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Science is Fun!


There’ll be a total solar eclipse over the south Pacific Ocean this Sunday, a rare event. For those who forgot to charter a boat, check out this amazing stop-motion video taken in 2007 by a NASA satellite:

You may not remember back in 2006 when scientists nearly destroyed the planet. In fact, you might not have even heard about it.

The Z Machine at Sandia National Labs.
The Ghost of Global Destruction Past

What happened was this: the smart guys over at Sandia National Labs were running a ‘routine’ test when they incidentally created gases in excess of 3,600,000,000 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s three point six billion degrees). For reference, that’s seventeen million times what it takes to boil water, or one point four million times what it takes to melt steel, or one hundred and thirty times as hot as the core of the sun. In short, it’s really stamping hot.

As if that wasn’t dangerous enough, this phenomenal heat wasn’t actually produced during the test, but after the machinery had been turned off—when it was supposed to be cooling down. As far as the scientists could tell, the heat was sustaining itself, generating more energy than had been initially put in. That is to say: they didn’t try to make it happen, and they weren’t able to stop it. I find that really scary. They found it ‘puzzling.’

“At first, we were disbelieving,” said project leader Chris Deeney, his English reminiscent of a 419 scam. “We repeated the experiment many times to make sure we had a true result.”

They repeated it. They had accidentally created an incomprehensible amount heat over which they had no control, and they kept doing it to see what would happen? I’d hate to have been a fly on that wall:

“Think it will grow bigger this time?” Tweedledee, PhD asks. “Maybe eat up the whole planet?”
“Nah,” Tweedledee, ScD replies. “But how cool if it seared through the dimensional barrier, loosing demons and bringing hell to Earth?”

So that was 2006, and somehow we’re still here. But, like a speeder that’s never been caught, science is still on the march. This timeLIFE project at the National Ignition Facility
The ironically named LIFE,
the cutting edge of apocalypse technology
they’re building a ‘miniature sun’ right here on the surface of the Earth (you know, the planet that every complains we’re destroying). The idea is simple: take a 1.4-megajoule laser system, split it into 192 individual beams and then use those to ignite a forty ton block of uranium. Woah, yeah, nothing scary about a giant hunk of burning uranium.

You know, it’s always touching when those peace-loving scientists gather around their death-clock to moan about global warming, but the truth is, they’re the truly dangerous. We might be trashing this planet, but they’ll chuck the whole thing away for the chance to find something ‘neat.’

Environmentalists and gastronomists alike rejoiced at yesterday’s announcement that the Swedish government is going to spend six hundred large ones studying the greenhouse gases emitted by cows when they burp. Apparently, ninety-five percent of the methane that cows release comes out through their mouth.

The hope is, by better understanding how a cow’s diet affects its methane output, we can save the world from frying like an egg in a pizza oven. This source of global warming is almost completely ignored. In fact, the only other country even researching it is Canada.

In related news, Fred Thompson dropped out of the presidential race today. Anybody know who that guy is?

What could be more succulent than beef from a blue ribbon steer? What could be more tasty than bacon cut from the pig that won the State Fair? And what if you could get this meat at your local grocery store, without paying much more than you were paying now? You’d be tempted, right?

Well, what if it wasn’t exactly the pig that won the fair, but a clone of that pig. Would that change your mind?

Well, the FDA says they are completely the same. Not everyone agrees with them, though. A full third of people the FDA surveyed said they would never eat the flesh of a cloned animal. Well, perhaps I should say, “would never knowingly eat.” Because, despite this survey, the FDA went ahead and approved the sale of cloned meat without so much as a warning label.

“We found nothing in the food that could potentially be hazardous,” FDA food safety chief Dr. Stephen Sundlof said. “The food in every respect is indistinguishable from food from any other animal.”

Well, that’s good enough for me, Steve. I mean, Science has reached such an apex of learning that there’s nothing they could have missed. You checked it good, right?

The truth is, it’ll be a long time before we’ll be eating these animals. At least not directly. Cloned cows are ten to twenty times as expensive as regular cows, too expensive for anything but breeding purposes. But they are going to dominate that arena. What farmer could resist? Put it this way: You’ve spent your evening browsing Match.com, your tired eyes scanning over the same mediocre options you see every time you look. Then you notice a sidebar advertisement that says you can have your own Pierce Brosnan clone, delivered, for a mere forty-k.

It’s a no-brainer. Soon every piece of meat sold is going to have some relation to the cloned cousin of the uber-livestock. After all, cattle farmers already mail-order the frozen sperm from champion cows. This is just a natural progression.

The failure to get regulation in place here at the beginning is going to make it impossible to discern an animal’s history later. Of course, maybe I’m just worried for no good reason. The FDA surely took a fair and unbiased approach to their decision. They would have ignored any pressure from the corporate meat lobby. Heck, I bet them meat guys didn’t even try to influence the FDA’s decision. After all, they are a model of responsibility, right?

Right?

The man buys the ring, the woman uses it to announce a new life. The engagement ring has been a long standing tradition, and the ritual around it so practiced you have to resort to sky-writing to show even nominal originality. But there’s a new twist brewing that’s going to change everything.

For several years, ever since a Wired Magazine article on the subject, I’ve been following the development of the ‘Cultured Diamond.’ This diamond is man-made, but, unlike other such sparklies, is actually a diamond.

There are two companies at the forefront of the charge, Boston-based Apollo and Florida-based Gemesis. While the process each uses is completely different, both are seeing spectacular results. Gemesis, whose diamonds are created under extreme pressures, has been producing large yellow diamonds (more expensive because they are more rare) for a while now and selling them through a few select channels. Apollo, who grows their diamonds in a similar way that silicon is grown for computer chips, is set to start selling clear diamonds sometime later this year. And this month, giving these cultured diamonds a huge credibilty boost, the Gemological Institute of America has announced announced they will begin rating manufactured diamonds as they currently rate mined ones.

Should anyone be worried? Mostly De Beers, the London-based cartel that has held a diamond monopoly for years. De Beers has maintained tight control over diamond prices for decades, even going so far as to keep vast storehouses of the gem to prevent surplus, which could cause a slip in prices. They actually created the Diamond Corporation Limited to buy up surplus diamonds after the American stock market crash of 1929, and are estimated to have about five billion dollars in surplus diamonds on, well, ice.

De Beers have battled cultured diamonds from the get-go, from alleged death threats to expensive machines that seek to detect the differences. Unfortunately for them, the biggest indicators that a diamond is manufactured appears to be that the purity is higher and the colors are brighter.

Additionally, there’s no sin involved in cultured diamonds. Firstly, there’s no questionable labor conditions at massive, environmentally-friendly strip mines. Then there’s no fear this diamond might have be a “blood diamond,” stones sold by unseemly parties that will line their pockets for deadly African civil wars. In fact, these new diamonds might be the fake fur that isn’t fake, giving people an out from unseen atrocities currently associated with the gem.

But will it fly with the ladies? I don’t know. Science isn’t getting me any closer to understanding members of the opposite sex (and visa-versa.) I imagine the answer is different across the board. Some will think it crass, others will be wowed by their extreme colors and sizes—attainable at costs previously unimaginable.

For myself, I see exciting possibilities for a diamond created specifically for a blessed occasion, in the honor of the woman that receives it, and lasting forever.

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