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Posts Tagged ‘energy’

Best Leave Some Things to the Professionals…

August 3, 2011 3 comments

A man in Sweden with a penchant for science and chemistry was arrested for attempting to split atoms in his basement.

Einstein would be so proud.

Apparently Richard Handl even kept a blog about his efforts to build a nuclear reactor in his home. Unfortunately, it is illegal for civilians to own this kind of radioactive material, which included uranium, americium and radium.

With good reason. This stuff can be quite a health hazard, which makes me wonder how he got the stuff in the first place…

In any case, Mr. Handl eventually thought it might be a good idea to ask the Sweden’s Radiation Authority if it was alright if he went ahead and kept some fissionable around his place and, y’know, fission it. (Yes, I used “fission” as a verb. Deal with it.)

Although it is a bit amusing, Mr. Handl faces up to 2 years in jail for his experiment.

Said Handl,

From now on, I will stick to the theory

What Do the Party Platforms Say About Science and Research?

April 19, 2011 4 comments

As with every Canadian election, the primary issues are healthcare, the deficit, and the “scandal” de jour (Conservatives being in contempt of Parliament is this year’s scandal).

But what about science and research? This is an issue which gets lost in the fray of other issues, but is vital to Canadians maintaining a strong image around the world, as well as strengthening the economy.

So I went through all the party platforms in an effort to summarize their views on science, technology, and research. As a first step, I counted the number of times each of the words “science”, “technology”, and “research” each appear in the party platforms.

The results certainly jump out at you. The Green Party seems to be most interested in funding research and technology. This mainly stems from their wish to increase funding to “green” technologies, in an effort to save the environment.

The Conservatives and Liberals are pretty similar. In the Conservative Party platform, their promises regarding scientific endeavours are:

  • Establish 10 additional Canada Excellence Research Chairs;
  • Support the outstanding work of the Institut national d’Optique in the fields of optics and photonics;
  • Invest in strengthening the Perimeter Institute’s position as a world-leading research centre for theoretical physics; and
  • leverage funding to support Brain Canada’s efforts to support new diagnostics, treatments, and cures for brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s Disease.

In addition to these measures, the Conservatives discuss their “Digital Economy Strategy”, which includes (I’m summarizing here)

  • Extend broadband coverage to 200,000 additional rural homes
  • Increase competition in the wireless market
  • Support projects between colleges and small businesses to accelerate the adoption of new technologies
  • Promote enrollment in science, technology, engineering and math post-secondary programs

These points sound very well and good, but are very vague and I wonder how they would actually get implemented.

The Conservative Platform also states the Liberals and NDP “opposed” these measures when they forced this election. However I believe this is misleading, because rejecting a budget does not mean they reject every expenditure in the budget.

So what about the Liberals? What are they up to? Here are a few key points pulled from the Liberal Party platform:

–  A Liberal government will work with provinces, territories and the research community to bolster innovation in the health and bioscience field, improve the health of      Canadians, and help bring Canadian products to global markets.

– A Liberal government will make digital technologies one of its Canadian Champion Sectors, boosting incentives for investment in innovators seeking to conquer world markets.

– A new Innovation and Productivity Tax Credit (IPTC) that will grant Canadian investors a 15 percent tax credit for investments in small, early-stage start-ups that don’t yet have the track record to seek financing from more traditional sources such as banks and the stock market.

– An extension of the popular “Flow-Through Shares” tax model to start-ups in the three Canadian Champion Sectors. This tax incentive would allow venture companies with little or no revenue to pass on tax deductions to investors, creating a significant incentive to invest in Canadian entrepreneurs from promising sectors where Canada can become a world leader.

– A Liberal government will launch a new Innovation Gateway providing a “single window” approach that consolidates government support for innovation and entrepreneurship in emerging fields as well as long-standing areas of strength like aerospace, manufacturing and natural resources.

The Liberals also take advantage of the Conservative government’s poor record of investing in “green” technologies and taking action on climate change, which he once called a “socialist scheme”.

The Liberals discuss investing in cleaner technologies for processing the oil sands and reducing carbon emissions, though details on their plans are sketchy. Indeed, they state that investment in these fields will occur “as the economy improves”, which certainly allows plenty of room for interpretation on timelines for implementing these strategies.

Let’s take on the NDP next. As you can see from the above graph, the NDP does not talk about science to the extent of the Liberals and Conservatives. Part of this has to do with the fact that the NDP’s platform is quite a bit shorter than the other parties, but it also deals with the fact that the NDP’s primary concern is healthcare, job creation in all sectors, and social programs.

When they do discuss scientific issues, it deals with climate change and renewable energy. Some points from their platform (again, I’m summarizing):

  • Reduce green-house gas emissions to 80 percent below that of 1990 by 2050.
  • Introduce a carbon emissions cap-and-trade system
  • Cut subsidies to non-renewable energy
  • Federal financial incentives for “clean” energy, such as solar, wind, tidal and biomass
  • Support for research of “made in Canada” green technologies
  • Establish “Green Bonds” so Canadians can invest in green technologies and energy

The NDP chooses to spend their money directly helping Canadians. Which is all well and good, but I feel they don’t do enough to help bolster the economy, which is increasingly dominated by the technology industry.

Ok, now as for the Bloc. Well they hardly mention science at all, and I feel this political cartoon summarized not only their debate strategy, but their platform too, so let’s not waste any time on them.

Cartoon by Brian Gable - The Globe and Mail

Ok, so now we come to the dear Green Party. As I mentioned earlier, their platform discusses science and research more than any other party.

Of course to be fair, the Greens have exactly zero chance of winning this election (and a very slim chance of even winning a seat), so they are free to talk about how much money they want to throw at “green” technology research, without worrying about where this money is actually going to come from.

[Aside: I’ve been writing this post over about a week. It would appear that the Green Party platform I used to generate the graph at the top of the page is no longer the “official” platform. The document is now called their Vision Green and they describe it as “a comprehensive statement of our policies and programmes”. I’m not sure why they aren’t using it as their official platform anymore, but I just wanted to make that clear so you guys don’t think I’m making stuff up.]

So when the Greens talk about science and technology is pretty much always has to do with the environment and climate change. Some of the major points include:

  • Retrofitting Canada’s buildings to a high level of energy efficiency by 2025
  • Upgrade all low-income housing by 2025
  • Provide grants to cover 50% of the cost of solar-powered roofs
  • Rapid deployment of wind turbines to generate 17 GW of power (enough to power ~14 DeLorean time machines, FYI)
  • All bikes and bicycle gear will be tax-deductible and GST free
  • Massively increase funding to public transportation systems
  • 85% reduction in vehicle emissions by 2040
  • By 2017, no landfill will be able to operate without methane capture

And the list goes on. And on, and on…

All these changes will require a huge investment in researching of new technologies, assuming they ever got put in place.

These policies are well-meaning, and many of them have been implemented in other countries. But to try and get them to work in Canada, and so many of them at once, seems unfeasible.

In addition “science”, “research” and “technology”, I also made a chart searching all the party platforms for the word “homeopath”,

Indeed, as Skeptic North pointed out, the Green party would put a greater emphasis on homeopathy and other alternative medicine in our health care plans.

It makes me wonder how a party that talks a big game about using science and research to better our planet, can so greatly miss the mark on science and research in healthcare. Something to consider.

Be sure to vote on May 2. Check Elections Canada for all pertinent information.

Fukushima Q & A With Physicists

April 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Last week, Nature magazine held a live Q & A about the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan. Understandably, people had many questions about the actual dangers associated with the damaged reactor.

The session included Jim Smith, an environmental physicist from the University of Portsmouth, U.K., and Geoff Brumfiel, Nature’s senior physical sciences correspondent.

With all the media hoopla, which included getting the science flat-out wrong and over-blowing the dangers (or lack thereof) here in North America.

Scientific American wrote a brief excerpt of the interview here. You can also get the full transcript on the Nature website.

Here’s an example of the kind of questions that were asked, and the answers given.

[Question From ZoeyZoey: ] Although there are high levels of Cesium 137 and Iodine 131 in the water around Japan many people believe that it is not cause for concern because of the ocean’s ability to vastly dilute what is put in it. Do you believe other countries should be concerned or do you agree that the ocean can fix it?

Jim Smith: Yes, there is enormous dilution of radioactivity in the marine system. By the time any contamination got across the ocean to other countries (if any did), the concentrations would be tiny and wouldn’t present any risk. The concern for the marine system is mainly in the local area to Fukushima.

 

Nuclear Fission Explained…With Skittles and Mouse Traps

March 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Thanks to Pharyngula for posting this. Awesome!

Some Unexpected Stuff From Japan’s Nuclear Crisis

March 15, 2011 Leave a comment

As Japanese officials are attempting to cool the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which was damaged after the devastating earthquake and ensuing tsunami last week, some unexpected things have been happening as a result of the fear from this situation.

In an effort to help Japan conserve its electricity, game developers Konami and Square Enix will be suspending online access of their games to Japanese consumers for the time being.

Square Enix operates MMORPG games Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV, and Konami operates Metal Gear Online.

How much electricity this will actually save is a difficult question to answer, but in times of crisis I suppose that every little bit helps.

In another development, Germany has temporarily shut down 7 of its nuclear power plants.

“We want to look at the risk and safety issues in the light of events in Japan,” the European energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger said.

While I can understand the desire for safety, particularly in light of the media-driven fear of radiation contaminating the rest of the world, I think this action is not only an over-reaction, but it adds fuel to the fire of radiation fears.

This also comes in the face of a massive anti-nuclear protest in Germany, which was already planned prior to the devastation in Japan,

Protesters in Stuttgart formed a human chain reaching 45km (27 miles) for the event, which had been planned before the current nuclear crisis in Japan because it was already a key election issue.

Switzerland has also suspended decisions on its current nuclear power structure to re-evaluate its country’s energy plans.

This is quite baffling to me because nuclear energy is one of the cleanest and safest forms of energy production. It is not exactly fair to use the Japan situation as a case against nuclear power, seeing as it was recently hit by and 9.0 magnitude earthquake AND a tsunami.

The Japanese crisis is indeed serious, but unique. It actually wasn’t the earthquake or the tsunami which directly caused the explosions. It was an unfortunate failure of the backup power systems to the power plant which prevented cooling water from circulating, which then caused overheating and eventually an explosion.

So I don’t believe that blaming the nuclear boogeyman is the right way to react to this scenario. Disasters do happen and there are unforeseeable consequences. And as I write this, the containment structures of the reactor cores have not yet been breached, and the Japanese are attempting to cool them by flooding the structures with seawater.

Much like the Three Mile Island scare, the potential for damage is there, but no large amounts of radiation have been released yet.

Unfortunately, solar and geothermal power are not quite ready to meet the world’s energy needs yet. Wind power is starting to be criticized because of its environmental impact. So for the time being, nuclear power remains our best bet for environmentally conscious energy production.

How To Build Your Own Energy Balance Product

March 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Sport enhancement products are big business. Even if they don’t work.

Take for example products like Power Balance or Q-Ray, which are designed to work with your body’s “energy field” to increase balance and performance.

The Power Balance bracelets contain holograms. Their FAQ page describes how they work:

The thin polyester film hologram is programmed through a proprietary process, which is designed to mimic Eastern philosophies that have been around for hundreds of years.

Convinced? You shouldn’t be, because they don’t work. Even Power Balance released a statement in Australia noting that there is no scientific evidence to corroborate any of their claims. (Which is probably why their website now states that “there is no assurance it can work for everyone.”)

So how do they become so successful? Check out this promotional video:

My favourite part is when he says it only has to be “within 1-3 inches of your body’s energy field”. The amount of woo makes my head spin!

They will actually perform their balance test at trade shows etc, and you know what? It actually works! But not because of the holograms.

Its simple physics, as explained in by Rhett Allain of Wired here in quantitative physics calculations, or explained visually in the following video demonstration:

It all has to do with what direction you push on the subjects arm. It is not noticeable to the subject, but the person doing the pushing knows exactly what they are doing. Nothing at all to do with the bracelet (or crown, in this case).

So there you go. Now you can make your own energy bracelet or hat or shoe or under-pantaloons and get rich!

Sweden Developing a Matrix-style Method to Harvest Body Heat

January 9, 2011 Leave a comment

“The human body generates more bio-electricity than a 120 volt battery and 25,000 BTUs of body heat. Combined with a form of fusion, the machines had found all the energy they would ever need.”

Morpheus was describing the motivation for building the Matrix. Thankfully, Sweden has no plans to enslave the human race; otherwise we would should have heard about it on WikiLeaks.

But Swedish engineers have developed a way to harness the body heat of commuters passing through Stockholm Central Station.

The excess heat in the building generated by commuters is used to heat water. The hot water is then pumped across the street to heat an office block.

The process could save the building 25% in heating costs, and is relatively simple to implement.

Humans generate 100 watts of body heat, and all that energy gets wasted if nobody harnesses it. When you have thousands of even millions of commuters going through a building, that is a lot of wasted power.

Nowadays, wasted power means wasted money, so expect to see lots more clever ideas like this from engineers to reduce energy costs.