from the world's big
Scientists plan to spray the sky with light-reflecting particles to dim the sun
A trio of scientists from Harvard hopes to do this in 2019.
- Scientists hope to launch the world's first solar geoengineering project next year.
- The project involves spraying calcium carbonate into the stratosphere.
- The team hopes to get people thinking more seriously about bioengineering.
If all the pieces can be put together by then, a trio of researchers from Harvard hope to begin the testing phase of their plan to reduce the amount of sunshine the Earth receives as a means of cooling down the planet as it heats up from climate change. If they manage to spray some calcium carbonate particles into the stratosphere — essentially airborne TUMS®, minus the berry flavor — theirs would be the first solar geoengineering project off the drawing board and into the skies.
To say the plan, detailed in Nature, is controversial is putting it mildly — even the team itself, David Keith, Zhen Dai, and Frank Keutsch — has doubts about the whole idea. Environmentalists are concerned that geoengineering climate fixes are a distraction from better, if difficult, solutions involving more intelligent, sustainable consumption of carbon-producing substances. They're also concerned that manipulating Earth's complicated natural balance is rife with unforeseeable consequences, just another example of placing too much faith in engineering, which, after all, got us into this mess in the first place.
The SCoPEx experiments
The name of the Harvard team's project is SCoPEx , for "Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment." Their plan is to launch two steerable balloons over the U.S. Southwest, each of which would spray about 100 grams of calcium carbonate, about the same amount packed into a single antacid tablet, into the stratosphere. The balloon would then reverse course to observe what happens to the dispersed 0.5 micrometer particles — the researchers think that's about the right size for both dispersal and reflecting sunlight.
As simple as this sounds, it's not. First off, the balloons will have to be able to turn around in order to observe what they've left behind. Second, they need some form of detection that can, first, locate the calcium carbonate plume and second, measure the size and number of particles. A team from NOOA's Boulder, CO, office led by David Fahey, is providing the equipment for performing these measurements, though Fahey warns, "It's going to be a hard experiment, and it may not work." Third, hopefully, the balloons will be able to recapture some particles for a return to the ground. The balloons may also have onboard a laser device for tracking the plume at a distance and other sensitive gear for collecting data on moisture and ozone levels.
The idea of spraying particles into the upper atmosphere is not new, though this would be the first actual attempt to do it. Scientists know the idea can work, since it occurs naturally in the wake of volcanic eruptions, such as the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines in 1991. That event sent aloft an estimated 20 million tonnes of sulfur dioxide that cooled the planet by 0.5° for about 18 months, bringing it back to pre-steam-engine temperature levels.
The switch to calcium carbonate for SCoPEx has to do with sulfur's damaging effect on the ozone layer. The SCoPEx experiment is, of course, limited in scope, and Dai says, "I'm studying a chemical substance. It's not like it's a nuclear bomb." Still, there's concern about monkeying with the atmosphere and sunlight. Principle investigator Keutsch notes, "There are all of these downstream effects that we don't fully understand." Solar engineering has the potential to disrupt natural precipitation patterns, leading to both deluges and droughts, and its effect on agriculture isn't clear: While plants suffer less heat stress in a slightly darker, cooler environment, they also wouldn't get as much sun. Keith is cautiously optimistic, though, saying, "Despite all of the concerns, we can't find any areas that would be definitely worse off. If solar geoengineering is as good as what is shown in these models, it would be crazy not to take it seriously."
As far as the choice of calcium carbonate goes, it's not a chemical that exists at all naturally in the stratosphere, where SCoPex plans on spraying it. "We actually don't know what it would do, because it doesn't exist in the stratosphere," says Keutsch, "That sets up a red flag." When he first learned about the already in-progress SCoPex research, he says, he thought it was "totally insane."
One unmistakable benefit of the SCoPex plan
Given SCoPex's status as the first solar geoengineering project, it's under intense scrutiny, and that's just fine with the researchers. It's as much about starting a conversation as anything else. As Jim Thomas of ETC Group, an environmental advocacy organization opposing geoengineering, puts it, "This is as much an experiment in changing social norms and crossing a line as it is a science experiment."
Many believe that as climate change becomes more dire, there's a greater chance that geoengineering will become seen as more attractive, at least as a supplement to conservation efforts, even to those who currently oppose it. There's currently no robust evaluation structure in place to assess the worthiness of geoengineering proposals, and some are concerned about this. Janos Pasztor, of the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative, has been trying to engage leaders in the conversation. "Governments need to engage in this discussion and to understand these issues," he says. "They need to understand the risks — not just the risks of doing it, but also the risks of not understanding and not knowing."
The Harvard researchers themselves are deliberately moving ahead slowly, working to put in place sensible oversight of SCoPex, setting up an external advisory committee to assess their plan and report to the vice-provost for research at Harvard. It may well be that establishing such a model framework will be more important in the long run than the results of the SCoPex experiment itself.
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?
- A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
- It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
- The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
Welfare as an investment<p>The <a href="https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/hendren/files/welfare_vnber.pdf" target="_blank">study</a>, carried out by Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser of Harvard University, reviews 133 welfare programs through a single lens. The authors measured these programs' "Marginal Value of Public Funds" (MVPF), which is defined as the ratio of the recipients' willingness to pay for a program over its cost.</p><p>A program with an MVPF of one provides precisely as much in net benefits as it costs to deliver those benefits. For an illustration, imagine a program that hands someone a dollar. If getting that dollar doesn't alter their behavior, then the MVPF of that program is one. If it discourages them from working, then the program's cost goes up, as the program causes government tax revenues to fall in addition to costing money upfront. The MVPF goes below one in this case. <br> <br> Lastly, it is possible that getting the dollar causes the recipient to further their education and get a job that pays more taxes in the future, lowering the cost of the program in the long run and raising the MVPF. The value ratio can even hit infinity when a program fully "pays for itself."</p><p> While these are only a few examples, many others exist, and they do work to show you that a high MVPF means that a program "pays for itself," a value of one indicates a program "breaks even," and a value below one shows a program costs more money than the direct cost of the benefits would suggest.</p> After determining the programs' costs using existing literature and the willingness to pay through statistical analysis, 133 programs focusing on social insurance, education and job training, tax and cash transfers, and in-kind transfers were analyzed. The results show that some programs turn a "profit" for the government, mainly when they are focused on children:
This figure shows the MVPF for a variety of polices alongside the typical age of the beneficiaries. Clearly, programs targeted at children have a higher payoff.
Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser<p>Programs like child health services and K-12 education spending have infinite MVPF values. The authors argue this is because the programs allow children to live healthier, more productive lives and earn more money, which enables them to pay more taxes later. Programs like the preschool initiatives examined don't manage to do this as well and have a lower "profit" rate despite having decent MVPF ratios.</p><p>On the other hand, things like tuition deductions for older adults don't make back the money they cost. This is likely for several reasons, not the least of which is that there is less time for the benefactor to pay the government back in taxes. Disability insurance was likewise "unprofitable," as those collecting it have a reduced need to work and pay less back in taxes. </p>
What are the implications of all this?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="ceXv4XLv" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="3b407f5aa043eeb84f2b7ff82f97dc35"> <div id="botr_ceXv4XLv_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/ceXv4XLv-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/ceXv4XLv-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/ceXv4XLv-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>Firstly, it shows that direct investments in children in a variety of areas generate very high MVPFs. Likewise, the above chart shows that a large number of the programs considered pay for themselves, particularly ones that "invest in human capital" by promoting education, health, or similar things. While programs that focus on adults tend to have lower MVPF values, this isn't a hard and fast rule.</p><p>It also shows us that very many programs don't "pay for themselves" or even go below an MVPF of one. However, this study and its authors do not suggest that we abolish programs like disability payments just because they don't turn a profit.</p><p>Different motivations exist behind various programs, and just because something doesn't pay for itself isn't a definitive reason to abolish it. The returns on investment for a welfare program are diverse and often challenging to reckon in terms of money gained or lost. The point of this study was merely to provide a comprehensive review of a wide range of programs from a single perspective, one of dollars and cents. </p><p>The authors suggest that this study can be used as a starting point for further analysis of other programs not necessarily related to welfare. </p><p>It can be difficult to measure the success or failure of a government program with how many metrics you have to choose from and how many different stakeholders there are fighting for their metric to be used. This study provides us a comprehensive look through one possible lens at how some of our largest welfare programs are doing. </p><p>As America debates whether we should expand or contract our welfare state, the findings of this study offer an essential insight into how much we spend and how much we gain from these programs. </p>
Finding a balance between job satisfaction, money, and lifestyle is not easy.
- When most of your life is spent doing one thing, it matters if that thing is unfulfilling or if it makes you unhappy. According to research, most people are not thrilled with their jobs. However, there are ways to find purpose in your work and to reduce the negative impact that the daily grind has on your mental health.
- "The evidence is that about 70 percent of people are not engaged in what they do all day long, and about 18 percent of people are repulsed," London Business School professor Dan Cable says, calling the current state of work unhappiness an epidemic. In this video, he and other big thinkers consider what it means to find meaning in your work, discuss the parts of the brain that fuel creativity, and share strategies for reassessing your relationship to your job.
- Author James Citrin offers a career triangle model that sees work as a balance of three forces: job satisfaction, money, and lifestyle. While it is possible to have all three, Citrin says that they are not always possible at the same time, especially not early on in your career.