We’re living in an amazing time for science. The world’s aflame with stories about nuclear-powered batteries, levitating frogs, even glow-in-the-dark house pets. And while much of science casts its eyes toward the stars, what’s going on down here on Earth is pretty amazing, too. Chronicled here are some scientific feats you may not have heard about. I’ve split them into three categories – physics, chemistry and biology – for easier reading.
A university in the Netherlands has been experimenting with very high-powered electromagnets. Everything from your mom’s favorite tea set to the annoying kid throwing paper airplanes in the back of the bus has a magnetic field, even if it’s tiny. However, with enough juice running through an electromagnet, scientists can make anything fly. Take, for instance, the levitating frog, which can surf an electromagnetic wave with the best of them.
It’ll be a while before you can strap on your Magneto boots and take to the skies, though. It takes a magnet with a 16-tesla magnetic field to lift a small frog into the air. The strongest magnetic field ever sustained in a lab was 60 teslas, and a 1.43 gigawatt motor powered that magnet. That’s enough wattage to send Marty McFly back to 1985.
The University of Rochester has issued a press release stating that, using existing technology, they have developed a battery with a 10-year lifespan. Gone will be the days of worrying about your laptop charger on business trips.
The theory is the silicon in the battery will capture electrons expelled from a radioactive gas to form a current.
What has held these batteries back in the past was the little amount of current they provided. Due to the nature of radioactivity, half the electrons chucked out miss the silicon altogether. It’s rather like the sun: It emits a hell of a lot of thermal energy, but only a tiny portion hits our planet.
The University of Rochester plans to increase the silicon’s surface area in order to catch more electrons. To accomplish this, they have designed little pits in the silicon, each around 40 microns deep. The researchers are proposing a 1,000 percent increase in the amount of energy the silicon can capture, but, in time, they think they can achieve a 16,000 percent boost.
Since protecting the environment is in vogue, better batteries are a huge step in terms of energy efficiency, though there are certain human health issues to address given the material involved.
Water, one of the most abundant substances on the planet, is still a scientific puzzle.
Scientists from the Graz University of Technology in Austria discovered that when they subjected two beakers of water to high voltage, the water climbs the side of the beaker and joins between the two, forming a bridge. The voltages involved are huge, which causes the water itself to heat up, and after about 45 minutes the bridge will collapse due to the heat. However, during those 45 minutes, the researchers managed to extend the bridge to 25 mm!
The bridge initially forms due to electrostatic charges. The electric field then rearranges the molecules of the water to form a highly ordered microstructure, which holds the bridge in place.
South Korean scientists have been tinkering with feline genes, and with the highly controversial science of cloning.
They’ve cloned a cat whose altered skin cells manufacture a fluorescent protein, meaning it literally glows in the dark. The cat’s kittens are almost a year old now, and they, too, are glowing nicely.
The ethical debate rages on about the pros and cons of such treatments. Scientists proudly state that this breakthrough will help them create cures for some 250 genetic diseases suffered by both cats and humans. However, many people think this is a step in the wrong direction; by “playing God” we might be devaluing unique and individual life.
The arguments for and against cloning have been raging for years now. The main points against cloning are as follows:
- A large percentage of cloning attempts fail. It took 277 attempts to clone Dolly the sheep. That means 277 semi-created creatures, which raises question about the nature of half-formed souls for various religions.
- Many clones have genetic defects amplified, as Dolly the sheep proved. Dolly had severe respiratory problems and developed arthritis at a very young age.
- Cloning would stop genetic advancements in a species because natural selection would no longer take place.
On the other hand, the points in favor of cloning include:
- Curing genetic and previously incurable diseases is a good thing.
- Cloning could help biologists further their understanding of the intricacies of the human body.
- If we stored the DNA of dying species, we would be able to clone them and help repopulate the world with them.
Regardless of which side you’re on, the fact we can make cats glow is pretty damn amazing, given we’ve only had a grasp on genetics since the mid 1800s when Mendel drew conclusions from his experiments with peas.
From My Heart and from My Hand
This is just the tip of the weird-science iceberg. Every day, in a dark lab somewhere, the real-life version of Dexter is toiling away over beakers to turn all of science on it head. Somewhere, a glow-in-the-dark cat has is teaching itself math and preparing to elevate its species above ours. And maybe, just maybe, someone’s out there finding a cure for diseases that have plagued us for centuries. The best part about science is everything is just a matter of “when.”
Tom Furnival is a freelance contributor to The Escapist.