April 20, 2019

Humans Having Ideas

Filed under: Science — Katrina @ 10:57 pm

Where would science be without humans thinking “hey, I’ve got an idea, hear me out…”? Nowhere, because that’s what science is, in a way. We’ve got a natural world and a lot of problems, so we do what humans do and think of how to solve those problems with what nature and the universe has already provided, that we may or may not know about yet.

Need better energy sources? Try bacteria!

When some researchers placed some electrodes into a hot pool at Yellowstone, they found some extremophile bacteria who live in that pool generate a very small amount of electricity. Similarly, other types of bacteria have been found to generate energy from organic matter, or at least they could with the appropriate metabolic tweaking. It seems to be in its early stages, but it could be a viable clean energy source. Very nice.

Need to protect coral reefs from warming oceans? Engineering to the rescue!

Climate change is a clear and imminent problem. On top of reducing emissions, what else can be done? Coral reefs are particularly in trouble, as the rising ocean temperatures are damaging and killing them. So what are some scientists suggesting? Make coral that can withstand the higher temperatures! This could be through controlled crossbreeding or gene editing or other measures. Others are straight up suggesting making clouds brighter, to reflect sunlight away from warming the ocean, an idea that seems neat if desperate and also could easily make things a whole lot worse. But, hey, climate change is a huge problem, and good to float some ideas.

Need to make a lake less deadly and give your people electricity? Maybe a joint solution for that.

A couple days ago, I mentioned Lake Nyos in Cameroon, which had an explosive release of carbon dioxide which killed almost everyone in the surrounding villages in one night. On the border of Rwanda and Congo is another lake which could well do the same thing, Lake Kivu. And worse, as it’d be an even bigger explosion that could kill two million people. Like with Nyos, there are pipes in place to release the carbon dioxide and methane gases in smaller doses to hopefully prevent a disaster. In fact, the methane is being used as a power source for Rwanda! So at the same time, they reduce the gas attack threat from the lake and provide electricity to more people and improve their lives. Yay! Will these measures hold and keep the people around the lake safe? We’ll see. And hopefully they won’t do something astoundingly stupid like drill for oil in Lake Could-Explode-And-Murder-Everyone-At-Any-Moment.

Need to clean your particle accelerator? Get a ferret!

In 1971, the National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, IL needed to clean the inside of the particle accelerator and clean it well, as even the tiniest speck would screw up their work. So, of course, they get a ferret named Felicia. Ferrets naturally crawl into small dark holes, so she wouldn’t have issues crawling through the accelerator tubes, dragging a big swab behind her to clean it as she went. And it worked! She did this for a while until a robot took over her job. Typical. She died the following year of a ruptured intestinal abscess. Rest in peace and power, Felicia. On another note, at CERN a couple years ago, a beech marten chewed on some wires, and cut the power to the Large Hadron Collider and fried itself in the process. That one was less helpful.

Need to examine lake pollution? How about a robotic eel!

Taking multiple measurements and samples from all over a lake is time consuming and cumbersome and just plain annoying. So some researchers in Switzerland made a robot eel for the job in Lake Geneva. It’s called Envirobot, and it moves through the water gently so to not disturb the water too much itself, and it’s made up of multiple chambers with different sensors for different physical, chemical, and biological tests for the water. It makes these measurements in real time and can map out the source of any contamination, among other things. Pretty sweet.

Need an image of a black hole? Make the whole planet one big telescope!

Just ten days ago, an image of a supermassive black hole was released, the first ever generated. How did they manage that? In a nutshell, with the combined efforts of eight observatories around the world, they formed the Event Horizon Telescope, essentially turning our planet itself into a telescope to collect the energy from this 26,000-light-year-away event horizon. From this they compiled all that data and put together an image of it that we saw all over the place last week. Good job, humans!

(I may not have explained all of these correctly. Sorry for any inaccuracies. Check out the links for better info.)

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