Science + Health
For nearly 30 years, scientists thought cells develop into specific cell types nerve, skin, or liver cells, for instance in exactly the same way. But researchers Robert Tjian of Berkeley and Maria Divina E. Deato of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, working with skeletal muscle cells, are throwing this basic premise into doubt.
The big idea: The term “low-carb” took on new meaning when California adopted the Low-Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), the world’s first greenhouse gas standard for transportation fuels.
In a state where transportation accounts for 41 percent of greenhouse gas emissions (compared to a national average of 32 percent), the commitment to reduce carbon intensity of fuels by 10 percent by 2020 is significant—and inspiring.
In the race to create cleaner energy, one of the dark horses is heat conversion: capturing heat that we expend in making energy, and making it into more energy. It’s made possible by a loophole in the second law of thermodynamics that says you can derive energy from a situation where there is a large difference in temperature—like, say, the surface of a running engine block. In an engine that uses 50 kilowatts to go up a hill, 1 kilowatt might run your lights and air conditioning.
The big idea: Ethanol radically altered our notion of fuel. No longer did we need to dig for oil. But ethanol requires enormous energy to produce and is usually made from corn, which is grown on arable land. That puts it in competition with land for food production.
The big idea: Disaster-resistant grapevines.
The big idea: What if buildings and bridges could monitor their own structural “health?” That’s smart infrastructure, a broad term referring to power networks, water systems, telecommunications operations, and public transportation systems that make use of “intelligent” materials (sensor-laden concrete) or devices (tiny cameras) to be responsive to conditions and, ultimately, safer.
The prospects for alternative energy are rising along with the price of gas, and any discussion of future fuel sources is bound to include hydrogen. Hydrogen-powered cars wouldn’t produce noxious emissions or carbon dioxide—just water. Sounds great, but stratospheric chemist Kristie Boering worries that a “hydrogen economy” might have unforeseen consequences. We caught up with her in her Giauque Hall office, where kinetics equations and her son’s drawings compete for whiteboard space, to see why she’s concerned.
The big idea: Exploiting the pleasure principle for educational and commercial purposes through online gaming. In less threatening terms, game-based learning (GBL) is an innovative way of encouraging people to pick up new skills, such as forming Chinese calligraphy figures or solving mathematical problems, through play.
The big idea: Finding ways to pull the by-products of energy consumption out of the air and put them where they can’t hurt us. For now, policymakers and scientists use the generic term “carbon sequestration” to describe the process of removing greenhouse gasses from the air. But there are few ways to do this.
On May 29, 2006, residents in the Porong subdistrict of Sidoarjo, East Java, awoke to a strange rumbling and emerged from their homes to find a geyser of mud shooting 26 feet in the air. In the days that followed, more cavities opened in the ground, and the bowels of the earth came spilling out. The air was rank with the odor of hydrogen sulfide. Within months, a square mile was submerged in sludge, including rice paddies, shrimp ponds, and entire villages.