At WPost, MIT President Calls for Energy Manhattan Project
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
Following up on her testimony before Congress yesterday, MIT President Susan Hockfield writes in the Washington Post today that the U.S. needs a Manhattan Project-scale investment in renewable energy R&D.
Drawing on the metaphor of Vannevar Bush's pact between government and science, Hockfield describes that part of the problem is the absence of serious R&D investment from the major energy companies, despite what they might tell us in TV advertisements:
Today, the United States is tangled in a triple knot: a shaky economy, battered by volatile energy prices; world politics weighed down by issues of energy consumption and security; and mounting evidence of global climate change.
Building on the wisdom of Vannevar Bush, I believe we can address all three problems at once with dramatic new federal investment in energy research and development. If one advance could transform America's prospects, it would be ready access, at scale, to a range of affordable, renewable, low-carbon energy technologies -- from large-scale solar and wind energy to safe nuclear power. Only one path will lead to such transformative technologies: research. Yet federal funding for energy research has dwindled to irrelevance. In 1980, 10 percent of federal research dollars went to energy. Today, the share is 2 percent.
Research investment by U.S. energy companies has mirrored this drop. In 2004, it stood at $1.2 billion in today's dollars. This might suit a cost-efficient, technologically mature, fossil-fuel-based energy sector, but it is insufficient for any industry that depends on innovation. Pharmaceutical companies invest 18 percent of revenue in R&D. Semiconductor firms invest 16 percent. Energy companies invest less than one-quarter of 1 percent. With this pattern of investment, we cannot expect an energy technology revolution.
While industry must support technology development, only government can prime the research pump. Congress must lead.
Here's the science of black holes, from supermassive monsters to ones the size of ping-pong balls.
- There's more than one way to make a black hole, says NASA's Michelle Thaller. They're not always formed from dead stars. For example, there are teeny tiny black holes all around us, the result of high-energy cosmic rays slamming into our atmosphere with enough force to cram matter together so densely that no light can escape.
- CERN is trying to create artificial black holes right now, but don't worry, it's not dangerous. Scientists there are attempting to smash two particles together with such intensity that it creates a black hole that would live for just a millionth of a second.
- Thaller uses a brilliant analogy involving a rubber sheet, a marble, and an elephant to explain why different black holes have varying densities. Watch and learn!
- Bonus fact: If the Earth became a black hole, it would be crushed to the size of a ping-pong ball.
From time-traveling billiard balls to information-destroying black holes, the world's got plenty of puzzles that are hard to wrap your head around.
- While it's one of the best on Earth, the human brain has a lot of trouble accounting for certain problems.
- We've evolved to think of reality in a very specific way, but there are plenty of paradoxes out there to suggest that reality doesn't work quite the way we think it does.
- Considering these paradoxes is a great way to come to grips with how incomplete our understanding of the universe really is.
In a breakthrough for nuclear fusion research, scientists at China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor have produced temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion on Earth.
- The EAST reactor was able to heat hydrogen to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius.
- Nuclear fusion could someday provide the planet with a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
- Still, scientists have many other obstacles to pass before fusion technology becomes a viable energy source.
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