Browsing: Energy

I think curiosity is at the root of all scientific careers. That, and insecurity. In my formative years, I felt compelled to assign a rational explanation to everything. I didn’t know it then, but I was practicing to be a scientist—and having lots of fun. I remember entertaining numerous misconceptions. Looking back, I think in many cases the misconceptions made a better story than the truth. For instance, as a child, I thought that when you dropped a letter into the mailbox on the corner, it was delivered to the correct address through one of a multitude of underground channels connecting all mailboxes to all residences. Then I grew up a little. It’s definitely more fun making things up, but…

Welding is said to be more art than science. In part, this is a nod to the vital, skilled work that welders perform. It’s also recognition of the fact that the physics of the process is really, really difficult to understand. I joined a NIST project on laser welding about two years ago. Before this, I had studied materials for solar panels and had done some work in laser processing, but I had little interest in laser welding. What eventually drew me in, and what motivates me now, is just how complex laser welding is and the opportunity to contribute to the understanding of a process that is so intertwined with everyday life, yet so mysterious. Act I: Creating a…

Do we really need hot stuff? I’m not talking about Donna Summer’s disco hit of 1979 or global warming. I’m not talking about anything so lukewarm as the surface of our sun—a mere 6,000 kelvins. I don’t even mean something as hot as 1,000,000 kelvins. No, the kind of hot stuff I’m talking about is closer to an unimaginable 200,000,000 kelvins! What possible use could we have for something so hot? It should be of no surprise to anyone that we have an insatiable appetite for energy, and that appetite is only going to grow. But how are we going to feed this need for energy? One of the most promising potential ways to generate a practically inexhaustible supply of…

When I go home after work, my wife and I are typically focused on the present moment, especially on our young son. As new parents, we benefit from many innovative products and services—from improved car seats and creative toys to safer cribs and video baby monitors. One of the first products that we bought for our son’s nursery was a Wi-Fi-based baby monitor. When we brought it home and plugged it in, it connected effortlessly with our Wi-Fi router and smart phones. It helps provide safety and security—and, perhaps most importantly, sleep—for the three of us. As consumers, we just assumed that these “Wi-Fi Certified” products would be “interoperable”—that the many different devices and components in the Wi-Fi universe would…

Have you ever wondered what might happen if we run out of fossil fuels? How do you think we will be able to survive without the resources we need to heat and cool our homes and buildings or the raw materials we use to create all the plastics that make up our modern world? Indeed, if we continue to use up these energy sources up at alarming rates, I think the consequences will be devastating to humanity’s future. As a 17-year-old with a brand new driver’s license back in 1973 during the OPEC Middle East oil embargo, I found myself pondering these serious questions as I sat in line for hours waiting my turn with the family cars to “fill…

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