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Friday, September 6, 2013

SCIENTIFIC BONBONS


Aren't these blue flowers beautiful?  Well, they really are an image from a barium carbonate solution taken by Wim Noordium with an electron microscope.

Yes, I entertain, but I also attempt to educate.  For some reason, readership drops off on Friday and Saturday, so this is a good day for many of you to skip this posting.  The August issue of Scientific American included the above, but also the following:

  • Global Warming?  If you added the number of people in the U.S. who died from tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and lighting, combined, between 1999 and 2009, do you think this total would exceed the deaths from exteme heat or not?  The answer is NOT...that is, more people die from heat than from those threats of Mother Nature.  More specifically, 658 are killed from heat in the U.S. each year.  Keep in mind that there are 2,500,000 deaths in the country each year, so these nature caused deaths are infinitesimal.
  • Is fracking good or bad?  The hottest future source of energy might well be fracking-enhanced geothermal systems.  Today, geothermal produces less than one percent of global energy (see table to the right).  The U.S. Geological Survey says that at least 500 gigawatts of fracking-EGS, 1.5 times more than the entire coal-fired power plant output, can be supplied in the country.  Furthermore, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reports that tapping only 0.001% of the available Earth-heat would satisfy our entire energy use.  I once spent some time on hot-dry rock research, and have tracked developments in this area.  Originally, a "small" atomic bomb was the basis of the Plowshare Program.  When that option became anathema, fracking was the second option.  The problem is that no one wants to spend $10 million on a well that might not produce anything.  However, while hydraulic fracturing is banned in France, a $106 million effort at fracking-EGS is proceeding in Alsace.
  • As my readers know, I make wine from sour grapes regarding my disdain of extrasolar planetary detection science.  One point for me, as the wobble technique for earth-sized planets is coming under fire for false detections.  Both the Alpha Centauri B and Gliese 581 discoveries are now being marginalized.  Scientific American entitled the graphic to the right as "Alpha Centuri B's putative planetary system.
  • This issue has a special report on education.  I might later post just on this article, but let me quote Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy:
  Whenever people imagine virtual anything, they immediately pit it against its physical counterpart--Amazon versus physical bookstores, Wikipedia versus physical encyclopedias.  They assume that the virtual will replace the physical with something cheaper, faster and more efficient.  In education, however, the virtual will create a very different type of disruption.  We should not aim to replace the physical classroom.  Instead we have an opportunity to blend the virtual with the physical and reimagine education entirely.

Khan makes a key point that we can enhance the touchy-feely element of education with machines to produce a better student.  My four added R's of education from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity will blend well into the future of education.

Let me end with another electron microscope shot:


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