For a long time one of the main criticisms of clean energy is that it’s expensive. And that’s been true, but not anymore. Due to economies of scale, wind power is now cheaper than fossil fuels. The source of this information is a power company in Europe, which profits from fossil fuels and renewable energy, so they don’t have an axe to grind.
Monthly Archives: May 2014
Hope for fighting antibiotic resistant bacteria
One of the things that really scares doctors is antibiotic resistant bacteria. There is a version of tuberculosis that is immune from all of the drugs we normally would use; if you get it, doctors can’t do anything to fight it. This happens because some bacteria are naturally more resistant than others. Over time, these manage to survive better because they aren’t killed by antibiotics as quickly. This is evolution by natural selection. About 2/3 of bacteria form biofilms. Researchers have found a peptide that can destroy biofilms or stop them from forming. This can kill the bacteria. Hopefully this will give us a good class of drugs that can kill the normally antibiotic resistant bacteria. Videos:
Using e=mc^2 to make matter
So far it’s all been theoretical, but you can use Einstein‘s famous e=mc2 equation to make matter from energy. We’re not talking like Star Trek’s Replicator. This is to use lots of energy to make high energy photons create electron / positron pairs. Not anything close to individual atoms. If this works, it would confirm a prediction from quantum electrodynamics that was developed during WW II.
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Meteor shower this Friday
The Camelopardalids are a meteor shower from the 209P/LINEAR comet. It should be visible this Friday night. For the East Coast US, the best time will be 3 am. The meteors should be coming from the constellation Camelopardalis from the North. The orbit of this comet gets perturbed by Jupiter’s gravity, and this year may be more intense than normal. They say there may be from 3 to 100 meteors a minute, some sources say much more.
Impromptu lesson on light
Friday the 8th grade science teacher was absent, so I got to teach one of the 8th grade sections. I’ve taught 8th grade, and they had just started learning about telescopes, so I taught them about light. I handed out diffraction gratings to the students, and then used spectrum tubes to show the different colors from different elements. I showed neon, argon, oxygen, and hydrogen. The tubes are placed in a transformer that sends high voltage through them to excite the atoms and they give off photons as the electrons return to their ground states.
Deep brain stimulation may one day help restore memories
DARPA is working on brain implants that can help restore memories. This work is aimed at helping soldiers, but it may also work for Alzheimer’s patients. We can already use deep brain stimulation to help reduce tremors in Parkinson’s patients, and help patients with epilepsy. This may help restore more normal brain function in people. But, there are ethical considerations. Changing the way the brain works is changing the very heart of our identity. How much about the person’s personality would be changed?
Supercomputer model of galaxy formation
The Illustris project at MIT has used supercomputers to model the universe in unprecedented detail. Their model shows the universe from 12 million years old to present day. It shows how regular matter and dark matter created early stars and galaxies. There are some places where the model doesn’t match what we observe, and this is where some interesting science will be done in the future.
Narratives of Courage
Every two years we have a very special day at school. We have guests come and the students get to listen to their stories of surviving difficult experiences. Today our guests are:
- Sally Alexander — Overcoming Handicaps
- Mark Barden — Sandy Hook Promise
- Daryl Davis — A Black Man’s Odyssey into the KKK
- Dr. Jerry Ehrlich — Doctors Without Borders: One Man’s Story
- Edward Fine — Surviving 9/11: A True Story
- Jacy Good — Hang Up and Drive
- David Kaczynski — The Death Penalty in America
- Anisa Mehdi — Tales of Tolerance and Courage
- Tamara Meyer — The Holocaust: A Descendant’s Story
- Dr. Joseph Sebarenzi — Rwanda: Peace and Reconciliation
- Kellum Smith — Overcoming Violence
- Dave Stevens — The Impossible Dream
- Lorna Tychostup — Iraq: The Untold Story
- Jeff Veatch — Overcoming Adversity
Mark Barden gave the Keynote on his 8-year-old son Daniel, and his murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. How the family has survived and created a foundation help stop gun violence. This was very powerful. Administrators from Sandy Hook’s school district were present to watch the various presentations, and more importantly, how the students handled the strong emotions. They may be running one of these themselves soon.
My group of 7th graders also saw:
- Jeff Veatch, who talked about his son Justin, who died of a drug overdose, and how his friends may have been able to save him if they talked to him about his problem. Justin was very talented musically, and had put out some tracks before he died on his first day of high school. I’ll be sure to listen to them.
- Dr. Joseph Sebarenzi, who is a Tutsi who survived the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s. He went on to be the Speaker for the Parliament, until forced out under threat of death. He now is a professor, and also works for the US government.
- Dave Stevens, who is a victim of Thalidomide. He was born without legs. But this hasn’t stopped him from playing baseball, football, basketball, and more. He is now an announcer for ESPN.
- David Kaczynski, whose brother Ted Kaczynski was the Unabomber. David talked about how Ted grew apart from his family and secluded himself. How David and his wife realized that Ted may be America’s Most Wanted Criminal, and how it affected them and the heart-wrenching decision they had to make.
This is the fourth time our school has done Narratives of Courage, and it remains the most important day for the students. I look forward to many more of these. Many thanks to Andrew W. and Lauryn M. for organizing it.
New single atom switches may be used for encryption in the future
Researchers at Harvard have managed to make a quantum switch that uses one atom and is triggered by a single photon. It’s kind of like a light switch. An atom can control the flow of photons. It can be turned on or off by a single photon striking it. This could have applications in quantum cryptography and in making a quantum internet.
New neurons may hurt old memories
The brain can make new neurons throughout your life. For a long time it was accepted that you’re born with all the neurons you’ll ever have, but that’s not true. New neurons form mostly in the hippocampus, olfactory bulb, subventricular zone, and possibly in the cerebral cortex.
But all is not rosy with getting new brain cells. It turns out that new neurons in the hippocampus, the main part of the brain associated with memory, disrupt older memories. While the new neurons make it easier to learn new things, they make it harder to remember older things already known.