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A Literal Wall Expert Explains Why Trump's Wall Won't Even Work

Politics
A Literal Wall Expert Explains Why Trump's Wall Won't Even Work
Light graffiti projected onto a 30-foot by 30-foot border wall prototype in Baja California. Backbone Campaign / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

President Donald Trump's unrelenting bid to build a wall on the southern border has not only held up much of the federal government for 24 days and counting, its construction could be devastating to the environment and local wildlife.

Now, in a epic Facebook post shared more than 100,000 times, an actual structural and civil engineer explained why the project is also a "monumental waste of money" and will be ineffective if it ever goes up.


"Structurally and civil engineering-wise, the border wall is not a feasible project," wrote Amy Patrick, a structural and civil engineer from Houston, Texas.

"Trump did not hire engineers to design the thing. He solicited bids from contractors, not engineers. This means it's not been designed by professionals. It's a disaster of numerous types waiting to happen," she added.

Patrick teaches structural analysis and design at the University of Houston and says she has been deposed as an expert witness in matters regarding proper wall construction, making her a literal "court-accepted expert on walls."

She shared three major concerns about the wall, including how it could impede the movement of water during flash floods and increase the risk of flooding; that it could disrupt the surrounding ecology; and that the wall prototypes so far are "nearly impossible to build or don't actually do the job," citing an article from Engineering.com.

Trump has demanded Congress hand over more than $5 billion to fund the unpopular wall, and even sought $25 billion for it at one point.

But when all is said and done, Patrick estimates the wall could be as "higher than $50 billion" and won't even be finished in the president's lifetime due to "rework, complexities beyond the prototype design, factors to prevent flood and environmental hazard creation, engineering redesign" and other complications.

The structural forensicist is certain that the project "WILL go wrong" and noted that others in her field might not even want to work on the controversial project, as "a large quotient of us are immigrants, and besides, we can't afford to bid on jobs that are this political."

"We're small firms, and we're already busy, and we don't gamble our reputations on political footballs. So you'd end up with a revolving door of contractors making a giant, uncoordinated muddle of things, and it'd generally be a mess. Good money after bad. The GAO agrees with me," she said.

Further, she argues that the wall "won't be effective" and could, right now, easily scale it with a 32-foot extension ladder and a cheap custom saddle.

"Another thing: we are not far from the day where inexpensive drones will be able to pick up and carry someone," Patrick wrote. "This will happen in the next ten years, and it's folly to think that the coyotes who ferry people over the border won't purchase or create them. They're low enough, quiet enough, and small enough to quickly zip people over any wall we could build undetected with our current monitoring setup."

Patrick is not alone in her derision of Trump's pet project. Most voters remain are strongly opposed to a wall on the Mexican border, according to a Quinnipiac poll released Monday, with 55 percent saying that they reject every argument for the wall.

Opponents also worry that the wall will dissect a border tribe, degrade the natural landscape and threaten 93 endangered and threatened species, including jaguars, ocelots, Mexican gray wolves and cactus ferruginous pygmy owls, according a study from the Center for Biological Diversity.

"Let's have border security, by all means, but let's be smart about it. This is not smart. It's not effective. It's NOT cheap," Patrick concluded. "The returns will be diminishing as technology advances, too. This is a ridiculous idea that will never be successfully executed and, as such, would be a monumental waste of money."

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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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