Week 8_Space Frenzy (plus final proposal plus extra credit)_by Cheng-Kuang Liu

An infinite expanse, space has been an exhaustless source of imaginations and dreams. Man seems to have been programmed with curiosity to explore the unknown. Before Columbus found the new world, there are many fantasies concerning the shape of the earth. After the mystery of the earth was solved, mankind seemed to have turned to exploring the space. Actually the fantasies concerning the heavenly expanse are just as old as the ones concerning the earth. The sky is the source of kind sunshine and rain, which are critical to survival. The sky is also the source of fearsome thunder and hail, which could be life-threatening. To sailors and travelers, the stars of the sky provide guidance and direction. Therefore even since a long time ago people have worshipped the sky as the dwelling place of some superior being. In modern days, with telescopes and satellites, there may not be as much superstition concerning the heaven, but the fantasies for the space never waned.

Please see this clever log-scale depiction of “height” http://xkcd.com/482/. (For parallelism, please also see this comical log-scale depiction of “depth” http://xkcd.com/485/). Finally, you’ve gotta see this one http://xkcd.com/505/.

Space means endless possibilities. In the grand scheme, earth is but a speck of dust in the universe. There may very well be another planet that resembles the earth and that bears life. Therefore there always have been tremendous efforts in space exploration. Recall the space race between USSR and the United States. The universal unspoken rule is that he who arrives at a place first has the right to claim ownership of that place, and in this case, ownership of the space spells “power” and “prestige.” The Soviets had a head-start by sending up the Sputnik, but the Americans surpassed them by sending the first man to the moon. Yet to this day there are skeptics who believe that the Americans staged the whole moon-landing story and fabricated all the footages and pictures in order to convince the world of America’s power. Whether or not this is true, it would be a more compelling story if the Americans really did fake it—it shows how much space exploration means to the two rival countries and to the rest of the world. It was important enough such that America is willing to put up a big lie to deceive the world.

The space frenzy is most evident in popular culture. To name a few of the movies: E.T., Independence Day, Man In Black, Alien, Predator, Alien vs. Predator, Wall-E, Apollo 13, Planet of the Apes, and Signs. In the United States, the most prominent space-related science-fiction series are perhaps “Star Trek” and “Star Wars”.  The craze is so intense that it practically becomes a religion to these die-hard fans. These disciples are often labeled “geeks,” and their devotion to the space stories marks their “geek-hood.” Just count the Star Trek reference in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xEzGIuY7kw. Please also see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBj7-50bloE, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K02O02NqndE, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6OOPqqxsyQ, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhsgyO2Gtmo, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DF6i_BLNUe4, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HPFRYVJ63A, . By the way, if you understood all the references, you must be a geek too.

 

As for final project proposal:

My midterm was a video project of simultaneous split screens. I’d like to expand on the idea: An exhibit wall of split screens. There will be many cameras in the area, recording the actions of the viewers of thie exhibit. Each split screen may show something different and here are a few ideas: 1. slow-motion play back on demand (so the visitor could act out something in front of a camera, and when he or she pushes a certain button, a screen plays back the actions in slo-mo, just like in movies), 2. fast play back (same idea), 3. bullet-time style (multiple cameras for the same location, each with a different angle), 4. delayed time play back, 5. multi-time play back (one screen would overlay several video clips taken at different times). However, I don’t yet know how to incorporate the themes presented in class and the social context.

 

Extra credit blog: Greener Nanotechnology

I attended Jim Hutchison’s lecture on greener nanotechnology, and it was quite interesting. Nanotechnology is so appealing because it is so versatile. The same nano molecule, with the correct “attachments,” could perform different functions, whether in pharmaceutical, material, or electronic applications. The implication is immense. It could mean highly specific targeted medicine delivery, extraordinary strength and lightness of materials, and unprecedented compactness of electronic devices. However, the process does generate hazardous wastes. Currently, the amount of waste may seem quite insignificant, but it could be quite significant once the production is scaled up to industrial level. The traditional approach is to properly contain and control the waste that is generated, but Hutchison, being a green chemist, endeavors to minimize the generation of waste in the first place. For this purpose, scientists like him devise better reaction pathways: cheaper, faster, and less side products. I myself study Chemical Engineering, and I admire Hutchison’s efforts. Engineers’ and scientists’ works have profound impacts on humanity. It is one thing to fix and contain the side products of civilization, and it is another to eliminate such side products in the first place. Hutchison’s chose the latter. It may be the more difficult way, but it is the sustainable way that will benefit the future generations. It is important especially for engineers to have such attitude—the basic engineering ethics.

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