Stories tagged pollution

A new jet engine is being developed that will burn less fuel and create less pollution than current models, making air travel cleaner.

A massive algae bloom is choking China’s Yellow Sea and threatening some Olympic events. Many Chinese cities dump untreated sewage into the Sea. Rich in nutrients, the sewage makes the algae grow like crazy. The problem goes beyond the inconvenience to boaters. The growing algae changes the near-shore habitat. And when all this algae dies, the bacteria that decays it sucks oxygen out of the water, killing fish and creating a dead zone.


Oh my! Researchers in Virginia have found high levels of mercury in local songbirds. The birds live near a contaminated river, but do not eat any fish or other water creatures that might be contaminated. So, how did they get mercury inside of them?

Turns out the birds ate lots of spiders. And spiders are scavengers who’ll eat pretty much anything. Mercury from the environment accumulates in them, and gets passed along to the birds.

The next question is – how do the land-dwelling spiders get water-borne mercury inside of them?


March 29 - April 4 are Nano Days at The Science Museum and other museums areound the country. To celebrate, here's a selection of recent nanotechnology stories in the news:

Japanese doctors are trying to build nano-scale robots to build custom-designed medicines,one molecule at a time.

Pharmaceutical companies are using nanotechnology to deliver more effective anti-cancer drugs.

Researchers at MIT are trying to develop an electric car with a battery using nanowires.

Engineers in California are looking for ways to use nanomaterials to store hydrogen, which may someday power pollution-free cars.

Scientists are using nanotechnology to develop more efficient solar panels.


Building a better future: One piece of junk at a time.
Building a better future: One piece of junk at a time.Courtesy thebigdurian
Just when you started to think things weren’t cool anymore (I know you were thinking that), something great comes up in the news, and turns your frown… upside down.

For the last few years the world has been sulking and pouting over the lack of continents. “We’ve discovered them all,” people say. Or, “Look at that darn Pacific Ocean, sitting there with practically no continents in it.” Or, “Hawaii must be so lonely!” Well, Lonesome No More!, Hawaii, because you’ve got a new friend, a friend the size of the continental United States!

Where did this massive mass come from? And how could such a thing have gone so far unnoticed? Whoa, explorers, one question at a time! The mass came from our own human ingenuity! That is to say, it’s trash! And we don’t really notice it because it’s largely translucent plastic, and because it’s located just beneath the surface of the ocean, so it can’t be seen in satellite photographs!

Now before you get excited and start purchasing real estate (although I like the way you think), our new garbage blob isn’t quite ready for building yet. It’s currently more of a “plastic soup,” held together by “swirling underwater current.” It is, nonetheless, a fairly cohesive chunk of junk, consisting of two connected bodies that span from about five hundred miles off of California almost to Japan.

Like many natural and quasi-natural wonders, however, Trashlantis is being threatened. Primarily by aquatic animals. Nearly 100,000 aquatic mammals choose to kill themselves every year by abusing floating garbage in some way or another, and sea birds have proven to be shameless garbage thieves, spiriting away everything from toothbrushes, to lighters, to syringes from our trashy endeavor. Where’s the proof? Inside their dead stomachs. Try to hide that, birds!

Approximately a fifth of the garbage dumped into the ocean comes from oil platforms and ships. If you want to ensure that Trashlantis remains more than a fable for your children and grandchildren, though, be sure to do your part, and produce as much plastic waste as possible, and dispose of it improperly.

According to recent studies, shopping on-line and having stuff sent to you uses less energy than going to the store yourself.


To good to be true? Maybe not. India’s largest car company is planning to start production on a car that runs on compressed air. An on-board tank would store over 3,000 cubic feet of compressed air. Released in small, controlled bursts, the air would push pistons to make the car go. Nothing burns, so there is no pollution, no greenhouse gas emissions, no use of gasoline.

The car has a range of 120-180 miles, about double what the best electrics now offer. Drivers will fill up at special compressors installed at filling stations. (The car also comes equipped with a compressor that can refill the tank if plugged in overnight.) Thus, “fuel” costs will come down to about 2.2 cents per mile.

The car saves energy in other ways:

  • Because there is no internal combustion – no gasoline burns in the engine, and it stays relatively cool -- you only need to change the oil every 31,000 miles or so. (In fact, you can use vegetable oil.)
  • As air expands, its temperature drops – in this case, to somewhere between 0 and 15 below. This cool air could be recaptured for the air conditioning system, saving even more energy.

The car does have some drawbacks. The top speed is 68 mph -- fine for tooling around town, but pretty weak for the highway. Also, to save weight, the car is made entirely of fiberglass and is glued together, rather than bolted. This kind of construction is not considered safe enough in the US. But if the air car is successful, it’s a good bet that car companies will look for ways to adapt this technology to the American market.


Some Science Buzz writers specifically go looking for science stories to write about. Then there are lazy folks like me, who just surf the web as per usual, and when something sciencey crosses our path, we bookmark it.

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been running across a lot of stories on energy. None of them seemed big enough to merit its own story, but they are too good to completely ignore. So, here’s a potpourri:

Recycling nuclear waste

America’s energy needs keep growing. Producing energy by burning coal or oil pollutes the environment. Nuclear energy is much cleaner, but it produces radioactive waste. Now a government-funded project in Tennessee is trying to recycle the waste from nuclear power plants to produce a new type of fuel—one that could produce up to 100 times as much energy, and produce 40% less waste.


One old technology that may be making a comeback is gasification—turning organic material, such as coal, into a gas which can be burned for energy. It’s cleaner than burning coal directly for energy—a lot of the pollutants are captured and re-used. And, you can gasify any organic material, including plants and farm waste.

The problem with ethanol

In other threads on this blog, we’ve discussed some of the downsides of ethanol-- increased demand for corn causes farm prices to shoot up. A report from Brazil outlines some of the other potential problems, from pollution created in its manufacture, to destroying large ecosystems to raise the crops that will be turned into ethanol.

Oil shale

When drillers go looking for oil, they look for large pockets of liquid trapped in the earth, surrounded by non-porous rock. This is sometimes called “easy oil”—ready to refine as soon as it comes out of the ground. But there are vast amounts of oil in porous rock, like sand or shale. Miners have to dig up vast amounts of oil-soaked rock, and then separate the usable oil from the sand. It’s a very expensive process. But, as the price of crude oil keeps climbing, we are getting to the point where shale oil makes sense. And what’s even better, some of the largest deposits in the world are found here in North America.

The article linked above describes a shale oil operation in Canada. There are also operations underway in the
United States. And there’s another project underway in Israel.


One Billion Bulbs Science Museum of Minnesota Bulbs Change Statistics

The website One Billion Bulbs want to help reduce pollution, energy consumption, and greenhouse gases by getting people worldwide to change their old-style incandescent light bulbs to new compact fluorescents. Their goal: one billion light bulbs changed.

They still have a ways to go. As of this morning, they were around 56,000.

Science Buzz has decided to help! We want to see how many light bulbs our devoted readers can change. If you’re interested, go to this site. Click on “Join the Group” and register. Then, as you change out your light bulbs, record your activity.

The home page of One Billion Bulbs lists the most active groups. We’d like to see Science Buzz on that list! Join now!.

Want to know how much money you’ll save, and how much pollution you’ll prevent, by changing to fluorescent bulbs? Use this handy calculator:

(How many Science Buzz readers does it take to change a light bulb? We’ll find out soon enough!)

Minnesota Pollution Control scientists were surprised recently to find elevated levels of 3M perfluorinated chemicals in Lake Calhoun. The MPCA officials are trying to warn people who might regularly fish in the lake, specifically targeting the Hmong, Laotian, Vietnamese, and Cambodian communities.