Thursday, December 29, 2011


This is a rarely-heard-of topic here in Guyana but one that science and technology students and practitioners need to have some awareness of since we will soon be using products of nanotechnology (if we are not already) or even using the technology directly. I made reference to it back in 2009.

What is nanotechnology? This technology is about manipulating matter at the nanometer scale (less than a thousandth of a millimetre). Often it involves manipulating individual atoms or molecules. For more see here. It has huge areas of application, for example the performance of rechargable batteries and solar cells can be greatly improved and materials made 10 or 100 times stronger.

A recent video by Dr Drexler at Oxford discusses the impact of this technology

"In a talk entitled “Exploring a Timeless Landscape: Physical Law and the Future of Nanotechnology”, pioneering nanotechnology researcher Dr. Drexler invited the audience to consider the intriguing possibility of nano-level manufacture of macro-level products. Such a process, if achieved, would be the next great revolution in the material basis of civilization, offering high-performance components, materials or systems and accelerated productivity."

The talk is about an hour and covers various aspects of the historical development of technology before moving on to nanotechnology. Very good.

"Fruit Trees and Useful Plants in Amazonian Life"

This is the title of a study co-produced by the UN which sounds like it will be a gold mine of useful knowledge regarding our own forests. According to a BBC report:
"The 353-page book, Fruit Trees and Useful Plants in Amazonian Life - co-produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Center for International Forestry Research (Cifor) and People and Plants International (PPI) - profiles a range of species that offer communities a range of uses."
This document is a free download (PDF) using a link in the article (also given below).

Fruit Trees and Useful Plants in Amazonian Life

Friday, November 25, 2011

Renewable energy - not so renewable?

An interesting article from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists pointing out that no energy source is entirely renewable - there is always a cost for extracting and utilising the energy, sometimes quite significant.

"Renewable energy sounds so much more natural and believable than a perpetual-motion machine, but there's one big problem: Unless you're planning to live without electricity and motorized transportation, you need more than just wind, water, sunlight, and plants for energy. You need raw materials, real estate, and other things that will run out one day. You need stuff that has to be mined, drilled, transported, and bulldozed -- not simply harvested or farmed."

As these costs change with new technologies, constant re-assessment and balancing of pro and cons needs to be standard procedure.

And, of course, reduced and more efficient energy use is always a wise option.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Decline of Violence

According to a recent book our times are less violent than in historical times. The book is called “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined” and is by a well-known professor of psychology, one Steven Pinker. A review of the book by Scientific American reports an interview as follows:

COOK: What would you say is the biggest misconception people have about violence?
PINKER: That we are living in a violent age. The statistics suggest that this may be the most peaceable time in our species’s existence.

His conclusions are not uncontroversial but he makes a convincing and very interesting case.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Global warming science 150 years ago

Back 150 years ago John Tyndall discovered the 'greenhouse effect' which is the basis of global warming. He also made other significant scientific discoveries. This BBC report describes this and mentions the Tyndall Conference taking place. This news item certainly highlights the importance of decision-makers understanding the implications of scientific discoveries.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

3D printing

Have you heard of this? Most people have not but it is an exciting area of technology destined to have a major impact.
According to one definition it is "a form of additive manufacturing technology where a three dimensional object is created by laying down successive layers of material".
Basically you take a digital file (e.g. from an email), give it to the 3D printer and it recreates an object from scratch out of a polymer.
Here is an article on it from Wikipedia.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Technologies for reducing carbon emissions

An article at NextBigFuture lists "Ten Technologies that should have a big impact on Green house gas Emissions".
See PhysicsSubset blog for this.

Wildlife survey

There was an interesting report on the BBC recently about a wildlife survey being done by asking ordinary commuters to make simple reports of sightings of wildlife. I recall also surveys being done through schools.
Given our limited human resources and our limited knowledge of local wildlife, could something similar be done here? May be a limited survey using school children? May be enough ordinary citizen would be interested. It could be limited to, say, birds or butterflies or garden insects or even plants. Enough young people have cell phones with cameras to be useful. At least it would increase awareness of local flora and fauna.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

National Academies Press (USA) free downloads

The National Academies Press (which includes the National Academy of Sciences of the USA) now has many useful texts for free download as PDFs. Some seem to be very relevant to local needs especially in education and health. Note that not all their publications are free. Here are some random interesting titles in no particular order:
Condensed-Matter and Materials Physics: The Science of the World Around Us
Promoting Chemical Laboratory Safety and Security in Developing Countries
Strengthening High School Chemistry Education Through Teacher Outreach Programs
Health and Medicine:Challenges for the Chemical Sciences in the 21st Century
Observing Weather and Climate from the Ground Up
Surrounded by Science:Learning Science in Informal Environments
Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8
On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research
Successful K-12 STEM Education: Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics
Prudent Practices in the Laboratory: Handling and Management of Chemical Hazards
Finding What Works in Health Care

Thursday, May 26, 2011

First habitable planet?

Continuing in an astronomical theme - for the first time a planet has been identified (apart from Earth) which might well be habitable by known forms of life. According to a BBC article:

"This discovery is important because it's the first time climate modellers have proved that the planet is potentially habitable, and all observers agree that the exoplanet exists," he told news agency PA.

"The Gliese system is particularly exciting to us as it's very close to Earth, relatively speaking. So with future generations of telescopes, we'll be able to search for life on Gliese 581d directly."

And another interesting development of the detection of planets wandering between the stars. They were found by Japanese researchers says a BBC report:

They detected evidence of 10 Jupiter-sized objects with no parent star found within 10 Astronomical Units (AU). One AU is equivalent to the distance between our Earth and Sun. Further analysis led them to the conclusion that most of these objects did not have parent stars.

Competition for Pluto

Traditionally our schools have taught that Pluto was one of the planets of our solar system. Of course recently Pluto was reclassified and is no longer called a planet but a minor planet.
Just to give some background here is a chart of the largest objects now known in our system beyond Neptune.
We can see that Pluto is not the largest and many others are nearly as big.
In addition it is likely that even larger bodies (minor planets) will be found further out as we now know there are great numbers of objects out there in the darkness beyond Pluto.
Thanks to The Planetary Society for the picture.
I hope primary school teachers will take note of this!

ITCZ in May

It looks like the ITCZ (Inter Tropical Convergence Zone) has now moved back north far enough to start our wet season here on the coast of Guyana. The rains have been falling for some time in the south of Guyana.

Previous posts on this topic

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Global Information Technology Report 2010-2011

And here is another useful resource from the World Economic Forum available for download. Over 150 countries listed including Guyana. Briefly Guyana seems to be hovering around 100th place as it has been for a few years. This does not mean things are unchanging of course since most countries will be slowly advancing technologically year by year.

Handbook on Climate Change for Caribbean Journalists

Came across this publication which is available for downloading. An excellent resource for teachers and students. Comprising 60 pages it covers the facts and goes into some details for the Caribbean, country by country - including Guyana. It also deals with various conventions, has a FAQ and lists of resources.

ITCZ gone south

The Inter-tropical Convergence Zone finally moved south a week or so ago. The weather is now mainly dry.

Many thanks to the BBC weather site for the picture.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

ICT in schools

I do not intend to comment on our OLPF project other than to say that I hope it overcomes the challenges it faces and achieves significant success.Likewise the ICT for schools programme being run by the Ministry of Education. However, on this front there is recent news of interest.

An article reported in the Antigua Observer describe a soon-to-be-published study by the IBD which quotes a source as saying:

“It is vital for governments to conduct careful evaluations of these initiatives and, particularly, to budget enough resources to train teachers and develop adequate software for students. Countries cannot expect that learning will improve with simply greater access to computers. Quality of use is crucial.”


“The evidence so far indicates that programmes that overlook teacher training and the development of specific software may yield very low returns. Also, rather than doing homework or studying, children with weak adult supervision at home may spend more time using computers in ways that do little to boost their educational achievement”

It would seem that an effort is being made to avoid these pitfalls but it will not be easy given our resources. What ever happens we need to patiently learn from the successes and failures and move on from there. Endless finger-pointing is not productive.

The IDB study
The “pilots disorder” continues to provoke controversy about the use of ICT for Education
Worst practice in ICT use in education

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

China projected to be top in science output

By 2013 China is projected to surpass the USA in numbers of published scientific papers according to a Royal Society report. According to the BBC:

"By 2008, the US total had increased very slightly to 316,317 while China's had surged more than seven-fold to 184,080.

Previous estimates for the rate of expansion of Chinese science had suggested that China might overtake the US sometime after 2020.

But this study shows that China, after displacing the UK as the world's second leading producer of research, could go on to overtake America in as little as two years' time."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Heavy rain in Guyana - animation

I have downloaded a series of infra-red satellite images from the GOES web site and created an animation for the period Monday 17.15hrs on Feb 21 to 02.15 the next morning. It will play once - refresh to play again. If it does not play then click it.
The red and white show where heavy rain is likely to be occurring. Heavy rain was falling much of Monday in Georgetown.
Notice that the clouds do not come in off the Atlantic but form over Guyana. This make forecasting difficult.
Our Hydromet office here uses the same source for their forecast page.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Exoplanet news

Exoplanets are planets around other stars. NASA has just announced the probable discovery of another 1000 or so exoplanets. Five or so may even be like the Earth but we will not know much about them for a few years yet. Why is this important? Finding other Earth-like planets is likely to change our view of the universe. Until recently many felt that our planet was unique - now it seems that it may be far from that. From Scientific American:

"A newfound planetary system has six worlds, five of which rank among the smallest known, and the list of unconfirmed candidates has swelled to four figures"

" will be a few years yet before Kepler is able to identify a true Earth analogue—a small planet on a one-Earth-year orbit around a sunlike star."

"Astronomers have identified some 54 new planets where conditions may be suitable for life." - BBC

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Intertropical Convergence Zone again

For this month there has been a large low pressure region stationary over the Amazon which seems to have prevented the ITCZ from moving south since all easterly winds are being forced to go northwards around the depression. Just my guess as to what is happening...