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First-Ever Collegiate Turbine Competition to Hit Annual Wind Industry Conference

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First-Ever Collegiate Turbine Competition to Hit Annual Wind Industry Conference

When the U.S. wind industry brings its signature conference to Las Vegas in May, companies and researchers will be accompanied by the nation's next generation of scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced its first-ever  Collegiate Wind Competition, set for May 5 to 7, during three of the same days as the American Wind Energy Association's (AWEA) annual WINDPOWER Conference and Exhibition. The competition will feature teams from 10 universities who will design and construct light, portable wind turbines capable of powering small electronic devices.

James Madison University student Greg Miller demonstrates how the blades of a wind turbine work as part the Wind for Schools project. JMU is one of 10 universities that will compete in the first-ever U.S. Department of Energy Collegiate Wind Competition. Photo credit: Virginia Center for Wind Energy

"Wind energy is one of the fastest-growing electricity sources in the U.S.," said Jose Zayas, director of DOE’s Wind and Water Power Technologies Office. "The Collegiate Wind Competition is designed to expose students to the  multi-disciplinary nature of the wind industry and give them an opportunity to engage with industry leaders."

After constructing their turbines, the teams will make presentations to a panel with expertise on market drivers and wind energy deployment. The students will pitch business plans to industry leaders, and test their turbines in an on-site wind tunnel.

Each of the 10 universities participated in a larger competition to reach this stage. Here are the 10 finalists headed to Las Vegas:

  • Boise State University
  • California Maritime Academy
  • Colorado School of Mines
  • James Madison University (VA)
  • Kansas State University
  • Northern Arizona University
  • Penn State University
  • University of Alaska Fairbanks
  • University of Kansas
  • University of Massachusetts Lowell 

In addition to receiving recognition for their school, the winning team will ship its turbine to Washington D.C., where it will be featured at the DOE’s headquarters.

"We’re excited to partner with DOE to host this exciting event," said Tom Kiernan, CEO of AWEA. "Bringing the Collegiate Wind Competition to WINDPOWER will provide unparalleled opportunities for students to interact with leaders in wind energy and give our industry a chance to meet and engage with some of the nation’s best and brightest young people."

Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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