Monday, September 5, 2011

Stem Cells to treat Baldness?

In case there weren't enough uses for Stem Cells already, what from giving religious fanatics a reason to detest science, or giving cancer patients hope, there is a new reason to praise the pinnacle of modern bioscience. Stem cells are revealing new secrets to the human body seemingly every day. Today, I came across a science article on using Stem Cells to treat baldness. While it seems silly at first, the mechanism is quite simple: Find stem cells, tell them to grow hair, and they obey. Somewhat like engineered growth, the stem cells can actually work to grow hair in men whose follicles have gone dormant and stopped growing hair. Right now the research is in the early stages. Scientists have only right now found the signal to trigger hair regrowth, and it hasn't been tested fully in the lab yet, although it gives hope, and maybe in the next year or two we can see a proof of concept. I'm quite sure there won't be any shortage of willing patients for a test trial. Thankfully, I still have all MY hair, but if my genes serve me right, I should be worrying soon. No bother! by that time, I can just get a nice injection of stem cells into my scalp and be right as rain!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Being a newly minted college graduate, I have been on the hunt for a good job for a long while now. I just received an e-mail today from my advisor that I've been accepted onto a project working with the Natural Resource Conservation Service. I can't really say what I'm researching but it involves taking soil samples and integrating them into an ongoing mapping project for the service. I've always been fascinated by the inner workings of the Earth and how different ecosystems process nutrients, energy, and minerals. I'm so glad to be finding success already in my field of Ecology and Forestry. It's a welcome relief. The pay is meh but I've known the people I'm going to be working for for over a year now and theyre such great folks. I urge anyone reading this who is currently out of work to never give up and always keep trying.

In other news, I stumbled across an interesting article from CBS news today on the dangers of introduced species. I've done extensive field work in invasive species monitoring, and know first hand the havoc they wreak on ecosystems, but the actual long-term damage has never been fully calculated.

This article explains in detail how introduction of a fish species to a lake not normally used to large fish species collapsed wholly in just a few years. Its surprising how quickly an ecosystem, something that takes decades to establish even in the most fertile environments, can be destroyed by a simple occurrence, such as dropping a few largemouth bass into a lake. It should teach us all a lesson to be mindful of our natural surroundings, and to be wary of what sort of pollutants we dump into our waters, as well as how our actions can affect the ecology of any environment in the long term. Give it a read, and learn a little!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

It Turns out Apple isn't so Green After All...

You may remember how apple has branded itself many times in the past with its clean, green, energy efficient image of long battery lives, smart production, and environmentally-conscious computers. The new macbook pro was advertised with images of green grass, blue skies, and bright sunshine in every Apple store, and they vowed to help recycle old computers. Well... they didn't quite cover all their bases on their green front; it turns out much of this effort was simply Greenwashing.

A report issued today by Greenpeace ranks tech companies by how "green" they are, based on an index that takes into account the kind of energy they use to power their data centers, manufacturing plants, and other facilities. Most of their energy use went into the data centers used to feed though all internet traffic used by Apple and its products, such as iTunes. As it turns out, a whopping two thirds of the energy for these data centers is provided by coal, arguably the dirtiest fuel used worldwide. The cleanest marks went to Google and Yahoo, who have made huge strides in making their data centers and operations more efficient.

We need companies to be smarter about their energy use. When you upload a video to Youtube, do you wanna feel guilty for adding more carbon emissions to the environment? Apple should take Facebook's lead, and disclose the information about their data centers, and start using more renewable energy, such as Solar Power, Wind, and Geothermal, to feed their huge hunger for energy. It's the responsible and smart thing to do, for the company that paints themselves as responsible, user-friendly, and efficient.

Monday, April 18, 2011

What the Frack?

You may have heard about it on the news recently: Fracking. The long term for it is Hydraulic Fracturing. Its a process by which millions of gallons of chemicals and water are pumped deep into gas-containing shale rock to fracture it and let the gas seep to the surface for collection. Its the biggest boon to the Natural Gas industry in decades, and is helping to drive down energy prices across the USA, which happens to be one of the largest sources of natural gas energy in the world. Heres a neat diagram showing how fracking works

On the surface, the process seems innovative and safe, but deep below the ground the chemicals, such as Methanol, are seeping into water tables and contaminating important aquifers in the northeast and Rocky Mountain west states, where the largest reserves of natural gas lie. Many gas companies claim the water stays deep underground, but natural capillary forces move the chemicals and contaminated water upward into looser surface layers where aquifers lie. Such chemicals are often highly poisonous and toxic to both the environment and to us Humans. These normally shouldn't be used in these instances, but thanks to a loophole in an energy bill passed by the Bush Administration and hurried through congress by Dick Cheney and Halliburton, these chemicals are not monitored by the E.P.A. and thus can be used without regulation, polluting the environment without any liability to the natural gas companies.

To make matters worse, since the recession hit 3 years ago, gas companies have been baiting landowners with high-paying contracts to use their land for fracking. A one-time installation of a fracking well can pay off in a short amount of time to the company while leaving the landowner with slowly degrading well water and hazardous chemicals. In the popular documentary Gasland, one homeowner in Pennsylvania is able to light his faucet tap water on fire simply due to the high concentration of gas and methanol seeping into his wellwater. Its disgusting, and people don't yet know how hazardous fracking really is. We urgently need to spread awareness of this problem and combat this situation before it gets out of hand and we're left with poisoned citizens and degraded watersheds across the U.S., simply because we wanted cheap gas.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Solar Magnets: How do they Work?

Time for a short post on a new breakthrough to brighten up your Saturday morning: Today I'm talking about magnets!

Most modern solar power systems use sunlight to trigger electrical reactions within semiconductors, also known as a photovoltaic reaction, which in turn produces electricity. These systems are often cost-heavy as many of the materials require high-precision manufacturing with semi-rare minerals such as Cadmium Telluride and Copper Indium alloys. These drive up the costs of solar panels to hundreds of dollars per square meter, or upwards of $5-10,000 for a household installation. These are prohibitive costs to investors, as a gallon of gas still costs about $3.75, and the same goes for the equivalent amount of natural gas. However, a recent breakthrough in physics is pointing researchers towards a new form of energy that can be harnessed from the sun: Magnetism.
I'm not saying we use magnets to harness the sun, and as the oft-quoted Insane Clown Posse cavalierly states in one of their songs, many people don't understand how magnets work, but all you need to know is that when sunlight hits the Earth's surface, it produces a weak magnetic field, much like the pull of a weak magnet thats meant for your kitchen refrigerator. For years, scientists have ignored the magnetic field within sunlight for it was too weak. However, recently, a team of physicists have discovered that focusing the sunlight to 10 million times its normal strength produces a massive amount of energy in the magnetic field that can be turned into electricity. It seems like a tall order, but it can be accomplished using inexpensive glass lenses and fiber optic wires that can focus light into intense beams of energy. What this means for the future is that solar power plants no longer need massive fields of blue panels, but may only need a bunch of lenses focusing light into high-capacity fiber optic cables to be harnessed as energy using magnetism. Its complicated, very scientific, but may herald an era of cheap solar power in the decades to come.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Our Food Supply is in Trouble, but You can Help

Its time for another post, and sadly schoolwork has gotten the better of me and i haven't been able to post since this past weekend. Nonetheless, today I'm delving into the current drought and state of the nation's agricultural landscape. Thanks to the active La Nina winter, most of the northern U.S. experienced much above normal rain and snowfall, building up plenty of groundwater and filling rivers to their banks coming into this year's growing season. however, the southern half of the country has been suffering. From Arizona to North Carolina, an extensive and severe drought continues, and will only get worse as we move into summer, when once again the storm tracks edge north and the hot and heavy summer sun bats down on the landscape. Heres the current drought map and forecast, courtesy of the Climate Prediction Center
As you can see, the widest extent of the drought is across the great plains and high country of the lower Rockies Mountains. This is bad news for our wheat, cattle, and corn crops, which rely on warm thunderstorms and plenty of grass and groundwater for growing, but all this is in danger. With no rainfall, the water table drops, and irrigation becomes more costly. Aquifer levels which are already dropping at unsustainable rates will only deplete faster, and less net crop output will come out of the lower plains if this drought indeed continues. 

This problem is also running into another issue: Oil Prices. With a barrel of crude oil sitting between $105 and $115 as i write this, it has become very expensive to work the land, especially with the size of industrial equipment and petrochemical inputs to our modern form of agriculture. This is all bad news, but with hardship comes opportunity...

This could be our chance to localize our food sources. If we keep putting pressure on the great expanses of the plains to produce our food for us all the way out on the coastline, we will only do more damage to the land. We whould rely on farms and pastures closer to home, and let the residents of the plains grow their food for themselves first, lowering demand for their land and thus helping reduce some of the adverse effects of the drought. In turn, this can also lower food prices, which are rising globally. Theres different ways of taking action: 

Participate in CSA: Community-Supported Agriculture. For a yearly or seasonal fee, you can ensure fresh produce and meats get delivered or provided for you from your local farms, while you help support them. That way, the distance your food has to travel from field to your fridge is much less, cutting back on the use of fossil fuels (which lowers oil prices) as well as reducing carbon emissions into the environment.

Ask your local grocer for local or organic foods: often organic foods are sourced much closer to your supermarket due to their shorter shelf lives, and they use less petrochemical fertilizer and inputs than typical industrially-grown crops. Many large supermarkets have their own organic in-house brands which are comparable in price to brand name non-organic foods

Eat In-Season foods: Keep a list of what produce are in season and where they come from. That way, you dont have to waste all of the fossil fuels shipping strawberries up from chile in january. Lowering food miles (miles traveled between the field and your fridge), helps lower oil demand and food prices overall. 

It's worth the minor sacrifices to do your small part to help ensure that you get low-cost healthy food without doing damage to the environment.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

GE is Taking the Lead in Solar

Once again, its good to see a big corporation take a stand in the world of alternative energy. I just found out today that GE, along with PrimeStar, has developed the world's most efficient thin-film photovoltaic solar panel. at almost 12% efficiency, it takes almost a 2% leap over previous thin-film arrays, and can boost energy savings by up to 20%. This is big news, considering the money going into this operation is astronomical. GE has decided to invest $600 million in a brand new solar facility that can produce enough solar panels to power 80,000 more homes every year, or roughly 400Megawatts. On top of this, they are filling orders for another 100Megawatts. This is huge news for solar power, which as I've written on my blog before is in my opinion the true green energy of the future. Below is an image of a thin-film solar array. In my opinion, they are more aesthetically pleasing and economical than standard solar arrays.

 I believe that we can invent solar panels that may one day power an entire house off a single panel and power cities off of a single square mile of panels. The power is there, its bountiful, and we almost have a solid grasp on it. One day we won't have to peer up at buzzing wiggling high tension towers stretching across the landscape, or watch worriedly as we blast apart mountains for coal and pollute the rivers and ecosystems, such as we are doing now at increasingly destructive rates. I may be a green liberal, but I still have faith in our capitalist system to switch our demands to that of green energy and sustainable infrastructure. It's up to us as consumers to move forward with the transition to renewable energy