Biomimetics and Biomimicry in Engineering

Posts Tagged ‘volcano’

Ultrasonics and volcanic ashes

In Comment, Info on 2010/05/08 at 6:00 pm

Prof Juan A. Gallego-Juárez is the director of the Power Ultrasonics Group – CSIC ( at the Institute of Acoustics, Spanish National Research Council) and a world expert in that field. He led a research project at the Joint Institute of Research – Institute of Transuranium Elements in Karlsruhe (Germany) in the ’80s for the development of a technology that eliminates micro-metre sized particles suspended in the atmosphere. The technique is simple in principle: ultrasonic cavitation provokes that those little particles vibrate and clash, therefore aggregate and, because their sizes are larger (and heavier), they precipitate (by themselves or scrubbed by rain).

Their subject of study on those days was the uranium particles brushing across Europe from Russia, generated at the Chernobyl disaster. Prof Gallego-Juárez tells me that they developed theoretical and experimental models in a 15 cubic metre room. The full scale application was only left: the attachment of their airborne PZT generators to little remote-controlled planes that could fly through the plume and irradiate the ultrasound to precipitate the radioactive particles. Their research took about 4 years to be completed, and by the time they were ready to move on to the final phase, most people had forgotten about Chernobyl (media, especially) and it was no longer prioritary. They did not manage to secure the research money.

The end of April and the start of May 2010 has been unforgettable for many. The Icelandic volcano has upset so many travellers’ plans and is putting an almost unbearable financial strain on airlines. The volcanic ashes is landing planes and frustrating people. Some newspapers (and other media) wonder what scientist could do to help. Prof Gallego-Juárez tells me that Spanish press has been particularly bitter about the ‘passive role’ that scientist adopt in the icelandic volcano issue.

He has written a letter to the 4 major newspapers in Spain explaining that, despite the technology being available since the 80’s, there was a political decision behind stopping further development that could have benefited us all in this case, or in more to come.

You can find the original letter (in Spanish) here, and translated to English here.

This reflection leads me to think that it is of great importance to appoint politicians with a scientific/engineering background, so they can understand that science does not work with short-sighted decisions or by following the trends that media establishes.