Scientific Scribbles

The voice of UniMelb Science Communication students

Molten Salt Solar Plant

A Molten Salt Solar Plant, Sounds strange doesn’t it? It sounds complex but it’s actually quite simple. It’s aim is to continue producing energy, well into the night. A solar tower will be built in Nevada, costing tax payers all of US$737 million. The tower will be filled with molten salt and this salt will be heated to 1,050 degrees Fahrenheit. The salt will retain its thermal energy for a very long time and can be mixed with water to produce to steam at anytime. Unlike water, molten salt retains heat for an extended amount of time, allowing the generator to potentially work for up to 12 hrs after the sun has set. The reasons behind using molten salt is because it is liquid at atmospheric temperature, it is cost efficient because salt is readily available as a natural resource and it is non-flammable and non-toxic.

We’re building for the future and it looks good at the moment but have we started too late?


Why must everything be so clean?

I mentioned in may last post how I could go on and on about the amount of sanitizing there is today, so I will.

Most people would have seen this ad, and you’ll agree it’s the most pointless thing on Earth.

Now even if there is an enormous amount of horrible infectious germs on the soap pump which are now all over one of your hands. What’s the first thing you’re going to do after putting soap on one hand, rub it onto the other.

Seriously the amount of cleaning products that are out there these days is staggering. People are so afraid of the horrible horrible germs out there, that they live inside these sterile bubbles in which they are literally the only living thing.

Now I’m not saying we should live in a layer of our own filth, but there should be a balance. I like the idea of evaporating hand sanitiser because it means I don’t waste as much water as I normally would. But I don’t like what living in a sterile environment does to the immune system.

Most people would know that living with no exposure to germs weakens your immune system. The amount of pathogens encountered on a day to day basis is staggering and thanks to this limited exposure (best at a young age), we can combat any new pathogens without them fazing us at all. However, if our day to day exposure is limited from living in an environment with sterilized surfaces, we have to deal with the other adverse effects of our immune system.

Some of the nastiest symptoms we get such as fever, vomiting, and even anaphylactic shock are our immune systems kicking in from something it is desperately trying to get rid of. If we haven’t been exposed to a pathogen before and it arrives in a suitably high amount, this is what happens.

Sorry if I went on a bit of rant but it is just that I know of people who sterilize everything and then wonder why their children get sick on day 2 of every holiday they go on.

What’s your opinion? At what point do you think the sterilizing should stop.


Manual Override

I’m still learning to drive and the question I’m most asked about driving is ‘am I learning manual or automatic?’ Manual. From there the conversation steers towards expression of confusion. During my 120 hours (and a lot of money spent on petrol) I’ve come to appreciate the control I have over a car that has a manual transmission. Before I go on, I’ll lay all my cards on the table; I have a car with automatic transmission and have had the joy of taking off on an incline in an automatic compared to a manual. But here are a few reasons why I prefer a manual:

Licensed under Wikipedia Commons, Manual Transmission
  • The mechanical cog-works in a manual are simpler and collectively lighter. Therefore it doesn’t require as much cooling as an automatic.
  • As a result of this simpler mechanism, maintenance is required less often and it is generally easier to repair.
  • There are three ways to slow down a manual transmission as opposed to two in an automatic: traditional braking, using the handbrake, lowering the gear.
  • You can influence the quantity of petrol going into the engine.
  • I love to multi-task.

What do you prefer?


3D – Gimmick of the Decade

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one in this boat but as soon as I hear something that tries to advertise some ‘great’ new Hollywood blockbuster or some global sporting event in 3D, I’m immediately put off.

I’m really going to pay an extra 600 bucks for this feature on my new TV (not).

Really what is the point?

I definitely see 3D as an improvement but it I fail to see it as more than a stop-gap or an interim solution.

If anything I feel sorry for all the TV manufacturers who spend all this money advertising and developing this technology on their hardware, when really it is not that much of an improvement. They probably feel they can persuade the ignorant to spend their hard earned cash, even though this technology has far more negatives than positives.

Many doctors and vision experts have said 3D technology upsets normal eye movements and our vestibular system (responsible for balance/spatial orientation) becomes confused. Nausea and headaches often result for up to 1/5 people, and our perception of depth often takes an extended time period to return to normal. In the end it is recommended to not watch 3D for longer than 20 minutes, so really you can’t even get through a single TV show.

What is really worth waiting for is holographic technology. First and foremost we can ditch the glasses. Secondly the colour isn’t washed out. Thirdly you aren’t going to get a massive headache and feel like throwing up after using it for more than half an hour. This is a real 3D experience, done properly.

Surely you remember this famous scene from the first Star Wars film. Even R2D2 knows how 3D should be done.


Unfortunately holographic technology is a long way off, but it seems the next step will be like todays 3D equipment just without the glasses. But it is likely this will still carry many of the issues inherent with the current implementations.

Do you actually think 3D is worth it? I’m still waiting for someone to make a good argument for it, so if you have one, be my guest.


Has anyone noticed the number of food allergies that are floating around these days?

Salty Peanut“>

This photo was taken by Martin L and is licensed under Creative Commons.

You can’t get packets of peanuts on the planes anymore, soy and milk products are sold at school canteens to cater for students who are allergic to one or the other. Yet, if you asked mum or dad about when they were at school, many would have to think hard to remember that kid who couldn’t have peanuts or couldn’t drink milk. There were 3 million food allergies reported in the USA last year and numbers are steadily increasing, the question is what’s causing it.

This topic came up a few weeks ago during our first aid course, the trainer provided a few culprits which sounded good to me, but I’m very interested to hear your opinions on the matter. The first being how we wrap our kids in cotton wool these days, there are so many antiseptics and other products that make the house so sterile you could perform surgery on the kitchen counter. I could go on and on about this so I’ll save it for my next post.

The other culprit is the amount of processed food we eat. There are so many different chemicals in our food; god knows what this stuff will do in the long term. Developing countries have seen an increase in food allergies and this coincides with the increase in the amount of processed food becoming available.

Specific causes are yet to be identified but I’m eager to hear what your opinion is on the matter. Talk to you soon.


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