Tag Archives: Fukushima

Winning Science June 19, 2014

Traffic is something that city dweller have accepted as a way of life. However, it seems that no matter how many new roads the Department of Motor Vehicles seems to build, it never does anything to help traffic.  As it turns out there is a one to one relationship between an increase in traffic and an increase in roads. As the number of roads increase, the more people feel they have the ability to travel and so they do, thus increasing traffic. It’s what economics professors call induced demand. To some extent, removing roads can actually help, as was done in Paris and Seoul, but there are obvious limitations to such a plan of action.


Despite my choosing to live fairly close to work, it still takes twenty five minutes for me to go only six miles.

It has been three years since the accident at Fukushima and still no one has a clear picture of what the area surrounding the reactor looks like. There is too much radiation to send in people, sending in cameras would risk further contamination leaks, and x-rays would be useless to penetrate the steel and concrete buildings.  However, an effort involving Los Alamos and Toshiba, a “new” form of detector will be utilized with relies on muons. Two billboard sized detectors will be placed on opposites sides and will measure muon strikes and use that to determine the arrangement and composition of materials between the detectors. Although it will take weeks to months to complete, this new mapping technology will provide an accurate picture of what’s going on in the damaged reactors.

One of Fukushima's three damaged reactors.

One of Fukushima’s three damaged reactors.

I say “new” because an early version of this technology was used in the 1960s to map the interior of the Great Pyramids.  Of course, this is a much more advanced version.

In recent years, most people have come to accept that space and time are actually one and the same–commonly referred to as spacetime. But what is spacetime? Well, researchers in Italy and Germany have been wondering the same thing. They’re proposing a fairly radical idea that perhaps it is a superfluid, which is a fluid with an extremely low viscosity. The whole idea of treating spacetime as a fluid came from an attempt to answer the problems between general relativity and quantum theory. Each is very good at accurately describing separate phenomena, but when you try to apply them together, they don’t seem to work. Treating spacetime like a fluid seemed to be a theory with promise, but in order to properly account from some behaviors, it was determined that it would need to be termed a superfluid.

Image from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Image from the Hubble Space Telescope.

While it is unlikely that the theory of spacetime as a superfluid answers all questions about the phenomenon, scientist point out that it is definitely within the realm of possibility, since no other proposed theory answers all questions either.

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Winning Science December 24, 2013

Recently DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) held a robot Olympics in sunny Miami.  At stake is not only pride, but also one million dollars in additional research funding for any team that makes it through this first round.  The winning team after the second round will earn another two million. The robots are competing in several events which mimic tasks that humans might have to do in emergency situations, such as climbing ladders or turning valves. During the accident at Fukushima several valves could have been operated to significantly reduce the severity of the accident.  Unfortunately, due to radiation levels, human operators couldn’t reach them.  It’s hoped that these robots, or ones similar to them will be able to perform tasks where and when humans are unable to, preventing or at least reducing potential disasters.

lifesaving-robots-03-1213-lgnIt might be here to save my life, but this one looks way too much like Godzilla for my personal comfort.

Today is the 45th anniversary of the beautiful earthrise photo taken by the astronauts on Apollo 8. To commemorate this event, NASA’s Goddard Space Center has put together a computer generated recreation using photographs from the command module, the audio record of mission, as well as new data provided by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). It’s very interesting to listen to these events unfold (and more than a little humorous listen to Jim Lovell trying to find color film) and to hear the wonder in the voices of the astronauts.

I always like it when NASA takes the time to remember these cool little moments in the history of space exploration.

Yesterday Mikhail Kalashnikov, the inventor of the infamous AK-47 assault rifle died at the age of 94. No matter what your thoughts may be about guns and warfare, it is an undisputed fact that the AK-47 has been one of the most influential pieces of technology of the second half of the 20th century. The AK-47 has become synonymous with rebellions and insurgencies, cementing it’s place in the American collective memory during the Vietnam War. While the gun itself was more of a group effort and a conglomeration of several designs, Kalashnikov was likely chosen by Stalin because he best fit the image that the Soviets wanted to project. Regardless of how much of the design actually came from him, Kalashnikov became almost as much of a symbol as the rifle which carries his name.

Kalashnikov with his creation (kind of).

Kalashnikov with his creation (kind of).

Driving home the point of the rifle’s influence, the flags of Mozambique and Hezbollah and the coat of arms for Zimbabwe and East Timor all feature the AK-47

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Winning Science August 28, 2013

This is my favorite kind of science. I love it when stuff is smashed, broken, blown up or otherwise destroyed. This NASA drop test was performed locally at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA.  Dropped from a height of 30 ft. the chopper crash was intended to determine the impact on an airframe during a 30 mph crash.


They even used an Xbox Kinect to help record the crash. Way cool.

I hate to vacuum and dust. I’ve thought about getting a Roomba, but I’ve never thought they were very practical. This however, might be something interesting. This Roomba like device sends out little drones covered in a gel that makes dust stick to it. The drones then return to the base station and get the dirt removed.


If dirt sticks to the gel, I wonder what else does. Am I going to find one of these things rolling away with my cat attached to it?

The events that lead up to the March 11 nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant are pretty well known at this point.  Unlike several previous nuclear accidents, there was no hiding this one. While the events unfolded on international TV, we are only just now beginning to evaluate the long term effects of this unparalleled event. Popular Mechanics has an article out this week that talks about some of the potential effects of radioactive water and some of the possible technologies that can be used to combat the threat.

An aerial shot of the post-accident Fukushima Daiichi plant.

An aerial shot of the post-accident Fukushima Daiichi plant.

I also enjoyed the fact that the article was written by someone who was at one point associated with the US Navy nuclear program. It gives me confidence that he knows the subject matter (plus I understood what he was talking about).

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