Artificial flavoring is a big part of our food industry whether we like it or not. But the use of one chemical might be causing a potentially fatal lung disease, bronchiolitis obliterans, in the workers who handle it. Investigators have found an alarmingly high number of cases of this disease in Midwestern popcorn workers and have linked it to the cheap flavoring diacetyl. Diacetyl helps to give the popcorn a butter flavor.
Scientists at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and industry leaders are clashing over what should be done. This report on the industry's reactions to safety claims outlines how science is never a fixed standard. Everyone in this issue seems to disagree: the industry scientists, health officials, workers.
What do you think?
Think you could swim 2,484 nautical miles
(1 nautical mile = 1.15 miles) across the Atlantic Ocean? This month, Spray, will embark on its mission to swim from the southern tip of Greenland to the coast of Spain. Spray is an autonomous underwater vehicle, AUV for short, created by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California.
Spray will act as an “aquatic sentinel” collecting data on temperature, currents and salinity. This information will assist scientists in furthering their knowledge base pertaining the role oceans have on global climate. Dr. Russ Davis, from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego stated "The key is that Spray can stay at sea for months at relatively low cost, allowing us to observe large-scale changes under the ocean surface that might otherwise go unobserved." If Spray completes this mission, the robot will break its personal record of 1,864 nautical miles for the longest distance ever traveled by an AUV. GO SPRAY!!!
Check out this graphical representation of Spray in action.
Tornado season is here for those of us living in the Midwest. Tornadoes fascinate me – they’re so incredibly powerful and stunning and scary all at once. I used to have all sorts of elaborate emergency escape plans to the basement when I was a kid, and even had a pecking order for what prized possessions I would save and how. I also remember as a kid being told that if there was the threat of a tornado to open up a window a crack before heading to the basement so that the pressure inside the house would normalize with the pressure outside generated by the tornado thus preventing the roof from being blown off. I did this all the way up until last summer – but no more.
It turns out that a majority of damage to homes is the result of wind blowing into open (or broken) windows pushing up on the roof at the same time as winds are blowing over and under them, generating a lifting force, which increases the chances of the roof being blown off. So, all this time I’ve been making my house less safe, rather than safer. Doh.
Although it is likely wishful thinking on my part to hope that a single pane of glass is going to remain intact during a tornado, especially with all the debris that will be flying around. It makes more sense to close them to keep the rain out than to save the house from tornado damage, but it feels good to do something during those times when you have no real control. Better still to just forget the windows and get to the basement. With my most prized possessions.
A recent study shows black holes to be some of the most energy efficient engines in the universe, as well as playing a role in preventing galaxies from growing too large.
Black holes are super-dense objects formed when massive stars deplete their internal nuclear fuel and collapse into themselves. A black hole's gravitational force is so strong anything that wanders too close - such as a companion star or cosmic debris - eventually gets sucked into it. Super-massive black holes are thought to make up the centers of galaxies.
Using NASA's orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory, scientists studied nine older black holes located in star systems 55 million to 442 million light years from Earth. A light-year is the distance light travels in a year, approximately 6 trillion miles. The study measured both the amount of hot gas being drawn into the black holes and the high-energy particles being ejected from them.
Surprisingly, these "galactic engines" proved to be 25 times more efficient than anything man-made, even nuclear power.
"If you could make a car engine that was as efficient as one of these black hole engines you could get about a billion miles per gallon of gas", said study lead author Steve Allen of Stanford University and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.
Scientists think the conversion processes could be connected to the black holes' spin rates and magnetic fields.
The high energy spewed from these celestial engines at near the speed of light also seems to regulate galaxy size. Areas of heat produced from the jets prevent gas from cooling and forming new stars.
"The black holes are actually preventing galactic sprawl from taking over the neighborhood", said astrophysicist Kim Weaver of NASA.
What extra sensory perceptions would would you like? Seeing behind your back? Smelling odorless gasses like carbon monoxide? How about seeing in the dark? Sensors already exist that can do these things. All that is needed is a way to input what they sense into our brains. The most common way to input information from external sensors is visually. We can use our eyes to see distant airplanes or weather clouds on a radar scope. We can read how much carbon monoxide is in the air we breath by looking at a meter.
Suppose we need to sense things without using our eyes. Most often when we cannot see, we use our fingers to get information. Blind people use a cane to feel thier way around. Sometimes they tap their cane and listen for echoes to sense a barrier.
Another way to sense data about our environment is with our tongue. Suppose a ten by ten grid of electrodes were placed on the tongue and small voltages were used to create various patterns of sensation on the tongue. Just like bumps on paper can create thousands of words for people trained to read braille, the hundred electrodes on the tongue can allow trained people to sense data from sonar, radar, toxin detectors, or any other data measurable by various sensors.
At the institute for Machine and Human Cognition (IFHMC) Anil Raj is principle investigator in research titled: Adaptive Human/Machine Multi-sensory Prostheses. They are working on TSAS: Tactile Situation Awareness System. The research is exploring how electrodes on the tongue or in a body suit can allow users to receive input from external devices. Such input is desirable when your hands and eyes are already too busy or when they cannot be used.
About 500 miles west of Costa Rica, scientists dug deep (and I mean DEEP) into the Earth’s crust. For the first time, layers of pristine igneous rock were retrieved. Their findings included a dark rock called gabbro. Gabbro is an igneous rock formed when molten magma is trapped underneath the Earth’s surface, cools and forms a crystalline mass.
JOIDES Resolution, the drill ship, bored nearly a mile into our planet’s oceanic crust recovering a complete stratified core of the overlaying crust in the Pacific Ocean. Studying gabbro along with crust sections will better inform scientists about the processes pertaining to crust formation and structure, plate tectonics, mountain formation as well as earthquake and volcano triggers.
Douglas Wilson, study co-author from the University of California, Santa Barbara, told LiveScience “This process covers 60 percent of the Earth’s surface, and it’s an ongoing process that has replaced all of the seafloor since 180 million years ago. In terms of understanding the planet, it’s a fundamental process."
Today was Earth Day. Did you celebrate?
Here are some Earth Day resources:
This is a kids' Earth Day site. You can play games, download a coloring book, crafts, or recipes, adopt a rainforest animal, and learn the history of Earth Day.
Visit the US Government's Earth Day portal. It lists environmental highlights, suggestions for how you can make a difference, and volunteer opportunities. It also has teacher resources.
The Yahoo! web portal has a list of 10 easy things you can do to slow climate change.
Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, has successfully sent a fleet of aerial drones through the pollution-filled skies over the Indian Ocean. Researchers hope the data produced by flights will reveal in unprecedented detail how pollution particles cause dimming and contribute to the formation of clouds which amplify the dimming caused by the pollution.
The instrument-bearing autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles (AUAVs) completed 18 successful data-gathering missions in the vicinity of the Maldives, an island chain nation south of India, said Scripps scientist V. Ramanathan. Researchers hope the data produced during the flights will reveal in unprecedented detail how pollution particles cause dimming and contribute to the formation of clouds which amplify the dimming caused by the pollution.
Cloud cover cools Earth's surface by reflecting solar radiation back into space. In recent years, researchers have realized that pollution in the atmosphere, and the dimming and cooling it causes, could be leading scientists to underestimate the true magnitude of global-warming trends observed in recent decades.
Flights took place between March 6 and March 31, 2006, taking off from an airport on the island of Hanimaadhoo in the Maldives. Each AUAV tracked a separate component of brown cloud formation. The lowest, flying beneath the cloud, quantified the input of pollution particles and measured quantities of light that penetrated the clouds.
The aircraft flying through the cloud measured the cloud's response to the introduction of particles. The aircraft flying above the cloud measured the amount of sunlight reflected by the clouds into space and the export of particles out of the clouds.
Source: National Science Foundation.
A team of chemists,engineers, and mathemeticians from the University of Minnesota has just published newly discovered details that will lead to customized engineering of zeolite crystal. Ultimately, their goal is to control the structure, size and shape of the crystals well enough for zeolites to serve as sponges for hydrogen in fuel tanks, channels in next-generation sensors and separation membranes for chemical manufacturing.
Zeolite is a porous, sieve-like mineral often used in filters and purifiers. Zeolite has economic importance in industry because it is used to extract various components out of petroleum. The challenge for researchers is to tailor a zeolite for each application so it traps just the right set of chemicals.
"Membranes made by our current process will cost over $1,000 per square meter - too expensive for widespread use in applications like hydrogen purification and hydrocarbon separations that need thousands of square meters of membrane," said Tsapatsis.
"With the mechanistic knowledge we now have we are designing one-step film formation processes that could cost one tenth that amount." University of Minnesota chemical engineer Michael Tsapatsis, graduate student and lead author Tracy Davis, and their colleagues report their findings Apr. 17, 2006, online in Nature Materials. The research was supported by several National Science Foundation (NSF) grants from across three Divisions.
Source: National Science Foundation