THE NEFF ZONE -- BY JIM NEFF
CADILLAC NEWS -- JULY 16, 2022
There are terrific thinkers among us. These visionaries are constantly developing ideas that have the potential to make our lives better. Some ideas are really “out there,” while others are down-to-earth dandy.
Take climate change, for instance. The brilliant minds at MIT may have come up with something to lessen the impact. “The idea revolves heavily around the creation and deployment of several thin film-like silicon bubbles. The 'space bubbles' would be joined together like a raft. Once expanded in space it would be around the same size as Brazil. The bubbles would then provide an extra buffer against the harmful solar radiation that comes from the Sun.”
As far-fetched as this seems, there is solid science behind the concept. “The basic idea requires sending the bubbles to the L1 Lagrangian Point. This is the location directly between the Earth and the Sun where gravity from both our star and our planet cancels out. As such, the space bubbles would theoretically be able to just float without much pull from either body.” (https://bgr.com/science/mit-scientists-think-theyve-discovered-how-to-fully-reverse-climate-change/)
There is even more innovation on the climate front. “In a world first, scientists have created eco-friendly cement from algae.” This is important because cement ranks third among the top ten biggest sources of industrial pollution worldwide.
Again, this is technology that is totally feasible. “A team of researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder have developed a unique carbon-neutral method using which portland cement can be produced from biologically grown limestone.”
It gets even better. “Cement production from biogenic limestone is not only carbon neutral but also carbon negative as the microalgae remove carbon dioxide from the environment. Concrete formed out of this cement could kick off a new era of sustainable construction around the world.” (https://interestingengineering.com/biogenic-limestone-from-microalgae)
Perhaps this new cement could be used in an idea underway in Switzerland – underground autonomous cargo delivery. The project is scheduled to begin this August. It will consist of “...underground cargo tubes full of automated delivery carts whisking goods between cities across Switzerland at thirty kilometers per hour. The idea behind CST is to provide for long-term freight transport without relying on expansion of road and rail networks.”
The “Cargo Sous Terrain” will be completely autonomous and entirely funded by the private sector. See concept drawings at: https://spectrum.ieee.org/cargo-sous-terrain.
If all this is too pie in the sky for you, how about an idea really personal? Tiny robots may be brushing your teeth in the future. “Engineers at the University of Pennsylvania have developed a system of microrobots that can change shape to form bristles or floss. They don’t just brush plaque away, but release antimicrobials to kill bad bacteria.”
This will be sort of a shapeshifting party in your mouth. “The new system is made up of iron oxide nanoparticles, which can be assembled into different formations and controlled using magnetic fields. This way, the particles can be arranged into the shape of bristles to brush plaque from tooth surfaces, or thinner floss-like strands to scrub between teeth.” I hope I'll still be able to use my Minions Bubble Fruit toothpaste. (https://newatlas.com/health-wellbeing/shapeshifting-robots-brush-floss-teeth)
Okay, all this is still pretty mind-boggling, so it's reassuring to know that sometimes simple is better. You can't get much more basic than taking something from a trash heap and remaking it into a focus of future hopes. The Westwood Heights School District near Flint is doing just that.
“After more than thirty-five years of closure, Gillespie Elementary School’s doors are poised to reopen—but instead of chalkboards and desks, the building will soon house Flint-area families. The district and some partners are working to transform the former elementary into a 27-unit apartment complex.”
The vision is laudable. “Our goal is to redevelop Gillespie Elementary School, an obsolete and dilapidated school building, into an eco-friendly, affordable, and sustainable living community that is adapted for healthy family outcomes.”
That's not the entire story. “Part of the project’s build-out will be done by the district’s high school students in the Westwood Career and Technical Education program, which trains students in the skilled trades, such as masonry, electrical, plumbing, and drywall.” In the future: “The goal of the school is to create a situation where we make a model for this to happen again and again.” (https://flintbeat.com/westwood-heights-schools-to-renovate-former-elementary-into-multifamily-housing-complex/)
Finally, since we live in a place where tourism constitutes a major part of the local economy, any idea that makes it easier for visitors to come here is good news. This is where a new concept called the “Michigan gear libraries” comes into the picture.
“Although camping can be an affordable vacation, expensive equipment puts it out of reach for some Michiganders. To lower this barrier to the great outdoors, two Michigan gear libraries lend out equipment to their communities for free. Thrive Outside Grand Rapids lets city residents borrow high-quality supplies like tents, sleeping bags, cooking kits and hammocks. The organization also teaches people how to use the equipment with a crash course on camping.” (https://www.mlive.com/public-interest/2022/07/tents-sleeping-bags-hammocks-why-michigan-gear-libraries-lend-out-camping-supplies.html and https://www.grandrapidsmi.gov/Government/Programs-and-Initiatives/Thrive-Outside)
A dozen communities a across the United States have received a Thrive Outside gear library grant from the Outdoor Foundation. “Detroit was recently awarded an Outdoor Foundation grant. It will support existing efforts of Detroit Outdoors, a partnership between Detroit Parks and Recreation, the YMCA of Metro Detroit and the Sierra Club, to boost kids’ access to nature.”
The gear library is a prime example of a nifty idea that's win-win for all concerned.
Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at CadillacNews.com and NeffZone.com/cadillacnews.