Most people have a rough idea about what plasma is, usually thanks to the plasma TV craze that hit many years ago and has since been replaced by LCDs, but few will know that plasma is actually one of the 4 fundamental states of matter right along side solid, liquid and gas. The transition between a gas and a plasma is done through a process called ionization/deionization which converts the gas into an electrically conductive cloud which can be done by either inducing a large voltage difference or by subjecting the gas to extremely high tempreatures. The following video shows the latter and is a rather cool demonstration of the transition process.
The short run time for sustaining the plasma cloud is simple, given enough time that superheated cloud of carbon atoms would start to melt the pyrex container which would free the plasma to wreck all sorts of havok on the microwave itself. I’m not sure how long it’d last though as it looks like the atomised carbon atoms need to be cluster together for it to work, hence the spool up time require to set up the initial plasma reaction. Indeed if my experiments with bananas are anything to go by (it’s relatively safe but still, I’m not going to recommend you do it) you’d instead get little flashes rather than the sustained cloud.
What really interested me was the hum that was generated as it was pretty regular and I couldn’t really figure out what would be causing it. As it turns out there’s actually a couple things that could be responsible and, interestingly enough, the frequency could change depending on the input frequency of the power source going to the microwave. That link also suggests another, similar experiment with cut in half grapes that’s supposedly a lot safer (although this site argues otherwise) and the results look very similar to my results with bananas. It seems there’s all manner of things you can use to create plasma in the microwave, something I didn’t expect.
This is one of those experiments that I reckon would be really great for class demonstrations (this is probably also the reason why I shouldn’t be allow to teach science in schools but come on, fire and explosions are awesome!).
No matter which industry you look at these days everyone is trying to go green. The idea in itself is riddled with many challenges as traditional business processes must be reworked in order to reduce the impact on the environment. Whilst the benefits to the company implementing the green technologies are usually intangible I can’t help but wonder about the other side of the coin: those who are selling their products as green solutions.
The climate of the world is changing, we know that for a fact and more evidence is piling up to show that we’re responsible for what’s happening. Whilst the governments of the world fight it out over strategic plans to combat the impact that humans have on the climate many business, in an effort to generate good will, have begun implementing green programs in order to reduce their environmental foot print. This doesn’t stop the green initiatives from costing money however, and the global financial crisis has seen funding dry up for these programs and many corporations looking to save a few dollars will look to their green projects to cut.
This hasn’t stopped all the big names in the IT sector from pushing green on their customers. Last year I was involved with HP and VMware for upgrading our current environment. I don’t think I could go 10 minutes with either of them without them mentioning how part of their technology reduced greenhouse emissions in some way. Granted they were both pushing technologies that can actually reduce the amount of power used and therefore carbon emissions but the solution didn’t come cheap. Whilst this wasn’t an issue for us at the time (since we were replacing the hardware anyway) it made me think about places that were pursuing such ideas solely as a green initiative. The projected benefits of the new project was something in the order of 600 tonnes of CO2 saved each year. Translating that into real world dollars that’s approximately $7000 (using NZ carbon tax prices) saved, something which is really a drop in the bucket when the new system cost in excess of $250,000. The question then is, how much goodwill is generated by implementing such a project? I’d hazard a guess it’s not that much.
I guess I shouldn’t of been surprised as with any hot topic like climate change there are going to be people who want to cash in on everyone’s desire to be seen as doing the right thing. Emission Trading schemes are a brilliant example of this, especially in places in the USA where the regulation around emissions trading are hopelessly lax. It gets even worse when people market themselves as green or carbon neutral, when really they’re far from it. I guess I have a bit of a bugbear when it comes to something which is marketed as carbon neutral when in fact, the act of producing emissions in one place and offsetting them in another are two completely separate events. Is something really was carbon neutral it wouldn’t emit anything in the first place.
I support the move to more sustainable technologies, just not the ones marketed under the green banner. Companies that have been practising sustainable business have no need to rethink their current strategies. A great example of this is Apple. They have a habit of not letting out a lot of information about their business practices and this unfortunately made them a prime target for Greenpeace. However, shortly after they began their attack Apple responded, shooting them down in flames and showing that they had long term plans for sustainable business.
From a personal perspective I do as much as I can without impacting on my lifestyle. Things like turning off lights when I don’t need them and car pooling. If everyone made these easy changes I’m sure we’d see a bigger impact than many of the proposed measures, but that’s just a bit of hand waiving math on my part 🙂