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DISASTER TECH

TSUNAMI IN A TANK
A new machine lets scientists create monster wavesand ways to survive them
THREE YEARS AFTER a series of tsunamis killed more than 200,000 people and devastated hundreds of communities bordering the Indian Ocean, a team of engineers has figured out how to re-create smaller versions of the killer waves in a lab. Their first-of-its-kind flume, set for completion next year, could better reveal how tsunamis work and help in designing buildings that can withstand their power. After traveling undetected for thousands of miles, the ocean's most dangerous waves rear up as high as 100 feet as they approach the shore. This initial rush

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MAKE THE WAVE Engineers use fans to suck water out of the narrow, 150foot-long flume into a low-pressure tank [A]. A set of valves release air into the tank [B] and force water into the flume, generating a miniature wave [C]. Water continues to flow from the tank, adding to the wave's back end to replicate a tsunami's ultralong wavelength. In 50 seconds, the process creates a scale version of a 9,000-foot-long, 100-foot-tall monster.

Model buildings

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can pummel homes and break protective barriers, but the rest of the wavethe miie-long mass of water that follows the crest to shore and then drags land and buildings back into the oceancan be just as devastating. Geoengineer Tiziana Rossetto of University College London first documented this effect while observing the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The waves, she explains, swept away a huge volume of sand and soil as they receded, and the erosion left buildings unstable. "It's like pulling the roots out of a plant," she says. To design tsunami-resistant structures, Rossetto realized, she needed to know more about the waves' action

on land, but other than some grainy video footage and a few satellite images, very little hard data exists. So she recruited the coastal-engineering specialists at HR Wallingford in Oxfordshire to build a wave tank, complete with a miniaturized shore and buildings, all built on a one-hundredth scale, that records a wave's height, speed, flow and force. "Nobody's going to stop a tsunami," says HR Wallingford engineer William Allsop. But giving scientists a way to measure a tsunami's destructive forces could help at-risk countries prepare for the worstfuture versions of the tank shown here will feature a customizable seafloor to simulate tsunamis on specific shore!ines.-GREGDRY MONE

static forces bind the metal ions and cotton together. The smaller the metal particles are, the greater the surface area for interactions with microbes or smog in the atmosphere. The beauty of nanotextiles is that the particles are so small that the clothing feels and drapes like your favorite cotton T-shirt. The nanoparticles also block larger dirt particles from reaching the surface of the cotton, so the garments don't often need to be washed. "And if you create colors with particles instead of pigments," Hinestroza points out, "your clothing will never fade." The difficulty lies in figuring out how to control the particle dispersal with nanoscale precision. Currently, only scientists using pricey microscopes can even see the nanoparticles well enough to measure them. That's one reason it's difficult to verify com-

Pairs of rods spaced throughout the tank will measure the wave's height to sub-miUimeter accuracy as it flows over them. The crest slams onshore, digging into the faux sand and soil and swamping the miniature buildings. High-speed cameras capture the action of the water, while pressure and velocity sensors attached to the buildings and spaced around the shore gather data.

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What if you could avoid the flu and other viruses simply by getting dressed?
merdal claims about "nanotech" clothing. Because making the fabric swatches for Ong's dress and jacket cost about $10,000, germ-busting clothes aren't likely to be mass-produced anytime soon. But already researchers can see potential markets ranging from well-heeled hypochondriacs to medical emergency teams. The U.S. Army is especially interested. Scientists at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Massachusetts are experimenting with metal nanopartictes and chlorine coatings in an effort to create protective sujts that will provide a barrier against chemical and biological weapons. In addition to ensuring that "selfcleaning" fabrics are safe and non-irritating, the Army scientists must also perform longterm wear tests to make sure that the fabrics hold up with repeated wearing. The hope is that these fabrics will be lighter and thinner than conventional barrier materials, but some of the most promising compounds are probably too expensive for widespread use- "We're not putting goid into soldiers' uniforms," says Heidi L, Schreuder-Gibson, a polymer research chemist at Natick, "but we might go with silver."-GAWN STDVER

The onslaught lasts for 30 to 60 seconds. In nature, the approach of another wave usually sucks the initial one back out to sea, but here a set of fans does the job. Fans puU air out of the tank and draw watercarrying sand and soil with itout of the flume. Before long, the next wave is ready to flow.

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