Archive for July, 2006

New Scientist SPACE – Breaking News – Plasma bubble could protect astronauts on Mars trip

July 18, 2006

New Scientist SPACE – Breaking News – Plasma bubble could protect astronauts on Mars trip: “A bubble of plasma could shield astronauts from radiation during long journeys through space, researchers are suggesting. If the idea proves viable, it means heavy metal protective panels could be replaced by a plasma shield of just a few grams.”
====================================

Plasma shields up! Ok, maybe it isn’t Star Trek…yet. The plasma would have to be contained inside a superconducting wire mesh that would surround the whole ship, but hey, you have to admit that plasma shields are cool. Come on now. Admit it. There you go.

The idea is that in space, you have all sorts of cosmic radiation that would bombard the ship and go right through the hull. Unless you make the hull really thick, e.g. several inches of aluminum. But aluminum (a.k.a. aluminium to the Brits) isn’t very heavy, you say. Well, a few inches thick sheets are really heavy. I’ve used big chunks of aluminum for building microscopes and we aren’t even in the same city as the ballpark of the stuff you put over your potato salad (assuming you don’t use Saran Wrap).

If you make a ship with a hull that is thick enough to block the cosmic radiation, it will be too massive to effectively work. The more mass, the more fuel you need to burn to get it up to speed (or else you have to go really slow and the trip takes years). So a plasma shield would mean that we could make an interplanetary space ship that is a practical mass.

Accounting for the balance of mass/fuel/radiation shielding is one of those things that many SF writers conveniently ignore.

ScienceDaily: Live Wires: Microbiologist Discovers Our Planet Is Hard-wired With Electricity-producing Bacteria

July 11, 2006

ScienceDaily: Live Wires: Microbiologist Discovers Our Planet Is Hard-wired With Electricity-producing Bacteria: “When Yuri Gorby discovered that a microbe which transforms toxic metals can sprout tiny electrically conductive wires from its cell membrane, he reasoned this anatomical oddity and its metal-changing physiology must be related.

A colleague who had heard Gorby’s presentation at a scientific meeting later reported that he, too, was able to coax nanowires from another so-called metal-reducing bacteria species and further suggested the wires, called pili, could be used to bioengineer electrical devices.

It now turns out that not only are the wires and their ability to alter metal connected—but that many other bacteria, including species involved in fermentation and photosynthesis, can also form wires under a variety of environmental conditions.”
=====================================

How cool is that? Maybe the earth really does have a collective “intelligence”. Must…fight…urge…to…start…new…story…

New Scientist Tech – Breaking News – Flat ‘ion trap’ holds quantum computing promise

July 7, 2006

New Scientist Tech – Breaking News – Flat ‘ion trap’ holds quantum computing promise: Tom Simonite

“Quantum computers could be more easily mass produced thanks to the development of a two-dimensional ion trap – one of their key components.

A quantum computer could be much faster than a conventional computer. While electronic bits can exist in one of two states – ‘0’ or ‘1’ – a quantum bit, or qubit, can be in both states simultaneously. Connecting lots of qubits together would allow many more calculations to be carried out simultaneously.

Ion traps have so far proved the best way to make qubits, allowing up to eight to be connected together. They work by trapping super-cooled ions in an electric field. Lasers can then be used to manipulate the ions to alter their quantum states.”
=================================

Ah ha! Another piece in the quantum computing puzzle. All signs point to me writing that next science thriller…

BIOTERRORISM: BioShield Is Slow to Build U.S. Defenses Against Bioweapons — Kaiser 313 (5783): 28 — Science

July 7, 2006

BIOTERRORISM: BioShield Is Slow to Build U.S. Defenses Against Bioweapons — Kaiser 313 (5783): 28 — Science: “BioShield Is Slow to Build U.S. Defenses Against Bioweapons
Jocelyn Kaiser

Developing vaccines against potential bioweapons such as smallpox and Marburg virus is tough going for small companies. But it’s even harder when their comrade-in-arms on the front lines, a $5.6 billion federal program called BioShield, is AWOL.”
======================================

Maybe I should be editing Viral Coat and sending it out. Hmmm, two novels to edit. Which to choose?

Atari Plays a Waiting Game With Test Drive Unlimited – New York Times

July 6, 2006

Atari Plays a Waiting Game With Test Drive Unlimited – New York Times: “The second surprise is Test Drive Unlimited itself, a sprawling, sumptuous experience that seems poised to become one of the more engaging games of the year. The game models the entire Hawaiian island of Oahu and allows players to race any of 90 cars over more than 1,000 miles of roads.

Extensive testing is still needed to fine-tune the innovative online mode, but the idea is that thousands of players will cruise the island simultaneously over the Internet, challenging one another at any traffic light to lay down some rubber. On the Xbox 360, the game’s main system, the graphics dazzle and the cars evoke a realistic sense of speed.”
=============================================

I may have to break down and get an Xbox360 after all. This game looks like a great step forward in virtual reality world. It is an open-ended sandbox game, and they hope virtual communities form up. Like Second Life, but with an underlying game. Or like Star Wars Galaxies without the need to grind out experience points.

New Scientist News – Road crash could set off nuclear blast

July 5, 2006

New Scientist News – Road crash could set off nuclear blast

Trident nuclear warheads damaged in a vehicle pile-up or a plane crash could partially detonate and deliver a lethal radiation dose, according to a newly declassified report from the UK Ministry of Defence obtained by New Scientist. The MoD has also revealed that an attack by terrorists on a nuclear weapons convoy could produce an even more disastrous outcome. “The consequences of such an incident are likely to be considerable loss of life,” says a senior MoD official.

Trident warheads are regularly transported to weapons facilities in the US and the UK, where they are inspected to make sure that ageing materials don’t render them unreliable or unstable.
====================================

They go on to say the chances are 2.4 in a billion, but hey, those are great odds for a novelist. Maybe a nice suspense as the good guys try to prevent the bad guys from doing it. Or society dealing with the after effects. Lots of ways to go with it.