Historic fusion reactor dismantled and packed away

So long, and thanks for all the watts.For the latter part of the 20th century, much of what we knew about plasma fusion came out of Princeton’s Plasma Physics Laboratory. There the massive Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor worked for 15 years, forcing hydrogen atoms together in crazy strong magnetic fields in the search for a sustainable fusion reaction. I wrote a paper about this back in the late 1980s in UC Santa Barbara’s terrific History of the Nuclear Age. Anyhow, the Tokamak was taken offline in 1997, and Princeton says it has now successfully dismantled and removed the leviathan. Just to give you an idea about the machine’s intensity, it was the first to produce more than 10 million watts of fusion power. And in 1995, TFTR attained a world-record temperature of 510 million degrees centigrade — more than 25 times that at the center of the sun.

Incidentally, if you ever wondered what Tokamak means, it’s not — as I once thought — some Native American name or word. It’s actually Russian shorthand describing the squished donut shape of the magnets. To(roidal’naya) kam(era s) ak(sial’nym magnitnym polem), or toroidal chamber with axial magnetic field. Now you know.

Calorie listings don’t encourage overeating, study says

You really don't want to knowLabeling foods “low-fat” is suspected of encouraging consumers to overeat. If that box of Ho-Ho’s claims to be low-fat, heck, why not down the full dozen? But a study from Penn State says the same is not true of the listing of caloric content. “Some studies have shown that people take larger portions of foods labeled ‘low fat’ ? using the label as a license to eat more. This study shows that energy density labels are unlikely to undermine the benefits of offering foods with fewer calories per ounce.”

Time to adjust the compass?

Working high in the Canadian Arctic, researchers from the University of Rochester say they’ve found that several aspects of the powerhouse that drives the Earth’s magnetic field may be related. That’s new in itself. But the team also thinks it may indicate our planet’s about ready for a pole reversal, in which all compasses will begin pointing south.

Biologist Offers a Solution to the ‘Freeloaders Paradox’

Freeloaders ?? individuals eager to join social groups, but who once in, tend to avoid pulling their fair share of the chores ?? have long posed something of a problem for evolutionary biologists. In theory, because freeloaders don?t expend the efforts and energy of their more civic-minded neighbors, they should be able to translate that energy into more offspring, spreading their “slacker genes” and overrunning the world with offspring of similar ilk. But that doesn’t happen, and an Arizona researcher thinks she knows why.

Strange attraction: Shaping metal with magnets

Researchers in Ohio say they’ve come up with a way to shape metal using powerful magnetic fields, a process that could help cut down on the use of toxic lubricants otherwise needed to stamp products as diverse as auto parts and kitchenware. Said one of the researchers: “The process has to be reliable, and require as little human intervention as possible…. In automobile production especially, manufactures need to make parts in as few steps as they possibly can. I think we can do a lot of good things for industry with this technique.”

GPS takes piloting to new level of accuracy

NASA has developed a way to pilot aircraft independent of local navigational aids, infrastructure and even good ol’ landmarks. The NASA Global Differential GPS system at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has demonstrated the ability to achieve real-time aircraft positioning accuracy of 10 centimeters horizontally and 20 centimeters vertically, anywhere in the world. Think of it this way: Using the NASA system, a pilot could remotely navigate an unmanned aircraft from, say, Atlanta, Georgia and have it land within three inches of its target in Tokyo, Japan.

In case you were wondering

The Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services has published a four-point guide to hand washing. This is not a comment on the brain capacity of those in the “Forward” state, but rather a reminder of the single best way to fend off illness.

The steps are:
1. Wet your hands, ideally with very warm water.
2. Add soap, then rub your hands together to make a soapy lather. Vigorously scrub the front and back of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails, for no less than 10 seconds before you …
3. Rinse the lather off your hands, letting the water run into the sink, not down your arms.
4. In public restrooms, use a paper towel to turn off the water so you don’t touch a potentially-dirty handle, then …
5. Dry your hands thoroughly with a clean towel.

All right, it’s a five-point plan. Math never was Wisconsin’s strong suit. But, ummm, the cheese….

Hold on, my landfill’s ringing

By 2005, 130 million cell phones will be thrown out each year, according to a new study funded in part by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Counting the phones, batteries and chargers, that comes to 65,000 tons a year, most of which will end up in landfills or being incinerated. And that has environmentalists freaked. “This is becoming a very serious problem, because the amount of cell phone waste is growing tremendously,” said Eric Most, a director at Inform, the group which issued the report. “These chemicals accumulate and persist in the environment. They get in the plants, soil, water, and then move up the stream to humans.” One approach to countering the increase that seems to have general support is a “take-back” program, in which phone manufacturers must agree to take-back old phones when consumers upgrade. Another plan sure to be DOA: Limiting waste by standardizing design elements so consumers have fewer reasons to buy new phones. “If we had had a government standard in the beginning,” one industry rep told the New York Times, “we’d still all be speaking on analog phones. And that means no e-mail, no text messaging, no Caller ID. Competition equals innovation in this case.”

Discovery of Big Space Object Renews Debate About Pluto’s Status

The identifying of a massive, 745-mile-diameter object at the far reaches of our solar system has reopened a debate regarding the planetary status of that ninth pile from the sun, Pluto.
National Geographic reports that the newly-noticed space item is named Quaoar (pronounced “KWAH-o-ar”) and is located in the Kuiper belt, a celestial district 4 billion miles from Earth and relatively close to Pluto. Like the Disney dog-named sphere, Quaoar is composed of rock and ice. Also, its orbit is similar to Pluto’s but differs from the eight other planets. “Pluto is the largest known Kuiper belt object,” a University of Hawaii astronomer says. “Some people think of it as a planet as well. That’s fine, of course, but the reasons for doing so are historical, or sociological at best.”