The October 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

A Web of Sensors Enfolds an Entire Forest to Uncover Clues to Climate Change

Harvard's experimental forest is wired up and down to study how changing conditions affect entire ecosystems

13 min read
A Web of Sensors Enfolds an Entire Forest to Uncover Clues to Climate Change
Photo: Bob O’Connor

“Everything is connected to everything else,” says the First Law of Ecology, laid down in 1971 by the U.S. biologist and activist Barry Commoner. He was addressing scientists who had been trained to manipulate a few key variables, after isolating them from all outside influences, to see their effects on a few outcomes. But in ecology, everything varies together; an interwoven web links microbes to mountains.

Even a single forest has enough entwined connections to boggle the mind. Tree growth depends on fleeting changes in the atmosphere, soil, and water. The arrival of new plant and animal species, or the disappearance of old ones, might spell disaster now or a bloom some years hence. Even the tiniest microorganisms can shape the fate of towering oaks.

Keep reading...Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

This Idea Wasn't All Wet: The Sensing Water-Saving Shower Head Debuts

An engineer’s dinner-table invention is finally a consumer product

4 min read
A mounted and running showerhead that says oasense and has a blue light on it.
Oasense

For Evan Schneider, the family dinner table is a good place for invention. “I’m always, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if this or that,’” he says, “and people would humor me.”

In 2012, with California in the midst of a severe drought, Schneider, then a mechanical engineering graduate student at Stanford University, once again tossed out a “cool idea.” He imagined a shower head that would sense when the person showering moved out from under the stream of water. The shower head would then automatically turn the water off, turning it back on again when the person moved back into range. With such a device, he thought, people could enjoy a long shower without wasting water.

Keep Reading ↓Show less
{"imageShortcodeIds":[]}

Can AI’s Recommendations Be Less Insidious?

Artificial intelligence has us where it wants us

5 min read
illustration of hand holding megaphone with different bubbles of computer widgets
iStock

Many of the things we watch, read, and buy enter our awareness through recommender systems on sites including YouTube, Twitter, and Amazon. Algorithms personalize their suggestions, aiming for ad views or clicks or buys. Sometime their offerings frustrate us; it seems like they don’t know us at all—or know us too well, predicting what will get us to waste time or go down rabbit holes of anxiety and misinformation. But a more insidious dynamic may also be at play. Recommender systems might not only tailor to our most regrettable preferences, but actually shape what we like, making preferences even more regrettable. New research suggests a way to measure—and reduce—such manipulation.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

Exploring the Value of Power Modules

Learn how power modules can reduce power supply size, EMI, design time, and solution cost

1 min read
Texas Instruments

In this training series, we will discuss the high level of integration of DC/DC power modules and the significant implications that this has on power supply design.

Watch this free webinar now!

In addition to high power density and small solution size, modules can also simplify EMI mitigation and reduce power supply design time. And thanks to improved process and packaging technology, a power module may even provide all of these benefits with a lower overall solution cost as well.

Keep Reading ↓Show less