Stories tagged Energy Transformations


Tired of the constant din and bustle of modern life? Is the noise of screaming children or the neighbor's yapping miniature collie turning you into a nervous nelly? Maybe what you need is a place where you can go for some real top-notch peace and quiet.

That place could very well be the special anechoic chamber located at Orfield Laboratories right here in the Twin Cities. The chamber, which is hidden behind two vault doors, has 3.3-foot-thick fiberglass sound-deadening fiberglass acoustic wedges covering all of its flat surfaces, so instead of bouncing off the walls, ceiling, and floor as in a traditional room, any sounds are absorbed. I'm talking absorbed almost completely - the double-walled steel and concrete room is, in fact, 99.99 percent absorbent. That's a lot of quiet! Humans can't detect any sound registering below 0 dBA, and the Orfield chamber has a decibel rating of −9.4 dBA! The space is so soundproof it's listed in the Guinness Book of World as the "Quietest place on the planet."

Of course, there are some side effects to being thrust into utter silence. One is that the sounds inside your own body, your breathing, stomach gurgles, and of blood rushing through your veins become quite pronounced. "In the anechoic chamber, you become the sound," says lab president and founder Steven Orfield.

Be aware that it's not that easy being in a totally silent environment. The longest anyone has been able to withstand the sensory deprivation of the chamber is 45 minutes. And even short spells of dead silence can trigger hallucinations. The brain just doesn't like being deprived of sensory input.

Orfield's anechoic chamber has been used by several industries, including Harley-Davidson, Whirlpool, and airlines to test product sound levels, and by NASA to test the ability of astronauts to function in the extreme silence of space where, as they often say, no one can hear you scream.

Story at
Sensory deprivation causes hallucinations
Frequency range of the human ear
Gizmodo story


Non-robotic jellyfish: Engineering researchers at Virginia Tech are building robots that mimic the efficient way jellyfish get around.
Non-robotic jellyfish: Engineering researchers at Virginia Tech are building robots that mimic the efficient way jellyfish get around.Courtesy Andy Field (Field Offie)
Researchers at Virginia Tech are working on several versions of robotic jellyfish that someday could be used by the military, or for mapping the ocean floor, or cleaning up oil spills.

Known affectionately as RoboJelly, the silicone blobs range from the size of a baseball to a giant five-foot floating monster. Each mimics the swimming technique used by jellyfish, those huffing and puffing water-bags that populate the world's oceans.

In nature, most jellyfish propel themselves by the seemingly simple expansion and contraction of their umbrella, using it to push water out like a rocket blast that propels it forward. But the fluid dynamics are a little more complicated than than just expelling out a big blast of water and moving the other way. It's more like when your cigar-smoking uncle would blow smoke rings into the air to impress you. Remember that? I do. These are called vortex rings, and it's the efficiency of the hydromedusean's self-created fluid flow that interest the VT researchers.

Students at VT's College of Engineering use thin layers of silicone - the same material used for swimming masks - to construct the robots. Electric batteries in watertight plexiglass boxes are used to power the mechanical blobs. The researchers are also looking into ways of extracting hydrogen from water to power them.

“Nature has done great job in designing propulsion systems but it is slow and tedious process," said Shashank Priya, associate professor at Virginia Tech, and the project's lead researcher. "On the other hand, current status of technology allows us to create high performance systems in a matter of few months.”

The on-going project involves a number of U.S. universities and industries, and will warrant several additional years of research before any prototypes are released for use. Besides possible military application, RoboJelly could be employed for such things as monitoring ocean currents and conditions, cleaning up oil spills, and studying sea-bottom flora and fauna.

Story at
Virginia Tech website


Spooky action: not just for Halloween anymore.
Spooky action: not just for Halloween anymore.Courtesy Photo and graphic by author plus Wikimedia Commons
This is a perfect post for Halloween. A really scary story involving quantum physics. Let me begin by saying that this stuff is absolutely mind-boggling. I’m not even sure I can explain it. Albert Einstein himself – the bravest theoretical physicist there ever was - called it “Spooky action at a distance”, that’s how much it scared him. What’s even more disturbing is that scientists now are reporting that this spooky action has gotten even spookier! I’m talking back-from-the-dead-zombie spooky! Let me feebly try to explain.

One dark and stormy night there were two sub-atomic particles – photons, let’s say – that are joined together like a two-headed freak show turtle. Wait, probably a bad analogy – how about this: like a set of identical twins? That works. Think of twins, Larry and Ralph. They’ve interacted with each other since birth, acting exactly the same way no matter where they were. If Larry ate a cheeseburger for lunch, Ralph had one, too. Anyway, in the world of quantum mechanics, this joining of two particles is called entanglement.

At quantum levels all rules of physics are thrown out like a rotting pumpkin on All Saints Day. As I understand it, particles don’t really exist in one particular spot or state on the time-space continuum –but rather in all their probable states at the same time. It has to do with a deal called superposition, and is all about probability. Which means until they’re measured or observed in some way, they live in a constant state of uncertainty. Once one of them gets measured, and a value is placed on it, the uncertainty is eliminated, and at that point it locks into some sort of “existence”. I think so anyway. But – and this is a really big but – just by measuring it, the particle dies. Or it’s state of uncertainty dies– I’m not sure which. Something gets killed. Does this make any sense? Not to me, but I’ll continue anyway.

So, with an entangled pair of particles, things get kind of weird. When two particles are entangled – i.e. physically interacting - with some sort of correlation (or anti-correlation), – that interaction remains no matter where they are located in relation to each other. You measure a value in one of the entangled particles, you can be certain the other particle instantly has the same value. In a correlated pair, if you see that one particle has an up spin, you’ll know right away the other has an up spin, too. In a normal world analogy, if you see Larry bobbing for apples at a party tonight, you’ll know Ralph is somewhere with a wet head.

This theory has been successfully tested several times on pairs of entangled photons separated by 80 some miles. It would matter not a whit if they were separated by a 100 billion lightyears, some unexplained force tying them together, would give the same results.

Now here comes the really scary part. Quantum physicists are now predicting that the same kind thing can happen when the two entangled particles don't even exist at the same time. This is called an entanglement swap. It involves removing a particle from one entangled pair, and using it to create a new pair with another particle removed from a different entangled pair. I know. Blah, blah, blah. But let’s see if I can help you (and me) understand.

Let’s start with an entangled pair of photons, our old pals “Larry and Ralph” again. You decide to measure Larry’s spin. It’s a down spin. So far so good. But unfortunately, your measurement leaves his twin Ralph, all alone. “You’re dead to me!” Ralph screams! And Larry is dead because you gave him a value (his spin). Ralph now wanders about by himself (with the same down spin as Larry of course). This is called disengagement. A little later, you create another entangled pair of photons, this time named “Jane and Sally”. They’re not very happy– always bickering, always fighting over whether they’re actually particles or packets of waves – you know, the usual photon sibling stuff. Anyway, after a while they become disengaged (somehow evidently without measuring and killing one – I’m confused here). Anyway, Jane leaves in a huff and eventually ends up hooking up with the very lonely Ralph. They’ve now done the old entanglement swap.

This leaves us with one dead photon, Larry, and one abandoned photon, Sally. They come from two different disengaged pairs and couldn’t be more unrelated. But, thanks to the screwy world of quantum mechanics Larry has somehow returned from the dead and is suddenly now entangled with Sally. They are an entangled pair. Sally wasn’t even alive when Larry died! But now she’s stuck in a paired entanglement with a stupid zombie. Now that's frightening. I’m sure Einstein is spinning in his grave.

If my telling of this bizarre quantum tale hasn’t scrambled your brains, or made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, you can try to learn more at the below links.

New Scientist story
Scientific American story
Niels Bohr – the genius responsible for this stuff
Quantum entanglement
Uncertainty principal
Schrodinger’s Cat A cat's both dead and alive until you look inside the box.


Flying saucer cutaway from Project 1794: Recent declassified documents show the US Air Force worked on developing a flying saucer in the 1950s.
Flying saucer cutaway from Project 1794: Recent declassified documents show the US Air Force worked on developing a flying saucer in the 1950s.Courtesy National Archives
Someone contact Mulder and Scully. Recently declassified documents show that the US Air Force was actually working on building flying saucers in the 1950s. Known as Project 1794, the four digitized documents available on the National Archives website, indicate the program involved development of a disk-shaped aircraft capable of achieving air speeds between Mach 3 and Mach 4 (2,300-3,000 mph) and a height of 100,000 feet! Propulsion was based on the Coandă effect, created by high-speed rotation of the saucer's outer rim. Jet turbines supplied the power. Avro Canada, a Canadian aircraft manufacturer, was also in on this very secret project. The truth might out there, but we might have to wait until the remainder of the two full boxes of documents is digitized and posted online.

National Archives website


Sprayable Battery: Move over spray-tan, there's a new aerosol in town.
Sprayable Battery: Move over spray-tan, there's a new aerosol in town.Courtesy Alex Walker
Researchers from Rice University have rethought the battery. Typically, batteries are made up of 5 layers: a positive and negative electrode, each with a metal current collector, and a polymer separator. These layers are manufactured in sheets and then rolled into cylinders. Rice researchers realized that each of these layers were available, or could be created, in sprayable form. They used lithium titanium oxide and lithium cobalt oxide for the anode and cathode, existing metallic paints and carbon nanotube mixtures for the current collectors, and a chemical hodge-podge with a very lengthy name for the separator layer. The result is an ultra thin (a fraction of a millimeter thick) lithium ion battery.
In their first experiment, researchers sprayed each consecutive layer onto nine bathroom tiles, topped with a solar cell. The resulting batteries were able to power 40 LEDs for six hours.
In its current state, this method is too toxic to be used outside a controlled environment, but with a little tweaking, a safe alternative will be found. At that point, any surface could be a battery!


Evolution timeline from 1882: This caricature of Darwin's theory appeared in the 1882 Punch Almanac. The recent evolution timeline created by Kyrk and Sezen is a bit of an improvement.
Evolution timeline from 1882: This caricature of Darwin's theory appeared in the 1882 Punch Almanac. The recent evolution timeline created by Kyrk and Sezen is a bit of an improvement.Courtesy Public domain via Wikipedia
This cool evolution timeline is really fascinating and fun to mess around with. I'm guessing Charles Darwin would agree it's a vast improvement over the one that appeared in Punch Almanac in1882 when he was still alive (see image at right). This new one was created by John Kyrk, a biology-trained artist in San Francisco in collaboration with Dr. Uzay Sezen, a plant biologist from the University of Georgia. The timeline is available in several languages and would be very useful in a classroom setting when studying evolution and paleontology.

The site is interactive and follows the evolution of our universe from the Big Bang to the present. You start it by clicking and sliding the red pyramid on the right. As you scroll across the timeline, various events in the history of the Universe, Solar System and ultimately, the Earth show up on the screen. All along, links also appear that either explain concepts or show examples of them. In the upper left hand corner is a menu linking you to several corollary Flash animations by Kyrk explaining cell biology and how RNA, DNA, cells, water, and other basic elements of life (including viruses) operate. Kyrk thinks animated illustrations are very useful in teaching and remembering ideas and concepts.

All the phases of Earth’s formation and development are covered in the evolution timeline, including the Late Heavy Bombardment, Snowball Earth, Cambrian Explosion, stromatolites, photosynthesis and iron formation. Once life begins to rise up, your computer screen will run amok with Earth’s diverse species populations from the one-celled animals, trilobites and fish to amphibians, reptiles, dinosaurs and mammals – the whole shooting match. All the major extinction events are shown, too.

The site also contains a link to this YouTube video version of someone else working the timeline so you can just sit back and watch how it happens, But I recommend working the interactive page yourself. A lot more happens and is available than the video allows you to see. Note that you’ll need Flash for it to run on your computer.

I wonder how Darwin would have reacted if he were able to see his theory illustrated in this way?

Evolution Timeline


Sensing Strain: This new system will allow you to detect strain anywhere, in any direction, and at any time.
Sensing Strain: This new system will allow you to detect strain anywhere, in any direction, and at any time.Courtesy Bruce Weisman
Scientists at Rice University developed a new type of paint, infused with carbon nanotubes, that can detect strain in bridges, buildings, and airplanes before the signs of deformation become visible to the naked eye.

This is how it works: The paint is applied to the desired structure and allowed to dry. A laser beam is then focused on the structure, which excites the carbon nanotubes, and in turn, causes them to fluoresce in a way that indicates strain. Finally, a handheld infrared spectrometer is used to measure this fluorescence.

The advantage of strain paint over conventional strain gauges is that the gauge (the paint, in this case) and the read-out device don't have to be physically connected. Also, strain paint allows you to measure strain anywhere on the structure, and along any direction. This product is not yet on the market, but it will benefit all of us, as I'm sure we all find the structural integrity of our planes, bridges, and buildings to be pretty important.


Electricity from Viruses: Berkeley Lab scientists generate electricity using viruses.
Electricity from Viruses: Berkeley Lab scientists generate electricity using viruses.Courtesy Courtesy kso
Scientists from the Berkeley Lab have developed a way to generate electricity from viruses! Their method is based on the piezoelectric properties of the virus, M13 bacteriophage. Piezoelectricity is the charge that accumulates in certain solids when a mechanical stress is applied to them (squeezing, pressing, pushing, tapping, etc.) The scientists realized that the M13 virus would be a great candidate for their research because it replicates extremely rapidly (no supply problems here), it’s harmless to humans (always a good thing), and it assembles itself into well-organized films (think chopsticks in a box). It was these films that they layered and sandwiched between gold-plated electrodes to create their nearly paper-thin generator. When this postage stamp-sized generator was tapped, it created enough electricity to flash a “1” on a liquid crystal screen.

The potential here is that someday we could put these super-thin generators in any number of places, and harness electricity by doing normal, everyday tasks like walking or closing doors. I propose putting them in the shoes of marathon runners and then have cell phone charging stations along the route. Nothing is more maddening than waiting all day in the rain to get an action shot of your runner, only to find that your battery has since died by the time your slow-poke reaches the finish line. There’s always next year.


Brontosaurs-a-chomping: The constant eating by herds of sauropods like these no doubt produced a constant flow of methane into the atmosphere.
Brontosaurs-a-chomping: The constant eating by herds of sauropods like these no doubt produced a constant flow of methane into the atmosphere.Courtesy Public domain
Imagine you’ve been transported back in time to the Late Jurassic and you’re sitting on a gently sloping hillside watching a large herd of the gigantic sauropod dinosaurs chowing down on tons of vegetation in the valley below. What’s the one thing you might need to worry about? The herd of sauropods suddenly stampeding the hillside? A truck-sized carnivore eyeing you from the shadows? Tiny burrowing mammals gnawing at your ankles? While all these scenarios would have been possible, the most likely worry would probably be (if you’re downwind anyway) getting inundated by a warm blast of dinosaur farts.

That’s right, dinosaur flatulence - tons of it - wafting over you like a huge, stinky old blanket. Ewww.

Researchers from Liverpool John Moore's University, the University of London, and the University of Glasgow have calculated that herds of sauropods, those tiny-headed ,long-necked, long-tailed herbivorous dinosaurs that populated the Jurassic landscape about 150 million years ago, would have been eating a lot of vegetation during their lifetimes and in the process releasing a tremendous amount of methane gas from their guts and into the Earth’s atmosphere. That's a lot of cheese-cutting.

In fact, writing in the journal Current Biology, Dr. David Wilkinson and his colleagues claimed that the amount of emission of methane just from the herbivorous dinosaur gassers would have been about the same amount being emitted from all sources today - 500-520 million tons each year. Methane is a greenhouse gas that can absorb the sun’s infrared energy, and heat up the atmosphere. The producers of methane today range from ruminant species such as cows, goats, and sheep, and from human activities such as natural gas drilling, but the effects on the environment could be similar – a warming of the atmosphere. Back in the Mesozoic, average temperatures were about 18 °F higher than today. Wilkinson and his colleagues suggest the dinosaur backfires could have been a big factor in the warming of the prehistoric environment, but admit it wouldn't have been the only source of the gas back then.

"There were other sources of methane in the Mesozoic so total methane level would probably have been much higher than now," Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson’s research interest lays not so much in the sauropods themselves but in the microscopic bacteria that once lined their guts. It was these microbes that converted the vegetable matter into energy and waste, including methane. Could that vast SBD Mesozoic methane source, as the researchers suggest, have been a big contributor to the warmer temperatures back then? Possibly. Or maybe it's just a lot of hot air.

BBC Nature News


Smear campaign: climate scientist relates his own experience from anti-science attack
Smear campaign: climate scientist relates his own experience from anti-science attackCourtesy CECAR - Climate and Ecosystems Change Adaptation R (adapted by Mark Ryan)
Several months back there was a lot of hoopla revolving around the so-called "Climategate" scandal. Climate scientists' emails were hacked, posted online and taken out of context as they were disseminated around the internet and through the news channels. Some researchers were charged with manipulating climate data to bolster their own point of view, and indignant investigations were launched against them. As the story fermented in the media, the blogosphere, and political circles, it grew into an over-inflated bag of hot-air. But, eventually, the truth prevailed, and those accused were exonerated by the facts. Michael Mann, a climate change researcher at Pennsylvania State University, was one of key figures in the "scandal", and has written (both here and in a new book) about his experience dealing with the kind of smear campaign that was hurled his way. He terms it the "scientization" of politics. It's involves some of same anti-science tactics used by the tobacco industry and creationists: mainly to cast doubt on the facts, and fabricate controversy where there is none.

Michael Mann at