Eco Experience at MN state fair: photo by ahhyeah
Eco Experience at MN state fair: photo by ahhyeah

Look for the 123 ft wind turbine blade

Going to Minnesota's State air? Don't miss the Eco Experience in the Progress Center building. Look for the 123ft. tall blade from a 1.5 megawatt wind turbine. It is at the NW corner near Snelling. Like everything served on a stick, this could be "wind on a stick".

Minnesota Public Radio website has a slideshow of what you will see. The exhibits within have a strong emphasis on energy to use the energy you do use carefully. Below is a breakdown of topics and activities. Each link will take you to more information. Also here is a map (pdf).

The Eco Experience is an opportuity to talk with and learn from regional leaders in energy conservation. The University of Minnesota's solar race car is there as well as lots of ideas you can use in your homes. Maybe I will see you there. I plan to volunteer at the University of Minnesota – Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE) booth. The Minnesota pollution control website has links to other participant websites.


Embryo, 8 cells: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Embryo, 8 cells: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Stem cell research is a hot topic in our country these days. Much of the controversy surrounds embryonic stem cell research and the issue of extracting cells from, and in turn destroying, developing embryos.

If only there was a way to obtain stem cells without killing the developing embryo…

Well, it looks like there is.

Researchers have found a way to extract a single cell from an embryo to be used for stem cells, while keeping the embryo intact.

Usually, stem cells are removed from an embryo when they are about 4 or 5 days old and the embryo has developed into a microscopic hollow ball structure known as a blastocyst. Extracting cells from the blastocyst causes it to fall apart and destroys the embryo. The new research findings show that stem cells can be harvested from less developed embryos, those with only 8 to 10 cells, and can leave the embryos unharmed.

Sounds like a solution to the stem cell debate, doesn’t it?

However, there are still ethical concerns with the new stem cell research technique. Critics fear that an embryo that had a cell extracted from it will be less likely to be able to implant in the womb or will not develop properly, leading to health problems in the resulting child. Others are opposed because the extracted cell potentially could have developed into a new embryo itself.

It seems that the stem cell controversy will never end. But this discovery may be a step towards a solution.

What do you think? Is the new stem cell extraction technique ethical?


Pollution exchange: photo from  Wikimedia Commons
Pollution exchange: photo from Wikimedia Commons

Marketing pollution on the Chicago Climate Exchange

Most people will agree that something needs to be done about the pollution and greenhouse gasses resulting from our consumption of petrochemicals. One solution would be to encourage reducing emmissions by financially rewarding those that meet their quotas and penalize those that don't.

How it works

To illustrate, the American Electric Power's Mountaineer coal plant is America's single largest emitter of greenhouse gases - sending as much out from its stacks as Canada.

Last year the Mountaineer plant generated 10.5 million megawatt-hours of electricity, and a corresponding 8.6 million tons of CO2e. That would make its emissions, in CCX terms, a $39 million cost. If improvements yield just a 1 percent cut, the plant has almost $400,000 of emissions to sell. Looked at another way, the emissions are suddenly 20 percent of the cost of Mountaineer's fuel. CNN Money

The Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) is the world’s first and North America’s only voluntary, legally binding greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction and trading system for emission sources and offset projects in North America and Brazil. Members make a voluntary but legally binding commitment to reduce GHG emissions.

By the end of Phase I (December, 2006) all Members will have reduced direct emissions 4% below a baseline period of 1998-2001.Phase II, which extends the CCX reduction program through 2010, will require all Members to reduce GHG emissions 6% below baseline. CCX website about page

AEP Mountaineer plant uses the CCX in three ways. If its emissions are below its allowance, it can sell the difference, meaning the company has an incentive to emit as little as possible. If it needs to emit more, it can buy the difference from another member. Or AEP can invest in an offset program - say, planting carbon-sucking trees - that would earn the company new credits. The goal of the CCX is to create a market for pollution that, in effect, becomes a mechanism for reducing it.

The cost to pollute has doubled in six months

The currency at the Chicago Climate Exchange is a Carbon Financial Instrument contract, otherwise known as a CFI contract. One CFI contract is equal to 100 metric tons of CO2. The price of a CFI unit was less than $1 in 2004, rose to $1.75 in Jan. 2006, and now (Aug) are over $4.

To see what Europe is doing

go to European Union Greenhouse Gas Emission Trading Scheme (EU ETS)

Mission managers have determined Space Shuttle Atlantis will not launch before Tuesday, Aug. 29. NASA


Sunspot numbers by year: Photo source GlobalWarmingArt
Sunspot numbers by year: Photo source GlobalWarmingArt

Magnetic reversal in sunspot 905 signals new sunspot cycle.

Sunspots go through an eleven year cycle. When one solar cycle gives way to another--sunspots reverse polarity. For the second time in a month, a backward sunspot has appeared. The first backward spot, sighted on July 31st, was tiny and fleeting. The latest, however, is big and sturdy, bipolar sunspot 905.

The onset of Solar Cycle 24 is big news, because the cycle is expected to be intense, but don't expect any big storms right away. Solar cycles take years to ramp up to full power. The next Solar Max is expected in 2010.SpaceWeather

Most intense solar maximum in fifty years is forcast.

The prediction comes from a team led by Mausumi Dikpati of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

"The next sunspot cycle will be 30% to 50% stronger than the previous one," she says.

If correct, the years ahead could produce a burst of solar activity second only to the historic Solar Max of 1958. During the intense solarspot activity of 1958 people knew something big was happening. Northern Lights were sighted three times in Mexico. A similar maximum now would be noticed by its effect on cell phones, GPS, weather satellites and many other modern technologies.
Solar physicist David Hathaway of the National Space Science & Technology Center (NSSTC) explains that a convection current "conveyor belt" cycles magnetic knots from the core of the sun up to the surface, then back toward the core again. The cycle varys from 30 to 50 years. If it is flowing fast we will get more sunspots appearing. Science@NASA


California goes solar: photo from Wikipedia commons
California goes solar: photo from Wikipedia commons

California again leads the way

Almost every September my wife and I stay with some friends in California. Because their house has solar electricity and hot water we are told to not feel guilty about long, hot showers. Their electricity usage is also pollution free.

One million more solar panels

Californians are leading the way by supporting renewable energy. This week they passed a bill, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday, that calls for the installation of one million rooftop solar panels on homes, businesses, farms, schools and public buildings by 2018.

The solar systems would generate 3,000 megawatts of power and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 3 million tons, equivalent to taking 1 million cars off the state's highways and making California the third biggest solar producer after Japan and Germany.
The California Public Utilities Commission in January approved a $2.9 billion program to help pay for the solar program. The money will come from funds earmarked for solar energy and from gas and electric utility rates. Reuters


Sad little pluto
Sad little pluto

The folks at the Minnesota Planatarium are planning a wake due to Pluto's loss of planatary status. Join them at Joe's Garage in Minneapolis on Thursday, August 31 from 7 to 9 p.m.

Join us for a wake in honor of our dearly departed planet Pluto. It was a good planet, and although it will have new life in the ranks of dwarf planets, we'll remember it how it was in its full planetary glory.

We'll also have a telescope on the roof to view the quarter moon. Parke may be persuaded to give a short Eulogy.

Informal and impromptu
Food and drink available for purchase.
Costumes not required but prize for best Pluto costume.
Toasts to Pluto encouraged.

While the new Minnesota Planetarium isn't a reality just yet, they do have a great gallery of 3D space images (anaglyphs) taken by NASA. Get your red-blue goggles out to see these.

Researchers suggest children who watch TV while receiving a shot suffer less pain from a hypodermic needle than children not watching TV.


Hiccup cure: One of the many homemade variety.Coutesy lissame
Hiccup cure: One of the many homemade variety.
Coutesy lissame

One of the unexpected pleasures I’ve had in working in Body Worlds have been discussions about hiccups. There are several plastinated bodies that show the diaphragm -- the usual instigator of hiccups -- very well.

Along with those discussions have been a ton of comments from visitors about how they stop their hiccups. So I put it to you Science Buzz readers…what is your cure for hiccups?

Where's my diaphragm: Torso showing location of diaphragm. Courtesey Gray's Anatomy
Where's my diaphragm: Torso showing location of diaphragm. Courtesey Gray's AnatomyCourtesy Gray's Anatomy

I’ve been surprised at how few people actually know what happens in their body when they have the hiccups, so let’s cover that first.
The diaphragm is a large muscle that stretches across your entire torso, just below your lungs. It moves up and down to help your lungs inhale and exhale the air you breathe.

A hiccup occurs when the diaphragm experiences a spasm. You’ve probably felt your arm or leg muscles spasm, when they kind of twitch without you doing anything to make that happen. When the diaphragm spasms, it causes a quick intake of breath. But that breath is stopped quickly because the vocal cords in your throat close. The resulting turbulence of air in your throat makes the sound of a hiccup.

So why does the diaphragm spasm? One of the main causes is a full stomach. Factors leading to a full stomach that can lead to hiccups include eating too much food too fast, drinking too much alcohol, swallowing too much air, smoking, a sudden change in stomach temperature (like drinking a hot beverage after a cold beverage) or emotional stress or excitement.

In most cases, hiccups go away in just a few minutes. If they go on for a longer period of time, your abdomen may start to hurt. In rare instances, hiccups can last for more than 48 hours. Those persistent hiccups are usually a sign of more serious health problems and should be checked on by a doctor. Those conditions could include a problem with the central nervous system; problems in the body’s chemistry for kidney functions or hyperventilating; irradiation of the nerves in the head, neck or chest; anesthesia or surgery; mental health problems.

The best cures for regular forms of hiccups involve increasing the level of carbon dioxide in your blood. So how do you think you can do that?