Courtesy JJ GeorgesCheck it out: North Korea claims to have produced nuclear fusion. Fusion has been demonstrated in laboratory experiments, and, as I understand it, fusion can be achieved in fission-based nuclear weapons, but scientists have never been able to create it on the right scale to produce lots of cheap, controlled energy (for electrical power generation, which is sort of the ultimate goal.) Except, you know, North Korea now.
(Fusion, by the way, is all about forcing two light atoms to merge together. The atoms have to release some of their components to do this, and when those components go flying off, there's a lot of energy to be had from them. More or less.)
Some folks are pointing out that North Korea is one of the poorest countries in the world, and they can barely get their national act together in a lot of other ways, so it seems very unlikely that they've made any huge advancements towards fusion power (which has eluded scientists around the world for decades). But you never know. After all, they claim that the discovery coincided with the birthday of North Korea's "Dear Leader," Kim Jong-Il, and stranger things have happened on that day—according to official biographies, a new star appeared in the sky on the day Jong-Il was born.
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Physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said,
"If you're scientifically literate, the world looks very different to you. And that understanding empowers you."
(You can hear Mr. Tyson "sing" this line in the Symphony of Science/Poetry of Reality video below.)
Courtesy United Nations Development Programme
I've been thinking about that idea a lot today after hearing two stories:
The cause of the Haitian earthquake is clear--100% explainable without having to invoke pacts with the Devil or martyr's ghosts. Same in Iran -- geologic activity in the area will continue whether or not women are veiled and chaste.
The solution is not "to take refuge in religion." The wrangling over unverifiable, supernatural causes for things diverts very needed resources and attention from real world solutions to very urgent problems.
The solution is to take refuge in science. Michael Shermer (yup, he "sings") says,
"Science is the best tool ever devised for understanding how the world works."
The Earth hasn't changed. People have. We're seeing quake activity with big consequences because there are more of us than ever before, many, many of us live in developing countries where large populations live in dense communities with lax building codes, and communications technology means that we know what has happened, not because we're paying a geological price for not living our lives correctly.
So what do we do? We innovate. We devise new and better monitoring and warning systems. We develop building techniques that are both locally appropriate and safer in the event of a quake. We teach people how to protect themselves in an emergency and how to react afterwards.
Richard Dawkins (my current nerd crush; you can watch him "sing" in the video, too.) said,
"Science replaces private prejudice with publicly verifiable evidence."
How can you not get behind an idea like that?
Our first National Robotics Week (April 10 - April 18) ends today. Created by congress just last month, the National Robotics Week celebrations will help inspire students of all ages to pursue careers in robotics and other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) related fields.
During National Robotics Week, a week-long series of events and activities is aimed at increasing public awareness of the growing importance of “robo-technology” and the tremendous social and cultural impact that it will have on the future of the United States. NatRoboticsWk.org/about
Called Masdar, the new city will retain time-tested traits of early Arab desert architecture, keeping streets narrow and maximizing the amount of shade created from closely built building walls. Wind towers will help move air through the streets. But most of the energy needs of the planned city of 50,000 will come from the sun. At least that’s the plan.
Some of the ideas being tossed around include using a circle of giant mirrors to focus the sun’s ray’s onto a tower in the center of the city – kind of like those parabolic cookers you see advertised on television but on a much larger scale. The light and heat will be converted and controlled to supply necessary power to drive the city’s energy needs. Other plans stem from lunar colonization ideas, such as covering surfaces with thin layered, highly reflective materials to deflect excessive desert heat.
The planners hope to make Masdar primarily a walking city. They’re keeping it compact and easily accessible by foot. Plus, gasoline-powered vehicles will be banned. But below street level, computer-driven podcars called Personal Rapid Transit will use solar-powered magnets to move people around town.
A huge solar farm – the largest in the Middle East – has already been built to supply power for construction of the new city, and to offset the necessary use of carbon-based fuel to build it. Construction costs for Masdar which will include 1000 business and a university are being covered by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi.
Pardon the pun, but I think it all sounds so cool.
If you're visiting the Science Museum of Minnesota, look out the windows from the Mississippi River Gallery on level 5. If you're in downtown St. Paul, stop by the museum and look at the river from the overlook on Kellogg Plaza. (City officials are asking folks not to flock to areas where barriers are going up - especially Harriet Island - but the view from in or around the museum is spectacular and safe.)
Courtesy Kate Hintz
The Mississippi is going up FAST today, and forecasters expect that the river will officially reach "flood stage" by early this afternoon. (It's 10:45am, and the river's at 11.67'. It's risen a foot and a half in the last 24 hours, should reach 12' ("action stage") pretty soon, and 14' ("flood stage") by late today.
Courtesy Kate Hintz
Courtesy Kate Hintz
So what's going on around the river?
Here's the latest hydrology graph:
Check out our full feature on the 2010 Mississippi River flooding.
All day, up in the Mississippi River Gallery, people have been stopping to look out the window and watch the river.
Here's how the US Geological Survey sees it:
The river's rising, but not as fast as yesterday. And yesterday's rise outpaced predictions by almost a foot, but today the rise matches the predicted curve almost exactly.
So what are folks seeing out the window? Take a look.
Also check out our full feature on the 2010 Mississippi River flooding.
Courtesy Liza Pryor
Courtesy Liza Pryor
Courtesy Liza Pryor
Courtesy Science FridayIt's Friday, so it's time for a new Science Friday video. This week,
"What is the future of sustainable architecture? Washington University's Tyson Living Learning Center in Eureka, MO, achieves the Living Building Challenge--a set of green guidelines that measure a building based on its performance. The building's architect Dan Hellmuth, of Hellmuth & Bicknese Architects in St. Louis, and Kevin Smith, associate director of Tyson Research Center, point out some of the Center's greenest features."
In a world gridlocked with cars and gas-guzzling SUVs how can we meet our fuel needs?
According to David Tilman and other researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE), biofuels, or fuels made from plant materials, are possible substitutes for fossil fuels like gasoline and diesel. In a July 2009 Science article, scientists identify five sources that can produce large amounts of biofuels without destroying natural habitat or using land needed to raise crops and cattle for food.
“We need to transition away from using food for biofuels toward more sustainable feedstocks that can be produced with much less impact on the environment.” Jason Hill, University of Minnesota
One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure
Courtesy University of California Berkeley News