Science and Technology Links – June 15th – Micro Magnets Edition

Oscar Gordon

A Navy Turbine Tech who learned to spin wrenches on old cars, Oscar has since been trained as an Engineer & Software Developer & now writes tools for other engineers. When not in his shop or at work, he can be found spending time with his family, gardening, hiking, kayaking, gaming, or whatever strikes his fancy & fits in the budget.

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44 Responses

  1. kylind says:

    “WW2: I loved the hell out of the original, I am very excited to see what they do with it now.”

    That’s funny. 😀Report

  2. Michael Cain says:

    Phys2: That’s because they’re not creating tiny black holes. Whoever wrote that “like a black hole gobbling a spiraling disk of matter” bit, and the editor that passed it, ought to be banned from writing science articles ever again.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain says:

      He did put ‘Molecular Black Hole’ in single quotes, so you know it’s figurative.


      OK, it’s a REALLY bad analogy about what is happening, but it’s got Black Hole in the headline and that seemed to get everyone worked up when CERN was in the headlines.Report

      • Even that was horribly overblown. IIRC, it came to something like, “there’s some math, that appears to be consistent with General Relativity, that suggests it may be possible to create stable quantum black holes in collisions at the energy we’ll be using. OTOH, collisions at that energy level happen every day in Earth’s atmosphere (high-energy cosmic rays), have been happening for billions of years, and no such black holes have been created.”Report

  3. Michael Cain says:

    Tr3: Speaking of standards, the IEEE has decided that I am a virtual and augmented reality person and has started inviting me to all of the meetings of the committee that’s going to write their standards. I remain puzzled about why I would have been put on the list.Report

  4. Francis says:

    Env1: When I was doing environmental cleanup work, the engineers showed time and time and time (etc) again that it would have been much cheaper to deploy even the cleanup/capture systems available at the time than pollute freely and now be trying to pull so many more unwanted molecules out of the particular environment.

    (Burning coal to create electricity to power a plant that pulls CO2 out of the air sounds really dumb to me. How about not emitting? I guess if the plant is powered by sunlight it at least makes thermodynamic sense.)

    Pick a number — any number — of CO2 (and equivalent) that you think is the maximum safe amount in the atmosphere. Then (a) defend it and also (b) come up with a mechanism by which that cap is met.

    (CO2e cap discussions can be found all over the internet. here’s a recent example from an actual climate scientist, posted at Real Climate.)Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Francis says:

      I remember 10, maybe 15 years ago seeing proposals for power plant carbon capture tech using algae (pipe the CO2 rich exhaust through tanks of algae, then harvest the algae for fertilizer, or fuel, etc.), so this isn’t a new idea. Why such ideas never took off in the past I suspect has to do with power plant owner/operators not being forced to do it/not wanting to spend the capital, although perhaps J_A or @michael-cain have better ideas why.

      As to your question, safe for who/what? Florida coastal property values? Coastal cities? Modern agriculture? Human life? The planet?Report

      • Morat20 in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        Collective action problem.

        If everyone added it, it’d increase their costs roughly the same. But if someone defected, they could underbid you. And someone would. And “pollution” was a nebulous future “cost” that you weren’t likely to pay, so there was no way to claim savings.

        A simple mandate or real enforcement of emissions would have changed the math.

        It’s hard to view the long term when people can use the short-term to make sure you don’t see the long-term.Report

      • Re the algae, I’d start with the standard systems answers: scalability and economics. Lots of things work at laboratory scale but not at industrial scale (if I had a spare billion dollars to throw away, I’d throw it at a reliable 250 MW liquid-tin-anode solid-carbon fuel cell power plant — to hell with elegance, just make it work at that scale). Lots of things are not the least expensive way to reach a particular goal (for much of the Eastern Interconnect, SO2 scrubbers that could deal with Appalachian or Illinois coal were significantly more expensive than Wyoming low-sulfur coal delivered by rail).

        Re safe for who/what, answers vary. I admit that I’m a parochial old SOB — much of the best of contemporary tech for states in the US Western Interconnect. Key point is maintaining the things allowed by cheap billion-transistor integrated circuits.Report

      • Francis in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        Aye, there’s the rub. Impacts from increases in global greenhouse gases are not going to be shared equally. Presuming no cascading impacts above a certain point (for which there is no really solid evidence either way in sub-century timelines), Americans will probably be among the last to see significant changes. We’re a very wealthy country that can easily feed itself.

        (Note that Kimmi disagrees and thinks that our ag system is highly vulnerable to small changes in cumulative temperatures.)

        But southeast Asia is on the short list of environments likely to be hit hard soonest (changes in monsoon, so I have heard argued, as well as salt water intrusion into critical groundwater supplies), and a couple of countries out that way have nukes. Preventing massive destabilization of some of the largest countries in the world is probably an investment worth making.Report

        • Kimmi in reply to Francis says:

          Bear in mind I know people writing climate models. I’m taking my understanding from them.

          I don’t think we’re going to be more vulnerable than other places (and we’re vulnerable to preexisting things as well, like the Ogallala aquifer running dry) — we’re not going to have any places that are uninhabitable.

          Miami’s just as vulnerable to saltwater intrusion. We’ve already given up on saving it.

          Southern Asia is vulnerable to excessive heat-n-humidity. That creates Dead Zones, where animal life ceases to exist.

          I don’t think we can stop it — if we could, sure, I like the idea of not forcing India to move wholesale into Pakistan/Afghanistan.

          Deliberate Genocide is on the table for Bangladesh — they’re going to be one of the first “complete loss” countries from global warming.Report

          • Michael Cain in reply to Kimmi says:

            The Ogallala is more complicated than that. SW Kansas and the Texas Panhandle, yeah, truly major drawdowns. In Nebraska, where the aquifer underlies almost the entire state, there’s been a net gain in saturated thickness overall. Most of the drawdown in Texas hasn’t been due to food production — it’s three million acres of cotton. There’s also an old “joke”:

            Q: What happens if the wheat-growing regions of the US, Argentina, and Australia all have a drought in the same year?
            A: The Middle East and North Africa starve.

            Cut US wheat production in half and there’s still plenty of bread in the US. But Egypt has food riots.Report

            • Kimmi in reply to Michael Cain says:

              Funny you should mention Egypt, which used to produce a food surplus. Some might call the recent regime change there as something caused by Global Warming.

              If America winds up, in 20 years, having only enough food to feed 2/3rds of our current population (I get this from a climatologist who writes policy papers)… what’ll the rest of the world look like?

              Maybe Germany and Canada get better climate, and we manage to be able to buy our way out of an enormous food-debt. Maybe not. Particularly if we have India and China’s population to feed (and displaced to boot).Report

              • Kolohe in reply to Kimmi says:

                Egypt’s wheat production is more or less flat since 2005 but is still 5 times as much wheat as it was in 1960. The stories during the Arab Spring pointed to there still being a lot of inefficiency in the agricultural system due to vested interests.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to Francis says:

          Aye, there’s the rub. Impacts from increases in global greenhouse gases are not going to be shared equally.

          Yep, that is the rub. So first world nations in the higher latitudes can tolerate a lot more CO2 in the atmo than anyone in the tropics, which should tell you a lot about why getting people to care about this has been such a slog. I honestly would not be surprised to hear people say that having the populations in the tropics empty out, through death or migration, would be a good thing, since the rain forests would return in time and start sequestering all that excess carbon again*.

          *And yes, there are a whole lot of very shaky assumptions built into that claim, even ignoring the whole “mass death/migration/humanitarian crisis”.Report

          • Kimmi in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            People ARE saying such things. And the wall is already built. People WILL be left to die.

            The softhearted would care about losing the jaguars and the tigers. Perhaps we ought to lead with that?Report

  5. Damon says:

    Arc1: Not a style I’m crazy about. Outside is ok. Interior? Too much white and no color. Not the modern I like. Not sure how it’d work in Florida given the high water table. Besides, roof straps work pretty good and are cheaper.

    Bio1: Weird shit down there. Hell crynoids are pretty weird, but look cool.

    E2: Now we’re talking. Now, get the battery tech so I can drive 400 miles on a single “fill up”, with the AC or heater running full blast. Then we can talk about price.

    Mat1: Confused as to why this is news? I’ve heard about recycled tires put into asphalt and also glass into asphalt. This was back in the 80s. It wasn’t ever tried before with concrete?

    R1: Indeed. Now, give me a big ass Gauss gun, dual AU-8/A Avenger cannons, and some missiles and I’m ready for the revolution.Report

  6. Brandon Berg says:

    AS4: Hotter than a typical star. The article says the star the planet orbits is even hotter. Logically it seems like it would have to be, since the heat’s all coming from the star.

    And I assume they mean the surface of a typical star. The core, where the fusion is happening, would have to be much hotter, AFAIK.Report

  7. Kolohe says:


    Stunning green-roofed villa blends into Greek hill

    (you hearing me, you idiots in Florida?!).

    Thinking face emoji.jpg

    (smiley emoji.jpg)Report

  8. Kolohe says:

    Pol1 – STEM majors don’t generally make good US Presidents. just saying.Report

  9. Jaybird says:

    An interesting study related to Biomed: part of the reason for the so-called “Obesity Crisis”?

    Enough people quit smoking and then went on to gain weight to move the numbers.Report

    • George Turner in reply to Jaybird says:

      Nope. I can explain the US obesity rates with two maps.

      US obesity by state

      US antibiotic use by state

      Since obesity doesn’t cause bacterial infections, and given that they’re basically the same map, it’s logical to conclude that antibiotics are causing the obesity.

      The same differences show up between countries, including Canada, Mexico, India, Russia, etc.

      Studies in mice have confirmed that even low doses of penicillin in young pups produce more obese adults.

      Messing with gut flora has consequences.

      The CDC also notes that obesity acts like a contagious disease. The more obese friends you have, the more likely you are to become obese. My guess is that if you have a major course of antibiotics, you’ve got to repopulate your gut flora from somewhere, and that somewhere would probably be people you’re in frequent contact with.

      Gut flora is a hot topic right now, but so far as I know, I’m the only one who’s compared the above two maps. One day maybe the medical community will notice the same thing.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to George Turner says:

        Or, you know, obesity negatively impacts the immune system, so obese people get infections more often and require antibiotics more often.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          Although, to be fair, it could be cyclic. Early heavy antibiotic use in kids messes with gut flora, causing kids to be more likely to be obese later in life, which negatively impacts the immune system…

          Honestly, it’s an interesting correlation, and gut flora is poorly understood (mainly because it is difficult for us to culture gut flora in the lab, IIRC). Not my field, but it might be worth looking at.Report

        • George Turner in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          But that doesn’t happen. Being fat doesn’t make you any more like to get an infection, and certainly couldn’t explain the vast differences in antibiotic usage rates across the US, or across the world. Going back to my two maps, US states that write one antibiotic prescription per capita per year have about twice the obesity rate of states that write just half that many.

          From the World Health Organization

          What are common health consequences of overweight and obesity?

          Raised BMI is a major risk factor for noncommunicable diseases such as:

          a) cardiovascular diseases (mainly heart disease and stroke), which were the leading cause of death in 2012;
          b) diabetes;
          c) musculoskeletal disorders (especially osteoarthritis – a highly disabling degenerative disease of the joints);
          d) some cancers (including endometrial, breast, ovarian, prostate, liver, gallbladder, kidney, and colon).

          The risk for these noncommunicable diseases increases, with increases in BMI.

          Childhood obesity is associated with a higher chance of obesity, premature death and disability in adulthood. But in addition to increased future risks, obese children experience breathing difficulties, increased risk of fractures, hypertension, early markers of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and psychological effects.

          Facing a double burden of disease

          Many low- and middle-income countries are now facing a “double burden” of disease.

          While these countries continue to deal with the problems of infectious diseases and undernutrition, they are also experiencing a rapid upsurge in noncommunicable disease risk factors such as obesity and overweight, particularly in urban settings.
          It is not uncommon to find undernutrition and obesity co-existing within the same country, the same community and the same household.

          No mention of any diseases that are treated with antibiotics, although morbidly obese people are slightly more at risk from post-operative infection after major surgery like a coronary bypass. They also note that in the third world, you can have a malnourished person and an obese person in the same family. That pretty much rules out diet. It mentions in the last paragraph that the obesity problem is growing in the third world, even as they’re fighting communicable diseases (no doubt with lots of antibiotics) and malnutrition.

          It also might surprise you that Mexico has much more obesity than Canada, and uses a whole lot more antibiotics (tropical conditions make for a lot of diseases). That pattern holds worldwide.

          And not only in space, but in time. Going back to the mouse studies, early antibiotic exposure affects the gut flora, and when done early it seems to change the body’s basic metabolism for life, or at least the length of the mouse study. So the affects on the adult population might be delayed affects of antibiotics they received in infancy or when very young.

          If so, we should see obesity rates rising in college age people about 20 years after the widespread introduction of penicillin and tetracycline. And indeed we do. There were virtually no obese people in VE or VJ photos of US cities, virtually no obese people in photos from the 50’s and 60’s. There were no fat people in photos of Woodstock. And then they start showing up, and the rates kept rising.

          If you dig down into school level data, you can even watch as the wave hits. It can’t be diet because there are long periods where you have higher obesity rates among 2nd or 3rd graders than 5th graders, and those obesity rates are maintained as the kids progress through school. They were eating the same diets as their brothers and sisters at home, and eating the same school food in the same cafeteria, but the younger kids had higher obesity rates than the older kids, and those rates remained throughout their time in school. And if you look at diet, we were thin when we were eating steak and potatoes in huge quantities (prior to 1970’s), and now we’re fat but eating “healthy”. (I’ll skip the horrible dietary advice we’ve been getting for decades).

          What was changing the school kids, I would assert, was how often doctors would prescribe antibiotics, and for what. At first they reserved them for life threatening infections. Over time they started writing scrips just to keep mother’s happy when their baby had a cold. A person’s younger children were more likely to have gotten antibiotics in infancy than their older siblings, and they were more likely to be obese when they went to school.

          And the same delays and patterns should show up world wide.Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to George Turner says:

            Obesity doesn’t directly impact the immune system (accumulating fat cells doesn’t degrade the immune system), but the second order effects (not getting enough exercise, the cardiovascular issues, the skeletal issues) – they all put stress on the immune system and degrade it’s effectiveness.

            That said, I’m not disagreeing with you. While @kazzy isn’t wrong that there are an awful lot of spurious correlations that are taken as evidence of something, in most cases they are easy to spot because there is no plausible cause and effect chain. A link between gut flora and obesity has a pretty plausible causal chain, given how little we know about what our gut flora exactly do for us, or just how sensitive we are to the health of that ecosystem. As I stated before, one of the reasons we don’t know much is that it’s very difficult for us to culture those bacteria in the lab, so it’s hard to get observational data on them. It’s also hard to develop a way to restore the microbes once a round of antibiotics is complete. We’ve always just kind of assumed they come back, and they might, but then again, given how sterile we’ve made our food and living environments, they might not.

            I know that they can prepare a treatment to replenish gut flora, but I also know the supply of that treatment is exceptionally tight, given that it has to come from a person with good gut flora (because we can’t culture the bacteria easily).

            So yeah, I’m curious if the link has ever been examined. Times like this I wish the good Doctor was lurking about, he might be able to poke around the journals and see.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              My only point was that saying, “These two maps are the same, ergo…” is flawed.

              I would want to see that link examined but we need more than maps.Report

              • George Turner in reply to Kazzy says:

                The reason I point to the maps is that if there isn’t a strong link between antibiotics and obesity, they shouldn’t look remotely the same. They would be like a map of shampoo sales per capita versus DUI convictions, where a comparison would produce white noise. Instead they’re like comparing a map of party affiliation with the election outcome. A few small anomalies and some regions that are close to the same, but not dead on.

                The two maps are definitely not white noise.

                I think they’re important because studies can point to a link between gut flora and obesity, and studies can point to a link between antibiotics, gut flora, and obesity, but it is the maps that scream “Yes, this is what explains the obesity epidemic.” The map says antibiotics are the controlling factor. And those maps might be the only thing that will make the medical community take the idea seriously.

                And there may be some in the medical community that are reluctant to reach that conclusion, because it necessarily means that while doctors were busy saving everybody from infections, they were also unknowingly causing some devastating harm.

                But I think if the connection is proved, it will benefit the obese and overweight community in some very significant ways. Not only might we more rapidly come up with better solutions to obesity, and avoid it in the future with childhood fecal transplants after a course of antibiotics, but we could completely destigmatize the overweight because their condition isn’t the result of bad life choices, lack of impulse control, laziness, or any of the other “moral” failings that we ascribe to them. No, they’re accidental victims of a childhood health care accident. We made them that way. And we can possibly unmake them, and stop repeating the mistake. It means the future isn’t doomed to a world of obesity.

                But of course we’re going to need to go out and get samples of healthy gut flora. One study found that hunter-gatherers had the most diverse array of species, which perhaps isn’t surprising because they’re eating a very diverse diet, and eating it right in the field without killing most of the naturally present bacteria.

                But we could look for people who are extremely healthy, look great, and can eat virtually anything they want without side effects. So that means supermodels, and not supermodels who live on vodka and rice cakes, but super models who can eat anything. So we need gut flora from Priyanka Chopra, aka “piggy chops” because she can eat anything in almost unlimited quantities. She challenges men to eating contests and destroys them. She exercises as little as possible and eats steak, tacos, pizza, wings, and steak. Her poo has to be worth billions.

                I figure she picked up her gut flora during her childhood trips to very poor parts of rural India with her doctor parents. Rural India defecates on the ground, so people there probably shave a shared microbial community, and they eat a very diverse diet, one that’s free of preservatives.

                Anyway, as an interesting aside there was a recent study that compared bacterial populations in breast tissue from breast reduction surgeries to bacterial populations in breast tissue from breast cancer surgeries. The two populations were distinctly different (staph vs. strep). Earlier research had already confirmed that gut bugs travel throughout the body, and migrate into breast tissue. Indeed, this may be how an infant gets its microbiome established in the first place. Anyway, it seems that having bad bacteria in the gut flora is causing breast cancer. It also would explain why an obese mother with a bad population of gut flora would have children who shared the gut flora, and thus the obesity problem (people of Walmart).Report

            • Stillwater in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              Yeah, the correlation has been looked at. My awareness of it goes back to a practice begun in the pork industry (in the 50s ?), where the causal connection between antibiotics and weight gain established the practice of injecting pigs with massive quantities of the stuff. If I recall, the practice spread pretty quickly across the board to fatten animals sent to market – especially chickens – and is still practiced. Levels are “regulated” by the FDA, but only in the Orwellian sense that the industry regulates itself.

              My own hypothesis is basically that the shittier a person’s diet is – ie., the more it relies on mass-produced factory-farmed meat – the more likely that the food they eat will be filled with antibiotics, resulting in the same types of gut flora problems George mentions above.Report

            • Obesity doesn’t directly impact the immune system (accumulating fat cells doesn’t degrade the immune system), but the second order effects (not getting enough exercise, the cardiovascular issues, the skeletal issues) – they all put stress on the immune system and degrade it’s effectiveness.

              Sounds like a call-out for experimenting with NFL offensive linemen. Many of whom are technically obese, but all of whom are remarkably fit (I’d bet on any of them in a 40-yard dash against me at any point in my life). I’ve read about several cases now where an O-lineman spends their first year after retirement with a doctor and a nutritionist and takes off 75-80 pounds.Report

            • Kimmi in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              It isn’t always bacteria. Florastor isn’t, for example.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to George Turner says:

        Georgia and the Carolinas are obvious outliers, with more obesity than expected with the causation of antibiotics.Report