Friday, 22 June 2012

Safety disadvantage of Plastic houses

Letter to the Editor of The Independent. Sent on 22 Jun 2012


Dear Sir,

EFTE roofs used in the Eden Project (wikipedia)
In your article "Here's one I won earlier" (21 Jun 2012), Alex Aldridge describes the winning idea of "Plastic houses" (eco homes with ETFE roofs) at the European Inventor Awards. He mentions its three main advantages (energy efficiency, blasts resistant, and light weight) but only two minor disadvantages (easy to cut through, noisy in rain).
He forgot to mention the most important of the disadvantages that happens to cancel one of advantages: while EFTE might be suited to resist terrorist bomb blasts, it definitely cannot resist fire. Moreover, it feeds to it as EFTE is a flammable material.

This brings bad news to plastic housing from a safety perspective.

Best Regards,
Dr Guillermo Rein
Senior Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering
Imperial College London

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Inside peer review: a (top science)^3 case

I just found a very interesting exercise of transparency in peer review on a top scientific topic (climate change) in a top scientific journal (PNAS) by a top researcher (Prof Lindzen, MIT). Note that Prof Lindzen portrays a minority scientific view, he thinks climate change forecasts are uncertain and might be overestimating warming:


I found this after reading the NYT article "Clouds’ Effect on Climate Change Is Last Bastion for Dissenters" by J Gillis, April 30, 2012.

Disclaimer: I post this becuase it is a very interesting and unique case of how peer review works inside a top journal (for good and for bad). This does not mean I support Prof Lindzen's scientific work (my expertise is in fire dynamics).

Monday, 4 June 2012

What is a flame?

The Flame Challenge is a competition set up online by actor Alan Alda to explain the science of a flame to a jury of 11-year-old students. Quite a science communication task. The winner (and six finalists) were announced recently: congratulations to Ben Ames, University of Innsbruck. This is his winning video:

The science content is spot on, and the format of the explanation very original. If you have an 11-year old nearby, ask to confirm the appeal of the entry. It looks very convincing to me but I am 2.36 times too old for that. Well done Ben.

The organizers are now asking kids age 10-12 to propose the next question for the Flame Challenge. Stay tuned.

This reminds me of the famous lectures of Faraday given in 1860's to kids/juveniles in London on a very similar theme, The Chemical history of a Candle.