An uncrewed ocean mapping vehicle has discovered a seamount taller than the Burj Khalifa. Credit: Saildrone / Wikimedia Commons

A seamount taller than any skyscraper

Although the ocean covers around 71% of the Earth's surface and is the largest ecosystem on the planet, it is still largely unknown to humans. Several missions are underway to unlock its secrets One of them has found something remarkable: an underwater mountain taller than any skyscraper.

ISABEL RUBIO ARROYO | Tungsteno

 

Only 5% of the ocean has been explored and mapped by humans, according to UNESCOAn autonomous ocean mapping vehicle has identified a previously unidentified seamount that is larger than the tallest building on Earth. These geological formations could serve as a reference point for different habitats and the search for previously unknown life. What is known about this mysterious mountain, taller than the Burj Khalifa?

 

A giant mountain hidden under the sea

 

The vehicle in question is called the Saildrone Surveyor, and it has spent several months surveying Alaska's Aleutian Islands and areas off the coast of California. In total, it has surveyed more than 45,000 square kilometres of ocean floor, even in 35-knot winds and waves of more than five metres. These conditions would have been "too challenging for most crewed survey vessels," according to Saildrone.

One of the most striking findings is a previously unknown seamount off the coast of California that is around 1,000 metres high. This underwater mountain is therefore taller than the world's tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. At over 828 metres tall and 160 storeys, the structure holds several world records. As well as being the tallest building on the planet, it has the world's highest open-air observation deck and the elevator with the longest travel distance in the world.

 


 

The Saildrone Surveyor is the world´s largest uncrewed ocean mapping vehicle. Credit: Saildrone

 

An unexplored seafloor

 

"Identifying such seamounts improves our understanding of the physical processes of the ocean and identifies areas needing further exploration as unique habitats," says Saildrone. The US Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which extends from the coast to 200 nautical miles from the shore, is one of the largest in the world, but much of it remains unmapped, unobserved and unexplored. "In terms of area, Alaska is by far the least mapped region of the US EEZ," says Saildrone.

Aurora Elmore, Cooperative Institute Manager at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ocean Exploration, says that every American, in one way or the other, depends on the ocean: "From protein from fish to feed animals or humans, to deep-sea cables that make the Internet possible. The only way the US can maximise our ocean resources is to understand what's there," she says.

During the mission, the Surveyor also carried technology from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) to collect environmental DNA. "Outfitted with the Environmental Sample Processor, a groundbreaking "lab in a can," the Surveyor was able to collect important clues about marine biodiversity and ocean health from the genetic "fingerprints" left behind by marine life," says Saildrone. But no specific details are offered.

 

The Surveyor aims to unlock the deepest secrets of the ocean. Credit: Saildrone.

 

Unique ecosystems on the ocean floor

 

The Saildrone Surveyor mission is funded by NOAA and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. It is the first step in mapping the seafloor of key regions in Aleutian waters at high resolution. Elmore says the advantage of the Surveyor "is getting that initial exploration step done faster, cheaper, and without as much staff."

But Saildrone is not the only project of its kind. The crew of the Schmidt Ocean Institute's research vessel Falkor (too) is also trying to unravel the mystery of the ocean floor, and has discovered several giant seamounts. "A map is a fundamental tool for understanding our planeta”locating seamounts almost always leads us to understudied biodiversity hotspots," says Jyotika Virmani, Executive Director of Schmidt Ocean Institute. "Each time we find these bustling seafloor communities, we make incredible new discoveries and advance our knowledge of life on Earth," she says.

 


 

Seamounts can host biodiversity hotspots. Credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute.

 

Many details about the seamounts are still unknown. But their discovery raises many questions: from how they were formed, to what kind of marine life lives on them, how they impact ocean currents, and even whether they could be a source of mineral resources. As Jamie McMichael-Phillips, project director of Seabed 2030, points out, "with 75% of the ocean still to be mapped, there is so much to be uncovered. Ocean mapping is crucial to our understanding of the planet and, in turn, our ability to ensure its protection and sustainable management."


Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation.

The walls of Avila are among the best preserved in the world. Credit: José Luis Cernadas Iglesias / Flickr

Three of the most impressive city walls in the world

Walls have played a very important role in human history. As well as protecting cities and their inhabitants, they have symbolised power and prestige and facilitated trade. We explore the history of some of the most impressive city walls on the planet.

ISABEL RUBIO ARROYO | Tungsteno

 

The most famous wall in the world is probably the Great Wall of China. If this fortification stand out for anything, it’s for its stratospheric dimensions. It has thousands of watchtowers and collectively stretches more than 21,000 kilometres in length, which is almost twice the diameter of the Earth and half its circumference.

But this is not the only impressive wall on the planet. Many other walls surround cities and leave visitors speechless, including Avila in Spain, Ston in Croatia and Carcassonne in France.

 

The walls of Ávila

 

The walls of Ávila are among the best preserved in the world. They have a perimeter of 2,516 metres and have 87 semi-circular towers or turrets, nine gates and 2,500 merlons (vertical projections). This ancient megastructure built in a city in the centre of Spain with a population of around 60,000, has a history of more than 2,000 years. Excavations show that walls were first built in the 1st century AD, when the area is thought to have been inhabited by both the Vettones and the Romans.

The walls have undergone several reconstructions, such as those ordered by Alfonso VI (1048-1109) after the conquest of Toledo, and those ordered by Alfonso VIII (1155-1214), which are the walls that have survived to the present day. According to the Ávila tourism websiteat that time the town needed to defend itself.

"In the 16th century, they continued to fulfil the functions of health security and economic control, and reforms were carried out to repair them, but once the danger of war had disappeared, it was decided to dismantle of the additional defences (such as the barbican and the moat), which proved ineffective in the face of the military machinery of the time," they add.

At the end of the 19th century, some intellectual circles were in favour of demolishing the walls, as was being done in other European cities, as they were considered an obstacle to urban development. But the city council was determined to preserve them. The walls were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985, along with the old town and several churches outside the walls. Today, 1,700 metres of this megastructure can be visited.

 

The walls of Ávila measure 2,516 metres long and have 87 towers and nine gates. Credit: Come to Spain

 

The city walls of Ston

 

The city walls of Ston consist of the main walls and three forts, 41 towers, seven bastions, four pre-walls and a water-filled moat that extends around some of the edges. Construction began in the early 16th century in this maritime town in southern Croatia. "It took almost four centuries to finish these complex defence walls, as the builders had to adapt to the rough terrain and advancements in warfare technology," explains the official Dubrovnik heritage website.

The constant threat to the inhabitants of Dubrovnik prompted them to start building defensive walls in 1333. This construction was to become the second longest wall in Europe, after Hadrian's Wall. These walls were last used for defensive purposes in the 19th century, and are now a popular tourist destination of incalculable architectural and cultural value.

 

The walls of Ston are the second longest in Europe. Credit: Explore Croatia

 

The ramparts of the city of Carcassonne

 

Among the best-preserved medieval fortifications are the city walls of Carcassonne in France. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, this city looks like something out of a medieval fantasy novel, according to the French National Monuments Centre. "Between the 3rd and 5th centuries, Carcassonne was attacked by Visigoths, Saracens and Franks. As a result, the city was equipped with a Gallo-Roman enclosure, featuring horseshoe-shaped towers and wide bays," they say.

In the 13th century, Carcassonne was once again besieged, this time during the bloody crusade against the Albigensians. In order to reinforce its strategic position, an extensive 1,600 metres long outer rampart was built. It was at this time that the town took on its present appearance. During the reigns of Philip III the Bold and Philip IV the Fair, the fortifications were modernised. The walls were fitted with loopholes for crossbow firing and new gates were built. Today, the two concentric walls have a total of three kilometres of ramparts and 52 towers. The views from the top are breathtaking. They include a unique panorama of the medieval town, the vineyards and the Pyrenees.

 

Carcassonne is surrounded by a double medieval wall. Credit: Wonderliv travel.

 

These are just some of the most impressive city walls in the world. Others such as the walls of Cartagena de Indias in Colombia, York city walls in the UK, or Itchan Kala in Uzbekistan should also be on this list. All of them have unique characteristics but were built with the same purpose: to protect the cities and their inhabitants from external attack.

 


Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation.

Smart Geolocation in the Tunnels and Galleries of Langosteira

The intricate tunnel network requires the installation of a communication system that enables remote control and the implementation of an access and control system for workers.

The project to develop the railway access to the Exterior port of Langosteira (A Coruña), which began in 2022 and is due to finish in 2026, includes the construction of 6.7 km of railway tracks, 5.3 km of which run through tunnels.

This project was awarded to the joint venture comprising Sacyr Engineering and Infrastructure, Cavosa, and Construcciones y Obras Taboada Ramos by ADIF. It has a 48-month execution period and will be financed with Next Generation EU funds.

This link serves as a single-track railway platform for Iberian gauge cars and a maximum speed of 100 km/h. It stretches along a main axis of 5,573 meters, including three tunnels.

The intricate tunnel network requires the installation of a communication system that enables remote control and the implementation of an access and control system for workers.

Tunnel 1 has six access points. "We have designed a system that allows simultaneous communication and interconnected control of all accesses," explains Carlos Balado, Project and Site Manager.

Tunnel 2 connects the Suevos area with the inner zone of the Outer Port of A Coruña, spanning 747 meters.

To meet the requirements of this project, we have applied smart technologies to always monitor activity at the infrastructure.

A system has been implemented with an access controller that manages tamper-proof TCP communications and allows for offline operations; an IP card reader resistant to weather conditions connected to the controller, and access control software installed in the control room for all equipment.

 


 

All workers are provided with a tag that provides data through readers about their entry, exit, or location along the tunnels and galleries.

Furthermore, as a new feature, we have implemented a communications system based on the deployment of WIFI inside the tunnels and galleries, allowing for instantaneous communication with the port police's access control points.

A predefined alarm management system is also incorporated to detect the absence of staff at a certain time or to ensure that the number of people does not exceed the established limit.

The features of the proposed technology allow for connectivity and data traffic between two collateral base stations in the event of optic fiber breakage.
 

Five ways to improve fire prevention security measures

We believe that we need to take further steps to reduce these accidents, and we propose to implement a package of measures.

Ramón Sánchez Fernández
Director for Building Engineering 
Engineering and Infrastructure

 

In recent weeks, we have witnessed true tragedies in Spain with several fires in buildings as protagonists. On February 19, we learned of the death of three elderly women from smoke inhalation and burns of varying degrees due to fire at a seniors home. The investigation seems to point to the most probable cause of the fire being the explosion of a battery or electrical failure in the room where they were sleeping. However, it is suspected that fire protection and evacuation measures did not function properly, leading to this tragic ending.


On February 22, we witnessed the total combustion of two apartment buildings in Valencia in the span of just a few hours, with the sad result of 10 deaths and 138 homes consumed by flames.

The causes of the fire are unknown, but what we do know so far is that it spread very rapidly through the ventilated outer walls, also aided by the supply of oxygen provided by the strong winds that day. These events make us think that something is failing in our building stock. According to the report "Fire Victims in Spain in 2022" by APTB and the Mapfre Foundation, in that year there were 33,000 fires (requiring firefighter mobilization) in buildings in Spain, setting a record of 214 deaths, of which 176 occurred in homes.

This statistic draws attention to the number of deaths in homes, where typically -and inexplicably-, there are no fire detection systems. These systems are only installed in garages or high-risk premises. Half of the victims in care homes are senior residents, the living room is the riskiest area, and the most frequent cause of death is smoke inhalation. Secondly, unfortunately, nursing homes appear, with 16 deaths in 2022. The fire protection measures required for these types of facilities should be the same as those for a hospital, as both infrastructures are occupied by people who mostly require attention.

Among these measures are the installation of smoke detectors in rooms, portable fire extinguishers no less than 15 meters away, and manual alarm buttons in corridors and circulation areas. In high-risk areas, there are additional detection and extinguishing measures. Experience shows us that these measures are very useful in hospitals but insufficient in the case of nursing homes, whose residents have especially reduced mobility and lower cognitive abilities.

Finally, data show that in other buildings where fire protection measures are more sophisticated (automatic fire detection and extinguishing, alarms connected to firefighters), the number of victims is very low (five deaths in 2022), although the risks are high. For all these reasons, at Sacyr, we believe that we need to take further steps to reduce these accidents, and we propose to implement a package of measures:

1.    In nursing homes, install automatic detection and sprinkler systems. Ensure that proper system maintenance is carried out.
2.    In newly built residential buildings, regardless of the building's height, install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors inside the homes, as well as manual extinguishers on all floors.
3.    In existing homes, install smart smoke and carbon monoxide sensors. Use NextGen funds to expand these systems.
4.    Identify ventilated facades with insulating materials that react to fire. In these buildings, proceed to modify the facade or install automatic detection and extinguishing systems.
5.    Simplify and unify the vast amount of fire regulations that exist with the aim of conveying to the sector the importance of active and passive fire protection measures.

We need to make an effort to reduce the number of fire victims in our country.
 

China has built the JF-22 hypersonic wind tunnel. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

World's fastest hypersonic wind tunnel

From designing return capsules for lunar missions to venturing into unknown atmospheres with interstellar exploration spacecraft, the journey of aerospace innovation is marked by a common thread: thousands of tests conducted in hypersonic wind tunnels.

ISABEL RUBIO ARROYO | Tungsteno

 

China claims to now have the world's most powerful wind tunnel. The stated goal of this cutting-edge facility is to contribute to a wide range of missions, including lunar expeditions with Chinese astronauts and the development of hypersonic aircraft able to reach anywhere on the planet within an hour. 

We explore the wonders of this tunnel, which can simulate extreme flight conditions up to 30 times the speed of sound.

 

Flying at record speed

 

The tunnel is called JF-22 and is located in Sichuan, southern China. Construction began in 2018 and was completed in August 2021. "(We) have built the world’s largest free-piston driven expansion tube wind tunnel with high enthalpy," said researchers at the Hypervelocity Aerodynamics Institute, as reported by the South China Morning Post.

The Institute of Mechanics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in Beijing announced in June 2023 that its new JF-22 hypervelocity wind tunnel had passed an "acceptance check" and was ready for general use.

The tunnel spans 167 metres in length and can generate airflow velocities ranging from 2.5 to 11.5 kilometres per second.

 The facility’s owners claim that it can simulate hypersonic flight conditions up to Mach 30, or 30 times the speed of sound. With a generous diameter of four metres, the tunnel accommodates larger objects for more accurate flight data.

As noted by Interesting Engineering: "The diameter of an intercontinental missile is also four metres, so researchers could practically put an entire missile inside and test the impact of sending it at speeds much higher than Mach 5."

 

The JF-22 can simulate airflow speeds up to Mach 30. Credit: Defense Formation.

 

The challenges of hypersonic flight

 

Wind tunnels are typically used to test new aircraft, missile and spacecraft designs. Some of the most powerful tunnels, apart from the one mentioned above, are NASA’s Hypersonic Tunnel Facility in the United States, which can reach speeds up to Mach 7, and the one at NASA Langley Research Center, which can achieve up to Mach 10.

The team behind the JF-22 claims that it can be used for various engineering projects, "such as the return capsule of the lunar landing project, entry into an alien atmosphere with an interstellar exploration aircraft and the development of hypersonic vehicles, such as scramjet-powered aircraft."

The first hypersonic flight took place in 1947, led by American pilot Chuck Yeager, a distinguished fighter pilot in the Second World War. Yeager conducted numerous tests with various aircraft until he accomplished the feat of breaking the sound barrier. 

Subsequently, the aviation industry witnessed the development of increasingly advanced aircraft. Among them was the Tupolev Tu-144, hailed as the world's premier supersonic airliner. Its unveiling in 1968 marked a significant milestone in aviation history, particularly for the Soviet Union.

To achieve success, these aircraft needed to surmount various hurdles. Breaking the sound barrier often resulted in a thunderous sonic boom, creating significant noise pollution.

Additionally, the challenge of affordability was always an issue. Nowadays, supersonic flight remains predominantly within the realm of military aircraft, exemplified by the F-18 fighter jet.


 

The fascination with speed and space exploration has driven mankind to develop hypersonic aircraft and spacecraft. Credit: MSGT Ken Hammond

 

From hypersonic aircraft to spacecraft

 

While hypersonic aircraft are designed to fly within the Earth's atmosphere, there are craft designed to travel into space. In fact, the goal of the JF-22 wind tunnel is to "accelerate the development of a space-to-earth shuttle system," Jiang Zonglin, a researcher at the Institute of Mechanics and project manager of the wind tunnel, tells the Asia Times website. "If successful, the facility can also help reduce the cost of launching satellites and spacecraft by 90%."

Besides the inefficiency of conventional engines at hypersonic speeds, the transition in and out of the atmosphere at such velocities results in exceedingly high temperatures.

Therefore, it is essential to develop materials and thermal protection systems that can withstand these harsh conditions. It is still too early to say whether this tunnel will have a significant impact on the development of hypersonic technologies in the coming years. 

Nevertheless, it is evident that wind tunnels like JF-22 serve as invaluable tools for simulating the extreme conditions of hypersonic flight, allowing engineers to test and refine their designs without endangering lives or spacecraft.


Tungsteno es un laboratorio periodístico que explora la esencia de la innovación.

Belgium wants to build the world's first artificial energy island. Credit: Elia

An artificial island in the sea for a greener future?

Belgium has a solution for making the most of the energy from offshore wind farms: building the world's first artificial energy island. The country wants to connect offshore wind farms to the mainland with a pioneering hub in the sea.

ISABEL RUBIO ARROYO | Tungsteno

 

Construction of the world's first artificial energy island looks set to begin. At the end of 2023, Belgian transmission system operator Elia announced that it had received the environmental permit to launch the projectThe planned new island, called Princess Elisabeth Island, will be an energy hub 45 kilometres off the Belgian coast, connecting new offshore wind farms to Belgium's onshore power grid.

 

Turning the seas into the "power plants of the future"

 

In December 2022, the Belgian federal government granted the project 99.7 million euros from the European Union's Recovery & Resilience Facility. According to Elia, the company behind the initiative, construction will commence early this year and last until August 2026. The island will be made of sand and surrounded by an outer perimeter of concrete caissons. Its surface area above the waterline will cover six hectares, and its total area on the seabed will extend to a maximum of 25 hectares (the equivalent of 37.5 football pitches).

The island will be located in the North Sea and will allow Belgium to access energy produced by nearby offshore wind farms, trade renewable energy with other countries and increase Europe's interconnection. Europe's seas "are becoming the power plants of the future," says Nicolas Beck, Elia's head of community relations.

 

The island will connect new wind farms to Belgium's onshore electricity grid. Credit: Elia

 

The impact of the island on the health of the North Sea

 

The construction of an artificial island can have a significant impact on marine ecosystems. This depends on a number of factors, such as the geographical location, the size of the island and the construction methods used. In addition to the fact that it may involve the destruction of the marine ecosystem and affect fish stocks and other marine species that depend on that habitat for their survival, it could also affect the natural flow of water and ocean currents.

The Belgian authorities have recognised that new construction and installation plans cannot afford to ignore marine life, both above and below the water. In response to these concerns, Elia says it has opted for a "nature-inclusive design" that will seek to protect and even enhance the biodiversity of the area. "Elia want to minimise the disruptive effects the island will have on the surrounding marine environment at the same time as embedding real ecological and environmental value into its project," the company says.

To this end, they have taken a number of measures. "Ledges attached to the outer storm walls will provide somewhere for the black-legged kittiwake, a vulnerable bird species, to rest and breed," says the company, which also aims to create a rich and diverse artificial reef below the waterline. For example, it will install relief panels at each of the four corners of the island. These panels will provide a three-dimensional structure to which smaller marine organisms can attach, "creating a microhabitat for marine life".


 

Elia has received the necessary environmental permits to build the island. Credit: Elia

It is still too early to know with certainty how the construction of this artificial island will impact the marine habitat and to what extent it will become a crucial node for offshore wind energy in Belgium and Europe. Elia, which aims to connect the full capacity of new wind farms to its grid by 2030, insists that one thing is clear: "Only through the quick and extensive development of offshore wind will Europe be able to reach net zero emissions by 2050."


Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation.

There is a debate about the viability and sustainability of marine mining. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The environmental dilemma of marine mining

Norway has a reputation for environmental leadership, but its decision to approve seabed mining exploration has drawn widespread criticism. Much of the scientific community warns that the practice will lead to the destruction of ecosystems.

ISABEL RUBIO ARROYO | Tungsteno

 

In early January 2024, Norway became the first country in the world to approve seabed mining exploration. The aim is to accelerate the search for metals and minerals essential to the green technology industry. This decision has disappointed many scientists and environmental organisations who believe that it will irreversibly damage biodiversity and ecosystems.

 

Extracting metals and minerals from the seabed

 

Deep-sea mining is the practice of extracting metals and minerals from the seabed. "The world needs minerals in the transition to a low-emission society," says the Norwegian government. The vote in Norway opens the door to "sustainable and responsible" exploration in an area of 281,000 square kilometres, roughly the size of Italy. Commercial-scale mining will require a further parliamentary vote.

Astrid Bergmål, state secretary at the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, told the scientific journal Nature that the vote "does not mean extraction starts" immediately. "We have to collect more information before we can take a decision about extracting these minerals. That is what this opening is all about. It is not the same as approving extraction," Norwegian Energy Minister Terje Aasland told CNBC.

Maria Varteressian, Norway's deputy foreign minister, agrees: "Minerals will be a critical component in the new energy systems so the main question is not whether we need the minerals or not, the important question is can we produce them in a sustainable way." Several scientists have criticised the Norwegian government's decision, pointing out that it goes against the advice of the Norwegian Environment Agency, the scientific advisors of the Ocean Panel and other researchers.

 

Norway is looking for ways to obtain essential minerals for manufacturing batteries and green technologies. Credit: France 24 English

 

An "irresponsible" decision for the planet

 

"Researchers are both baffled and deflated by the decision," says an editorial published in NatureSome experts point out that too much is still unknown about deep-sea ecosystems. They believe that exploiting them without a full understanding of their fragility could have devastating consequences.

Anne-Sophie Roux, European deep-sea mining lead at the Sustainable Ocean Alliance, considers Norway's decision "irresponsible" and "puts a nail in the coffin" of the country's proclaimed role as a climate leader. "The goal of any exploration activities should be to better understand the scale of the environmental threats deep-sea mining poses—not to justify a practice we know will have vast negative impacts on marine life and the planet’s health," she told CNBC.

The argument that deep sea mining can be done sustainably goes against the broad consensus of the scientific literature, according to the expert: "There is no way to sustainably mine the deep sea in our current day and age, as it would inevitably lead to ecosystem destruction, species extinction, various sources of pollution and disruption of the climate ecosystemic services of the ocean."

 

Deep-sea mining is the practice of extracting metals and minerals from the seafloor. Credit: MIT Mechanical Engineering

 

The uncertain future of deep-sea mining

 

In addition to the fact that deep-sea mining can cause irreversible damage to biodiversity and ecosystems, it can also affect the fishing industry, create sediment plumes, damage the seabed and increase pollution. Several scientists also question the arguments that such mining will boost Norway’s economy, and that land-based supplies of metals such as manganese and cobalt (which are used in batteries and other electronics) are insufficient to support the transition to a low-carbon economy.

While Norway has a reputation for environmental leadership, its stance on environmental mining has drawn sharp criticism from much of the scientific community. "Norway’s about-face isn’t just a setback for the country’s sustainability efforts; it undermines the progress and the credibility of the Ocean Panel [a global alliance of national leaders that aims to promote the sustainable use of the oceans]," says the Nature editorial. It remains to be seen whether the government will allow deep-sea mining to move beyond the exploration phase and whether it becomes an important part of the Norwegian economy.

 


Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation.

Florence Knoll left an indelible mark on the world of design. Credit: Knoll

The mother of modern office furniture

Florence Knoll claimed that she never set out to design furniture. She said she designed "the fill-in pieces that no one else was doing." This philosophy, born of necessity and innovation, led her to create some of the most iconic pieces of modern office furniture.

ISABEL RUBIO ARROYO | Tungsteno

 

Behind the sleek, modern look of post-war corporate offices in the United States is a great woman: Florence Knoll, one of the most influential architects in the development of 20th century interior design. We explore the fascinating story of this American whose iconic designs are still commonplace in offices, homes, public spaces and museum collections.

"The fill-in pieces no one else was doing"

Despite being one of the most important furniture designers of her time, she said she never sat down to design furniture: "I designed the fill-in pieces that no one else was doing." By 1950 she had designed more than a third of the 63 products on the Knoll Associates price list. Among her creations is the Lounge Collection, designed in 1954. Her pieces, characterised by clean lines and geometric shapes, are poised on elegant metal frames.

Knoll's designs are frequently featured in international publications and are still available today. In a 1998 article, Vogue praised the Florence Knoll sofa and its transcendence from the confines of a "midtown Manhattan bank president's office with beige wall-to-wall carpeting" to "high-profile" settings such as fashion designer Tom Ford's apartment.

In 1964, The New York Times described Knoll as "the single most powerful figure in the field of modern design." The architect played a pivotal role in transforming Knoll Associates into the largest and most prestigious high-end design firm of its time. She also redefined office design with her innovative concept of "total design." Instead of traditional private offices, she proposed open-plan workspaces that facilitated collaboration and communication.

Knoll is credited with revolutionising modern office design. Credit: Casa Palacio

A new design for offices

"Once upon a time, virtually every big business executive thought his office had to have pale green walls and that his heavy desk with drawers to the floor had to be placed cater-corner [diagonally]," wrote The New York Times 60 years ago. That was until Knoll ushered in an era by proving that an office could be designed rather than decorated.

"I'm not a decorator. The only place I decorate is my own house," she said in an interview with the same newspaper. Knoll opted for vibrant colours and the iconic "Tulip chairs", which offered comfort and style. Chrome-legged desks and oval meeting tables reflected a modern, functional aesthetic. In multi-level interiors, she opted for open-riser staircases that seemed to float in the air.

She also popularised the idea of bringing art into the office. "Knoll was one of the few furniture companies in the United States to showcase contemporary art alongside Modern furniture in its showrooms, creating visual dialogues between unique works of art and mass-produced designs, an affirmation of the company's commitment to Modernism," explains architecture and design magazine Metropolis.

Knoll paid meticulous attention to every detail of the furniture. Credit: Knoll

From wire chair to 'Womb' chair

The architect became a full partner in Knoll Associates after marrying German-born furniture make Hans Knoll in 1946. After her husband's death in a car accident in 1955, she took over as president of the company. She sold her stake in the company in 1960, but continued as design director another five years. During this time, the company became one of the most influential design organisations.

In addition to her leadership, Knoll was also known for nurturing the careers of some of the most celebrated design names of the post-war era. For example, she supported sculptor Harry Bertoia during his two-year research into how to make furniture out of metal. This led to the iconic wire chairs, now regarded as Knoll classics. She asked Eero Saarinen to design a chair "like a great big basket of pillows" that you could curl up in. The result was the Womb chair, which seems to embrace the body.

Knoll died in 2019. Her legacy is reflected not only in her work, but also in the many awards she received. In 1961, she became the first woman to receive the Gold Medal for Industrial Design from the American Institute of Architects. Decades later, in 2003, then US President George W. Bush awarded her the National Medal of Arts, one of the country's highest honours for artistic excellence. The reason: an invaluable legacy in the world of design.

 


Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation.

Climate change will increase the frequency and intensity of droughts in many regions of the planet. Credit: Unsplash

Technologies to mitigate future droughts

Ensuring a stable, high-quality and climate-neutral water supply is one of the great challenges of the 21st century. Here we examine the crucial role that technology plays in the fight against the droughts of the future.

ISABEL RUBIO ARROYO | Tungsteno

 

More than two billion people were living in countries with water shortages in 2021, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The situation will worsen in some regions due to climate change and population growth. 

With technological advances reducing energy costs and environmental impact, desalination is presented as a possible solution to provide drinking water from the sea. To mark World Water Day on 22 March, we look at the most efficient technologies to mitigate the droughts of the future.

 

97% of water is in the ocean

 

Safe and easily accessible water is important for public health, whether it is used for drinking, domestic use, food production or recreation, as the WHO points out. 

"It is necessary to be efficient in the use of water, to reuse every last drop and, finally, to supplement it with desalinated water," says Domingo Zarzo Martínez, president of the Spanish Association of Desalination and Water Reuse (AEDyR) and Director of Innovation and Strategic Projects at Sacyr Agua.

About 97% of the planet’s water is in the ocean, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The remaining 3% is distributed in many different places, including glaciers and ice, below the ground, in rivers and lakes and in the atmosphere. 

Zarzo stresses that "we have an inexhaustible source of water that is not dependent on climatic conditions." "Therefore, the use of non-conventional resources such as desalination and reuse will go a long way towards solving water scarcity problems, and in fact is already doing so in many countries."

 

Intensifying droughts negatively impact water availability and quality. Credit: Sacyr

 

Desalination plants to combat droughts?

 

According to Zarzo, desalination plays a fundamental role in the fight against water scarcity. In countries such as Spain, the implementation of large desalination plants has served to "supply the Mediterranean coast with water in a safe and stable way, not only for the production of drinking water, but also for agricultural and industrial uses.

" Even so, the expert insists that the capacity is not sufficient and that new infrastructure must continue to be planned to meet current and future demand. There are 20,000 desalination plants around the world. Apart from Spain, other countries with large desalination programmes include Israel, Algeria, Australia and Saudi Arabia.

The main advantage of desalination is that it creates a new water resource from the ocean, which is an inexhaustible source and not dependent on the climate. According to Zarzo, desalinated water has "an exceptional quality and purity because the membranes prevent any kind of pollutant from entering it." It is also possible to add minerals, vitamins, electrolytes or any other necessary component to create water that is tailored to any use. In other words, "water à la carte".

"On the other hand, by using desalinated water in cities, the wastewater produced will have better characteristics (including lower salinity) for reuse," he says.

One of the drawbacks of desalinated water is that it can be more expensive than other conventional water sources. "This is a misconception, because with drought and climate change, conventional resources are becoming increasingly depleted and polluted, so these prices will even out," says Zarzo, who stresses that "there is no more expensive water than that which you don't have."


 

Desalination plants use a process called reverse osmosis to remove salt from seawater. Credit: Sacyr Concessions

The challenge of minimising environmental impact

The desalination of seawater produces brine, a liquid with a high concentration of salts and a negative environmental impact. "One of the aspects that most concerns the population is the discharge of the concentrate into the sea, but if this is done correctly, it has been scientifically proven that the environmental impact is totally irrelevant and, thanks to prior dilution and diffusion systems, this concentrated seawater is indistinguishable from normal seawater just a few metres from the discharge point," he says.

The decarbonisation of desalination plants is also a key challenge. Their energy consumption, especially if based on non-renewable sources, generates carbon dioxide emissions and contributes to climate change. Desalination plants are powered by conventional electricity grids, so their indirect emissions depend on the national energy model.

Zarzo points out that the desalination industry has made great efforts to improve the sustainability of plants: "In fact, almost all R&D is focused on this, from the production of renewable 'blue energy' generated by the salinity gradient between brine and freshwater, to circular economy concepts such as the extraction of elements, salts and chemical compounds from brine (so-called brine mining)."

Beyond desalination, reuse is also important: "We need to consider reusing every last drop of wastewater. In fact, more water is already reused in the world than the amount that is desalinated." There are educational and cultural barriers that hinder some uses, such as using recycled water for the production of drinking water, although this has been done for many years in California, Singapore, Israel, the Netherlands and Namibia.

Harnessing the benefits of technology is key to combating future droughts and having a stable, high-quality water supply that is not dependent on the weather: "In developed countries, we are not aware of the privilege of having safe, quality drinking water available to us in our homes on a continuous basis."


Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation.

Collecting solar energy in space and beaming it back to Earth is not without its challenges. Credit: European Space Agency

The dream of solar farms in space

The idea of putting solar farms in space has been around since at least the late 1960s. So far it has not gained sufficient traction due to cost and technological hurdles. But is it now technologically feasible?

ISABEL RUBIO ARROYO | Tungsteno

 

While some researchers suggest using skyscraper lifts to save and generate energy, others are looking at ways to do it using snowmicroalgae or by equipping cruise ships with photovoltaic sailsAnother alternative that has been in the spotlight for years is solar space farms. What are the technical and economic obstacles to this energy utopia?

 

The quest for uninterruptible solar power

 

The idea behind space solar power is simple and appealing: harness solar energy in space, where it is continuously available regardless of local weather or darkness. This energy would be collected on satellites orbiting the Earth and then transmitted wirelessly to collection points on the surface. "The concept complements rather than competes with terrestrial renewables, because Space-Based Solar Power can make power available reliably on an ongoing 24/7 basis," says the European Space Agency (ESA).

ESA has signed contracts for two conceptual studies of space-based solar power plants on a commercial scale. "We are really starting from a blank sheet of paper to get an up-to-date design for what working solar power satellites could look like, sourcing promising ideas from everywhere we can, and leveraging the latest advancements in space and terrestrial technologies," says Sanjay Vijendran, ESA's SOLARIS director.

 

Various researchers hope to deploy solar farms in space. Credit: Euronews

 

The challenges of space solar farms

 

This idea is not new and has been around since at least the late 1960s, says Matteo Ceriotti, Senior Lecturer in Space Systems Engineering at the University of Glasgow: "Despite its huge potential, the concept has not gained sufficient traction due to cost and technological hurdles." For Ceriotti, the main limitation is the enormous amount of mass that needs to be launched into space and its cost per kilogramme. "Companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin are developing heavy-lift launch vehicles, with a focus on reusing parts of those vehicles after they have flown." While this can significantly reduce costs, it would still require hundreds of launches.

For Ceriotti, missions to deploy space-based solar power are challenging and some risks need to be assessed. "While the electricity produced is fully green, the impact of the pollution from hundreds of heavy-lift launches is difficult to predict," he stresses. "Additionally, controlling such a large structure in space will require substantial amounts of fuel, which involves engineers working with sometimes very toxic chemicals."

 

Deploying solar farms in space is costly and technically challenging. Credit: SciShow Space

 

A proposal "more feasible and desirable than ever"

 

Despite these limitations, Vijendran believes there are many reasons why space-based solar power "is looking a lot more feasible and desirable than ever before." "These include the reduced cost of launch to orbit with the advent of reusable launchers, the reduced cost of satellite hardware through mass production—seen with new constellations such as Starlink and OneWeb—and trends towards very modular solar power satellite designs." In addition, space robotics and in-space assembly and servicing technologies "have really come a long way in the last two decades." According to the expert, this will be essential for the construction and maintenance of solar power plants.

It is still too early to say whether solar farms will eventually reach space. While some companies, such as Space Solar, hope to have them operational by 2035, other researchers are focusing on other alternatives, such as putting reflectors in space to allow solar farms on Earth to work longer and longer. Ceriotti admits that the challenge of building such platforms in space may seem daunting, but insists that space solar power is technologically feasible. "To be economically viable, it requires large-scale engineering, and therefore long-term and decisive commitment from governments and space agencies," he concludes.

 


Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation.

We build plants to purify polluted rivers

We have discovered an opportunity to create plants that can treat these contaminated waters and return them to the riverbed in perfect condition, even for crop irrigation.   

Abandoned mining activity generates waste in slag heaps and   sludge deposits that, over time, become a leading source of contamination in surface and groundwater. This is occurring, for example, in the Odiel river basin in Huelva. 

To solve this problem, Sacyr, the Universidad de Huelva, and Andalusia’s Regional Water and Environment Agency joined forces four years ago in the LIFE-ETAD project, 50% of which is funded by the European Commission through Life +.

Initial efforts focused on the Mina Esperanza treatment plant (TAAM project) in order to subsequently create the Mina Concepción treatment plant (as part of the LIFE-ETAD project) with new developments to improve the treatment processes and the quality of the water exiting the process. 

This technology has proven to resolve the serious problem of environmental contamination at more than 30 critical points in the mining area.  


Focus of public procurement interest in Andalusia

 

Due to the unique features of these highly polluted rivers, the National Hydrologic Plan postponed—until 2027—the targets of the EU Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC), which specified 2015 as the deadline for attaining good ecological and chemical levels in European waters. 

Mining activity, especially where pyrite is concerned, creates environmental liabilities that, when abandoned by mining companies, generate acidic runoff with a high concentration of heavy metals that degrade the water quality, so there is virtually no aquatic life in these waters.

The Odiel and Tinto rivers are considered extreme cases of this kind of contamination. More than one-third of the watershed is polluted and occasionally this pollution reaches the Gulf of Cadiz and even the Mediterranean. 

“When it rains, the water filters through the materials that were once used in mining activity (abandoned mines, dumps, etc.); the metals dissolve and the water becomes acidic,” explains Francisco Javier Mateos, Project Manager for the Innovation and Knowledge area of Sacyr Construction’s R+D department. “With LIFE-ETAD, we’ve found an inexpensive technology with little maintenance and zero energy consumption that could become the focus of innovative public procurement in Andalusia,” he continues. 

 

 

How DAS technology works

 

Acidic water from the Mina Concepción is channeled to a pre-treatment reservoir where it stagnates and oxidizes. Iron oxidation is critical for the operation of the plant. 

It subsequently passes through three sets of reactor tanks and a settling basin at the outlet of each one. These reactors are filled with what is called Dispersed Alkaline Substrate (DAS). 

DAS is a mixture of wood ash and an alkaline reagent, such as calcite, magnesium oxide, or barium carbonate (witherite). As the water passes through the different reactors, its pH rises, causing the precipitation of divalent and trivalent heavy metals into the reactors themselves and the settling basins situated at the outlet of each. Finally, in the last reactor tank, the sulfates are eliminated, leaving the water exiting the plant suitable for irrigation. 

In recent tests, the Mina Concepción plant treated 6,860 m3 of acidic water, during which sulfate retention was 69% on average. 

“Testing has confirmed that DAS technology can be used on a large scale to passively eliminate acidity and heavy-metal/sulfate retention,” explain José Miguel Nieto and Francisco Macías, project researchers at the Universidad de Huelva, who carried out the technological process of decontaminating the water.  

  • Metal-bearing wastewaters
  • Mining
  • Contamination

Several cities are using technology to improve the quality of life for their residents. Credit: Unsplash

Top 5 most innovative technologies for smart cities

At CES, the world's biggest tech trade show, it's not all flying taxis and futuristic robots. We take a look at the most innovative gadgets for smart cities and smart homes.

ISABEL RUBIO ARROYO | Tungsteno

 

A technology that turns any countertop or surface into a charger, an autonomous machine that eliminates algae harmful to water quality and a biometric solution that puts an end to privacy concerns. We take a look at the most innovative inventions for smart cities and smart homes, according to the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the organisation that organises CES, the world's largest annual technology event.

 

A countertop that charges your phone

 

FreePower can turn any countertop into a wireless charger—from a restaurant bar to a kitchen island or home office desk. "Early adopters of wireless charging technology are probably familiar with this scenario: placing a device on your charger before you go to bed, then waking up to a dead battery because it wasn’t aligned with the charger’s ‘sweet spot’," say the creators. Their technology features a free-standing architecture that does not require precise alignment. In other words, the user can avoid these problems and charge a mobile phone, headphones or console controller simply by placing it on the surface in question.

 

A cube that turns air into water

 

One of the most remarkable inventions at CES in terms of sustainability is an inflatable farm for growing food sustainably in deserts and drought-stricken areas. It is in these challenging places that another of the CTA's award-winning devices can be particularly useful: a device that creates water out of thin airCalled WaterCube 100, it can theoretically produce more than 100 gallons (378 litres) of fresh water a day. That would be enough for a household of four, according to its creators, who don't offer many details on how the technology works, but say that it "mimics nature's process to extract water from the air."

 

WaterCube 100 is a device designed to generate water from air. Credit: Genesis Systems

 

A window that generates electricity

 

From a floor that generates energy from footsteps to autonomous boats controlled by artificial intelligence, those were some of the most innovative green technologies of recent years. At this year's CES event, held between 9 and 12 January in Las Vegas, transparent solar glass called SQPV glass, which can capture light from both sides of the glass, won an award. Its creators claim that in addition to generating electricity from sunlight, it "can also harness energy from invisible light, even in dimly lit indoor settings or on a cloudy day."

 

A machine that eliminates harmful algae

 

Harmful algae and cyanobacteria can produce toxins that can make people and animals sick and harm the environment, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Manual removal of these algae can be costly and carries some risks. The CTA points out that harmful chemicals are sometimes used and that environmentally friendly solutions take too long to take effect. That's where AI ECO ROBOT comes in, an autonomous system that promises to remove these algae and identify potential problems quickly and efficiently.

 

AI ECO ROBOT removes harmful algae from lakes, rivers and oceans. Credit: Jason Park

 

A privacy-friendly biometric solution

 

Facial recognition raises privacy concerns, not least because of the collection and storage of biometric data. The company Ghostpass aims to store biometric information individually on users' smart devices, rather than in bulk in the cloud. "Our solution is to send the biometric data detected by the authentication request to the user's smartphone for authentication. This allows the user to fully own the sovereignty of biometric information," it explains.

These are just some of the most innovative devices for smart cities and smart homes of the 21st century. But there are many more: from a pool-cleaning robot charged by the sun to plug-in smoke detectors, beds that monitor the heart rate and breathing of dogs and cats, or all kinds of smart mirrors. According to the CTA, all these devices share a common goal: "Energy efficiency and automation are leading trends in this sector, and consumers prefer products that save time and money while improving safety and overall well-being."


Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation.

The three longest undersea tunnels on the planet

Digging and building tunnels under the sea to connect remote regions presents a number of challenges, from water pressure and ground stability to subsequent maintenance. These are the world’s longest underwater tunnels.

ISABEL RUBIO ARROYO | Tungsteno

 

The Channel Tunnel is recognised by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern WorldAlso known as the Eurotunnel, it connects England and France and is one of the longest undersea tunnels on the planet. We explore the details of the construction of this and other pharaonic tunnels, such as the Seikan and Tokyo Bay tunnels, both in Japan.

Seikan Tunnel

Crossing southern Switzerland, the Gotthard Base Tunnel is one of the most amazing engineering feats on the planet. At 57 kilometres, it is the longest railway tunnel in the world. It is followed by the Seikan Tunnel, which is not only the second longest railway tunnel in the world, but also the longest with an underwater section. Located in Japan, it links the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido. It is 53.85 kilometres long, 23 km of which are under the Tsugaru Strait.

"In 1954, a typhoon sank five ferry boats in Japan’s Tsugaru Strait and killed 1,430 people," says the International Tunnelling and Underground Spaces Association (ITA-AITES). In response to public outrage, the Japanese government sought a safer way to cross the dangerous strait. "With such unpredictable weather conditions, engineers agreed that a bridge would be too risky to build. A tunnel seemed a perfect solution."

Ten years later, work began on what would be "the longest and hardest underwater dig ever attempted." Construction was completed in 1988. Engineers managed to drill and blast through a seismically active area where they could not use a tunnel boring machine because of the unpredictable nature of the rock and soil. Up to 3,000 people worked on the tunnel at any one time, and 34 lives were lost as a result of cave-ins, flooding and other mishaps. The main tunnel is three storeys high, 284 metres below sea level and is one of the most ambitious engineering feats of the 20th century.

The Gotthard Base Tunnel is one of the most amazing engineering feats on the planet. Credit: Railways Explained

Channel Tunnel

In 1987, French President François Mitterrand and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher announced the start of construction of the Channel Tunnel. It was inaugurated on 6 May 1994 and is 50 km long, of which 38 km is located under seabed. To construct this infrastructure, also known as the Eurotunnel, workers used several massive tunnel boring machines, hand-operated excavators and roadheaders (excavators used to create large underground chambers). "Every generation has to do something exciting that will affect the future. This is wonderful, even better than I thought it would turn out," Thatcher said of the tunnel.

The megastructure, which links Folkestone in Kent, England, with Coquelles in Pas-de-Calais, France, is actually three parallel tunnels. "Trains go through two larger tunnels. A smaller service tunnel—used for ventilation and access—runs between the two train tunnels," explains the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE). Passengers can travel through the tunnel in their own vehicles, which are loaded into special carriages. The journey takes only about 35 minutes and is made by trains that are 100% electric, according to Le Shuttle, the high-speed rail service.

2024 marks 30 years since the opening of the Channel Tunnel. Credit: Practical Engineering

Tokyo Bay Tunnel

The world's third longest undersea tunnel is also in Japan. The Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line is a 15.1-kilometre highway project linking the city of Kawasaki with the city of Kisarazu on the Boso Peninsula. "The Aqua-Line consists of a 9.5-kilometre shield tunnel (the Tokyo Bay Tunnel) and a 4.4-km bridge from an artificial island to Kisarazu landing," says ITA-AITES.

Construction began in 1989, after 20 years of research. It took nine years to complete and was a complex civil engineering project, with challenges such as dealing with water pressure and soil stability. Today, it takes about 15 minutes to drive from one city to the other on the Aqua-Line. The alternative route, on the other hand, is 100 kilometres long and crosses the centre of Tokyo. According to ITA-AITES, the Aqua-Line helps ease traffic congestion in the heart of the Japanese capital.

The Aqua-Line consists of a bridge and an underwater tunnel running under Tokyo Bay. Credit: Driving Nippon

The Seikan Tunnel, Channel Tunnel and Tokyo Bay Tunnel are three of the longest undersea tunnels on the planet. Other such tunnels on this list include the Bømlafjord and Eiksund tunnels in Norway, the Sydney Harbour Tunnel in Australia and the Thames Tunnel in the UK. They all have one thing in common: not only do they cross large bodies of water, such as straits, bays or rivers, but they are also some of the most complex engineering projects in the world.

 

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Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation.

  • Engineering

The secret room where Michelangelo took refuge contains numerous drawings. Credit: Bargello Museum

What lies inside Michelangelo's secret room?

Michelangelo hid in a small room for two months to avoid the vengeance of Pope Clement VII, according to the Bargello Museum in Florence. He used the walls as a canvas and made drawings that are now priceless.

ISABEL RUBIO ARROYO | Tungsteno 

Fifty years ago, a secret room was discovered where Michelangelo once hid. For decades it has remained closed to the public. Then, in 2023, the Bargello Museum in Florence decided to allow a few lucky people to visit it. What precious treasures are hidden inside? Drawings and sketches of anatomy, faces and poses, mostly by the famous Italian sculptor.

A treasure found by chance


In 1975, Paolo Dal Poggetto, then director of the Medici Chapels Museum in Florence, asked the restorer Sabino Giovannoni to carry out some cleaning tests in a narrow corridor under the apse of the New Sacristy inside the museum. The elongated space, 10 metres long and three metres wide, had been discovered when Dal Poggetto and his colleagues were looking for a suitable location for a new exit to the museum. But when Giovannoni did some tests on the walls, he found something unexpected under two layers of plaster: a series of wall drawings of figures of various sizes, sketched with charcoal and chalk. 
"This room had been used as a coal depot until 1955 and then it was left unused, remaining closed and forgotten for decades, under a trapdoor completely covered by cupboards, furniture and piled-up furnishings," says the Bargello Museum. Poggetto attributed most of the drawings to Michelangelo. He hypothesised that the artist had hidden there for about two months in 1530 to take refuge from the vengeance of Pope Clement VII, who was angry with him for having been in charge of the fortifications during the brief period of Republican rule. 




The drawings were discovered by chance thanks to a cleaning carried out in 1975. Credit: Bargello Museum
 
Walls as canvases


"Naturally, Michelangelo was afraid and he decided to stay in the room," Monica Bietti, the art historian in charge of the Medici Chapels, told National Geographic magazine. The drawings, according to this hypothesis, would have been made during the artist’s period of "self-imprisonment", when he used the walls of the small room to sketch out some of his projects. These include works from the New Sacristy, such as the legs of Giuliano de' Medici, Duke of Nemours, and projects attributable to other sculptures and paintings. 
For Massimo Osanna, Director General of Museums of Italy, it is "a place of extraordinary charm, but very delicate due to the location of the narrow room in the museum's itinerary and the protection of the charcoal drawings on the walls." For this reason, visits are conducted in a controlled manner: in small groups of four people and a maximum of 100 people per week. "The limited number of visitors per time slot is due to the need to alternate the period of exposure to LED light with prolonged periods of darkness," says the museum.



The room first opened to the public in 2023. Credit: Bargello Museum
 
Are all the drawings by Michelangelo? 


It is impossible to confirm with absolute certainty that Michelangelo is the author of all the drawings on the walls. In fact, not all the figures show "the same sustained qualitative tension of Michelangelo's work," according to the Bargello Museum in Florence. William Wallace, a Michelangelo scholar and professor at Washington University in St. Louis, believes that Michelangelo was too important a figure to have holed up in such a cramped space. While he concedes that some of these drawings may be Michelangelo originals, he suggests that others are probably sketches made by his assistants during breaks in their work. 
What is certain is that it is a unique place. "This very small room is truly unique for its extraordinary evocative potential. Its walls seem to barely contain numerous sketches of figures, most of them monumental in size, traced with markings that testify to a great clarity of design," says Francesca de Luca, curator of the Medici Chapels Museum. Although we can’t be 100% sure of the identity of the artist or artists responsible for all the sketches, some experts are convinced that it was Michelangelo. One such expert is Bietti, who is convinced that Michelangelo "was a genius." "What can he do there? Just draw."
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Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation.

 

  • Painting
  • Italy

Volkswagen and other manufacturers are trying to integrate ChatGPT into their vehicles. Credit: Volkswagen

Cars with ChatGPT and other tech trends of 2024

Cars with systems like ChatGPT, flying taxis, see-through televisions and robots straight out of science fiction. These are just some of the most innovative devices presented at this year’s CES, the world's largest tech event, which has just been held in Las Vegas.

ISABEL RUBIO ARROYO | Tungsteno

What are the most innovative and impressive tech products on the planet? The answer is probably to be found at CES, the world's biggest consumer electronics show. Here, devices such as the VHS video recorder, DVD players, the first 3D printers and the most advanced robots in existence have been unveiled. We take a look at the innovations that grabbed the most attention at this year's event, which took place in Las Vegas at the beginning of January, and the tech trends that are set to gain momentum in 2024.

From flying taxis to ChatGPT cars

Back in 2022, much of the attention at CES was focused on a BMW car that could change colour at the touch of a button, while in 2023, everyone’s eyes were on a flying car with a retractable wing system. The aim was for the driver to be able to fold up the wings when driving on the road, and unfurl them when it was time to fly. Cars that promise to take to the skies were also unveiled at this latest event. One such example is the S-A2, a taxi capable of flying at 193 kilometres per hour, presented by Hyundai Motor Group's Advanced Air Mobility company. It is due to be launched in 2028.

Hyundai's electric flying taxi could take to the skies at nearly 200 kilometres per hour. Credit: CNET

Manufacturers also want passengers to be able to talk to their cars. Volkswagen has announced that it will include the artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT in all its voice-assistant vehicles. BMW plans to partner with Amazon to integrate the Alexa voice assistant into its cars, and Mercedes-Benz is working with Azure OpenAI. The aim is for any passenger to be able to ask their vehicle all sorts of questions, such as where the nearest Chinese restaurant is or where to buy a phone charger.

Robots that follow you around the house and smile

All sorts of robots were on display in Las Vegas hotels and convention centres for CES, from dogs that kick their paws and move quickly towards you, to humanoid robots that look more like something out of science fiction. Among the most talked about this year were AI companion robots like Ballie. This is a yellow ball on wheels made by Samsung that can follow you around the house, analyse your posture with its camera, accompany you during exercise and control smart home devices.

Ballie is a home companion robot that can control lighting or other connected devices. Credit: Samsung

Another curious gadget is Magic Bay Robot, a conceptual accessory from Lenovo that is the size of a webcam and designed to sit on top of a computer. At the moment, its functions are very limited: it blinks, smiles and shows emotions when its eyes turn into stars. The company is considering adding more features, such as a speaker and microphone, so that it can also act as a voice assistant.

Pet robots were also in abundance at CES. One of the most eye-catching has been developed by Ogmen and uses artificial intelligence to try to calm a dog in distress distressed. The device, called ORo, allows owners to make video calls to their pet or give them treats or food. The tech event also featured a range of cooking robots, from those that can make tea or ramen noodles in a matter of seconds, to those that make cotton candy of different shapes and colours or use capsules to prepare ice cream.

Transparent televisions

At this unmissable event in the tech sector, you can get an idea of what the televisions of the future might look like. They may be wireless and magically stick to walls. Perhaps they will roll up or fold away when not in use to go unnoticed. Or, who knows, they might rotate to stand upright and consume content recorded with a mobile phone.

At this year’s CES, manufacturers have made a big push for transparent televisions. LG has launched the LG Signature OLED T, the first wireless TV with a transparent panel. The aim of this device, which should be available later this year, is that it can be placed in the centre of any room without being noticed. Meanwhile, Samsung has announced a fully transparent micro LED television.

LG has announced that the first transparent, wireless TV will go on sale in 2024. Credit: CNET

These are just some of the most innovative and curious tech products on the planet. Other innovations on the list include facial recognition light bulbs that promise to detect your emotional state and recommend lighting effects, plants that purify the air and lipsticks that diagnose medical conditionsOne thing that is clear after visiting CES is that 2024 will be a year in which artificial intelligence will be stronger than ever. Among the inventions to watch out for are technologies that can help prevent school shootingsautonomously pilot a boatdesign clothes or diagnose diseases.

These are just some of the most innovative and curious tech products on the planet. Other innovations on the list include facial recognition light bulbs that promise to detect your emotional state and recommend lighting effects, plants that purify the air and lipsticks that diagnose medical conditionsOne thing that is clear after visiting CES is that 2024 will be a year in which artificial intelligence will be stronger than ever. Among the inventions to watch out for are technologies that can help prevent school shootingsautonomously pilot a boatdesign clothes or diagnose diseases.

 

· — —
Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation.

  • Tech
  • Car

VR for hydraulic works maintenance

Sacyr Maintenance uses virtual reality (VR) in project management and presentation, creating immersive experiences with technical information and multimedia content. This approach makes the user the protagonist of the scene, where information is presented in a user-friendly manner.

This tool facilitates the maintenance and conservation of electromechanical equipment, civil and complementary service installations, as well as the operation of equipment and facilities. It also enables control and monitoring according to specific procedures that ensure service quality.

Virtual reality is used both in road maintenance and hydraulic works. In the latter, Sacyr Maintenance is responsible for the maintenance and conservation of 39 dams, four reservoirs, and 549 km of canals.

In the following link you can take an interactive tour of the Arlanzón Dam, managed by the Duero Hydrographic Confederation (Burgos), where we utilize virtual reality."

  • Sacyr conservation
  • Installations
  • Virtual Reality
  • Gafas de realidad virtual

Sustainable Asphalt Mixtures for Road Repair

At Sacyr Maintenance, we seek innovative solutions that represent an advancement not only in the management of our infrastructure to prevent accidents due to poor road surfaces but also in the use of materials that are increasingly environmentally friendly.

In 2022, we began using the innovative product ‘Reparabache’ in the MASAI mixtures for road pavement, a mixture with the same performance as conventional asphalt, but applied cold, quickly, simply, and cleanly, with immediate traffic reopening.

Among its innovations is the incorporation of rubber powder. Typically, two used tires are recycled per ton of mixture. 

This European Commission-approved product is 100% ecofriendly and fully reusable, as the surplus can be stored again. It also incorporates graphene in its manufacturing, which doubles its durability and improves its elastic recovery. Its demand is increasing, as it can be applied in adverse weather conditions. Additionally, it contributes to the reduction of noise pollution.

Its most common uses include asphalt spraying on supports for paving, priming in waterproofing systems, crack sealing, and making asphalt mortar.

On the other hand, among the MASAI mixtures is Bioroad, another additive that has received many accolades. It is a truly unique additive for asphalt mixtures, based on recycled vegetable oils and waste from olive oil processing.

With this additive, the need to use standard petrochemical melting agents is eliminated, as its composition includes 30-50% recycled vegetable oils and 20-30% other waste such as olive mill wastewater (residue from pressing olives).

The functionality of these by-products has been achieved through nanotechnology using graphene.

Thanks to Bioroad, asphalt mixtures can be manufactured at lower temperatures, reducing energy consumption and the carbon footprint generated by traditional hot manufacturing processes.

These asphalt mixtures are produced between 120-140 degrees Celsius (40 degrees less than traditional methods).

Additionally, recently on the Turia Highway (CV-35), currently managed by Sacyr Concesiones, pothole repair and crack sealing operations have been carried out using a variant of Bioroad, called Lazarus. It is a modified petrochemical compound containing bituminous binders with graphene-based nanomaterials, improving the life and resistance to fatigue cycles of the pavement.

2% of this mixture is added to milling remnants (asphalt removed from damaged roads). Lázaro is an additive designed to manufacture mixtures with 100% milled material. It is composed of vegetable oils and other products, enriched with graphene.

On the same road, we have also used AC 11 Surf, a cold mix asphalt, consisting of a bituminous emulsion. The bags are of AC11 SURF bituminous mixture type with more than 20% RAP (recycled asphalt pavement).

It is produced semi-hot (approximately 30ºC less than a conventional mixture) thanks to ecological additives that also allow it to be stored in bags and applied cold.

We have also used 'Repara Sellagrietas', an anionic bituminous emulsion (mineral-based, with a negative electrical charge, enriched with graphene, of viscous consistency, and applied cold), which is applied directly to the crack without any other additive for repair.

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Gunung Padang is supposedly the oldest pyramid on the planet. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The controversy behind the world's alleged oldest pyramid

A study has suggested that the oldest man-made pyramid on Earth is on the island of Java in Indonesia. We look at why this discovery, which could mark a turning point in what we know about past civilisations, has been criticised by the archaeological community.

ISABEL RUBIO ARROYO | Tungsteno

 

The debate over which pyramids are the oldest has raged for years. But countries like Egypt now have a new challenger: Indonesia. So says a team of scientists who claim to have found a buried pyramid complex that would be the oldest on the planet, according to research recently published in the journal Archaeological Prospection. But their findings have drawn criticism from a number of archaeologists.

 

The world's oldest pyramid?

 

The site in question is called Gunung Padang, which means "mountain of enlightenment" in the local language, and has been the site of religious rituals throughout history. According to the authors of the study, it could be up to 27,000 years old. "Evidence from Gunung Padang […] suggests that advanced construction practices were already present when agriculture had, perhaps, not yet been invented," the authors write.

Gunung Padang consists of a series of stone terraces that sit atop an extinct volcano. In the 19th century, it was described as an ancient cemetery on top of a mound, and since the late 20th century there have been several investigations of the site. The latest, recently published in Archaeological Prospection, concludes that "it is not a natural hill, but a pyramid-like construction".

Using ground-penetrating radar, the authors claim to have discovered several deeper man-made layers beneath the main building, the lowest of which (a hardened lava core) shows signs of having been "meticulously sculpted". "These findings offer valuable insights into the construction history of Gunung Padang, shedding light on the engineering capabilities of ancient civilisations during the Palaeolithic era," they say.

 

Gunung Padang is claimed to be older than the Egyptian pyramids. Credit: OzGeology

 

Doubts about Gunung Padang

 

Several archaeologists have been sceptical about the conclusions regarding Gunung Padang's unprecedented antiquity. "The data that is presented in this paper provides no support for its final conclusion—that the settlement is extraordinarily old. Yet that is what has driven the headlines," Flint Dibble, an archaeologist at Cardiff University, told The GuardianHe says he is "very surprised this paper was published as it is" and accuses the authors of the study of failing to provide evidence that the buried material was made by humans.

The controversy stems in part from the fact that the paper has been reviewed by controversial British writer Graham Hancock, who is known for writing books on conspiracy theories and for promoting unsupported hypotheses about highly advanced ancient civilisations. "He invokes myths, fanciful and often incorrect interpretations of archaeological sites," says geologist Marc Defant.

Bill Farley, an archaeologist at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, refers to one of Hancock’s theories: "A theory that says a group of ancient sages taught us everything we know simplifies history to a crude level and also robs Indigenous people of the claim that they developed their own ancient culture and sophisticated crafts." For the expert, "it is very reasonable that this paper is being investigated. It was not worthy of publication and it would not shock me if it is eventually retracted," he adds.

 

Archaeologist Bill Farley has reacted to the findings on his YouTube channel. Credit: Archaeology Tube

 

In a matter of weeks, Gunung Padang went from being a nondescript hill in Asia to being the alleged remains of Earth’s oldest human-made pyramid. Following the publication of the research, the find made headlines and became one of the most attention-grabbing scientific news stories of 2023. But the doubts raised by other archaeologists highlight one thing: the importance of finding evidence that proves beyond doubt that the material removed was sculpted by humans and that Gunung Padang is indeed the world's oldest pyramid.


Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation.

New Tool to Measure Our Environmental Impact

Our Quality, Environment and Energy Department, in collaboration with business and ecology consultancy firm Natural Business Intelligence (NBI), we have developed a platform that allows us to understand the impact caused by our projects on the different ecosystems where they are carried out, through a geopositioned file. 

At Sacyr, environmental protection is a priority for us at every project we develop.

 Our Quality, Environment and Energy Department, in collaboration with business and ecology consultancy firm Natural Business Intelligence (NBI) -winner of Sacyr iChallenges 2021-, we have developed a platform that allows us to understand the impact caused by our projects on the different ecosystems where they are carried out, through a geopositioned file. 

Thanks to this platform, we can optimize carbon offsetting measures based on the impacts caused by our activity, which was previously calculated manually. All this will allow us to achieve an estimate net debt with nature in an automated, scalable, and efficient way.

This platform uses satellite imaging to analyze how we have affected the project environs and to understand whether the balance is positive or negative to adjust our measures accordingly. 

 

 


 

To do this, we collect the necessary free-access satellite images to calculate the indicators of ecosystem services before and after construction. This calculation is currently applied to our P3 projects in all countries.

'Different actions are reflected in each country’s environmental management plans adapted to the regulations and specifics of each region. Through the tool, we can identify those measures that have greater benefits on the environment, contributing to a positive or net balance. Thanks to these advances, we develop measures adapted to the specifics of the environments and the present ecosystem services,' explains Claudia Pérez, environmental sustainability analyst at the Quality, Environment and Energy Department. 


'At Sacyr, we take on the challenge, and we move forward with our commitment, reducing and avoiding the loss of nature, restoring, regenerating, and transforming current systems to stop the agents that negatively impact biodiversity,' says Claudia.

 


 

Natural Capital Strategy


In 2020, we started designing our natural capital strategy, which uses the mitigation hierarchy as a management approach. This consists of implementing good practices that reduce or mitigate impacts caused by activities, works, and development projects in a given space.

In 2021, we launched a project to understand the potential impacts of our activity. Thanks to this initiative, we identified the ecosystem services included in the CICES (Common International Classification of Ecosystem Services) classification that are relevant to the company. These services are essential for reporting the environmental evolution of our projects.

Once we had identified the material ecosystem services, we defined a robust methodology to calculate the natural capital. Additionally, in 2022, we created a Biodiversity and Natural Capital Committee to reinforce our commitment to the environment. This body's main objective is to establish initiatives and review results related to biodiversity projects."

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