Science Friday: creation, pain, plastics, energy technology and disaster preparedness
November 16, 2007
Just a few unrelated cool items this week:
- John Scalzi visited the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, and suffice to say, he had a lot of fun. Oh, you could probably skip the first few paragraphs where he compares it to equine excrement, but it was apparently worth every penny of the $27m they spent trying to present the first chapter of Genesis as a science textbook. Be sure to take the photo tour.
- Of considerable interest to me is the use of brain imaging studies to understand chronic pain. Of course this is early stuff but it turns out there are structural differences in the brains of chronic pain sufferers. It might suggest future research directions. Maybe they’ll come up with really effective treatments by the time it just doesn’t matter anymore, at least to me.
- What to do with all that excess carbon dioxide? How about make plastic with it? Someone found out how to use a zinc-based catalyst to use CO2 as a feedstock at low temperatures and pressures. Thing is, even if we made all our roads and buildings and trains and cars and houses out of CO2 plastic, it would hardly make a dent. At least it’s biodegradable, which I assume means it would produce methane. Oh well, it is still a very cool technology and may lead to other things. A startup has venture capital to build a pilot program using the new process.
- In a country where ‘high ground’ means getting up on top of a car, it looked like cyclone Sidr was going to cause mass casualties like the one in the 1970’s that killed a half-million people. But preparations have been made since then and even though huge destruction is occurring, it looks like loss of life will be much less this time around. Maybe FEMA could learn something from them about preparation, since the agency started economizing on preparedness when the current administration took over from Clinton.
- BBC has a neat animated page on hurricanes and cyclones (same thing). On slide 8 you can see the damage differential for different levels. Sidr made landfall as a 5 and dropped to a 3 inline – still no joke where high ground is rare and reinforced structures in the minority.
- Here’s an idea I just love – spherical solar cells. Tiny ones, each in its own itty-bitty scale hexagonal reflector. It uses one-fifth the amount of silicon as conventional cells, should have better efficiency, and goes on a flexible foil substrate. They are going on sale now, and the goal is to make them half the price of conventional cells by 2010.
Why is this so cool? First because using less silicon will reduce the carbon imprint and lower costs. But also because they can be shaped to anything, like the roof of a car or tiles on a house. The sun has been dumping free energy on us all this time, and we should start snagging it.
- Oh, one other thing: the new IPCC report is due out soon and it looks bad. But hey, let’s keep denying and evading and stalling.