Guest post by Gary Farber. Gary's home blog is Amygdala, and he invites you to read him there.
For my final guest post at Obsidian Wings, something completely different: a roundup of some recent science, or tech, or just downright weird, sci-tech news, or that's at least news to me, as well as an item or two of the fantastic.
Green your factories with electron beam particle accelerators:
[...] While environmental applications of particle accelerators have made little progress commercially in the United States in the last 40 years, a number of countries in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East are actively pursuing the technology.
In Daegu, Korea, an electron-beam accelerator in a textile factory removes toxic dyes from 10,000 cubic meters of wastewater per day. In Szczecin, Poland, the Pomorzany power station installed an electron-beam accelerator in its coal plant to simultaneously remove sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxides from roughly 270,000 cubic meters of flue gas per hour. China has started to use electron beams to control air pollution, and a facility in Bulgaria is under construction. Saudi Arabia may soon follow.
All you have to do for more widespread use is ensmall them.
But they're working on that! With plasma wakefield acceleration and laser wakefield acceleration!
Oh, and who do you have to thank for that?
[...] Thanks in great part to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly known as the stimulus package,
researchers at SLAC and at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are poised to take plasma acceleration from concept to reality using two complementary techniques: plasma wakefield acceleration and laser wakefield acceleration.
America desperately needs much more investment in science and science education if we want anything resembling a healthy, competitive, economic future.
Speaking of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and particle accelerators, are you any good at catchy names?
New York Times readers now have the once-in-a-generation chance to help do just that. Partly buoyed by $53 million from the economic stimulus package, aka the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, aka Fermilab, has embarked on a plan to build a new machine for accelerating protons.
For now, it goes by the name of Project X, but Fermilab would like to come up with a zippier, more descriptive name before this one gets cemented into place by the press.
Young-Kee Kim, deputy director at Fermilab said in an email, “If we can get good suggestions by NY Times readers, that will be just super.”
Among the more awesome names suggested:
|Berserk||Benevolent Ecstatic Reactions Serve Everyone's Rightful Knowledge|
|DRACULA||Direct Ray Atomic Collider Ultra Linear Accelerator|
|HULK||Humanity's (or Human) Ultimate Library of Knowledge|
|MANIC||Muon and neutrino investigation Collider|
|DIRAC||Development of an Injector to Renew the Accelerator Complex|
I'm also partial to "the Big Bopper."
Then you might be interested in the afterglow of the actual big bang:
[...] The European Space Agency spacecraft was launched into space on 14 May. It is observing the glow of hot gas from just 380,000 years after the big bang – about 13.73 billion years ago – called the cosmic microwave background.
The detailed properties of this background may contain hints of hidden extra dimensions or multiple universes, as well as providing clues to what caused a brief, early period of incredibly rapid cosmic expansion.This won't take us to the edge of the universe, but it sure is beautiful:
Ares-1 won't get us very far, of course, and neither will Ares 5, but I figure this has to work, because it's the most goddam science-fictional looking-and-sounding propulsion system I've ever seen or heard.
[...] "It's the most powerful plasma rocket in the world right now," says Franklin Chang-Diaz, former NASA astronaut and CEO of Ad Astra. The company has signed an agreement with NASA to test a 200-kilowatt VASIMR engine on the International Space Station (ISS) in 2013. The engine could provide periodic boosts to the ISS, which gradually drops in altitude due to atmospheric drag. ISS boosts are currently provided by spacecraft with conventional thrusters, which consume about 7.5 tonnes of propellant per year. By cutting this amount down to 0.3 tonnes, Chang-Diaz estimates that VASIMR could save NASA millions of dollars per year.
Chang-Diaz has been working on the development of the VASIMR concept since 1979, before founding Ad Astra in 2005 to further develop the project. The technology uses radio waves to heat gases such as hydrogen, argon, and neon, creating hot plasma. Magnetic fields force the charged plasma out the back of the engine, producing thrust in the opposite direction. Due to the high velocity that this method achieves, less fuel is required than in conventional engines. In addition, VASIMR has no physical electrodes in contact with the plasma, prolonging the engine's lifetime and enabling a higher power density than in other designs.
[...] A 10- to 20-megawatt class VASIMR engine could propel human missions to Mars in as little as 39 days, he says, compared to the six months or more required with conventional rockets.
If nothing else, it'll make a great movie prop.
Ever feel like a big zero? This would having amazing implications if it worked:
Program documents on the DARPA Web site state the goal of the Casimir Effect Enhancement program 'is to develop new methods to control and manipulate attractive and repuls...ive forces at surfaces based on engineering of the Casimir force. One could leverage this ability to control phenomena such as adhesion in nanodevices, drag on vehicles, and many other interactions of interest to the [Defense Department].'
Nanoscale design is the most likely place to start and is also the arena where levitation could emerge.
In contrast, men who voted for the winner, Democrat Barack Obama, had stable testosterone levels immediately after the outcome. Female study participants showed no significant change in their testosterone levels before and after the returns came in. I am Thorin Oakenshield, descendant of Thrain the Old and grandson of Thror who was King under the Mountain. I am writing you to discuss our plans, our ways, means, policy and devices for rescuing our treasure from the dragon Smaug. And now, my friends, I must thank you all for bearing with me, and thus my visit to the front page of Obsidian Wings comes to a close. Thanks again, more than I can say, to Eric Martin for allowing me this much-appreciated opportunity. And do feel free to not be a stranger at Amygdala, where your comments, or simply your readership, at any time are extremely welcome. -- by Gary Farber, not Eric Martin.
In one of those universes, I'm sure Ursula K. Le Guin's A Pillow Book for Cats will be her next Hugo and Nebula winner. Read the whole thing for free! It'll take you sheer seconds!
Hey, you know all those folks on the other side of the political aisle from you? Here's what's undoubtedly happened to them: Researchers Create Artificial Memories in the Brain of a Fruitfly.
Elsewhere at the intersection of politics and science comes the news that [p]residential election outcome changed voters' testosterone:
I close with a warning; beware of a letter like this:
In contrast, men who voted for the winner, Democrat Barack Obama, had stable testosterone levels immediately after the outcome.
Female study participants showed no significant change in their testosterone levels before and after the returns came in.I call on all correct-thinking people to fight against the War On Shortness.
I am Thorin Oakenshield, descendant of Thrain the Old and grandson of Thror who was King under the Mountain. I am writing you to discuss our plans, our ways, means, policy and devices for rescuing our treasure from the dragon Smaug.
And now, my friends, I must thank you all for bearing with me, and thus my visit to the front page of Obsidian Wings comes to a close.
Thanks again, more than I can say, to Eric Martin for allowing me this much-appreciated opportunity.
And do feel free to not be a stranger at Amygdala, where your comments, or simply your readership, at any time are extremely welcome.
-- by Gary Farber, not Eric Martin.