Saturday, August 31, 2013

Mirror Mirror on the Mountain

"What's this?" you scream as you read the headline.

"Where is my beloved This Saturday in Science? It's Saturday!"

Relax oh excitable reader, it's right here in front of your nose.

We begin this week's session with a Norwegian town where placing mirrors on mountains has more to do with human mental and physiological health than with vainglorious mountains.

According to this July 19 article in Time, the mirrors are necessary to give the people of Rjukan access to sunlight, which, for five months each year, refuses to shine into the deep valley where their city is located.

A solar-powered sensor tracks the path of the sun and ensures the town is always soaked in natural light. Helicopters installed the mirrors earlier this month, and the first tests will begin in September.

In case you're wondering why we need sunlight, allow the folks at Scientific American to explain it:
The association between darkness and depression is well established. Now a March study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals for the first time the profound changes that light deprivation causes in the brain.
Neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania kept rats in the dark for six weeks. The animals not only exhibited depressive behavior but also suffered damage in brain regions known to be underactive in humans during depression. The researchers observed neurons that produce norepi­nephrine, dopamine and serotonin—common neurotransmitters involved in emotion, pleasure and cognition—in the process of dying. This neuronal death, which was accompanied in some areas by compromised synaptic connections, may be the mechanism underlying the darkness-related blues of seasonal affective disorder.
We move on now to another chapter in the sunlight department, all the way over to China in fact.

There, we find, that unlike in the (Drill Baby Drill!) United States, China is taking advantage of low prices in the solar equipment market to go on a buying spree.

This, thanks to Grist and Reuters:
The government has announced plans to add 10 gigawatts of solar capacity each year for three years. That would take advantage of cheap prices and help the country’s manufacturers move product in a difficult market. From Reuters:
China aims to more than quadruple solar power generating capacity to 35 gigawatts by 2015 in an apparent bid to ease a massive glut in the domestic solar panel industry.
Speaking of energy policy, we all know (or at least we hope you know) that the use of fossil fuels is doing nothing good for the environment.

In addition to being a driver of climate change, the oil and gas industry is now the target of a lawsuit that charges the drilling and dredging the industry requires has left New Orleans less protected from natural disasters.

(Can you say "Katrina?")

According to the on-line Louisiana publication called The Lens, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority has filed a suit against more than 100 oil and gas companies for contributing to the disappearance of Louisiana’s wetlands. The lawsuit argues that decades of drilling, dredging and extracting has destroyed wetlands that once provided a cushion against hurricane storm surge.
The area in red shows the wetlands that have been lost.

Three New Orleans-area law firms spent thousands of hours researching how to do something that many have talked about, but never tried — hold oil and gas companies accountable for increasing the flood risk to the metro area by destroying coastal wetlands.

The Flood Protection Authority claims that decades of drilling, dredging and extraction destroyed wetlands that once provided a cushion against hurricane storm surge. With that cushion reduced, storm surge has increased in the parishes under its jurisdiction, leading to a higher risk of flooding.

As a result, the Flood Protection Authority says it has to spend more to protect people and property in the metro area.

Good luck on that one fellas.

Is he using sound waves?
And finally, everyone knows that sound can move objects -- like when you get up out of your chair to tell your teenager to "TURN THAT DOWN!" even though you swore you would never do that....

Well know, instead of just knocking that half-empty beer off the stereo speaker, sound may be used to move objects on a more constructive way.

As The Washington Post reported in July, scientists in Switzerland have managed to perform a number of controlled operations using only soundwaves as the energy source.
The breakthrough in acoustic levitation will allow scientists to unlock “a huge amount of applications for this very powerful method,” including in pharmaceutical and electronics manufacturing, said author and mechanical engineer Dimos Poulikakos of ETH Zurich, a science and technology university in Switzerland.
Poulikakos’s team performed a number of midair experiments, such as combining water droplets or chemical solutions, inserting DNA into cells and even making a tiny portion of instant coffee. They also levitated a wooden toothpick — something that had never been done before — while rotating it and moving it forward and backward.
Sound waves exert pressure when they hit a surface, but the effects are usually too small to notice. But if the intensity is cranked up high enough, sound has the ability to counteract the effects of gravity.
Poulikakos and his colleagues used levels of about 160 decibels; that’s louder than
standing near a rocket launch and is enough to rupture a human eardrum. But they were able to work without ear protection.
They took advantage of the fact that the frequency of sound — the physical property that gives it a pitch — also matters. Using 24,000 hertz (Hz), a level comparable to a dog whistle, they were unaffected by the noise. The upper range of human hearing is about 20,000 Hz.
Their levitation device looks something like a chessboard, with each penny-size square emitting its own sound. A large, clear plastic plate is placed a small distance above the chessboard to reflect the sound; if the sounds waves are strong enough, objects can hover and move around within the space.
We've all heard about "mag-lev" trains, levitating trains through magnetism and allowing them to move friction free. Now, it SOUNDS like there may be another method....

(Did you get it? "Sounds like.." I crack myself up....)

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