This will be a science potpourri. But first… an announcement for you Mid-Atlantic residents! I will be among the headliners — along with Patrick Stewart, Brian Greene, George Takei, Kim Stanley Robinson, Stewart Brand, Michio Kaku and some MythBusters — at the Smithsonian’s epic-scale “The Future is Here!” event, in Washington D.C. May 16-17. Look it up and come if you can! Brought to you by Smithsonian Magazine (subscribe) and the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination (join!)
== Save the world from dopes? ==
Scientists have known for decades that Greenland’s ice sheet is melting, but they may have underestimated just how much water the second-largest ice sheet on the planet is shedding. New research indicates that a key section of northeast Greenland thought to be stable is actually dumping billions of tons of water into the ocean annually after a barrier of ice debris that had blocked its flow finally gave way. “We’re seeing an acceleration of ice loss.”
“The Greenland ice sheet has contributed more than any other ice mass to sea-level rise over the last two decades and has the potential, if it were completely melted to raise global sea level by more than seven meters,” explains one expert. Between 1990 and 2011, climate change caused ocean surface temperatures around Greenland to rise 1.8 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
An interactive map shows that melting glaciers won’t give us “waterworld”… but you might not want to own land where (ironically) most of the folks in the climate denialist cult live.
A side benefit of TWODA* innovation? Computer simulations have shown that offshore wind farms with thousands of wind turbines could have sapped the power of three real-life hurricanes.
Given current trends, then, we’re gonna need innovation even more than ever.
== biology “comes alive!” ==
Watch this clip from the PBS series DNA. It’s four minutes of amazing images, visualizing how DNA gets unzipped, read, re-zipped and turned into something like hemoglobin, all in real-time. This process of information coding, retrieval and manipulation by molecular machines of stunning specificity is going on right now inside every cell in your body.
Then go on to another great biology video of “The Central Dogma” of protein synthesis. In which RNA polymerase and other active elements are represented as spaceship-like nanomachines. A fantastic instructional video that will leave you entertained and informed… with a cool-oh sound track.
And dig it: single-celled microbes that grow in biofilms have come up with a way to electrically reach out and pull electrons from minerals in the soil so they can stay in the sun.
Ah but science calls for judgment! After years of predicting it would happen — and after years of having their suggestions largely ignored by companies, farmers and regulators — scientists have documented the rapid evolution of corn rootworms that are resistant to Bt corn. Read about how proper procedures were mismanaged and ignoring the scientists is leading to an agricultural problem of real substance.
== Technology, save us, oh deus ex machina… ==
Scientists have discovered a way to take the phosphorus out of our pee (and that’s a lot — we piss out 3 million tons of it each year). In my novel EXISTENCE is where most of you first heard about the coming Phosphorus Crisis. Well now one forecast is coming true. The P.U. or Phos-Urinal (not ‘pee-yew’) is coming! (Is it too soon for the predictions registry?)
And more news: U.S. scientists say that emerging photovoltaic technologies will enable the production of solar shingles made from abundantly available elements rather than rare-earth metals, an innovation that would make solar energy cheaper and more sustainable. I spoke of solar shingles even back in EARTH. But the overall lesson is what’s important —
— that there are ways out of our messes, if obstructionists and denialists would stop hating on science and decide to help, instead. Keep saying one word to them, a word for which they have no reply. TWODA.
Want more wonders? Before teenager Anne Makosinski, apparently, no one on record has thought to use thermoelectric technology to power a flashlight. Peltier tiles produce an electrical current when opposite sides are heated and cooled at the same time, so why not make a hollow flashlight that uses heat from the hand that’s holding it?
Google has released a concise list of “Ten Myths About Google Glass.” Mostly on target and calming stuff… though very conservative, down-pedaling what everyone can tell is coming… and a whole lot more than just a few sci fi authors will tell you about.
So cool! See an animation of the “Council of Giants” — a dozen big galaxies that surround our Local Group (which is mostly the Milky Way and Andromeda) in a very thin sheet, constraining our two spirals and having guided their evolution.
Physicists are exploring possible “hidden variables” loopholes in quantum mechanics that might involve elements of the universe holding quasi-conversations – or conspiring to exchange decisions – with each other, in an interchange that scientists are (mostly-whimsically) calling “free will.” Few consider this loophole to be likely. But now there appears to be a way to test it, using light from the oldest quasars in the cosmos.
And this eclectic museum is located in Baltimore, Maryland. “The American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) looks worth a visit.
*TWODA: Things We Ought to Do Anyway…to alleviate climate change… but that will help us economically, politically, internationally even if 99% of scientists prove wrong about climate warnings! Increasing research and developing methods of energy efficiency should be on the table, even if you are a climate skeptic! The fact that you are NOT eagerly negotiating TWODA measures proves one thing. You are no “skeptic” but a member of the denialist cult.