Over the Edge
Roundup of Strange Science for the Month
Silicon Supercapacitor - A breakthrough in capacitors
may mean that in a few years batteries will be a thing of
the past for mobile devices like smart phones. A group of
scientists at Vanderbilt University have made a capacitor
for storing power out of silicon. "If you ask experts about
making a supercapacitor out of silicon, they will tell you
it is a crazy idea," said assistant professor of mechanical
engineering Cary Pint, a participant in the experiment.
Capacitors differ from batteries because they can be recharged
more times and absorb power faster. However, they are usually
made of carbon. If they could be made of silicon, however,
they would be of much more use to the electronics industry.
The Vanderbilt researchers created a silicon capacitor,
but covered it in a thin layer of carbon to protect it from
the air. When the device was baked to seal it, the carbon
unexpectedly turned into graphene which increased the amount
of energy the capacitor could store by a 100. While the
breakthrough is not yet ready for commercial use, researchers
believe it will soon lead to devices that no longer need
School Student Finds Baby Dino - A new baby Parasaurolophus
dinosaur skeleton has just gone on display at the Raymond
M. Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont, CA. What unusual
about this dinosaur isn't just that it's so young, but that
it was found by a high school student back in 2009. Kevin
Terris was part of a group of students from The Webb Schools
who attended a field dig with staff from the museum. He
noticed a little sliver of bone sticking out from under
a boulder and alerted the staff who found a Parasaurolophus
skull on the other side. Since the part Terris had seen
turned out to be toes, it seemed likely that the entire
skeleton was in between. It took a year to get permits to
remove the specimen (which weighed 800 pounds encased in
rock) which was airlifted out of the backcountry by helicopter.
An examination of the fossil found that though the dinosaur
was over six feet long, it was less than a year old.
Drone - PD-100 Black Hornet Personal Reconnaissance
System looks like a tiny toy helicopter, but is actually
used by the military. Although it has been just announced
to the public, the device, which weighs only 0.56 ounces
(16 grams) has been in use by British troops in Afghanistan
in a variety of missions. It is carried into the field by
a soldier in a case which only weighs 3 pounds. The case
carries two drones and control unit with video screen that
allows the operator to see what the drone sees with its
on board camera. It can be used for scouting routes, checking
for possible enemy ambushes and peeking over the walls of
nearby compounds. With its small size it is nearly invisible
at a distance of only 30 feet.
Oldest Ancestor Found - The recently announced Lythronax
argestes, or "Gore King of the Southwest," is now the oldest
of the tyrannosaurid family, the line that eventually led
to the "King " of the dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus rex. The
specimen unearthed in 2009, is 24 feet in length, weighed
about 2.75 tons and lived in Laramidia, a split-off of North
America that ran from Alaska, down to Mexico. Thought this
particular creature was a juvenile it is thought that even
the adults were still quite a bit shorter than T-Rex. The
"Gore King" lived about 80 million years ago which pushes
the tyrannosaurid clan back much farther than previously
thought. It also suggests that there are a lot more tyrannosaurid
species out there to be found.
a Heart - It is possible that a 3-D printed heart maybe
ready to go into a human body within a decade according
to Stuart Williams, executive and scientific director of
the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute in Louisville, Ky.
Three dimensional printing of organs works by laying down
living cells layer by layer in the same way a 3-D printers
lay down plastic or metal to make inanimate objects. This
method has already been used to make small chunks of organs
like livers and kidneys. Williams suggests parts of the
heart will be printed as subassemblies, then put together
to complete the organ. The method will also take advantage
of the self-organizing ability of cells to create the smallest
part of the organ (like small blood vessels) with are too
tiny for the printer to create.
Quote of the Month - "Science
increases our power in proportion as it lowers our pride."
- Claude Bernard
New at the Museum:
Santa Claus - Every
December 24th millions of people are visited by a short,
fat guy in a red suit. Where did he come from, why does
he do it, and how does he accomplish this seemingly impossible
encore of our classic article) - Full
The Day the Air Force Almost Nuked North Carolina -
short documentary on a "broken arrow" incident were a training
accident almost resulted in H-bomb detonation on U.S. soil.
Picture of the Month - What
is this this?
From a Thunderbolt - Could a power company use lightning
rods to collect electricity?- John
The idea that
you might be able to harvest electrical energy from lightning
is one that scientists have found intriguing for many years.
Anybody who has seen the 1985 hit movie Back to the Future
knows that Doc Brown was able to use a bolt from a thunderstorm
to power his DeLorean/time machine and send Marty McFly
back to his own era.
Doc Brown had
one advantage in using lightning that most scientists don't,
however. Because of his time machine he knew exactly when
and where the lightning was going to strike. That's one
of the major problems with trying to harness this source
of power. We don't know exactly where lightning is going
to hit, or how powerful the bolt will be.
This hadn't stopped
scientist from trying to make it work. After all a lighting
strike can carry a lot of power. As much as five billion
Joules of energy which would be enough, by some estimates,
to power a single household for a month.
One idea is to
build a series of tall towers in an area that has frequent
thunderstorms in the hopes that they will get struck on
a regular basis. A sort of a "lightning farm." The best
place for something like this would be Florida or the Pacific
Coast as those locations get the most lightning strikes
per square mile.
Even with towers
in those locations, however, strikes probably would not
be regular enough to make the system economical. However,
it might be possible to get lightning to strike on cue using
a laser. Scientists have been successful in using a high-powered
laser with a short pulse to create what's known as a laser-Induced
plasma channel. The idea is that the laser heats the air
so much that ionizes the gases to form plasma. The plasma
conducts electricity much more easily than the surrounding
air so an electrical charge will travel down the laser's
Most of the development
of this had been by the military. Imagine being able to
direct an artificial lightning bolt via laser to an enemy
target. It might be able to disable enemy weapons or detonate
munitions at a distance. Using smaller electrical charges
(like those in a Taser) you might be able to build a stun
gun like those seen on Star Trek.
application of the technology, however, might be to use
the laser to create a path from the lightning farm up into
thunderclouds to initiate a lightning strike directly onto
your power collection equipment.
Of course this
brings a new concern. Can you really build a tough enough
system to withstand the surge of five billion Joules of
energy? An Illinois inventor named Steve LeRoy came up with
an idea of how to make it work and demonstrated it using
an artificial lightning bolt that lit up a 60-watt light
bulb for 20 minutes. In 2007, an alternative energy company
called Alternate Energy Holdings, Inc. (AEHI) tested his
design. The idea was that a lightning tower would capture
the bolt and some of the energy would be sent to a capacitor
with the rest just being shunted off into the ground. After
working with the idea for a while the company's CEO, Donald
Gillispie, concluded that they "couldn't make it work,"
although "given enough time and money, you could probably
scale this thing up... it's not black magic; it's truly
math and science, and it could happen."
So maybe getting
power from lightning still might be possible. Some experts,
however, question whether such a system will ever be practical.
Martin A. Uman, co-director of the Lightning Research Laboratory
at the University of Florida noted that while a single lightning
strike is fast and bright, only a small portion of the energy
it actually has reaches the ground. "The energy is in the
thunderstorm," he explained. "A typical little thunderstorm
is like an atomic bomb's worth of energy. But trying to
get the energy from the bottom of the lightning is hopeless."
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the Atomic Age - December 2nd, 1942, marks the day the
first sustained atomic chain reaction was achieved. Enrico
Fermi and other Manhattan Project researchers constructed
an "atomic pile" consisting of 80 tons of graphite blocks
embedded with uranium dioxide beneath the stadium seats
at the University of Chicago . When they removed the cadmium
coated control rods neutrons were allowed to flow between
the radioactive elements to create a sustained atomic reaction.
What was learned during this 28 minute experiment would
eventually give rise to the atomic bomb and nuclear power
the Geminids - The night of December 13/14 will be the
best time to catch the Geminids meteor shower. Though you
can see shooting stars from this shower for days before
and afterward, the shower will reach its peak that night
with 50-80 visible per hour. The shower gets its name because
the meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Gemini.
Mystery of the Moving Mummy Statue - The staff
and visitors of the British Manchester Museum have been
puzzled as how an ancient Egyptian statue in a locked display
case managed to spin around by itself to face the wrong
way on a regular basis. The statue, which had been with
the museum for 80 years, would mysteriously move during
the day. The staff installed a camera to see if anybody
was touching it and were astounded when the statue appeared
to move without anybody in the vicinity. A pleather of theories
poured in to explain the mystery ranging from dead spirits
to magnetic rock. The mystery was settled when expert Steve
Gosling placed a three-axis sensor under the statue and
found that vibrations (footsteps, trucks going by outside)
combined with the slippery glass surface the statue was
sitting on was enough to cause it to turn. The bottom of
the statue, which was not perfectly flat but had a bump
in it, was the reason it tended to spin rather the move
randomly over the shelf.
check local listing for area outside of North America.
Building the Great Cathedrals - How did medieval engineers
construct magnificent skyscrapers of glass and stone? On
PBS December 25 at 9 pm ET/PT
Doomsday Volcanoes- Could the explosion of Icelandís
ticking time bombs cause cold and famine worldwide? On PBS
January 1 at 9 pm ET/PT
Return to Life - Dinosaurs: Return to Life follows scientists
who are using the latest technology and amazing advances
in genetic research to revive the possibility of creating
a living breathing dinosaur, but in a different way than
we ever imagined. On the Science Channel: Dec.4th 8:00AM;
to the Center of the Earth - The vast heat flowing from
the center of the Earth has changed history and shaped our
world. This is the story of how life on Earth is governed
by the hidden monster that lies 4000 miles beneath our feet
- the fiery core of the planet. On the Science Channel:
Dec. 5th 6:00AM; ET/PT.
Mummies - Combining high-end drama reconstruction, scientific
tests and expert testimony, we uncover a series of elaborate
hoaxes, natural phenomenon and unidentified creatures as
we explore manís eternal fascination with extra-terrestrial
beings On the Science Channel: Dec. 6th 8:00PM & 11:00PM
Book of Secrets - Moments after the President of the
United States is sworn into office he gains access to "The
Nuclear Football," a briefcase that contains the most volatile
top-secret information in the world--America's nuclear launch
codes. The Football is a high profile national secret, but
it's only one of many pieces in the classified arsenal at
the President's disposal once he assumes the role of Commander
in Chief. Journey inside White House history to unveil staggering
information about secrets known only to the President, from
top-secret intelligence and classified events to covert
codes and future technologies. On the History Channel: December
1, 8:00 PM; ET/PT.
Aliens Aliens and Dinosaurs - Angkor Wat, Cambodia,
is the world's largest ancient religious temple. Within
its megalithic ruins, researches have discovered a depiction
of a species of dinosaur--a stegosaurus. But how could the
ancients have had knowledge of animals that mainstream science
says died out millions of years ago? Why are dinosaurs extinct?
Did an alien race of beings kill off the dinosaurs to make
room for humankind? On the History Channel: December 2,
9:00 PM; ET/PT.
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