Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Is The Force Of Gravity Weakening?

Even though gravity is still the least understood of the four fundamental forces of our universe, is there any evidence that the force of gravity is actually getting weaker? 

By: Ringo Bones 

When compared to the other fundamental forces of the universe – i.e. the strong and weak forces and the electromagnetic force, the force of gravity is currently the least understood. Until the results of the experiments done at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN makes us gain a handle on String Theory, Albert Einstein’s Theory General of Relativity is the best one yet explaining how gravity works. But is there any evidence that the force of gravity is actually getting weaker? 

There have been many challenges to Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity since its presentation in 1916 – all of them unsuccessful. But that record did not daunt astronomer Thomas C. Van Flandern a researcher at the US Naval Observatory, who back in 1974 found evidence of what he believes is the gradual weakening of gravity, a force that according to General Relativity never varies. 

Van Flandern’s evidence is based on the motion of celestial objects, which would be affected by a change in gravitational force. By studying the precise times that the moon has blocked from view various stars over the past 19 years, Van Flandern calculated the changes in the moon’s orbital velocity. The rate, Van Flandern said, was twice the amount of slowdown that would be expected from known causes, principally the mutual tugs of the tides on earth and moon. The difference could be accounted for by a decrease of the force of gravity of one part in 10-billion per year. 

A discrepancy in the changes in the earth’s rotation, also caused by the tidal effects, could similarly be explained by a decrease in gravitational force, according to Van Flandern. The same gradual phenomenon may even account for a gradual increase in the size of the earth and thus explain such geological phenomena as sea-floor spreading and the movements of crustal plates. 

Thomas Van Flandern is not the only one who finds Einstein’s General Relativity wanting. The late physicist Paul Dirac also conjectured that that the universal force of gravity is slowly decreasing. And the idea that the universal force of gravity is gradually decreasing even gave the idea to science writer Robert Schadewald who back in April 1978 wrote an article about his “Schadewald Gravity Engine” the first true working energy generating device that works on the principle of perpetual motion. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Chemically Dehydrating Seeds: Longest Botanical Experiment Ever?

Even though the results of this experiments now guides us in effectively storing seeds in the Svalbard Doomsday Vault, is Dr. Fritz Went’s chemically dehydrated seeds experiment now the longest ongoing botanical experiment ever? 

By: Ringo Bones 

This botanical experiment started back in 1947 in order to find out how long humanity can store seeds slated for future germination in a farming field in the far-off future and was intended to last for 300 years. But does the chemically dehydrated seed experiment that was started by Dr. Fritz Went still the current holder for the longest ongoing botanical experiment ever? 

Ordinarily, seeds can be stored for only one or two years before humidity makes them dissipate their stored energy and they will no longer germinate. Those seeds with firm, hard coats retain their viability longest and most seeds keep best when stored in dry storage at low temperatures like that in the current Svalbard Doomsday Vault seed repository. Under such favorable conditions, seeds of common farm and garden plants have lasted from 10 to 25 years. Would these seeds last even longer if kept completely dry? 

Seeking to find out the answer, Dr. Fritz Went launched an experiment back in 1947 which is designed to continue for more than 300 years. Seeds of 120 California wild plants were chemically dehydrated in a vacuum and then the seeds of each species were divided among 20 vacuum-sealed tubes and stored in dated jars that stated their date of germination, some as far as into 2307 A.D. Since the start of the experiment, seeds from the four sets of tubes have been germinated. The results: so far the test seeds have proved on average to be viable after 10 years’ storage as they were immediately after drying. 

During the experiment, Dr. Went shelves 20 identical sets of seeds according to date of future use. For each tube, 60 to 100 seeds will be remoistened at a temperature of 18 degrees Celsius to start germination. Some seeds from each tube will be raised for future comparison of the revived plants with their wild descendents. And such procedure invented in 1947 would then be applied to the seeds that are stored in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault - also known to "pessimists" as the Doomsday Vault - located halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Mishap At The Reno Discovery Museum?

Even though we have achieved so much advancement in the field of science and technology, can a routine science experiment still go awry in this day and age? 

By: Ringo Bones 

Back in Thursday, September 4, 2014, a supposedly “routine” tornado simulation demonstration in the Tommy Lee Wells Discovery Museum in Reno, Nevada unexpectedly turned into a flash fire that resulted in the injury of kids on a field trip. Even though the flash fire looked quite dramatic on the mobile phone video camera that captured it and resulted in the injury of some kids watching close to the science experiment, the quick response of the Reno Fire Department averted a major disaster that would have gutted the entire museum. Given how far we have advanced in the field of science and technology, does mishaps like these still a possibility in supposedly routine science experiments this day and age? 

Employee error was blamed for the incident and the museum attendant who initiated the experiment is now on administrative leave after initial investigation revealed that the attendant skipped a step and an ingredient that resulted in a dramatic flash fire on a supposedly routine tornado simulation experiment. The tornado experiment at the Discovery Museum in Reno had been a routine attraction to elementary school kids on their field trip since the museum set up shop. It might have been a rare mishap given that the years since the museum opened, such accidents had never ever happened. 

13 people were injured in a flash fire, including 8 children. Bill Nye the Science Guy recently demonstrated the tornado experiment on his show and points out the danger of the ethyl alcohol and cotton used at the experiment as the step with the most potential to initiate in a dramatic flash fire with a high potential for injury to the experimenter and the spectators. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Jamie Edwards: Youngest Fusioneer Ever?

While competing with an American who created a proof of concept fusion power plant, is the 13 year old British student Jamie Edwards now the world’s youngest fusion energy pioneer?

By: Ringo Bones 

A month ago, a 13 year old student from Preston, England using the money he saved from his own allowance managed to build a proof of concept fusion power plant as his own school science project. Jamie Edwards fast tracked his fusion power plant project back in December 2012 after hearing that a 14 year old American student is planning to do the same - thus becoming the youngest person ever to perform an actual  proof of concept fusion power generation experiment.

When he turned on his fusion power plant in the classroom of his school, Sue Edwards – Jamie’s Mother – and other students sensibly fled the room for safety reasons. Even though experts had been foreseeing gene manipulation projects will be commonplace as middle-school and high-school science projects by the 21st Century, Jamie Edwards fusion power plant seems to have been bucking the trend given that nuclear science projects has always been hard to do when done on a “shoestring” budget. And for his next school science project, Jamie Edwards plans a scaled down version of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. With his achievement, Jamie Edwards has recently become a guest on The Late Show With David Letterman. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Transistor Radio Turns 60 in 2014

The lowly battery-operated transistor radio may only be useful today when a calamity suddenly interrupts our mains AC, but is the transistor radio the intrepid witness of history in the post World War II half of the 20th Century?

By: Ringo Bones 

This 2014, the “lowly” battery operated tabletop transistor radio will be celebrating its 60th Anniversary. Often seen as the intrepid witness of the mid 20th Century portion of the Cold War and onwards, the transistor radio set’s contribution to the latter half of the 20th Century seems to be – more often than not – somewhat overlooked. As the Cold War starts to heat up a little back in 1954, America’s consumer electronic manufacturers managed to use the solid state semiconductor transistor device that was developed by Bell Labs back in 1947 into an “affordable” battery operated transistor radio set. Even though the first sets were priced between 50 to 90 US dollars back then (close to 1,000 US dollars in today’s money) it helped made post World War II popular music - as in Rock N’ Roll music – “go viral” like the Sputnik scare with artists as diverse as Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Ritchie Valens and other pioneering Rock N’ Roll musicians. 

As the Cold War further heated up, transistor radios started sporting two tiny triangles on their radio dials at the 640-kHz and 1240-kHz points based on the American Civil Defense logo and marked the two as the CONELRAD stations – that then awkward acronym that stood for Control of Electromagnetic Radiation. As part of the scenario scheduled to unfold in the event of a thermonuclear attack by the then Soviet Union, television station transmitters would go dark and non-essential radio stations virtually silent. Only the CONELRAD stations would operate and they would transmit emergency instructions at low transmitter power – a tactic meant to keep enemy aircraft crews, mainly Soviet era strategic bombers, from homing in on signals of known higher-powered stations and using them to navigate to their strategic bombing targets. CONELRAD lasted from 1951 to 1963, when the Emergency Broadcast System replaced it. 

Transistor radio sets offered increased portability over their vacuum tube counterparts due to more efficient operation and lower voltage requirements – though the transistor radio’s sound quality improvements will come a little later. Despite what the Madison Avenue admen might want you to believe back then, transistors radios weren’t quite as small as their manufacturers might want you to believe. When the Japanese made Sony TR-63 pocket transistor radio arrived in the United States back in 1957, it was billed as a “shirt-pocket” transistor radio, but because it was actually a tad bigger than that, Sony’s American affiliates had shirts with oversized pockets tailored for their own salesmen.