From the “mother” of all sources, a new device to reform hydrogen from gasoline has been developed at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richmond, Washington. What makes this reformer special is its ability to reform enough hydrogen to get a vehicle up and running in only 12 seconds. Reformer technology has been notorious for its slowness.
Fuel cell technology has long been an interest of mine. Fuel cells still face a few obstacles before they eventually replace batteries and engines. Technology aside, few proponents have addressed exactly where the hydrogen is going to come from. The most abundant element in the Universe, it is not at all abundant here on Earth. Water is a clean source, but requires a great deal of energy just to split into oxygen and hydrogen. Reformers can convert gasoline and other fuels into hydrogen, but this does not eliminate pollution entirely. President Bush calls for hydrogen production from coal-burning plants, which does not solve the pollution problem at all. Microorganisms, solar cells, nuclear power and other technologies have been suggested as being cleaner producers of hydrogen, but a national grid of hydrogen is still many years away.
The evolution of life over 3.5 billion years is such an awesome story that it threatens the power of several establishments. A small mind is a mind more easily controlled, and evolution does not suffer a small mind. We have entered the age of DNA 2.0 – the enhancement or replacement of nature’s DNA through human intervention. In religion, what we “cannot do” has become what we “should not do” and there is no better indication of the validity of the theory of evolution than this irrational fear of our increasing ability to manipulate genetics through technology.
Researchers at MIT have created BioBricks, artificial genetic parts that can be combined together to produce particular human-engineered results in organisms. The library of parts is rapidly expanding.
In Israel, a new super DNA has been developed that is smart enough to diagnose cancer and launch an attack on cancerous cells. So far the new DNA has been shown to work in test tubes. Eventually, scientists hope to develop DNA computers that will reside in our cells to look for and prevent danger before the person is even aware of any symptoms.
Meanwhile, in Italy, the Minister of Education recently suggested that evolution no longer be taught in their secondary school curriculum, citing the complexity of the theory. She has since recanted after the general outcry and a petition from scientists. In the United States, some public school districts have begun teaching the “Theory of Intelligent Design” (a so-called “scientific” theory based on the Bible’s story of creation). Some districts require that all biology textbooks include a disclaimer that the theory of evolution is only a theory (apparently understanding neither the definition of “theory” nor the process of the scientific method). Others require that textbooks and curriculum include a section on Intelligent Design.
You know those bright orange and white “bollards” placed on roads to direct traffic at construction sites? They are placed by construction workers, a task long considered to be quite dangerous. New robotic bollards have been developed that deploy themselves with the assistance of a human operator kept safely out of harm’s way. According to the developers, the two primary obstacles to acceptance are price (expected to fall rapidly) and the availability of user-friendly software interfaces (currently being created). I think I might actually have beaten Marshall Brain to the punch this time!
Cassini-Huygens has sent back another glorious image of its destination. In this image, Saturn is much larger and more detailed than previous images sent back by the probe. Soon the planet will loom so large that it will not fit completely into the image frame. There are just 62 days left before Cassini-Huygens is inserted into orbit around Saturn and its primary mission can begin!
The rover Spirit took a panoramic picture of its destination, the Columbia Hills.
The Communications Revolution (including the Internet and, even more profoundly, the future Grid and Mesh) has brought us extraordinary change, but there is a less obvious revolution in the wings that I believe will be every bit as catastrophic in its impact on humanity.
The coming Transportation Revolution will bring a decentralized and networked robotic transport system, as well as personal vehicles with speeds in excess of 300 miles per hour. Imagine purchasing an item online and having it delivered to your doorstep in just a few hours or even minutes, or taking cheap weekend trips to the furthest points on the planet, or driving across the entire continental United States in less than ten hours.
I am not exactly sure yet how we will get there. NASA is funding research into a future transportation grid of personal flying cars, coordinated by advanced AI overseers. Marshal Brain expects transportation to become fully automated, starting with airplanes by 2015. Teleportation of objects appears to be physically possible, though so far only a few fundamental particles have been successfully teleported in experiments. Hybrid engine/battery systems and fuel-cells point the way to more energy-efficient vehicles. Atom lasers (as opposed to the photon lasers used today) have been successfully demonstrated.
Computer science, artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, biotechnology, medicine, cognitive sciences, and much more continue to fascinate me, but the convergence of a communications revolution and a transportation revolution that will combine many if not all of the above progress is of particular interest to me. On frontierchannel.tv I will often highlight those trends that appear to have the most bearing on this particular convergence.
I was interested to learn this morning that biologists no longer divide all life into two cellular kingdoms; they divide life into three kingdoms. When I took college biology as recently as the mid-1990s, teachers and textbooks were still stating that all life could be divided into the prokaryotic and eukaryotic cellular kingdoms (we belong to the eukaryotic kingdom because our cells have nuclei among other internal structures that bacteria in the prokaryotic kingdom do not).
The new kingdom was discovered in the late-1970s when research revealed some microorganisms that resembled bacteria but were as different from bacteria as we are. These organisms are the Archaea, and include the interesting little critters of the world that live in the most hostile environments such as hot springs in Yellowstone National Park. The current three kingdom theory of life is only now beginning to show up in textbooks and is not generally taught in schools. I discovered this information on the great The Phylogeny of Life website published by the University of California Berkeley.