Oil spills are a messy business, but a patent is in the works for a new cleanup solution--the carbon nanotube.
Nanotubes are made out of sheets of carbon, one atom thick, which are rolled into tubes the size of baby carrots.
Nanotubes are water repellent, but act as super efficient oil sponges. Each nanotube can absorb up to 100 times its weight in oil. And here’s the kicker: the nanotubes are reusable--you can squeeze or burn the oil out of the sponges without inhibiting their ability to absorb more oil. This offers exciting possibilities for cleaning up oil spills, but thus far the testing has been limited to supercomputer simulations.
Some oil spill cleanup methods, like the toxic dispersant used in the BP spill, persist in the environment and cause their own problems. But these tiny sponges are magnetic, which the scientists hope will makes them easier to move and remove from the ocean.
While nanotubes have been made for decades, scientists have struggled to control the nanotubes’ growth and dispersal. But scientists at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee have recently added an essential twist.
The scientists inserted boron atoms into the mix. Since boron has a different number of valence electrons, it changes the structure of the carbon-based lattice. The boron encouraged more elbow joints to form, creating a 3-dimensional structure, which makes the nanotubes stronger and more flexible...and more efficient at removing oil from ocean waters.
The results of the study were published in the journal Nature last week.
My family was in town for my graduation this week, and I woke up early to make them eggs for breakfast. I had brought the eggs in a little woven basket from my chicken co-op. Every Tuesday evening I bike to the farm to feed, water and check up on the chickens. In return I get to gather 8 to 12 of their brown/pink/blue/white eggs. It's a little bit of a time commitment. And by time I pay my co-op dues and the feed fees, etc. it ends up being a little pricey.
Well, pricey as compared to the uniformly white dozens offered in styrofoam packaging at King Soopers for $1.29. But significantly less expensive than the fresh eggs I saw advertised at the farmer's market this weekend for $6.50 a dozen.
I never know quite how to handle these food decisions. Do I go for the less expensive foodstuffs with unknown origins and shady chemical histories? Or do I opt for the expensive versions that are arguably better for me and the environment? It often become a boxing match between my moral compass and my bank account (which boasts only a dwindling post-graduation student budget). My chicken co-op is one of the few examples of a happy medium that I've been able to find.
I know where my eggs come from and that the chickens that lay them are (or at least seem to be) happy. Plus they make the egg-eaters happy too. Dad had his over easy. Mom requested hers scrambled with cheese. But they both agreed that no matter how they're cooked, the eggs from my co-op just taste better.
_Last night marked the end of a nine-month era with my colleagues from the Center for Environmental Journalism. It was the fellows' last night in Boulder, and, as such, we had to check a few tasks off our to-do list. Our attempts at getting whiskey milkshakes (or any dessert for that matter) were a fail, but the visit to 1619 Pine Street was anything but. Thanks to the combined navigational skills of Google and Jonathan, we finally got to see the infamous facade, which renewed my appreciation for the city I will call home for a few more months.
I have no idea who currently lives at this address near Boulder's main drag, but I am grateful that the residents did not come to the window with a loaded shotgun when I took a flash-heavy picture. (Colorado's recently-passed gun law could have meant that I was a goner). Perhaps the new owners are used to flocks of adoring fans. The old Victorian was home to my favorite television characters, Mork and Mindy.
I remember well the joy of Thursday evenings while I was growing up. It was on these nights that my two sisters and I were allowed to stay up half an hour past our bedtime to tune into Nick@Nite for the latest installment of Mork and Mindy. If I was obstinant enough, I could even forego having to change into my pajamas (which were all the way downstairs). Instead I would wriggle into one of my dad's old t-shirts, the short sleeves reaching well below my elbows and the bottom almost brushing the floor.
My sisters and I would scramble up onto Mom and Dad's bed, using our knees and elbows to vie for the limited amount of space between the bed's cliff-like edges. Many bruises and carpet burns were suffered in pursuit of a better view or the privilege of leaning on the brown velour floral-patterned pillow. As soon as Dad had aimed the black plastic remote at the 18-inch television screen, though, our focus was given fully to the alien from the planet Ork.
Seeing the house last night brought back the youthful glee evoked by Robin Williams' inherent goofiness. To refresh our Mork and Mindy-related memories (and our palates) my colleagues and I consulted YouTube over a round of margaritas. I remember being enamored by the show when my age was still in the single digits, but I was surprised by how little of the show I actually remembered.
The opening credits include shots from downtown Boulder, Boulder Canyon, and Pine Street. Little did I know when my adolescent self was ogling over Mork's egg ship that I would some day be living in the very part of the Earth on which it landed. Today, two decades later, I am proud to call Boulder my second home.
This week marks the end of my master's program at CU Boulder. I have passed all the required courses. I have successfully completed a newspaper internship. I have written and defended my thesis. On Thursday, pending getting all the right signatures on the right lines, I will be walking across the stage in Macky Auditorium wearing a stuffy black cap and gown. (If anyone knows the significance of this apparently academic attire, please enlighten me).
But walking across the stage is not the daunting part. I plan to wear moccasins or Chacos or some such footwear to preclude tripping. The daunting part is the metaphorical parallels of this act--crossing into the next stage of my life, this time with a title and its associated expectations: environmental journalist.
I came back to school in search of fulfillment. I had tried the environmental consulting gig. I had given teaching English abroad a shot. But as much as I gained from these experiences, they didn't feel...right. There was no deep sense of satisfaction or purpose. So I dusted off my backpack, sharpened my pencils, and headed up the stairs at 1511 University Ave. to try my hand at graduate school.
I chose environmental journalism because it seemed like the one field that could combine the hotdish of disparate interests listed on my undergraduate diploma: environmental studies, English and French. I imagined myself as a foreign correspondent reporting on critical environmental issues in French-speaking Africa.
But I quickly found that academia can be just as disenchanting as the "real world." The week I arrived in Boulder, the journalism school closed. None of us knew the implications of this administrative move, and to be honest, two years later, I still don't. Apparently it's nothing to worry about. We operate in a department now instead of a school and I'll still get a pretty, embossed piece of paper that says I win.
So as this academic interlude comes to a close, I have begun to reflect on the experience.
Did I find graduate school fulfilling? On a strictly academic level, perhaps not. But by being proactive I was able to seek out the elements that made the experience worthwhile. I co-founded an online environmental magazine. I published front page stories in the Daily Camera. I conducted live interviews on KGNU radio. I met amazing people doing amazing work in the field of environmental journalism.
In the end, I found reporting on environmental issues to be profoundly satisfying. My stories reached people. Granted, in some cases the audience response was pretty minimal, but it was always exciting to hear that people had read or listened to my work. People reflected and conversed and acted in ways that they otherwise may not have. This felt right.
But thus far I have been hired as much-appreciated free labor. The challenge now is to figure out how to make a living out of it, especially since my chosen field (journalism) appears to be on life support. I am leaving grad school with barely a job prospect on the horizon, and this is not for a lack of effort in the application process. Jobs in journalism are becoming fewer, with lower salaries and greater competition.
I applied for an entry level reporting job in Seattle a few weeks back and the editor told me that I was one of 600 applicants vying for the position. 600! Another magazine was looking for interns to answer phones, sort mail and fact-check, and they were specifically looking for candidates with master's degrees. This is the type of work I should aspire to after completing two years of graduate school!? I know I shouldn't be picky at this point, but I feel like actually writing is a requisite component.
The field of journalism is undergoing an identity crisis right now. And consequently so am I. Hopefully our paths will converge in the form of a job that involves writing and actually pays. In the mean time I will simply write. I have three months until my lease expires, during which time I plan to write--a book, copious amount of grants and job applications, and this blog. I hope you and I will both enjoy the process.