Archive for research

Want to be a green scientist? With this site you can!

Sci.Spy from Discovery

Screenshot of Sci.Spy application for iPhone

This is an application I’ve been wanting to see for some time now – so glad it’s a reality!  Sci.Spy lets you take your photos of natural things (animals, plants, fungi, etc) and upload them to a database for use by scientists studying species distributions and the like.

It’s a natural extension of many smaller citizen science projects, for example, one which allowed the cataloging of tree species in British urban environments.  However, with Discovery Science behind the wheel and with the integration of an iPhone app which simplifies the process of uploading mobile phone images with geo tag information, this network looks as though it could become a very deep source of data.

As someone who travels pretty much everywhere with camera in hand, it’s exciting to think of the possibilities for individual species identification as well.  So often I take images of things, wild plants especially, which then require a lot of web researching to figure out what species or variety I’ve taken.  If a large body of data is amassed, then eventually this site could be used by foragers and and individuals looking to ID plants and animals in their surroundings with better accuracy.  And for foraging especially, that is quite important!

Want to find out more?  Check out the Sci.Spy site at Discovery.com, or download the iPhone app.

Here are some other interesting citizen science sites:

Urban Forest Map, The Wild Lab, The Milky Way Project, and ScienceForCitizens.net (has a listing of many citizen scientist projects).

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The Future of Renewable Energy Employment

The results from the latest American Solar Energy Society Green Collar Jobs Report are in, and it’s good news all around for dedicated greenies and renewable energy workers. As the report title indicates, renewable energy is expected to employ more than 39 million people in the US alone by 2030, up from an approximate 9 million today. In fact, while the US economy overall took a brutal beating this past year, the renewable energy and energy efficiency sector expanded at three times the rate of the rest of the economy. And this is just the beginning. According to the study, 17% of all American jobs by 2030 may be in these sectors, a whopping one in five or six jobs!

View the full report here, or the executive summary here. The conclusions include a case study on renewable energy employment in Colorado, long considered a state with both a progressive mindset and great renewable energy potentials.

While many of us dream less of working for someone else than of living in a cabin somewhere with no employer at all, the truth remains that going off-grid requires careful planning and a bit of start-up cash. So while you gather your nest egg for your dream house in the woods, why not help support the very industries that will help you achieve those dreams once you are ready? The more bright minds we get into the research and development market and intelligent designers and engineers we place on the ground promoting alternative energy, the lower prices will be and the more efficient products will become. Energy effieiceny, in particular is an underdeveloped market that can really help put a dent in our planetary emissions. Ever heard the phrase the best energy is that which you don’t have to produce? How true!

Incidentally, which jobs are predicted to make you the most bank? Solar photovoltaics, solar thermal, fuel cells, and biofuels, especially in the areas of engineering, chemistry, mechanical workers, and business managers.

Solar photovoltaic and solar thermal will lead the renewable energy markets

Solar photovoltaic and solar thermal will lead the renewable energy markets

Another good bit of news, due to the slowdown of the world economy (yes, I said good news, keep reading), there is a glut of solar photovoltaic equipment that was produced in expectation of a stronger world market. Therefore, the equipment costs of a photovoltaic installation are expected to fall by up to half in the coming year! Together with the tax credits being expended to 30% of your total installation costs, that could mean a savings of more than 65%! Which, of course, you can reinvest into other green techs, helping promote the industry and virtually eliminating your power bills at the same time. Beautiful.

If you’re ready to make the jump into green employment now, check out this article about how to properly set yourself up to be hired into your dream job.

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BOOK REVIEW: Mycelium Running

Mycelium Running: Paul Stamets, Google Books Listing

Mycelium Running

This book is very inspiring!  I can’t even remember how it ended up on my library list, but since starting it, I haven’t put it down.  I also haven’t stopped talking about the wonders of mushrooms, much to my friends’ chagrin.  Yesterday even found me stooping in a neighbor’s yard, trying to figure out how to extract a cool-looking mushroom from their lawn without damaging the manicured turf!  Did you know that a cubic inch of earth can contain about 8 miles of mycelium, the fungal thread that matures into familiar mushrooms?  Or that some species of mushroom can survive on crude oil, breaking down the hydrocarbons into fertile soil in a matter of a months?  Other species of mushroom have shown promise in destroying neuro toxins, absorbing heavy metals, even killing the HIV virus.  Whoa, Shitake!

Seriously though, this book is excellently written with plenty of nice pictures for visual reference and a decidedly scientific style.  The author really knows his stuff, too, and he has the patents to prove it.  Everything is covered here from using mushrooms to repopulate logged forests to starting your own backyard mushroom garden or mycelial water filtration system.  The types of fungii and the environments in which they operate are also eloquently discussed.  There are charts galore showing which species can be used for different applications such as removing certain toxins or digesting certain wood species, even how to battle parasitic fungii with other species which are more environmentally benign.  Bottom line is that our oft mistreated fungal friends may hold the key to saving our planet more efficiently than we humans ever could.  Also, their unique medicinal properties, which though known in the Far East for centuries have only recently entered exploration by Western scientists, may be the key to the cancer and viral cures of the future because many fungii protect their hosts from infection and disease in a microscopic act of “you scratch my back…”.  Now that’s a pretty good reason to eat a heaping plate of fungii!  Five big shroomy stars.

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Cool Gadget: Solar Icemaker Prototype

It’s not portable, or even available yet, but the solar icemaker prototype created by students at San Jose State University (see full story on the icemaker here) is literally cooler than cool.  They used pressure differentials created by rise and drop in daytime temperatures to create a “zero carbon footprint” ice maker.

At something like 5 feet cubed for dimensions, and only capable of producing ice at night, it’s not going to replace the ice tray any time, but it could be really important in places that don’t have easy access to a power grid for food refrigeration and space cooling. Best of all, it looks like something that the dedicated DIYer could put on his or her “To Build” list without having to hit the books much beforehand.

They are currently at work on the product, as well as several others related to solar energySee the San Jose State U program site here, it looks very interesting, and it’s great to see renewable energy being taught in higher education.

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World Peace Index

World Peace Index 2008

A brilliant site, the world peace index from VisionOfHumanity.org is a year-by-year graphical comparison of the nations of the earth based on their peaceful existence. When visiting this site, you can not only check out the map (2008’s is reprinted above), you can also see how the countries stack up against each other and read more about the various qualifications used to make the comparison.

When I visited the site, I took advantage of the comparison feature which lets you compare up to five countries side by side. I chose the United States and two countries I thought would fall on either side of the US in the stack. Switzerland, Syria, Ghana, and Peru. Boy was I in for a surprise. All you fellow freedom-loving Americans, we came in dead last in this heat. Yep, the “land of the free and the home of the brave” ranks a dismal 97th in world peace of around 200 nations. Don’t send that report card home to momma!

Check out this great site today to learn more about why we did so poorly, or to figure out where you’ll head when the inevitable grid-crash arrives.

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Stylish and Sensible: Solar Roof Tiles

Solar Roof Tiles

Here’s a really nicely executed concept hitting the research airwaves. Sebastian Braat, an Australian designer working on his graduate thesis, came up with a combination solar electric solar thermal roof tile that not only has up to 18% efficiency, but also is adaptable and looks really sleek.

You can more than power an average sized family home with only 200 tiles.  That allows for more placement options to suit your situation, and there are plans to develop a variety of different styles.  Mr. Braat concerns himself with “easing the power burden our housing estates are rapidly creating” in innovative and informative ways.

No word yet on cost, but file this one away in your “near future” pile.

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Techie Dream: A Solar Powered PC

Read the article on building a solar-powered PC here

A solar powered PC?  It sounds too good to be true!  Well, I had to know more, so I went to Tom’s Hardware and checked out the article above.  It’s very professionally written and researched, and the grand experiment seems to be a huge success.  Of course, at $5,000 for the solar panels needed to power this PC and specially selected hardware that reduced average wattage, it’s hardly your average box, or the everyperson’s pricetag.  But every great idea gets its start somewhere, and I’m rooting for this one to go all the way. 

Solar Powered PC

Based in Germany, the experimenters started by deciding what the capabilities of their dream system would be, and then clearly defined a goal as to its power availability.  They wanted a full-featured PC that could run 24/7 off-grid, in case you want to do a little midnight computing.  Any techies out there know this is a must, not a luxury, when chasing the elusive vapors of creativity.  This first step underscores an important point in any undertaking: defining the goal in concrete terms and deciding what you can and cannot live without will go a LONG way to determining the eventual likelihood of successful completion.  May you plan your exercises with the same careful attention to detail. 

The article then outlines the steps taken to achieve the stated goals.  First, they acquire the necessary equipment and consider the practicalities of their chosen configuration.  Then they set about building the PC so it will require a minimum of operating wattage, and then move on to the solar array that will power it.  Last, but certainly most important, comes the testing phase, when they see whether they have been able to construct a suitable prototype to fit the brief. 

It’s certainly not a beginner’s or even intermediate project, but it’s an excellent read, and I recommend you visit the site to read the whole (pretty long) article.  Happy Earth Day, everyone~ take a moment today to do something special for yourself and the world around you.

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