An Italian inventor may have created a machine that can generate so much cheap energy, it would put oil companies out of business. Or it all may be a spectacular scam:
“On the last day of the conference, Dennis Bushnell, chief scientist at Langley Research Center, summed up the state of LENR research. Guys like Rossi play a crucial role, for better or for worse. ‘This will go directly from the garage, the Edisonian experiments, to market, bypassing the science and the rigorous engineering research,’ Bushnell said. ‘And there are major investors ready to move on this—an amazing number—given a credible third-party seal of approval. I mean, this can move fast. If we ever get a credible assessment in the kilowatt range’—one kilowatt will power ten 100-watt lightbulbs—’the world changes overnight.’ Bushnell paused and took a sip of water. ‘We have so screwed up this planet,’ he said, raising his voice. ‘This is one of the few things I know of that’s capable for atoning for our sins.’
“To my astonishment, after three days of asking every cold-fusion researcher in the house, I couldn’t find a single person willing to call Rossi a con man. The consensus was that he had something, even if he didn’t understand why it worked or how to control it. The more I learned, the more confused I became. Could Rossi actually have something real? The only way to know for sure was to go to Italy.”
Excerpt from the new book Spillover, on understanding the threat of RNA viruses like Marburg, Ebola, West Nile and SARS—and how humans can help contain them:
“During the early 20th century, disease scientists from the Rockefeller Foundation and other institutions conceived the ambitious goal of eradicating some infectious diseases entirely. They tried hard with yellow fever, spending millions of dollars and many years of effort, and failed. They tried with malaria and failed. They tried later with smallpox and succeeded. Why? The differences among those three diseases are many and complex, but probably the most crucial one is that smallpox resided neither in a reservoir host nor in a vector, such as a mosquito or tick. Its ecology was simple. It existed in humans—in humans only—and was therefore much easier to eradicate. The campaign to eradicate polio, begun in 1998 by WHO and other institutions, is a realistic effort for the same reason: Polio isn’t zoonotic. Eradicating a zoonotic disease, whether a directly transmitted one like Ebola or an insect-vectored one such as yellow fever, is much more complicated. Do you exterminate the pathogen by exterminating the species of bat or primate or mosquito in which it resides? Not easily, you don’t, and not without raising an outcry. The notion of eradicating chimpanzees as a step toward preventing the future spillover of another HIV would provoke a deep and bitter discussion, to put it mildly.
“That’s the salubrious thing about zoonotic diseases: They remind us, as St. Francis did, that we humans are inseparable from the natural world. In fact, there is no ‘natural world,’ it’s a bad and artificial phrase.”
Life on the job with a team of nuclear divers. As nuclear power plants age, they require more upkeep—and much of that work can happen underwater:
“Last March, a tsunami hit Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, leading to a disastrous series of reactor meltdowns. The consequences were immediate. Germany vowed to phase out nuclear power, and other countries spoke of following suit. In the U.S., the nuclear-energy renaissance was left suspended in time. But even as its future remains uncertain, nuclear energy remains an indisputable part of our present. And as our power plants continue aging with no viable replacements, the challenges facing the nuclear industry will only continue to grow. So will the potential for another disaster. The threat of radiation poisoning hangs over everyone who works at or lives near a nuclear plant, but no one more than the divers, who literally swim in the stuff.”
For years, doctors attempted to create artificial hearts that mimicked the real heart—using methods that recreate blood pumping. Billy Cohn and Bud Frazier instead developed a continuous-flow device that has worked on calves and some humans, including patient Rahel Elmer Reger:
“The little quilted backpack held two lithium-ion batteries and the HeartMate II’s computerized controller, which are connected by cable through a hole in Reger’s side. Needless to say, she has never left her backpack on a bus. ‘My cousin once disconnected me, though, by mistake,’ she said. ‘I was showing her how to change the battery. She disconnected one, and then—I was distracted for a second—the other. I yelled, “You can’t do that!” and then passed out. The device blares at you. She reconnected it, and I came back. I was probably out for 10 seconds. She was completely freaked out.'”
What happens when your teenage son is obsessed with nuclear research and wants to experiment in the backyard? How 17-year-old Taylor Wilson found support from his family and a group of scientist mentors:
“Kenneth and Tiffany agreed to let Taylor assemble a ‘survey of everyday radioactive materials’ for his school’s science fair. Kenneth borrowed a Geiger counter from a friend at Texarkana’s emergency-management agency. Over the next few weekends, he and Tiffany shuttled Taylor around to nearby antique stores, where he pointed the clicking detector at old radium-dial alarm clocks, thorium lantern mantles and uranium-glazed Fiesta plates. Taylor spent his allowance money on a radioactive dining set.
“Drawn in by what he calls ‘the surprise properties’ of radioactive materials, he wanted to know more. How can a speck of metal the size of a grain of salt put out such tremendous amounts of energy? Why do certain rocks expose film? Why does one isotope decay away in a millionth of a second while another has a half-life of two million years?”
[Not single-page] The research, financed mostly by NASA and published initially in the online edition of Science, jolted the scientific community. If confirmed, scientists said, the discovery would mean that this high mountain lake hosts a form of life distinct from all others known on Earth. It would open up the possibility of a shadow biosphere, composed of organisms that can survive using means that long-accepted rules of biochemistry cannot explain. And it would give Mono Lake, rather than Mars or one of Jupiter’s moons, the distinction of being the first place in our solar system where “alien” life was discovered.
Robots will come to possess far greater intelligence, with more ability to reason and self-adapt, and they will also of course acquire ever greater destructive power. So what does it mean when whatever can go wrong with these military machines, just might?