About Paul

Paul Bernhard has been actively involved with the Museum’s Wiess Energy Hall for fifteen years, but he still doesn’t know how to assess the influence of the Boycott effect on drilling mud flow, or even how to calculate the Gibbs free energy of PEMFP fuel cells. Nonetheless, due to sheer longevity, Bernhard has become the spokesman for all things energy-related at the Museum. His blog will reflect this.

Some Serious Bling

“The largest diamond so far found in the universe is the size of a small planet and located 50 light-years away in the constellation  Centaurus. Astronomers with the Harvard -Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics discovered the gigantic stone a few ears ago and they believe the 2,500-mile-wide diamond once served as the heart of a star. It’s ten billion trillion trillion carats. The astronomers named it Lucy in honor of the Beatles’ song “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”

— Smithsonian Magazine, June 2008

Night Sky
Creative Commons License photo credit: Adan Garcia

A ten billion trillion trillion (!) carat diamond, a three-and-a-half-million-year old hominid fossil,  and a multi-million-selling Beatles song. How many more awesome things in the universe are named Lucy, anyway?

Octane Pain

The price of a gallon of gasoline
Has gotten obnoxiously high.
The gas in the tank and the cash in the bank,
(As shown in reports and projections)
Despite what we do or try to pursue,
Are going in downward directions!
The reasons for such
Are many and much,
And here I will now tell you why.

147 2008

Feeling nostalgic…
Creative Commons License photo credit: dougsymington

The supply of crude oil over the world
Inevitably is going down.
We are finding more
In places offshore,
But there’s only so much in the ground.

And the crude from the well
(If you look, you can tell!)
Is not going to go in your tank
The sticky black goo
Will simply not do;
Your engine is not going to crank.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Strocchi

To make gasoline
(As you may have seen)
The unrefined crude must be changed.
By heating and cooling,
And chemical retooling
Its molecules are rearranged.

The places that do this
(But maybe you knew this.)
Are refineries whose numbers are shrinking.
Their costs are not cheap
In fact, they’re quite steep,
This whole process, then, needs some rethinking.

But demand for gasoline
Is growing obscene,
In the world and the U. S. of A.
We can’t make enough
Of the valuable stuff
And thus at the pump you now pay.

Creative Commons License photo credit: s2art

And the whole situation
‘Round the globe and the nation
Is infinitely much more complex.
There are markets and forces
And political courses
That the brainiest brains will perplex.

There’s war in Iraq,
Fear of terror attack.
There’s OPEC and Saudis and Russians,
Political flak,
And reservoir lack,
And pundits in endless discussions.
There are plots and some coups,
And some radical views,
And “economically motivated misinforming.”

around the world
Creative Commons License photo credit: cherry+

Not to mention Detroit,
Where some are adroit,
At downplaying dire global warming.
So many forces are doing their work
In multifarious giving and taking,
The price at the pump
Is not gonna slump,
Despite all this quaking and shaking.

So read ‘em and weep,
Or just go to sleep
Or go on your own hunger strike,
But if I were you,
I wouldn’t be blue.
I’d just go and get a new bike!

Creative Commons License photo credit: micampe

Leonardo: Parachute of the Past


Just to confirm that Leonardo da Vinci is STILL way ahead of his time, his 1480s design for the parachute is making  the news again in 2008. Olivier Vietti-Teppa, a Swiss daredevil, just recently became the first person to successfully reach the ground using Leonardo’s unique pyramid-shaped design for the chute.

Vietti-Teppa only major change to Leonardo’s design was to leave out the wooden frame, because he was concerned about the added weight.

If you have not yet made it to “Leonardo da Vinci: Man, Inventor, Genius,” currently on view at the museum, come on by and check out the parachute for yourself, along with dozens more of Leonardo’s radical innovations. As far as we know, nobody has taken to the seas in a full-sized version of Leo’s warship that attacks other vessels with a giant scythe, so if you get busy, you can build that one and make the news yourself.


Be like Noah… with a vengence

Starting Off With a Big Bang – Naturally

Creative Commons License photo credit: Eurritimia

Well, if another blog must be added to the ever-expanding blogosphere (which might now be growing at a rate similar to that of the universe itself), it makes sense to begin at the beginning of all energy-the “cosmogenesis,” when all matter, time and energy as we know it came into existence, commonly known as the “Big Bang.”

Now, as you can quickly discern, I have just opened a universe-sized can of worms here, as this “explosive” topic can be a source of endless spirited discussion among scientists, philosophers, theologians, and countless casually interested people with an opinion of some kind, so pretty much everyone. But that is exactly the point, as this blog is not intended to be a font of irrefutable truths, but rather an informal forum for interesting opinions and a starting point for conversation.

In any case, the universe was born and all matter and energy came into existence.


Creative Commons License photo credit: Space Ritual

Some 8 to 10 billion years after the universe as we know it was set into motion, our own sun formed in the Milky Way galaxy, and has ever since then been supplying Earth with a steady stream of energy; from direct forms, such as the sun’s rays warming the atmosphere, to indirect forms such as photosynthesis, in which plants convert solar radiation into stored chemical energy. Photosynthesis, incidentally, is the ultimate source of the energy in all fossil fuels, so any licensed driver better know about it.

For an interactive look at the basics of photosynthesis, click over to this site, courtesy of the clever people at the PBS show Nova (As a bonus, the explanatory text uses the common measure rhyme scheme.)

Of course, for the best three-minute tour from the Big Bang to the stuff that eventually turned into overpriced gasoline for your Hummer, visit the 18-screen video wall at the entrance to the Wiess Energy Hall here at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Humans have been using energy as long as they have been human, starting with the conversion of the caloric content of food into work – a change of chemical energy into kinetic energy. For an excellent primer on all forms of energy, check out the following link to our very own U. S. Department of Energy. Although, designed for kids, it’s a great overview for anyone.

And so, let the blogging begin. Your energetic reactions, comments and suggestions are encouraged.