Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A skyscraper made out of wood?!?

There are currently over seven billion humans on this planet.  As this population grows we'll need more and more homes for all these people.  With limited resources and a constant watch over our impact on the environment, a big question gets brought up frequently for future of residential construction…can we make housing more eco-friendly? 

As access to resources and the growing population enter a new era in the housing conversation, so will the creative minds in the engineering and architecture industries.  Sometimes these new issues require some old fashioned thinking.  That's exactly what Canadian architect Michael Green had in mind when he set out to design and build a 30 story skyscraper made out of wood.  Wait a minute, doesn't wood catch on fire?  Won't this be a big safety issue?  Well, wood does catch on fire, but throughout history various cultures have used wood as a means of shelter and clearly most of these individuals were able to survive.  With that said, Michael Green and his crew have built in several fire prevention techniques into the blue prints ranging from sprinkler systems to fire traps.  The remarkable part about the building is not its safety features, its something totally different. 

Generally making a large building like this would involve concrete construction.  The current process by which we put up buildings actually releases thousands of pounds of green house gases into the atmosphere.  This is where the wooden skyscraper stands apart!  The wood used for this construction spends its entire life soaking in green house gases where as the process of making concrete construction adds to our global climate issues.  This building is eco-friendly by simply using materials that don't add to the greenhouse gas emissions! 

For those worried about rotting wood and other natural issues that would make this building's longevity a concern, no worries, there are many wooden structures around the world that are thousands of years old.  In fact there is a pagoda in China that stands over 500 feet tall and has been up for over eight centuries now!  

Will these eco-friendly designs catch on?  Architects like Michael Green are knocking on wood and hoping they will! 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Cloaked Nano-particles

Everyone’s familiar with the old fable about the wolf in sheep’s clothing.   In this story a wolf dresses up like a sheep and sneaks past the farmer to go straight to his fluffy targets.  Well, a similar story is currently unfolding in the medical field and it could have a huge impact on cancer patients.  
Scientists are working on taking a nanoparticle and wrapping it in the outer membrane of a white blood cell in order to let it sneak past the watchful eye of the immune system.  As of now the immune system is able to detect foreign objects like nanoparticles and remove or destroy them within minutes.  Dressing the nanoparticle up to look like a white blood cell allows the immune system to let it pass into the bloodstream without much commotion.  These camouflaged medical deliveries could last in the body for up to hours at a time. Remarkably, these nanoparticles would go directly to the source of the malignant cells.  In other words, these nanoparticles can deliver specific types of drugs to specific cells.  In this instance the idea is that chemotherapy could be delivered straight to cancer cells only.
This would be a huge step forward in the medical field.  Currently the most commonly accepted form of cancer treatments involve a broad range treatment, meaning we have yet to isolate the treatment to only cancer cells.  These masked nanoparticles, in theory, would be able to go straight to the malignant cells and let the rest of the body system carry on as business per usual.
Research on this is continuing and hopefully more news will develop in the near future.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Science and math fans around the world have been celebrating Pi day for a while now. Pi is the 3.14 number that helps us understand circles, so what better day to celebrate than March 14? So, the question is what makes Pi so special?

From the wheels on your car to the orbit of distant stars in the cosmos are all put to paper using our old friend, Pi. These practical applications help determine the size, shape, volume, area, and circumference of circles. Imagine the Spalding basketball factory without Pi, we’d have some weirdly shaped basketballs…or whatever they’d be called. Pi’s use in our day to day lives surrounds these circular concepts, but wait, there’s so much more.

One of the amazing things about Pi is that it is an irrational number. Meaning, it goes on forever. The digits that comprise Pi take up more digits than some of the largest numbers we have, like the massive googolplex for example. In fact, in 2011 Pi was calculated out to over 10 trillion numbers! Mathematician Shigeru Kondo took 371 days to calculate Pi to 10,000,000,000,050 decimal places. Big stuff!

Here’s the kicker, when calculating all those trillions of digits for Pi, it was noticed that there are no repeating patterns in there. A truly random set of numbers strung together in an endless chain. What does one do with these large, endless, non-repeating numeric patterns? Those big computational issues come in handy for testing today’s supercomputers and their programming speeds.

So, from putting satellites in geosynchronous orbit, to testing super computers, to helping make that perfect pumpkin pie, Pi is an extremely well rounded number.

For more information check out the official Pi-Day page, but for a rock song about the number check out the video below.