Browsing: Environment

Did you know there was a hole in the ozone layer? Thanks to swift, decisive international action not many people under a certain age probably do. Those of us over a certain age, however, should remember the ozone hole—a precipitous seasonal drop in the amount of ultraviolet radiation-blocking, skin cancer-preventing oxygen molecules over Antarctica—as being among the top environmental concerns in the 1970s and 1980s. Once we had detected the hole, the scientific community quickly realized that it was caused by the reaction of ozone with chlorine—an atmospheric invader. As it turned out, the chlorine was coming from a class of chemicals that we had been releasing into the air for some time called chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs for short. While…

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…

Have you ever wondered if the things inside your house that you consider safe and harmless actually are? The perfume that you spray, the plastic food containers that you put in your dishwasher, the carpet that your kids lie on as they watch their favorite TV show, even the wrinkle-resistant clothing you wear — all of them could be potential sources of indoor air pollution. We don’t normally think about stuff inside our homes emitting pollutants, but just about all building materials and consumer products emit organic compounds. When I say “organic compounds” I don’t mean expensive broccoli, though broccoli and all foods are made of organic compounds. No, when I say “organic compounds,” I mean molecules that contain or are…

I love sea turtles. I love looking into their giant, ancient, gentle eyes and watching them use their long flippers, so graceful in the water, to lumber awkwardly, but persistently, up the moonlit beach to lay their ping pong ball-sized eggs in the sand. I love seeing the tiny hatchlings, so small they can fit in the palm of your hand, frantically climb up and out of their nests and down the beach to start their long, mysterious lives beneath the waves until they, like their mothers and countless generations before them, are called to lumber up the beach to lay their eggs and begin the cycle anew. Growing up in landlocked Indiana, I experienced these magical moments only through…

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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