Cool party trick: Van Arsdell's coffee cup stirling engine kit.
With the potential to achieve much higher efficiencies and run cleaner than internal combustion engines, Stirling engines—which use an external heat source to perform work—have long been a source of fascination for engineers. In fact, when Aeronautical Engineer Brent Van Arsdell first saw a friend of his running a Stirling engine on a bowlful of ice cubes, his first thought was, "I've got to build one myself." Since then, he has come up with ten different engine designs and "probably assembled a couple thousand engines by hand." And, he has made it his mission to educate the world about this unique engine design. Plus, he gets to show people the Ideal Gas Law in action! His company, American Stirling ( www.stirlingengine.com), develops Stirling engines for the educational market as well as demonstration kits. His most popular item: The MM-5 Coffee Cup Engine Kit, which includes all the components needed to build an engine that operates at 250 rpm on a Starbucks' espresso or 100 rpm on a bowl of Cherry Garcia ice cream. It's a great party trick, he says. As far as practical use, Van Arsdell says that his engines put out only a tiny amount of power—anywhere from 2 to 30 mW. The problem, says Van Arsdell: It's difficult to build a Stirling engine that puts out a high power density, and the cost would be prohibitive for many mainstream applications. In fact, if you know of a small Stirling engine that is cost-competitive with gas or diesel engines on a per kW-basis, Van Arsdell would like to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More often than not, with the purchase of a sports car comes the sacrifice of any sort of utility. In other words, you can forget about a large trunk, extra seats for the kids, and more importantly driving in snowy (or inclement) weather. But what if there was a vehicle that offered the best of both worlds; great handling and practicality?
Science fiction author Isaac Asimov may have the best rules for effective brainstorming and creativity. His never-before-published essay, "On Creativity," recently made it to the Web pages of MIT Technology Review.
Much has been made over the potentially dangerous flammability of lithium-ion batteries after major companies like Boeing, Sony, and Tesla have grappled with well-publicized battery fires. Researchers at Stanford University may have come up with a solution to this problem with a smart sensor for lithium-ion batteries that provides a warning if the battery is about to overheat or catch fire.
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