Archive for the ‘technology’ Category
Wow, what an excellent year for researchers in light, with two Nobel Prizes firmly in the optics regime. In Physics, Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura won “for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources”. Those LED lightbulbs you are starting to see at reasonable prices at Home Depot? The ones that work even more efficiently than Compact Fluorescents (and without the wait to turn on in cold weather, or the ballast’s buzz, or the cold tint)? You can thank Nakamura for those, among other things.
And in Chemistry, Eric Betzig, Stefan W. Hell, and William E. Moerner all won “for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy”. In other words, we can now see things the size of molecules, we can see things smaller than half the wavelength of light. (Besides the developments being astonishing and immediately useful, as a journalist I have had a lot of fun watching the horse race between the labs at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry and Stanford University.)
The editor of Applied Physics Letters explains a little more about both achievements: Editorial: Nobel Prizes honor ground-breaking innovations in applied science. The journal is also providing free copies of seminal and recent papers by the researchers: papers by the researchers in APL.
Fluid dynamics are complicated and fascinating, but here the emphasis is on how they can also be very very pretty. Take a look at wingtip vortices in a recent post from my favorite obscenely-named tumblr blog Fuck Yeah Fluid Dynamics: Wingtip vortices.
Last January 9, a large section of West Virginia, including the capital at Charleston, lost drinking and washing water. Chemicals had spilled into the Elk River, contaminating water supplies for an area of 3000 square miles. (More: US chemical spill contaminates water supplies) At the time, the name of the chemicals was either unknown or unreported in the media, but early effects on people included rashes, nausea, and vomiting, and 13 people were hospitalized. For days, people and animals relied on trucked-in water for drinking, bathing, and pretty much everything except flushing toilets.
We now know that the chemical was (4-methylcyclohexyl) methanol (MCHM), used as a frothing agent for cleaning coal. We also know that the chemicals leaked from storage tanks at a Freedom Industries storage site right next to the river. And that there is no record of any sort of formal, industry-approved inspection performed on any of the company’s storage tanks before the January spill. And although there is a West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, until this June, there was no state requirement that above-ground storage tanks even be registered. (Legislation is still being drafted, and will likely continue into next year.)
The (Federal) Chemical Safety Board, which investigates spills, concluded that the spill was caused by corrosion at the bottom of two storage tanks. But as one commenter asserts, that’s the cause of the spill, not the cause of the disaster. The disaster was caused by poor planning and lax inspections.
Read a roundup by science journalist Rebecca Trager: Cause Found For Large Chemical Spill In West Virginia – Scientific American.
I knew it was just a matter of time before the edible holograms story re-appeared in the media! New Scientist reports that Chocolate gets a rainbowy holographic makeover.
I didn’t think noise was all that interesting, but Jonathon Keats at Discover Magazine piqued my interest with 20 Things You Didn't Know About… Noise.
I love science journalism. Sometimes I hate it, too. All too often, the public ends up reading a perfect storm of wrong information that occurs when science writers use imperfect analogies to get their point across (as article wordcounts shrink from multikiloword features to mere Tweets) and/or journalists untrained in science cover stories without sufficient background to understand the topic (or even ask appropriate questions). Remember when the Internet was a series of tubes invented by Al Gore? This year, it’s synthetic biology’s turn in the barrel of abuse.
Christina Agapakis, over at the Scientific American blog Oscillator, tries to undo some of the damage by explaining how “designing a gene with synthetic biology” is really not like writing a software program, despite an article published by the New York Times. It’s a good read: If you wish to make a gene from scratch.
I once wrote an article about whales with toothaches at SeaWorld. The keepers used an IR camera to check for hotspots in the whales’ gums (which could indicate infected areas before they become apparent to the naked eye). The sooner a grumpy whale’s source of pain can be diagnosed, the sooner it can be addressed. In this photo from New Scientist, another big mammal is getting some dental care:
Extreme hygiene: Cleaning a hippo's mighty molars.
The cool thing here is that the researchers at Australia’s Monash University have created a very tiny laser that uses surface plasmons and is made of carbon. That’s pretty neat by itself!
The press release linked below, however, goes a bit farther:
The carbon means that it could, possibly, be made by printing it on flexible substrates, which could, possibly, include clothes. The device might, possibly, be able to replace some or many of the components in a cellphone. Therefore, the press release title claims: Your T-shirt’s ringing: telecommunications in the spaser age.
I’ve linked to stories about exploding manhole covers (due to underground leaks in sewer or gas pipes), but with the March gas explosion in New York City that killed 8 people, the problem of gas explosions stopped being fodder for funny blog posts.
Scientific American looks into: How Can Cities Protect Themselves against Gas Explosions? .