Category Archives: Electromagnetism

The Foggy Future of Refrigerants

Freon tanks await recycling. Image courtesy U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Stable, nontoxic refrigerants changed the world, transforming food storage, expanding Sun Belt populations, even helping early movie theaters succeed. But they also wrecked the ozone layer — Earth’s shield against harmful ultraviolet radiation.

Today, as stockpiles dwindle — and prices rise — due to phase-outs set by the Montreal Protocols 30 years ago,  the future of Freon and its successors remains in doubt.

Read/listen to my full story at KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk:
As Stockpiles Dwindle, Freon Prices Rise

Behind the Scenes at a Nuclear Generating Station Refueling

Every six months, the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station southwest of Phoenix, Arizona shuts down one of its three reactors for refueling and maintenance.

Join me in this feature-length venture into the belly of the beast, from the storage casks to the open reactor itself.

Read/listen to my full story at KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk:
http://science.kjzz.org/node/472070

We’re Going to Need New Idioms for This: Record-Breaking Lightning

Cloud-to-cloud lighting.
Cloud-to-cloud lighting. Photo by Fir0002 / Flagstaffotos.

A 200-mile lightning flash and another flash lasting nearly eight seconds have redefined experts’ notions of what is possible for such events.

The new data prompted a World Meteorological Organization committee to recommend revising the definition of lightning discharges.

Read/listen to my full story at KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk:
Record-Breaking Lightning Flashes Help Change Definition Of Lightning Events

After 85 Years, Physicists Confirm Weyl Particle

Photo portrait of Hermann Weyl.
Hermann Weyl. Photo courtesy ETH-Bibliothek Zurich.

In 1928, the equations of British physicist Paul Dirac helped to describe the workings of the subatomic particles known as fermions. Within a year, other theorists – including a contemporary and schoolmate of Einstein’s named Hermann Weyl – had come up with solutions to Dirac’s equations that meant two other, quite odd types of fermions might also exist.

Proving them right would take some time, and Weyl’s quasiparticle assumed a kind of legendary status until 2015, when three separate teams confirmed its existence (my article says two, but a third popped up after I wrote it). Read on to find out more about this “ghost particle” and how it could transform electronics.

Meet Weyl, the Massless Particle That Could Upend Electronics

Press Release: New Imaging Method Reveals Cellular Secrets

Sacharomyces cerevisiae cells. Image courtesy Wikipedia Photo/Masur.
Sacharomyces cerevisiae cells. Image courtesy Wikipedia Photo/Masur.

Researchers from the Stowers Institute for Medical Research and the University of Colorado Boulder have combined two optical systems to get around the natural limits of optical microscopes, which usually cannot see objects smaller than the wavelengths of light. Using this method, the team found that spindle pole bodies in yeast — tiny, tube-shaped structures essential to cell division — duplicate and form some structures at different times than once thought.

(This is one of a series of press releases I am writing for Stowers. They are a bit more technical than my usual articles, but each includes a more widely accessible summary at the end. I hope you’ll check them out!)

Innovative Imaging Technique Reveals New Cellular Secrets