Every day scientists are asked by the public to do one thing above all else; distill our information down to the most necessary and broadest type of description we can as to cover the most amount in the shortest time. You might think this goes against the classical teaching methods and doesn’t serve the student and you might be right. But sometimes it’s good practice to simply provide the inspiration or that magical spark of information that leads to the deeper more meaningful answer. Studies have long shown that simply providing an answer to a question is rarely enough to enable someone to learn a subject effectively. Engaging the brain and putting in the legwork to search for an answer often provides not only more in depth answers but make them more likely to stick long afterwards. So, today we are highlighting a man who is one of the best in the business at nutshelling; Dr. Michio Kaku.
BigThink is one of my favorite YouTube channels and Dr. Kaku is a regular guest. In this video he condenses not just a scientific subject, a whole branch but the entire universe in just around 42 minutes. From Einsteins’s famous E=MC^2 to the technology of science fiction, he discusses many topics and how they all lead back to Physics and the fabric of our universe. So, sit back and enjoy one of the greatest science communicators of our age doing what he does best and let us know what you think in the comments!
Holograms made of tiny particles of silver could double the amount of information that can be stored in digital optical devices, such as sensors, displays and medical imaging devices.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge have developed a new method for making multi-coloured holograms from a thin film of silver nanoparticles, which could greatly increase the storage capabilities of typical optical storage devices.
The interference produced by the interaction of light with the nanoparticles allows the holograms to go beyond the normal limits of diffraction, or the way in which waves spread or bend when they encounter an opening or obstacle. The results were recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
When metallic particles have dimensions on the nanoscale, they display iridescent colours. A noted example of this phenomenon is the Lycurgus cup, which was made in the 4th century during the Roman Empire, and changes colour when held up to the light. An optical phenomenon, known as dichroism, occurs when the colour of the cup changes from green to red according to the position of the light source.
Roman artisans made the cup by incorporating nanoparticles into glass, although they would have been unaware of the specific physical characteristics responsible for the colours observed in the cup. Only in the last 20 years have scientists begun to understand this phenomenon, but they have not been able to utilise its effects in currently-available technology.
To apply this phenomenon in modern optics, an interdisciplinary team of researchers have created nanoscale metallic nanoparticle arrays that mimic the colour effects of the Lycurgus cup, to form multi-colour holograms. This breakthrough could lead to the shrinkage of standard bulky optical devices.
“This technology will lead to a new range of applications in the area of photonics, as conventional optical components simply cannot achieve this kind of functionality,” said Yunuen Montelongo, a PhD student from the Department of Engineering, who led the research. “The potential of this technology will be realised when they are mass produced and integrated into the next generation of ultra-thin consumer electronics.”
Using a single thin layer of silver, Montelongo and his colleagues patterned colourful holograms containing 16 million nanoparticles per square millimetre. Each nanoparticle, approximately 1000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, scatters light into different colours depending on its particular size and shape. The scattered light from each of the nanoparticles interacts and combines with all of the others to produce an image.
The device can display different images when illuminated with a different colour light, a property not seen before in a device of this type. Furthermore, when multiple light sources are shone simultaneously, a multi-colour image is projected.
These holographic devices are between 10 and 100 times smaller than just one of the millions of pixels used to produce a colour image on a typical laptop screen, yet they project a complete multi-colour image to the eye. This is possible through plasmonics: the study of how light interacts with metals on the nanoscale, which allows the researchers to go beyond the capability of conventional optical technologies.
“This hologram may find a wide range of applications in the area of displays, optical data storage, and sensors,” said PhD student Calum Williams, a co-author of the paper. “However, scalable approaches are needed to fulfil the potential of this technology.”
Currently, the team is exploring various optical mechanisms involved in the light-matter interaction at nanoscale. The future research will involve the construction of three-dimensional dynamic displays for consumer electronics and the researchers are already looking into tuning these devices for reconfigurable display technologies.
– See more at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/nanotechnology-used-to-create-next-generation-holograms-for-information-storage#sthash.umQbQBsi.dpuf
By now I’m sure you’ve heard about the discovery of Einstein’s gravitational waves. When Einstein predicted that space-time could be seen as a fabric that bends around heavy gravitation it was a purely theoretical exercise. 100 years later, we’ve finally discovered a way to measure ripples in this ‘fabric’. The measurements were made at LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory by Caltech and MIT.
A seasoned veteran of explaining science to non-scientists, Greene clearly explains how this measurement was made and what it could mean for the future of the scientific study of gravity.
After 340 days on board the International Space Station, astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko are scheduled to return home March 1. Tuesday’s departure will mark the end of a stint in orbit about twice as long as a typical visit to the space station.
Kelly and Kornienko left Earth on March 27, 2015, for an expedition designed to study the physical and psychological challenges that future astronauts will have to endure on trips to far-flung locales such as Mars. Back on Earth, Kelly’s identical twin brother, Mark, is serving as an experimental control so researchers can compare how space changes a person with the same genetic makeup.
A year is a long time, but it’s not the longest sojourn to low Earth orbit. That honor goes to cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov, who stayed on space station Mir for nearly 438 days in 1994 and 1995.
No word yet on whether the gorilla suit that Mark recently sent his brother is staying behind.
Researchers have found one of the oldest and most detailed fossils of the central nervous system yet identified, from a crustacean-like animal that lived more than 500 million years ago. The fossil, from southern China, has been so well preserved that individual nerves are visible, the first time this level of detail has been observed in a fossil of this age.
The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, are helping researchers understand how the nervous system of arthropods – creepy crawlies with jointed legs – evolved. Finding any fossilised soft tissue is rare, but this particular find, by researchers in the UK, China and Germany, represents the most detailed example of a preserved nervous system yet discovered.
The animal, called Chengjiangocaris kunmingensis, lived during the Cambrian ‘explosion’, a period of rapid evolutionary development about half a billion years ago when most major animal groups first appear in the fossil record. C. kunmingensis belongs to a group of animals called fuxianhuiids, and was an early ancestor of modern arthropods – the diverse group that includes insects, spiders and crustaceans.
“This is a unique glimpse into what the ancestral nervous system looked like,” said study co-author Dr Javier Ortega-Hernández, of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology. “It’s the most complete example of a central nervous system from the Cambrian period.”
Over the past five years, researchers have identified partially-fossilised nervous systems in several different species from the period, but these have mostly been fossilised brains. And in most of those specimens, the fossils only preserved details of the profile of the brain, meaning the amount of information available has been limited.
C. kunmingensis looked like a sort of crustacean, with a broad, almost heart-shaped head shield, and a long body with pairs of legs of varying sizes. Through careful preparation of the fossils, which involved chipping away the surrounding rock with a fine needle, the researchers were able to view not only the hard parts of the body, but fossilised soft tissue as well.
The vast majority of fossils we have are mostly bone and other hard body parts such as teeth or exoskeletons. Since the nervous system and soft tissues are essentially made of fatty-like substances, finding them preserved as fossils is extremely rare. The researchers behind this study first identified a fossilised central nervous system in 2013, but the new material has allowed them to investigate the significance of these finding in much greater depth.
The central nervous system coordinates all neural and motor functions. In vertebrates, it consists of the brain and spinal cord, but in arthropods it consists of a condensed brain and a chain-like series of interconnected masses of nervous tissue called ganglia that resemble a string of beads.
Like modern arthropods, C. kunmingensis had a nerve cord – which is analogous to a spinal cord in vertebrates – running throughout its body, with each one of the bead-like ganglia controlling a single pair of walking legs.
Closer examination of the exceptionally preserved ganglia revealed dozens of spindly fibres, each measuring about five thousandths of a millimetre in length. “These delicate fibres displayed a highly regular distribution pattern, and so we wanted to figure out if they were made of the same material as the ganglia that form the nerve cord,” said Ortega-Hernández. “Using fluorescence microscopy, we confirmed that the fibres were in fact individual nerves, fossilised as carbon films, offering an unprecedented level of detail. These fossils greatly improve our understanding of how the nervous system evolved.”
For Ortega-Hernández and his colleagues, a key question is what this discovery tells us about the evolution of early animals, since the nervous system contains so much information. Further analysis revealed that some aspects of the nervous system in C. kunmingensis appear to be structured similar to that of modern priapulids (penis worms) and onychophorans (velvet worms), with regularly-spaced nerves coming out from the ventral nerve cord.
In contrast, these dozens of nerves have been lost independently in the tardigrades (water bears) and modern arthropods, suggesting that simplification played an important role in the evolution of the nervous system.
Possibly one of the most striking implications of the study is that the exceptionally preserved nerve cord of C. kunmingensis represents a unique structure that is otherwise unknown in living organisms. The specimen demonstrates the unique contribution of the fossil record towards understanding the early evolution of animals during the Cambrian period. “The more of these fossils we find, the more we will be able to understand how the nervous system – and how early animals – evolved,” said Ortega-Hernández.
- Jie Yang et. al. The fuxianhuiid ventral nerve cord and early nervous system evolution in Panarthropoda. PNAS, 2016 DOI:10.1073/pnas.1522434113
Patrick Bartlein, a climatologist from Oregon University, has co-authored a study
relating the effects of Climate change over the past 3,000 years on wildfires in the western
United States. Using cores of sediments extracted from the bottom of mountain lakes, the
researchers have overlaid the data with a record of past climate changes. The sediments
contain layers of charcoal which can be attributed to large fire activity in the area. This allows
the activity to be dated fairly accurately.
There was a time frame between 950 A.D. To 1250 A.D. which is called the ‘Medieval
Climate Anomaly.’ This era was recorded to be unusually warm and dry. According to
Bartlein’s teams data, this coincided with an increase in fires. From the other end of the
spectrum, the centuries from 1400 A.D. to 1700 A.D. have been labeled the ‘Little Ice Age.’
This was a time of cool and moist air moving globally. The fire activity was significantly
reduced during that time. These are just a few examples of events that have led the
climatologists to describe almost 3,000 years of these types of relations.
Given the climate information of the past century and a half, the amount of natural fire
predicted is significantly higher than the amount recorded. The author’s note that this
information only covers the wildfire activity in limited areas in the western United States,
however, global information can be extrapolated. Bartlein states that “If you just look at what
the current climate is like, the rate of biomass burning should be much higher than what
we’ve observed over the 20th century…” The west has been warming since the early 1900’s.
There are a large number of people who consider the start of significant global warming to be
the Industrial Revolution. They attribute the decrease in wildfire to a combination of cattle,
fragmentation of the landscape, and suppression by the population. The cattle graze the
landscape reducing fuel for wildfires. Urban sprawl has broken the west into smaller
contiguous areas, decreasing the risk of fires spreading.
Starting in the 1980’s, the most recent data shows that this ‘fire deficit’ may be
getting ‘paid back.’ “Since the 1980s, fire frequency in the West has increased more than 300
percent, and the annual acreage burned has jumped 500 percent…” says Anthony Westerling
of the University of California’s Sierra Nevada Research Institute. These authors all recognize
that these studies don’t get into the specifics of types of ecosystems, acknowledging that there
could be significant differences between, for instance, grass lands and forests. This is more of
a ‘broad stroke picture’ of events.
While the factors reducing wildfire vulnerability continue to grow, the connection
between fires and climate still exist and we must stay ever vigilant to manage our western
landscape. The problem extends beyond our own lands and is, in fact, worse in other parts of
the world. While natural wildfire is an extremely difficult disaster that is near impossible to
control, ‘an ounce of prevention goes a long way’ as the old saying goes.
– Bj Hile
Tom Yulsman. ‘Fire Deficit May Trigger Fiercer Wildfires’ June 29th , 2012
Scientific American <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=fire-deficit-trigger-
In ‘The Weather Makers: How Man is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth.’,
Tim Flannery states that “To stay below (that threshold)*, we need to reduce CO2 emissions by 80%.”
I would venture to say that 80% would seem like a high number to any logical thinking person. In the
article ‘Energy Savings: It Starts at Home’, author Peter Miller chronicles a 30 day period in which he
and his wife attempt to get as close to that number as possible.
According to Scientists, the rise in our atmosphere’s average temperature is rising even faster
than predicted in previous years.(p.62) This is due, in part, to an increase in the emission of CO2 and
other ‘greenhouse gasses’ into the atmosphere. The obvious solution to this problem would be to limit
our output of these gasses, referred to as a ‘carbon footprint.’ The question is ‘Where to start?’ The best
place, says Peter Miller, as with most ecological ideas, is with individuals in their own homes.
The first step in the process was to gather some numbers by which to measure their own CO2
emissions in their home. The average output of the American Home is 150lbs. of CO2. With the
reduction recommended by Flannery that would mean the goal would be a much lower 30lbs. of CO2
emission per household per day. The following is a short list compiled by Miller applying emission
values to daily activities.
1.5lbs of CO2 per 1kWh
Natural Gas: 12lbs of CO2 per 100 ft3
19.7 lbs of CO2 per gallon
Using these values, Miller set out to discover ways of reducing their daily emissions, both
obvious and not so obvious. The more obvious ways include using public transportation, turning
electrical devices off when not in use, not using electrical devices for jobs that can be done by
hand(drying clothes, kitchen appliances, etc.) A few of the non obvious ways are lowering the
temperature on the hot water heater, unplugging power cables that aren’t connected to devices, and
having the ‘envelope'(p.68) of your house checked by a professional.
While Americans are driving farther and more often than ever,(p. 72) “Buildings, not cars, produce
the most CO2 in the U.S.”(p.72) This, of course, includes residential dwellings as well as businesses and
factories. Companies as Wal-Mart are creating test facilities in which they are using more efficient
ways of conducting business such as low emission lighting, high efficient heating and cooling and earth
The cost involved in retro-fitting current buildings is still significant without a quick return on
investment. There are a few companies such as DOW, DuPont, and 3M that are demonstrating that it
is a sound investment by making the dollar amount of their savings public. DOW has saved seven
billion dollars and reduced their CO2 output by 20% since 1995.
Heating and cooling a home can account for between 40% and 60% of the household energy
consumption. Making sure that the building is sealed and insulated properly can greatly decrease the
power needed to heat and cool it. There are professionals whose sole purpose is to test a home for
efficiency. The cost involved can be high but the investment will pay off in time.
The pathway to extending the life of our planet is clear. The first step, though, is making the
information available and helping individuals and companies to understand that they should and are
capable of reducing their carbon footprint. In a 2007 survey, only 24% of people stated that, if given
$10,000, they would invest it in efficiency. It is up to us to make the decision that working towards a
carbon neutral future is worth the investment. Miller stated that with little effort and almost no
monetary expenditures, he and his wife were able to cut their monthly emissions almost in half. It
starts with enlightenment and then becomes an easy decision to make those small lifestyle changes.
*-> ‘that threshold’ refers the threshold of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere in which the
temperature will reach a critical point as to melt icecaps and kill natural vegetation.
Miller, Peter. “Saving Energy: It Starts at Home” National Geographic March 2009 pg.60-pg.80
Size and Distribution of Alternative Energy Sources
Including Wind and Solar or ‘Green is Going Giant’
One of the largest issues with ‘Alternative Energy’ is the cost to build new systems when there
are already sources in place. It takes a desire to invest in our future to build these systems and time for
the investment to repay. In previous decades, it was thought that Solar and Wind energy were only
productive for small installations and had no way to hold up to large plants such as coal or nuclear.
There are companies, however, that are out to prove that raising the scale of renewable energy is not
only possible but more economic.
Arizona Public Service is a utility company in Tucson, Az. uses an array of mirrors that direct the
sun and heat a mineral oil to produce a liquid hydrocarbon which runs a generator. The mirrors equal
cover about 100,000 sq. ft. of area. At this size, the plant can produce about a megawatt of power. The
manufacturer, Acciona Solar Power, plans to open a 350 acre plant in Nevada that will be able to
produce 64 megawatts of power with similar technology. This is enough to power a medium sized town
including hospitals and malls.
In the early 1980’s in Hull, Mass. the municipality built a wind turbine to take advantage of the
strong breeze that blows from the ocean north of Boston. The turbine was able to power a handful of
homes at a generating capacity of 40 kilowatts. Given Hull’s close proximity to the ocean, slowing global
warming is in its best interest. A number of years later, the municipality built an even larger turbine
able to produce 660 kilowatts. While the original turbine looked like ‘a ham radio tower’, the new one,
named Hull 1, was on top of a 150 ft. tower. Only four years later, they installed Hull 2, a 1.8 megawatt
turbine. They are now working on four new turbines that can produce 3.6 megawatts each. Apart from
the increase in power, the larger, slimmer towers with the slower spinning blades are more aesthetically
A major difference between solar and wind powered apparatus and the larger coal burning
plants is that the major cost in coal is in mining and transportation while the cost of wind and solar
energy is split pretty evenly between the cost of parts and installation. To demonstrate this, the total
cost of Hull 2 was roughly $3 million. If 1,000 homes were to build 1.8 kilowatt homes they would
output the same amount of power but at a total cost of about $15 million. The investment period
before payoff would stay the same between the large and small scales. While a 14 year payback period
would be economical for a large installation, it would just not make sense at an individual scale.
In Nantucket Sound, there is a group working on the Cape Wind project. This is a project to
build an offshore wind farm of 130 3.6 megawatt turbines. The major cost in this project is not how
large the turbines are but rather the infrastructure to support them. This consists of underwater
structures to carry the electricity as well as the support structures to hold the towers. According to
Mark Rodger, a spokesperson for Cape Wind, states that ‘These are things that you are going to have to
do, whether it’s a very small or a very large offshore wind farm. The best bang for your buck is to go large.’
The same principals hold for solar cells. The cost of installing and maintaining a solar farm is
split almost evenly between the actual solar cells and the support structure around it. The costs
involved in transporting and installing these parts is significant and as stated earlier, given the
economics and size of the investment, bigger definitely is better.
– Bj Hile
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/07/business/businessspecial2/07big.html?pagewanted=all New York
Times; Matthew L. Wald; March 7th, 2007
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