Category: Pollution Solutions (& Disasters)

When Good Flowerbeds Go Bad: A Story of Chemistry in Action

By Veronique Greenwood | December 30, 2011 8:43 am

White gates turning black in Belgrade.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, a fortress of white limestone was built between the River Sava and the Danube in what is now Serbia. It later gave its name—Belgrade, or “white fortress”—to the city that sprang up within and outside its walls, and in the twenty-first century, after more than a millennium of attacks by Huns, Bulgarians, Byzantines, more Bulgarians, Turks, and what-have-you, Belgrade fortress met its harshest enemy yet: fertilizer.

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The Greatest Threats to da Vinci's "The Last Supper": Milan's Dirty Air & Visitors' Oily Skin

By Douglas Main | November 29, 2011 11:19 am

Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” has survived since the late 1400s on a wall in the Santa Maria delle Grazie Church in Milan, weathering centuries of change and intrigue, such as a World War II bombing. Worried about soiling from air pollution in the city, one of Western Europe’s most heavily polluted, curators installed a ventilation and filtration system to protect it in 2009. The system worked well at reducing levels of fine and coarse particulate matter within the church (according to a new study), which should save the painting from worst effects of air pollution.But a significant threat remains: fatty lipids and organic compounds, such as those emitted from the skin of the 1,000 people that visit the painting each day.

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If You Build a Ghost Town in the Desert, the Geeks Will Come

By Veronique Greenwood | September 8, 2011 1:19 pm

Ghost town available, no apocalypse required.

New Mexico has a lot of land and a lot unemployed folks, and the state government has apparently been casting around for some combo deal that lets them use one to fix the other. And they must have been successful, because a DC-based engineering consultancy recently announced that they will be starting a $200 million construction deal there, building a city large enough for 35,000 on public land. A ghost city. No people allowed.

The ghost town will have all the modern conveniences, including new buildings, old-style buildings, houses, apartments, schools, commercial blocks, and traffic lights. But it will not have all the usual users of such conveniences, including dental hygienists, CEOs, angst-ridden teenagers, commuters, soccer moms, tax lawyers, and executive assistants. In fact, the only people allowed will be scientists and engineers. It’s a scientists-only ghost-town club.

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Blue Goo to the Rescue in Japan Clean-Up [Gallery]

By Veronique Greenwood | May 31, 2011 4:15 pm

Officials Use Blue, Peelable Goo to Decontaminate Japan

By Veronique Greenwood | May 27, 2011 11:35 am

Just pour and peel! Also slices and dices.

Put away that Swiffer—when you’ve got a real mess to clean up, turn to this blue goo.

Japanese officials looking to clean up radioactive contamination are applying a product called DeconGel to the problem. The usual method is distressingly Stone Age: soap and water applied by human beings. As you can imagine, there are a number of problems with this, like what to do with all that radioactive water, which has a tendency to leak all over the place, and what to do about radiation exposure of said human beings.

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Small Particles Can Flow Up Waterfalls, Say Tea-Drinking Physicists

By Veronique Greenwood | May 17, 2011 12:45 pm

yerba mate
When the height is right, tea leaves zip up the
waterfall and go for a swim in the upper container.

It’s not just salmon that can leap nimbly up waterfalls, according to a new study in the physics arXiv: wee particles like tea leaves and industrial contaminants can flow upstream if conditions are right.

Cuban scientists first noticed this strange phenomenon while brewing yerba mate by decanting pure water from one container into another containing the tea leaves. Mysteriously, tea leaves sometimes appeared in the water container.

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An Underappreciated Weapon Against Air Pollution: Our Dead Skin

By Patrick Morgan | May 17, 2011 8:21 am

We humans have a whole lotta skin: The average adult human body has about 22 square feet of it. If you could step out of your skin and plop it on a scale (kids, don’t try this at home), it would weigh 8 pounds. And every minute, 40,000 of your dead skin cells flake off your body and join their brethren among the dust that accumulates in your home. Knowing how much dead skin we slough off, some scientists decided to test what that skin is up to, discovering that the oils in dead skin cells actually help reduce indoor air pollution. Read More

Call Off the Crazy: Quake Prediction Falsely Attributed to Decades-Dead Quack Was Wrong

By Patrick Morgan | May 12, 2011 11:37 am

It’s said that all roads lead to Rome, but on May 11, the opposite was true as thousands of Romans fled the Eternal City for fear of a massive earthquake. The mass exodus was spurred by  internet rumors that said an Italian pseudoscientist predicted a devastating quake on this date over thirty years ago. It goes without saying, but here’s why you probably shouldn’t trust the seismic predictions of someone who thought earthquakes were caused by planetary alignments:

Meet Raffaele Bendandi, a “scientist” who believed that aligned planets could change Earth’s gravitational force and trigger earthquakes. He’s thought to have correctly predicted a 1915 earthquake in Avezzano, Italy, but he didn’t become famous until he “correctly” predicted a January 4, 1923 earthquake in Le Marche. (He was actually two days off.) It was close enough for Benito Mussolini, though, who later granted Bendandi a knighthood.

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A Toast! To Scottish Homes Powered by Whisky

By Patrick Morgan | May 10, 2011 8:36 am

If you live in Scotland, the same whisky that energize your visits to the pub may also energize your home: Contracts are underway to construct a combined heat and power plant that runs on the leftovers of some of Scotland’s most famous distilleries. Scheduled to be up and running by 2013, this particular alcohol-powered project is Scotland’s first whisky-fueled energy project that will provide electricity to the public.

Sixteen whisky labels located in Speyside, Scotland—including Glenfiddich, Chivas Regal, and Famous Grouse—will contribute material to the new power plant. They’ll transport their  spent grains (or draff) from the distilleries to the biofuel plant, where it’ll be combined with wood chips and burned, generating over 7.0 MW of power. This energy output—about the same as two large wind turbines—is expected to power at least 9,000 homes. In addition, the residue called pot ale, which accumulates in the distilleries’ copper stills, will be turned into animal feed and fertilizer for nearby farmers. Read More

If the Catastrophic Weather Events Don't Get Us, the Irrationality Might

By Valerie Ross | April 8, 2011 12:24 pm

global warming
What global warming?

What the weather’s like affects some people’s beliefs about global climate change, a new study found: On hot days, they’re all over it, but on cold days, they’re not so sure.

This is not impressive, people. It’s called “global,” meaning not just what you personally felt when you walked out the door this morning. “Climate” also means something different from “weather”, and “change” could mean things will get warmer, colder, or just plain different. On unusually chilly days, these climatically labile folks are 0 for 3.

If only that was the worst of it. A string of studies have shown that people are comically bad at consistently thinking, well, anything when it comes to climate change. Even miniscule differences in what we’re up to at the moment or how we’re asked can have a big effect on what people think of climate change and what they’re willing to do to help. Here are five more ridiculously simple things that get people to change their minds:

What’s on TV. I’m sure you all remember the 2004 hit film The Day After Tomorrow, in which global warming throws Earth into a new ice age, all of a sudden, much to everyone’s surprise. After the movie came out, one study showed, people believed in global warming more, worried about it more, and felt it was more dangerous than they had a few weeks earlier. Where data fail, have Jake Gyllenhaal run through the streets of an ice-bound New York.

Wording of what’s happening. About 10% more people think weird things will happen to Earth’s climate when you call those weird things “climate change” than “global warming,” a study in March found—because the exact phrasing is what’s really important here, not the weird-climatic-things part.

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