Who resurrected the electric car?

A passion of mine is cars. I absolutely love them. However I am keenly aware that they are a major contributor to the problem of global warming. If only there was a car I could buy that had zero greenhouse gas emissions.

In the 1990s General Motors was the first company to start seriously investigating the possibility of purely electric vehicles. The result of GM’s efforts was the EV1 – the first mass-produced electric car. Between 1996 – 1999 over 1000 EV1s were made and leased out to customers. However after a loosening of regulations in California, which had been GM’s primary motivator for investigating zero emission vehicles, and a collective effort by the major US automakers to prevent further regulations GM killed off its electric car programme and crushed every single EV1 it had made. With the exception of Toyota’s hybrid Prius, the world’s car makers weren’t making headway towards electric vehicles.

Teslta RoadsterFlash forward to 2008 and a new car company, Tesla Motors, releases it’s very first car, the Tesla Roadster – a purely electric, two-seat sports car that was quick! For the first time ever a car company was mass-producing electric cars for people to buy. In all, 2,450 Tesla Roadsters were built and sold between 2008 – 2012 for a sticker price of US$109,000.

With the Roadster’s success other car companies started developing mass-produced electric vehicles. Mitsubishi released the i-MiEv in 2009, Nissan released the Leaf in 2010 and General Motors released the Volt in 2011. Although these cars cost less than a Tesla Roadster, none of them could come close to matching the Roadster’s (almost) 400 km range from a single charge.

Tesla Model STesla then move the goal posts further in 2012 when it released its second car, the Tesla Model S – a luxury sedan, with amazing performance and a range of up to 350/450 km depending on the model, for a price of US$70,000/US$80,000. But although Tesla makes truly great electric cars, they aren’t exactly affordable.

The good news is that Tesla hopes it’s third car will be something suitable for the average person, with a 320 km (200 mi) range for US$35,000. The better news is that Tesla hopes to begin selling the car as soon as 2017. However, the great news is that General Motors hopes to beat them. The race is on!

News that is good, not great.

Coal power plantIf your Facebook and Twitter accounts are anything like mine, you will have jumped for joy in recent weeks after seeing headlines announcing that Beijing has banned coal-fired power plants by 2020.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration China consumes and produces roughly half the world’s coal. China’s hunger for coal is driven by it’s massive manufacturing industry which requires vast amounts of energy. It’s not surprising that China produces more greenhouse gasses than any other country on Earth.

Given China’s enormous use of coal the news of Beijing’s decision was welcomed by me, and I celebrated that the world’s use of coal was about to plummet. However, I should have done my due diligence and read past the headlines – it is Beijing that is banning the use of coal, not China. Beijing will close down coal-fired power plants in its 6 main districts, which produce 0.5% of China’s energy needs.

Although this is no where near as great as I first assumed, it is still good news. As the proverb says “a waterfall begins with just one drop”, and Beijing is the capital of China so hopefully this just the first step of many that China makes to decarbonising its society.

The importance of sunscreen

The body’s defense to the harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun is a pigment called melanin. This wonderful molecule absorbs over 99.9% of UV light’s energy. After UV exposure our body produces more melanin, which causes our skin colour to darken (tan).

Freckles are concentrated clusters of melanin, and are very good at absorbing UV light. Here is a video that highlights the effectiveness of melanin, glasses, and – most impressively – sunscreen at absorbing UV light.



How the Fields Medal got it’s nickname as the Nobel Prize for maths

Image from the Wikimedia Commons

One of the most prestigious prizes in the world is the Nobel Prize, which is awarded for Physics, Chemistry, Physiology/Medicine, Economics, Literature and Peace.

The most prestigious prize in maths is the Fields Medal, which is often referred to as the “Nobel Prize of maths.”

The rumor I heard as to why Alfred Nobel didn’t create a prize for maths was because Alfred’s wife was having an affair with a mathematician. Turns out this isn’t even close.

You can find out why there isn’t a Nobel Prize for maths, and how the Fields Medal has become referred to as the “Nobel Prize for maths” by reading this piece by the New York Times.

Monday 13 October, 2014

I have the pleasure of being a part of this very special BrisScience event. If you like science, laughs and to learn a thing or two then this is an event you won’t want to miss!

365 14 Days of Science

You’re invited to an evening of science in the style of the great panel shows (think Good News Week and Spicks and Specks!), as BrisScience takes a lighter look at the top science stories of 2014 and the scientists behind them. It’s science as you’ve never seen it before, with this year’s panellists including world leading researchers, gifted comedians, and professional science communicators – all with a flair for the dramatic. Hosted by well-known figure of stage and science, Dr Joel Gilmore, you’ll be guaranteed a night of entertainment, competition and comedy – and perhaps even education!

Following the success of the 2014 The Storytelling of Science, featuring Tim Flannery and other guests, and the inaugural 2013 Science Comedy Debate, this is sure to be another sold out evening, so secure your tickets early!

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