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How does that work?

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A transparent electric kettle boiling water which is bubbling inside.
  • Electricals & electronics
  • How does that work?
  • Issue 80

Kettle switch-off

Used every day by millions of people across the world, electric kettles use a surprisingly simple method to overcome a long-standing problem: how to switch themselves off.

Quick read

  • Chemical
  • Food & agriculture
  • How does that work?
  • Issue 97

Non-alcoholic beer and wine

Sales of non-alcoholic and low-alcohol drinks have soared in recent years, more than doubling since before the pandemic. So how do manufacturers make them alcohol free while still tasting the same?

Quick read

A wind turbine on a hillside in the mountains
  • Energy
  • Environment & sustainability
  • Chemical
  • How does that work?
  • Issue 96

How do electrolysers work?

Electrolysers are a critical net zero technology used to produce green hydrogen.

Quick read

A scanning electron microscopy image of a spider mite crawling on a microelectromechanical system.
  • Electricals & electronics
  • Technology & robotics
  • How does that work?
  • Issue 94

Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS)

Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) help to make many of our everyday items work, from Air Pods to airbags.

Quick read

  • Technology & robotics
  • How does that work?
  • Issue 93

How do drone displays work?

From London’s new year fireworks to the Tokyo 2022 Olympic opening ceremony, coordinated drone displays are creating spectacular light shows in the night skies, with clever engineering creating a system that can be flown safely and repeatedly.

Quick read

A cartoon of a woman with a smartphone next to her showing it has recognised her face.
  • Technology & robotics
  • Software & computer science
  • Sports & leisure
  • How does that work?
  • Issue 92

Face filters

It started with face swaps, flower crowns and appended dog ears. Now, all manner of transformative sorcery is just a tap away.

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  • Software & computer science
  • Arts & culture
  • How does that work?
  • Issue 91

How do NFTs work?

Love them or hate them, NFTs took the art world by storm in 2021. But even this far into their explosion in popularity, many people still have no idea what they are and how they work.

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A black and white close up picture of a robotic vacuum.
  • Electricals & electronics
  • Technology & robotics
  • How does that work?
  • Issue 90

Robotic vacuum cleaners

Twenty years after the Roomba's original release, the latest generation of robotic vacuum cleaners incorporate sophisticated machine vision technology to steer clear of electrical cables, stray socks and pet poo.

Quick read

  • Chemical
  • Health & medical
  • How does that work?
  • Issue 89

Wastewater epidemiology

Sampling and testing of wastewater is helping governments across the world to track COVID-19 infections on a large scale.

Quick read

  • Chemical
  • Environment & sustainability
  • How does that work?
  • Issue 88

Compostable plastics

Compostable plastics can be turned – alongside food and other organic waste – into compost. But how environmentally friendly are they really?

Quick read

  • Health & medical
  • Design & manufacturing
  • How does that work?
  • Issue 87

Lateral flow tests

During the pandemic, millions of people took lateral flow tests every week to detect COVID-19, enabling them to get a result in just 15 minutes.

Quick read

A cartoon of a robot head in a speech bubble
  • Software & computer science
  • Technology & robotics
  • How does that work?
  • Issue 86

How do chatbots work?

As human interaction online gradually gives way to automated responses, chatbots must impersonate us without attempting to replicate human empathy or enthusiasm.

Quick read

A person with blow-dried blue and pink hair
  • Design & manufacturing
  • Sports & leisure
  • How does that work?
  • Issue 85

Electric hairdryers

Invented in the 1920s, the electric hairdryer is an everyday household object that has changed significantly over the past century – and is likely to continue developing as technology evolves.

Quick read

A microphone with headphones and a desk in the background with an iMac computer on it running an audio editing software.
  • Arts & culture
  • How does that work?
  • Issue 84

How does MQA technology work?

MQA technology captures and authenticates the sound of the original master recording in a file small enough to stream at high resolution, allowing listeners to feel that they are in the studio with the performer.

Quick read

A fried egg in a pan on an induction hob.
  • Electricals & electronics
  • How does that work?
  • Issue 83

Induction hobs

In an induction hob, a coil of copper wire is placed under a cooking pot and an alternating electric current passed through it. The resulting oscillating magnetic field wirelessly induces an electrical current in the pot, warming it up and cooking the food inside.

A ground air source heat pump outside of a building.
  • Energy
  • Environment & sustainability
  • How does that work?
  • Issue 82

Ground source heat pumps

Ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) have been used for many years in North America, Sweden and Germany. These geothermal systems harness natural heat from underground to provide heating for buildings. Now they are being increasingly deployed in homes and commercial buildings in the UK, with the government providing financial incentives to owners who install them.

A schematic of Earth with 28 satellites orbiting in three orbital planes for the Galileo satellite navigation system.
  • Electricals & electronics
  • Aerospace
  • Technology & robotics
  • How does that work?
  • Issue 81

Global positioning system

The global positioning system (GPS) enables anyone with a smartphone or navigation units on cars to pinpoint their location or tell the time. Initially developed for military use, it now has applications ranging from aviation safety and banking to rescuing ships in distress.

Quick read

A digital illustration of a women with red facial recognition dots, that are connected by lines, projected onto her face,.
  • Technology & robotics
  • How does that work?
  • Issue 79

3D facial recognition technology

Facial recognition technology can identify or verify a person using information from a digital image or video. The technology is used in many different systems but hit headlines as a feature of Apple’s iPhone X.

An illustration of cellular 5G connecting cell towers to cities, phones laptops, shopping carts and trucks.
  • Electricals & electronics
  • How does that work?
  • Issue 78

Beamforming

The next generation of cellular technology, 5G, is said to have ‘beamforming antennas’. What are these, how will they be used in mass-market cellular systems and why do they help increase both cell range and capacity?