Science Doesn’t Sleep (7.16.08)

Roar
Now all he needs is 20 years or martial arts
training and a lair.
Creative Commons License
photo credit: Beard Papa

So here’s what went down after you logged off.

He’s the only superhero without any real superhuman powers – unless extreme bitterness counts. So – is a real Batman scientifically possible?

Tomorrow, Texas’ Public Utility Commission will decide which of several wind energy proposals to adopt. More on the plans they’re evaluating here.

The Brooklyn Museum is in the process of putting their entire collection online – complete with photos, descriptive information and where the object can be found in the physical museum. You can check out a preview of this very cool new feature here.

Nanoparts are really small (hence the name) and it takes a really long time to build something that’s even visible out of them – much less an organ. Now, researchers at MIT and Harvard are working to find a way for nanoparts to self assemble - which would make the process of fabricating different types of organs much quicker.

Researchers at the University of Texas may have found the Achilles Heel of the HIV virus – an antibody that disables the virus’ ability to infect cells.

Just like humans, sick bees are much less productive at work.

A Greener Life

A study by a group of students at MIT tells us that if you think you are doing your part to reduce global warming, think again. 

Bill Gates - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2008
Creative Commons License photo credit: World
Economic Forum

The students interviewed people from many walks of life and concluded that there is a threshold energy use that no one in the US can avoid, whether they are a homeless person or Bill Gates.  They found that there are many aspects of the infrastructure of our American life – other than transportation and electricity usage that we may not be examining when trying to conserve energy, such as the products and services we use and how they are created and transported, the food we eat and how it is processed,  government services such as road construction and maintenance,  what products we import, how our clothes are made, how hospitals and other services are run.

Individual households use about 1/5 of US energy consumption.  The other 4/5 is used by industry, and government.

The implication of the article is that there is nothing we can do about this threshold.  I think this assumption must be examined, as it denigrates the power of democracy. We do have impact on what our government does and how it regulates business and our lives, but most people don’t know how or have enough interest to care,  because our lives are so comfortable.

IMG_0705
Creative Commons License photo credit: PBoGS

The first step in participating in the decision making in our country is education.  Back to Civics 101.

Where do we learn about energy? If you are a beginner, the easiest information is on children’s energy education Web sites.   

In the news media we learn that all levels of our US government are carrying out initiatives to reduce our carbon footprint. An example is the recent Houston City Council passage of green building codes for commercial buildings.

The US Green Building Council is a non-government, non-profit group of organizations in the building industry who have established principles for building which are environmentally and socially responsible.  “LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a voluntary, consensus-based national rating system for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings.”

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy sponsor an energy efficiency program called Energy Star.

Energy at dusk
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ryan McD

The goal is to find ways to contribute to bettering our carbon footprint. You can come to the Wiess Energy Hall and learn all about petroleum and alternative energies so that you have the knowledge you need when you participate in conservation, efficiency, safety and pollution programs.

So yes,  the US uses a huge amount of energy,  but we can do more than just produce hot air criticizing.  We can learn and then take action  – not just in our daily lives,  but in the efforts of the entire nation.

Watch for more about energy efficiency and conservation in future posts to our energy blog.

A Steamy Discussion

The Department of Energy came to the Houston Museum of Natural Science last week to gather input from people in the energy field on how to spend millions of dollars given to them by Congress for the research and development of EGS or Enhanced (engineered) Geothermal Systems. Information is based on a study done at MIT.

After looking at a lot of writing and graphs that I STILL can’t comprehend, I at least get the point that there is a lot of geothermal energy on this continent which can be utilized to relieve our dependence on fossil fuels and thus – ultimate goal – slow the destruction of our only livable planet.

Advantages of geothermal energy:

It’s everywhere if you go deep enough into the earth.

DSC_4659
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ross_Goodman

Wind Turbines are not a continous
source of energy, as they depend on
constant wind to keep them running

It’s continuous, unlike the wind which takes a break occasionally or the sun, which is often hidden. I did learn that a form of energy that is continuous is called a BASE LOAD RESOURCE, verses wind or solar energy which is dependent on the elements.

It doesn’t have to be stored.

It has very little negative visual or environmental impart.

It has a small carbon footprint.

It won’t run out, at least while the core of the earth is molten radioactive heat.

Cost is reasonable (4-8 cents a kWh) and cost competitive with other fuel. If there was a carbon tax to gas and coal, the cost of geothermal energy is even more viable.

La Dordogne / The Dordogne
Creative Commons License photo credit: bestfor

Currently, the negative effects of
harvesting geothermal are unknown

Disadvantages:

Unknown environmental impact – some of the funds from Congress will be used to investigate the unknown impacts of geothermal energy such as ground water, land subsidence effects of water injection, air pollution, noise, safety and land use.

I admire these geothermal experts for asking for input from people all across the energy field. They are excited about the prospects of advancing a resource which has been grossly under utilized and has the potential to provide energy relief in the future. Keep your eye out for advancements in this field.