Thursday, March 10, 2016

SLAC's X-ray laser--a little-known advance equal to moon shot?

According to some, the future of science--spawning the electronics, medications, and energy solutions we will need--comes from being able to see atoms and molecules at work.

For that, you need a special light--such as an X-ray light with a wavelength as small as an atom, pulsing at the rate of femtoseconds. A femtosecond is to s second what a second is to 32 million years. In other words--fast.

Six years ago, the Dept of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Lab answered the call of the scientific community and built an X-ray-free electronic laser--the XFEL.

Since 2009, this powerful "microscope" has generated molecular "movies," gotten a glimpse of a chemical bond, traced electrons moving through materials, and made 3-D pictures of proteins leading to drug discoveries.

Such machines have now proliferated all over the world. Check out the March issue of Reviews of Modern Physics for an overview of the first five years of progress.

Some high spots:

Next-gen computers and the power grid.  The Linac Coherent Light Source or  LCLS, as it's called, is homing in on new computer components surpassing old limits on what computers can do.

Better, cleaner fuels and chemicals. Using this technology, scientists can now measure never-seen-before steps in chemical reactions, helping them design better fuels, fertilizers and industrial chemicals.

More effective meds with fewer side effects. Half of all medications on the market target receptor proteins on the outer layers of cells--we can now see how the meds dock on the cells. The LCLS technology allows smaller crystals to be examined as well as crystals too easily damaged by conventional X-rays.

Renewable energy that mimics nature. LCLS has allowed us to see how plants use energy from sunlight (photosynthesis), It can measure steps in the process not seen before.

Fusion reactions and seeing inside planets. High-power laser systems heat matter to millions of degrees and crush it with billions of tons of pressure. This allows scientists to see test resilience of materials and to see conditions as they might be at the heart of planets, which may lead to learning how solar systems form.

Located in Menlo Park, Calif, the DOE's SLAC lab attracts hundreds of scientists from around the globe.

This is an example of a US Govt basic research "challenge" that will be worth every penny spent.

For more info, go to gov or

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Adidas project highlights sports creativity

"I'm Here to Create" are films of Adidas' Sport16 Initiative.

The films feature female athletes--showing how they bring their own definitions of creativity to sports.

<--- EXAMPLE: French runner Julie Aubert. At 24, Julie began running through the streets of Paris, eventually getting her friends in on it. She created Mademoiselle Run, a digital tribe for women into running.

EXAMPLE: US Soccer star Morgan Brian. https://youtu-be/OTNbVxh-FZM. Morgan was essential to the US Women's Soccer Team's 2015 World Cup Victory. She's young--22--and doesn't let being on the stage with the top players get to her..she just has fun.

EXAMPLE: Brazilian volleyball champ Jaqueline Carvalho. https// Jaqueline led her team to double Oly gold in 2008 and 2012. She plays with reckless abandon, which has resulted in countless injuries and long periods of rehab.

EXAMPLE: Skater Julia Lipnitskaya. In 2014, Julia led Team Russia to the top in the Sochi Olympics, making her the youngest Russian Gold Medal winner ever. She is still just 17.

"I'm Here to Create" airs in more than 50 countries and will be seen at the Oscars, as it was at the GRAMMYs.

Putting it all together in sports may not be what first comes to mind in terms of creativity, but it does require creative drive and talent.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Creative, creative--too much of a great thing?

I have not posted for more than a month...Why? Because there is too much creativity going around. It's like trying to drink out of a fire hose...

Or is it really creativity? Sometimes I see stories and programs dubbed with the Creativity description just because they are different than what the organization did they got "creative."

People jump "out of the box," "get told to stay in the box," "make a new kind of box," or think up weird whimsical products that really address no real need or impulse. Examples: A gizmo to give the bike lane a green light faster when it rains...or a little rocker you can stand on at your standing desk...Both of these sound dangerous. How about those flaming Hoverboards, too?

Creativity--to me, anyhow--means conjuring something out of nothing, or destroying something harmful and putting something helpful in its place. Or maybe something just intriguing or beautiful.

The Apple watch--people had a watch to tell time. They had a phone to access the internet. The buttons were teeny...Not a huge seller...

All this wearable technology...Do you want your clothes buzzing you or bossing you around?

I saw a device the other day that will analyze what you put in a cup...The cup does it. Someone said, "So you're holding a beer, you put it in the cup and it says, 'This is beer'? So what."

So as we drag ourselves into the largely random world of news and discoveries and inventions to start another year...We need to look for the truly creative. The truly new. Or the truly new way of doing something truly old.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Calling botanists and farmers

Watermelons with white inner
rinds (top--lower right)?
According to a story by John Allen in On Wisconsin, the alumni mag of the Univ of Wisc, horticultural professor James Niehuis, PhD, uses paintings to show how fruits and veggies have changed over the centuries. Check out the watermelons in Giovanni Stanchi's painting.

He and his students in his World Vegetable Crops class go a a nearby museum to look a Renaissance still lifes to see how carious aspects of plants have been bred in or out over the centuries.

With grains, he says, archeologists can look at actual samples--but the more moist plants don't last.

He calls fruits and vegetables "art you can eat."

Hmmm...What else could we tell from paintings? Maybe that people are taller now. Breeds of dogs we don't have now? Certainly trends in fashion. Weapons?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Jumping Jiminy--it's a robot

Johns Hopkins engineering students and their professor spent more than 8 months studying the hopping and landing skills of spider crickets, the kind often found in basements.

Emily Palmer and...muse.
They are not just cricket lovers--but robot builders--and they want one that can jump around.

The researchers think non-human creatures are the best models.

So they trained high-speed video cameras on the insects to find out how the wingless bugs can leap 60 times their body length. A human--to do this--would have to jump the length of a football field.

The crickets use their limbs (legs and antennae) to stabilize them.  They saw--in slow motion--that this process was sort of like a dance. Beautiful and intricate. On the way "up," they pulled in their limbs to counter air resistance.

We have robots that crawl into small spaces, drones that sail overhead, creepy humanoid ones that lift old people into why not little jumpy ones?

Check out the video:

Saturday, September 19, 2015

LEGOS bursting into the executive suites

This company needs new offices and a chopper.
You know LEGOS--those colorful blocks that hurt so much when you step on them with barefeet?

At our house--we used to call it "toy foot."

But, now, thinkers far more serious than I are using these little menaces to study "play"--even in adults.

"It's an engine...a language...a technique without content," enthuses one executive.

This from an article by Jenn  Choi in Nextgov Magazine, Sept 17. 2105.

Sometimes these executives will say, "Name one challenge that is preventing growth in your company and answer with LEGOS--you have four minutes."

This is called out of the box--out of the LEGOS box, apparently.

"The subconscious rules us," another executive says. This means, I guess, that translating the mental into the physical (the LEGOS) uncovers things you didn't know you knew.

This is now called LEGOS Serious Play--LSP.

For example, one challenge was to describe the difference between a manager and a leader--using LEGOS.

One participant built a wall between him and his colleagues--was he the manager or leader, though? I didn't get it.

Show me in LEGOS...oh, wait, you did.

I think sitting around, getting to know each other, laughing and building "things," is a good way to get some creative juices--and maybe even some corporate solutions--going.

So let's hear it for the Danish blocks! Just wear shoes, is my advice.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The book of life

Drinking bad water causes millions of deaths around the world each year. But now some creative types have invented The Drinkable Book.

Each page is impregnated with anti-bacterial silver and copper nanoparticles with killing capabilities--killing of bad flora and fauna, not people.

They tested it at the Univ of Virginia on simulated "bad water" and then on "real" contaminated water in Africa.

Even with the worst contamination, the "pages" of the book, with their silver and copper-nanoparticle paper, filtered out 99.9% of the dangerous stuff.

Each page of the book is printed with water safety instructions, both in English and in the target country's language.

A page cleans 26 gallons--and the whole book would last an individual 4 years.

Cool, huh?