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Securing the Future With Love, Hardwork and Integrity

Mars Phoenix Lander

Congratulations to NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for successfully placing the Phoenix Lander on Mars last night. The purpose of this mission was to land near the polar ice caps, drill down into the soil and test it for two things: Water and life.

So far, the Phoenix is performing as expected. Unfortunately, unlike other missions to Mars, such as the Pathfinder, the Phoenix is not mobile. With its situation so close to a Polar ice cap, its mission is slated to last only six months, until the beginning of a Martian winter at which point it is expected to freeze to death. It is unfortunate NASA did not have the budget to give it wheels, wings or propulsion, but at least it landed successfully and is on course to complete its mission. Perhaps future missions will include one or more miniature reconnaissance drones.

We wish NASA and JPL the best of luck. We wait to hear of life on Mars. In the meantime, for additional news or photos taken by Phoenix, please visit either the NASA or JPL websites linked here.

I had meant to post this one last week, but got distracted with work. Please accept my apologies for the lateness of this article from Machine Design.

Also, please visit the Extraordinary Women Engineers website for more information on how to encourage your daughters to enter into engineering fields.

Encouraging Girls to Enter Engineering

Claiming the workforce faces a profound lack of women engineers, the National Engineers Week Foundation wants the professional community to discard myths about what’s holding girls from pursuing engineering.

So it’s sponsoring Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, slated for Thursday, Feb. 21, as part of Engineers Week 2008, Feb. 17 to 23.

“Girl Day,” as it’s known among engineers, is the only outreach of its kind aimed at and organized by a single profession. On Feb. 21 and in programs throughout the year, women engineers and their male counterparts will reach as many as 1 million girls with workshops, tours, online discussions, and a host of hands-on activities that showcase engineering as an important career option for everyone.

Currently only 20% of engineering undergraduates are women. And only 10% of the engineering workforce are women. For years, false notions of girls’ innate inability in math, lack of science preparation in high school, and assumptions about the effects of historical and institutional discrimination, have been offered as causes for the startling disproportion.

Recent surveys, however, refute most of those theories, including those that question girls’ academic readiness to study engineering when they leave high school. Girls and boys take requisite courses at approximately the same rate, with girls’ enrollment often exceeding that of boys. While 60% of boys take Algebra II, for example, the enrollment rate for girls is 64%. Similarly, 94% of girls and 91% of boys take biology while 64% of girls and 57% of boys take chemistry. In physics, where boys’ enrollment exceeds girls, the rate is 26% for girls and 32% for boys. Still, less than 2% of high-school graduates will earn engineering degrees in college.

Further, assertions about institutionalized discrimination — certainly a major factor historically — seem undercut compared to professions such as medicine and law that also were largely bastions of men a generation ago. Yet now a majority of women pursue those degrees.

Instead, experts contend that the major culprit is a perception among girls and the people who influence them, including teachers, parents, peers, and the media.

In short, girls must perceive they can be engineers before they can be engineers. According to the National Engineers Week Foundation, nothing conveys that message as effectively as mentors and role models, and programs such as Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, now in its 8th year.

A 2005 Extraordinary Women Engineers Project (EWEP) study found that exposure to role models is essential to drawing young women into the profession. Highschool girls react positively to firstperson stories about how engineering “makes a difference” and offers a monetarily and personally rewarding career. The study also notes that because few of their influencers — whether it’s a parent, a favorite teacher, or MTV — understand or even have knowledge of engineering, chances are it’s not on the student’s radar. In other words, if a girl hears about engineering, most likely an engineer is the one who told her.

“There are countless television shows featuring doctors, lawyers, police, and other professions, so a child readily grasps that these may be career paths,” explains Terry Lincoln, Global Signature Programs Manager at Agilent Technologies. “Unless we directly reach these girls with engineering, they won’t get it, and we will miss up to half of all potential engineers.”

Girl Day is also part of the foundation’s many diversification efforts, including the recent founding of the Engineers Week Diversity Council, a coalition of businesses, professional societies, and academic and advocacy organizations committed to boosting underrepresented minorities in engineering. The Council, headed by the foundation, IBM, and 13 Founding Partner organizations, met for the first time in Washington in October.

More than 100 corporations, organizations, government agencies, and schools pulled together for Girl Day 2007. ExxonMobil hosted middle-school girls at its Houston and San Juan, Puerto Rico, facilities. Young women were invited to experience engineering first-hand at Argonne National Lab in Illinois, the Port Authority of New Jersey and New York, and Los Alamos Labs in New Mexico. Universities such as Purdue, Penn State, Arizona State, and California State at Chico introduced middle and high-school girls to engineering. The National Coalition of Girls Schools sent copies of the EWEP book, “Changing Our World, True Stories of Women Engineers,” to member schools with tips on getting involved in Girl Day. Visit for more information about Girl Day and other projects to promote women in engineering.

While Israel is busy paving the way for a nationwide electric-car recharging network, India has just unveiled the cheapest car. The Tata Motors Nano, gets 50 mpg and is called the People’s Car because of its $2500 price tag. Currently Tata has plans for sales only in India, but hopes to export the automobile in the near future. Opposite ends of the spectrum in technology, both with potential problems.

While to Israeli’s the pleasure of being free of oil tyranny - while reducing carbon from the atmosphere - sounds great, there is the risk of paralyses should the electrical infrastructure become compromised. On the flip side, India’s problem is the potential to create more congestion and more air pollution than they already experience. None-the-less, both move forward despite the risk of peril.

The following is an article from Conde Nast Portfolio on the new one-lakh Nano from Tata Motors.

If you haven’t been to India, go on YouTube and search for videos of traffic in Mumbai or Bangalore. You’ll see families of four negotiating the anarchy while balanced on a single scooter like a Cirque du Soleil act.

Those families represent the market that’s about to change the auto industry for good, thanks to a car from India’s Tata Motors that will go on the market this year. The Tata is said to look like an egg on wheels. It will seat five and run on a 33-horsepower engine (that’s barely more muscle than a commercial riding mower). It won’t have airbags or antilock brakes, and its body will offer all the collision protection of an empty beer can. It will cost about $2,500—100,000 rupees, an amount also known in India as one lakh. Hence the Tata’s nickname: the one-lakh car.

The one-lakh car will be the cheapest on the planet. The closest price-point rivals in developing countries cost at least twice as much. In the United States, of course, you can pay $2,500 just to get your transmission fixed. The real impact, though, may be the mayhem Tata inflicts on established automakers, much as People Express and its $19 airfares in the 1980s touched off decades of woes for the major airlines.

Read the rest of this entry »

Leave it to Israel to lead the way in converting their entire economy from fuel based cars to ALL electric. And what better testing ground than Israel? With a population of 6.8 million residing within only 20,770 square kilometers of territory they are perfectly sized to leverage economies of scale in implementing a new electric automobile based transportation system.


Israel Will Be Test Market For Electric Cars

Consumers can get their electric cars by 2011.

Compiled By Adrienne Selko

Jan. 25, 2008 — A partnership between Renault-Nissan Alliance and Project Better Place will result in electric vehicles being mass-marketed in Israel. Renault will supply the electric vehicles, and Project Better Place will construct and operate an Electric Recharge Grid across the entire country, while the Israeli government will provide tax incentives to customers. Electric vehicles will be available to customers in 2011.

The energy solution comes in response to Israeli’s challenge to the auto industry and its supply chain to migrate the country’s transportation infrastructure to renewable sources of energy.

Renault’s vehicles will run on pure electricity for all functions. The objective of zero emissions will be achieved, while at the same time offering driving performances similar to a 1.6 liter gasoline engine. Renault’s electric vehicles will be equipped with lithium-ion batteries.

Consumers will use this technology similar to how mobile phones are sold since the ownership of the car is separate from the requirement to own a battery. Consumers will buy and own their car and subscribe to energy, including the use of the battery, on a basis of kilometers driven.

A network of battery charging spots will be operated by Project Better Place. Customers will be able to plug their cars into charging units in any of the 500,000 charging spots in Israel. An on-board computer system will indicate to the driver the remaining power supply and the nearest charging spot. Nissan, through its joint venture with NEC, has created a battery pack that meets the requirements of the electric vehicle and will mass produce it.

Renault is working on development of exchangeable batteries for continuous mobility. The entire framework will go through a series of tests starting this year.

Israel is an ideal test market since 90% of car owners drive less than 70 kilometers per day, and all major urban centers are less than 150 kilometers apart, allowing electric vehicles to cover most of the population’s transportation needs.

And the Israeli government is helping as well by extending a tax incentive on the purchase of any zero-emissions vehicle until 2019. Combined with the lower cost of electricity as opposed to fuel-based energy, and the vehicle’s lifetime guarantee, the total cost of ownership for the customer will be significantly lower than that of a fuel-based car over the life cycle of the vehicle.

Project Better Place, based in Palo-Alto, Calif. is headed by Shai Agassi an American-Israeli entrepreneur. It is a venture-backed company that aims to reduce global dependency on oil through the creation of a market-based transportation infrastructure that supports electric vehicles, providing consumers with a cleaner, sustainable, personal transportation alternative. Launched in October 2007, Project Better Place will build its first pilot Electric Recharge Grid in Israel and plans to deploy the infrastructure on a country-by-country basis with initial deployments beginning in 2010.

This is a reprint of an article I had read a few months ago. It seems to fit in with today’s message of working toward the future and stopping the past in its tracks before it is too late.

As always, thank you for reading. ~ Sara


Science and Islam in Conflict


All over the world, no matter what the cultural or language differences, science is more or less guided by scientific principles—except in many Islamic countries, where it is guided by the Koran. This is the ultimate story about science and religion.

by Todd Pitock

Cairo, Egypt: “There is no conflict between Islam and science,” Zaghloul El-Naggar declares as we sit in the parlor of his villa in Maadi, an affluent suburb of Cairo. “Science is inquisition. It’s running after the unknown. Islam encourages seeking knowledge. It’s considered an act of worship.”

What people call the scientific method, he explains, is really the Islamic method: “All the wealth of knowledge in the world has actually emanated from Muslim civilization. The Prophet Muhammad said to seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave. The very first verse came down: ‘Read.’ You are required to try to know something about your creator through meditation, through analysis, experimentation, and observation.”

Author, newspaper columnist, and television personality El-­Naggar is also a geologist whom many Egyptians, including a number of his fellow scientists, regard as a leading figure in their community. An expert in the somewhat exotic topic of biostratification—the layering of Earth’s crust caused by living organisms—El-Naggar is a member of the Geological Society of London and publishes papers that circulate internationally. But he is also an Islamic fundamentalist, a scientist who views the universe through the lens of the Koran.

Religion is a powerful force throughout the Arab world—but perhaps nowhere more so than here. The common explanation is that the Egyptian people, rich and poor alike, turned to God after everything else failed: the mess of the government’s socialist experiment in the 1960s; the downfall of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Arab nationalism; the military debacle of the 1967 war with Israel; poverty; inept government—the list goes on.

I witness firsthand the overlapping strands of history as I navigate the chaos of Cairo, a city crammed with 20 million people, a quarter of Egypt’s population. In residential neighborhoods, beautiful old buildings crumble, and the people who live in them pile debris onto rooftops because there is no public service to take it away. Downtown, luxury hotels intermingle with casinos, minarets, and even a Pizza Hut. The American University in Cairo is a short distance from Tahrir Square, a wide traffic circle where bruised old vehicles brush pedestrians who make the perilous crossing. At all hours men smoke water pipes in city cafés; any woman in one of these qawas would almost certainly be a foreigner. Most Egyptian women wear a veil, and at the five designated times a day when the muezzins call, commanding the Muslims to pray, the men come, filling the city’s mosques.

The Islamic world looms large in the history of science, and there were long periods when Cairo—in Arabic, El Qahira, meaning “the victorious”—was a leading star in the Arabic universe of learning. Islam is in many ways more tolerant of scientific study than is Christian fundamentalism. It does not, for example, argue that the world is only 6,000 years old. Cloning research that does not involve people is becoming more widely accepted. In recent times, though, knowledge in Egypt has waned. And who is accountable for the decline?

El-Naggar has no doubts. “We are not behind because of Islam,” he says. “We are behind because of what the Americans and the British have done to us.”

We are not behind because of Islam. We are behind because of what the Americans and the British have done to us.

The evil West is a common refrain with El-Naggar, who, paradoxically, often appears in a suit and tie, although he is wearing a pale green galabiyya when we meet. He says that he grieves for Western colleagues who spend all their time studying their areas of specialization but neglect their souls; it sets his teeth on edge how the West has “legalized” homosexuality. “You are bringing man far below the level of animals,” he laments. “As a scientist, I see the danger coming from the West, not the East.”

He hands me three short volumes he has written about the relationship of science and Islam. These include The Geological Concept of Mountains in the Holy Koran, and Treasures in the Sunnah, A Scientific Approach, parts one and two, along with a translation of the Koran, whose title page he has signed, although his name does not appear as a translator.

In Treasures in the Sunnah, El-Naggar interprets holy verses: the hadiths, sayings of the Prophet, and the sunnah, or customs. There are scientific signs in more than one thousand verses of the Koran, according to El-Naggar, and in many sayings of the Prophet, although these signs often do not speak in a direct scientific way. Instead, the verses give man’s mind the room to work until it arrives at certain conclusions. A common device of Islamic science is to cite examples of how the Koran anticipated modern science, intuiting hard facts without modern equipment or technology. In Treasures of the Sunnah, El-Naggar quotes scripture: “and each of them (i.e., the moon and the sun) floats along in (its own) orbit.” “The Messenger of Allah,” El-Naggar writes, “talked about all these cosmic facts in such accurate scientific style at a period of time when people thought that Earth was flat and stationary. This is definitely one of the signs, which testifies to the truthfulness of the message of Muhammad.”

Elsewhere, he notes the Prophet’s references to “the seven earths”; El-Naggar claims that geologists say that Earth’s crust consists of seven zones. In another passage, the Prophet said that there were 360 joints in the body, and other Islamic researchers claim that medical science backs up the figure. Such knowledge, the thinking goes, could only have been given by God. 

Nobody can just write what he thinks without proof. But we have real proof that the story of Adam as the first man is true.

Critics are quick to point out that Islamic scientists tend to use each other as sources, creating an illusion that the work has been validated by research. The existence of 360 joints, in fact, is not accepted in medical communities; rather, the number varies from person to person, with an average of 307. These days most geologists divide Earth’s crust into 15 major zones, or tectonic plates.

El-Naggar even sees moral meaning in the earthquake that triggered the 2005 tsunami and washed away nearly a quarter of a million lives. Plate tectonics and global warming be damned: God had expressed his wrath over the sins of the West. Why, then, had God punished Southeast Asia rather than Los Angeles or the coast of Florida? His answer: Because the lands that were hit had tolerated the immoral behavior of tourists.

The influence and popularity of El-Naggar—as a frequent guest on Arab satellite television, he reaches an audience of millions—does not sit well with Gamal Soltan, a political scientist at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a Cairo-based think tank.

“This tendency to use their knowledge of science to ‘prove’ that the religious interpretations of life are correct is really corrupting,” he tells me. Soltan, who got his doctorate at the University of Northern Illinois, works in a small office that’s pungent with tobacco smoke; journals and newspapers lie stacked on his desk and floor. “Their methodology is bad,” he says. Soltan explains that Islamic scientists start with a conclusion (the Koran says the body has 360 joints) and then work toward proving that conclusion. To reach the necessary answer they will, in this instance, count things that some orthopedists might not call a joint. “They’re sure about everything, about how the universe was created, who created it, and they just need to control nature rather than interpret it,” Soltan adds. “But the driving force behind any scientific pursuit is that the truth is still out there.”

Researchers who don’t agree with Islamic thinking “avoid questions or research agendas” that could put them in opposition to authorities—thus steering clear of intellectual debate. In other words, if you are a scientist who is not an Islamic extremist, you simply direct your work toward what is useful. Scientists who contradict the Koran “would have to keep a low profile.” When pressed for examples, Soltan does not elaborate.

The emphasis on utility wasn’t always present here. The Napoleonic occupation from 1798 to 1801 brought French scientists to Egypt. The arrival of the Europeans alerted Egyptians to how far behind they’d fallen; that shock set in motion a long intellectual awakening. During the 150 years that followed, institutions for higher learning in Cairo gave the city an international reputation for prestigious institutions, and the exchange of scholars went in both directions, with Egyptians going west and Americans and Europeans coming here.

Then came the 1952 coup led by Gamal Abdel Nasser that toppled King Farouk I. Nasser was the first modern leader to position himself as a spokesman for the whole Arab world. His brand of nationalism was meant to unify all Arab people, not just Egyptians, and it set them in opposition to America and Europe. “After Nasser, Arab nationalism raised suspicions about the West,” Soltan says.

In Soltan’s view, the twin forces of Islamization and government policy have inadvertently worked together to blunt scientific curiosity. “We are in a period of transition,” he says. “I think we are going to be in transition for a long time.”

People and the authorities are still grappling with religion’s place in Egyptian society, resulting in a situation similar to one in Europe during the time of Copernicus and Galileo, when scientific knowledge was considered threatening to the prevailing religious power structure. For now, the door on freedom of thought has nearly been shut. As Soltan points out, “Cairo University has not received Western professors since the 1950s, and because of the turmoil in the country, many professors who didn’t like the regime were excluded from the university.”

I walk the campus of Cairo University prior to meeting Waheed Badawy, a chemistry professor who has taught there since 1967. His students, male and female, wander in and out during our talk; the women all wear head covers, highlighting the degree to which religion is particularly strong among the young. He wears a white lab coat, and there are religious verses posted on his laboratory walls and corkboard. Yet Badawy, who specialized in solar energy conversion while working for Siemens in Germany in the 1980s, does not consider himself an “Islamic scientist” like El-Naggar. He is a scientist who happens to be devout, one who sees science and religion as discrete pursuits.

“Islam has no problems with science,” he says. “As long as what you do does not harm people, it is permitted. You can study what you want, you can say what you want.”

What about, say, evolutionary biology or Darwinism? I ask. (Evolution is taught in Egyptian schools, although it is banned in Saudi Arabia and Sudan.) “If you are asking if Adam came from a monkey, no,” Badawy responds. “Man did not come from a monkey. If I am religious, if I agree with Islam, then I have to respect all of the ideas of Islam. And one of these ideas is the creation of the human from Adam and Eve. If I am a scientist, I have to believe that.” 

But from the point of view of a scientist, is it not just a story? I ask. He tells me that if I were writing an article saying that Adam and Eve is a big lie, it will not be accepted until I can prove it.

“Nobody can just write what he thinks without proof. But we have real proof that the story of Adam as the first man is true.”

“What proof?”

He looks at me with disbelief: “It’s written in the Koran.”

Tunis, Tunisia: After the hazy congestion of Cairo, the briny sea breeze and open spaces of Tunis are liberating. Anchored on the Mediterranean coast, Tunisia’s capital is rimmed by mountainous suburbs with palm trees and gardens trellised with bougainvillea. The town where I am staying is Sidi Bou Said. It has a kind of high-rent antiquity that feels like Italy or the south of France. Indeed, just 80 miles from Sicily, Tunis is physically closer—and culturally closer, too, many people say—to Mediterranean Europe than it is to much of the rest of the Arab world. “They’re not really Arabs,” my Egyptian translator says en route to the airport. “They’re French.” He does not mean it as a compliment.

“We have succeeded in keeping extremism and that mentality out of our schools and institutions,” says a government official who asks not to be named. “We are an island of 10 million people in a sea of Islamists. The extremists want to remove the buffer between religion and everything else, including science. There has to be a buffer between religion and science.”

Tunisia, a former French protectorate that became independent in 1956, shares with its Arab neighbors a poor human rights record and a president whose family has been charged with corruption. Freedom House, a nonprofit monitoring group, ranks it 179 out of 195 countries for press freedom. In March, a dissident was sentenced to three and a half years in prison (after already serving two years while awaiting trial) for decrying the lack of freedom. Yet, unlike the Egyptians who complain openly about their lack of freedom, the Tunisians I encounter tend to put things in a more optimistic light. One reason for the allegiance to their government is a widely held belief that the alternative to their president, Ben Ali, would be Islamic extremists. Another reason many support the government: It has been more effective than those of most Arab countries at delivering basic services, including education and health care.

Although officially Muslim, Tunisia maintains the closest thing there is in the Arab world to separation of mosque and state. In public sector jobs, beards and veils are banned. On the street, you see young women with their hair covered, but it is not unusual to see the same women wearing tight jeans, making the veil as much fashion accessory as religious garment. School textbooks lack information on different religions and religious beliefs. “Islamic science” is not a university subject here, as it is in Egypt; “Islamology,” which looks critically at Islamic extremism, is.

In contrast to the situation in Egypt, where even the most Western-oriented scientist I talked to at some point or other declares himself to be “a good Muslim,” in Tunisia the personal religious views of scientists I meet hardly seem relevant. Even so, I am reminded how science, like politics, tends to be local, addressing immediate problems using materials at hand. Sami Sayadi, director of the bioprocesses lab at the Biotechnology Center of Sfax, Tunisia’s second-largest city, spent more than a decade figuring out how to turn the waste of olives pressed for oil into clean, renewable energy. Olives have been a major export here since the heyday of Carthage and remain an icon for Arabs everywhere, making Sayadi’s achievement sound almost like modern-day alchemy.

Sayadi’s thinking is the kind of pragmatism the Tunisian government wants, and in recent years it has come to see science and technology as important tools of national advancement. There were 139 laboratories across different disciplines in 2005, compared with 55 in 1999. The government is actively promoting this growth.

Ninety minutes south of Tunis is the Borj-Cedria Science and Technology Park, a campus that will eventually combine an educational facility, an industrial and R&D center, and a business incubator. The park’s completion is still years away, however, and although some buildings and labs are in place, geologists, physicists, and other scientists laboring here work with equipment that in the West wouldn’t pass muster in many high schools. They pursue projects for the love of science.

The situation may soon change. In its hunger for patents and profits, the Tunisian government is giving out four-year contracts to labs whose work has industrial applications. Senior researchers at Borj-Cedria currently make about $1,100 a month (a livable but modest wage here), but the new program would give anyone who earns a patent a 50 percent stake in royalties.

Still, Tunisia’s support of science has clear limits: Projects whose aim is solely to advance knowledge get no support. “Everyone would like to do [basic] research,” says Taieb Hadhri, Minister of Scientific Research, Technology, and Competency Development, who has held the cabinet-level post since the department was created in 2004. “I’m a mathematician by training, and I would also like to do [basic] research. But that will have to come later. We have more pressing needs now.”
And the push toward advancement here is not entirely free from the pull of tradition, as I learn when I visit Habiba Bouhamed Chaabouni, a medical geneticist who splits her time between research and teaching at the Medical Faculty of the University of Tunis and seeing patients at the Charles Nicolle Hospital, also in the capital. In 2006, she won a L’Oréal-UNESCO Women in Science Award, a $100,000 prize given to five women, each representing one of the continents, for her work analyzing and preventing hereditary disorders. When she greets me in her office, she is wearing a white lab coat. Test tubes clink as they spin in a centrifuge to separate strands of a patient’s DNA that Chaabouni will examine later. 

Chaabouni recalls the early days of her career, in the mid-1970s, when she saw children afflicted with disfiguring diseases. “It was very sad,” she says. “I met families with two, three, four affected siblings. I wanted to do something about it, to know how to prevent it.” There was no facility for genetic research at that time, and for two decades, she lobbied government officials hard for it. “We wanted better conditions and facilities. They also saw we were publishing in international [peer-reviewed] journals. I think the policymakers finally understood the value of developing research.”

The Tunisian medical-genetics community, which includes about 100 doctors and technicians, now publishes more than any other Arab country. “We looked on PubMed, and we’re ahead of Egypt,” Chaabouni says, beaming. “Not by a lot, but remember, we’re one-tenth the size.”
Over the last 30 years, Chaabouni has also seen how people who once resisted her message have begun listening. Once, genetic counseling or even coming in for certain treatments almost amounted to a social taboo; now, it is becoming more accepted, and things that were once simply ignored or not spoken of—such as autism in children, which is being identified more commonly—are more often out in the open.

For all that, Chaabouni still sees how her advice sometimes clashes with her patients’ beliefs. Like many Arab and Muslim countries, Tunisia has a high incidence of congenital diseases, including adrenal and blood disorders, that Chaabouni has traced to consanguinity.

“It’s a custom here, and in the rest of the Arab world, to marry cousins, even first cousins,” she tells me, though the practice is becoming less common. “Of course, that means they share a lot of genes from common sets of grandparents.”

In other fields, pure research does not get support; in medical genetics, even practically applicable knowledge can spark conflicts with Islamic culture. “Taking a blood sample to study abnormalities is not a problem,” Chaabouni says. “That’s just investigation. The problem is when you take the results of research into the clinic and try to give genetic counseling to patients. Then you have people who won’t accept the idea that they have to stop having children or that they shouldn’t marry their cousin.”
Today prenatal screening and genetic testing is more widely accepted, and when it’s necessary to save the mother’s life, doctors terminate pregnancies. Islamic law permits abortion in cases of medical necessity (where the mother’s life is in jeopardy) until 120 days in utero, at which point it regards the fetus as “ensouled” and abortion becomes homicide. For Chaabouni, the challenge is mainly one of communication. “They look for arguments why you may be wrong,” she says. “They go to other doctors. In the end, they usually follow our advice, but it’s hard because you’re giving them bad news that may also go against what they believe.”
Mohammed Haddad, an Islamology specialist at the Université de la Manouba in Tunis, points out the many little assaults that can turn people’s minds against scientific advances. For example, a sheikh recently declared that he’d found a cure for AIDS—spelled out in the Koran. “He was from Yemen, but they reach us by satellite, and it’s all a big business,” Haddad says. “People listen, and it’s a problem. In this situation, many will die.”
Amman, Jordan: “The Koran says, ‘Read,’ but it does not even say ‘Read the Koran.’ Just ‘Read,’” says Prince El Hassan bin Talal, who greets me at the Royal Scientific Society, Jordan’s largest research institution—one that he helped establish in 1970. Hassan was heir to the throne until his brother, King Hussein, bypassed him in favor of Abdullah, Hussein’s own son. The 60-year-old prince, who speaks classical Arabic and Oxford English and has studied biblical Hebrew, can tick off a whole list of things that are wrong with Jordan, from Western governments and nongovernmental organizations that come proposing solutions without having identified the causes of problems, to a culture that does not value reading. He is bookish himself; during our 40-minute-plus interview, he refers to Kierkegaard, Karen Armstrong’s A History of God, and What Price Tolerance, a 1939 book by his wife’s relative Syud Hossain.

He is also candid, calling suicide bombers “social rejects” and questioning the validity of those who would take the Muslim world back to the times of the Prophet Muhammad. “Are we talking Islam or Islamism?” he asks, pointing out the difference between the religion and those extremists who use the religion to advance their own agendas. “The danger [posed by Islamists] is not only to Christians but also to Islam itself. The real problem is not the Arab-Israel issue but the rise of Islamism.” 

Science, rather than religion, is the way to ensure a country’s future, Prince Hassan believes, and he has made supporting scientific achievement a personal mission for almost 40 years. He envisions projects that would promote regional partnerships, including with Israel—an idea that, despite official peace between the countries, remains controversial.

He notes that some important science initiatives are under way. One of the Royal Scientific Society’s pursuits is the Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation, or TREC, a multinational effort that would use wind, water, geothermal, and solar resources to provide renewable energy from Oman to Iceland. If successful, the endeavor would take decades to be realized. Like Moses standing on Mount Nebo (in fact, the site of the Exodus story lies just about 20 minutes outside Amman), the 60-year-old Hassan knows that he is not likely to see this technological promised land himself.

Islam was open, a strong belief with dialogue. It was tolerant. Then we shifted to being dogmatic.

“Vision,” he says, “is not an individual thing. It’s a collaboration.”

“The biggest disaster in the region, I am sorry to say, is the loss of brainpower,” admits Hassan. The emigration of trained academics plagues the entire Arab world, and half of those students who graduate from foreign universities never return to the Arab states. “A large percentage of [America’s] NASA staff are of Middle Eastern origin,” Hassan notes.

In some ways, the brain drain in Jordan is more obvious than in Egypt because resources here are stretched to the breaking point. Conservative estimates put the number of Iraqi refugees living in Jordan at 700,000—an enormous burden considering that Jordan has just 6 million citizens. To put that figure in perspective, imagine the United States adding 35 million people in a period of four years.

The population influx has triggered inflation, soaring rents and property prices, and urban sprawl. Like Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria (and like Israel, for that matter), Jordan lacks significant natural resources; the country has little oil or fresh water. In fact, since most of the water from the Jordan River’s tributaries has been diverted and no longer flows to the Dead Sea, even the Dead Sea is dying. There are plans for resuscitating it, but they will require a delicate process of regional cooperation, including the Israelis and the Palestinians, and most likely Western aid.

Jordan also lacks financial resources, unlike the oil-rich Gulf states that can afford to treat knowledge and expertise as an accessible commodity, able to be imported as needed. Furthermore, the perception of danger—terrorists bombed three hotels in Amman in 2005, and Al Qaeda has admitted to killing an American diplomat—has all but shut the valve on Jordanian tourism and the considerable revenue it used to bring.

Jordan, the quip goes, is caught between Iraq and a hard place. For now, it embodies many of the issues that the Arab Human Development Report blamed for the region’s intellectual malaise, among them lack of freedom and dysfunctional, authoritarian governments whose security services have too much say; the triumph of who-you-know advancement over merit-based promotion; and poor communication between researchers within the region. Educational opportunities are limited, especially for girls and women. All of this means that if you are a talented scientist, there is a good chance you’ll leave.

“Science needs stability, democracy, freedom of expression,” says Senator Adnan Badran, who has a Ph.D. in molecular biology from Michigan State University, as we drink Turkish coffee at his office. “You must have an environment that’s conducive to free thinking, to inquiry. If you don’t, you’ll never be able to release the mind’s potential. It’s a very bleak story, a very disappointing story, about the state of science and technology in the Arab region.”

He blames a tradition that began with the Ottomans in the 1500s: lowering educational standards and promoting dogma. “We were open. Islam was open, a strong belief with dialogue. It was tolerant, mixing with other civilizations. Then we shifted to being dogmatic. Once you’re dogmatic, you are boxed in,” he says. “If you step outside the box, you’re marginalized—and then you’re out. So you go west.”

That’s what Badran did, spending 20 years in France and the United States, where he earned four patents doing research for the United Fruit Company. His work, which focused on retarding ripeness in bananas, has had huge economic impact—billions of dollars, potentially, because it allows the company to ship its crops around the world without spoiling.

Even so, Badran returned home to Jordan, where he took up academic positions, including the presidency of Philadelphia University in Amman. In 1987, he was made the first secretary general of Jordan’s Higher Council for Science and Technology and was later appointed to the senate by the king of Jordan, Abdullah II. Then early in 2005, the king appointed Badran prime minister, the first scientist to hold that position. The king, who was educated at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and at Oxford in the United Kingdom, and also attended Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., appreciated Badran’s position on the need for Arab glasnost. ?

“I wanted to destroy every vested interest, to get rid of cronyism, to build accountability and transparency by freeing the press,” Badran says. The circumstances of Badran’s term were difficult, however. “He was an excellent academic and scientist,” a journalist tells me, “but an ineffective politician.”


Any chance for Badran to advance his agenda went up with the smoke in November 2005 when suicide bombers targeted the three Amman hotels. As the government shifted its focus from internal reform to security, Badran was a casualty of change. The prime minister here serves at the discretion of the king—and also, many people say, by tacit approval of Jordan’s security services. In less than a year, Badran was ousted (his thinking was considered to be too idealistic for that time) and returned to his seat in the senate.

After leaving Badran, I get a primer on Jordan’s most dynamic and hopeful scientific collaboration. I speak with physicist Hamed Tarawneh at his cramped, dingy temporary office at UNESCO’s headquarters in Amman. Tarawneh, a tall, broad-shouldered chain-smoker with a disarming smile, left years ago to get his Ph.D. in Sweden and returned to Jordan just a few months prior to our meeting. He is in the process of assembling a staff of engineers and technicians for SESAME (Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East), an international laboratory organized around a machine that has wide applications in physics, biology, medicine, and archaeology. Only a handful of these versatile light generators exist, and this is the first in the Muslim world.

Jordan was selected as the site for SESAME after King Abdullah II donated land and ponied up $10 million for the facility that would house the synchrotron. The project is modeled on CERN, the Swiss high-energy physics lab formed after World War II to restore Europe’s tradition of scientific learning. When SESAME becomes fully operational in 2009—the facility at Al-Balqa Applied University near Amman should be complete this June—researchers will rotate through doing their work in weeks-long sessions. Like its European model, SESAME was conceived in part to motivate the region’s best and brightest to stay, or even to return from abroad; the laboratory should also create excitement and opportunity that will attract young students to science.

Tarawneh hopes SESAME will become a knowledge hub for the member states that pay annual dues, a group that now includes Bahrain, Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey, the Palestinian Authority—and Israel, the one country in the region that has a knowledge-based society but has been excluded from almost every other endeavor. “We are scientists,” Tarawneh says. “We don’t care about politics. So now we have a chance to discuss science here and work for the greater good of knowledge. It’s a very good start. It’s a cosmopolitan environment, which is what we’ve been lacking. Now we’ll all know each other as scientists, as people.”

I ask about the legions of scientists who have left Jordan, who regard it as a lost cause.

“Would I earn more if I went to Berkeley?” Tarawneh asks. “Yes, of course. But I am from here. I am an Arab. I am a Muslim. This is where I want to be. And why can’t we build something here that’s ours? In five years, others will see it’s useful, and it will become a world effort and create a culture of scientific inquiry here. Science is the way to break barriers. It’s about development and advancing people’s interests.”

Tarawneh’s enthusiasm makes SESAME’s success seem inevitable, but the king’s support and the international character of the project make it seem like much more than an individual triumph. It is precisely the kind of regional partnership that people like Prince Hassan say is the real road map to peace and prosperity in the Islamic world. As both machine and metaphor, a high-powered generator that shines light on scientific inquiry may be the answer to everyone’s prayers.

Truthfully, at my age there are few things in life that get me excited anymore. So you are wondering, what does turn me on? Okay, I’ll tell you. Two things - genius and innovation.

Making Plastic as Strong as Steel
University of Michigan researchers have developed a nanoinfused polymer that is as strong as steel but as thin as plastic wrap
By Larry Greenemeier

NEW STEEL: University of Michigan researchers have found a way to make a composite plastic that’s as strong steel but lighter, transparent and thin as a piece of plastic wrap.
Courtesy of the University of Michigan

Could a seemingly simple clear plastic bag—the kind that you load your fruits and vegetables into at the supermarket—actually be as strong as steel? It could if it was made from a new composite plastic that blends the strength of nanoparticles with the pliancy of a water-soluble polymer.

Although it is no secret that nanotubes, nanosheets and nanorods are incredibly strong when combined in small numbers, larger materials made out of these microscopic building blocks cannot utilize much of that strength because the links between them are weak. But University of Michigan at Ann Arbor researchers report in Science that they have found a way to scale the strength of the nanomaterials to larger materials by transferring stress between nanosheets and a nanoscale polymer resembling white glue. Visually, it looks like a brick wall, where clay nanosheet “bricks” are held together by water-soluble polyvinyl alcohol “mortar.” The result, according to the researchers, is a composite plastic that is light and transparent but as strong steel.

“If you take the nanoscale materials individually, say one carbon tube or one clay sheet, their mechanical properties will be astonishing,” says U.M. engineering professor Nicholas Kotov, a co-author of the study. Simply combining a large volume of clay, nanosize platelets into one continuous block, however, results in a brittle chalklike material riddled with cracks.

Researchers created a strip of clear material as thick as a sheet of plastic wrap by using a robotic arm to uniformly blend many millions of square clay platelets 100 nanometers on each side and one nanometer thick (one nanometer equals 3.94 x 10-8 inch) with the same polymer used in Elmer’s glue. The robo-arm crafted this new material by dipping a piece of glass about the size of a stick of gum alternately into the gluelike polymer solution and then into a liquid that was a dispersion of clay nanosheets. The end result—consisting of 300 layers of the blended nanomaterials and polymer—was modeled after mother-of-pearl found in the lining of mussel and oyster shells.

“The material is an exemplary structure where we have achieved nearly ideal transfer of the nanoscale mechanical properties to the macroscale,” says Paul Podsiadlo, a doctoral candidate in U.M’s College of Engineering who assisted with the research. “If we can further achieve the same with these other nanomaterials then we will be able to make lightweight composites which will be exceeding the properties of steel by far.”

The bricks-and-mortar structure allowed the layers to form cooperative hydrogen bonds, which gives rise to what Kotov called “the Velcro effect”—one of the reasons the material is so strong. Such bonds, if broken, can reform easily in a new place. Kotov is developing methods to apply the composite in the development of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and devices, as well as microfluidics devices for actuation and valve manufacturing. In addition to military uses, improving the ductility of the researchers’ nanoinfused plastics could aid in the development of dent and scratch-resistant cars and windshields.

Now that the researchers have created a composite exhibiting resistance to deformation (stiffness) and resistance to load (strength), they are working to improve the composite’s ability to dissipate energy, thus improving its toughness, says U.M. mechanical engineering professor Ellen Arruda, another of the study’s co-authors. “We want the material to have the ability to absorb the energy of a projectile,” she says.

The impetus for the research was a $1.2-million grant awarded last year by the U.S. Defense Department, which was interested in developing more effective armor for the Air Force’s unmanned aerial craft as well as for vehicles and body armor for other branches of the armed forces.

The cost of this composite is difficult to estimate, Kotov says. The components are inexpensive and the process does not require large energy expenditures, but it is by no means a fast process. Cost will depend largely on how efficiently processes are developed to create nanoinfused composites and whether these composites need to be produced in high volumes. For highly specialized technologies such as MEMS and microfluidics devices, cost would not be as great an issue as it would in creating large sheets of armor.

The development of these composites is also expected to take less of a toll on the environment, because this superstrong polymer does not require the high temperatures or great energy expenditures required to make steel.

Aloha readers,

The following is an article sent to me a few weeks ago by Franz. I should have posted it when he first sent it, but better now than never.

In many countries, cement is crucial for growth but an enemy of green
By Elisabeth Rosenthal International Herald TribuneSunday, October 21, 2007

In booming economies from Asia to Eastern Europe, cement is the glue of progress. The material that binds the ingredients of concrete together, cement is essential for constructing buildings and laying roads in much of the world.

Some 80 percent of cement is made in and used by emerging economies; China alone makes and uses 45 percent of global output. Production is doubling every four years in places like Ukraine.

But making cement creates pollution, in the form of carbon dioxide emissions, and the greenest of technologies can reduce that by only 20 percent.

Cement plants already account for 5 percent of global emissions of carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming.

Compounding the problem, cement has no viable recycling potential, as the abandoned buildings that line roads from Tunisia to Mongolia demonstrate. Each new road, each new building, needs new cement.

“The big news about cement is that it is the single biggest material source of carbon emissions in the world, and the demand is going up,” said Julian Allwood, a professor of engineering at Cambridge University.

“If demand doubles and the best you can do is to reduce emissions by 30 percent, then emissions still rise very quickly.”

Worse yet, green incentives may be allowing the industry to pollute even more. The European Union subsidizes Western companies that buy outmoded cement plants in poor countries and refit them with green technology.

The emissions per ton of cement produced do go down. But the amount of cement produced often goes way up, as does the pollution generated.

Many of the world’s producers acknowledge the conundrum. “The cement industry is at the center of the climate change debate, but the world needs construction material for schools hospitals and homes,” said Olivier Luneau, head of sustainability at Lafarge, the Paris-based global cement giant.

“Because of our initiatives, emissions are growing slower than they would without the interventions.”

Cement manufacturers have invested millions of dollars in programs like the Sustainable Cement Initiative, yet many engineers like Allwood see “sustainable cement” as something of a contradiction in terms, like vegetarian meatballs.

Lafarge, a leader in introducing green technology to its field, has improved efficiency to reduce its emissions from 763 pounds, or 347 kilograms, of CO2 per ton of cement in 1990 to 655 in 2006. Its goal is to get to 610 by 2010, but it expects it will be difficult to get much below that number.

Lafarge, which bought 17 cement plants in China in 2005 and has holdings throughout eastern Europe and Russia, acknowledges that its emissions are growing year by year.

“Total emissions are growing because the demand is growing so fast and continues to grow and you can’t cap that,” Luneau said. “Our core business is cement, so there is a limit to what we can change.”

Cement is certainly a good investment these days.

“The construction market is booming in Eastern Europe, so cement factories are booming,” said Lennard De Klerk, director of Global Carbon, a Budapest firm that arranges investments in Ukraine, Russia and Bulgaria. “All the big cement companies, like Lafarge and Heidelberg Cement, have bought existing facilities there that generally use fairly outdated technology and that waste a lot of energy.”

Carbon trading schemes - green incentives created by the European Union and the Kyoto Protocol - encourage such purchases. But they also allow manufacturers to increase overall cement production, both in the developing world and at home.

The European Union effectively limits production of European cement makers in their home countries by capping their allowed yearly emissions. In places like Ukraine, meanwhile, there are no limits, so cement production can increase there without regulatory caps.

Moreover, European companies get allowances known as carbon credits to pollute more for use at home by undertaking green cleanup projects elsewhere. So buying an old Soviet factory and investing in converting it to green technology can bring multiple paybacks.

“They can invest in Ukraine and Russia, clean up, and earn carbon credits - the investment is much more attractive than it used to be,” said De Klerk, whose company brokers such “carbon” investments. Factoring the value of the carbon credits into the cost of refitting a factory in Ukraine, the predicted rate of return rises from 8.8 per cent to close to 12 per cent, he said.

Once outmoded plants are refitted with “clean technology,” their emission per ton of cement produced does decline. The Podilsky plant in Ukraine is being refitted with greener kilns - financed by the Irish cement manufacturer CRH to earn carbon credits - and energy consumption per ton of production is forecast to drop 53 percent.

But even that sharp drop may not be enough to stop the inexorable growth in cement emissions in the aggregate, or compensate for the new lease on life that refitting provides old factories that otherwise might have shut their doors. Production went up over 10 percent in Ukraine in 2005 and again in 2006. At Heidelberg Cement’s Doncement plant in Ukraine, output soared 55 percent in the first nine months of last year.

Old factories that for years were running at half capacity are now churning out cement as never before, propelled by booming economies and foreign investment.

And cement, which used to be produced and used locally, is increasingly shipped long distances. On the Internet, cement brokers are now selling relatively cheap Ukrainian cement to all corners of the world. Demand is particularly high in the Middle East.

Unlike many industries, cement has a basic chemical problem: The chemical reaction that creates cement releases large amounts of CO2 in and of itself. Sixty percent of emissions caused by making cement are from this chemical process alone, Luneau said.

The remainder is produced from the fuels used in production, which may be mitigated by the use of greener technology. So to “go green,” cement makers try to cut the fuel side of the equation.

When they buy plants in the developing world they often turn from a water-intensive system to a more energy efficient “dry” system. Ten percent of the fuel used by Lafarge is biomass and alternative fuels.

One industry project called the Cement Sustainability Initiative suggests that concrete should be mixed using smaller portions of cement to reduce emissions, and that cement buildings be given better insulation so that they are more energy efficient. But there is less incentive for cement manufacturers to take on fundamental changes in how to make buildings and roads.

Western cement manufacturers emphasize that the emissions problem cannot be solved until China and India and other booming economies realize that they must limit emissions as well. “Trying to solve emissions in the EU or G-8 will not solve the problem unless emerging economies and their cement production are included,” Luneau said.


I had wanted to contrast this with alternative building materials, such as clay and bamboo, but am concerned that nothing truly has the properties of cement. It is a bit of a conundrum. I will write more in a few days about the use of bamboo in construction. In the meantime I want to to say Mahalo to all of you!

It was on December 7, 1972 that Apollo 17 launched on a 12-day mission to the Moon. Settling into the dust along the northern rim of the Sea of Tranquility on December 11th and returning to Earth on December 19th, it marked the last of on the last of the lunar space missions for NASA. And the last time human’s walked the Moon. Apollo 17

That was thirty-five years ago. Since that time, humans have sadly not ventured beyond a low Earth orbit, flying at the most 250 miles above Earth. To you put that into perspective, the Moon is 238,900 miles away.

In 1996, twenty-four years after the last manned mission to the moon, the X Prize Foundation was established in the hopes of sending humans back to the Moon and beyond. They established a competition, offering a sweet monetary reward to anyone who could create a viable space transport vehicle. If you’ve clicked on the link I provided for X Prize you might have been struck by their motto; Revolution through Competition. Now that is exactly how to get the blood moving in the right direction—through a desire to achieve by outwitting an d outlasting all others. Really, is there any other valid reason for living?

Last week, on October 26-28, the Lunar Lander challenge for the X Prize cup took place at Holloman Air Force base in New Mexico. Holloman Air Force Base All eyes were on Armadillo Aerospace. Unfortunately, they crashed. However, a check of their website shows they are jubilant in their failure because every failure is one step closer to success. Armadillo Aerospace X Prize

If you are an engineer looking up into the heavens in the hopes of leaving Earth’s orbit and have a well thought out idea on how to accomplish such a dangerous mission, but are short on funding, you might want to speak to the people at Space Angel’s Network.

“Space Angels Network is the premier source of dealflow for investors and early-stage capital for space-related ventures across a wide spectrum of technologies, markets, and industries.”

If you have been reading my blog for a while you would know I view life as a series of opportunities leveraged by visionaries. Where better to begin formulating your vision than at an educational institution geared toward your exact field of study. If it is planetary science or a career in space travel and technology I would recommend a visit to the International Space University at the Isle of Man, U.K. From their website:

INTERNATIONAL SPACE UNIVERSITY is an institution founded on the vision of a peaceful, prosperous and boundless future through the study, exploration and development of Space for the benefit of all humanity.
ISU is an institution dedicated to international affiliations, collaboration, and open, scholarly pursuits related to outer space exploration and development. It is a place where students and faculty from all backgrounds are welcomed; where diversity of culture, philosophy, lifestyle, training and opinion are honored and nurtured.

ISU is an institution which recognizes the importance of interdisciplinary studies for the successful exploration and development of space. ISU strives to promote an understanding and appreciation of the Cosmos through the constant evolution of new programs and curricula in relevant areas of study. To this end, ISU will be augmented by an expanding base of campus facilities, networks and affiliations both on and off the Earth.

ISU is an institution dedicated to the development of the human species, the preservation of its home planet, the increase of knowledge, the rational utilization of the vast resources of the Cosmos, and the sanctity of Life in all terrestrial and extraterrestrial manifestations. ISU is a place where students and scholars seek to understand the mysteries of the Cosmos and apply their knowledge to the betterment of the human condition. It is the objective of ISU to be an integral part of Humanity’s movement into the Cosmos, and to carry forth all the principles and philosophies embodied in this Credo.

THIS, THEN, IS THE CREDO OF ISU. For all who join ISU, we welcome you to a new and growing family. It is hoped that each of you, as leaders of industry, academia and government will work together to fulfill the goals set forth herein. Together, we shall aspire to the Stars with wisdom, vision and effort.

Furthermore, Live Science has reported the ISU “has made a five-year commitment to establish and host the International Institute of Space Commerce - conceived of as the world’s leading authority on space commerce.”

So there you have it; innovation boosted competition, leads to commerce, spurring growth and a renewed sense of achievement. As always: World, keep innovating so we can keep driving forward at the speed of 1670 km/hr – times - 30 km/sec.

I have always seen an invention as something that isn’t so much created out of nothing, but is there, waiting to be discovered. Now an invention can be the result of visionary thinking; seeing the invisible. Or as shown in the following article, it can be a valuable improvement on something that already exists. Applying the principle of evolution to tools, methods and objects other than a living thing, is a clever way of inventing. It is in and of itself evolutionary in thinking, resulting in a smarter way of making things work better.

Don’t invent, evolve
Oct 3rd 2007

The inventor’s trial-and-error approach can be automated by software that mimics natural selection

“I HAVE not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” So said Thomas Edison, the prolific inventor, speaking of his laborious attempts to perfect the incandescent light bulb. Although 10,000 trial-and-error attempts might sound a little over the top, an emerging technique for developing inventions knocks even Edison’s exhaustive approach into a cocked hat. Evolutionary design, as it is known, allows a computer to run through tens of millions of variations on an invention until it hits on the best solution to a problem.

As its name suggests, evolutionary design borrows its ideas from biology. It takes a basic blueprint and mutates it in a bid to improve it without human input. As in biology, most mutations are worse than the original. But a few are better, and these are used to create the next generation. Evolutionary design uses a computer program called an evolutionary algorithm, which takes the initial parameters of the design (things such as lengths, areas, volumes, currents and voltages) and treats each like one gene in an organism. Collectively, these genes comprise the product’s genome. By randomly mutating these genes and then breeding them with other, similarly mutated genomes, new offspring designs are created. These are subjected to simulated use by a second program. If a particular offspring is shown not to be up to the task, it is discarded. If it is promising, it is selectively bred with other fit offspring to see if the results, when subject to further mutation, can do even better.

The idea of evolutionary algorithms is not new. Until recently, however, their use has been confined to projects such as refining the aerodynamic profiles of car bodies, aircraft fuselages and wings. That is because only large firms have been able to afford the supercomputers needed to mutate and crossbreed large virtual genomes—and then simulate the behaviour of their offspring—for perhaps 20m generations before the perfect design emerges.

What has changed, in this as in so much else, is the availability and cheapness of computing power. According to John Koza of Stanford University, who is one of the pioneers of the field, evolutionary designs that would have taken many months to run on PCs are now feasible in days.

The result is that the range of applications to which the principles of evolutionary design are being applied is growing fast. Among those revealed at the Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference held in London this summer were long-life USB memory sticks, superfast racing-yacht keels, ultra-high-bandwidth optical fibres, high performance Wi-Fi antennae (evolved to avoid patent fees), cochlear implants that can optimise themselves to individual patients and a cancer-biopsy analyser that was evolved to match a human pathologist’s tumour-spotting skills.

How can evolution help improve a USB stick? It turns out that the storage transistors in these flash-memory devices are prone to being gummed up with electrostatic charge that they cannot dissipate. That prevents them being erased, limiting the stick’s useful life. A team at the University of Limerick in Ireland therefore evolved new signal-timing patterns that minimise the build-up of the disabling charge. The result: USB sticks that last up to 30 times longer than their predecessors. At the University of Sydney, in Australia, Steve Manos let an evolutionary algorithm come up with novel patterns in a type of optical fibre that has air holes shot through its length. Normally, these holes are arranged in a hexagonal pattern, but the algorithm generated a bizarre flower-like pattern of holes that no human would have thought of trying. It doubled the fibre’s bandwidth.

Meanwhile, Pierrick Legrand of the University of Bordeaux has used the method to optimise individual devices to the user. The devices in question are cochlear implants, which help those hard of hearing to hear better. One of the hardest tasks facing those who fit these devices is working out the precise choreography of the voltages and timings that need to be applied to the 20 or so electrodes embedded in the auditory nerve, in order to make them work properly. The signals required vary from patient to patient and some people go many years before an audiologist gets it right. Dr Legrand, however, has developed an evolution-based system that works on the fly. It co-evolves several channels at a time, allowing a patient to tell his doctor how each pattern of electrode stimulation is faring. Dr Legrand says that one patient, who had experienced a decade of trouble with his implant, had it fixed in a couple of days by the evolutionary method.

Perhaps the most cunning use of an evolutionary algorithm, though, is by Dr Koza himself. His team at Stanford developed a Wi-Fi antenna for a client who did not want to pay a patent-licence fee to Cisco Systems. The team fed the algorithm as much data as they could from the Cisco patent and told the software to design around it. It succeeded in doing so. The result is a design that does not infringe Cisco’s patent—and is more efficient to boot. A century and a half after Darwin suggested natural selection as the mechanism of evolution, engineers have proved him right once again.

A friend of mine has some very interesting things being posted on his blog over in his corner of the Internet. If you have an interest in Photovoltaic Solar Energy I highly recommend his blog at Double Glazing Insulating Glass Blog

Anyway, he has been posting lots of videos on magnetic motors and solar energy. Makes sense, he is an industrial engineer focusing on the insulating glass sector. One video which started me on this entire post was from Robert McMann of Australia. In that video he brought up a good point: Solar Energy requires storage batteries.

I wondered to myself, is solar truly the way to go? What other drawbacks are there to a solar based energy supply? For example, what finite materials go into the manufacture of solar cells? Obviously, the glass is renewable, so that shouldn’t be a problem. But what else is in there? Well, I do know newer, less expensive (as in more cost effective using today’s energy dollars) solar panels have a polymer layer. Such as the one’s produced by Konarka Technologies.

Hopefully, we won’t run out of oil before we build out all those solar cells, because polymers are manufactured from oil. So, when considering the best alternative to oil, gas or coal energy supplies, we have to look at the entire supply chain.

Now Harald had a very interesting video on a mirror solar cell test facility in the Negev that concentrates energy into a small collector in the center.

Quite frankly, I am a little surprised to see so little coming from Israel in the way of solar energy. I would think the Israeli’s would be more heavily involved in researching alternative energy since they have no energy resources of their own. And they have no vested interest in assisting to perpetuate the oil monopoly. Plus, there is the added benefit of thumbing their noses at the Muslims. While Muslims are busy looking for more inventive ways to destroy civilization and force the world to submit to Islamic oppression, Israel could be improving on or discovering alternative energies. One destroys, while the works towards establishing freedom from oil tyranny.

That led me to wonder: What else are the smart, hard-working people of Israel working on? I found this article on an Israeli company that has discovered a way to convert radioactive waste into clean energy:

In case you don’t feel like clicking the link here is a reprint of the full article.

Israeli discovery converts dangerous radioactive waste into clean energy
19 Mar 2007
An Israeli firm has taken the laws of science and turned them into a useful invention for mankind - a reactor that converts radioactive, hazardous and municipal waste into inert byproducts such as glass and clean energy.


By Karin Kloosterman - ISRAEL 21C

The laws of conservation of energy and mass say that energy or mass cannot be created or destroyed - only change form. With the help of Russian scientists, Israeli firm Environmental Energy Resources (EER), has taken the laws of science and turned them into a useful invention for mankind - a reactor that converts radioactive, hazardous and municipal waste into inert byproducts such as glass and clean energy.

The problem of radioactive waste is a global one, and getting increasingly worse. All countries in the industrialized world are waking up to the need for safer hazardous waste disposal methods.

“In the beginning, nobody believed that we could do it,” says Itschak Shrem, chairman of investment company Shrem, Fudim and Keiner representing EER at a press briefing announcing the innovation last week in Tel Aviv.

Shrem, himself an invoker of small miracles through the founding of one of Israel’s most lucrative venture capital funds - Polaris (now Pitango) - points to a chunk of black, lava-like rock sitting on the table in front of everyone’s coffee cups.

The journalists cautiously eye Shrem as he assures them that the shiny dark material, emitted from EER’s pilot waste treatment reactor near Karmiel in the north, is safe to touch.

“It also makes a good recyclable material for building and paving roads,” he assures them. Earlier, Shrem told ISRAEL21c that EER can take low-radioactive, medical and municipal solid waste and produce from it clean energy that “can be used for just about anything.”

Using a system called plasma gasification melting technology (PGM) developed by scientists from Russia’s Kurchatov Institute research center, the Radon Institute in Russia, and Israel’s Technion Institute - EER combines high temperatures and low-radioactive energy to transform waste.

“We go up to 7,000 degrees centigrade and end at 1,400 centigrade,” says Moshe Stern, founder and president of the Ramat Gan-based company.

Shrem adds that EER’s waste disposal rector does not harm the environment and leaves no surface water, groundwater, or soil pollution in its wake. The EER reactor combines three processes into one solution: it takes plasma torches to break down the waste; carbon leftovers are gasified and inorganic components are converted to solid waste. The remaining vitrified material is inert and can be cast into molds to produce tiles, blocks or plates for the construction industry.

EER’s Karmiel facility (and its other installation in the Ukraine) has a capacity to convert 500 to 1,000 kilograms of waste per hour. Other industry solutions, the company claims, can only treat as much as 50 kilograms per hour and are much more costly.

According to the journal Research Studies (Business Communications, Inc.), ‘The production of nuclear weapons/power in the US has left a 50-year legacy of unprecedented volumes of radioactive waste and contaminated subsurface media and structures… Nuclear waste generators include the national laboratories, industrial research facilities, educational and medical institutions, electrical power utilities, medical diagnostics facilities, and various manufacturing processes.’

In the US alone, Research Studies predicts that this year’s market for radioactive waste-management technologies in America will cap $5.5 billion.

EER was founded in 2000 and has maintained a low profile until revealing its reactor last week.

“We spent our time on R&D and building up the site in Israel which we started constructing in 2003. We realized that nobody was going to believe us unless we started doing the process physically. They always said it sounded too good to be true, so we had to prove it to them,” said Shrem.

Back in 2004, the Ukrainian government put out a tender searching for a solution that would provide safer hazardous waste disposal methods. At that time, the country was looking for a way to treat its low-radioactive waste zones resulting from the Chernobyl explosion. EER sent in their proposal, and their technology won the bid.

According to Stern, the former Soviet Union was the first to build nuclear plants. Over the years they have generated “huge amounts of low-radioactive waste. They came to us looking for a solution,” he said.

The Chernobyl nuclear meltdown on April 26, 1986 - was beyond a doubt the largest civil nuclear explosion in the world and one still linked to thousands of deaths. More than 20 years after the explosion, tens of kilometers around the reactor is still highly radioactive; and some 30,000 radioactive homes remain buried along with household appliances, food and clothing, explained Stern.

“The European community is afraid of what is happening there,” notes Stern, warning that it is time for the clean up to begin, even if it means making only a small dent in the massive pile. “The low-radioactive waste is slowly contaminating the water and will continue to do so over the 300 years it takes to break down.”

And since new conventions have been set by The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, first world countries are no longer permitted to traffic their hazardous waste to third world nations - forcing Western countries to drum up immediate and responsible solutions.

With a strict eye over its operations by Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection, EER revealed its proof-of-concept to Israeli and foreign dignitaries in Aeblin, near Karmiel last week, showing how it can take mountains of municipal waste and reduce it to a pile of black rubble.

“We are not burning. This is the key word,” Shrem said. “When you burn you produce dioxin. Instead, we vacuum out the oxygen to prevent combustion.”

EER then purifies the gas and with it operates turbines to generate electricity. EER produces energy - 70% of which goes back to power the reactor with a 30% excess which can be sold.

“In effect, we are combining two of the most exciting markets in the US - the environment and clean energy,” says Stern, “We also reduce the carbon footprint.”

The cost for treating and burying low-radioactive nuclear waste currently stands at about $30,000 per ton. The EER process will cost $3,000 per ton and produce only a 1% per volume solid byproduct.

In the US, EER is working to treat low-radioactive liquid waste and recently contracted with Energy Solutions, the largest American company in the field with 75% of the US market.

Based on the financial forecasts, EER is certainly giving a fresh meaning to the expression - one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure. But in EER’s case, ones man’s hazardous waste may very well be EER’s goldmine.