Metro Science: Plastic bobsled tracks, MASH for ants, and giving praise to metallurgy
Ultra high molecular weight polyethylene is the name of the fake ice game.
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Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga made history this Olympics as the first African bobsled team in the Games. Like counterparts luge and skeleton, the sport is dominated by athletes from colder climates. But engineer Jan-Anders Mansson is working on a plastic track that he says will even the playing field, save the environment, and cut costs.
Ultra high molecular weight polyethylene is the name of the fake ice game. It is a super dense, high mass plastic that resists abrasion and absorption.
It gets its strength partly from its long, overlapping molecular chains that all align in the same direction. With few to no gaps between molecules, it can carry force from molecule to molecule without buckling.
The strength also makes it difficult to mould. It needs extremely high temperatures to become viscose enough to form into a bendy track.
Fake hips, dump truck liners and the bottom of racing skis employ the stuff already.
A layer of mist atop the plastic creates a surface comparable to ice for bobsled, luge and skeleton blades, Mansson told engineering.com, with sleds on test tracks clocking 100 km/h. (Bobsleds currently average 135 km/h.)
Eighteen artificial ice tracks exist in the world today. Based on the 2006 Turin Games, they cost about $100 million to build, and $1 million to maintain, according to Scientific American.
It costs $5 million to build a plastic track, according to Mansson.
The change from artificially-maintained ice to a polyethylene track could reduce environmental impacts by up to 70 per cent, including greenhouse gas emissions, Mansson told Newsweek.
Next steps: The speed and resilience is there, but steering and control has yet to be studied closely.
SCIENCE NEWS: I ant fakin'
A study of Matabele ants in sub-Saharan Africa found that the insects triage and medevac colony mates wounded while on termite hunts. The ants tend to leave the more gravely injured behind, judging by the number of legs remaining and pheromones. So if an injured ant overplays his wounds and gets left behind, the fakers must haul themselves home.
SOUND SMART: Annealing
Definition: Annealing is a heat treatment that can change the physical and chemical properties of a material, like a metal, to make it more pliable.
Use it in a sentence: Andrea Rose was so in awe at the Janet Jackson concert she was annealing in praise.