Monday, September 26, 2016

NEWS POST: California Eyes Unusual Power Source: Its Gridlocked Roads

This Sept. 9, 2016 photo shows rush hour traffic moving along the Hollywood Freeway in Los Angeles. California's traffic-locked roads are being considered for their potential to serve a new purpose as clear power producers. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
After several years studying the technology, the California Energy Commission is soliciting companies and universities to create small-scale field tests to investigate whether the waste energy created by vehicles, and passed onto roads when driving, could be captured and turned into electricity.

All those cars on California's famously gridlocked highways could be doing more than just using energy - they could be producing it.

The California Energy Commission is investing US$2 million to study whether piezoelectric crystals can be used to produce electricity from the mechanical energy created by vehicles driving on roads.

The commission is in the process of choosing a company or university to take on small-scale field tests. It will study how the small crystals, which generate energy when compressed, could produce electricity for the grid if installed under asphalt.

Scientists already know the technology works, but the state needs to figure out whether it can produce high returns without costing too much. Similar projects in other parts of the world have been discontinued.

"It's not hard to see the opportunity in California," said Mike Gravely, the commission's deputy division chief of energy research and development. "It's an energy that's created but is just currently lost in vibration."

Scientists say it's a matter of shifting perceptions.

"No longer is driving just the act of using energy. Maybe it's also part of the process of generating it," said Paul Bunje, a scientist at a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that funds technological developments and the former founding director of UCLA's Center for Climate Change Solutions.

The hope is that the use of clean energy produced by roads will help the state reach its goal of producing 50 percent of California's electricity with renewables by 2030, Gravely said.

The state is on target to reach 25 percent by the end of the year, according to the energy commission.

Whether the technology can withstand the wear and tear of traffic is something that concerns Joe Mahoney, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle.

"One would need to consider which would last longer: the pavement or the devices," he said, adding highways need to be resurfaced every 10 to 30 years.

There is also uncertainty about whether the technology will be competitive enough with other renewables to merit full-scale investment.

California's funding to study the technology follows a series of projects in Tokyo, Italy and Israel that appear to have failed or been dropped.

Most notably, an Israeli company whose pilot test attracted global attention in 2009 is now in the process of liquidation, and the project was unsuccessful, according to the Israeli roads authority.

The company, Innowattech, also had plans to install its devices under a section of Italian highway but pulled out, according to Salini Impregilo, the Italian construction company involved.

It was the Israeli project that inspired California lawmaker Mike Gatto, a Los Angeles Democrat, to ask the energy commission to fund pilot projects in California.

Gatto submitted a bill to the Assembly in 2011 and has lauded the Israeli project in several news releases since.

He told The Associated Press that he didn't know the project apparently failed.

"Hearing these details for the first time — obviously, they're not heartening," Gatto said. "I don't want anything to be colored by one tiny experiment by one company in a different country."

Gatto said he thinks the technology is still viable.

"It's probably that there are cost issues that might have been present in Israel that might not be present here," he said.

Innowattech data also featured heavily in the commission's feasibility study, published by an energy consulting company in 2014. The study gathered and compared the data available from projects experimenting with the technology at the time.

But the commission's Gravely said conclusions were drawn from a range of sources, assuring him the results are reliable. He added he has spoken to several manufacturers within the United States who are eager to explore it.

Bunje noted it's not uncommon for a technology's early adopters to fail.

"Innovation comes with risk," he said. "There is a general rule that you don't know what is going to work."

Regardless of the risks, it's worth trying new things, he said.

The US$2 million California is using to test the new technology will come from a renewable investment fund created by the California Public Utilities Commission. Bidding will end Nov. 18, and the commission will award the contract in the spring.

Originally published in Daily Mail UK by Associated Press

NEWS POST: World's Largest Radio Telescope Starts Operating In China

The Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST)in operation in Pingtang, in southwestern China's Guizhou province on September 25, 2016 ©STR (AFP)
The world's largest radio telescope began operating in southwestern China Sunday, a project Beijing says will help humanity search for alien life.

The Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST), nestled between hills in the mountainous region of Guizhou, began working around noon, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Built at a cost of 1.2 billion yuan (US$180 million), the telescope dwarfs the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico as the world's largest single-dish radio telescope, with twice the sensitivity and a reflector as large as 30 football fields, it said.

FAST will use its vast dish, made up of 4,450 panels, to search for signs of intelligent life, and to observe distant pulsars -- tiny, rapidly spinning neutron stars believed to be the products of supernova explosions.

China sees its ambitious military-run, multi-billion-dollar space programme as symbolizing the country's progress. It plans a permanent orbiting space station by 2020 and eventually a manned mission to the moon.

Chinese President Xi Jinping celebrated the launch, with reports Sunday that he had sent a congratulatory letter to the scientists and engineers who contributed to its creation.

The telescope represents a leap forward for China's astronomical capabilities and will be one of several "world-class" telescope projects launched in the next decade, said Yan Jun, head of China's National Astronomical Observation (NAO), according to Xinhua.

In a test run before the launch, FAST detected electromagnetic waves emitted by a pulsar more than 1,300 light-years away, state media reported an NAO researcher as saying.

Earlier Xinhua cited Wu Xiangping, director-general of the Chinese Astronomical Society, as saying that the telescope's high degree of sensitivity "will help us to search for intelligent life outside of the galaxy".

Experts have been hunting for alien intelligence for six decades, pointing radio telescopes at stars in the hope of discovering signals from other civilizations, but have not yet found any evidence.

The Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST), pictured under construction in Pingtang in July 2015
- 'Wildest imagination' -
Last month a "strong signal" detected by a Russian telescope searching for extraterrestrial signals stirred interest among scientists, but experts said it was far too early to make conclusions about its origin.

But the new FAST telescope could "lead to discoveries beyond our wildest imagination," Douglas Vakoch, president of METI, a group seeking to send messages to space in search of alien life, told Xinhua.

Construction of FAST began in 2011, and local officials relocated nearly 10,000 people living within five kilometres (three miles) to create a quieter environment for monitoring. Cell phones in the area must be powered off to maintain radio silence.

In the past China has relocated hundreds of thousands of people to make way for large infrastructure projects such as dams and canals.

The area surrounding the telescope is remote and relatively poor. State media said it was chosen because there are no major towns nearby.

The villagers will be compensated with cash or housing. The budget for relocation is 1.8 billion yuan (US$270 million), it was reported, more than the cost of constructing the telescope.

China has poured money into big-ticket science and technology projects as it seeks to become a high-tech leader, but despite some gains the country's scientific output still lags behind.

At the beginning of this month, reports said 600 apartments had been built so far with the funds.
Guests look on during the inauguration ceremony for the Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) on its first day of operation in Pingtang, in southwestern China's Guizhou province on September 25, 2016 ©STR (AFP)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

GUEST BLOG POST: Why We Lose Our Child-Like Wonder — Tanner Christensen

By Tanner Christensen

Tanner Christensen
To a child, being a non-expert is an asset for growth.

Being a naive child means learning how the world works (or doesn’t work) is as easy as trying something, making mistakes, and adapting.

But as the child grows up, he or she comes to be an expert on how to live within the bounds of what becomes known; to do so ensures a general happy and healthy life. You don’t have to look very far to see how this transformation occurs, how we each go from naive toddler to knowledgable youth then finally into experts as adulthood.

Friday, September 16, 2016

NEWS POST: Nigerian Schools In The Throes Of Recession

Donor grant administration, execution of capital projects, provision of essential municipal services, as well as effective administration, are some aspects of university operations that have been rocked by the ongoing recession. Schools at lower levels are also offering incentives and fee cuts in order to retain their students. Eno-Abasi Sunday and Ujunwa Atueyi of The Guadian write on how schools are battling the economic downturn.

When the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and sundry groups deplored the inclusion of all federal government-owned educational institutions in the blanket implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy of the Federal Government, on the ground that it was crippling their efforts to deliver on their set objectives, not many thought matters would get from bad to worse so soon.

But the economic downturn, which has given birth to a recession, has hastened the doomsday for these institutions. Tertiary institutions are not alone in this dilemma, as the impact of the hard-hitting economic malaise has engulfed the entire education spectrum, in one way or another.

In simple terms, a recession is defined as a period of temporary economic decline during which trade and industrial activities are reduced, generally identified by a fall in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in two successive quarters.

Its impact in the education sector, many parents and stakeholders fear, could lead to poor quality service delivery in these institutions, some of which are already lying belly up, owing to multi-faceted challenges.

At the tertiary level, only the managements of a few federal-owned institutions have come out to openly state the grueling impact of recession on their operations, while many afraid of being sanctioned by the government have remained taciturn. Even those that elect to divulge any details of their sufferings prefer to do so anonymously.

However, the acting Vice Chancellor of Obafemi Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Prof. Anthony Elujoba, remains one of those that have cried out publicly that recession is affecting the provision of essential services as well as the effective running of universities.

In an address he gave during the matriculation of 7,500 students for the 2015/2016 academic session, Elujoba, who was represented by the Chairman, Committee of Deans, Prof. Adeagbo Amusan, however, assured the new students of good conditions of living in the school despite the recession, just as he appealed to them to ensure proper use of municipal facilities in order to reduce cost.

“Your admission to the university coincides with a period of obvious economic recession in the country. The implication is that funds are not readily available for provisions of municipal and other essential services. However, I assure you of our readiness to continue to ensure that issues affecting students’ welfare are addressed as prompt as possible within the limited resources.

“As the university is ever willing to go the extra mile to make you succeed in your studies and other legitimate endeavours, you are also under obligation to make judicious use of all the resources that are provided.”

Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu Image source: STATE HOUSE
Vice Chancellor of the Redeemer’s University, Ede, Osun State, Prof. Debo Adeyewa, recently laced his view regarding the recession with an advise to President Muhammadu Buhari, to seek the services of tested economic experts to help him steer the country’s economy out of recession.

At a briefing to signal the commencement of activities marking the eight convocation of the university, he maintained that the education sector was not insulated from the economic logjam.

“The change the people are expecting is a positive one, so they have to work extra hard to effect it. The government should look for seasoned economic advisers wherever they can get them. It may be from the universities, from labour unions, the private sector or anywhere. It does not mean that these economic advisers must be from a particular political party,” the vice chancellor stated.

He insisted that the, “Solution does not lie with the International Monetary Fund; it does not lie with the World Bank, the solution to the economic recession lies within us.”

Adeyewa added that the school was trying its best to ensure that the quality of lives of the students was not adversely affected by the recession, hence its decision not to tinker with school fees despite the fall in the value of the naira.

He called on the Federal Government to help private universities to grow by enunciating policies that would facilitate that.

His words: “We need polices which will allow us to grow. So many universities where Nigerians are trooping to abroad cannot compare to our own here in Nigeria. Some of them have just one story building and that is all but their government allow them to grow,” he added.

Spokesperson of a federal university, who craved anonymity told The Guardian that “Both the TSA policy and the ongoing recession have dealt harshly with the operations of federal universities.

“Before now, issues like power cut, water problems and the likes were handled with dispatch by the school management because of their capacity to cause discontent on campus. The TSA has worsened the scenario now. To get as little as 50, 000 out of the system, we have to wait for at least 72 hours. Sometimes getting funds out could take up to 10 days. This does not make for effective running of a university,” he stated.

The spokesperson also added that providers of certain external grants are not pleased with the management of the monies because of the sloppy manner of release, which is occasioned by the TSA.

Another spokesperson, who also craves anonymity said, “With the way things are going, it is only a matter of time before compromise will start setting in. Right now, many private universities are cap-in-hand looking for students, as parents who can hardly feed their families are not looking their way. It is only a few parents who can still get a little money from here and there that are giving a thought to sending their wards to private universities.

“Now, private universities are increasingly engaging the services of marketers to get them new students. Those who had marketers before are, like banks, increasing targets for them in order to cover lost ground.

“Already, some private universities are contemplating payments of fees in up to six installments, away from the three installments which some schools currently practice. In addition to this, there are strong indications that some private universities would end up cutting down their fees,” he added.

The image maker regretted that matters have gone so bad that some private and public universities have stopped capital projects even as worst hit private universities are now paying half salaries to their workers.

“Rather than bring in investors, who may end up hijacking their schools from them, some private university owners are downscaling investments in their schools. No capital projects any more. Where unavoidable, big name contracting firms are out of the question as the jobs are given to individuals with considerate charges. Workers are now taking home half salaries and you know what this is capable of causing in the long run,” he concluded.

On whether the school has increased its school fees as some have done in other to cushion the effects of the recession, spokesperson of Caleb University, Kola Adepoju said, “For this session, we have not increased our fees. Even though we are still charging one of the least fees among private universities, we are not compromising standards.

“The proprietor and management of this school has also ensured that no single staff in this institution is owed a single month salary or other things due them,” he concluded.

At the secondary schools level, some schools have already slashed fees and also accepted the idea of fee payment in installments. Issues like excursions and foreign trips are some of the areas they are considering shelving.

According to a parent, Mrs. Joy Onwe, “What most parents are contending with now is the school fees and other bills and not renewal of school wears. I have explained to my five children that there won’t be renewal of any item this session as they would all have to manage their old wears. What is topmost on my mind is tuition and sundry fees. I have weighed the pros and cons of changing to another low-fee paying school, but by the time you start buying new uniforms, sports wears and others, it will amount to same figure if not more than. So I have ruled out moving my kids to another school.

“As an individual, I have already meet the school authorities and discussed the mode of payment, and we had agreed on four installments. I have to be faithful with the pact, because I wouldn’t want my children to be embarrassed.

Another parent, Dr. Katty Ayande, is appealing to Buhari to urgently address the economic situation in the country as matters were “getting out of control.”

“For me, we are moving our kids in the primary and secondary schools to another quality, but average fee-paying school. The times we are into do not call for pretense. It is about tackling our individual and family issues head-on. I have discussed that with my husband, and we have agreed. I used the long holiday to search for alternative schools that measure up to the standard we desire. I have found one, and it is also affordable. I do hope, that this economic recession will end soonest,” she said.

Nigerian university students Image source: PULSENG
For Managing Director of Edumark Consult, an educational consulting firm, Mrs. Yinka Ogunde, “A number of people have called me to ask if slashing of fees by some schools would not compromise quality. Others are alleging that schools that have slashed their fees by about 50 per cent were overcharging. Some are offering up to 50 per cent discount on fees, but the question is how will such schools cope with salaries and increasing costs? Something is not adding up here.

“Clearly it shows that parents must be discerning and ask questions like, have schools been over charging? Are they going to reduce the salary of their teachers or the quality of meals given to pupils? This is a time you must ask questions and ensure you take decisions that are in the best interest of your children,” she charged parents.

But Chief Executive Officer of Global International College, Lekki, Lagos, Mrs. Abolaji Osime, believes that considering what parents are facing at the moment, discount is not a bad idea.

She said, “It is only if you are not a parent that you will not feel what other parents are currently going through, especially those with children abroad. It is called empathy. Nigeria is officially in recession. Parents are struggling to meet up and are asking for discounts and schools are in a dilemma. Do we insist on charging normal fees or do we adjust to current realities, cut costs, operate lean budgets and pass on the gains to parents without compromising quality?

“And guess what, it is not only the education sector that is giving incentives to customers, it’s everyone. Nigerian parents are asking for financial aid in the United States’ universities. United Kingdom universities are slashing fees to encourage Nigerian parents. What GIC has done is to pass on the gains to parents. I will rather give parents discount than pay banks 29 per cent interest. God will see all of us through.”

For Proprietress of New Life Private School, Ikotun, Lagos, Mrs. Gbemisola Emiebor, “We would not increase school fees; rather we would go out of our way to give considerations that might affect our marketing goals. But all would be in the interest of parents. My only fear is that majority of these parents do not keep to their words. And I would not want teachers’ welfare to be affected because teachers’ welfare remains an integral part of our core values.”

While this is lingering, education expert have counseled schools and parents not to compromise standards in these circumstances, but rather try to make the best out of the available resources.

According to the Head of Department, Educational Foundation, University of Lagos, Akoka, Prof. Ngozi Osarenren, “Schools should not reduce fees because it is like a cyclical thing. It is the fees that they will use to pay the teachers. If you want good quality teaching and care for your child, the school fees should not be reduced, else it will boil down to quality issues.

“However, if the fees of the school your ward is attending are too high, then look for another quality but affordable school. The problem with most parents is that their choice of school is largely influenced by ego-trip. My child attends this or that school. But when you look at the present realities, they cannot afford it. So it is about reordering priority in the midst of lean resources.”

Originally published in The Guardian Nigeria