Monthly Archives: October 2017

Science Fiction Technology

(Image from CERN (modified): Here)

Hello again folks,

I’ve been writing a lot lately, and a fair bit of that has been on some pretty serious topics. As such I want to take a step back for a moment, and write what I will consider a “just for fun.” post.

It should come as no surprise to anyone here that I am big time sci-fi buff, as well as a science fiction writer. Shameless plug; have you had the chance to check out my books? They are available on Amazon for Kindle as well as print for $2.99 – $11.99. You can also get them for $10 (includes shipping) from my Etsy Shop, and have them SIGNED!

Now that the plug is out of the way, today I want talk about some of the technology that inspired a lot of the ideas I use in my books.

Fusion Power

As my books take place in the the 24th century, the primary source of power for most cities, colonies, and starships is fusion power. For those that are unfamilar, fusion is a kind of nuclear reaction that fuses together smaller atoms into larger ones; and releases a crap-load of energy in the process. As the Wikipedia article on fusion power points out, it is the process that fuels stars;

The fusion reaction normally takes place in a plasma of deuterium and tritium (hydrogen isotopes) heated to millions of degrees. In stars, gravity contains these fuels. Outside of a star, the most researched way to confine the plasma at these temperatures is to use magnetic fields. The major challenge in realising fusion power is to engineer a system that can confine the plasma long enough at high enough temperature and density.”

There is a few important points I want to highlight here, because they will be important as we go forward. The first is the fact that nuclear fusion takes place in a plasma, which is the fourth state of matter. Plasma is basically a highly ionized gas, and is found in nature as things like lightning, and stars. Neon lights are also plasma-based.

The other important part here is that, aside from gravity, plasmas can be shaped and contained by electromagnetic fields. This is the property that has allowed countless numbers of fusion experiments to take place on Earth.

Because some of these fusions reactors look really awesome, I wanted to just post a few of them here as examples;

NSTX Reactor, a tokamak style reactor;

(Image from Wikipedia)

Wendelstein7 Reactor, under construction;

(Image from Wikipedia)

I hope you can why some of these experiments inspired me. They look like something straight out of a science fiction movie! When I imagined the power reactors on my ships and planets, I pictured things like the NSTX reactor.

But you might be wondering to yourself, why fusion? Not only is it a staple of science fiction, it gives a rather efficient means of creating energy on a starship. All of my ships and cities require electrical power, and fusion represents one of the best way to do that.

Can you imagine the power of small star to power a city or a ship? I can, and that’s why I went with fusion. Plus, many of my ships I also imagined would have supplementary solar panels and others means to create power as well. Let’s talk about that for a moment.

Power Plant Design

Alright, so we established that fusion reactors are at the heart of my ships and colonies. These systems create all the power and energy my ships and cities need to thrive. But let’s take a closer look at how they do that.

Like our own Sun, a fusion reactor would create two very important resources; light and heat. The heat is probably the most notable of the two. But how do we turn a sustainable fusion reaction into electrical power? The answer is in steam turbines, just like nuclear (fission) power plants use on Earth.

(Image from Here)

I want you to look at the image above, and imagine that this is a fusion reactor instead of the fission one pictured. The reactor core would be pretty similar in function, and still create quite a bit of heat. The rest of the cooling and electrical system would work pretty much the same way. The heat would be ran through a coolant, which would create steam, which would turn the turbine in order to make electrical power.

But instead of the electricity going into a city, it would be fed back into the ship. That electricity would be distributed via an inner ship electrical network, and probably also stored in some kind of battery system.

Another important aspect of the function would be the cooling system, which could also be hooked into the water circulation systems. That way, you could have things like on board plumbing, and hot water too. I imagined these systems would be a lot like what we see on modern ocean cargo ships.

(A system for liquid natural gas.)

Hall Thruster

Alright, with power systems out of the way, I want to talk a bit about what inspired my designs for propulsion in my books. The short answer is the technology behind both the Hall Thruster, and the technology used at the Large Hadron Collider at Cern. We will start with the Hall Thruster.

(Image from NASA)

So, you saw the picture of the thruster above, but you might be wondering how exactly a Hall Thruster works? For that we turn to Wikipedia;

In spacecraft propulsion, a Hall-effect thruster (HET) is a type of ion thruster in which the propellant is accelerated by an electric field. Hall-effect thrusters trap electrons in a magnetic field and then use the electrons to ionize propellant, efficiently accelerate the ions to produce thrust… “ 

In short, Hall Thrusters function by accelerating an ionized propellant as exhaust to create thrust. Most of these ionized propellants are in the forms of plasmas, often from noble gases such as Xenon. You see, I said that fusion plasma thing would be important.

In addition to creating power for ships in my books, the fusion reactor is also the source for ready-made plasma. This plasma, being heavily ionized, is then accelerated through a futuristic version of a Hall Thruster in order to create thrust.

However, it must be said that current Hall Thrusters are relatively weak in thrust department. There has been a lot of improvements over the years. For example, the recent work into the X3 thruster has produced the highest thrust level to date.

All that said. I had to imagine something more advanced (about 3 centuries), and a little bit bigger. That is where the inspiration from the Large Hadron Collider comes in.

CERN

(Image from CERN, found here)

The Large Hadron Collider is the largest particle accelerator in the world, and is found at the European research complex at CERN. The accelerator itself is huge, at 27 kilometers in length. It is “big science” in every sense of the word, and has cost billions of dollars from sources across the globe.

The purpose of the LHC is to accelerator particles to nearly the speed of light, and smash them together. It’s designed to probe the deepest mysterious of our universe, and is a sheer monster of scientific discovery and engineering. It should come as no surprise that it inspired the propulsion systems in my universe. Hey, if you want to power everything from small fighters to huge interstellar battleships; you have to go big.

While their function is not exactly the same, both the Hall Thruster and the LHC use electromagnetic fields to accelerate either ionized plasma, or elementary particles. As such, assuming three centuries worth of innovation and plenty of writer liberties; the LHC and the Hall Thruster provide the inspiration for my propulsion systems.

In addition to requiring a lot of electrical power (courtesy of the fusion reactor), those systems would also be funneling extremely heated plasmas. That means all my engine systems have extensive coolant and heat dissipation methods. These are on full display in my fifth book; Of Origins and Endings.

Do you want to know what other technologies inspire my fiction? Feel free to ask!

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

https://www.space.com/38444-mars-thruster-design-breaks-records.html

https://home.cern/topics/large-hadron-collider

https://home.cern/about/engineering/pulling-together-superconducting-electromagnets

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokamak

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusion_power

https://phys.org/news/2017-01-fusion-power-limitless-energy.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hall-effect_thruster

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Shaping a Living World: Part 4

“Democracy…is not a static inheritance that we can simply live off of, but an ideal that every generation must re-achieve through active effort. Schools are our chief cultural means for educating free citizens who can intelligently and creatively participate in this effort. Education is how we invest in the future of our democracy.” – The Conversation

I am of the generation that heard constantly that the route to a “better” life was through education, and the pursuit of a university degree. I am also of the generation that has seen the housing market collapse, continuous cutting of public funding, and the exorbitant growth of student loan debt.

Compared to many of my peers, I came out “lucky” with only about 30k in student loan debt for only two years of university study. The numbers on this are staggering, per at least one article on CNBC the US student loan debt is over 1.4 trillion and the US is the most expensive tuition rates in the world.

Now, it has to be admitted that the funding sources for the educational system (from Pre-K through university) are really complicated, and it would take a much longer piece to tease out all the nuance. All that aside, I think it is fair to say that education is both a public good, and a valuable method for skills training. A highly educated population is beneficial for the individual, for society, for the economy, as well as for democracy as a whole. I do not think this point can be overstated.

That being said, there is plenty of room for improvement our current education system. Once again, those problems are well outside the scope of this project. But there is certainly a lot of areas where we can do better, not only as a country but as a human civilization as well.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what the UN Sustainable Development Goals have outlined.

Sustainable Development Goals

By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and Goal-4 effective learning outcomes.”

This first one is a no-brainer in my opinion. It it is pertinate that we as a global community make sure that every one of our citizens gets a reliable, consistent and affordable education. Most public school systems in the US provide K thru 12 primary school education that succeeds this goal. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. But that is really complex, and it the kind of thing that must be examined locally, regionally, nationally, and globally. I doubt there is any single “silver bullet” that will fix the plethora of educational problems, but it is a goal worth striving for.

By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and preprimary education so that they are ready for primary education.”

The next goals expands upon the earlier one, by going beyond both the primary school and secondary school system. This goal includes early child care, as well as Pre-K education in the United States. Making this kind of care open to all children is important preparation, and is also vital for child care.

By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university.”

This is a very important issue, as the cost for higher education has been all over the board for the last decadeIn addition, the funding for public universities has generally gone down in the last decade, while the cost for higher education has gone up. This has been supplemented with a huge amount of student loans, which overall has shifted a huge amount of the cost, and the debt, onto students. As the CBPP points out;

These reductions in support have hurt states’ higher education systems. Public colleges have both steeply increased tuition and pared back academic opportunities, often in ways that may compromise the quality of education and jeopardize student success. Students are paying more through increased tuition and are taking on more debt. “

In order to make our education system more sustainable in the long run, we will likely have to increase funding significantly, and ease the burden on individual students and their families. I will talk more on this in a moment.

By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy.”

Everyone should know how to read and be able to do math, period. This is a pretty self explanatory goal, so I will just move on at this point.

By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.”

Education is the means by which we perpetuate many of our skills and knowledge, and getting future generations involved shaping our sustainable future is of vital importance. Many of the values promoted here are important, including but not limited to; sustainability, gender equality, human rights, and peace. Our educational systems are one of many ways to promote these ideals, and the are certainly ideas we should be promoting.

Social Democracy

The Nordic countries and many countries in Europe approach education very differently than the US, especially higher education. In social democracies, education is often universal and paid for via higher tax rates. Each country does thing in a different way, and obviously there is a lot of nuance and detail that goes into each system.

But as a very brief preview, here are a few examples;

Germany: Regional governments across Germany have all abolished tuition over the past few years.

International students are also able to enroll without paying tuition.” (CNN Money)

More here from Wikipedia;

Public universities in Germany are funded by the federal states and do not charge tuition fees. However, all enrolled students do have to pay a semester fee… Summed up, the semester fee usually ranges between €150 and €350.” (Education in Germany)

Sweden

Sweden, along with most of the other Nordic countries also carries tuition free higher education, though admittedly with more restrictions. Oftentimes, such perks are extended to citizens of the country, or the EU.

The Nordic country offers tuition-free public education to citizens pursuing higher education, and the offer is also extended to students from the European Union. Other international students aren’t eligible.” (CNN Money)

Norway and Denmark are in similar circumstances.

Norway

There are no tuition fees for attending public higher education in Norway, as all the costs are covered by the Ministry of Education and Research.

Students are also given the opportunity to apply for financial support (a part loan/part grant) from the Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund. The main requirement for support from Fund is that you are a Norwegian citizen. However, foreign citizens may also be entitled to financial support.”

(Higher Education in Norway

Finland

This article would not be complete with an honorable mention to Finland, which is regarded as one of the highest performing educational systems in the world. So what makes the Finnish system so unique?

Compared with the stereotype of the East Asian model — long hours of exhaustive cramming and rote memorization — Finland’s success is especially intriguing because Finnish schools assign less homework and engage children in more creative play.” (The Atlantic)

But surely it is worth exploring even deeper than that. According to the Nordic Business Insider , Finland has a better system that the US on several key points. First, it gets rid of the pressue to “teach to the test”

Finnish students only take one standardized test during their entire primary and secondary schooling…

By contrast, the US, driven by No Child Left Behind and Common Core mandates, requires students in third through eighth grade to take annual standardized tests to track their performance. Critics claim constant testing doesn’t make students any smarter but instead creates a “teaching to the test” environment in schools.”

The pressure of the US system creates an environment that reinforces the idea of doing well on standardized testing. There are plenty of arguments to be made that this creates a poor learning environment. More than this though, Finland also on the whole leaves it students with a lot more free time, and a lot less stress.

Students in Finland spend relatively little time on homework… Finnish students spend 2.8 hours a week on homework. This contrasts noticeably from the 6.1 hours American students spend per week. “

And of course, just like the other Nordic countries, Finland’s higher education system is pretty much tuition-free.

In Finland, not only are bachelor degree programs completely free of tuition fees, so are master and doctoral programs. Students pursue higher education goals without the mountains of student loan debt that many American students face. And the same goes for foreign students. Tuition is free for any student accepted into a college or graduate program in Finland.

This contrasts greatly with the US, where the average student loan debt now approaches $30,000…”

Yes, it even applies to international students provided they can get accepted into a Finnish university. Now, please don’t take my word as rote, and with the caveat if you want to attend university in any of these countries you should look into that for yourself. I am working with generalities here, so please don’t make important life decisions without doing your homework.

The last part struck me as ironic. Remember where I said I came out of university with about 30k in debt. I guess that makes me an average American.

Now, let’s look at Drawdown for just a second.

Drawdown

This is another one of the SDG’s where Drawdown doesn’t have a lot of input. As educational systems are really complex, there is a lot of policy and deliberation that goes into shaping them. As such, most of the reforms and change will probably happen at the policy level.

That being said, I think there is one important solution from Drawdown that must be mentioned here. As education is a universal process, it affects the whole of the population. It just so happens that half of that population is women and girls, and so their education is of vital importance. It is also a hugely impact way to combat climate change.

Educating Women & Girls

Education lays a foundation for vibrant lives for girls and women, their families, and their communities. It also is one of the most powerful levers available for avoiding emissions by curbing population growth. Women with more years of education have fewer and healthier children, and actively manage their reproductive health. “

The impact of removing systemic barriers to half the human population cannot be underestimated. This solution is ranked as #6 out of 100 solutions proposed by Drawdown. This solution alone would help to reduce C02 emissions by nearly 60 gigatons by 2050.

That brings this piece to an end. Our next goal is 05 – Gender Equality. I will be spending a lot more time talking about women’s rights and gender equality issues.

As always, thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/education/

http://theconversation.com/education-isnt-a-commodity-for-labor-79606

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/women-and-girls/educating-girls

https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/12/what-americans-keep-ignoring-about-finlands-school-success/250564/

http://nordic.businessinsider.com/finland-has-one-of-the-best-education-systems-in-the-world–here-are-4-things-it-does-better-than-the-us-2016-11/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Finland

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Development_Index

http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/2016_human_development_report.pdf

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/sep/20/grammar-schools-play-europe-top-education-system-finland-daycare

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/13/heres-how-much-it-costs-to-go-to-college-in-the-us-compared-to-other-countries.html

https://mic.com/articles/106866/the-average-cost-of-u-s-tuition-is-33-788-per-year-in-these-7-countries-it-s-free#.Ueo7ysZEo

https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2017/09/12/the-u-s-leads-the-world-in-tuition-fees-infographic/#3d9aef7f231e

http://money.cnn.com/2017/04/10/pf/college/free-college-tuition-new-york-europe/index.html

https://www.cbpp.org/research/a-lost-decade-in-higher-education-funding

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Germany

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Finland

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higher_education_in_Norway