Thursday, May 24, 2012

What Superpower Would You Choose?

Do you want to fly? Would you like be invisible? How about superhuman strength or X-ray vision?

My superpower of choice is to be able to speak every language in the Universe - from Elven to Italian, Mandarin to Romulan, cat to bat, and everything in between. I'd like to hear (or receive, if it's a telepathic language) everybody's story in their own language and understand all the delicate nuances intelligent beings can fashion.

Speaking of stories . . . think of the stories these guys could tell. Imagine talking to Thor in Asgardian or being able to translate all the spells from the stacks at Hogwart's (BTW - the best class EVER!).
So what superpower would you choose?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

2012 World Wildlife Fund Living Planet Report

The World Wildlife Fund's 2012 Living Planet report notes that "we are using 50 per cent more resources than the Earth can provide. By 2030, even two planets will not be enough."

Rising populations and rising incomes have and will lead to a larger human footprint on the planet.

Are we a plague? Ask Agent Smith who tells the captive Morpheus in The Matrix? "Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a plague and we are the cure." Yikes!

I don't think we need to get that extreme, but how do we balance population while protecting nature? How do we balance grazing, farming, and fishing with a growing population and decreasing resources? Can we blend the wild with the urban? What kind of sustainable ideas do you have? Can you work those ideas into your academic and career goals?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Geeks (will) Rule the World

Comics often present a world where science (fiction) meets art--and what an inspired vision. Comics are filled with things like shields that can absorb and store power, hammers that control lightening, wireless powering, suits that give you superhuman power and interdimensional portals. Sound familiar? It should to anyone who reads and imagines in the Marvel Universe, or anyone who has seen the new Avengers movie.

Life's Little Mysteries recently published "5 Awesome Ways 'The Avengers' Bends Physics" that explores the science needed to produce these novel gadgets. Some say "The laws of physics prevent such inventions," but true believers know better--we just haven't figured it out yet.

This article is so good that a large portion is pasted below:

Captain America's Shield

Captain America harnesses the power of "Vibranium," a metal extracted from a meteorite that crashed in Africa. The shield is capable of absorbing, storing and redirecting kinetic energy, and the material becomes more powerful as more weapons are turned against it. In the movie, Captain America redirects a shot from Iron Man’s repulsor ray into a bunch of Chitauri warriors sneaking up on Iron Man.

“The property that lends Vibranium its remarkable characteristics is its ability to store or channel energy in its atomic structure,” said Suveen Mathaudhu, a program manager in the materials science division of the U.S. Army Research Office. He recently contributed to a Journal of Materials story on the science of the Avengers. Scientists have yet to find a material that gets tougher the more it gets knocked around, but battlefield materials are getting increasingly better at dissipating impact energy.

Thor controls lightning

The Norse god Thor is able to summon lightning by wielding Mjolnir, his trusty enchanted hammer. Thor can channel the storm’s fury into devastating energy blasts that can destroy even secondary Adamantium. In real life, companies are tinkering with artificial lightning. Applied Energetics, a company that develops lasers and particle beam systems, has built a lightning gun that can stall cars or defuse roadside bombs.

Wireless power for aliens

In the movie, shape-shifting Chitauri aliens are wirelessly powered by their mothership. While wireless powering (especially for something so big) remains difficult and inefficient for non-super beings, many researchers, including a group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are working to make this a reality. The most common form of wireless power transmission — for example, the consumer devices that can charge cellphones — use direct induction followed by resonant magnetic induction, but other methods under consideration include electromagnetic radiation in the form of microwaves or lasers.

Iron man’s suit

“One thing we can learn is that many, many science fiction heroes are scientists and engineers who use their innovative scientific discoveries to support or lend them their super-characteristics,” Mathaudhu said. Iron Man (alias Tony Stark) is a prime example. Iron Man’s armored suits give him superhuman strength and durability, flight, repulsors and the unibeam projector. They also have energy shields, an electromagnetic pulse generator, arm-mounted cannons and projectile launchers, various tools like a drill or detachable hip lasers, and can absorb and release energy. In real life, exoskeletons developed for military purposes have been shown to support soldiers as they run at speeds of up to 10 mph while lugging 200 extra pounds of gear.

Inter-dimensional portals

Even a demigod like Loki needed a scientist (astrophysicist Dr. Erik Selvig) to build a device to open up an inter-dimensional portal. “Scientists often [think in a way] that is predisposed to the limitations of the current physical world. However, science fiction has no such constraints and thus can stimulate creativity and innovation in unique ways. In the fictional world, they are not limited to the technology of today, and are free to image the extreme possibilities of science and materials, which often become realities in the real world in the future,” Mathaudhu said.

In fact, Einsteinian physics do provide hints at how transport through wormholes might be achieved. By current standards, such portals seem wildly unlikely, but no more so than an evil Norse god waging war against a team of superheros.

Can't figure out your major? How about physics? Future scientists here's your chance to make art science. Personally, I can't wait for my hovercraft to fly to work, or better yet a transporter, so I can set my alarm later.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

2033: The End of the World and More Good News

Even though you are just getting ready to enter the working world, it isn't too early to start thinking about how you will exit the working world . . . and hopefully the answer isn't "in a pine box".

If you have busted your butt five or six days a week to live in the Bay Area, and plan on retiring to live in the fabulous lifestyle to which you have become accustomed, you better start saving as soon as you graduate from college. The Social Security Trustees report released in April 2012 claims that social security will go broke in 2033 - that's a mere 21 years from now.

So what does that mean? Everyone receiving a check in 2033 will have their benefits slashed by 25 percent -- that $1,000 check will be reduced to $750. But will the government really take social security away from your parents and grandparents? Probably not. In other words, if you're over 41, you'll probably be okay, but I'd make some alternative plans just to be on the safe side.

If you're under 41, your benefits will definitely be cut. Alternative plan? Well you probably won't get to retire at age 62.

More Good News

Even worse in a April 2012 speech President Obama said
Today’s twentysomethings hold an average debt of about $45,000, which includes everything from cars to credit cards to student loans to mortgages, according to a PNC financial independence survey released last month. Unemployment for those 18-29 is 12.4%, well above the national rate of 8.2%; and young people face an increasingly complex global economy that is credit-driven and puts more responsibility on individuals to plan for and manage their retirement accounts.
On top of that every American’s share of the national debt is $50,097 (5/8/2012). By 2036, that number will be nearly $135,547 and guess who gets to pay that back? Not some esoteric "they", "them", or the "1 percent" but YOU!

Even More Good News

SF Gate reports that the University of California is planning to charge students at least 6 percent more for tuition next fall - an extra $732. Even more bad news - those numbers will rise if taxpayers don't pass the upcoming ballot measure to raise taxes. SF Gate suggests that the current short fall is connected to an estimated $1 billion shortfall in corporate taxes.

The solution lies with you. As you leave college and enter the working world you will be faced with fixing this mess because the current generation of politicians has failed woefully.

So while you're making those school and career plans, start thinking about your retirement plan!