Innovations

-- Engineers at Pennsylvania State University have been using a series of sensors connected to cell phones to tell them when concrete has set and is ready for use. Concrete generates heat as it "cures," or sets, then cools down naturally. When the cement reaches a certain temperature, the sensor dials through a cellular network to notify the engineers. This is a big improvement over current methods, which demand that for load-bearing structures, several test versions of each structure be poured and then analyzed for their curing characteristics.

-- Heavy metals, noxious liquids, and even pools of acid that pollute groundwater are common by-products of mining. Thanks to a new system, however, it may be possible to control formation of sulfuric acid, which occurs when sulfide-bearing mine wastes react with oxygen. Australia's Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organization has a low-cost probe that keeps tabs on oxygen levels in these sulfurous wastes, reducing the need for costly manual inspections. The sensors can be hooked to phone lines to automatically alert engineers of a developing acid problem.

By Adam Aston

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