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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

California Moves to Turn Freeway Traffic Into Electricity

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

California legislators are looking to put the state’s notorious car traffic to good use. State officials recently approved a plan to generate electricity from vibrations produced by cars driving down freeways, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The California Energy Commission recently voted to put $2.3 million into two piezoelectricity projects, which convert pressure into power. One pilot will test a 200-foot-long piece of asphalt on UC-Merced’s campus, while the other experiment will be built by the San Jose green technology company Pyro-E. The company's technology is expected to generate enough power to supply 5000 homes using less than a half-mile of piezoelectric highway.

The idea is that highways could produce energy mechanically, much like a watch runs on the mechanical energy of a spring. Stacks of the inch-long devices would be installed under roads, moving slightly each time a car rolled over them. The high volume of cars passing above each day would in theory turn that little bit of movement into a significant source of energy. The same idea has been floated for wood flooring, sidewalks, and dance floors.

The technology is still in its early stages, though, and there’s no guarantee that California’s roads will be generating power anytime soon. (If it was more advanced, you would have seen a lot more electricity-generating dance floors, after all.)

If any state is likely to implement these unusual sources of power, though, it would be California, which is already a leader in sustainable energy in the U.S. In one recent milestone, California’s solar panels produced 40 percent of the state’s power on one day in March, though it was only for a few hours. The state plans to get 50 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2030 [PDF]. If it can turn L.A. and San Francisco gridlock into power, it’ll reach that goal in a heartbeat.

[h/t San Francisco Chronicle]

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architecture
Engineers Have Figured Out How the Leaning Tower of Pisa Withstands Earthquakes
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iStock

Builders had barely finished the second floor of the Tower of Pisa when the structure started to tilt. Despite foundational issues, the project was completed, and eight centuries and at least four major earthquakes later, the precarious landmark remains standing. Now, a team of engineers from the University of Bristol and other institutions claims to have finally solved the mystery behind its endurance.

Pisa is located between the Arno and Serchio rivers, and the city's iconic tower was built on soft ground consisting largely of clay, shells, and fine sand. The unstable foundation meant the tower had been sinking little by little until 2008, when construction workers removed 70 metric tons of soil to stabilize the site. Today it leans at a 4-degree angle—about 13 feet past perfectly vertical.

Now researchers say that the dirt responsible for the tower's lean also played a vital role in its survival. Their study, which will be presented at this year's European Conference on Earthquake Engineering in Greece, shows that the combination of the tall, stiff tower with the soft soil produced an effect known as dynamic soil-structure interaction, or DSSI. During an earthquake, the tower doesn't move and shake with the earth the same way it would with a firmer, more stable foundation. According to the engineers, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is the world's best example of the effects of DSSI.

"Ironically, the very same soil that caused the leaning instability and brought the tower to the verge of collapse can be credited for helping it survive these seismic events," study co-author George Mylonakis said in a statement.

The tower's earthquake-proof foundation was an accident, but engineers are interested in intentionally incorporating the principles of DSSI into their structures—as long as they can keep them upright at the same time.

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U2’s 360-Degree Tour Stage Will Become a Utah Aquarium Attraction
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LLPA

The immense stage that accompanied U2 on the band’s 360° Tour from 2009 to 2011 is getting an unexpected second life as a Utah educational attraction. It will soon be installed over a new plaza at the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium outside Salt Lake City.

The Claw, a 165-foot-tall structure shaped like a large spaceship balanced on four legs—a design inspired by the space-age Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport—was built to house a massive speaker system and cylindrical video screen for the band’s performances. Underneath it, a 360° stage allowed U2 to play to audiences surrounding the structure in all directions. To make it easier to tour 30 different countries with the elaborate system, which took more than a week to put together at each concert location, the band had several versions built.

U2 and its management have been looking for a buyer for the 190-ton structures since the tour ended in 2011, and it seems they have finally found a home for one of them. One of the two remaining Claw structures is coming to the Utah aquarium, where it’s being installed as part of a plaza at the institution’s new, 9-acre Science Learning Campus.

A four-legged, industrial-looking video-and-sound-projection rig rises over a crowd at a concert
The Claw at a Dublin concert in 2009
Kristian Strøbech, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

As the only Claw in the U.S., the alien-looking feat of engineering will be "preserved and sustainably repurposed as a Utah landmark and symbol of science exploration and learning," according to the aquarium's press release. As part of the expansion project, the 2300-square-foot stage system will play host to festivals, movies, and other special events in two venues, one with 7000 seats and the other with 350.

The $25 million Science Learning Campus hasn’t been built yet—construction is starting this fall—so you’ll have to wait awhile to relive your U2 concert experience at the aquarium.

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