More on Science
3 months ago
Can space-based solar power solve Earth's energy problems?
Better technology and lower launch costs revive science-fiction tech.
Airbus engineers showed off sustainable energy's future in Munich last month. They captured sunlight with solar panels, turned it into microwaves, and beamed it into an airplane hangar, where it lighted a city model. The test delivered 2 kW across 36 meters, but it posed a serious question: Should we send enormous satellites to capture solar energy in space? In orbit, free of clouds and nighttime, they could create power 24/7 and send it to Earth.
Airbus engineer Jean-Dominique Coste calls it an engineering problem. “But it’s never been done at [large] scale.”
Proponents of space solar power say the demand for green energy, cheaper space access, and improved technology might change that. Once someone invests commercially, it will grow. Former NASA researcher John Mankins says it might be a trillion-dollar industry.
Myriad uncertainties remain, including whether beaming gigawatts of power to Earth can be done efficiently and without burning birds or people. Concept papers are being replaced with ground and space testing. The European Space Agency (ESA), which supported the Munich demo, will propose ground tests to member nations next month. The U.K. government offered £6 million to evaluate innovations this year. Chinese, Japanese, South Korean, and U.S. agencies are working. NASA policy analyst Nikolai Joseph, author of an upcoming assessment, thinks the conversation's tone has altered. What formerly appeared unattainable may now be a matter of "bringing it all together"
NASA studied space solar power during the mid-1970s fuel crunch. A projected space demonstration trip using 1970s technology would have cost $1 trillion. According to Mankins, the idea is taboo in the agency.
Space and solar power technology have evolved. Photovoltaic (PV) solar cell efficiency has increased 25% over the past decade, Jones claims. Telecoms use microwave transmitters and receivers. Robots designed to repair and refuel spacecraft might create solar panels.
Falling launch costs have boosted the idea. A solar power satellite large enough to replace a nuclear or coal plant would require hundreds of launches. ESA scientist Sanjay Vijendran: "It would require a massive construction complex in orbit."
SpaceX has made the idea more plausible. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket costs $2600 per kilogram, less than 5% of what the Space Shuttle did, and the company promised $10 per kilogram for its giant Starship, slated to launch this year. Jones: "It changes the equation." "Economics rules"
Mass production reduces space hardware costs. Satellites are one-offs made with pricey space-rated parts. Mars rover Perseverance cost $2 million per kilogram. SpaceX's Starlink satellites cost less than $1000 per kilogram. This strategy may work for massive space buildings consisting of many identical low-cost components, Mankins has long contended. Low-cost launches and "hypermodularity" make space solar power economical, he claims.
Better engineering can improve economics. Coste says Airbus's Munich trial was 5% efficient, comparing solar input to electricity production. When the Sun shines, ground-based solar arrays perform better. Studies show space solar might compete with existing energy sources on price if it reaches 20% efficiency.
Lighter parts reduce costs. "Sandwich panels" with PV cells on one side, electronics in the middle, and a microwave transmitter on the other could help. Thousands of them build a solar satellite without heavy wiring to move power. In 2020, a team from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) flew on the Air Force's X-37B space plane.
NRL project head Paul Jaffe said the satellite is still providing data. The panel converts solar power into microwaves at 8% efficiency, but not to Earth. The Air Force expects to test a beaming sandwich panel next year. MIT will launch its prototype panel with SpaceX in December.
As a satellite orbits, the PV side of sandwich panels sometimes faces away from the Sun since the microwave side must always face Earth. To maintain 24-hour power, a satellite needs mirrors to keep that side illuminated and focus light on the PV. In a 2012 NASA study by Mankins, a bowl-shaped device with thousands of thin-film mirrors focuses light onto the PV array.
International Electric Company's Ian Cash has a new strategy. His proposed satellite uses enormous, fixed mirrors to redirect light onto a PV and microwave array while the structure spins (see graphic, above). 1 billion minuscule perpendicular antennas act as a "phased array" to electronically guide the beam toward Earth, regardless of the satellite's orientation. This design, argues Cash, is "the most competitive economically"
If a space-based power plant ever flies, its power must be delivered securely and efficiently. Jaffe's team at NRL just beamed 1.6 kW over 1 km, and teams in Japan, China, and South Korea have comparable attempts. Transmitters and receivers lose half their input power. Vijendran says space solar beaming needs 75% efficiency, "preferably 90%."
Beaming gigawatts through the atmosphere demands testing. Most designs aim to produce a beam kilometers wide so every ship, plane, human, or bird that strays into it only receives a tiny—hopefully harmless—portion of the 2-gigawatt transmission. Receiving antennas are cheap to build but require a lot of land, adds Jones. You could grow crops under them or place them offshore.
Europe's public agencies currently prioritize space solar power. Jones: "There's a devotion you don't see in the U.S." ESA commissioned two solar cost/benefit studies last year. Vijendran claims it might match ground-based renewables' cost. Even at a higher price, equivalent to nuclear, its 24/7 availability would make it competitive.
ESA will urge member states in November to fund a technical assessment. If the news is good, the agency will plan for 2025. With €15 billion to €20 billion, ESA may launch a megawatt-scale demonstration facility by 2030 and a gigawatt-scale facility by 2040. "Moonshot"
6 months ago
Humanity is not even a Type 1 civilization. What might a Type 3 be capable of?
The Kardashev scale grades civilizations from Type 1 to Type 3 based on energy harvesting.
How do technologically proficient civilizations emerge across timescales measuring in the tens of thousands or even millions of years? This is a question that worries me as a researcher in the search for “technosignatures” from other civilizations on other worlds. Since it is already established that longer-lived civilizations are the ones we are most likely to detect, knowing something about their prospective evolutionary trajectories could be translated into improved search tactics. But even more than knowing what to seek for, what I really want to know is what happens to a society after so long time. What are they capable of? What do they become?
This was the question Russian SETI pioneer Nikolai Kardashev asked himself back in 1964. His answer was the now-famous “Kardashev Scale.” Kardashev was the first, although not the last, scientist to try and define the processes (or stages) of the evolution of civilizations. Today, I want to launch a series on this question. It is crucial to technosignature studies (of which our NASA team is hard at work), and it is also important for comprehending what might lay ahead for mankind if we manage to get through the bottlenecks we have now.
The Kardashev scale
Kardashev’s question can be expressed another way. What milestones in a civilization’s advancement up the ladder of technical complexity will be universal? The main notion here is that all (or at least most) civilizations will pass through some kind of definable stages as they progress, and some of these steps might be mirrored in how we could identify them. But, while Kardashev’s major focus was identifying signals from exo-civilizations, his scale gave us a clear way to think about their evolution.
The classification scheme Kardashev employed was not based on social systems of ethics because they are something that we can probably never predict about alien cultures. Instead, it was built on energy, which is something near and dear to the heart of everybody trained in physics. Energy use might offer the basis for universal stages of civilisation progression because you cannot do the work of establishing a civilization without consuming energy. So, Kardashev looked at what energy sources were accessible to civilizations as they evolved technologically and used those to build his scale.
From Kardashev’s perspective, there are three primary levels or “types” of advancement in terms of harvesting energy through which a civilization should progress.
Type 1: Civilizations that can capture all the energy resources of their native planet constitute the first stage. This would imply capturing all the light energy that falls on a world from its host star. This makes it reasonable, given solar energy will be the largest source available on most planets where life could form. For example, Earth absorbs hundreds of atomic bombs’ worth of energy from the Sun every second. That is a rather formidable energy source, and a Type 1 race would have all this power at their disposal for civilization construction.
Type 2: These civilizations can extract the whole energy resources of their home star. Nobel Prize-winning scientist Freeman Dyson famously anticipated Kardashev’s thinking on this when he imagined an advanced civilization erecting a large sphere around its star. This “Dyson Sphere” would be a machine the size of the complete solar system for gathering stellar photons and their energy.
Type 3: These super-civilizations could use all the energy produced by all the stars in their home galaxy. A normal galaxy has a few hundred billion stars, so that is a whole lot of energy. One way this may be done is if the civilization covered every star in their galaxy with Dyson spheres, but there could also be more inventive approaches.
Implications of the Kardashev scale
Climbing from Type 1 upward, we travel from the imaginable to the god-like. For example, it is not hard to envisage utilizing lots of big satellites in space to gather solar energy and then beaming that energy down to Earth via microwaves. That would get us to a Type 1 civilization. But creating a Dyson sphere would require chewing up whole planets. How long until we obtain that level of power? How would we have to change to get there? And once we get to Type 3 civilizations, we are virtually thinking about gods with the potential to engineer the entire cosmos.
For me, this is part of the point of the Kardashev scale. Its application for thinking about identifying technosignatures is crucial, but even more strong is its capacity to help us shape our imaginations. The mind might become blank staring across hundreds or thousands of millennia, and so we need tools and guides to focus our attention. That may be the only way to see what life might become — what we might become — once it arises to start out beyond the boundaries of space and time and potential.
This is a summary. Read the full article here.
8 months ago
Did volcanic 'glasses' play a role in igniting early life?
Quenched lava may have aided in the formation of long RNA strands required by primitive life.
It took a long time for life to emerge. Microbes were present 3.7 billion years ago, just a few hundred million years after the 4.5-billion-year-old Earth had cooled enough to sustain biochemistry, according to fossils, and many scientists believe RNA was the genetic material for these first species. RNA, while not as complicated as DNA, would be difficult to forge into the lengthy strands required to transmit genetic information, raising the question of how it may have originated spontaneously.
Researchers may now have a solution. They demonstrate how basaltic glasses assist individual RNA letters, also known as nucleoside triphosphates, join into strands up to 200 letters long in lab studies. The glasses are formed when lava is quenched in air or water, or when melted rock generated by asteroid strikes cools rapidly, and they would have been plentiful in the early Earth's fire and brimstone.
The outcome has caused a schism among top origin-of-life scholars. "This appears to be a great story that finally explains how nucleoside triphosphates react with each other to create RNA strands," says Thomas Carell, a scientist at Munich's Ludwig Maximilians University. However, Harvard University's Jack Szostak, an RNA expert, says he won't believe the results until the study team thoroughly describes the RNA strands.
Researchers interested in the origins of life like the idea of a primordial "RNA universe" since the molecule can perform two different functions that are essential for life. It's made up of four chemical letters, just like DNA, and can carry genetic information. RNA, like proteins, can catalyze chemical reactions that are necessary for life.
However, RNA can cause headaches. No one has yet discovered a set of plausible primordial conditions that would cause hundreds of RNA letters—each of which is a complicated molecule—to join together into strands long enough to support the intricate chemistry required to kick-start evolution.
Basaltic glasses may have played a role, according to Stephen Mojzsis, a geologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. They're high in metals like magnesium and iron, which help to trigger a variety of chemical reactions. "Basaltic glass was omnipresent on Earth at the time," he adds.
He provided the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution samples of five different basalt glasses. Each sample was ground into a fine powder, sanitized, and combined with a solution of nucleoside triphosphates by molecular biologist Elisa Biondi and her colleagues. The RNA letters were unable to link up without the presence of glass powder. However, when the molecules were mixed with the glass particles, they formed long strands of hundreds of letters, according to the researchers, who published their findings in Astrobiology this week. There was no need for heat or light. Biondi explains, "All we had to do was wait." After only a day, little RNA strands produced, yet the strands continued to grow for months. Jan Paek, a molecular biologist at Firebird Biomolecular Sciences, says, "The beauty of this approach is its simplicity." "Mix the components together, wait a few days, and look for RNA."
Nonetheless, the findings pose a slew of problems. One of the questions is how nucleoside triphosphates came to be in the first place. Recent study by Biondi's colleague Steven Benner suggests that the same basaltic glasses may have aided in the creation and stabilization of individual RNA letters.
The form of the lengthy RNA strands, according to Szostak, is a significant challenge. Enzymes in modern cells ensure that most RNAs form long linear chains. RNA letters, on the other hand, can bind in complicated branching sequences. Szostak wants the researchers to reveal what kind of RNA was produced by the basaltic glasses. "It irritates me that the authors made an intriguing initial finding but then chose to follow the hype rather than the research," Szostak says.
Biondi acknowledges that her team's experiment almost probably results in some RNA branching. She does acknowledge, however, that some branched RNAs are seen in species today, and that analogous structures may have existed before the origin of life. Other studies carried out by the study also confirmed the presence of lengthy strands with connections, indicating that they are most likely linear. "It's a healthy argument," says Dieter Braun, a Ludwig Maximilian University origin-of-life chemist. "It will set off the next series of tests."
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5 months ago
Web3 Needs More Writers to Educate Us About It
WRITE FOR THE WEB3
Why web3’s messaging is lost and how crypto winter is growing growth seeds
People interested in crypto, blockchain, and web3 typically read Bitcoin and Ethereum's white papers. It's a good idea. Documents produced for developers and academia aren't always the ideal resource for beginners.
Given the surge of extremely technical material and the number of fly-by-nights, rug pulls, and other scams, it's little wonder mainstream audiences regard the blockchain sector as an expensive sideshow act.
What's the solution?
Web3 needs more than just builders.
After joining TikTok, I followed Amy Suto of SutoScience. Amy switched from TV scriptwriting to IT copywriting years ago. She concentrates on web3 now. Decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) are seeking skilled copywriters for web3.
Amy has found that web3's basics are easy to grasp; you don't need technical knowledge. There's a paradigm shift in knowing the basics; be persistent and patient.
Apple is positioning itself as a data privacy advocate, leveraging web3's zero-trust ethos on data ownership.
Finn Lobsien, who writes about web3 copywriting for the Mirror and Twitter, agrees: acronyms and abstractions won't do.
Web3 preached to the choir. Curious newcomers have only found whitepapers and scams when trying to learn why the community loves it. No wonder people resist education and buy-in.
Due to the gender gap in crypto (Crypto Bro is not just a stereotype), it attracts people singing to the choir or trying to cash in on the next big thing.
Last year, the industry was booming, so writing wasn't necessary. Now that the bear market has returned (for everyone, but especially web3), holding readers' attention is a valuable skill.
White papers and the Web3
Why does web3 rely so much on non-growth content?
Businesses must polish and improve their messaging moving into the 2022 recession. The 2021 tech boom provided such a sense of affluence and (unsustainable) growth that no one needed great marketing material. The market found them.
This was especially true for web3 and the first-time crypto believers. Obviously. If they knew which was good.
White papers help. White papers are highly technical texts that walk a reader through a product's details. How Does a White Paper Help Your Business and That White Paper Guy discuss them.
They're meant for knowledgeable readers. Investors and the technical (academic/developer) community read web3 white papers. White papers are used when a product is extremely technical or difficult to assist an informed reader to a conclusion. Web3 uses them most often for ICOs (initial coin offerings).
White papers for web3 education help newcomers learn about the web3 industry's components. It's like sending a first-grader to the Annotated Oxford English Dictionary to learn to read. It's a reference, not a learning tool, for words.
Newcomers can use platforms that teach the basics. These included Coinbase's Crypto Basics tutorials or Cryptochicks Academy, founded by the mother of Ethereum's inventor to get more women utilizing and working in crypto.
Discord and Web3 communities
Discord communities are web3's opposite. Discord communities involve personal communications and group involvement.
Online audience growth begins with community building. User personas prefer 1000 dedicated admirers over 1 million lukewarm followers, and the language is much more easygoing. Discord groups are renowned for phishing scams, compromised wallets, and incorrect information, especially since the crypto crisis.
White papers and Discord increase industry insularity. White papers are complicated, and Discord has a high risk threshold.
Web3 and writing ads
Copywriting is emotional, but white papers are logical. It uses the brain's quick-decision centers. It's meant to make the reader invest immediately.
Not bad. People think sales are sleazy, but they can spot the poor things.
Ethical copywriting helps you reach the correct audience. People who gain a following on Medium are likely to have copywriting training and a readership (or three) in mind when they publish. Tim Denning and Sinem Günel know how to identify a target audience and make them want to learn more.
In a fast-moving market, copywriting is less about long-form content like sales pages or blogs, but many organizations do. Instead, the copy is concise, individualized, and high-value. Tweets, email marketing, and IM apps (Discord, Telegram, Slack to a lesser extent) keep engagement high.
What does web3's messaging lack? As DAOs add stricter copyrighting, narrative and connecting tales seem to be missing.
Web3 is passionate about constructing the next internet. Now, they can connect their passion to a specific audience so newcomers understand why.
3 months ago
A Comparison of Amazon, Microsoft, and Google's Compensation
Learn or earn
In 2020, I started software engineering. My base wage has progressed as follows:
Amazon (2020): $112,000
Microsoft (2021): $123,000
Google (2022): $169,000
I didn't major in math, but those jumps appear more than a 7% wage increase. Here's a deeper look at the three.
The Three Categories of Compensation
Most software engineering compensation packages at IT organizations follow this format.
Base salary is pre-tax income. Most organizations give a base pay. This is paid biweekly, twice monthly, or monthly.
Sign-On incentives are one-time rewards to new hires. Companies need an incentive to switch. If you leave early, you must pay back the whole cost or a pro-rated amount.
Equity is complex and requires its own post. A company will promise to give you a certain amount of company stock but when you get it depends on your offer. 25% per year for 4 years, then it's gone.
If a company gives you $100,000 and distributes 25% every year for 4 years, expect $25,000 worth of company stock in your stock brokerage on your 1 year work anniversary.
Tech offers may include yearly performance bonuses. Depends on performance and funding. I've only seen 0-20%.
Engineers' overall compensation usually includes:
Base Salary + Sign-On + (Total Equity)/4 + Average Performance Bonus
Amazon: (TC: 150k)
Base Pay System
Amazon pays Seattle employees monthly on the first work day. I'd rather have my money sooner than later, even if it saves processing and pay statements.
The company upped its base pay cap from $160,000 to $350,000 to compete with other tech companies.
Amazon has no performance bonus, so you can work as little or as much as you like and get paid the same. Amazon is savvy to avoid promising benefits it can't deliver.
Amazon gives two two-year sign-up bonuses. First-year workers could receive $20,000 and second-year workers $15,000. It's probably to make up for the company's strange equity structure.
If you leave during the first year, you'll owe the entire money and a prorated amount for the second year bonus.
Most organizations prefer a 25%, 25%, 25%, 25% equity structure. Amazon takes a different approach with end-heavy equity:
the first year, 5%
15% after one year.
20% then every six months
We thought it was constructed this way to keep staff longer.
Microsoft (TC: 185k)
Base Pay System
Microsoft paid biweekly.
My offer letter suggested a 0%-20% performance bonus. Everyone will be satisfied with a 10% raise at year's end.
But misleading press where the budget for the bonus is doubled can upset some employees because they won't earn double their expected bonus. Still barely 10% for 2022 average.
Microsoft's sign-on bonus is a one-time payout. The contract can require 2-year employment. You must negotiate 1 year. It's pro-rated, so that's fair.
Microsoft is one of those companies that has standard 25% equity structure. Except if you’re a new graduate.
In that case it’ll be
25% six months later
25% each year following that
New grads will acquire equity in 3.5 years, not 4. I'm guessing it's to keep new grads around longer.
Google (TC: 300k)
Base Pay Structure
Google pays biweekly.
Google's offer letter specifies a 15% bonus. It's wonderful there's no cap, but I might still get 0%. A little more than Microsoft’s 10% and a lot more than Amazon’s 0%.
Google gave a 1-year sign-up incentive. If the contract is only 1 year, I can move without any extra obligations.
Not as fantastic as Amazon's sign-up bonuses, but the remainder of the package might compensate.
We covered Amazon's tail-heavy compensation structure, so Google's front-heavy equity structure may surprise you.
Annual structure breakdown
33% Year 1
33% Year 2
22% Year 3
12% Year 4
The goal is to get them to Google and keep them there.
This post hopefully helped you understand the 3 firms' compensation arrangements.
There's always more to discuss, such as refreshers, 401k benefits, and business discounts, but I hope this shows a distinction between these 3 firms.
Dr. Linda Dahl
4 months ago
We eat corn in almost everything. Is It Important?
Corn Kid got viral on TikTok after being interviewed by Recess Therapy. Tariq, called the Corn Kid, ate a buttery ear of corn in the video. He's corn crazy. He thinks everyone just has to try it. It turns out, whether we know it or not, we already have.
Corn is a fruit, veggie, and grain. It's the second-most-grown crop. Corn makes up 36% of U.S. exports. In the U.S., it's easy to grow and provides high yields, as proven by the vast corn belt spanning the Midwest, Great Plains, and Texas panhandle. Since 1950, the corn crop has doubled to 10 billion bushels.
You say, "Fine." We shouldn't just grow because we can. Why so much corn? What's this corn for?
Why is practical and political. Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma has the full narrative. Early 1970s food costs increased. Nixon subsidized maize to feed the public. Monsanto genetically engineered corn seeds to make them hardier, and soon there was plenty of corn. Everyone ate. Woot! Too much corn followed. The powers-that-be had to decide what to do with leftover corn-on-the-cob.
They are fortunate that corn has a wide range of uses.
First, the edible variants. I divide corn into obvious and stealth.
Obvious corn includes popcorn, canned corn, and corn on the cob. This form isn't always digested and often comes out as entire, polka-dotting poop. Cornmeal can be ground to make cornbread, polenta, and corn tortillas. Corn provides antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins in moderation. Most synthetic Vitamin C comes from GMO maize.
Corn oil, corn starch, dextrose (a sugar), and high-fructose corn syrup are often overlooked. They're stealth corn because they sneak into practically everything. Corn oil is used for frying, baking, and in potato chips, mayonnaise, margarine, and salad dressing. Baby food, bread, cakes, antibiotics, canned vegetables, beverages, and even dairy and animal products include corn starch. Dextrose appears in almost all prepared foods, excluding those with high-fructose corn syrup. HFCS isn't as easily digested as sucrose (from cane sugar). It can also cause other ailments, which we'll discuss later.
Most foods contain corn. It's fed to almost all food animals. 96% of U.S. animal feed is corn. 39% of U.S. corn is fed to livestock. But animals prefer other foods. Omnivore chickens prefer insects, worms, grains, and grasses. Captive cows are fed a total mixed ration, which contains corn. These animals' products, like eggs and milk, are also corn-fed.
There are numerous non-edible by-products of corn that are employed in the production of items like:
How does corn influence you? Consider quick food for dinner. You order a cheeseburger, fries, and big Coke at the counter (or drive-through in the suburbs). You tell yourself, "No corn." All that contains corn. Deconstruct:
Cows fed corn produce meat and cheese. Meat and cheese were bonded with corn syrup and starch (same). The bun (corn flour and dextrose) and fries were fried in maize oil. High fructose corn syrup sweetens the drink and helps make the cup and straw.
Just about everything contains corn. Then what? A cornspiracy, perhaps? Is eating too much maize an issue, or should we strive to stay away from it whenever possible?
As I've said, eating some maize can be healthy. 92% of U.S. corn is genetically modified, according to the Center for Food Safety. The adjustments are expected to boost corn yields. Some sweet corn is genetically modified to produce its own insecticide, a protein deadly to insects made by Bacillus thuringiensis. It's safe to eat in sweet corn. Concerns exist about feeding agricultural animals so much maize, modified or not.
High fructose corn syrup should be consumed in moderation. Fructose, a sugar, isn't easily metabolized. Fructose causes diabetes, fatty liver, obesity, and heart disease. It causes inflammation, which might aggravate gout. Candy, packaged sweets, soda, fast food, juice drinks, ice cream, ice cream topping syrups, sauces & condiments, jams, bread, crackers, and pancake syrup contain the most high fructose corn syrup. Everyday foods with little nutrients. Check labels and choose cane sugar or sucrose-sweetened goods. Or, eat corn like the Corn Kid.