For a nation that prides itself on "firsts," America's 2011 is shaping up pretty poorly. Two American firsts will experience their lasts this year: the space shuttles, the first and only reusable space vehicles of their kind, will retire this week, and Fermilab's Tevatron--once the world's most powerful particle collider--will cease smashing in September. While all good things must come to an end, neither of these world-beating technologies has a homegrown successor to pick up where its predecessor left off. With regularity, the "firsts" are happening elsewhere these days.
For those of us who grew up on Big Science--where big projects regularly hit big milestones that were a big deal--these are strange days. I want to see Americans build the first fusion reactor. Actually, I want to see American robots build it, and I want them do it on the moon.
Coal-derived emissions pouring from smokestacks across Asia are--perhaps counterintuitively--responsible for a pause in global warming in the decade following 1998, but that's no real reason to celebrate. The halt in rising temperatures is a result of the large amounts of sulfur in those emissions, which can have a cooling effect on the planet.
The well-publicized failures of cold fusion may have tainted the field's reputation, but physicists have been successfully joining nuclei with hot fusion since 1932. Today, research in hot fusion could lead to a clean energy source free from the drawbacks that dog fission power plants. Fusion power plants cannot melt down; they won't produce long-lived, highly radioactive waste; and fusion fuel cannot be easily weaponized.
As I was soaked with rain, I started to rethink my design
By Pierce HooverPosted 06.30.2011 at 2:38 pm 0 Comments
When you drive cross-country, especially at the relatively slow speed of 15 mph, sooner or later you'll have to deal with some rain. For the first thousand miles of our journey, which carried us through Virginia and Kentucky, we managed to dodge or wait out most of the violent thunderstorms that swept the middle section of the country in June. Our luck ran out in southern Illinois, where we were subjected to 30-plus hours of persistent precipitation ranging from drizzle to deluge.
Today in the Things We Thought We Understood But Really Don’t file, a Northwestern University researcher has upended what was previously thought to be a pretty good understanding of how static electricity works. Static electricity goes beyond the usual theory that it's a simple imbalance of charges caused by the exchange of ions, the researchers’ paper says. Rather, it is the result of an actual transfer of material.
A team of Mexican and Cuban researchers have made a somewhat mind-bending discovery. They’ve shown that objects crashing through a granular medium don’t necessarily lose energy and come to a stop, as you might expect, but can attain a terminal velocity and continue sinking indefinitely into the material. It’s a property that has never been observed or, to the researchers’ knowledge, even predicted before.
Just three years after breaking ground, China will open the crown jewel of its high-speed rail network to the public this week. The 186 mile per hour (and that's regular operating speed) Beijing-Shanghai link takes just four hours and 48 minutes to traverse 820 miles of Chinese countryside.
Call it another victory for German design. Researchers in Dresden have set a new world record for the strongest magnetic field ever manufactured at the High Magnetic Field Laboratory Dresden (HZDR). Using a two-layer, 440-pound copper coil the size of a water bucket, they managed to coax 91.4 teslas from their creation for just a few milliseconds, surpassing the previous record of 89 teslas.
In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster in March, the appetite for new nuclear power plants slipped to post-Chernobyl lows. Regulators from Italy to Switzerland to Texas moved to stop pending nuclear-power projects, and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) began to reevaluate the safety of all domestic plants. Yet nuclear power still provides 20 percent of America's total electric power and 70 percent of its emissions-free energy, in large part because no alternative energy source can match its efficiency.
One nuclear plant with a footprint of one square mile provides the energy equivalent of 20 square miles of solar panels, 1,200 windmills or the entire Hoover Dam. If the country wants to significantly reduce its dependence on carbon-based energy, it will need to build more nuclear power plants. The question is how to do so safely.
By Pierce HooverPosted 06.24.2011 at 1:37 pm 1 Comment
As we passed westward from the steep mountains of Kentucky's eastern section into the rolling hills of its bluegrass country, we finally stopped having to share the back roads with massive coal haulers. Instead, we found ourselves travelling alongside tractors, farm trucks and the occasional buggy. Western Kentucky is home to a population of Amish farmers, known for their throwback, simplistic lifestyle, which is most visibly evidenced (on the road, at least) by their shunning of automobiles in favor of horse-drawn carriages.