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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Nearby Solar System Looks Like Our Own at Time Life Formed

By Alexis Madrigal


A nearby solar system bears a striking similarity to our own solar system, raising the possibility it could harbor Earth-like planets.

Epsilon Eridani, located about 10.5 light-years from our sun, is surrounded by two asteroid belts that are shaped by planets, astronomers at SETI Institute and Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics announced today.

But it's the possibility that currently undetected smaller planets could lie within the innermost asteroid belt that make the solar system intriguing to astrobiologists.

"This system probably looks a lot like ours did when life first took root on Earth," said SETI's Dana Backman, lead author of a paper on the 850-million-year-old star that will appear next year in The Astrophysical Journal, in a release.

Back then, the Kuiper Belt of space objects beyond Neptune was much larger. Over time, many of those objects fell into the inner solar system during a period about four billion years ago known as the Late Heavy Bombardment. The barrage of large asteroids pockmarked the rocky planets and possibly created our moon when a large object collided with Earth, expelling a huge amount of material into space.

Epsilon Eridani's evolution could provide insight into how universal these processes are. That's important because our solar system contains a planet — Earth — just far enough from the sun not to be fried but close enough to capture enough energy to support life as we know it. Similar systems could end up with planets orbiting in the same biological sweet spot.

"Epsilon Eridani looks a lot like the young solar system, so it's conceivable that it will evolve similarly," said astronomer Massimo Marengo of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, a co-author of the paper.

Right now, Epsilon Eridani is surrounded by three asteroid rings that scientists believe are held in formation by large planets, the first of which is theorized to sit about half the distance from Mars to Jupiter. In the new paper, two other large planets, slightly farther from their star than Uranus and Neptune are from the sun, are proposed to explain the shape of the outer belts.

It will take more sensitive instruments — perhaps like the next-generation of planet-hunting telescopes — to determine whether any would-be Earths lurk inside the habitable zone near the star.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Ghost Lusters: If You Want to See a Specter Bad Enough, Will You?

By Adam Marcus




















Most scientists dismiss the vast majority of ghost sightings as hoaxes. But researchers in Canada, England and elsewhere are exploring what happens in the brain to create the illusion that something is "haunted." So far, they have found evidence that some apparitions may be brain benders caused by spiking EMFs (electromagnetic fields), and possibly even extremely low-–frequency sound waves (known as infrasound) so subtle that the ear does not register them as noise.

EMFs emitted by power lines and towers, clock radios and other electrical sources may help debunk myths that people or things are haunted, says Michael Persinger, a neuroscientist at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, who has conducted research on the topic. One such study, published in 2001 in Perceptual And Motor Skills chronicles the experiences of a teenager who in 1996 claimed to be receiving nocturnal visits—one sexual—from the Holy Spirit. The 17-year-old girl, who had sustained mild brain damage at birth, said she also felt the presence of an invisible baby perched on her left shoulder.

When Persinger and his colleagues investigated (at the behest of the girl's mother), they found an electric clock next to the bed that was about 10 inches (25.4 centimeters) from where she placed her head when she slept. Tests showed that the clock generated electromagnetic pulses with waveforms similar to those found to trigger epileptic seizures in rats and humans. When the clock was removed, the visions stopped. Persinger determined that the clock, in combination with the girl's brain injury, were highly likely to have been contributing factors to the perceived nocturnal visits.

Although Persinger believes this case and others to offer compelling evidence that EMFs contribute to a person's perception that something is haunted, experiments intended to prove this theory leave room for doubt.

Christopher French, a psychologist at Goldsmiths, University of London College in London who studies the paranormal, is one researcher who has conducted experiments to test the EMF theory but has been unable to prove its validity. He and colleagues four years ago built a "haunted" room in a London apartment rigged with electromagnetic sources and infrasound generators. They invited 79 volunteers, recruited via the Internet, to spend some time inside the cool, dimly lit space.

Researchers disclosed to the subjects that they might experience some weirdness— feel a presence, tingling or other strange sensation—while in the room and were given psychological evaluations to assess their susceptibility to the suggestion of the paranormal. This included the Australian Sheep–Goat Scale, which tries to separate likely believers (sheep) from skeptics (goats). Examples of items on the scale include questions about belief in life after death and whether a subject has ever experienced an episode of precognition.

The researchers used a computer to drive twin coils, hidden behind the walls of the room, that generated EMF pulses up to 50 microteslas (a unit for measuring the strength of a magnetic field) of electromagnetic pulses, many times greater than the one1- to -four4 microteslas generated by Persinger's clock. They also used a computer to pump in extremely low-–frequency infrasound waves that were well below what humans could possibly hear. Such sounds have been linked, albeit tenuously, to some alleged hauntings. In a 1998 Journal of the Society for Psychical Research article entitled, "The Ghost in the Machine," Coventry University (U.K.in England) researchers Vic Tandy and Tony Lawrence describe an experiment during which they detected an infrasound wave with a frequency of 18.9 hertz in a factory where workers had reported strange experiences they believed to be paranormal (French and his team used waveforms of 18.9 and 22.3 hertz.).

French's volunteers were exposed to electromagnetic pulses, infrasound, both or neither. "Most people reported at least some slightly odd sensation, such as a presence or feeling dizzy, and some reported terror, which we hadn'’t expected," French says. "Terror is obviously quite an extreme reaction, and we only anticipated getting reports of mildly anomalous sensations in the context of this particular experiment." Still, French and his colleagues could not conclude that EMFs played a role in conjuring these feelings.

Like any dutiful researcher, French—who became interested in paranormal psychology after reading the 1981 book Parapsychology: Science or Magic?, by the renowned doubter and British psychologist James E. Alcock—has gone into the field, visiting purportedly haunted houses, which are in ample supply in England. He says believers "psych each other up. Sitting in pitch darkness you hear noises, which are common in these old houses, but believers see and hear things that just aren't there, according to our recording devices."

French's findings were published in the in the journal Cortex this month, and he and his colleagues have been trying to garner funding for a follow-up study. It will not be easy—poking holes in ghost stories might appear on its face to be of little scientific value. Still, French insists such research can reveal important truths about the human mind, including questions of memory and delusions. "Within psychology, people talk about reality monitoring, trying to understand how we make distinctions between mental events and events that take place out there in the real world," he says. "It's something we take for granted: Did you really lock the door before you went to bed, or did you just think about it?" On the extreme is schizophrenia, in which the brain makes no distinction between the real and the imagined.

"There's a continuum, and this kind of framework is useful when you're talking about hallucinatory experiences," French says. "People are mistaking their attribution, feeling a product of their own mental processes as something that's taking place in the real world. Anything that can lead to making your mental events more similar to events that take place—a vivid imagination, for example—will make it more difficult to distinguish between the two."

Of course, believers say French cannot see or hear ghosts because he is a "horrible skeptic," which he readily admits. "I wish it was a bit more spooky," he says of his time waiting for apparitions to appear in dank, musty castles. "I'm sitting in the dark, in the cold. I wish something more would happen."

Persinger commends French's team on its "splendid experiment," even if it didn't validate his ideas. Still, he contends, EMFs do affect the body in many ways—from the brain to individual cells, to enzymes, and even DNA. The key to testing their effects on brain activity, he says, is to make sure that the fields are neither too strong nor too weak, and that they come in the right pattern. So he is not willing to give up on finding a way to prove scientifically that EMFs are behind at least some ghost sightings. "I'm a scientist," Persinger says. "I don't believe in anything."

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21st Century Detective Work Reveals How Ancient Rock Got Off To A Hot Start


Komatiites are formed from super hot molten rock. (Credit: Image courtesy of Imperial College London

A new technique using X-rays has enabled scientists to play 'detective' and solve the debate about the origins of a three billion year old rock fragment.

In the study, published in the journal Nature, a scientist describes the new technique and shows how it can be used to analyse tiny samples of molten rock called magma, yielding important clues about the Earth's early history.

Working in conjunction with Australian and US scientists, an Imperial College London researcher analysed a magma using the Chicago synchrotron, a kilometre sized circular particle accelerator that is commonly used to probe the structure of materials.

In this case, the team used its X-rays to investigate the chemistry of a rare type of magmatic rock called a komatiite which was preserved for billions of years in crystals.

It has previously been difficult to discover how these komatiites formed because earlier analytical techniques lacked the power to provide key pieces of information.

Now, thanks to the new technique, the team has found that komatiites were formed in the Earth's mantle, a region between the crust and the core, at temperatures of around 1,700 degrees Celsius, more than 2.7 billion years ago.

These findings dispel a long held alternative theory which suggested that komatiites were formed at much cooler temperatures, and also yields an important clue about the mantle's early history. They found that the mantle has cooled by 300 degrees Celsius over the 2.7 billion year period

Lead researcher, Dr Andrew Berry, from Imperial College London's Department of Earth Science and Engineering, says more research needs to be done to understand fully the implications of this finding. However, he believes this new technique will enable scientists to uncover more details about the Earth's early history. He says:

"It has long been a 'holy grail' in geology to find a technique that analyses the chemical state of tiny rock fragments, because they provide important geological evidence to explain conditions inside the early Earth. This research resolves the controversy about the origin of komatiites and opens the door to the possibility of new discoveries about our planet's past."

In particular, Dr Berry believes this technique can now be used to explain Earth's internal processes such as the rate at which its interior has been cooling, how the forces affecting the Earth's crust have changed over time, and the distribution of radioactive elements which internally heat the planet.

He believes this information could then be used to build new detailed models to explain the evolution of the planet. He concludes:

"It is amazing that we can look at a fragment of magma only a fraction of a millimetre in size and use it to determine the temperature of rocks tens of kilometres below the surface billions of years ago. How's that for a piece of detective work?"

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Sarah Palin's War on Science

Sarah Palin. Click image to expand.In an election that has been fought on an astoundingly low cultural and intellectual level, with both candidates pretending that tax cuts can go like peaches and cream with the staggering new levels of federal deficit, and paltry charges being traded in petty ways, and with Joe the Plumber becoming the emblematic stupidity of the campaign, it didn't seem possible that things could go any lower or get any dumber. But they did last Friday, when, at a speech in Pittsburgh, Gov. Sarah Palin denounced wasteful expenditure on fruit-fly research, adding for good xenophobic and anti-elitist measure that some of this research took place "in Paris, France" and winding up with a folksy "I kid you not."

It was in 1933 that Thomas Hunt Morgan won a Nobel Prize for showing that genes are passed on by way of chromosomes. The experimental creature that he employed in the making of this great discovery was the Drosophila melanogaster, or fruit fly. Scientists of various sorts continue to find it a very useful resource, since it can be easily and plentifully "cultured" in a laboratory, has a very short generation time, and displays a great variety of mutation. This makes it useful in studying disease, and since Gov. Palin was in Pittsburgh to talk about her signature "issue" of disability and special needs, she might even have had some researcher tell her that there is a Drosophila-based center for research into autism at the University of North Carolina. The fruit fly can also be a menace to American agriculture, so any financing of research into its habits and mutations is money well-spent. It's especially ridiculous and unfortunate that the governor chose to make such a fool of herself in Pittsburgh, a great city that remade itself after the decline of coal and steel into a center of high-tech medical research.

In this case, it could be argued, Palin was not just being a fool in her own right but was following a demagogic lead set by the man who appointed her as his running mate. Sen. John McCain has made repeated use of an anti-waste and anti-pork ad (several times repeated and elaborated in his increasingly witless speeches) in which the expenditure of $3 million to study the DNA of grizzly bears in Montana was derided as "unbelievable." As an excellent article in the Feb. 8, 2008, Scientific American pointed out, there is no way to enforce the Endangered Species Act without getting some sort of estimate of numbers, and the best way of tracking and tracing the elusive grizzly is by setting up barbed-wire hair-snagging stations that painlessly take samples from the bears as they lumber by and then running the DNA samples through a laboratory. The cost is almost trivial compared with the importance of understanding this species, and I dare say the project will yield results in the measurement of other animal populations as well, but all McCain could do was be flippant and say that he wondered whether it was a "paternity" or "criminal" issue that the Fish and Wildlife Service was investigating. (Perhaps those really are the only things that he associates in his mind with DNA.)

With Palin, however, the contempt for science may be something a little more sinister than the bluff, empty-headed plain-man's philistinism of McCain. We never get a chance to ask her in detail about these things, but she is known to favor the teaching of creationism in schools (smuggling this crazy idea through customs in the innocent disguise of "teaching the argument," as if there was an argument), and so it is at least probable that she believes all creatures from humans to fruit flies were created just as they are now. This would make DNA or any other kind of research pointless, whether conducted in Paris or not. Projects such as sequencing the DNA of the flu virus, the better to inoculate against it, would not need to be funded. We could all expire happily in the name of God. Gov. Palin also says that she doesn't think humans are responsible for global warming; again, one would like to ask her whether, like some of her co-religionists, she is a "premillenial dispensationalist"—in other words, someone who believes that there is no point in protecting and preserving the natural world, since the end of days will soon be upon us.

Videos taken in the Assembly of God church in Wasilla, Alaska, which she used to attend, show her nodding as a preacher says that Alaska will be "one of the refuge states in the Last Days." For the uninitiated, this is a reference to a crackpot belief, widely held among those who brood on the "End Times," that some parts of the world will end at different times from others, and Alaska will be a big draw as the heavens darken on account of its wide open spaces. An article by Laurie Goodstein in the New York Times gives further gruesome details of the extreme Pentecostalism with which Palin has been associated in the past (perhaps moderating herself, at least in public, as a political career became more attractive). High points, also available on YouTube, show her being "anointed" by an African bishop who claims to cast out witches. The term used in the trade for this hysterical superstitious nonsense is "spiritual warfare," in which true Christian soldiers are trained to fight demons. Palin has spoken at "spiritual warfare" events as recently as June. And only last week the chiller from Wasilla spoke of "prayer warriors" in a radio interview with James Dobson of Focus on the Family, who said that he and his lovely wife, Shirley, had convened a prayer meeting to beseech that "God's perfect will be done on Nov. 4."

This is what the Republican Party has done to us this year: It has placed within reach of the Oval Office a woman who is a religious fanatic and a proud, boastful ignoramus. Those who despise science and learning are not anti-elitist. They are morally and intellectually slothful people who are secretly envious of the educated and the cultured. And those who prate of spiritual warfare and demons are not just "people of faith" but theocratic bullies. On Nov. 4, anyone who cares for the Constitution has a clear duty to repudiate this wickedness and stupidity.

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Men have biological clock too, claim researchers

By Ben Leach

Scientists said men who wait until their 40s before starting a family face a greater chance of their partner having a miscarriage, because of the poorer quality of their sperm.

"Drops in fertility from the age of 35 have been traditionally thought of as a fact-of-life for women but our study shows the same is true for men," said Dr Mark Bowman, the director of a Sydney IVF clinic which carried out tests on 3,324 men over four years.

Their sperm DNA was tested to assess its "reproductive potential". The study showed that from the age of 35, the proportion of damaged sperm increased.

Dr Bowman added: "This means that even if a man produces the average of 40 million sperm per ejaculation, many of those sperm will not be able to fertilise an egg normally. He will have a lower fertility potential and be less likely to father a child."

The study is further evidence that men have a biological clock.

Earlier this year a study of more than 20,000 couples seeking fertility help found that middle-aged men are almost a third less likely to conceive with their partner than males under 35.

Doctors have long warned that too many young women are putting off starting a family until their late thirties or early forties, by which time their fertility levels have started to fall.

But the example of older celebrity fathers, including Sir Paul McCartney and Rod Stewart, may have encouraged many men to believe that they can postpone having children for much longer than women.

The research at the Eylau Centre for Assisted Reproduction in Paris found that the older a prospective father, the less chance that their partner would become pregnant. The study involved a form of fertility treatment, where the sperm is "washed'' before being inseminated into the woman. This helps the sperm to survive for longer.

For men between 30 and 35 the successful pregnancy rate was 13.6 per cent. But that fell to 9.3 per cent if the man was older than 45, a decrease of almost a third

The findings also showed that men over 35 were 75 per cent more likely to have their partner suffer a miscarriage. Although lower than the miscarriage rate for older mothers, which was more than twice that of younger mothers, the researchers still described it as significant.

They believe there could be a number of reasons behind the findings, including that the DNA of sperm decays over time.

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Scientists grow eggs from five-year-old girls

By Rebecca Smith, Medical Editor, and Caroline Gammell

Children and young people who go through cancer are often left infertile by the treatment and are faced with having to use donated eggs and sperm or adopting to have their own family.

The problem is especially difficult for children who develop cancer before they reach puberty because they cannot freeze their own eggs and sperm.

But now scientists have managed to grow eggs in the laboratory from samples of ovarian tissue taken from girls as young as five.

Immature eggs can be removed from the tissue and grown to maturity in special culture.

The next step will be to see if they can be fertilised to create viable embryos. These could then be frozen and stored for future use or the unfertilised eggs could be frozen using the latest techniques which have proven more effective.

Between 1,500 and 1,700 children under the age of 15 are diagnosed with cancer each year and half of those are under the age of five.

The most common form of cancer in children is leukaemia, which affects 35 per cent, followed by brain or spinal tumours.

Research published online in the journal Fertility and Sterility revealed that a team at Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Centre in Jerusalem examined the ability to remove and preserve ovarian tissue from young female cancer patients and then retrieve, mature and freeze eggs from that tissue.

They worked with 19 patients between the ages of five and 20. On average they were able to retrieve an average of nine eggs per patient and 34 per cent of them were successfully matured.

"As our ability to treat childhood cancers improves, it becomes more important that those survivors are able to live rich, full lives, including the ability have children," said David Adamson, MD, President of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

"This research helps move us to the goal of allowing paediatric cancer survivors to become parents." Fertility doctors have attempted several methods to help young people going through cancer to conceive their own children.

Ovarian tissue has been successfully removed, frozen and reimplanted after the cancer treatment is complete. Some women have had babies through IVF and naturally after using this method.

Fertility specialists in the UK have also looked at developing a treatment to grow eggs from non-cancer sufferers, to allow them to delay motherhood.

The first stage of the technique involves removing slivers of ovarian tissue through keyhole surgery. Although only a few millimetres wide, each sample would contain thousands of immature eggs.

The procedure, which has been criticised by the pro-life charity Life, is seen as a low risk to women and has the added benefit of securing thousands of eggs rather than just a few.

It can then be stored until a woman is ready to try for a baby. The procedure is expected to be offered to patients within five years.

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Humans made fire 790,000 years ago

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A new study shows that humans had the ability to make fire nearly 790,000 years ago, a skill that helped them migrate from Africa to Europe.

By analysing flints at an archaeological site on the bank of the river Jordan, researchers at Israel's Hebrew University discovered that early civilizations had learned to light fires, a turning point that allowed them to venture into unknown lands.

A previous study of the site published in 2004 showed that man had been able to control fire -- for example transferring it by means of burning branches -- in that early time period. But researchers now say that ancient man could actually start fire, rather than relying on natural phenomena such as lightning.

That independence helped promoted migration northward, they say.

The new study, published in a recent edition of Quaternary Science Reviews, mapped 12 archaeological layers at Gesher Benot Yaaqov in northern Israel.

"The new data shows there was a continued, controlled use of fire through many civilizations and that they were not dependent on natural fires," archaeologist Nira Alperson-Afil said on Sunday.

While they did not find remnants of ancient matches or lighters, Alperson-Afil said the patterns of burnt flint found in the same place throughout 12 civilizations was evidence of fire-making ability, though the methods used were unclear.

And because the site is located in the Jordan valley -- a key route between Africa and Europe -- it provides evidence of the human migration, she said.

"Once they mastered fire to protect themselves from predators and provide warmth and light, they were secure enough to move into and populate unfamiliar territory," Alperson-Afil said.

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; editing by Alastair Macdonald)

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Deprived Of A Sense Of Smell, Worms Live Longer


Still image from a video capture showing a C. elegans worm's movement. (Credit: Recorded by WUSM researcher James Collins)

Many animals live longer when raised on low calorie diets. But now researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have shown that they can extend the life spans of roundworms even when the worms are well fed — it just takes a chemical that blocks their sense of smell.

Three years ago, the researchers, led by Kerry Kornfeld, M.D., Ph.D., reported they found that a class of anticonvulsant medications made the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans live longer. But until now, they didn't quite know what the drugs did to give the worms their longevity. They report their latest findings in the Oct. 24 issue of the Public Library of Science Genetics.

"We've learned that the drugs inhibit neurons in the worm's head that sense chemicals in their surroundings — the neurons are like the worm's nose," says Kornfeld, professor of developmental biology. "Like roundworms that are grown in a food-scarce environment, the worms exposed to the anticonvulsant ethosuximide lived longer. But these worms ate plenty of food. That suggests that the worms' sensation of food is critical to controlling their metabolism and life span."

If roundworms sense that food is abundant, their metabolism adjusts accordingly. Their bodies respond to promote rapid ingestion, rapid growth and rapid aging, Kornfeld explains. In contrast, when the worms sense a shortage of food, they make "metabolic decisions" to delay growth, delay energy use and extend lifespan.

In the long term, Kornfeld's goal is to identify compounds that could potentially delay human aging. The research group for this project also included James Collins, Ph.D., Kim Evason, M.D., Ph.D., Chris Pickett, Ph.D., and Daniel Schneider.

Kornfeld's lab studies C. elegans because they live only about two to three weeks, so experimental results can be obtained quickly. In addition, the worms' genome has been sequenced and extensively studied.

The scientists' strategy has been to expose the roundworms to libraries of chemicals to identify compounds that delay aging and extend their lives. That approach led to the unexpected result that some human anticonvulsants slow aging in C. elegans.

Now, further investigating the effect of one of those compounds, ethosuximide, the researchers found that it had the same life-extending effect as some well-studied genetic mutations in C. elegans. These mutations inhibit the activity of some sensory neurons in the worm, and that helped the researchers conclude that ethosuximide also directly affected these neurons. Roundworms treated with ethosuximide lived up to 29 percent longer than normal.

"Now we know what cells ethosuximide targets in C. elegans," Kornfeld says. "It's likely that the drug prevents the nerve cells from being electrically active, but precisely how it does that is something we need to study further. We also want to find out how the effect on the neurons is translated into an effect on the worms' bodies to delay aging."

Ethosuximide is used to treat seizure disorders in people. Interestingly, a common side effect of the drug is the loss of the sense of taste. Does that mean the ability to taste or smell food affects aging in people? It's probably not that simple, but it does hint at some sort of connection, Kornfeld says. He says it's possible that sensory perception cues have important metabolic consequences independent of what we actually eat.

"Emerging evidence suggests that core metabolic pathways that modulate lifespan in worms also modulate lifespan in vertebrates such as mice and perhaps humans," Kornfeld says. "Sensory pathways might also be fairly universal. In an ancient common ancestor, these pathways might have caused metabolic adjustments that affect lifespan. That could be reflected in our own biology."

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The science of speed

Bloodhound SSC project logo
Bloodhound SSC project logo


How world class UK research is behind the fastest car in the world

World class UK research is helping to build the fastest car in the world thanks to the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The BLOODHOUND SSC Project, led by Richard Noble OBE, is aiming to set a new world land speed record of a thousand miles per hour by 2011.

The challenge at the heart of the project is to create a car capable of 1,000mph - a car 30% faster than any car that has gone before.

An aerodynamics team at Swansea University – funded by EPSRC – is playing a vital role. Using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), the team has spent the last year creating the predictive airflow data that has shaped the car.

In time, the research could lead to better vehicle or aircraft design, improved fuel efficiencies, and even new medical techniques.

“From the nose to the tail, anything that has any kind of aerodynamic influence we are modelling,” says researcher Dr. Ben Evans – who as a school boy watched the Thrust SSC record on TV.

“It’s the kind of thing aerospace engineers would have traditionally done in a wind tunnel, but we’re doing it on a computer, a big multi-processor super computer. Wind tunnels have massive limitations. BLOODHOUND SSC is a car, so it’s rolling on the ground and there are no wind tunnels in existence where you can simulate a rolling ground with a car travelling faster than mach one, faster than the speed of sound.”

Richard Noble with image of the car behind him

Richard Noble, current holder of the world land speed record with the Thrust SSC team.

This ‘mach factor’ is the major difference between this vehicle and its predecessor Thrust SSC. Thrust SSC was a supersonic car in that it crossed the sound barrier and was supersonic for a matter of seconds.

But with BLOODHOUND, the target speed is 1,000mph - mach 1.4. It will be going supersonic way beyond mach one, and for a much longer time period, which means the supersonic shockwaves it creates will be far stronger than Thrust SSC, and they will interact with the car and the desert floor for much longer.

“Once you start approaching, and go beyond the speed of sound, you can no longer send a pressure wave forward to tell the air ahead of you you’re coming,” explains Evans. “What happens is a big pressure wall builds up in front of you. Rather than air slowly and smoothly getting out of the way, at supersonic speeds these changes happen very suddenly in a shockwave.”

Supersonic aircraft create these shockwaves and they dissipate in the surrounding atmosphere but still reach the ground as a ‘sonic boom’.

Evans adds: “What we’re trying to understand is what happens when this shockwave interacts with a solid surface which is a matter of centimetres away.”

What the team do know is this ‘interaction’ creates a phenomenon known as ‘spray drag’ – a term first coined by BLOODHOUND team member and aerodynamicist Ron Ayers during the Thrust SSC attempts.

Spray drag is an additional drag component not accounted for in aerodynamic or rolling resistance theory.

“As the car interacts with the desert, and the shockwaves interact with the desert, they actually eat up the desert floor,” says Evans.

“That introduces sand particles into the aerodynamic flow around the car and this interaction is not accounted for in standard CFD work. We plan to look at this spray drag phenomena, what happens and when, and how the sand particles impinge on the car.”

The Swansea team are also looking at key systems in isolation. Work has already changed the car from twin to single air intake for stability.

Bloodhound team members grouped around a computer monitor
Bloodhound team members - from left to right: Brian Coombes, Ben Evans and Mark Chapman

The car will also sport solid titanium wheels with twin ‘keels’: “That was fundamentally an aerodynamic design decision,” says Evans. “We studied different design options, a single keel running down the centre of the wheel, a design that had three keels and finally the one we went for with two keels. It was chosen as a compromise between lift and drag patterns and minimising the pressure disturbance around the wheel on the desert surface.

“Another thing we have been looking at closely is the exact nose shape. We want a nose that constantly generates a small down force on the front to help keep the car on the ground. But we’re also constantly looking a how we can minimise spray drag and if we can constantly achieve a positive pressure on the desert surface leading up to the front wheels then hopefully the surface will remain intact until the front wheels roll over it.”

But Evans and the team also remain focussed on the wider aims of the project and the application of their research in other areas.

“The whole point of doing this is not just to create a fast car. We live in a carbon economy and lots of the issues we face will require engineers and scientists to solve them – part of this project is to inspire young people.”

And sat at his desk in Swansea he has a constant reminder of the potential of CFD.

“Some of my university colleagues are working on blood flow monitoring through the arterial system and trying to predict when aneurysms will explode through pressure loadings.

“On one side of the office we have pictures of Bloodhound and on the other we have pictures of blood flow through the heart.

“There are the obvious applications in aerospace, but any application you can think of that involves fluid flow can be modelled using CFD. Biomechanical systems seems to be one of the areas CFD is being applied to now.”

For more information or interviews contact:

EPSRC Press Office on (01793) 444404 or e-mail: lawrie.jones@epsrc.ac.uk

More information is available on the Bloodhound SSC project website and the EPSRC Bloodhound SSC webpages.

Notes for Editors:

EPSRC Podcast Available

An 18 minute podcast featuring the science and engineering behind the project is available on the EPSRC website (www.epsrc.ac.uk). This includes detailed interviews with Richard Noble and Ben Evans and recording from the cockpit of THRUST SSC when the current World Land Speed Record was set in 1997 ( the use of the cockpit recording was provided courtesy of Jeremy Davey: www.thrustssc.com/).

BLOODHOUND SSC

EPSRC has provided funding of £740,718.55 for the computational modelling of the aerodynamics research for BLOODHOUND SSC, which is being carried out at the Civil and Computational Engineering Centre, School of Engineering at Swansea University.

Bloodhound brings together the UK’s leading STEM organisations and technology-based companies (STEM – Stimulating the interests of young people in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) for more information visit http://www.stemcentres.org.uk/)

Apart from EPSRC and Swansea University other major participants include: the Ministry of Defence, Serco Group plc, the University of the West of England, Clorox, the Engineering and Technology Board, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Air Force and the Institution of Engineering and Technology.

About EPSRC

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. The EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC also actively promotes public awareness of science and engineering. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.

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Gobekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple?

  • By Andrew Curry
  • Photographs by Berthold Steinhilber
  • Smithsonian magazine, November 2008
Gobekli Tepe

Six miles from Urfa, an ancient city in southeastern Turkey, Klaus Schmidt has made one of the most startling archaeological discoveries of our time: massive carved stones about 11,000 years old, crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery. The megaliths predate Stonehenge by some 6,000 years. The place is called Gobekli Tepe, and Schmidt, a German archaeologist who has been working here more than a decade, is convinced it's the site of the world's oldest temple.

"Guten Morgen," he says at 5:20 a.m. when his van picks me up at my hotel in Urfa. Thirty minutes later, the van reaches the foot of a grassy hill and parks next to strands of barbed wire. We follow a knot of workmen up the hill to rectangular pits shaded by a corrugated steel roof—the main excavation site. In the pits, standing stones, or pillars, are arranged in circles. Beyond, on the hillside, are four other rings of partially excavated pillars. Each ring has a roughly similar layout: in the center are two large stone T-shaped pillars encircled by slightly smaller stones facing inward. The tallest pillars tower 16 feet and, Schmidt says, weigh between seven and ten tons. As we walk among them, I see that some are blank, while others are elaborately carved: foxes, lions, scorpions and vultures abound, twisting and crawling on the pillars' broad sides.

Schmidt points to the great stone rings, one of them 65 feet across. "This is the first human-built holy place," he says.

From this perch 1,000 feet above the valley, we can see to the horizon in nearly every direction. Schmidt, 53, asks me to imagine what the landscape would have looked like 11,000 years ago, before centuries of intensive farming and settlement turned it into the nearly featureless brown expanse it is today.

Prehistoric people would have gazed upon herds of gazelle and other wild animals; gently flowing rivers, which attracted migrating geese and ducks; fruit and nut trees; and rippling fields of wild barley and wild wheat varieties such as emmer and einkorn. "This area was like a paradise," says Schmidt, a member of the German Archaeological Institute. Indeed, Gobekli Tepe sits at the northern edge of the Fertile Crescent—an arc of mild climate and arable land from the Persian Gulf to present-day Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Egypt—and would have attracted hunter-gatherers from Africa and the Levant. And partly because Schmidt has found no evidence that people permanently resided on the summit of Gobekli Tepe itself, he believes this was a place of worship on an unprecedented scale—humanity's first "cathedral on a hill."

With the sun higher in the sky, Schmidt ties a white scarf around his balding head, turban-style, and deftly picks his way down the hill among the relics. In rapid-fire German he explains that he has mapped the entire summit using ground-penetrating radar and geomagnetic surveys, charting where at least 16 other megalith rings remain buried across 22 acres. The one-acre excavation covers less than 5 percent of the site. He says archaeologists could dig here for another 50 years and barely scratch the surface.

Gobekli Tepe was first examined—and dismissed—by University of Chicago and Istanbul University anthropologists in the 1960s. As part of a sweeping survey of the region, they visited the hill, saw some broken slabs of limestone and assumed the mound was nothing more than an abandoned medieval cemetery. In 1994, Schmidt was working on his own survey of prehistoric sites in the region. After reading a brief mention of the stone-littered hilltop in the University of Chicago researchers' report, he decided to go there himself. From the moment he first saw it, he knew the place was extraordinary.

Unlike the stark plateaus nearby, Gobekli Tepe (the name means "belly hill" in Turkish) has a gently rounded top that rises 50 feet above the surrounding landscape. To Schmidt's eye, the shape stood out. "Only man could have created something like this," he says. "It was clear right away this was a gigantic Stone Age site." The broken pieces of limestone that earlier surveyors had mistaken for gravestones suddenly took on a different meaning.

Schmidt returned a year later with five colleagues and they uncovered the first megaliths, a few buried so close to the surface they were scarred by plows. As the archaeologists dug deeper, they unearthed pillars arranged in circles. Schmidt's team, however, found none of the telltale signs of a settlement: no cooking hearths, houses or trash pits, and none of the clay fertility figurines that litter nearby sites of about the same age. The archaeologists did find evidence of tool use, including stone hammers and blades. And because those artifacts closely resemble others from nearby sites previously carbon-dated to about 9000 B.C., Schmidt and co-workers estimate that Gobekli Tepe's stone structures are the same age. Limited carbon dating undertaken by Schmidt at the site confirms this assessment.

The way Schmidt sees it, Gobekli Tepe's sloping, rocky ground is a stonecutter's dream. Even without metal chisels or hammers, prehistoric masons wielding flint tools could have chipped away at softer limestone outcrops, shaping them into pillars on the spot before carrying them a few hundred yards to the summit and lifting them upright. Then, Schmidt says, once the stone rings were finished, the ancient builders covered them over with dirt. Eventually, they placed another ring nearby or on top of the old one. Over centuries, these layers created the hilltop.

Today, Schmidt oversees a team of more than a dozen German archaeologists, 50 local laborers and a steady stream of enthusiastic students. He typically excavates at the site for two months in the spring and two in the fall. (Summer temperatures reach 115 degrees, too hot to dig; in the winter the area is deluged by rain.) In 1995, he bought a traditional Ottoman house with a courtyard in Urfa, a city of nearly a half-million people, to use as a base of operations.

On the day I visit, a bespectacled Belgian man sits at one end of a long table in front of a pile of bones. Joris Peters, an archaeozoologist from the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, specializes in the analysis of animal remains. Since 1998, he has examined more than 100,000 bone fragments from Gobekli Tepe. Peters has often found cut marks and splintered edges on them—signs that the animals from which they came were butchered and cooked. The bones, stored in dozens of plastic crates stacked in a storeroom at the house, are the best clue to how people who created Gobekli Tepe lived. Peters has identified tens of thousands of gazelle bones, which make up more than 60 percent of the total, plus those of other wild game such as boar, sheep and red deer. He's also found bones of a dozen different bird species, including vultures, cranes, ducks and geese. "The first year, we went through 15,000 pieces of animal bone, all of them wild. It was pretty clear we were dealing with a hunter-gatherer site," Peters says. "It's been the same every year since." The abundant remnants of wild game indicate that the people who lived here had not yet domesticated animals or farmed.

But, Peters and Schmidt say, Gobekli Tepe's builders were on the verge of a major change in how they lived, thanks to an environment that held the raw materials for farming. "They had wild sheep, wild grains that could be domesticated—and the people with the potential to do it," Schmidt says. In fact, research at other sites in the region has shown that within 1,000 years of Gobekli Tepe's construction, settlers had corralled sheep, cattle and pigs. And, at a prehistoric village just 20 miles away, geneticists found evidence of the world's oldest domesticated strains of wheat; radiocarbon dating indicates agriculture developed there around 10,500 years ago, or just five centuries after Gobekli Tepe's construction.

To Schmidt and others, these new findings suggest a novel theory of civilization. Scholars have long believed that only after people learned to farm and live in settled communities did they have the time, organization and resources to construct temples and support complicated social structures. But Schmidt argues it was the other way around: the extensive, coordinated effort to build the monoliths literally laid the groundwork for the development of complex societies.

The immensity of the undertaking at Gobekli Tepe reinforces that view. Schmidt says the monuments could not have been built by ragged bands of hunter-gatherers. To carve, erect and bury rings of seven-ton stone pillars would have required hundreds of workers, all needing to be fed and housed. Hence the eventual emergence of settled communities in the area around 10,000 years ago. "This shows sociocultural changes come first, agriculture comes later," says Stanford University archaeologist Ian Hodder, who excavated Catalhoyuk, a prehistoric settlement 300 miles from Gobekli Tepe. "You can make a good case this area is the real origin of complex Neolithic societies."

What was so important to these early people that they gathered to build (and bury) the stone rings? The gulf that separates us from Gobekli Tepe's builders is almost unimaginable. Indeed, though I stood among the looming megaliths eager to take in their meaning, they didn't speak to me. They were utterly foreign, placed there by people who saw the world in a way I will never comprehend. There are no sources to explain what the symbols might mean. Schmidt agrees. "We're 6,000 years before the invention of writing here," he says.

"There's more time between Gobekli Tepe and the Sumerian clay tablets [etched in 3300 B.C.] than from Sumer to today," says Gary Rollefson, an archaeologist at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, who is familiar with Schmidt's work. "Trying to pick out symbolism from prehistoric context is an exercise in futility."

Still, archaeologists have their theories—evidence, perhaps, of the irresistible human urge to explain the unexplainable. The surprising lack of evidence that people lived right there, researchers say, argues against its use as a settlement or even a place where, for instance, clan leaders gathered. Hodder is fascinated that Gobekli Tepe's pillar carvings are dominated not by edible prey like deer and cattle but by menacing creatures such as lions, spiders, snakes and scorpions. "It's a scary, fantastic world of nasty-looking beasts," he muses. While later cultures were more concerned with farming and fertility, he suggests, perhaps these hunters were trying to master their fears by building this complex, which is a good distance from where they lived.

Danielle Stordeur, an archaeologist at the National Center for Scientific Research in France, emphasizes the significance of the vulture carvings. Some cultures have long believed the high-flying carrion birds transported the flesh of the dead up to the heavens. Stordeur has found similar symbols at sites from the same era as Gobekli Tepe just 50 miles away in Syria. "You can really see it's the same culture," she says. "All the most important symbols are the same."

For his part, Schmidt is certain the secret is right beneath his feet. Over the years, his team has found fragments of human bone in the layers of dirt that filled the complex. Deep test pits have shown that the floors of the rings are made of hardened limestone. Schmidt is betting that beneath the floors he'll find the structures' true purpose: a final resting place for a society of hunters.

Perhaps, Schmidt says, the site was a burial ground or the center of a death cult, the dead laid out on the hillside among the stylized gods and spirits of the afterlife. If so, Gobekli Tepe's location was no accident. "From here the dead are looking out at the ideal view," Schmidt says as the sun casts long shadows over the half-buried pillars. "They're looking out over a hunter's dream."

Andrew Curry, who is based in Berlin, wrote the July cover story about Vikings.

Berthold Steinhilber's hauntingly lighted award-winning photograhs of American ghost towns appeared in Smithsonian in May 2001.

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First Solar Thermal Plant in 20 Years Launches in CA

Will Alternative Energy Run Out Of Gas?

(CNET) By Martin LaMonica

wind turbine

Four of six windmills on a wind farm stand near Somerset, Pa., in this Oct 24, 2001, file photo. (AP Photo)

Climate change 'making seas more salty'

David Adam

Sunset over the Mediterranean coast, Marmaris, Turkey

The Mediterranean area will become drier as a result of increased salinity in the water. Photograph: Corbis

Global warming is making the sea more salty, according to new research that demonstrates the massive shifts in natural systems triggered by climate change.

Experts at the UK Met Office and Reading University say warmer temperatures over the Atlantic Ocean have significantly increased evaporation and reduced rainfall across a giant stretch of water from Africa to the Carribean in recent years. The change concentrates salt in the water left behind, and is predicted to make southern Europe and the Mediterranean much drier in future.

Peter Stott of the Met Office, who led the study, said: "With global warming we're talking about very big changes in the overall water cycle. This moisture is being evaporated and transported to higher latitudes."

The team wanted to see whether manmade climate change could be blamed for changes in salinity measured in the Atlantic. In 2003, experts reported that the north Atlantic waters were freshening, with salt levels decreasing – a mild version of the scenario depicted in the Hollywood film The Day After Tomorrow where massive amounts of fresh water shut down warm ocean currents and cause temperatures to plunge.

Meanwhile, further south towards the tropics, Atlantic waters have been getting saltier – about 0.5% more since the 1960s.

Using state-of-the-art climate models, the scientists simulated events over both parts of the ocean with and without increased levels of greenhouse gases. They found that the freshening of the north Atlantic could be explained by natural variations, a conclusion supported by a recent recovery of the salt levels there.

But for the mid Atlantic, the models showed that only human-driven global warming could explain the increase in saltiness – the first time such an explicit link has been made between climate change and salinity. The results will appear in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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World can halt fossil fuel use by 2090

  • NewScientist.com news service
  • New Scientist staff and Reuters

The world could eliminate fossil fuel use by 2090, saving $18 trillion in future fuel costs and creating a $360 billion industry that provides half of the world's electricity, the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) and environmental group Greenpeace said on Monday.

The 210-page study [pdf] is one of few reports – even by lobby groups – to look in detail at how energy use would have to be overhauled to meet the toughest scenarios for curbing greenhouse gases outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

"Renewable energy could provide all global energy needs by 2090," according to the study, entitled "Energy (R)evolution." EREC represents renewable energy industries and trade and research associations in Europe.

A more radical scenario could eliminate coal use by 2050 if new power generation plants shifted quickly to renewables.

Solar power, biomass such as biofuels or wood, geothermal energy and wind could be the leading energies by 2090 in a shift from fossil fuels blamed by the IPCC for stoking global warming.

The total energy investments until 2030, the main period studied, would come to $14.7 trillion, according to the study. By contrast, the International Energy Agency (IEA), which advises rich nations, foresees energy investments of just $11.3 trillion to 2030, with a bigger stress on fossil fuels and nuclear power.

Rajendra Pachauri, head of the IPCC, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with ex-US Vice President Al Gore, called Monday's study "comprehensive and rigorous."

Dangerous change

"Even those who may not agree with the analysis presented would, perhaps, benefit from a deep study of the underlying assumptions," Pachauri wrote in a foreword to the report.

EREC and Greenpeace said a big energy shift was needed to avoid "dangerous" climate change, defined by the European Union and many environmental groups as a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius since before the Industrial Revolution.

The report urged measures such as a phase-out of subsidies for fossil fuels and nuclear energy, "cap and trade" systems for greenhouse gas emissions, legally binging targets for renewable energies and tough efficiency standards for buildings and vehicles.

The report said renewable energy markets were booming with turnover almost doubling in 2007 from 2006 to more than $70 billion. It said renewables could more than double their share of world energy supplies to 30% by 2030 and reach 50% by 2050.

The projections are far more optimistic for renewables than the IEA, which foresees just 13% of energy from renewables in 2030 with fossil fuels staying dominant.

Sven Teske, Greenpeace's leading author of the report, said the recommendations would involve big job-creating investments that could help counter the worst financial crisis since the 1930s.

"The current unstable market situation is a strong argument for our energy evolution concept," said. He said investments would be repaid by savings in fuel costs.

"We had a 'dot.com bubble' and a 'finance bubble' - but I'm confident that we will not have a renewables bubble - as the need for energy is real - and growing especially in developing nations," he said.

Climate Change – Want to know more about global warming: the science, impacts and political debate? Visit our continually updated special report.

Energy and Fuels - Learn more about the looming energy crisis in our comprehensive special report.

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What the Public Doesn't Understand About Climate Change

Carbon Emissions

As I report on climate change, I come across a lot of scary facts, like the possibility that thawing permafrost in Siberia could release gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, or the risk that Greenland could pass a tipping point and begin to melt rapidly. But one of the most frightening studies I've read recently had nothing to do with icebergs or megadroughts. In a paper that came out Oct. 23 in Science, John Sterman — a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Sloan School of Management — wrote about asking 212 MIT grad students to give a rough idea how much governments need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to eventually stop the increase in the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere. These students had training in science, technology, mathematics and economics at one of the best schools in the world — they are probably a lot smarter than you or me. Yet 84% of Sterman's subjects got his problem wrong, greatly underestimating the degree to which greenhouse gas emissions need to fall. When the MIT kids can't figure out climate change, what are the odds that the broader public will?

The shocking study reflects the tremendous gap that exists on global warming. On the one hand are the scientists, who with few exceptions think that climate change is very serious and needs to be dealt with immediately and ambitiously. On the other side is the public, which increasingly believes that climate change is real and worries about it, but which rarely ranks it as a high priority. A 2007 survey by the U.N. Development Programme found that 54% of Americans advocate taking a "wait-and-see" approach to climate change action — holding off on the deep and rapid cuts in global warming that would immediately impact their lives. (And it's not just SUV-driving Americans — similar majorities were found in Russia, China and India.) As a result we have our current dilemma — a steady drumbeat of scientific evidence of global warming's severity, and comparatively little in the way of meaningful political action. "This gap exists," says Sterman. "The real question is why."

Hear Bryan Walsh and John Sterman talk about the problems faced by scientists in communicating the risks of climate change:

That's where Sterman's research comes in. "There is a profound and fundamental misconception about climate," he says. The problem is that most of us don't really understand how carbon accumulates in the atmosphere. Increasing global temperatures are driven by the increase in the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere. Before the industrial age, the concentration was about 280 parts per million (ppm) of carbon in the atmosphere. After a few centuries of burning coal, oil and other fossil fuels, we've raised that concentration to 387 ppm, and it's rising by about 2 ppm every year. Many scientists believe that we need to at least stabilize carbon concentrations at 450 ppm, to ensure that global temperatures don't increase more than about 2 C above the pre-industrial level. To do that, we need to reduce global carbon emissions (which hit about 10 billion tons last year) until they are equal to or less than the amount of carbon sequestered by the oceans and plant life (which removed about 4.8 billion tons of carbon last year). It's just like water in a bathtub — unless more water is draining out than flowing in from the tap, eventually the bathtub will overflow.

That means that carbon emissions would need to be cut drastically from current levels. Yet almost all of the subjects in Sterman's study failed to realize that, assuming instead that you could stabilize carbon concentration simply by capping carbon emissions at their current level. That's not the case — and in fact, pursuing such a plan for the future would virtually guarantee that global warming could spin out of control. It may seem to many like good common sense to wait until we see proof of the serious damage global warming is doing before we take action. But it's not — we can't "wait and see" on global warming because the climate has a momentum all its own, and if we wait for decades to finally act to reduce carbon emissions, it could well be too late. Yet this simply isn't understood. Someone as smart as Bill Gates doesn't seem to get it. "Fortunately climate change, although it's a huge challenge, it's a challenge that happens over a long period of time," he said at a forum in Beijing last year. "You know, we have time to work on it." But the truth is we don't.

If elite scientists could simply solve climate change on their own, public misunderstanding wouldn't be such a problem. But it can't. Reducing carbon emissions sharply will require all 6.5 billion (and growing) of us to hugely change the way we use energy and travel. We'll also need to change the way we vote, to reward politicians willing to make the tough choices on climate. Instead of a new Manhattan Project — the metaphor often used on global warming — Sterman believes that what is needed is closer to a new civil rights movement, a large-scale campaign that dramatically changes the public's beliefs and behaviors. New groups like Al Gore's We Campaign are aiming for just such a social transformation, but "the reality is that this is even more difficult than civil rights," says Sterman. "Even that took a long time, and we don't have that kind of time with the climate."

The good news is that you don't need a Ph.D. in climatology to understand what needs to be done. If you can grasp the bathtub analogy, you can understand how to stop global warming. The burden is on scientists to better explain in clear English the dynamics of the climate system, and how to affect it. (Sterman says that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's landmark report last year was "completely inadequate" on this score.) As for the rest of us, we should try to remember that sometimes common sense isn't a match for science.

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Capturing the Power of Trillions of Footfalls

Written by Raegan Payne



Elizabeth Redmond, 23, dreams of working at MIT’s Media Lab, one of the United States’ top scientific research and development centers. However, she has invented something that should make MIT and every other “think tank” in the country dream of her.

Elizabeth invented the POWERleap, a simple idea with brilliant applications. It’s a flooring system that generates electricity every time you move on one of the tiles. Elizabeth developed the POWERleap as her senior thesis project at the University of Michigan's School of Art and Design. She wanted to design a project that would educate people about their relationship and dependence on energy. Human bodies generate electricity, about 100 watts at rest, which (according to www.elizabethredmond.net) is enough to power the computer I am writing on.

Elizabeth set out to harness our bodies’ energy to power small objects. But when she realized that walking was our most abundant and consistent activity, and the energy harnessed from it could power something much bigger than an iPod, the design for the POWERleap tiles was born.

Redmond's unique floor tiles generate electricity using a phenomenon known as piezoelectricity – electricity generated by applying mechanical stress to certain materials like the lead zirconate plates in the POWERleap. When these 2-inch by 1-inch piezoceramic plates are bent, a charge is produced that can be harnessed. Multiply one tile by the surface area of a subway station or even your standard grocery store floor, and you can imagine the amount of energy these tiles have the potential to generate.

In a few years Elizabeth hopes people will be able to pull the POWERleap off the shelves of Home Depot and install it to power their homes. More importantly if we generate our own electricity it should change the way we consume, appreciate and utilize electric power. During our cell phone conversation, Elizabeth pointed out another beneficial feature of the technology. "Imagine a business powered by the people who move around inside it. When the people leave for the day the lights and power would automatically shut down."

Elizabeth expects the next stage of development and research to yield "an electromechanical system that is safe, efficient, easy to install, repair, and apply, and fun to participate with." She currently seeks funding for the next stage of the POWERleap's development. Since the applications of this technology are endless and the end of the oil age is fast approaching, let's hope she does not have trouble finding eager investors.

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Europe Adds Flights To Its Emission Trading System