Aug 2011

The Countdown to 8/12/2011


There’s not a ton of space/astrobiology news today, but some good new stuff related to science and climate policy in today’s edition of Science…

3… What does the debt deal mean for science and government-funded research? A news & analysis piece tries to answer that question. The gist is that in the short-run the deal is neutral to slightly good… but in the long run the impacts could be harsh, particularly on current and future postdocs. It boils down to this: part of the raising-the-debt-ceiling agreement was a commitment to flatten federal budgets. That means we’ll spend essentially the same amount of money in 2012 than previously planned… but won’t get increases to future budgets. And you don’t have to be an expert to realize that with graduate schools chock full of students that could lead to a big(ger) job crunch in academia in a year or two. The thing to focus your attention/worries on here is the budgets in 2013 and beyond. And remember, this only considers the already agreed upon cuts from “round 1” of the budget deficit reductions. “Round 2” could lead to further – and much larger – cuts to federal spending…

2… I’m going to spend the majority of this paragraph just explaining this title: “A Synthetic Nickel Electrocatalyst with a Turnover Frequency Above 100,000 s−1 for H2 Production.” Basically, this is related to the production of H2, which we care about because it could be a potential fuel in which we can store “green energy” from renewable sources. That’s why you care. Making this H2, and getting it to react in a controlled manner, is something that can be aided by catalysts. This particular work looks at the production of H2, through a synthetic (i.e. human-made) catalyst. The catalyst in question is nickel-based that is modeled after natural (found in biology) enzymes. The “turnover frequency above 100,000 s-1” part is a measurement of the responsiveness of the catalyst… in other words a measurement of the speed with which the catalyst can be “reset” into a state where it can do it’s job again. Higher is better, and 100,000 is high. So basically, the authors found a way to make a synthetic version of an enzyme that can make H2 very quickly… and that brings us one step closer to a non-carbon based economy. Cool, huh? …

1… And why to we care about non-carbon based energy sources and storage mechanisms? Primarily, climate change. Well, another new paper in Science tracks the effects of aerosols (particles in the air) over time. The authors find that there’s a -0.07 degree (C) effect on climate from aerosols over the last 20 years. What’s going on here is that we’ve been increasing greenhouse gases concentrations, which warm the surface. But there’s also been increases to aerosols higher up in the atmosphere, which reflect and absorb incoming sunlight that would otherwise reach the ground, resulting in a cooler surface. That sets up a tug-of-war between the greenhouse gases and the aerosols. The greenhouse gases have clearly been winning that tug of war due to anthropogenic activities, particularly over the last ~50 years… but the degree to which temperature increases been offset by aerosols is one of the bigger unknowns in the whole climate change story. So, any progress on quantifying this is excellent news. This also informs us more about the potential for some of the more popular geo-engineering solutions to our climate change problem…


S. Domagal-Goldman Posted by
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