Posted by db johnston under Current events
, Interesting stuff
| Tags: £1000 ($1550 US) prize
, Biology by Helena Curtis
, Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle
, Hermes 2012
, hot water freezes faster than cold water
, Schrödinger's cat though-experiment
, The Mpemba Effect
, the properties of water
, The Royal Society of Chemistry
, the triple point
| Leave a Comment
The Royal Society of Chemistry is offering £1000 (~ $1550 US) to anybody who comes up with the best explanation for why hot water freezes faster than cold water, a conundrum that has baffled scientists for centuries.
The reward will go “… to the person or team producing the best and most creative explanation of the phenomenon, known today as The Mpemba Effect.” The deadline for submissions is July 30, 2012, and submissions must be made here.
For this contest, it seems to me that a non-scientist may stand a good chance of winning the prize (after all, scientists have been unsuccessful for over two-thousand years!), so I thought I’d throw a few factoids about water into the Webosphere as basic background for any creative geniuses that might like to try their hand at submitting, but would like somewhere to begin their far-flung theories (which, the website notes, must be “…scientifically sound and arresting in presentation and delivery”).
The following factoids are all interconnected characteristics of the substance that is the basis for most life on our planet. If the characteristics of water were different, none of us would be here; or, at the very least, we would be far different beings*…
Water, or H2o, is a polar molecule
[image found at sguforums.com]
Oxygen is more electronegative than hydrogen and the molecule forms an ‘electrical dipole’, with the oxygen end more negative, and the hydrogen end more positive; therefore, water molecules are attracted to one another and readily form connective bonds, which gives water some of its interesting characteristics, such as its ability as a ‘universal’ solvent, and its high surface tension (this is why there is a meniscus at the surface, and why insects can walk on water). To be more specific, water molecules form a ‘V’ shape (some people call it a ‘U’ shape), with the hydrogen atoms at the two top tips of the ‘V’ pointing away from the oxygen (oxygen has extra valence electrons which ‘push’ the electropositive hydrogen atoms away, and the hydrogen atoms repel each other — they are both electropositive — thereby forming the ‘V’ shape).
The melting point of water decreases as a function of pressure. The triple point is a certain temperature and pressure at which all three phases of a substance — solid, liquid and gas — occur in a stable equilibrium (for water, the triple point is 0.01 °C and 611.73 pascals). For most substances, the triple point is the minimum temperature at which the liquid phase can occur; however, for water, the melting point decreases as a function of pressure.
[image found at SWE.org]
The volume of water increases from liquid to gas and from liquid to solid. Conventionally, molecules disperse into gaseous form when heated, condense into a liquid phase when cooled, and condense to a greater density when cooled further. These phase changes, or changes in state, correspond to energy changes; from high energy (gas) to medium energy (liquid) to low energy (solid). Water, however, is a bit of an individualist. When water vapor is cooled, it condenses into a liquid, but when water is cooled to 4°C (39 °F), its volume begins to increase slightly; further, when it reaches 0°C (32 °F), it begins to expand radically, becoming less dense (this is why ice cubes float in a glass of water). This odd characteristic of water is related to its shape and how molecules bond together (see above: Water is a polar molecule). As a liquid, water molecules move about quite readily; the individual molecules form bonds, bonds are broken, and bonds are re-formed, thereby giving water its fluidic properties. When water is cooled to 4°C, the energy of the molecules decreases until they become very closely packed, but at 0°C, the molecules begin to align in a hexagonal, crystal lattice that increases the volume of a given sample of water (e.g.: water in an ice-cube tray) because individual molecules are held farther apart, with more empty space between them.
For your submission, you may want to thow in some psycho-babble regarding quantum states (in particular, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle), Schrödinger’s cat though-experiment (the observer is part of the experimental system: you don’t know the water is frozen until you actually observe it), chemical kinetics (e.g.: does the higher temperature of water act as a catalyst, creating more collisions or larger spaces between molecules, thereby yielding more bonding potential for ice’s hexagonal, crystal lattice structure?), and maybe even some hand-waving about sublimation (transformation directly from gaseous to solid form).
Best of luck with your submission!!!
*I found this cartoon in an old textbook; Biology, IV Ed., by Helena Curtis
Robert Silverberg began writing pulp fiction in the 1950s, but was apparently given freer rein in the mid-60s and his output from the late-60s through to the early-70s was fertile and literate. Dying Inside (1972) was among the novels he wrote during this time, and it is ostensibly the story of a lonesome telepath whose powers have begun to fade, but can be read as a metaphor for middle age, or a writer’s anxiety as he senses his talents beginning to diminish.
The author did a wonderful job of characterizing the protagonist, David Selig, a telepath.
David’s story is revealed from his own point of view and he doesn’t particularly like himself; his talent is a blessing and a curse, and even in his early forties he has still not come to grips with his ability to read minds. His talent is a wonderful — though wasted — gift, but it is also an obstacle to forming connections with others: he feels like a voyeur, and his ability to know how others truly perceive him can be disheartening. As his ability begins to fade, he wonders what life will be like if and when the talent leaves him completely.
While reading the novel I wondered how much of David Selig was actually Robert Silverberg, who was the same age as Selig when he wrote the book (Mr. Silverberg also shares a Jewish heritage, a predilection for writing, and a degree from Columbia with the novel’s protagonist). Silverberg’s editor/publisher, Betty Ballentine, also wondered and communicated her concern: “…while I admire the book,” she wrote to him, “I am also worried about you” (from the Preface, p. 13). Silverberg assured her that the work was pure fiction, with a sprinkling of real-life experiences for realism; but still, I wonder. Robert Silverberg was nearing the end of an extremely fertile period of writing, and soon afterward he declared himself burned-out (in 1975 he officially retired from writing, though he re-launched his career in 1980 with Lord Valentine’s Castle).
Dying Inside is a mature, literate work, but the protagonist is overly morose and the novel treads a delicate balance between cleverness and monotony. Even the happy periods in David Selig’s life are presented with foreboding, and there is no counterpoint to his sullen mood until the end, when he finally finds some comfort in life.
The novel was not what I expected and didn’t go where I would have liked; however, it was a satisfying reading experience.
(I’ve read three other Robert Silverberg novels written during the same time-frame as Dying Inside that I’d also recommend (with caveats I’ll share if anybody is curious): Downward to the Earth (1970: a science fiction version of Heart of Darkness), Son of Man (1971: trippy, experimental science fiction), and A Time of Changes (1971: socio-philosophical science fiction)).
Have you ever dreamed of a Harvard or MIT education, but can’t afford it? (Or, like me, don’t quite meet the enrollment criteria?). Well, both institutes are now offering free on-line courses that begin this fall. This is incredible; as long as you have access to the internet, you can receive a free education from two of the most prestigious schools in the world!
The courses won’t get you a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctorate degree but they are planning to offer a Certificate of Mastery; which, for free, sounds pretty good (and suitable for framing).
Check it out here
Posted by db johnston under almost falling
, Current events
, Interesting stuff
| Tags: a natural balance
, carbon footprint and animal husbandry
, cow belches and the environment
, cow burps
, greenhouse gas problems
, nasty tendency
, north america's reliance on animal consumption
, ruminants and methane
, whales and carbon dioxide
| Leave a Comment
A colleague of mine enjoys challenging my views with humorous jabs; recently, when I was decrying the fact that our society (myself included) is apathetic in regards to the pollution effects of fossil fuels, he suggested that the world’s one-and-a-half billion cows are to blame for the greenhouse gas problems.
[Image found at Science Hax]
“A cow,” he informed me, “farts out as much pollution as a car.”
I looked it up; he was almost correct, but it is cow burps (scientific types, and other straight-laced characters, prefer the term eructation), not flatulence, that releases the bulk of the methane — a significant greenhouse gas component — from cows into the atmosphere.
In fact, ruminant animals (cows, sheep and water buffalo in particular) account for almost thirty percent of the methane in the environment. It is a big enough problem that there are even plans to add antibiotics to cattle feed to impede the production of methane. Personally, I’d prefer that we decrease our consumption of beef, which would reduce the population of cows required on the planet, thereby lowering the eructation of ruminant-methane. Our planet maintains a natural balance, but humanity has a nasty tendency to push past the level that the environment can correct for.
When I reported my findings back to the colleague who had prompted my research, he nodded; I was thus encouraged, and went on to explain that the real problem was our diet: apparently, in Canada and the United States, animal consumption accounts for about seventy percent of our dietary intake, and we could reverse the methane-eructation problem if we reduced our livestock herds by modifying our eating habits. The carbon footprint of vegetables, beans and grains is a fraction of that created by animal husbandry. And, if our society reduced its consumption of animals, we would receive the added bonus of a healthier population.
“Okay,” my esteemed colleague said; “but what about the whales?”
“Huh?” I replied.
And then he began to (humorously) malign whales for their colossal contribution to global warming due to their excessive exhalation of carbon dioxide (CO2), a familiar greenhouse gas pollutant. “There have been estimates,” my colleague informed me, “that whales contribute the equivalent of forty-thousand CO2-belching automobiles.”
So I did some more research…
And he was correct, as far as he went; however, he hadn’t looked at the big picture.
Australian researchers, while studying baleen (krill eating) whales, have discovered that although whales exhale huge quantities of CO2, their feces are responsible for the reduction of greenhouse gases.
Whales move their bowels at the surface and, because their feces are rich in iron, this acts as a fertilizer for phytoplankton, the wonderful marine plant that uses CO2 from the atmosphere to drive photosynthesis. In fact, it turns out that the reduction of CO2 by phytoplankton, as powered by the iron from whale feces, is twice the amount exhaled by the whales; therefore, the net contribution of whales is beneficial in the battle against greenhouse gasses and global warming. This is an example of how nature — if we take humans out of the equation — performs its own checks and balances.
So, when I was back at work again, I reported the findings to my colleague.
He nodded, accepting my research, and said, “Okay, but what about…”
But I didn’t hear the rest because I’d stuck a finger in each ear and walked away, humming loudly…
I just read an interesting article, which lead me to a Public Statement by Amnesty International about a brave, altruistic Afghan woman who was killed for doing the right thing. The story is six years old, but bears repeating.
On the 25th of September 2006, Safiye Amajan, while on her way to work, was shot repeatedly by an armed motorcyclist who was linked to the Taliban. The Taliban claimed that her assassination was “…due to spying on the Mojahedin of the Islamic Emirate on behalf of the United States of America, under the guise of woman’s rights.”
Safiye Amajan was in her mid-fifties, and her ‘crime’ was more likely the fact that for years, despite repeated threats, she secretly ran a school for girls during the Taliban rule. After the Taliban’s repressive regime collapsed, and until she was murdered, Safiye Amajan was the provincial head of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MOWA). During her time in MOWA she was instrumental in the establishment of several schools and vocational centers designed to educate women and girls.
Safiye Amajan surely knew her life was in danger, but she defied the oppressive dictates of the Taliban and continued her altruistic cause until her untimely death. It is people like her that boost my faith in humanity.
I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.
I hear the call — a resonance; like the faint, echoed peal of a bell — and swim through space and time, through motes of luminous perfume and between diaphanous, white rose petals. My skin is radiant, my mind calm and deliberate.
I free them, one at a time; a gift of wings, a means of blissful escape.
Only two remain: the most virtuous and beautiful of the fallen. I meant for her to be the last; she would have facilitated his transformation, eased his anxiety and guided him. Unfortunately, he will pass alone.
She studies the empty vessels on the floor and, when she hears the shuffle of my feet, she turns her head slowly and peers at me through innocence; her pupils dilate and I shoot as she turns to run. She lurches, but continues out the door and I lose her in the twisting hallways. She is fast, but I find her again as she escapes, with him, into the outside world. I shoot and shoot at her retreating form until her mortal body collapses, finally in peace; and, as her angelic essence soars away, she flutters a wing at me in thanks.
The last one runs away into the distance. Regrettable. He is almost as dangerous as she would have been. But now is not the time to silence him; the authorities of this realm will soon arrive. I ease into a crease: back to the world I know best; from there I can wait, and watch.
Look to Windward (2000) is another of Iain M. Banks literate, grand space-operas set within the interstellar society of the Culture. For those unfamiliar, Mr. Banks has written several stand-alone novels about the Culture, an exceedingly affluent and powerful civilization that places a high value on individual rights and liberty and has an uncomfortable habit of intervening in the business of other civilizations. Their ‘interventions’ are undertaken with the Culture’s best intentions, although their secret military branch (Special Circumstances) believes that the ends justify the means, and their actions sometimes have disastrous consequences (in case the reader misses the connection, Banks gives a hint that the novel’s politics resemble affairs in our own world: he dedicated the book to the Gulf War Veterans). And it is a disastrous consequence that drives the plot of Look to Windward. Prior to the events portrayed in the novel, agents of the Culture had attempted to dissolve a repressive, hierarchical social system and their actions precipitated a devastating civil-war in the Chelgrian civilization.
There are three main threads to the story:
i) Ziller, a famous Chelgrian composer, spurned the oppressive caste-system of Chel and left his society to live with the Culture citizens of Masaq’. He has composed a new work that he will conduct during an historic event on Masaq’.
ii) Quilan, an ambassador from Chel, travels to Masaq’; allegedly on a mission to convince Ziller to return to Chel, but Quilan, a former soldier, has a darker mission that is slowly revealed as the novel proceeds
iii) a young scientist studies an inscrutable, sentient dirigible within the thriving, internal ecology of a colossal gas bubble that roams through space (as an aside, my inner-geek really appreciated this thread, which epitomizes Banks’ ability to converge and diverge).
There isn’t much wiz-bang action, and the novel develops slowly, but the threads eventually intertwine to form an interesting conclusion.
I could have done without the vindictive, sadistic assassinations at the end, and I have some other quibbles, not the least of which is the fact that I’ve yet to read a book by Iain M. Banks that has completely blown me away as a novel. He writes well, creates an intricate story, has an exceptional imagination, fills his characters with depth, and is able to maintain my interest throughout the book, but his endings leave me oddly unfulfilled. Then again, perhaps this is exactly what he intends.
Suppose you had an object; but, for your application, you required two of them. In the near future, you may be able to place the object into a bag of smart-sand, shake it up, and the sand will sculpt itself into a duplicate. Sounds like a bad science fiction story, but the technology is being developed in the Distributed Robotics Laboratory (DRL) at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory by Kyle Gilpin and his post-doctorate supervisor Daniela Rus.
The DRL researchers have created algorithms that can facilitate smart sand, and they have designed experiments that test the algorithms on cubes (of ten millimeters to an edge) that are constructed with simple microprocessors and electropermanent magnets (the magnetism is controlled with jolts of electricity).
The algorithms involve the manipulation of individual grains of smart sand, which pass messages back-and-forth and connect together to form a three-dimensional object. Any grains not required are not magnetized; and, when the object is removed from the bag, the unwanted grains of sand remain in the bag. After the object has been used for its purpose it can be recycled by placing it back in the bag, where the grains are de-magnetized, unlinked, and ready for use to build a different object.
The smart sand will be able to create multiple copies, and create larger objects from a small model.
The future is interesting, but make sure that you don’t fall into the smart sand…
Check out the MIT News article for more information and a video that demonstrates the algorithm using a simplified 2-D example.
Posted by db johnston under Images
, Interesting stuff
| Tags: a new comic-book super-hero?
, chemical and material engineering
, David Kisailus
, fastest punch recorded
, harlequin mantis shrimp
, Odontodactylus scyllarus
, painted mantis shrimp
, peacock mantis shrimp
, Space Oddity's Spore Blog
, University of California Riverside
| 1 Comment
[image found at Space Oddity's Spore Blog]
The peacock mantis shrimp (aka the harlequin mantis shrimp and the painted mantis shrimp) is not a true shrimp, but a species of crustacean (Odontodactylus scyllarus). Their habitat is in the Indo-Pacific, from Guam to East Africa.
The peacock mantis shrimp range in length from about three to eighteen centimeters (1.2 – 7 inches) and their most unusual feature is small appendages, called dactyl clubs, that they use to smash through mollusk shells, the heads of small fish, bivalves, and even glass aquarium walls (they make interesting and colorful aquarium specimens, but they must be kept separate from other creatures, and the walls of their aquaria must be constructed of shatter-proof acrylic).
The dactyl club appendages have been studied by chemical and material engineering scientist David Kisailus and his associates at the University of California, Riverside.
The striking surface of the club is highly crystallized hydroxyapite (a variety of calcium carbonate (bone material)), which provides superior compressive strength. Beneath the calcium carbonate, chitin is cross-layered in a dense array to prevent the formation of fractures. The sides of the club are also constructed of chitin, which places the club under compression. The club’s structure allows it to endure incredible impact forces. The animal’s punching velocity of 80 km/h (50 miles/h) is the fastest ever recorded and the punch acceleration is equivalent to a .22 caliber handgun.
David Kisailus and his colleagues have plans to use their findings to create materials for synthesis and engineering use in protective sporting equipment, crash-resistant vehicles, and body armor.
The combination of intriguing colors (predominant shades of green, with orange legs and anterior spots) and super-human punching abilities begs for a new comic-book super-hero…
Posted by db johnston under Current events
| Tags: All Summer in a Day
, Fahrenheit 451
, Grand Master Award
, O. Henry Memorial Award
, Pulitzer Special Citation (2007)
, Ray Bradbury dead
, Something Wicked This Way Comes
, television destroys interest in reading
, The Martian Chronicles
, World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement
| Leave a Comment
Ray Bradbury, the famous science-fiction/fantasy writer, passed from this world last night; he was ninety-one. His most well-known novel, Fahrenheit 451 (the temperature at which paper ignites), has often been misinterpreted as a rant against censorship; it was, according to Bradbury, a cautionary tale about how television destroys interest in reading.
[image from listal.com]
I recall many of his short-stories (especially those found in The Martian Chronicles), but one story in particular (All Summer in a Day) has stuck with me because of its poignant ending (which I won’t give away); in the story, a girl’s family emigrates to Venus: the girl hates Venus because it always rains, except once every several years when the sun briefly peeks through the thick cloud-cover. It is a sad story, but it reminds me of Vancouver, where people appreciate sunshine more than most.
Ray Bradbury won many awards, including; the O. Henry Memorial Award, the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction Writers of America, and a Pulitzer Special Citation (2007).
He had some interesting views for a science fiction writer: he disdained video games, ATMs, and the internet, and generally distrusted technology (he had a fear of flying and rode on transit or a bicycle rather than driving).
Ray Bradbury is considered a prime mover of speculative fiction onto the map of mainstream literature.
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