New method for harvesting energy from light

“Harvesting energy from light” has an exotic sci-fi vibe – it’s about better methods for extracting solar energy to generate electricity, and improved fiber optic technology for communications – applications we’re familiar with — this isn’t the Bellero Shield.

The new work centers on plasmonic nanostructures, specifically, materials fabricated from gold particles and light-sensitive molecules of porphyin, of precise sizes and arranged in specific patterns. Plasmons, or a collective oscillation of electrons, can be excited in these systems by optical radiation and induce an electrical current that can move in a pattern determined by the size and layout of the gold particles, as well as the electrical properties of the surrounding environment. Because these materials can enhance the scattering of light, they have the potential to be used to advantage in a range of technological applications, such as increasing absorption in solar cells.

Link to University of Pennsylvania press release.


CERN finds God (Particle)


Reported in Telegraph UK:

“’The preliminary results with the full 2012 data set are magnificent and to me it is clear that we are dealing with a Higgs boson though we still have a long way to go to know what kind of Higgs boson it is.’ said CMS spokesperson Joe Incandela.”

“… extensive testing has now proved that the Higgs-like particle also behaves like the elusive God particle, which is linked to the mechanism that gives mass to elementary particles.”

Background in Wikipedia

Image Info


Sandy Frankenstorm video

Animation compiled from NASA satellite images shows evolution and movement of the massive Hurricane Sandy:

Check stats and images at Weather Underground. Also at Weather Underground, a post by Dr. Jeff Masters emphasizing the storm’s dangerous potential:

This afternoon’s 3:30 pm EDT H*Wind analysis from NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division put the destructive potential of Sandy’s winds at a modest 2.8 on a scale of 0 to 6. However, the destructive potential of the storm surge was record high: 5.8 on a scale of 0 to 6. This is a higher destructive potential than any hurricane observed since 1969, including Category 5 storms like Katrina, Rita, Wilma, Camille, and Andrew. The previous highest destructive potential for storm surge was 5.6 on a scale of 0 to 6, set during Hurricane Isabel of 2003. Sandy is now forecast to bring a near-record storm surge of 6 – 11 feet to Northern New Jersey and Long Island Sound, including the New York City Harbor. This storm surge has the potential to cause many billions of dollars in damage if it hits near high tide at 9 pm EDT on Monday. The full moon is on Monday, which means astronomical high tide will be about 5% higher than the average high tide for the month. This will add another 2 – 3″ to water levels. Fortunately, Sandy is now predicted to make a fairly rapid approach to the coast, meaning that the peak storm surge will not affect the coast for multiple high tide cycles. Sandy’s storm surge will be capable of overtopping the flood walls in Manhattan, which are only five feet above mean sea level. On August 28, 2011, Tropical Storm Irene brought a storm surge of 4.13′ and a storm tide of 9.5′ above MLLW to Battery Park on the south side of Manhattan. The waters poured over the flood walls into Lower Manhattan, but came 8 – 12″ shy of being able to flood the New York City subway system. According to the latest storm surge forecast for NYC from NHC, Sandy’s storm surge is expected to be at least a foot higher than Irene’s. If the peak surge arrives near Monday evening’s high tide at 9 pm EDT, a portion of New York City’s subway system could flood, resulting in billions of dollars in damage. I give a 50% chance that Sandy’s storm surge will end up flooding a portion of the New York City subway system.


Dawkins on fundamentalism

Dr. Richard Dawkins challenges global religious superstition and anti-science fundamentalism. In this video from Slashdot, he makes a point similar to one I was proposing in Google+ recently: “Freedom of speech is something that Islamic theocracies simply do not understand. They don’t get it. They’re so used to living in a theocracy, that they presume that if a film is released in the United States, the United States Government must be behind it! How could it be otherwise? So, they need to be educated that, actually, some countries do have freedom of speech and government is not responsible for what any idiot may do in the way of making a video.”


Listening to blogs

Detailed Architecture of BlogSum

Kurzweil posts about a system developed for “mining the blogosphere,” i.e. BlogSum, a sophisticated listening natural language processing system for evaluating and indexing blog content developed at Concordia University. “The system is capable of gauging things like consumer preferences and voter intentions by sorting through websites, examining real-life self-expression and conversation, and producing summaries that focus exclusively on the original question.” This is a technical concept that David DeMaris and I had discussed some years ago, thinking of potential activist/political applications. It’ll be interesting to see how this technology is deployed.


Mars is boring

Martian panorama, shot by Curiosity rover

Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally jazzed about interplanetary exploration, have been for decades. But could we have picked a less boring planet than Mars? Would you visit a resort on Tatooine? (Mars makes Tatooine seem lush.) Maybe Curiosity will find the secret cave that leads to the underground complex of Martian cities, but ’til it does, I’m holding out for the Venus rovers.

Link: Curiosity rover on Wikipedia. Actually a very cool contraption:

The rover is a nuclear-powered, mobile scientific laboratory and part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission by the United States. The MSL mission has four main scientific goals: investigation of the Martian climate, geology, and whether Mars could have ever supported life, including investigation of the role of water and its planetary habitability. Curiosity carries the most advanced payload of scientific equipment ever used on the surface of Mars. It is the fourth NASA unmanned surface rover sent to Mars since 1996, and at 900 kg is slightly heavier than the 840 kg Lunokhod 2 robotic lunar rover from 1973.

I still prefer the Bradbury version…


Martians flee after seven minutes of terror!

Your humble blogger burned the literal midnight oil to watch Curiosity’s landing on the surface of Mars, which actually meant watching the NASA team as the landing progressed, via NASA TV. No real evidence of the “terror” on their faces, they actually seemed confident and professional.


Higgs Culture

Whether it was the Higgs Boson, or just a reference to the actual particle, the CERN discovery is already generating cultural waves and memes.


“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” (AC Clarke)

My pal David Pescovitz at the Institute for the Future blogged recently about the IFTF “Multiverse of Exploration Map,” an overview of the six big stories of science that will play out over the next decade: Decrypting the Brain, Hacking Space, Massively Multiplayer Data, Sea the Future, Strange Matter, and Engineered Evolution. “Those stories are emerging from a new ecology of science shifting toward openness, collaboration, reuse, and increased citizen engagement in scientific research.” A followup post includes a video of Luigi Anzivino from The Exploratorium talking about the relationship of magic and neuroscience.


Stonehenge, music and magic

Stonehenge from the air

A scientist says that Stonehenge was inspired by “auditory illusions,” according to a story in Guardian UK. Independent researcher Steve Waller says “the layout of the stones corresponded to the regular spacing of loud and quiet sounds created by acoustic interference when two instruments played the same note continuously.”

“If these people in the past were dancing in a circle around two pipers and were experiencing the loud and soft and loud and soft regions that happen when an interference pattern is set up, they would have felt there were these massive objects arranged in a ring. It would have been this completely baffling experience, and anything that was mysterious like that in the past was considered to be magic and supernatural.



Multiverses, dark matter, infinity: Occupy Reality

The idea that there’s a set of consistent first principles behind the existence and operations of the universe is undermined by evidence of a multiverse – many universes with potentially different properties – and the existence of “dark matter.” In this universe and on this planet, we’ve had just the right conditions for life – is this an accident? What other conditions may exist, what other forms of life? Question’s raised by Alan Lightman in his Harper’s piece, “The Accidental Universe: Science’s Crisis of Faith.” Thinking about the expansion and dissolution of the universe is a great way to feel smaller, less like a dominant life form and more like a gnat buzzing in the dark. Smaller still when thinking how all must be infinite, yet infinity seems impossible to grasp. Our place in all this is uncertain. Do we have within us manifestations of the universal, are we all pieces of some expansive and infinite intelligent hologram? Or are we bits of dust in an infinite chaotic meaningless haboob?


Light in slowmo

Extreme slow motion video of a pulse of laser light passing through a Coke bottle.

“We have built an imaging solution that allows us to visualize propagation of light at an effective rate of one trillion frames per second. Direct recording of light at such a frame rate with sufficient brightness is nearly impossible. We use an indirect ‘stroboscopic’ method that combines millions of repeated measurements by careful scanning in time and viewpoints.” [Link] Via MIT Media Lab’s Camera Culture group, in collaboration with the Bawendi Lab in MIT’s Chemistry department.


Detail Moon

NASA’s created a topographic view of the moon. Sez Mark Robinson, Principal Investigator of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) from Arizona State University in Tempe. “We can now determine slopes of all major geologic terrains on the moon at 100 meter scale. Determine how the crust has deformed, better understand impact crater mechanics, investigate the nature of volcanic features, and better plan future robotic and human missions to the moon.”


Gamification of HIV Research

Online gamers playing a game called Foldit “cracked a key protein structure problem that has had scientists scratching their heads for years…in three weeks.”

Foldit invites players to predict protein structures. The game was developed by researchers at the University of Washington, as a deliberate way to get gamers to compete by solving scientific problems. The game requires they use spatial and critical thinking skills to build 3D models of protein molecules. In this case, they were invited to build models of M-PMV, a protease enzyme that plays a key role in how a virus similar to HIV replicates in cells. Few of the players had any background in biochemistry.

By solving the mystery of the 3D structure of the protein, the gamers have helped scientists move a step forward in developing a drug that could stop viruses like HIV from spreading.