Courtesy whaltHey Buzzketeers! Welcome to the new week! Is it everything you imagined it would be?
So, if I said “Radioactive Man,” would y’all get the Simpsons reference? Bart’s favorite comic book hero is Radioactive Man, a guy who survived an atomic blast, and a lightning bolt shaped piece of metal stuck in his head.
Hey, guess what! There’s a real life Radioactive Man running around now!
Oh… but the radioactivity is potentially dangerous. And he’s some kind of sex offender, who has run away from the authorities.
So that’s a bummer, but the situation provides some opportunity for science education (which is, like, my favorite thing).
How does a sex offender get to be radioactive? Good question.
Not all sex offenders are radioactive. For the most part, you still don’t want to come in close contact with them, but not because of radioactivity.
This particular sex offender, Thomas Marius Leopold, is radioactive because he has an overactive thyroid gland.
The thyroid gland hides out in your neck, and it produces hormones that help regulate your metabolism. Too much thyroid hormone, and your metabolism goes nuts—you get weak and hungry, you can lose weight, and your heart rate becomes jittery. That sort of thing. Some thyroid conditions also cause your eyes to become protuberant, and your thyroid gland to swell, forming a goiter.
One of the treatments for hyperthyroidism involves the use of radioiodine. Radioiodine is an isotope of the element iodine. Iodine is number 53 on the periodic table, so it has 53 protons in each atom. Naturally occurring iodine has 74 neutrons in each atom, but iodine can have different numbers of neutrons (different isotopes). The radioiodine isotope has 78 neutrons, but the atom isn’t stable with that many neutrons, so they decay until there are just 74 left. These decaying neutrons give off beta emissions (electrons and positrons), and gamma rays (highly energetic electromagnetic radiation).
Normally we want to avoid this sort of radioactive stuff, but materials like radioiodine can be very useful when they’re targeted at certain cells or organs (sort of like how we blast tumors with radiation to treat cancer). It just so happens that the thyroid naturally traps iodine in our bodies (it needs iodine to make hormones), so when a patient is given radioactive iodine, the thyroid sucks it right up. When the emissions from decaying neutrons blast into thyroid tissue, the thyroid kind of gets worn out, and slows down—that’s why radioiodine can be good for a thyroid that was overactive in the first place.
Radioiodine is radioactive enough, however, that hospitals often recommend keeping extra space between someone who is on the treatment, like this sex offender on the lam, and folks who might be particularly susceptible to radiation, like small children, or arresting police officers.
The radioactivity isn’t super bad, at least, and it doesn’t last forever—radioiodine has a half-life of about 8 days. That means that after 8 days, half of the radioactive material is gone (turned into something more stable). And after 8 more days, half of what was left is gone (so there’s just ¼ of the original amount left). Eventually the amount of radioiodine left in the body is so negligible that you’re safe hugging pregnant women and handcuffing fugitives.
Wasn’t that interesting? We know about radioiodine now! So if you’re in Great Britain (where this story came from), and there’s a creepy-looking dude who seems to be ruining your film just by being around you, call the police!
Courtesy Mark RyanTwo recent stories in the news highlight environmental issues with Earth’s oceans. The first deals with how the oceans’ pH levels are changing at a much faster rate than normally due to increased levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. The second concerns the rise of sea levels due to climate change.
With the first story, Prince Albert II of Monaco and over 150 marine scientists are urging world policymakers to confront the problem of ocean acidification. They stated their concerns in the Monaco Declaration, a document that arose from the 2nd International Symposium on the Ocean in a High-CO2 World held in Monaco last October.
According to the Monaco Declaration, the rapid change in seawater chemistry is already measurable and could by mid-century cause oceans to become inhospitable to coral reefs, inhibit calcification in mussels, plankton, and other calcifying organisms, and subsequently harm the fish population to the extent of causing massive deficits in the food source for millions of people.
The world’s oceans have long acted as buffers against CO2 - absorbing up to a third of it - but are now straining to keep up with rising levels of the greenhouse gas. When CO2 dissolves in seawater it causes pH levels to drop, resulting in a more acidic chemistry. Oceans are 30 percent more acidic than before the Industrial Revolution, and in recent years, researchers at Scripps Oceanography have recorded a drop in the pH from 8.16 to 8.05
The declaration warns that only a serious and immediate reduction in CO2 levels will reverse ocean acidification.
You can find more info at the following links:
In the second story, the rise of sea levels due to climate change may actually be a greater threat than previously thought. The potential for rising water from melting ice sheets is not news. Earlier studies have predicted rising ocean levels from the melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet and other ice could, by the end of the century, inundate coastal cities and low-lying areas with up to 3 feet of water.
But previously unrecognized factors are ratcheting up the severity of that number. Authors of a new study say related events triggered by the initial ice melt could cause the sea-levels to rise as much as 21 feet. But it’s really more of a “could happen” rather than a “will happen” situation.
Geophysicist Jerry X. Mitrovica (University of Toronto) and geoscientist Peter Clark (Oregon State) predict not only would the melted ice add more water to the oceans, but also the reduced gravitational pull from the melted (and missing) ice sheet could cause the Antarctic water levels to decrease while northern water levels increased. Also, once the weight of the heavy ice sheet was gone the Antarctic land mass would rebound, pushing more water outward. Finally, the redistribution of water could cause a shift in the Earth’s rotation and potentially push more water northward toward highly populated coastal regions.
University of Toronto physics grad student Natalya Gomez also contributed to the study that appears in the journal Science.
Courtesy JGordonI don't know about this... if God had meant for man to fly, He would have created us with high-power hoses attached to our butts. So unless this guy was born this way, I think he might be committing a crime against nature.
This seems kind of fakey, but also kind of totally awesome. And here's a year and a half old post from Wired.com that seems to be the patent for this very same water jet-powered recreational vehicle.
The future is shaping up to be pretty cool, my friends. Pretty cool.
Courtesy Mark RyanA new dual solar and wind-powered charger for personal electronic devices was on display at last weekend’s annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The K2 by Kinesis Industries is a handheld unit that allows you to harvest energy from both the sun and the wind and store it in an internal battery that can then be used to power all your energy-hungry USB-powered electronic gadgets.
You know what? I’m a sucker for this kind of thing. There’s been a few times I’ve lost battery power in my camera or cell phone and wished I had something like this. I’ll probably buy one even if I never use it. The idea is just so cool.
Portable chargers like this have been around for a while. Solio of California produces an array of solar-powered handheld chargers. PowerFilm in Ames, Iowa manufactures foldable thin film solar modules for a number of charging and direct powering applications. They rolled out a new USB and AA charger at this year’s show.
But evidently none match K2’s capacity or versatility. One hour gathering sunlight or wind with the K2 is enough to power 30 minutes of cell phone use or over 300 minutes of mp3 music. A full charge is enough to fully power your cell phone five times over. You can also plug the K2 into an AC outlet and store up power for later use that way.
But what happens if you forget to do that and it’s a cloudy day and the weather is dead calm? What’s a poor techno-weenie to do? Well, not to worry, the K2 also has a nifty side clip so you can attach it to your bicycle and generate your own wind. As of yet there’s no release date for the K2 but when it does come out, it’s expected to retail for about a hundred bucks.
Now, just so we’re clear, I have not personally tried any of the products mentioned in this story, so I can’t endorse or pooh-pooh any of them. You should do your own research before making any purchase of this technology. I just like the idea of being able to charge my gadgets anywhere I go. That way next time I’m stranded out in the middle of Wyoming and my iPod’s battery starts to fizzle during Britney’s latest hit, I’ll be golden.
Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd., the world's largest solar module maker, suspended its plan to expand capacity by 40 percent in 2009. Instead, it laid off 10 percent of its 8,000 strong workforce.
Global revenues for photovoltaic solar panels are expected to drop 19 percent in 2009, believed to be the sector's first-ever contraction, as prices fall due to oversupply, research firm iSuppli said last December" Reuters
My hope is that a change in government incentives will prove to be a game changer.
First Solar was featured by Investopedia yesterday as a solar company to watch in 2009.
This http://www.engadget.com/2008/11/21/better-places-1-billion-electric-vehi... caught my eye today. Hawaii became the latest addition to follow suite of Israel and Denmark and theoretically gave nod to creating Electrical Vehicle Infrastructure. Silicon Valley startup Better Place is going to make that happen. The cars equipped with system and service from Better Place will be able to locate the nearest battery exchange station using GPS and electronic ID for the car and little intelligence from the computer on-board. The driver will tell the car where she wants to go and car will locate the on-board computer calculates how much charge is left in the battery, determines does it need to recharge and the location of the nearest battery exchange station.
This is just like OnStar service. The vehicles equipped with OnStar get to have certain services like emergency road side assistance. Now, companies will offer "Green" services.
Courtesy Carbophiliac Computer memory devices become cheaper, faster, and smaller every year. A team of researchers at Rice University led by James Tour has found a method of creating a new type of memory from a strip of graphite only 10 atoms thick. Individual memory bits smaller than 10 nanometers that have only two terminals will allow super thin sheets of memory to be stacked in layers, multiplying the storage capacity.
The graphene memory is able to operate in a very wide temperature range. The researchers have tested the system to minus 75 to over 200 degrees Celsius.
Researchers say that the new switches are faster than the lab's testing equipment can measure and they promise long life as well.
"We’ve tested it in the lab 20,000 times with no degradation,” said Tour. “Its lifetime is going to be huge, much better than flash memory."
"The processes uses graphene deposited on silicon via chemical vapor deposition making for easy construction that can be done in commercial volumes with methods already available," says Tour.
Here, we report that two-terminal devices consisting of discontinuous 5–10 nm thin films of graphitic sheets grown by chemical vapour deposition on either nanowires or atop planar silicon oxide exhibit enormous and sharp room-temperature bistable current–voltage behaviour possessing stable, rewritable, non-volatile and non-destructive read memories with on/off ratios of up to 107 and switching times of up to 1 mus (tested limit). Nature Materials
Source: Rice University News
Not that Gene himself is necessarily weary of younger people… I don’t want to put words in your mouth, Gene, it’s just that I came across this story of a local gentleman taking “stay off my lawn” to glorious new heights.
It seems that a 50-year-old man from Willmar, Minnesota, was fed up with the repeated toilet-papering of his house by young nogoodniks, and decided to take matters into his own hands on the nearby high school’s most recent homecoming night. (And before y’all get all up-in-arms—you know who else took matters into his own hands? John Rambo. And, like, George Washington. We don’t hold it against them, do we?)
Anyway, this modern day Michael Douglas, who we’ll call “Scott Edward Wagar,” wasn’t content to hide behind the bushes with the garden hose. Instead, he got all high-tech—using night-vision goggles, Scott Edward Wagar ambushed a group of teens approaching his house, and sprayed them with a supersoaker squirt gun filled with… fox urine!
After the urine dousing, things got pretty confusing. There was something about a struggle and a hurt finger… the events aren’t totally clear to me. The next day, however, Scott found a dropped cell phone on his property and held it for ransom, and there was some yelling and screaming involved. I’ll try not to think about that part too much—Wagar was probably drunk on the heady brew of victory at the time.
So what does this have to do with science? Not a whole lot, really, but we could go over Wagars arsenal in a sciencey sort of way.
So… night vision goggles. Human’s natural night vision relies on the maximum dilation of the pupil (to allow as much light into the eye as possible), and a molecule in the eye called rhodopsin. Rhodopsin in our retinas is extremely sensitive to light—according to Wikipedia, at least, it’s responsible for more effective light capture in the rod cells of the eye, or for more efficient light-to-electrical energy conversion. Either way, it takes about half an hour in the dark for rhdopsin to build up to maximum levels. The instant that rhodopsin is exposed to white light, however, it bleaches and loses all night vision enhancing properties.
What are we poor, night-blind humans supposed to do? Night vision goggles! We’re all familiar with night vision technology, thanks to our rad action movies, but it turns out that there are multiple kinds of night vision goggles. “Active infrared” night vision works by emitting infrared light, which is invisible to human eyes but can be picked up by the goggles and converted to visible light. The thing is, active infrared can be seen by other night vision goggles like someone waving a flashlight around, so if any of those kids had infrared vision, the gig would have been up for Scott Wagar. That’s why there’s also…
Themal vision goggles, which we also know about thanks to our rad video games, work by making tiny temperature differences visible—the heat emitted by a living body (or any object that isn’t totally frozen) is, again, represented in visible light by the goggles. And because the goggles use the radiation emitted from other objects, instead of shining radiation (i.e. the infrared light used by active infrared goggles) on other objects.
Finally, there are “image intensifier” goggles. These work by detecting tiny amounts of ambient light (it’s rare that you’d be in a situation that is absolutely dark) and intensifying it. When photons (light) enter the goggles, they hit a detector plate, and each photon causes an electron to be released from the plate. These electrons are accelerated by a magnetic field in the goggles, and hit another plate, causing a whole bunch of electrons to be emitted, which then hit a phosphor screen to make an image (this is the same way older TVs make images—through electrons hitting a phosphor screen. The image that is displayed by the goggles to the wearer is in monochrome (one color), because the detector plates in the goggles don’t distinguish between the wavelengths of the photons hitting them—that is, all colors of light entering the goggles are just detected as light, not colored light. We know about this kind of night vision though rad movies also—you know when some guy with a gun and night vision goggles walks into a room, and then some other guy with a gun and probably no night vision goggles flips on the lights, and the first guy gets all blind because there are so many more photons hitting the detector plate in his goggles, and more electrons are being released, and the phosphor screen gets really bright in his eyes, and then he probably gets shot or knocked on the head with something by the second guy. It makes more sense now, doesn’t it?
I’m guess Wagar had some sort of image intensifying goggles.
As for fox urine… Well, I hear that it’s super stinky. I was going to get more into what makes it super stinky, but this whole post has taken me way longer to write than I had originally intended. If you’re really into animal pee, though, and foxes in particular, there are plenty of resources out there for you to examine. Like this. Or this. Or this, I guess.
Scott Edward Wagar, you have amazed us all. And, kids, when someone gives you the old “And stay off my lawn,” maybe you should take it seriously. (Or you could start carrying bright strobe lights, rain jackets, and water balloons full of something worse than fox pee when you plan on TPing someone’s house.)
When I first wrote about a car that runs on air, there was lots of interest. I am really hoping this car is not just a bunch of hot air. Storing energy as compressed air seems simpler, cheaper, and "greener" than using batteries. Electric vehicle battery cost estimates often are around $10,000. They also wear out and need to be replaced.
Zero Pollution Motors (ZPM) has renamed their air cars "FlowAir". ZPM is the exclusive representative for Motor Development International (MDI) in the United States.
Company officials want to make the first air-powered car to hit U.S. roads a $17,800, 75-hp equivalent, six-seat modified version of MDI’s CityCAT (pictured above) that, thanks to an even more radical engine, is said to travel as far as 1000 miles at up to 96 mph with each tiny fill-up. Popular Mechanics
From the compressed air vehicle specifications page I note that the air tank and compressor are 3200 cubic feet @ 4500 psi and an on board 5.5 kwh 110/220 v compressor generating 812 cu ft /hr. Filling up with air from a filling station is supposed to take about 3 minutes.
Shiva Vencat, who heads Zero Pollution Motors, envisions small $20 million factories opening in late 2010 or early 2011, each building cars at a rate of one every half hour. Possibly starting in Newburgh, N.Y., new factories would expand production by about 10,000 Air Cars per year.
If you watch this YouTube video you will realize that this City FlowAir is still a work in progress.
Courtesy timsamoffOn January 21, 2009, there’s going to be a brand new administration in the White house. Defining the energy policy of the United States is going to be a big issue, and one that’s likely to get tackled early on.
The members of the Obama Administration are going to have their own ideas about how our country should get its energy, but what do you think?
Is green energy your one and only? Are you a coal man? A nuclear gal? Or do you fall asleep murmuring “drill, baby, drill”?
Some options are going to be more expensive than others, each will affect the environment differently, and some are going to take more time before they’re ready. So what’s it going to be?
Voice your opinion in Science Buzz’s new poll: Energy and the Obama Administration.
You might not have been able to vote on November 4, but you can vote now, and you can let everyone know why you think what you think.