Friday, June 20, 2008

Space Elevator

Many organizations would like to build an elevator to space. Such a structure would reduce the cost of space travel by a factor of 100. (It costs $10,000/kg now, this would reduce the cost to $100/kg.) Having done so, we humans could afford many more space missions including colonization missions.

To built it, we would orbit a large rock around the equator, and build a base directly under it. The rock would have a geosynchronous orbit in which the location it hovered over remains constant. Then, from both directions, cable would be built until connecting at the middle.

A strong enough cable could hoist things up and down for cheap. (Elevators take very little energy if a counterweight system is involved.)

A big problem is the necessary tensile strength. Most conventional materials would rip themselves in half under the strain. Plus, most things that we humans want to send into space are quite heavy. Voyager 2 weighs around 700 kg. A 70kg human would need a 40kg space suit (with air and so on) to survive. They will also need extensive thrusters to reach their destination in space. And the elevator will likely weigh in excess of 300kg all by itself.

In the unlikely event that the ribbon broke, under excessive strain, or by having a plane fly into it, the part of the ribbon nearest the bottom would fall eastward. Since this would have to be built at the equator, and most of the equator is ocean not claimed by any nation, the best place to build this would be in the middle of the pacific ocean. That way, even the highest flying plane crashing into it would only affect the bottommost part of the ribbon, which would fall into the ocean, scaring the hell out of any passing fish, but not harming any humans, buildings, or complex animals. The part above where the ribbon broke would be slowly ejected into space, with any cargo still attached. Seeing as that's where passengers on the elevator would want to go in the first place, no big loss. Should the elevator detach while trying to LOWER a passenger back to earth, the cargo can be detached from the ribbon and splash down in the ocean, where the earth's gravity will pull it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Our Insane Universe

Our universe managers all kinds of complex structures with just a few simple rules, many of them actually fairly intuitive once grasped. Take, for instance, gravity. Even the ancient human tribes noticed that when you drop things, they fall down. Newton refined this by noting that since the earth was round, the motion of the moon around it could be understood as both flying forward and being yanked down, which would combine into a vaguely circular orbit, the kind the moon actually has.

Gravity works as:
Gravity formula thanks to Cairnavaron and TinyPic

That is, acceleration due to gravity is the mass of the first thing times the mass of the second thing, divided by the distance between the two squared, all multiplied by a really tiny constant, G.

So gravity increases by the size of the objects involved, but decreases if the distance between the two increases.

This fairly simple rule does everything from falling apples on earth, to orbits in the solar system, to the formation of galaxies.

But some of these rules are quite...odd.

For one, if you have two sheets of metal near each other, in a vacuum, they pull towards each other. This got named the Casimir effect, after the scientist who first discovered it. Could you make power from it? Only if you had some way of repeatedly pulling the plates apart afterwards. Other rules are even wierder.

Take the rule of virtual particles. In a vacuum, that is, a space with nothing in it, you would expect there to be no activity, right? Wrong. In 1935, it was proposed that constantly, all the time, a particle and its opposite borrow the energy for each other's existence from nothing, fly apart for a bit, and then strike each other, which destroys both and returns the borrowed energy. This sounds patently insane.

And yet MIT claims to have proof of this state of events. In fact, Steven Hawking found the first proof of this with black holes. He said that near enough to a black hole, one of the particles would be sucked into the hole, leaving the other one to fly off into the universe. This would create a stream of particles from the black hole, coming from two readily found poles. Radio astronomers later verified that this does, indeed, happen.

The physics of the very small, Quantum physics, is full of this kind of patent madness. The term "quantum" comes from Latin, meaning "How much?" Much of the problems are due to the small scales involved.

For instance, observing things at this scale changes them. This may not be terribly intuitive at our scale, but it does make sense. Let's say you could somehow shine a light on quantum events and see them. The light would impart energy to these particles simply by touching them. (There are two theories of light, in the corpuscular theory, light is like a solid BB, and the collision with the light would push the particle away from the light. In wave theory, light waves are absorbed by the particle, which, yes, pushes the particle away from the light. Again consistent with the insanity theme of this entry, both theories have seen proof, which doesn't make sense.) Because of this measurement problem, you cannot know both the position and velocity of a particle, because the only way of finding out one totally changes the other. This makes it hard to talk about specifics.

In the very small scale, particles can teleport short distances. That is, they somehow move between point A and point B without going through the space between the two. Supposedly, particles could teleport as far as they like, but the more distant the teleportation, the less likely it is to actually happen. A teleport of a nanometer is quite common, a centimeter incredibly rare, a meter less likely to happen than you winning every lottery in your country, and a kilometer rarer than a suitcase full of gold bullion spontaneously appearing in your hand. (Which could, under virtual particle theory, happen, but probably won't for the entire existence of the universe.)

And this is the CONFIRMED insanity of the universe. There are nuttier theories out there, like the many-worlds interpretation of quantum probability. I reject it in favor of the copenhagen theory, but let me list both.

One form of confirmed insanity is superpositions, in which particles are in two conflicting states at the same time. Trying to measure this condition typically collapses it into one or the other. Superpositioning is what makes quantum computers so good at breaking cryptography -- They can collapse the superposition such that the correct key is produced, and the message quickly decrypted. However, the nature of this collapse is disputed.

Copenhagen theorists like myself state that the superposition collapses in an arbitrary fashion. That is, it is impossible to know which way it will go before the collapse. Once collapsed, the particle is in a consistent state.

Many worlds theorists, however, dislike this arbitrariness, and state that what actually happens in a collapse is that the universe is divided into two universes, one of which has the collapse go in one way, and the other of which the collapse goes into the other. It is impossible to know into which universe one will be sorted until it happens, but the split has occured so many times as to be practically infinite by now.

Supposedly we humans think using quantum effects too, so every time you've been offered a decision, you've also split the universe. You can surely see where the insanity of this is leading. There are universes in which you were never born, because your parents never got together. There are universes in which history unfolded in amazingly different ways, such as fascist victory during the second world war, or even the war replaced with a different one or averted altogether. There are universes in which the earth never formed. And there are universes that are exactly like this one, except this one chunk of uranium that has 1 x 10^21 radioactive atoms in this universe only has 2.7 x 10^19 in that one, because the radioactive decay actually did decay more times in that one. And likely by the time you've had the educational experience to read and understand this blog, you've had decisions that, in other universes, killed you off.

Yes, in other universes, you died. Maybe you forgot to look both ways before crossing the street and were run over by a car. Maybe you walked carelessly and fell to your death. Maybe your stove exploded when you tried to make breakfast.

If there are other universes, what separates us? Could other universes invade ours? Could we invade theirs? The whole thing must be too crazy to be true.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Radioisotope Car

The prices are rising ridiculously at the pump. How would you like to never, ever, ever, ever have to stop and fill up again?

When NASA needed an energy source for deep space probes, they didn't use gasoline, electricity, or any of the common fuel sources on Earth. They would have run out years before the probe reached the places NASA wanted to record data about. They used radioactive decay.

When unstable isotopes decay, they emit energy, some as energetic particles, but mostly heat. Heat can boil water to produce power, but in the 1800s, a preacher, tired of seeing his congregation maimed in boiler accidents, developed an engine that produced electricity directly from heat differences. So you could put one end of a pole in a fire, leave the other end out in the open air, and the difference in temperature would produce power. This engine still retains the preacher's name today, "Stirling."

Anyway, a Stirling engine with one end in a box of nuclear waste will provide electricity for hundreds of years, continuously, until the waste is totally harmless. This technique powers the deep space probes in very little space. The waste powering the probes is the side of a soda can, and provides about 100 watts of power.

We'd have to scale this up for a car, of course. Cars use horsepowers of energy, one horsepower being about 700 watts. My own car has a 90 horsepower engine, for a ridiculous 63000 watts. Thankfully, 630 soda-cans would probably fit in the space formerly occupied by the gas tank, which this car will no longer need. The "cool" end of the Stiller engine would touch the radiator on the other side of the car. The radiator would have to always run at slow speed, but the power is available. An electric engine would then be able to propel the car forward, and the excess power could power accessories, such as lights, the radio, and pump heat in or out of the passenger compartment.

The nuclear-waste-box would have to be tightly sealed. If it broke open in an accident, all kinds of hell would break loose.

EDIT: I made an order-of-magnitude error, but it still holds. Barely.

LATER DISCOVERY: The radioactive waste might fit, but the extra equipment that actually extracts the energy ensures that the smallest working model would be some 40 feet long and unable to fit in any existing parking space. This would only work if it came with huge battery banks and was driven at most .001% of the time. (That is, for every hour you spend driving it, you leave it doing absolutely nothing for a month.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Better News For Georgia

I wrote earlier about Atlanta's problem. They thankfully have an easier solution to their woes.

Although they rejected water purification, the downstream sources are mostly less picky. Florida might reject purified water, but the mussel stream won't. So a purified water system would allow them to meet this demand at significantly less cost to my own solution.

My way is still cooler, though.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Gasoline Crisis

A highly intelligent classmate of mine tells me that the worst problem here in the United States is the perpetually rising price of gasoline. Gasoline in my area is currently $3.88 per gallon, and will rise to over $4/gallon within two months. Most of the cars in the area are gasoline powered, and should gasoline become unavailable, the economy would shut down. Clearly, some sort of insane solution is called for.

The first possible solution is ethanol, an alcohol-based compound that can power gasoline-engines at some concentrations. (Most cars sold in the US could handle 15% ethanol solutions. I routinely fill up with a 10% solution, and cars are being sold now that can handle 85% solutions.) Ethanol unfortunately is more popular as a beverage, as it is questionable that it could be produced in enough quantities to both feed the bars and the cars in the states. Ethanol also has a lower energy concentration than gasoline, that is to say, a tank full of ethanol will not take you as far as a tank full of gasoline.

The second possible solution is biobutanol, an organic compound produced by bacterial decomposition of starch or waste. The economics have yet to be determined.

A third solution is to change to a completely different fuel source, which would require retooling the cars. My next entry will describe a car that will never need refueling, ever. Well, not forever, exactly, but not for the life of the engine.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Better News About Oceanic Carbon Sinks

I previously reported the possibility of sinking excess carbon dioxide to the bottom of the ocean. Now I've been reading many other papers claiming that the same could be done directly in the ocean.

Apparently iron is the key ingredient missing in most sea plants. That is, lack of iron is slowing their growth. So if we add iron to the middle of the ocean, there would be a wild burst of growth there. That growth, when it dies, would sink to the bottom, locking the carbon there for a very long period of time.

The reports aren't clear if the iron they need to add would be shavings (which would sink pretty quickly), or iron-rich biological material (such a blood from a slaughterhouse), but supposedly, a fleet of tankers could single-handedly cause an ice age.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Mad Engineering and Weight Loss

In many of the wealthier countries, obesity is an increasing problem. Low-quality food is cheaper than high-quality, and many of these low quality foods are full of empty calories, leading people who eat them to become overweight. The usual standards of diet and exercise are difficult for most overweight people, exercise because they have little spare time and are left tired, and diet because quality food is expensive and they miss their favorites after only a short time.

60% of the US population is overweight, and in wanting of an easy, inexpensive solution. And I might have it.

A device including a glucose converter is connected to the legs. (One device per leg, please.) The converted glucose produces electricity, which we can use to, say, power a microchip. The lowest powered device I know of, a 5 watt device, would burn an extra 103 calories per day. The highest powered device I know of, 300 watts, would be 6,190 calories per day, obviously too much. These calculations are based off the of patently unreasonable assumption that the device is 100% efficient, which it clearly won't be. So in practice, the device would use up more Calories than I listed here.

What would a microchip in your leg be able to do? I suppose it could, on a schedule, say 3am to 5am, twitch your leg muscles for extra energy use, or it could just track its own energy use, or the cycles could be used for a charity project, such as Folding at Home. The implantation clinic should have a number of software options for people who get the implant.

One potential pitfall is if the device makes the user hungrier. If it uses 103 calories per day, but makes the user eat an extra 200 calories per day, the user will get fatter. What connection does blood glucose level have with hunger?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

An Artificial Heart for Michael Wyngre

Since 2004, Michael Wyngre and his finance have been asking for donations for his ailing heart. Mr. Wyngre has cardiomyopathy, a condition in which his heart muscles are continuously weakening. Without a heart transplant, he will soon die, and he's very worried about not being able to pay the doctor enough to actually perform the surgery. (While in the United States a hospital is required to save the life of anyone who enters it, even if they are unable to pay, this doesn't guarantee that he'll be on the organ donation waiting list. If he goes into the emergency room with a dying heart and there's no replacement, there's not much the hospital can do.)

Thinking about his case gave me an idea for an artificial heart, based on a few assumptions:

1. The heart primarily functions as a pump, and does not chemically alter the blood as it pushes it. (Other than the sheerly metabolic activities that all cells do, the heart does not work for free.)

2. The body counts on certain conditions that the heart puts into the circulatory system, namely the repeated increase and decrease in pressure.

3. A rotational pump, unlike a conventional one, would not damage the red blood cells as it pushes them. Conventional pumps would tear the cells.

4. There is an invention as of 2003 that can oxidize glucose to produce electricity, under a mechanism similar to that actually used by bodily cells.

5. The point of failure of most currently existing artificial hearts, such as the Jarvik-7 (a brilliant piece of engineering, incidentally,) is the failure of the valves. This heart should rely on pressure to keep blood flowing in the correct direction.

Okay, so I imagine a plastic structure that the major arteries and veins connect to. At the pulmonary vein's connection, a device siphons off some of the blood to oxidize for electricity. The blood is pushed into a rotational pump, that pumps the blood into the aorta. The rotational pump is repeatedly switched from high speed in one direction, to off, to simulate the start-stop enough of a biological heart. A microchip with a quartz timer should control the action. All of this on the left side.

On the right side, we have mostly deoxygenated blood that needs to be pushed into the lungs. It should receive power from the left side, and again, have a microchip controlled rotational pump to speed the blood to 120 mm Hg pressure, and then slow it to 80 mm Hg. Just like the left side, but this connects to the pulmonary artery, thus making the left side functional.

The device should be inserted while the patient's heart is stopped and cardiopulmonary action is artificially controlled for the patient by a Cardiopulmonary bypass machine (CPB). It would replace the heart entirely in function.

Before being implanted in any person, a number of tests should be performed. The FDA assuredly has a program for approval of medical prosthetics, but there are two others tests that I would want to try before even attempting the FDA's tests.

The first test would involve a maze of plastic tubing, 40 - 100 feet long, with a pressure meter at some point. The maze would be filled with a glucose solution to resemble blood. The pressure meter should fluctuate between 120 mg Hg and 80 mm Hg, the measurements of healthy blood pressure, all without leak or abrupt rise or drop in pressure.

The second test would be to replace the heart of a pig bought from a slaughterhouse. If the pig can live for at least 1 year with only the artificial heart, then it's ready for FDA testing. If it doesn't, the pig was destined to be a ham sandwich anyway.

This heart could take some of the pressure off the need for hearts, as there are far more people in need of heart replacement than donated hearts.

EDIT: Since posting this story, I can find no new information about Mr. Wyngre. I'm going to assume that he passed away, but my point here still stands for other people with congestive heart failure or other need of heart transplant.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...