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Geek-Up[05.06.2011]: Engines, Quasars and Maps

May 6, 2011 - 5:24pm

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A slice through the three-dimensional map of the universe. | Photo Courtesy of  A. Slosar and the SDSS-III collaboration.

A slice through the three-dimensional map of the universe. | Photo Courtesy of A. Slosar and the SDSS-III collaboration.

Beyond inventing the gasoline engine and diesel engine, Nikolaus Otto and Rudolf Diesel left us with a challenge. The fact is while a typical gas engine is only about 20 percent efficient (compared to diesel engines that can reach 40 percent efficiency), gasoline engines are cleaner than diesel ones. At Argonne National Laboratory, mechanical engineer Steve Ciatti is out to solve the challenge -- building a gasoline-diesel engine. To do this, Ciatti’s team headed to the dynamometer lab at Argonne’s Transportation Technology R&D Center. The dynamometer tests engine performance in different cars and measures emissions.

The result, so far, is cleaner than a diesel engine and almost twice as efficient as a typical gas engine. But there’s a catch -- at peak power (when you push the pedal to the floor) the engine provides about 75 percent of typical power levels.

Ciatti explained, “But if you don’t drive pedal to the metal this won’t affect the car’s performance. It’s excellent in the power range where most people actually drive.”

Moving forward, Ciatti and his team are collaborating with General Motors to make the engine predictable and reliable to the point it can be successful in a commercial vehicle.

Check out more on this GM-Argonne collaboration here.


Earlier this week, scientists from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS-III) international collaboration announced that they have created the largest 3D map of the distant universe by using the light of quasars to illuminate clouds of intergalactic hydrogen. The map provides an unprecedented view of what the universe looked like 11 billion years ago.

Quasars, brilliantly luminous beacons powered by giant black holes, are bright enough to be seen billions of light years from Earth. As light from a quasar travels the long journey to Earth it passes through clouds of intergalactic hydrogen gas that absorb light a specific wavelengths. An observation of a single quasar gives a map of the hydrogen in the director of the quasar.

Physicist Anze Slosar from Brookhaven National Laboratory explained, “When we use moonlight to look at clouds in the atmosphere, we only have one moon. But if we had 14,000 moons all over the sky, we could look at the light blocked by clouds in front of all of them, much like what we can see during the day. We don’t just get many small pictures -- you get the big picture.”

Read more on how 14,000 quasars helped create the largest 3D map here.

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