Friday, 5 February 2016

Star Trek's planet killer becomes a promising new cancer therapy...

The link between science fiction and new technology is well established: Space travel? Jules Verne. Communications satellites? Arthur C Clarke. Now a super weapon from Star Trek has found it's way into the real world, but as something much more benign. 'Proton beams' are a type of weapon from Star Trek. In fact I'm pretty sure I've seen an episode of the original series where a giant robot that looked like a concrete windsock was using a proton beam  to destroy planets:


In the real world proton beams area actually awesome. They're weapons, but not against planets: They're being used as a new therapy against cancer, destroying the tumours with fewer side effects and less toxicity:


In a world where one in three of us will suffer with cancer at some point in our lives, we need all the arsenal we can get...

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's... a small tree?

The world gets weirder (to be frank I'm perfectly OK with that in this case): 

Now trees can fly. 

The Japanese art of Bonsai - basically growing a really small and beautifully gardened tree -  has been producing some astounding bits of horticulture for centuries. Bonsai trees have already been into space.....



...now they can fly under their own power... or at least the power of their levitating base.  


Once levitation was the province of sorcerers, witches, gods and demons. Today things are a bit different: There're a few ways to make something  something levitate: It can be done using electrostatics, with sound waves, using low temperatures and superconductors.....


....or as in this case - using magnetic fields. Now, you might think that it would take a rare and subtle genus, combined with a room full of expensive scientific equipment to pull this trick off. And you'd be dead wrong - here's an instructable for it!

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Physics, and kickin' butt....

Imagine this brick is you, and I've just caught you stealing the chocolate M and M's...

There's an old, old saying: A nation that puts too great a divide between its scholars and its soldiers will end up thinking like cowards and and fighting like idiots. Well Niel DeGrasse Tyson may or may not have heard it, but I think he'd appreciate it: In the clip below he uses the mechanics of a wrestling move to demonstrate the mechanics of the relationship between the Earth and Moon:


 
He learned to wrestle in college, but he's not the first martial artist or scientist to notice the link between martial arts and Physics: Have a read of this article, where a number of physicists cum black belts go over how the some principles that make a rocket fly can teach you how to knock a mugger across the room. Or have a watch of York University Physics department's lecture on ass kicking:
 

Thursday, 28 January 2016

US energy production could become mostly renewable within 15 years

The good old US of A often comes under international criticism for the amount of pollution they produce, but a study from the NOAA and University of Colorado in Boulder, has shown that this needn't be the case: According to a heinously clever and complex software model the university's researchers have developed, it should be possible to cut US emissions to 78 percent below 1990 levels within 15 years while meeting increased demand. 

Above: Trump won't like it, but to be honest Trump doesn't like anything, as far as I can tell. Image courtesy of Business Insider.
The model takes into account future cost, demand, generation and transmission scenarios, and shows that this could be done using weather driven renewables.“Our research shows a transition to a reliable, low-carbon, electrical generation and transmission system can be accomplished with commercially available technology and within 15 years,” said Alexander MacDonald, co-lead author and recently retired director of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory.

 
Above: A run down on the envelope pushing model. 

One of the problems with all renewable electricity is that renewables are notoriously unreliable - steady sunshine or wind cannot be guaranteed at any one location. But across the whole US the wind is blowing, or the Sun is shining, somewhere - the country just needs the power transmission ability to move the power to where it's needed. Specifically the model opted for using a new, high-voltage direct-current transmission grid (HVDC) to supplement the current electrical grid. HVDC lines reduce energy losses during long-distance transmission, and MacDonald compared the idea of a HVDC grid with the interstate highway system. “With an ‘interstate for electrons’, renewable energy could be delivered anywhere in the country while emissions plummet. An HVDC grid would create a national electricity market in which all types of generation, including low-carbon sources, compete on a cost basis. The surprise was how dominant wind and solar could be.” 


Elsewhere in the Univerese: 

Gorrilas have learned how to dismantle poacher's traps

Design for new European rocket settled

Patent filed on fusion reactor design