Friday, 20 June 2008

Wooden cars

You might have seen the picture of the Japanese wooden electric car in today's Metro newspaper. Not so stylish you are probably thinking, but some people really like to have a car made from wood - like this man from Ukraine.

Well, perhaps that is also a bit too much for most people's tastes. ...but how about cruising around town in one of these...

If you keep your eyes peeled you might still spot an iconic Morris Minor Traveller on a UK road...or one of the wooden framed Morgan sports cars.

You might be thinking the days of wood for making car bodies are long gone, but you could be very wrong. There is a lot of research going on into natural composite materials that use plant fibres and chemicals (including wood) to make materials that have high performance but also better environmental credentials.

Monday, 19 May 2008

The chemistry of wood

This video is all about the chemistry of wood - and contains a lot of cutting edge science. The structures in wood that help determine its properties are tiny - it its only recently that technology has developed to the point were we can measure them and work out what they do. The work means chemists, engineers and foresters working together. This video is also available on the firrs DVD.

Here's another short wood science video that mentions cellulose and lignin - this one is from the History Channel.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

What is civil engineering?

Not many people know much about civil engineers and what they do. They might know that they build bridges and tall buildings but they rarely appreciate exactly how much our lives - and civilisation itself - depends on civil engineering. Much of it we think about - either because we can't see it, or because it works so well we take it for granted.

At the most basic level civil engineering is about providing people with clean water, shelter and sanitation. These things are fundamental to human life and arguably civil engineers have saved more lives than the medical profession.

...but it's more than just that. Civil engineering covers a huge array of disciplines as this video from the Institution of Civil Engineers shows.

You might be thinking, "but what has this got to do with timber?" Well quite a lot as it happens. Timber is one of the few renewable building materials and it becoming increasingly important for larger construction projects as well as for building homes. For this reason, civil engineering degrees are now more likely to include timber as well as steel and concrete (especially the courses we run at Napier). But civil engineering is also needed to create and maintain forests, to prepare the ground, ensure the right amount of water in the soil, and to provide access roads and bridges. In fact, if you've not watched the firrs DVD, you might be surprised to learn that the Forestry Commission employs civil engineers.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Interactive physics (Phun)

There are a few interactive physics games out there, but this one is really excellent. You can read about it and download a beta version of the software at You can build all sorts of machines and structures.

Monday, 10 March 2008

why wood : what wood

Last week I gave a presentation it the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining in London, which was part of their Materials and Design Exchange (MADE). This was intended as an introduction to wood as a material and used some of the videos made for the firrs project. You can download a pdf copy of my presentation, with a few notes on what I said, here.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Anaglyph for 3D video

Anaglyph is the technical name for a technique of making images that have a stereoscopic 3D effect - so rather than appearing flat like a picture they appear to have depth like objects in the real world.

The anaglyph technique uses glasses with coloured filters to make it so that each eye sees a slightly different view. You can read up on how they work and how to make them yourself on Wikipedia. It's actually quite easy with modern technology, but the technique is quite an old one.

There are applications outside entertainment, and anaglyphs can be used help visualisation in science and design. Examples include viewing microscope images and models of chemicals. You can see some anaglyph photographs in the 3D gallery on the firrs webpage.

This video is mainly a bit of fun, but it shows how the anaglyph technique can be used in moving images. You can watch a much higher quality version here.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Is it wood, is it bricks or is it lego?

Time to practice your French with this post. One of the big new things coming over from continental Europe is "massive wood construction". This is an extension of the idea of a traditional log cabin - in which the walls are solid wood - but updated with modern hi-tech manufacturing methods. So instead of irregular round logs you have nice regular building blocks.

This provides very good insulation keeping the heat in and the noise from outside out. It's also greener than conventional fired clay bricks - which require more energy to make and produce more carbon dioxide in the process.

Obviously it requires an awful lot of wood, but the good thing is that cheaper, low quality, wood can be used. As there is so much of it, the force is shared over a bigger area, meaning it doesn't have to be nearly as strong or as stiff as the wood used in a timber frame building.

You might see this type of construction more often in the next few years for buildings like schools and hotels.

The first video is an explanation (in French) of one particular system of massive wood construction (there are others). Notice the computer controlled robotic cutting and drilling machines. Wood manufacturing really is like this in the 21st century.

The second video, which has no sound, shows the same system being used to actually construct a building. Notice how accurately the pieces fit together thanks to the precision manufacturing.