Category Archives: CERN

Sci Fi Friday: When Art and Science Meet It’s a Beautiful Thing

If you’ve been reading my blog on Fridays, then you may have surmised that I frequently geek out over scientific discoveries. Whether its news about a new technology for space travel or the latest from CERN, I can’t resist a headline that hints at a cool discovery. 
This week I was blown away by this elegant idea from Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde. Roosegaarde’s team has conceptualized interactive highways and parks that remove smog. But this latest idea is where art meets science.
Here’s the pitch: What happens when you take the biology that produces bioluminescence and merge it with plants? Think algae street lamps that store energy from photosynthesis to generate light at night. But Roosegaarde’s team takes it one step further.
Roosegaarde’s team, inspired by deep water jellyfish, imagined bio luminescent trees. Check out this video as Daan Roosegaarde explains the concept. Imagine, a street lined with trees instead of street lamps.
How cool is that? Imagine a landscape lit at night by glowing trees. My sci fi imagine is spinning …
What other applications can you imagine for bio luminescent biology?

Sci Fi Friday: The Science Story of the Century You Probably Have Heard Nothing About

EmDrive, illustration by Elvis Popovic
I scratch my head as to how how journalists decide what’s newsworthy. Why do people living in caves know about Justin Beiber’s legal troubles yet few have heard about NASA’s recent success with a new propulsion system that could take a manned ship to Mars and back in eight months?

I heard about this a while back when the Chinese announced that Prof Yang Juan had successfully shown that British scientist Roger Shawyer’s so called “EmDrive” created thrust without a propellant. The system uses electricity to generate microwaves that bounce around a closed space and generates thrust. The implications are huge. Panels could convert star energy into electricity – perpetual space travel fueled by the stars.

But scientists in the west seemed less than excited by China’s news. It was less than a blip on the radar of mainstream media.

This is how explained Shawyer’s system and what critics have said about it:

Shawyer claims the EmDrive converts electric power into thrust, without the need for any propellant by bouncing microwaves around in a closed container. He has built a number of demonstration systems, but critics reject his relativity-based theory and insist that, according to the law of conservation of momentum, it cannot work. (, “NASA Validates Impossible Space Drive,” July 31, 2014, David Hambling.)

EmDrive, Image: SPR Ltd.

Fortunately, an American, Guido Fetta, had a similar propulsion system that was pitched to NASA and they finally ran the tests on the Cannae drive. NASA’s test of the engine they called “impossible” showed that not only does it work, but it would allow humans to travel freely about the solar system without the necessity of carrying a liquid propellant.

Here’s a bit about going to Mars: 

The Nasa paper projects a ‘conservative’ manned mission to Mars from Earth orbit, with a 90-ton spacecraft driven by the new technology. Using a 2-megawatt nuclear power source, it can develop 800 newtons (180 pounds) of thrust. The entire mission would take eight months, including a 70-day stay on Mars. (, “10 Questions about NASA’s ‘impossible’ Space Drive Answered“, Aug. 7, 2014, David Hambling.)

What the what?

Here’s something that really gets me about this story. Scientists believe that Shawyer’s science defies commonly understood laws of physics. But they have yet to prove that it doesn’t work! 

So multiple experiments by different organizations are able to create a machine that defies the current understanding of physics yet it’s still “not proven”?! And as far as I can tell, getting little attention in mainstream media (but being talked about in the science world).

It seems to me that scientists should be excited about this. Physicists were jumping up and down (literally) when CERN announced that they’re “almost positive” that they’ve discovered the Higgs Boson, one of the holy grails of physics (and the main reason they spent billions on the LHC). Don’t get me wrong. The work being done at the LHC is cool stuff (so awesome I included it as a plot point in my first book, Emily’s House).

But come on guys. You have a few (relatively) tiny experiments which defy your current laws. That means there is new physics to understand here. And in the grand scheme of human existence, potentially finding a viable way to propel ourselves off this dying rock and into space in search of a new home is pretty fucking exciting. And useful.

What do you think? Am I celebrating prematurely? Do you think this could be the answer to our question of how to get to space?

Manic Monday: Looking into the Face of God

Perhaps there is no better way to differentiate our species from all other known species than to say merely that humans seek to understand their place in this vast, strange and wonderful known universe.

As far as we know anyway, we are the only ones asking questions like “Were we created or are we a cosmic accident?” and “Why are we here?” and “What came before us? Before our universe was born?” and “What happens to us when we die?”

It is interesting to me that these questions are approached by humans in two apparently opposed ways: Through science and through faith.

Science looks to the very large using infrared, microwave and radio telescopes, trying to peer ever further back in time to see how it all began. And science also looks to the very small by smashing tiny particles (not even whole atoms mind you but mere pieces of atoms) into each other and observing the aftermath. They have said they want to find the ‘God particle.’ 

Faith, by definition, does not require a formula or visual proof.

I am fascinated by both ideas and am frequently saddened by the rancor on both sides. Sometimes even violent conflict. Ask Galileo about that. Don’t we, as a species, have room for both? Can’t we have science and faith?

To each his own path of discovery.
To each his own form of faith.

Last week I sat in my garden and noticed something amazing. Spring blew a warm kiss over the high desert I call home and the season’s bounty has begun. And as I walked around my yard I noticed a single poppy had poked her head out of the dry, rocky ground.

A singular pleasure. A beautiful miracle.

The life we are surrounded by every day is neither micro nor macro in nature. It is neither as large as a galaxy nor is it as small as a particle. Yet within a single flower lives a universe of beauty to explore.

“You won’t find faith or hope down a telescope,

You won’t find heart or soul in the stars.” 
     – From Science & Faith by The Script

And the mere existence of us – of these bags of water and bones that we call home – a lifetime of wonder to explore.

“Take my hand and lead me to salvation
Take my love for love is everlasting
And remember the truth that once was spoken
To love another person is to see the face of God.”
                 From Les Miserables, The Epilogue

Do you ask big questions from time to time? What inspires you? Do you seek answers “out there” or within? Have you ever had a moment when it all seemed clear to you?