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At the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, Malay Mazumder, a research professor in Boston University‘s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, presented research on solar panels that employ a self-generated electrical pulse to shake off dust.  That’s right, solar panels that clean themselves.  Frankly, I think the little Roomba vacuum they sell at Coscto is pretty exciting (I often wonder exactly which optimization algorithms they used for George; it’s a tricky thing to clean a whole room efficiently while avoiding arbitrarily-placed furniture and walls), so this absolutely blows my mind.

Since a dust layer of 4 g/m^2 can decrease solar power conversion by 40%, you can imagine the ramifications of a self-cleaning solar panel.  Mazumder and his colleagues have developed an electrodynamic transparent screen by depositing indium tin oxide (ITO)—on glass or a clear plastic sheet covering the solar panels.  Electrodes produce a traveling wave of electrostatic and dielectrophoretic forces that lift dust particles from the surface and transport them to the screen’s edges. The researchers found that 90% of deposited dust can be removed by the transparent screen in less than 60 seconds.

For the whole article, please visit: http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=self-cleaning-solar-panels-could-fi-2010-08-22

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During my wanderings through the vast blogosphere, I am continually astounded by the sheer volume of science vs. religion rants posts out there.  I propose we all take a deep breath, calm down and think about what’s going on.  Many religious people view skeptics as cynical, close-minded people, incapable of seeing a larger truth; something beyond the sensory experience.  Skeptics, on the other hand, tend to view religious people as ignorant, close-minded people, jumping to conclusions without considering all the facts at hand.  As for me, I’m a member of that radical middle sect, the people who question whether or not the two camps really are separate, mutually exclusive entities.  After all, religion and science both aim for the same goal… to discover the truth, but go about it in completely separate ways.  With science it’s fairly straightforward.  In the words of Richard Dawkins, “Science replaces private prejudice with publicly verifiable evidence.”  Science removes your own sensory biases in favor of the unaltered truth.  With religion, it’s a bit more subtle.  Religion also seeks truth about the universe, but in a completely spiritual way.  The bible, prayer, meditation, and worship are nothing more than tools used to discover truth.  If both disciplines are striving towards the same goal, why is there such animosity?  If you want people from the other camp to believe you, regardless of which it might be, why would you alienate them further by spewing fire and brimstone?  All you really accomplish is widening the schism and promoting intolerance and close-mindedness, on both sides.  Why not speak a mutually understandable language, built on rational ideas and unbiased evidence?

Let’s start by talking about those crazy people who think evolution and global warming are skewed statistics, perpetuated by political agenda.  The most outspoken opponents of evolution tend to be conservative Christians.  While this by no means encompasses all the unbelievers, it’s a significant portion and we’ll just deal with them today.  Ever since Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859, it’s been a hot topic.  Many people had to alter their religious beliefs and perceptions of the world (e.g. the Bible’s claim that the world was created in 7 days) to somehow fit with evolution.  After all, the bible does state that God had already created the sun and the moon, and thus had clearly established days in place.  While some people claim that our days do not necessarily translate one-to-one with a “God day,” many Christians simply refuted evolution completely, since it failed to jive with their beliefs.  Roughly 53% of creationists claim that God created man exactly how the bible describes it, without the side-stepping “God days.”  (Admittedly that poll is 5 years old, but I sincerely doubt peoples’ beliefs have changed significantly in the past 5 years.)  Now, why would they do this, in the face of such overwhelming evidence?  Well, the obvious explanation is that they’re insanely stubborn and feeble-minded individuals, incapable of accepting truth.  While that may certainly be the case for some, I tend have a bit more optimistic of an approach.  Perhaps they’re just being skeptical of the scientific community’s ability to interpret discovered data, and why should skeptics, of all people, discourage skepticism?  While the majority of people who doubt evolution cite religion, roughly 14% of people who doubt evolution say that not enough compelling scientific evidence has been produced.  To understand why they would say such a thing, let’s consider one of the primary pieces of evidence in favor of evolution, the fossil record.  While I’m sure none of that 14% of people would contest the fact that fossils have been dug up, they might question how that is being interpreted.  After all, it was fairly recently that they discovered that the triceratops isn’t a unique dinosaur.  What was that but a misinterpretation of previously discovered evidence?  What’s to say there aren’t more mistakes like that floating around?  Many disbelievers in evolution aren’t stupid, just displaying perfectly natural skepticism.  I’m fairly convinced that with more public education about the matter, at the very least that 14% will change their minds about evolution, and perhaps convince the rest to follow suit.

By the same token, it is unacceptable for the religious right to claim ignorance, or worse, just make things up.  The latter is my only explanation for this gem that’s been circling around blogs for the past couple days.  With the wealth of readily available information, there’s no excuse for a scantily-researched article, with evidence that doesn’t even relate to the topic at hand or completely false.  (While I won’t discuss this horribly inaccurate article, this post does a great job of explaining all the many, many flaws.)  Furthermore, religious people need to understand that skeptics tend not to appreciate the bible as unassailable evidence.  They aren’t terrible, Godless people, they just need more convincing.  Take, for example, doubting Thomas, the bible’s classic skeptic.  While Thomas needed stronger evidence, to touch the nail marks in the risen Jesus’ hands, he wasn’t any less of an apostle, just a skeptic.  Why is Thomas so harshly chastised by believers?  After all, Satan did supposedly make it his personal mission to deceive man and draw away as many followers as he could.  Why is it so bad that Thomas showed just a little caution?  The first time the risen Lord showed himself, not only showed his hands and feet, which had nail marks but he also ate fish to prove he was human, and not some apparition (Luke 24:36-43).  Thomas wasn’t there for this event (John 20:24).  He wasn’t doubting Jesus, per say, but the words of the other apostles.  He needed impartial evidence; evidence that he could see and verify himself.  Like the words of the apostles, skeptics don’t necessarily trust the word of the bible.  They need more compelling evidence, like the nail marks on Jesus’ hands or feet.  Notice how Jesus does not condemn them, but simply blesses the faithful (John 20:29).  A skeptic will not go to hell for being a skeptic, just for not repenting, which is another matter altogether.  To convince a skeptic, you need more than just biblical proof, and your proof had better be accurate.

There is an enormous amount of animosity between the proponents of science and religion that I’ve never been able to understand.  The bitter, vehement posts will only be appreciated by members of your own group, who are obviously already convinced.  Why not treat everyone with respect and courtesy, and together, reach some new truth?  After all, we all want the same thing: to understand the universe in which we live.  What is the harm in setting aside our differences and reasoning together, like rational human beings?  Let’s just all get along, guys.

Notice anything interesting?

Notice anything interesting?

While I’m quite tired, I took a couple of interesting pictures whilst on campus today. These particular pictures were taken on my way to work of the back of the Brain Imaging Center. I passed by this place everyday for three years, without ever noticing what my friend pointed out to me a few weeks ago.

How about now?

How about now?

Those poles were not designed to contour with the design on the back of the MRI center, I assure you. That would be the effect of stray magnetic field from a 4 Tesla magnet. While it’s not immediately dangerous, I wouldn’t recommend prolonged exposure.  I particularly like the cautionary sign advising of the high magnetic field, conveniently placed in a central location.

Hello, intarwebs!

August 12, 2010

I often struggle with first sentences of new things, whether they be essays, journals, or in this particular case, a blog.  Let’s give this a whirl, shall we?  Hi, my name is Cassie, and I make very awkward introductions.

Now that that’s out of the way… I’ve been thinking a long time about starting a blog about science, symbolism from every day life, and things I happen to find interesting.  However, what’s prevented me in the past was that I felt under qualified to comment on such matters, particularly science, and my life has always been uneventful.  …Or so I thought anyway.  As of late, my life has gotten more interesting by several orders of magnitude.  During the past couple months, I have graduated with a double major in physics and astrophysics from this lovely place and was accepted to graduate school from this wonderful place. However, I am currently taking a well-deserved break from my education and am currently working as a research assistant in the Astronomy department of the aforementioned lovely place.  I have also been involved in a very ugly breakup recently, blown up a vacuum chamber, and bought a dress worth more than my computer.  Friends have often said I should write a book, and people would actually read it.  A blog will have to do… for now.  As I touched on previously, I hope to talk about the following subjects:

  • Science.  I’ve always felt under qualified to comment on such matters, being a student and all…  Plus, the things I found exciting as a student were things that had already been old news for a while.  However, we’ll brush those things aside and I will attempt to make intelligible discussion of more current happenings, since I recently crawled out from the rock I live under and re-discovered newspapers and news feeds.
  • Symbolism from everyday life.  Whenever I watch a movie or a T.V. show, I tend to pick it apart and analyze it like I would a classic novel.  Sometimes I come up with interesting conclusions, sometimes I don’t.
  • Things I happen to find interesting.  We’ll try to keep this high-brow and limit it to politics, religion, psychology and the like.  However, it might take unexpected detours into my personal life because, let’s face it, that shit is entertaining.

But who would appreciate the wayward ramblings of a recent physics grad?  I do believe that question is best answered by you, dear reader.