1997-2006 Academic Years
Science and Public Policy
12 October 1999: Bill Colson [Morgan Park HS Mathematics]
The recent NASA fiasco on the rocket landing on Mars [confusing thrusts in "pound seconds and "newton seconds"] was evocative of Bill Blunk's recent lesson on units. It is important to specify the units [with uncertainties] of calculated or measured quantities. It would be simple if everybody used SI metric units for everything; but they don't, and they probably never will. The "never mix units; never worry; just take the SI pledge" approach is ok for self-consistency, but one should not assume that others have the same philosophy. [European torque wrenches wrong-headedly give torques in "kilogram meters"]. Bill's B's assertion "I'll give a ten to anybody who can answer this question", followed by taking ten cents [not ten dollars] out of his billfold, is succinct.
12 September 2000 Don Kanner (Lane Tech HS)
showed us an article from the Onion, [http://www.onion.com/] a satirical newspaper from Madison, WI, spoofing the Kansas School Board of Education's rejection of evolution. His point was - what do you do if what you are teaching in science is against a student's religious views? Some students feel religion and science are incompatible. Don cited the view of creationists that the earth was created something like 5000 or so years ago, or in 6 days by the Bible, while science believes that the universe started with the Big Bang more than 10 billion years ago. Don wrote down Einstein's equations from special relativity for relative velocity and time dilation, and used these to argue that if God operates near the speed of light, then the viewpoints of religion and science may agree. Thanks for a fresh viewpoint, Don!
27 March 2001 The discussion then turned to the problem of production of electricity.
Energy Production in the United States, by Source Type: http://www.usbr.gov/power/edu/usgencap.gif
The shortage of electricity is especially acute during periods of peak demand [such as hot summer days with high air conditioning load]. In particular, the problems of transmission of electricity over large distances is made more difficult by mounting resistive losses, as well as the fact that 60 Hz corresponds to a wavelength of light of about 5000 kilometers, so that any transcontinental transmission line would radiate significant amounts of electromagnetic radiation, since it would functon as an antenna. Here is a discussion of various types of energy storage systems that might be used to meet the peak electrical demand: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_storage.
One type of system, called Pumped Storage Facilities, involve pumping water into a high reservoir at periods of excess electrical capacity [such as at night], and then making electricity through a hydro-electric system during periods of high demand. Here is a photograph of the facility at Ludington Michigan: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludington_Pumped_Storage_Power_Plant
The Ludington Pumped Storage Plant consists of an energy production facility and a 110-feet deep reservoir on Lake Michigan that holds 27 billion gallons of water at a height of 363 feet above lake level. The reservoir is lined with a innovative asphalt barrier to limit seepage. When the demand for electricity is low, water is pumped into the reservoir from the lake. Then when the demand for electricity is high, water is released from the reservoir, flows through penstocks and turns 6 reversible, 433,000 horsepower turbines to make electricity. The total output of 1,872 megawatts is enough to power a city of 1,400,000 people. Customers throughout Michigan use the energy generated here. The relatively simple energy production technology is environmentally benign as no fuels are burned and no pollutants are emitted.
Here is a schematic of the TVA facility on the Tennessee River just south of Chattanooga, at Raccoon Mountain Tennessee: http://www.mirror.org/people/maria.oryan/raccbody.htm
Information on the Queenston Ontario Pumped Storage Facility [on the Niagara River just below Niagara Falls] can be obtained at the website: http://www.ewh.ieee.org/reg/7/diglib/library/electricity/pdf/P_one_5.pdf
In the planning process for the Deep Tunnel Project in the Chicago area, there was serious discussion of setting up a Pumped Storage Facility between the Chicago River and the Deep Tunnel [over 50 meters of altitude difference--more than Niagara Falls!]. Such a facility would be in an ideal location for meeting peak demand for electricity in downtown Chicago, and would have the added benefit that aspiration/aeration of the water would add oxygen to it, combating eutrofication and, in effect, purifying the river water. The proposal was generally felt by technical experts to be an excellent idea, but it was never implemented. It could still be built, and the reasons are more compelling than ever!
Here is some information on the Chicago Water Reclamation District Tunnel and Reservoir Project [TARP]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tunnel_and_Reservoir_Plan.
It was suggested that geothermal and other renewable energy resources should be given more serious consideration as sources of energy. In particular, tidal energy is a potential source. The greatest tides on earth are found in the Bay of Fundy, which lies between the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, just North and East of the State of Maine. The typical tide height differential there is about 20 meters. It produces the Reversing Falls / Les chutes reversibles on the ST John River, in ST John, New Brunswick. See the officially bilingual website http://new-brunswick.net/Saint_John/reversingfalls/reversing.html.
See you next time!
10 April 2001 Don Kanner (Lane Tech HS, Physics)
announced that he was traveling to the Bay of Fundy this summer to witness the high tides for himself. There was a question of the meaning of the term tidal bore, a steep-fronted wave caused by the meeting of two tides or by the constriction of a spring tide as it passes up an estuary. Here is a photo from a Nova Scotia web site: http://www.gov.ns.ca/natr/meb/field/bore.asp.
"This is a natural phenomenon seen in very few parts of the world. The Bay of Fundy is particularly noted for its extremely high tides, the highest in the world, and for its tidal bores. In the funnel-shaped Bay of Fundy which is 48 miles wide at its mouth and narrows down along its entire length, the tide water enters the bay at its widest point. As it passes along toward the head of the bay it is, in effect, squeezed by the ever-narrowing sides and by the constant “shallowing” of the bottom....see a river change its direction of flow before your very eyes! At the TIDAL BORE RAFTING PARK this advancing tide becomes a wave, varying from just a ripple up to 10 feet in height. This wave is referred to as a “TIDAL BORE”. Nowhere else in the world can a tidal bore of this magnitude be seen. This is where the bore rolls in, in its fullest ferocity, followed by 3 to 10 foot rapids. Thus, we have the phenomenon of a river changing its flow before your very eyes, created by the tidal wave, or bore, flowing in OVER the outgoing water. The size or height of the tidal bore varies according to the phases of the moon. Highest tidal bore occur around the full and new moons."
09 November 2004: Earl Zwicker called attention to the article Was Darwin Wrong? No: The Evidence for Evolution is Overwhelming by David Quammen, which appeared in the November 2004 issue of the National Geographic magazine http://magma.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0411/feature1/ . The following is excerpted from that article:
"Evolution by natural selection, the central concept of the life's work of Charles Darwin, is a theory. It's a theory about the origin of adaptation, complexity, and diversity among Earth's living creatures. If you are skeptical by nature, unfamiliar with the terminology of science, and unaware of the overwhelming evidence, you might even be tempted to say that it's 'just' a theory. In the same sense, relativity as described by Albert Einstein is 'just' a theory. The notion that the Earth orbits around the sun rather than vice versa, offered by Copernicus in 1543, is a theory."
Earl also called attention to the article The Hand is Quicker than the Eye http://focus.aps.org/story/v14/st16, which describes an article published in Physical Review Letters on 15 October 2004. The article deals with the evidence that "the brain's visual motor system compensates for the lag time between perception and action", as in catching a ball.
09 November 2004: John Scavo indicated the Products from a Barrel of Oil: One barrel contains 42 gallons of crude oil, resulting in 44.2 gallons of finished products. See http://www.energyquest.ca.gov/story/chapter08.html.
John also passed around the article Munching Maggots, which described the benefits a using actual fly larva to consume dead flesh and promote healing of nasty oozing wounds.
15 November 2005: Brenda Daniel (Fuller
Brenda had a handout (from the Chicago Sun Times Nov 18, 2005) for us which she passed out to begin her presentation. The handout came from free Sun Times copies given out to 4th graders in Brenda's class. Both the Chicago Sun-Times (on Tuesdays) and the Chicago Tribune (on Mondays) provide free papers to students, which often contain useful/interesting articles on science. The newspaper article covered general topics in fire safety, topics relating fire safety and electricity, and safety activities for home and school, and provided a quiz for the students to take to test their fire safety knowledge. Brenda's class also had a visit from firemen who demonstrated an infrared detecting device, which, by detecting body heat, helps the firemen find trapped victims in a fire. Neat! Thanks, Brenda.
02 May 2006: Bill Blunk (Joliet Central HS,
Bill gave us 3 slides of pictures in an article about the release of a captured grizzly bear by the Montana Division of Natural Resources in 1987. The culvert trap was not properly secured to the bed of the pickup truck. When the grizzly turned and tried to attack a ranger atop the culvert track, the driver gunned the engine and drove the truck out from under the trap and ranger. Lack of knowledge of Newton's First Law resulted in an injured driver, and the bear was subsequently killed.
Physics rules! Thanks, Bill.