, they’ll learn how to discuss transportation infrastructure and architectural design (in the engineering track) or nutrition, health policy, and clinical practice (for the health sciences track).
The program takes place at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, which was the first Chinese academic center to be jointly operated by its American and Chinese partners when it opened in 1986.
The course itself is not for newbs — it’s roughly equivalent to a fourth-year college-level course (and, yes, students can get academic credit for their participation). But putting in that hard work will probably pay off in the end, says Tobie Meyer-Fong, one of the program’s planners: “College and professional school graduates with first-rate language training in specialized areas will enter today’s transnational job market with a competitive advantage.”
On June 8, the technologically-minded will converge on Baltimore for the Second Baltimore Hackathon, in which participants have 48 hours to take a hardware or software project from idea to prototype. Prizes will be awarded in the following categories: technical complexity, smart design, civic service, aesthetics, crowd favorite, and hacker/DIY.
It’s starting to be final exam time, and students citywide are devoting themselves to their projects, papers, essays, reports and… hovercrafts? Yes, you read that right. Today, in fact, freshmen engineering students at the University of Maryland’s Clark School are engaging in the most exciting final exam we’ve ever heard of: crafting hand-built, autonomous hovercraft to navigate around a track. For the first time, the hovercrafts will have to “retrieve and transport a randomly located payload.”
So, how do you build a hovercraft? Apparently it just takes foam, batteries, fans, sensors, and an Arduino UNO microcontroller. Oh, and some basic engineering skills. Piece of cake!
If you happen to be on campus today, you can watch the hovering in person at the Kim Engineering Building from 9am to 5pm. You can also watch a livestream of the competition here.