Saturday, April 18, 2009

March 8 - Nanotechnology

I listened to a podcast of Thursday's Future Tense on Radio National and heard a really interesting story about a collaboration between universities in Australia and China in the field of nanotechnology.

The exact description of the partnership is the Australian Technology Network, a group of five universities in Australia, and ISTA, the International Strategic Technology Alliance which is a consortium of Chinese tertiary institutions.

"The partnership has its focus on the development of nanotechnology. That is, the science of using and manipulating extremely small particles to perform certain tasks or to achieve certain results."

One of the areas that nanotechnology is being applied to is in environmental science and I've copied part of the transcript from the show to illustrate how potentially useful this work is.

"Mike Ford: One of the big areas that we work in is energy efficiency. So, for example, a really big issue in Australia is cooling houses, and the way we generally do that is with air-conditioning, which has significant problems for a number of reasons. It's a huge drain on energy, there's all sorts of other issues involved with it.

So what we're trying to do there is to try and come up with ways of making materials that can help us cool buildings without using lots of electricity. An example of that is you can take nanoparticles, very, very small particles of gold, and these are typically in the range of maybe one thousandth of the diameter of a human hair, so if you coat those on to a window, you can make the window so that it absorbs infra-red light, which is the heat that comes from the sun; you can block out that part of the sun's light, but let through all the visible light. So from the inside of the building it looks very, very similar but none of the heat gets through, or a lot less of the heat gets through. So you don't obviously have to air-condition the inside of the building.

One of the other areas that we work in is one of the really big sources of energy usage, is lighting. So we all light our houses, factories, like the insides of their buildings and so on and so forth, traffic lights, car lights, whatever, and we use light sources that are very inefficient. And one of the other projects we're working on is to try and find ways of making light sources that are very, very efficient, that last a long, long time, so you don't have all of the environmental disposal issues associated with it, you don't use so much electricity in generating the light, and one of the ways that this is going to go in the future is to use what's called solid-state lighting. These are LEDs, basically, and so we've seen LEDs.

The real challenge now is to be able to make those LEDs very, very cheaply, so that you can put them into every light bulb in every single house, and in the short term, the energy saving associated with that is enormous. So these are really good short-term solutions to things like climate change."

it's encouraging to think that there are developments going on that will eventually result in very beneficial outcomes.

March 7 - Habits

I listened to a podcast of By Design with Alan Saunders. He was speaking with Elizabeth Shove who is a Professor of Sociology, University of Lancaster and Visiting Professor, RMIT and Swinbourne, Melbourne.

They were discussing life choice changes that are necessary to accommodate climate change and asking the question “How are our habits standing in the way of real change?”

We acquire habits from observing other people and adopt shared conventions in terms of our habits and these show themselves in our daily practises. These conventions dictate our daily rituals and show up in the processes we follow, from getting out of bed in the morning to eating, work and social habits and bedtime rituals.

Our choices are constrained by the infrastructure design of our cities which tend to dictate that we generally have to live in one area and work away from home. This design hardwiring resists the sort of changes and choices that might address climate change considerations. While infrastructure design is a more difficult thing to change there are still many things that can be changed and that are already changing.

There is a greater awareness of the need to live a life that responds to the seasons. This involves the knowledge about living in a particular house: when to open and close the curtains; insulation and shading; which native plants to have; the best building materials to use; and efficient resource use. The international standard of setting air-conditioning systems to 22 degrees everywhere means the seasons have gone for many people’s lives so they have to relearn how to adapt best at home.

Alan mentioned that Harold Magee in the US pointed out that people in the US could save energy just by cooking their pasta in less water. This infers that many small changes by lots of people can potentially influence things in a big way.

I believe that the best way to bring about change is for everyone to make better, more informed choices about lifestyle issues. As consumers, we are powerful directors of the decisions that governments and manufacturers make. If, for example, we decided only to buy goods in environmentally-friendly packaging then the companies not doing this would have to change or go out of business.

What outcome do you want and what decisions are you making?

Friday, April 17, 2009

March 6 - Fractals

Fractals were named by Benoit Mandelbrot. He's a mathematician who devised a way of mathematically explaining the tendency of many things in nature to follow irregular patterns.

Natural fractals include the shapes of mountains, coastlines and river basins; the structures of plants, blood vessels and lungs; and the clustering of galaxies. Fractals are found in human pursuits, such as music, painting, architecture, and stock market prices. The stock market fractals idea was used in the film "The Bank", starring David Wenham, where fractals were used to bankrupt a bank.

Mandelbrot believed that fractals, far from being unnatural, were in many ways more intuitive and natural than the artificially smooth objects of traditional Euclidean geometry: "Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line." —Mandelbrot, in his introduction to The Fractal Geometry of Nature.

This is an example of fractal geometry, where each component of the pattern is exactly the same as the pattern as a whole.

When you add more components to the images you can get amazingly beautiful results.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

March 5 - Sacred Geometry

This came up in a conversation today and I didn't know what it was so I went to Google and found out that "Sacred geometry may be understood as a worldview of pattern recognition, a complex system of religious symbols and structures involving space, time and form". I don't agree with the "religious" connection because complex patterns exist in nature by design and religion is a man-made construct.

Pythagoras apparently discovered a relationship between geometry and mathematics to music and he believed that "this gave music powers of healing, as it could "harmonize" the out-of-balance body, and this belief has been revived in modern times".

My understanding is that the planet and everything on it is made up of vibrations of different frequencies. This means that everything, by it's very nature, exists as a pattern of vibration with a mathematical basis. For example, colours have particular vibrations and the visual cortex of the brain interprets those vibrations as the colour they are. Taking this a step further, objects that are vibrational in nature can interact in proximity to one another and affect each other's frequency, so that would be consistent with Pythagoras' theory of harmonizing with music.

The concept that we are vibrational beings is backed up the fact that our thoughts are pulses of energy moving around neural networks. Our ears collect sound vibrations and send them to the hearing processing centre of the brain where they are translated into a recognisable form. Our eyes collect vibrations of light and transmit them to the visual cortex where they are translated into images. If you hold your hand near a heat source you can detect the vibration of the heat energy. Your nose translates the vibration of smells in your vicinity.

Matter, the objects in our environment, the stuff we think of as solid, is not really solid at all if you look at it from the perspective of the atoms that make it up. They're moving around in space in the same way that everything else is.

So where does this fit in with Sacred Geometry? If you take the "worldview of pattern recognition" definition then you can say that we, as universal translaters of vibration, recognise the oscillating patterns that exist in the world around us and have identified and reproduced some particularly pleasing ones, such as the one above.

What do you think?