A future that’s bright, a future that’s transdisciplinary…
On December 13th 2015, the world’s leaders reached a rare consensus and ratified an historic accord designed to limit climate change to 2°C. January 1st 2016 marked the official launch of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the start of the next Assessment Report for the IPCC. These events have shifted the emphasis from investigating and reporting the physical science behind the unprecedented changes we’re seeing on our planet to identifying and implementing strategies to avoid further change (mitigation) or to minimize their impacts (adaptation).
You know what they say: “You can’t store solar energy without cracking a few water molecules.”
Or, at least, many scientists around the world are working to make that so. As was discussed earlier on this blog, solar water splitting could enable a cleaner energy future by storing energy from the sun’s rays in a stable chemical fuel like hydrogen that can be used on-demand. Ideally, the only inputs needed would be water and sunlight, and the only waste product oxygen. However, the current state of technology is a long way off. Bart Bartlett, Charles McCrory, and Neil Dasgupta are among several faculty here at the University of Michigan that are working to make solar water splitting devices a reality. Each of them approaches the problem from a diverse angle.
Remember when “computers skills” meant you could type a certain number of words per minute while keeping your hands on the home row? Back in the early 2000’s, I took a keyboarding class where they taught us how to type and said, “You’re good!”. Looking back, though, there was so much more to learn. I don’t believe my teachers were intentionally withholding information about computers and all their uses, but additional training would have been useful later in life.
Despite countless trips to zoos across the country, there is one elusive species I have never encountered: Scientia normalis. This species is more often referred to by their common name, scientists. Scientists are not normally seen in public, often preferring to remain in their native habitat of the laboratory. Because of this, stereotypes dominate the perception of the entire species and are often reinforced in popular culture and the media. These stereotypes depict a species of mostly older males with unruly hair, glasses, a white lab coat, and a vial of brightly colored liquid. (*cough* Albert Einstein *cough*) Recently, however, there has been an effort to remove some of the mystery surrounding this species and correct the outdated stereotypes.
While many adults are making resolutions to get back into shape in the New Year, what about our kids? With our children trading tee-ball for tablets, 12.7 million children and youth in the United States are obese. Could the classroom be a good place to start combating childhood obesity?
George Washington Carver, probably without realizing it, was one of the first proponents of plant probiotics. Carver was a faculty member at the Tuskegee Institute in the early 1900’s and re-introduced the concept of crop rotation with peanuts, soy, and other legumes to U.S. agriculture. By alternating corn and cotton crops with peanuts, farmers could replenish the nutrients in the soil but continue harvesting a cash crop. Legumes are an intriguing type of plant since they rely on bacteria, such as Rhizobia, that grow in specialized nodules on their roots to provide them with nutrients, like nitrogen. In return, the plants supply the bacteria with sugars and oxygen for growth, a symbiotic exchange for nutrients the legumes cannot produce themselves.