Window sunglasses; insect microids; open access to science research?; theatre and science

Having windows that can darken or lighten according to the amount of sunshine would save money and energy. Such windows have been around for over two decades but they haven’t worked very well. Researchers at the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are working on a new, more successful generation of such windows (electrochromic windows). From the article by Joe Verrengia on physorg.com,

Insulated windows are made from multiple layers of glass. Typically the spaces between the panes are filled with a gas. Electrochromic windows are made with a very thin stack of dynamic materials deposited on the outside pane.

The dynamic portion consists of three layers: active and counter electrodes separated by an ion conductor layer. NREL researchers are experimenting with electrode layers made of nickel and tungsten oxides; the ions are lithium.

The window changes from clear to tinted when a small electric field is applied and the lithium ions move into the working electrode layers. The change can be triggered by sensors in an automated building management system, or by a flick of a switch. Electrochromic windows can block as much as 98 percent of the direct sunlight. Reversing the polarity of the applied voltage causes the ions to migrate back to their original layer, and the glass returns to clear.

It sounds exciting to someone like me who doesn’t handle the heat or air conditioning well. I just hope they can get the costs down as it’s about $1000 per square metre at this point.

While it’s not strictly speaking nanotechnology, a researcher (Jason Clark) at Purdue University is working on an insect robot, a microid.  From the news item on Nanowerk,

His [Clark’s] concept, a sort of solid-state muscle for microid legs and mandibles, would allow the robot to nimbly traverse harsh environments such as sand or water. The concept appears to be the first to show such insectlike characteristics at the microscale, he said.
“The microids would be able to walk, run, jump, and pick up and move objects many times their own weight,” Clark said. “A microid can also do what no insect or other microrobot can do, which is continue walking if flipped on its back. Who knows, maybe flight is next.”
He also envisions the possibility of hordes of microids working in unison and communicating with each other to perform a complex task.
“You can’t underestimate the power of having thousands of microids working together, much like ant colonies,” he said.

Those last bits about flying and working in unison bring Michael Crichton’s 2002 nanotechnology novel, Prey, to mind. Crichton conceptualized a swarm that was intelligent, voracious, and almost unstoppable. As I recall, Crichton included aspects of insect behaviour, network theory, neuroscience, and self-assembling nanotechnology to describe his swarm. It caused a bit of a kerfuffle in the nanotech research community as scientists were concerned that it might set off a controversy similar to  ‘frankenfoods’ or GM (genetically modified) foods but nothing came of it at the time.

Techdirt had an interesting bit last week about open access to science research,

Via James Boyle, we’re pointed to an editorial that supposedly is all about improving access to research via open access policies for the public — and just so happens to be locked up behind a paywall itself. Apparently, the publisher doesn’t necessarily agree with the authors’ conclusions.

I did check out the link to find the publisher is the journal Science and they require a free registration or a subscription  for access to the editorial. Either Techdirt made a mistake or the editors at Science changed access to the editorial.

Combining insects with the journal, I found a news item on physorg.com about a theatre review published in Science,

Typically science doesn’t bed down with theatre, much less mate with artistic vigor, but the accord between the two is explored in the recent production Heuschrecken [The Locusts] developed by Stefan Kaegi of Rimini Protokoll. “And why not?” asks Arizona State University’s Manfred Laubichler and Gitta Honegger who review the production in the Jan. 29 issue of the journal Science.

The marriage of theatre and science is not new. The Greeks, starting with Aristotle embraced a more integrated relationship of the two. “But a divide came when we associated science with the brain and the arts with emotions,” Honegger says.

The news item goes on to discuss the particulars of the production such as a 60 square metre terrarium of 10,000 locusts, actors, scientists, video cameras, interwoven narratives, and locust music. I am quite inspired by it.

Coincidentally, Rimini Protokoll, the German theatre arts company mentioned in the news item, has a production here in Vancouver (as part of PUSH International Performing Arts Festival 2010 [Jan. 20 to Feb. 6]) which integrates video games and theatre. From the Canwest article by Peter Birnie,

Tim Carlson is a Vancouver playwright who was in Berlin in 2006 for a production of his play Omniscience. Carlson was so impressed by a Rimini Protokoll production of Friedrich Schiller’s Wallenstein trilogy in the German capital that, when he subsequently learned the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival was bringing Rimini Protokoll here, asked to work with them.

“I knew that they shape their shows for particular cities,” Carlson explains, “and they would want to do research here. I had them meet [former city councillor] Jim Green, they visited In-Site and had an architecture tour with [noted critic] Trevor Boddy. One thing that really captured their interest was the video-gaming industry in town, so that kind of turned the light on.”

Electronic artist Brady Marks was hired to find a way that 200 people could game together, and other electronic designers were brought on board to do the 3D modelling. As it does in other productions, Rimini Protokoll then hired local experts — not actors — to perform as themselves.

Marks is the electronic artist directing things, with animator Duff Armour as a game tester, former politician (and Railway Club owner) Bob Williams as a politician and traffic flagger Ellen Schultz as, well, the traffic flagger for the show. Carlson explains that Williams will be something of a political commentator when the audience holds its own presidential election.

You can phone 604.251.1363 to inquire about tickets for the production (Best Before) at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre.

1 thought on “Window sunglasses; insect microids; open access to science research?; theatre and science

  1. Pingback: No! A picture is not worth 1,000 words « FrogHeart

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *