Category Archives: Technology

Nanotechnology: A Source of Free Energy?

Recently, I have been researching on alternative energy sources as part of a Chemistry related science club presentation. Solar panels, hydroelectric dams, wind turbines, geothermal heat pumps, were the first ideas that popped into my mind. We commonly hear about these forms of technology that are used to harness the renewable energy sources that are available to us and significant research and development have vastly improved our efficiency in utilizing these sources. However, many of these options are of larger scales and as an individual consumer, we may not have the capability or accessibility to switch towards these renewable sources even if we wanted to. Researching further into smaller scale forms of renewable energy technology, I found that innovations of all sizes are taking place, the most interesting of which is in the nascent field of nanotechnology used in harnessing solar power.

A Ted Talks by Justin Hall-Tipping, founder of a nanotechnology based energy research company called Nanoholdings, discusses some of his latest creations on how to “generate, transmit, store, and use”(Nanoholdings) solar power. Initially, he began with a common problem of the transfer of heat energy through windows in a home. The picture below illustrates how in the summer, the energy coming from the sun is heating the home that we are trying to keep cool, while in the winter, the heat is escaping from the home we are trying to keep warm.

Screen shot 2011-11-09 at 11.22.52 PM

Aiming to give consumers the ability to control the heat transfer occurring through their windows, Nanoholdings’s nanotechnology material uses Carbon, which undergoes a reaction where “graphite is blasted by a vapor, and when the vaporized Carbon condenses, it condenses back into a different form…called a Carbon nanotube”(Hall-Tipping).

Screen shot 2011-11-09 at 11.37.02 PMScreen shot 2011-11-09 at 11.37.44 PM

Vaporizing Carbon                             Structure of Carbon Nanotube

The unique thing about this nanotube is that it is “a hundred thousand times smaller than the width of one of your hairs” and “a thousand times more conductive than Copper”(Hall-Tipping). Because Carbon at the nanoscale behaves and looks very differently, instead of being black and solid, it is actually transparent and flexible. Combined with a plastic during manufacturing, this Carbon nanotube can actually undergo permanent changes in color by using merely “two volts from a millisecond pulse” (Hall-Tipping) per color change. If this material were used on a window, in its colored state, it will reflect away all heat energy from the sun, helping to insulate a cool home. Vice versa, while in its transparent state, it will allow all heat energy from the sun to pass through, helping to warm a home.

Screen shot 2011-11-09 at 11.41.19 PMScreen shot 2011-11-09 at 11.41.26 PM

Transparent Carbon Nanotube            Colored Carbon Nanotube

Another ongoing project at Nanoholdings called “NIRVision”, uses nanotechnology like above to develop “flexible, thin films…to convert infrared light into visible light”(Nanoholdings). Similar to how more modern night-vision goggles work, a “photo-detector film converts invisible infrared light into electrons…these electrons stimulate an optical film like a thin flexible display, to create a visible image”(Nanoholdings). As we know, the flow of electrons is a source of electrical energy. Hall-Tipping goes on to describe how if we combined the film created in NIRVision with the Carbon nanotube illustrated above, then we would have a material that takes “infrared radiation and converts it into electrons” (Hall-Tipping) and because of its flexibility and transparency, we would be able to attach it to any surface to ultimately become a free source of clean energy.

The applications of this nanotechnology-developed material are endless, as a free source of clean energy is the solution to both our rising energy demand and our Earth’s rising temperature. Unfortunately, this material is still being tested and until we are able to efficiently manufacture it at a low cost to the environment, we must continue our gradual movement towards renewable sources of energy and a more environmentally conscious mindset. Similar to Steven’s post on the revolutionary perspective of silk, Nanoholdings was able to take one of the most common and abundant elements, Carbon, view it from a different perspective, and alter it in a way as to develop a material with new and desired properties. An even greater implication lies in how Hall-Tipping is able to combine two different technologies with different applications and generate a new one with completely new applications. Developing brand new technology may be life changing, but sometimes the most sublime of solutions can lie in how well we can take advantage of what we already have.

Works Cited

Hall-Tipping, Justin. “Justin Hall-Tipping: Freeing Energy from the Grid | Video on TED.com.” TED: Ideas worth Spreading. TED Conferences, Oct. 2011. Web. 09 Nov. 2011. <http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/justin_hall_tipping_freeing_energy_from_the_grid.html>.

Nanoholdings. “Nanoholdings – Portfolio – New Technologies – Nirvision.” Nanoholdings. Nanoholdings LLC. Web. 09 Nov. 2011. <http://nanoholdings.com/portfolio/new-technologies/nirvision>.

Lightning Quick Wi-fi

The other day, I was on my computer at home trying to watch a music video on YouTube, since I remembered a song and had the sudden urge to see its music video. When I clicked on the video I wanted, I had to pause the video and wait 5-10 minutes before finally coming back to watch it. Sadly, in this tech-savvy age, this is a very common occurrence (unless you live in Korea, where internet data transfer speeds are the highest in the world). As this is not a viable solution to my internet woes, I looked for other ways to both save my time and give me peace of mind. It was then that I remembered a TED talk I saw a couple of months ago by Harald Haas demonstrating a new type of technology, where internet signals are not passed through radio waves, as is the current method, but through light. To capture the beauty of this tech, Haas streamed an HD video with no waiting time! I was stunned to see such a feat, since I had been so accustomed to waiting for videos to load, and even then they were not in HD. After first acknowledging my bias to automatically support any advancement in internet speeds, since an improvement is still an improvement, I was led by my curiosity to investigate the science behind this revolutionary piece of technology.

My search brought me to the official site of the company which produces this technology, LVX System. According to their information page, LEDs function when electrons move from a high to low energy state when an electric current is introduced (since they are more stable). Photons are released during this movement, which are perceived as light. Due to the conducting materials used, a low voltage electric current is enough to spark this process. As LEDs have the unique ability to switch on and off thousands of times per second (this is so fast, that to the human eye, the light is seen as constantly on). Data can then be transferred through the light in produces within the visible light spectrum (on is 1, off is 0 in binary code), from the LED light source to a receiver connected to the device which interprets the data received. Meaning that the data can literally travel at the speed of light, and is only limited by the ability of the LEDs to switch on and off and the receiver to translate the data.  The site also stated that “Fluorescent and incandescent technologies use heat to produce light. LEDs do not.”. As we have learned in class minimizing heat loss is very important when it comes to energy wastage, thus LEDs are more energy-efficient than it counterparts. The company highlighted this characteristic, saying that by consuming less energy and wasting even less of it, LEDs are a much cheaper source of light (despite its high initial cost).

LED lights capable of transmitting internet signals
LED lights capable of transmitting an internet signal

In order to verify the claims made by LVX System, I looked to other places to see if this technology was as amazing as it was made out to be. I found an article from 2010 on PCWorld.com, a renowned news and reviewing site in the world of tech. The site praised the tech by saying that it was convient in places such as an apartment with multiple, conflicting wi-fi signals, since data travelling through visible light isn’t susceptible to these interferences, and also secure since unique to light-based internet is the ability to simply draw a curtain across, for example, to keep unwanted users from “stealing” their internet. Thus, using light to transmit data not only addresses the issue of download times, but also solves common problems in connectivity issues and security.

Applications of the new technology
Applications of the new technology

The immediate benefit both for me and everyone else in the world who has experienced the same issues as I have is that we wouldn’t waste our time needlessly waiting for our content to load. The implications of this is that more of our limited time (which really is limited for us IB students) is spent doing more meaningful things, such as creating the cure for AIDS. Ok, I admit this is a hasty generalization, but regardless, if you calculated the total time that would be freed up through the implementation of this technology, it could easily be hours, if not, days. Not only would this radical technology give us more time, but the cost and energy savings (that the company claims) would mean that we, as consumers, would have more money to spend on other goods and services. The implications of the energy saving capabilities of LEDs on a global scale are quite relevant in this age of environmental awareness, since LEDs last much longer and operate using lower energy levels than conventional methods. This technology is a step, albeit a small step, but nonetheless an action towards solving the ultimate energy issue much debated by today’s world leaders.

Work Cited:

Haas, Harald. “Wireless Data from Every Lightbulb.” TEDGlobal 2011. Scotland, Edinburgh. Sept. 2011. Lecture.

LVX System. “Technology Introduction.” LVX System, 2010. Web. <http://www.lvx-system.com/>.

Samaniego, Joey. “Data at the Speed of Light? LED Wireless Networking Project Reaches WiFi-Crushing Speeds | PCWorld.”

Mankind’s Next Giant Leap: Meet The Space Launch System

Space Shuttle Atlantis touches down at the John F. Kennedy Space Centre for the final time
Space Shuttle Atlantis touches down at the John F. Kennedy Space Center for the final time

On the 21st of July, 2011, Space Shuttle Atlantis landed, for the final time, on Runway 15 of the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island, Florida at 5:57 am EDT (about 6:57 pm here in Shanghai). Atlantis’s landing marked both the end of its final mission, STS-135, to the International Space Station, and, on a much more significant level, the Space Shuttle program as a whole, concluding the program’s faithful service to the wider scientific community, and indeed, people the world over. As CAPCOM (capsule communicator) Barry Wilmore pointed out in his congratulatory remarks to Mission Commander Chris Ferguson, who had earlier commented that the shuttle had “earned its place in history” after “serving the world for over 30 years”, this marked the end of operations conducted by “this incredible spacecraft” which had “inspired millions around the globe”.

About two months later, on the 14th of September, NASA introduced the next major development in American spaceflight, a craft dubbed the “Space Launch System” (SLS), which was essentially a consolidation of the previously planned Ares I and IV craft into a singular craft for the use of cargo and crew. Unlike the Space Shuttle before it, the SLS is a heavy launch vehicle than an orbiter, sharing more similarities with the Saturn V launch vehicle, which helped send the Apollo Lunar Module escape the Earth’s gravitational influence on its way to the surface of the Moon, than the Space Shuttle, which saw most of its use in orbit around the Earth, as can be seen by the diagram below:

A diagram displaying the configuration of the Space Launch System
A diagram displaying the configuration of the Space Launch System

Unlike the Saturn V, however as explained by this article from NASA’s website, the SLS will serve as the launch vehicle for the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), the craft that will carry astronauts and essential equipment on missions to celestial bodies beyond the distance of the Moon, with a yet-unspecified near-Earth asteroid and eventually, Mars, being marked as potential destinations. As a result of these lofty expectations, the SLS has thus been tooled to eventually be a significantly more powerful launch vehicle than the Saturn V, effectively being a bigger, badder version of the launch vehicle that helped put men on the moon. As this infographic at Space.com shows, the initial operational version of the launcher that will be commissioned for spaceflight in 2017 will be used primarily for missions in low-Earth orbit and deep space around Earth, and will already provide 0.4 million more kilograms of thrust than the Saturn V. This version of the SLS will have 3.8 million kg of thrust provided at launch by five RS-25D/E engines (modified versions of the Shuttle’s main engines) which provide power through the combustion of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, and by two additional solid-fuel boosters, which are larger, longer versions of the shuttle’s boosters due to these boosters carrying more fuel (an aluminum perchlorate composite mixture) for combustion upon launch. The final operational version of the SLS will have 4.2 million kg of thrust at launch (0.8 million kg more than the Saturn V), with the further 0.4 million kg of thrust in comparison to the initial version being provided by an additional liquid-fuel (liquid hydrogen and oxygen) J-2X engine, derived from the engines used on the Saturn V itself. This final configuration, which currently does not have a defined period of operation, will be the launch vehicle used in the missions to near-Earth asteroids and Mars, the latter of which is slated to be conducted by 2030.

There are a number of implications to the development of the SLS, both to me personally and on a wider scope. In the grand scheme of things, the SLS provides the means for NASA to take the next great leap into the manned exploration of the Solar System, having the capacity to potentially take man far beyond the orbit of the Earth to places yet uncharted. The manned exploration of Mars will mark the next significant milestone in mankind’s exploration of the cosmos, as it will show that we do indeed have the capacity to visit worlds far beyond the influence of our planet and return. This will perhaps pave the way for the eventual extraterrestrial survival of the human race via the establishment of colonies on other worlds than the Earth some day, making a dream of many science-fiction fans everywhere a reality.

An artists depiction of the SLSs potential destinations
An artist's depiction of the SLS's potential destinations

On a personal level, the thought that I could actually be seeing a man set foot on Mars in person before the end of the century as a result of the SLS is a prospect that I will undoubtedly be looking forward to experiencing. While I wasn’t alive (as far as I know, anyway) to witness the Moon landing in 1969, the exhilaration, awe and indeed relief that I recall seeing on long-time CBS News Anchor Walter Cronkite’s face while watching archival footage of the landing on Youtube is an image that ingrained itself into my brain, for to me, it represents a feeling I someday hope to experience too. It was a childhood dream of mine to someday work for NASA and help with a manned mission to Mars. A dream that was fueled by many hours playing with a Lego “Mission to Mars” playset, and a dream that, due to many a struggle with the evil forces of Algebra 2/Trig, was ultimately laid to rest. While it was perhaps not my calling to work in the aeronautics industry, this childhood dream of mine instilled in me an appreciation of the stars above, and indeed, for the innovation and creativity of the men and women involved in the name of advancing the field of astronomy. I, for the past 13 or 14 years of my life, have been continually amazed by NASA and its achievements, which they have done on an approximate annual budget of around 17 billion USD as of 2007, a whopping 0.58% according to this article at The Space Review. The fact that this agency stands before us today with the potential means of sending man farther from home to other, more distant worlds in our Solar System in the name of advancing our knowledge of the cosmos and perhaps, one day ensuring the long-term survival of our race on what is essentially a pittance of an annual budget, is something that should not be understated. Take a moment and think about this, just what could NASA achieve with a higher allocation of the federal budget?

Citations:

Braukus, Michael, J.D. Harrington, and Josh Byerly. “NASA – NASA Announces Key Decision For Next Deep Space Transportation System.” National Aeronautics and Space Association, 24 May 2011. Web. 3 Nov 2011. <http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2011/may/HQ_11-164_MPCV_Decision.html>.

Brooks, Jeff. “The Space Review: Putting NASA’s budget in perspective.” The Space Review: essays and commentary about the final frontier. The Space Review, 02 Jul 2007. Web. 3 Nov 2011. <http://www.thespacereview.com/article/898/1>.

Tate, Karl. “Space Launch System: NASA’s Giant Rocket Explained (Infographic).” Space.com. N.p., 14 Sep 2011. Web. 3 Nov 2011. <http://www.space.com/12957-nasa-giant-rocket-space-launch-system-infographic.html>.

Weaver, David, Michael Braukus, J.D. Harrington, and Dan Kanigan. “NASA – NASA Announces Design for New Deep Space Exploration System.” National Aeronautics and Space Association, 14 Sep 2011. Web. 3 Nov 2011. <http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/sls/sls1.html>.

Radar: Luftwaffe’s Nemesis

Figure 1
Figure 1

Ever since Louis Bleriot made the first flight across the English Channel, the Britons realized that the possibility of being attacked from the air became a reality. It is this historical event that caused the Ministry of Defense to start developing an air defense system known as the “Chain Home Network”. The primitive stages of this defense network comprise of large ‘hearing blocks’ where the Royal Air Force (RAF) would have someone sit in front of the concrete blocks (above Figure 1) and listen for the sound of approaching airplane armadas. This method did produce results, however, by the time the personnel was able to hear the airplanes and relay it to command center, it was already too late for the RAF to launch an effective counter response. Hence, the Ministry of Defense decided to use another system, which they named the “object-detection system”, but little did they know that it is precisely this system that would turn the tides in favour of the Brits and change the fate of the war during the Battle for Britain. Many historians throughout the world till this day believe that the United Kingdom was key to putting Hitler’s ‘unstoppable’ Blitzkrieg (or lightning war) to a halt in Western Europe. Although what many previously did not realize is that the key component in stopping the infamous Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain and effectively preventing the invasion of Britain was in fact an intangible system. This system had a classified name: “Radio Detecting and Ranging” object-detection system; or in today’s terms, it’s commonly known as RADAR.

Figure 2
Figure 2

I knew that the RADAR aided the British in stopping the Luftwaffe from my previous knowledge in the history of World War Two, but how did the RADAR do it?  Well, the RADAR transmits pulses of radio waves or microwaves with very long wavelength that bounces off (or reflects off) of any object in their path. Regardless of the size of the object, it returns a tiny part of the wave energy to a radar dish or antenna (shown above) that’s usually located at the same site as the transmitter. The components of RADAR are actually quite simple; it has a transmitter, a waveguide, a duplexer, a receiver, and an electronic station. The transmitter generates the radio signal with an oscillator, which emits the pulses from a radar (similar to that of a sonar sound you hear in the submarines) and the duration is controlled by a modulator (charges up with high voltage to release the pulse which is sent out through the antenna). The waveguide links the transmitter to the antenna, which broadcasts the radio signal. The duplexer is a switch between the antenna and the receiver or transmitter for the signal when the antenna is used in both situations. The radar receiver, receives the signal that is reflected off the object hit by the pulse emitted from the transmitter. This signal is then sent back to the electronic station for interpretation (commonly a visual image of that object on a circular screen showing the location of that object in Figure 3 shown below). I know this to be true because in my Phyiscs class I’ve learned that this concept of radar is valid and proven. So, by being able to detect the German bombers way before they reached Britain, the RAF was able to effectively assemble a counter-attack strike force against the bombers.

Figure 4
Figure 3
Figure 3
Figure 4

In figure 4, it shows the radar (mounted on the top of the AWAC airplane). The radar emits radios waves 360 degrees and when these radio waves ‘hit’ an object (e.g. airplane, flock of birds, etc.) the radio waves are reflected back to the airplane. The amount of time the radio waves take to travel back to the airplane is how far the object is from the radar source. This was the basic functioning of radar. The invention of radar is important then and now because if it weren’t for the development and use of RADAR in World War Two, then a lot more British civilians in London would have been killed and potentially the Luftwaffe might not have been harassed by the RAF on their bombing runs to London, and the Germans could’ve potentially invaded Britain. So, from a British military perspective, the invention of radar not only helped the RAF defend the British mainland but also aided them in bombing runs by methods of triangulation or honing in on a target to get the British bombers on track and hit their targets during blackouts at night. On the contrary however, from a German military perspective, the invention of the radar by the British became a nuisance and a great cost to the Luftwaffe. This is because they now no longer have the advantage of a surprise attack, due to the long detection ranges of the radar, and they have to defend the German cities not only from the American daylight bombing runs, but now from the British night bombing runs as well.

This knowledge and use of radar is also important to modern day times because little do we know that we actually rely on radar almost every single day. Radar has expanded its usage by being placed on airplanes and used for detecting the position of airplanes by air traffic control. Otherwise without radar and with thousands of airplanes flying over the continental US at the same time, it is very likely to crash into another airplane. Another use of radar today is to detect weather patterns and climate change, e.g. formation of a tropical storm/ hurricane, or seeing the position of storm clouds, etc. Now the technology of radar has gotten so advanced that it’s now instead of just detecting objects, radar has now been used to jam other radar in order to make an object become ‘invisible’. So, a major implication from this is that even though radar was designed intentionally for military purposes, throughout the century it has expanded into other areas. This goes to show how such a major invention in World War Two that potentially changed the tide in the Battle for Britain, has found new purposes and adapted in today’s world.

Works Cited:

Brain, Marshall. How Radar Works. HowStuffWorks. Web. 9 Oct. 2011.

How does radar and the Doppler system work?. RADARS. Web. 9 Oct. 2011.

Radar Modulator. Radar Basics. Web. 10 Oct. 2011.

(An Invisible Title)

Harry Potter Invisibility Cloak

“I am Harry Potter and this is my invisibility cloak! Look – now you see me… and now you don’t!” The eleven year old me gushed as I was getting ready for a night of trick-or-treating.

“It is just a black cloak wrapped around you, I still see you.” That was when I realized that invisibility was only possible in Harry’s magical world.

Or is it?

Recently, I stumbled across an article that claimed that scientists have created an invisibility cloak by using the ‘mirage effect’. Propelled by my childhood dream to possess such a cloak, I began to delve further into this topic. Before we can move into the science behind how such a cloak is made, we need to first understand the concept of refraction, how the human eye perceives objects and how this leads to the mirage effect. Humans are able to see an object because light waves are reflected or refracted (bent) from the object and then travel to the human eye. Sometimes, however, light waves from an object pass through another medium and bend the light wave another direction. Imagine, for instance, a spoon inside a glass of water – when inside a glass of water, the spoon appears to be ‘broken’. This is because the light waves reflected from the part of the spoon submerged under water, are refracted when they pass through the surface of water. Unfortunately, our brain does not know the light waves from the spoon have been refracted, and thus we perceive the spoon to be at different position under water. Figure 1 below further explains this concept.

Concept of Refraction

Figure 1: Concept of Refraction

The mirage effect is based off this concept. Many of you must have probably experienced driving down a road on a hot summer day and seeing a pool of water in the distance, only to realize that it was actually a mirage. Mirages form because of a temperature gradient between the air and surface of the ground. Usually, light waves from the blue sky are reflected off the surface of a road and thus allow us to see the road ahead. However, in a mirage, a very hot surface causes the light waves from the sky to refract before coming in contact with the road. Since our brain does not know the light wave has been bent, the eye traces the light wave in a straight line to the ground, thus causing our eyes to incorrectly perceive the light waves as a pool of water in the distance (when it is actually refracted light waves from the sky).

Using the concept of the mirage effect, scientists have made an invisibility cloak out of a lattice of carbon nanotubes that when electrically stimulated, either by electrical heating or by a pulse of electromagnetic radiation, create a temperature gradient that cause light waves to bend away from whatever object is under the invisibility cloak. The most important aspect of such an invisibility cloak is the lattice of carbon nanotubes. In order to bend visible light waves, the lattice of carbon nanotubes (also known as metamaterial) must be spaced less than the wavelength of visible light. Till now, researchers have only been able to succeed with near-infrared radiation as our technology is not sophisticated enough as yet to create a lattice with smaller spaces between the carbon nanotubes. Thus, until scientists are able to create a lattice small enough to bend light waves from the visible spectrum, an object will remain visible to the human eye.

Refraction of Light Waves to make Object Invisible

Figure 2: An object covered in an invisibility cloak made of carbon nanotubes that bend the light waves around the object, making the object invisible.

So what does all this really mean? Could Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak really exist? In the future, perhaps yes. Yet, there are even bigger implications of a possible invisibility cloak – good and bad. Using metamaterials to bend light waves, society could improve its security by placing ‘invisible’ policemen around each city. A country’s military could also benefit from such technology as tanks and airbases could be hidden from the human eye. However, such an invisibility cloak could also increase crime rate in the future as this technology could be further developed to bend sound and magnetic waves as well, allowing terrorists carrying guns or bombs to walk through metal detectors undetected. This could arouse an ethical debate over the use of metamaterials and invisibility cloaks. Yet, the debate can wait till the day researchers create the first cloak invisible to the human eye.

Bibliography:

1. “HowStuffWorks “Metamaterials: Bending Light Waves”” HowStuffWorks “Science”Web. 07 Oct. 2011. <http://science.howstuffworks.com/invisibility-cloak6.htm>.

2. “Researchers Create Functional Invisibility Cloak Using ‘Mirage Effect’ | Fox News.” Fox News – Breaking News Updates | Latest News Headlines | Photos & News Videos. Web. 07 Oct. 2011. <http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2011/10/05/researchers-create-functional-invisibility-cloak-using-mirage-effect/>.

3. “How Do ‘invisibility Cloaks’ Work?| Explore | Physics.org.” Physics.org | Home. Web. 07 Oct. 2011. <http://www.physics.org/article-questions.asp?id=69>.

How do nuclear bombs work?

In light of the recent catastrophic events in Japan, I cannot help but wonder about nuclear power, and how it achieves the immense effects it has on our environment. Thus, for this blog post I’ve decided to examine the science behind the workings of the atomic bomb, perhaps one of the greatest threats to the existence of mankind that derives its power from nuclear reactions.

There are two processes from which nuclear or atomic bombs obtain energy: nuclear fission and/or nuclear fusion. Most atomic bombs use nuclear fission, the splitting of the particles of a nucleus of an atom, usually Uranium’s isotopes Uranium-235 and Uranium-233, into smaller particles with a single neutron. This is the process that generates the colossal amount of energy released during an explosion.

Uranium is used in many fission bombs because its isotopes are very heavy and not stable, which means the slightest disturbance to it can set off a series of nuclear fission reactions. When thinking about fission reactions, picture a special set of dominoes that falls not in a single line pattern, but spreading evenly in all directions in a circle. The single domino that is pushed to set off the fall is equivalent to the neutron that starts the nuclear reaction. The reaction is self-sustaining, as soon as an atom of Uranium is split into two lighter atoms, gamma rays and 2 or 3 other neutrons are produced. These newly formed neutrons can then go on to collide with other nuclei and the reaction becomes a vicious cycle of destruction.

In an atomic bomb, there is a vital factor know as the critical mass. When making a bomb, the uranium must be concentrated enough – ie. in supercritical mass – to generate a powerful explosion. Going back to the dominoes metaphor, subcritical mass is where the dominoes are placed too far from each other, and cannot fall properly to make the pattern that it is supposed to. However, if the dominoes are placed closely, in supercritical mass, they will for sure hit one another and induce each and every fall, spreading evenly to keep the falls, or reaction in the case of a nuclear bomb, going. In order for the masses of Uranium to be supercritical, two subcritical masses must be brought together. To do this, the easiest way in a bomb is to collide one subcritical “bullet” of U235 with another subcritical “sphere” of U235

Structure of an Atomic Bomb

When a bomb is dropped, a pressure sensor determines the correct time to set off the explosive charge, when it goes off, the bullet drops down the barrel and hits the sphere. This starts the nuclear fission reaction. The tamper is made of another isotope of Uranium, upon being expanded by the fission reaction it surrounds, exerts pressure and deflects some emitted neutrons back into the reaction to make it even more powerful. Eventually the bomb will explode, and…well, we should all be pretty familiar with the rest from movies and history.

Untwisting the enigma of atomic bombs made me reflect upon a common conflict in society today. As our technology makes amazing improvements upon our lives, it also gives us fantastic power. The bomb described above is ironically named “Little Boy” and yet it is equal to 14,500 tons of TNT. With the fantastic power we have also found fantastic ways to destroy, it seems. And that has with it many risks that will have dire consequences. Thus, when evaluating technology, many people today only see the shortcuts and time it saves us. This is true, of course, the Internet has connected people around the world, and medical advancements save thousands of lives daily. And yet we must remember that not all advancements are positive, or will turn out to be good for mankind. Perhaps Albert Einstein did not foresee the development of the atomic bomb when he began his research on nuclear physics years ago, but the fact of the matter is that atomic weapons could destroy our world, and life as we know it, in a matter of hours today.

MLA Sources:

Fuller, John, and Craig Freudenrich. “HowStuffWorks “How Nuclear Bombs Work”” HowStuffWorks. HowStuffWorks.com. Web. 13 Apr. 2011. <http://www.howstuffworks.com/nuclear-bomb.htm>.

N/A. “The Basic Principle of the Atomic Bomb.” Hiroshima Spirit. Japan Peace Memorial Museum. Web. 13 Apr. 2011. <http://www.hiroshima-spirit.jp/en/museum/morgue_w12.html>.

With a Flick of the Wand…

The first time I saw it, I was amazed. The comforting warm that radiated from it, the welcoming hue that overflowed the room, the occasional snap that filled the silence of the night. Of course, I am speaking of fire.  And with any good fire, there is always an accompanying pale of water. Knowing that water puts out flame is one of the first things that we learn; yet the same simple principle is applied today to combat wildfires and house fires. However, this often causes water damage to the environment, not to mention the need for large amounts of water to be available. But what if there was a way to extinguish such fires with just a flick of a wand?

http://www.ericksonaircrane.com/firefighting.php
http://www.ericksonaircrane.com/firefighting.php

No, I am not speaking of Harry Potter’s magic wand. Scientists at Harvard have developed their own “wand” that can extinguish flame, using electric fields. The “wand” generates an electrical field that can suppress flames very quickly and at a distance as well. Researcher Ludovico Cademartiri demonstrated at the 241st National Meeting of American Chemical Society how such a device worked. He plugged in a 600-watt amplifier and attached the “wand” to the amplifier. With the power of 600 watts, the “wand” was able to generate an electric field of about 1 million volts per meter. While that seems like an absurd amount of energy, 1 million volts per meter is “approximately the field necessary to generate a spark in dry air”, and is therefore, not dangerous to a healthy human. The scientists proceeded to move the rod towards an open flame, about 50 centimeters tall, and almost instantly, the flame died.

A phenomenon like this deems the word “wand” almost fitting, but the concepts behind it are actually quite simple. Inside of any flame, there are electrons, Ions and soot, which all respond to electric fields. By generating a current through the “wand” an electrical field is created and like opposite sides of a magnet, the field generated by the wand repels the electrons, ions and soot inside of the fire. This resulted in the fire being, “pushed” away from its fuel source, and without fuel, the fire will die.

Of course, in real life, firefighters are faced with much larger flames, so a small wand would not be much help. However, scientists are working to increase the distance that the field affects flames, and increase the power of the field generated, so large scale fires can be combated. As this technology develops, the size of the “wand” will decrease, as will the wattage it uses. It seems that only a tenth of what Cademartiri used in his demonstration is needed to put out a that same 50 centimeter flame. Nonetheless, adapting this electrical “wand” for the use of firefighters would be very beneficial to both the economic and environmental aspects of firefighting. Advancements in the “wand” technology will allow firefighters to potentially replace their use of water to put out flames, effectively removing the issue of water damage to the building as well as their reliance of an available water source. Cademartiri also reported that the “wand” could be used to control the heat distribution of flames, so this technology would not be limited to just firefighters. Any technology that requires constant care for overheating can benefit from this technology, as the “wand” and redistribute the heat to prevent overheating.

Works Cited
Choi, Charles. “Electric Wand Makes Fire Disappear.” Daily Nature and Science News and Headlines | National Geographic News. 29 Mar. 2011. Web. 6 Apr. 2011. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/03/110329-electric-wands-fire-firefighters-extinguish-science-harvard-chemical/>.
Melville, Kate. “Electrical “wand” Extinguishes Fires.” Science News, Research And Discussion. 28 Mar. 2011. Web. 6 Apr. 2011. <http://www.scienceagogo.com/news/20110227210048data_trunc_sys.shtml>.

As Strong as metal & as Light as Plastic: Liquidmetal

“Liquidmetal May Be Used For New iPhone”

New iPhone? What does it look like? Liquidmetal? One day, as usual, I was on the Internet, and I just happened to see the rumor about the new iPhone. I was at first very curious about what liquidmetal is, and how this substance can determine the new design of the iPhone.

Liquidmetal

The liquidmetal alloys are a series of amorphous metal alloys invented by a California Institute of Technology research team. It was first developed in 1992, and was commercialized in 1993 by a company called Liquidmetal Technologies. This technology is a revolutionary class of materials that could best substitute the current uses of metals and plastics. It is comprised of zirconium (Z=40) and titanium (Z=22). The atomic structure is the most unique characteristic of the Liquidmetal alloys. The original atomic structure of all metals in-use today are periodic, meaning that the elements are laid out in patterns and are in shapes. This structure is also called “crystalline”. On the other hand, the atomic structure of liquidmetal alloys is in an “amorphous” pattern, which is truly unique. As image shown below, the elements are organized in a way that liquid elements are usually laid out. By this creative idea, liquidmetal has somewhat blended characteristics of metals and liquids. (These characteristics will be explained later) However, a major concern about this technology is the expensive price of liquidmetal. As it is a substitute of metals and plastics, many are still questioning the cost of this technology. The technology required to construct liquidmetal (also working with zirconium and titanium) is costly.

Crystalline Metal Alloys
Crystalline Metal Alloys
Amorphous Metal Alloy
Amorphous Metal Alloy

According to Liquidmetal Technologies, the characteristic properties of liquidmetal are high yield strength, high hardness, superior strength/weight ratio, superior elastic limit, high corrosion resistance, high wear-resistance, and unique acoustical properties. As such, the application of this technology is boundless. Many products requiring metals on them are now introduced with liquidmetal. Examples are a golf club, a knife, a cell-phone case, parts of a ship, components of a spacecraft, and sports equipments. Since liquidmetal is as strong as metal and as light as plastic, use of this technology in sports equipments and kinves can really improve the convenience of our lives. “Allow the least strength to perform the strongest possible” Objects that can be corrosive in salt of water or in outer space, liquidmetal is the best possible technology to prevent those harm. Currently, many golf clubs, softball bats, and tennis racquets are in use with liquid metal. A recent updates on applications of liquidmetal is between Liquidmetal Tech. and Swatch Group. According to Swatch Group, “Liquidmetal® Technologies Inc. (OTCBB: LQMT) and The Swatch Group Ltd (SIX: Uhr / Uhr N) today announced that they have signed an exclusive licensing agreement, allowing the Swiss manufacturer to utilize the Liquidmetal alloy technology worlwide.”

Elastic Limit of Metals
Elastic Limit of Metals

Of many outstanding characteristics of liquidmetal, the elastic limit of it really shocked me. A short clip (I highly recommend you all to see this clip), comparing the elastic limit of metals, gave me a refreshing jolt. I wondered how an object shaped as metal is about 300 times stronger than normal metals and is also very elastic. The implication of this new finding is that the world of science is infinite. Just like how we invented from metal to plastic to liquidmetal, our findings are unlimited. Similar to how Liquidmetal Technology developed the technology invented by CALTECH, I once again noticed that a step to “applying” technology is as important as inventing the new things. I also am looking forward to see if the new rumor about the new iPhone and liquidmetal is true, and if it is true, how Apple would graft the new technology with their product.

Work Cited

University of Michigan. “New Plastic Is Strong As Steel, Transparent.” ScienceDaily 5 October 2007. 12 March 2011

“Swatch Group signs Exclusive License Agreement with Liquidmetal Technologies.” Swatch Group(2011): n. pag. Web. 12 Mar 2011.

“Liquidmetal Technology.” Liquidmetal Technology(2011): n. pag. Web. 12 Mar 2011.

What’s next?

The beginning of global warming to what’s next.

Before I began thinking about what my next post is going to be about, I started to look at the older posts from my classmates. As I was reading through the post I realized that several posts were concerning about global warming. I decided to as well research on why global warming is considered a concern throughout the world, and in our chemistry class. As I was reading through the global warming post from my classmates, I noticed that several posts were about the predictions of what global warming can lead to, and plans that many scientists are making to solve global warming. After reading several post related to global warming I was curious of what actually caused global warming to happen, and the consequences leading to global warming. I decided to continue my research on global warming and the impact it would have on regions around the world. Unlike many of my classmates post about the impact of global warming, and plans that scientists are trying to resolve about global warming, I decided to research on what triggered global warming, how can we as humans help, and what will happen in the future if global warming were to worsen, or if there would be no global warming anymore.

The temperature response of the Earth (in degrees C) to an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide from pre-industrial levels (280 parts per million by volume) to higher levels (400 parts per million by volume). (a) shows predicted global temperatures when processes that adjust on relatively short-term timescales (for example sea-ice, clouds, and water vapour) are included in the model (b) includes additional long-tem processes that adjust on relatively long timescales (vegetation and land-ice).
The temperature response of the Earth (in degrees C) to an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. (a) shows predicted global temperatures when processes that adjust on relatively short-term timescales (for example sea-ice, clouds, and water vapour) are included in the model (b) includes additional long-tem processes that adjust on relatively long timescales (vegetation and land-ice).

Through my research I learned that the key cause of global warming was the exposure of large quantity of Carbon Dioxide. From my research I learned that over the years of industrial development and new innovations like vehicles introduced in America, and European countries, huge amount of carbon dioxide are released to the air at fast rates which pollutes the air. As more industries are established more carbon dioxide are release in the air which causes the temperature of the planet to increase because the atmosphere gets thicker and more heat is absorbed causing the temperature to rise. According to Nature Geoscience, Earth’s temperature is 30%-50% more sensitive to atmospheric carbon dioxide than previously estimated by scientists.

To stabilize our planet's temperature, we need to find ways to eliminate carbon dioxide for good.
To stabilize our planet's temperature, we need to find ways to eliminate carbon dioxide for good.

Now many scientists are trying to solve how to stabilize climate change because the world is getting warmer and it needs to be stopped or else more extreme natural disaster are going to take place. Scientists today investigated on how much the climate will change when each individual releases carbon dioxide, and found that when each individual releases carbon dioxide then each release of carbon dioxide leads to a higher warming of the planet. So, if we want to avoid climate increase then we need to lower the amount of carbon dioxide released by individual, however if there was no carbon dioxide released to the air there will still be an increase in temperature for at least 500 years. If we could freeze emissions at today’s levels, carbon dioxide will continue to increase. If we could stabilize carbon dioxide, which would take a lot of effort to cut down on the release of carbon dioxide, and the Earth would still continue to heat up. Scientists Matthew and Caldeira found that to prevent Earth from further heating, the release of carbon dioxide would need to be eliminated.

Furture goal
Furture goal

While eliminating the release of carbon dioxide may seem like a good idea, scientist Caldeira sees it as a practical goal to work towards. He said, “It is just not that hard to solve the technological challenges, we can develop and deploy wind turbines, electric cars, and so on, and live well without damaging the environment. The future can be better than the present, but we have to take steps to start kicking the CO2 habit now, so we won’t need to go cold turkey later.” I agree with his opinion because if we want to start eliminating carbon dioxide from the air, then we need to find substitutes to replace vehicles with electric cars as I was saying in my first blog post. We also need to add more solar panels and wind turbines to help eliminate carbon emissions and make air on planet Earth fresher than ever.

No more penguins in Antarctica if ice sheets were to melt
No more penguins in Antarctica if ice sheets were to melt

If we were global warming were to worsen then there would be a higher temperature which causes the polar region’s ice sheets to melt and cause the water level to rise 60-100 meters which is equivalent to a 22 floor building or higher. The weather throughout the world would change where in Asia extreme flooding will occur in coastal areas, in North America more forest fires will occur, and more snow storms will increase. In the year of 2010 to 2011 you can see that the increase in snow storms around the world are becoming more frequent even in southern areas of Asia like Hunan, and Guizhou where snowing does not usually occur. These are signs of global warming worsening and if we do not do anything about this issue that we humans brought to this world, then planet earth will be a unpleasant home for us to live. The “so what part of my blog post” is that i want to tell people how global warming started, and not just the impact because usually when people think of global warming they think of the consequences like the world getting warmer, but also i want to telling people the trigger that caused everything. and because of our desires and over use of the natural resources to build a stronger country and new equipments to make life better and more high-tech the consequences of these actions is global warming.

Bibliography:

University of Bristol. “Earth more sensitive to carbon dioxide than previously thought.”ScienceDaily 7 December 2009. 16

January 2011 <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091206162955.htm>.

Carnegie Institution. “Stabilizing Climate Requires Near-zero Carbon Emissions.”ScienceDaily 18 February 2008. 16 January 2011 <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080215103252.htm>.

National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. “Earth’s hot past could be prologue to future climate.” ScienceDaily 14 January 2011. 16 January 2011 <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110113141607.htm>.

“Future Global Warming Impacts, by Region | UCAR.” UCAR | Understanding Atmosphere, Earth, and Sun | Home. Web. 16 Jan. 2011. <https://www2.ucar.edu/news/backgrounders/future-global-warming-impacts-region>.

Lightsabers, fact or fiction?

If you periodically check Yahoo! like I do you will have noticed recently that there was an article about the resurgence of popularity concerning the Star Wars series as the full series is about to be released on Blu-ray. Well you would have had to have read the article to gain that particle information, but perhaps you saw the small thumbnail of a picture of Darth Vader donning the red light saber and Luke the green one.  It got me thinking could such a sword actually exist or one day be created?

I started researching. I figured that Star Wars with its cult following already had people try or are currently trying to create a real life lightsaber.

The lightsaber, the the primary weapon of the Jedi knights in George Lucas’ Star Wars. Wether a Star Wars devotist or not it cannot be denied that this weapon is pretty awesome by itself. The idea of a sword that can cut through anything, melt anything and deflect shots is sounds king of amazing. Not to mention the awesome colors and glowing effects, compounded with their famed sound effects, who wouldn’t want one?

What George Lucas created with flashlights and animation genius takes a bit more science and thought (although I’m sure its animation was very hard to produce).  The basic principle of the lightsaber is that it is a (light) beam of controlled energy that stops at a certain length and “opens” and detracts with the flick of a switch and is self sustaining (ie. not needing batteries, or recharging).  It’s blade of energy is supposed to be focused from a crystal inside the hilt of the sword.

(Ideally) The cross-section of a lightsaber

However, Dr. Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist did introduce to viewers of the show Sci-Fi Science: Physics of the Impossible that at the university where he works, City University of New York, they are able to harvest their own crystals. These crystals however, fully able to produce laser beams would not exactly fit the lightsabers description as the beam would be a thin ray of light and not solid. Having a lightsaber that can’t deflect another lightsaber would make it very difficult to Jedi to Sith. Furthermore, the laser beam would become invisible in the daylight or in a room with lights on. Now with this new safety hazard added, having a laser beam from a crystal does not seem plausible for the real construction of a light saber.

However, there have been suggestions to try using plasma. Plasma, the fourth state of matter, is similar to gas except a portion of its particles are ionized. Dr. Kaku in another episode creates a possible design for a lightsaber using very hot plasma. His design allows for a fan at the base of the hilt, that when you turn it on, it sucks up air into the saber and nano tube batteries to super heat it creating very hot plasma. To keep the plasma from oozing out, an electromagnetic coil will be wrapped around the “blade” of the sword. This blade will be made of ceramics so as to withstand the high temperature. Sounds like it could be created, right?

This knowledge opens the gateway for a lightsaber to be constructed, maybe a new age of warfare will erupt with a more “elegant”.  On a more realistic level this design is just an example what else the human race is capable of designing and then constructing. However out-of-this-world the idea is, someone, somewhere, probably a a theoretical scientist, will figure out a way to make it a reality. This can only serve to inspire scientists and future scientists in their work as well as giving them no limit to their imagination and what they might be able to do.

Dr. Kaku’s design was the most plausible that I could find and one of the few that took the design seriously to be realistically created here on earth. The fact that he could come up with a design gave me hope for all of the seemingly supernatural elements or props shown in movies, giving all of the Sci-Fi movies I watch a certain element of reality.

The technology is in our grasp and maybe one day…

we will look like this.

Sources

“Are Lightsabers possible?” physics.org. Web. 9 Jan. 2011.

“How Lightsaber Work.” Howstuffworks.com. HowStuffWorks, Inc. Web. 9 Jan. 2011.

“Lightsaber.” Chemistry Daily. 4 Jan. 2007. Web. 9 Jan. 2011.

“Science Channel Video.” Science Channel. Discovery Communications, LLC. Web. 9 Jan. 2011.