We have not been slacking off on blogging, truly we haven't -- we've just been doing it over at the official blog for the 2007 Industrial Physics Forum all week long. I missed writing an official post for Monday's big "blog for the environment" movement, but as it turns out, I've been learning and blogging all week long about global warming/climate change, the global energy crisis, and the latest advances in alternative energy sources and mitigation strategies. I should get bonus credit! It's been intense: 2-1/2 days of non-stop sessions with blogging in between. We're feeling a bit frazzled and exhausted after three 16-hour days. Also a bit depressed, since that whole global energy crisis? It's big-time serious. And we're running out of time. Fast.
Anyway, to give you an idea of what we've been up to, here's the titles and first paragraphs of the seven IPF posts so far (there'll be one or two more on Friday.) Click on the link to read the entire post.
Think Big, Go Small.
The semiconductor industry has been dominated by "Moore's Law" for decades. Every time it seems we're about to reach the threshold beyond which chip size and density can't possibly go any further, some new breakthrough prolongs the lifetime of the silicon chip just a little bit longer. Too bad we're not making comparable strides in the energy sector, because without sufficient energy, how will those sturdy little silicon chips be able to run? Kicking off the 2007 Industrial Physics Forum with an overview of the energy landscape, MIT's Mildred Dresselhaus recommended that we "Think big and go small," and called for "a Moore's Law" for energy efficiency. "A few percent in improvement means nothing" in the grand scheme of things," she insisted: "We need an order of magnitude improvement." [Read more!]
Drive Me Crazy.
I confess: I own a Prius. It's not that I think my little hybrid car will single-handedly save the planet, because despite the improvements in fuel efficiency, I'm still burning fossil fuels and putting more carbon into the atmosphere. But it's a start, because hybrids are an economic bridge to the electric cars of the future, according to Michael Tamor, an executive technical leader at Ford Research who spoke this afternoon on the re-electrification of the automobile. "A consumer product will always succeed or fail based on customer value," said Tamor. Indeed, the commercial success of the Prius -- and of the emerging fleet of other hybrid vehicles, from Ford and other automakers -- is due in large part to the fact that people believe they are reaping enough benefits (environmentally and in fuel efficiency) to justify the higher price tag. [Read more!]
Waste Not, Want Not.
"What am I, chopped liver?" That's what the entire field of thermoelectrics (at least as it relates to waste heat recovery) wants to know. In a field of showy alternative energy candidates like biofuels, solar cells, fuel cells, and powerful wind turbines, the challenge of eking out bits of excess energy that would otherwise be wasted as heat to make incremental improvements in energy efficiency seems a bit, well, proletarian. One could almost envision the poor, lonely drudges doomed to try and recover snippets of wasted heat energy for all eternity in Dante's Ninth Circle of Hell, while Lucifer looks on and snickers. In short, it's a thankless task. Small wonder Lon Bell (BSST LLC and NREL) jokingly calls his work in this area "the chopped liver of new technologies." [Read more!]
LED-ing the Way.
One of the standout attractions at Chicago's Millennium Park is the Crown Fountain. On either side of a reflecting pool are two 50-foot glass block towers. Underneath those glass bricks are LED video screens that, when illuminated, showcase videos of the faces of nearly 1000 Chicago residents, in random rotation, all smiling out at the world while a stream of water cascades over their visages. ... The most central technology that makes the Crown Fountain possible is the light-emitting diode (LED). During this morning's session on energy efficiency, Shuji Nakamura of the University of California, Santa Barbara, outlined the current status of LED-based solid state lighting, and some of the existing and emerging applications for these ingenious little devices. [Read more!]
UPDATE: Stefan at Backreaction has an excellent post up about Nakamura's recent pioneering work on blue LEDs. Jen-Luc sez check it out!
The POSEIDON Adventure.
Casting about for some small thing you can do to be environmentally responsible? You can always disconnect your doorbell. So says David de Jager, an energy and environmental consultant with E-Concern in The Netherlands. He opened his Tuesday morning presentation by pointing out that an electrical doorbell is pretty much hooked up all the time and therefore draws about 5 watts continuously year-round -- more if it's lit up, and when someone presses it. This works out to something like .01% efficiency, according to de Jager. In fact, the power required to connect all the doorbells in Europe is equivalent to the power output of two coal-fired power plants, all for a convenience we barely use. Quoth de Jager: "This is idiotic." Especially for those of us who don't receive many visitors. [Read more!]
Carbon, Carbon, Everywhere.
There's been a great deal of uproar this past week over the controversial awarding of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize jointly to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and former vice president Al Gore for their work on raising awareness of climate change and global warming. For all the inevitable politicizing of the issue, what the Nobel Prize Committee's decision truly augurs is the recognition by the international community that global warming is real, and we're quickly running out of time to reverse the potentially catastrophic trends. Honestly? It's probably already too late for merely implementing mitigation strategies, according to Rosina Bierbaum of the University of Michigan. [Read more!]
"Busy Old Fool, Unruly Sun..."
Based on the above opening lines from one of his most famous sonnets, the 17th century metaphysical poet John Donne wasn't a fan of Le Soleil. Maybe he just wasn't a morning person, but I suspect the scientists who've been working on photovoltaics for decades, struggling to raise conversion efficiency rates a few points at a time in hopes of some day, in the distant future, making it a commercially viable energy source, might share Donne's frustration. After all, the sun has, to date, proven to be fairly intractable when it comes to harnessing its rays to power our energy-hogging homes. [Read more!]
UPDATE: One more post, not energy-related, from the Frontiers in Physics session:
Measure for Measure
Harvard's Gerald Gabrielse -- who kicked off this year's "Frontiers in Physics" session, which traditionally closes the IPF -- has earned his fair share of professional kudos from the physics community for his groundbreaking research at CERN in Switzerland, coming up with nifty new ways of trapping single particles to study them up close and personal. For instance, back in 2002, his team made science news headlines when they published two papers in Physical Review Letters providing the first glimpses inside an antihydrogen atom. More recently, he's used similar methods to make the most precise measurements to date of the electron's "magnetic moment" -- a finding that AIP's Physics News Update dubbed its scientific breakthrough of the year in 2006. [Read more!]
Whew! I'm getting exhausted all over again reading over that. We'll be back to regular posting at Cocktail Party Physics on Monday, and in the meantime -- the links above should give you plenty to read, and fret over. Me, I'm off to unplug my doorbell and turn off all the lights...