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Close Encounters of the Magnetohydrodynamic Kind

An engineering professor has submitted a patent application for a circular, spinning aircraft design ... or flying saucer

Get ready for more sightings of strange lights in the skies. Subrata Roy, a mechanical and aerospace engineering associate professor at the University of Florida, has submitted a patent application for a circular, spinning aircraft design that he calls a “wingless electromagnetic air vehicle.” But don’t be fooled: It’s a flying saucer.

The Air Force and NASA have already expressed interest in the prototype, which measures fewer than six inches across and can be powered by on-board batteries.

The vehicle — which would be able to hover and take off vertically — has no moving parts and uses a phenomenon called magnetohydrodynamics, or the force created when a current passes through a conducting fluid. Electrodes covering the craft’s surface create the conducting fluid by ionizing the surrounding air into plasma. Passing an electrical current through this plasma pushes against the surrounding air, which creates lift, momentum and stability against wind gusts. To maximize this contact between air and craft, Roy’s design is partially hollow and continuously curved, like a cake pan.

While plasma-propelled aircraft have had some successful flights in space, where the effects of gravity are minimal, they have come down to Earth within the atmosphere, where more thrust is needed.

But Roy is confident. “If successful, we will have an aircraft, a saucer and a helicopter all in one embodiment,” he says. Not to mention a whole new round of Larry King specials.

Come on Down! But Please, for God's Sake, Choose the Bounded Hypothesis.

“Using cluster logit regression analysis, we provide further support for the bounded hypothesis for the incidence of cutoff bids. We also find that if the first contestant called chooses the fourth bidding position, then she as fourth bidder is 24% more likely to win than had some random contestant bid last. As Bob Barker retires after 35 years on the show, we provide further evidence that contestants on The Price Is Rightstill do not utilize the strategic advantage fully.” — Ronald J. Baker and Jeremy T. Schwartz in “The Seat Is Right: Bidder Heterogeneity in The Price Is Right” in the Journal of Socio-Economics

Veering Off Course

Mark Twain might have been right when he said golf was just “a good walk spoiled.” According to the July issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, from 1990 until 2006, the injury rate of golf-cart accidents rose more than 130 percent, with nearly 150,000 cart-related injuries hurting people as young as 2 months and as old as 96 years.

Of course, not all the collisions are happening on the golf course. As carts have become more sophisticated — some can zoom at 25 mph and cover 40 miles on a single battery charge — their use has spread far beyond country clubs and retirement communities to hospitals, airports, national parks, college campuses, military bases, businesses and sports stadiums. Golf carts are not subject to federal regulation, so they fall under widely varying state and local rules.

The study found that falling or jumping from a golf cart was the most common cause of injury for both adults and children, at 38.3 percent of all injuries. Stricter safety training and special driver’s licenses should be required for cart operators, the researchers said. Just imagine when flying saucers are in every garage …

And Finally, the Last Word

“I wanted to honor Frank for his many years of dedicated service to the global community of taxonomists and systematists in handling the shipping and receiving of countless loans of biological specimens. I was impressed by Frank’s dedication, his love for fellow employees and his keen interest in the science we do. I simply thought, here is a guy who should be honored with his own catfish.” — Biologist Sabaj Pérez, who named a new South American specimen, Rhinodoras gallagheri, after Frank Gallagher, now retired, who worked for 37 years as the mailroom supervisor of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia

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