Uplifting science news: universe and environment

The Dec. 2009 issue of Scientific American seems unusually boring at first sight. At a more thorough reading though, it has some interesting tidbits relevant to this blog:

A bouncy universe

Recent theoretical physics calculations by Horava split time from space in the General Theory of Relativity. The result is that cosmologically it’s no longer a big bang that’s predicted as the s art of the universe, but more of a big bounce.

In ordinary words this means that time is, within this theory, no longer a dimension like length. The question why time has a direction (we can’t go back in time, while we can walk up and down a road several times), unlike the other dimensions of space, is solved. But more importantly this new theory predicts the measurement of illusory matter, that’s really not there. Dark matter is now a maya of science, instead of a question to be solved.

Another issue that this theory helps deal with is of a more metaphysical kind. Blavatsky supports ancient Hindu thought in saying that the universe is periodically recreated. This fits a ‘bouncy’ theory much better than a big bang with a continuously expanding universe.

Before we go all ‘Hallelujah’ over this, the theory does have the slight problem that when the earth and planets are allowed to be realistic, instead of perfect spheres, the prediction no longer fits the observed results… Further mathematical creativity may solve this problem though. (p. 8)

Upcoming solutions to environmental problems

It’s no secret for you, my readers, that I consider environmental problems to be the most serious problem facing humanity. I don’t just mean climate change btw. The whole last issue of Scientific American is devoted to solutions to such problems. I’ll share the ones I thought most promising.

  1. A no money down solar plan.
    Isn’t this smart? Your electric company will install your solar panel, and you get energy for less money than before, while your provider (who has to make money somehow) obviously ALSO makes money off that same energy. No more buying expensive equipment hoping for monetary gains in future. Instead, if this plan goes through, you just sign up for a plan and get cheaper energy as a result. I imagine such a plan would include maintenance etc. Everybody wins and we’ll finally get some serious energy from a renewable source. (p. 28)
  2. Cement as a carbon sponge
    It’s a small paragraph in the magazine, but I think it’s genius. As they say ‘Traditional cement production creates at least 5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, but new materials could create carbon neutral cement. ‘ Novachem proposes Magnesium oxide to make cement that naturally absorbs CO2 as it hardens. If they can find a workable procedure for this, it would mean CO2 gets absorbed from the atmosphere in the production of cement. This has the advantage of less heavy material being brought on site, reducing traffic related CO2 emissions. They only call this carbon neutral BTW, because the very moving of anything still brings carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and the production of magnesium oxide probably also uses energy which comes from non-renewable energy sources. Still, the idea is beautiful and sounds practical. (p. 33)
  3. Saltwater crops
    Less prominent than the energy debate, the fresh water problem has been on the mind of environmentalists for as long as the energy problem. With growing populations worldwide, it becomes necessary to feed humanity on ever scarcer fresh water. Instead researchers in Adelaide, Australia, are developing salt resistant plants: rice and wheat for instance. This would be a tremendous help in countries near the sea where salt water is always plentiful and fresh water scarce. Israel and Bangladesh come to mind. (p. 33)
  4. Solitary honeybees
    I’m sure most of you have read about the collapse of honeybee colonies. The disorder has killed off more than a third of honeybee colonies since 2006. The blue orchard bee may be able to pick up where the honeybee left off: one solitary bee can pollinate as much territory as 50 honeybees, apparently. (p. 33)

An environmental problem: methane

As the climate changes and ice melts, a green house gas is released: methane. On p. 45 Scientific American reminds us, with vivid photographs of this issue. Very impressive is the picture of a flame coming out of the ice: the methane being burned by scientists as it is released from the ice.

Unfortunately methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, so this is something likely to increase global temperatures.

An ancient computer

In 1900 an old artifact was found at the bottom of the Mediterranean ocean. At first glance it seemed insignificant. Closer scruteny made it seem a clock from second century BC. That in itself was marvelous: a clock that old was a unique find. But recent research shows that this wasn’t just a clock: it was a calculator. That is: closely related to our computers. As the researchers note: just before their society collapsed, the ancient greeks came closer to our socities technology than we would have thought possible. (p. 52-59)

One thought on “Uplifting science news: universe and environment”

  1. Methane can be used for fuel cells, and industrial scale ones placed around the tundra, drawing the methane off and catalysing it would both make it harmless and provide a lot of very clean energy.

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