Tag Archives: sustainability

From the ground to the stars: A brief take on asteroid mining

Remember that movie where a giant space rock was hurtling towards planet earth, and the best idea that humanity was able to come up with was rocketing Bruce Willis towards the asteroid to drill an atomic bomb into its core?  Remember how silly you though that was but also how you secretly wished that it might come true one day?  Well, it looks like your dreams may come true soon (at least the “sending miners to asteroids” part…you’ll have to wait a bit longer for King Bruce to blow one up with a nuke).

While the idea of asteroid mining is far from new, in the past few years the concept has garnered quite a bit of attention from the private sector.  The latest step came in April, when the company Planetary Resources announced its intention to design and build a system that could extract minerals from nearby asteroids.  The basic idea was similar to many that had come before it, but the roster of individuals behind Planetary Resources turned quite a few heads.  Amongst the ranks of investors in the company are superwealthy entrpreneurs Larry Page and Eric Schmidt (of Google fame), space billionaire Charles Simonyi, and Texas billionaire Ross Perot Jr.

Grads give Strawberry Creek a bit of attention

This past Saturday morning, a contingent of UC Berkeley graduate students awoke extra early, donned “play” clothes, and headed to campus to spend several hours giving our very own Strawberry Creek a bit of much-needed attention.

The grads enjoyed their morning in the campus sunshine, as they socialized with each other and uprooted invasive grasses. Later, the cleared area will be replaced with native plants, as part of a continued effort to return the creek to its natural state. Right now, the plants are just seedlings, being tenderly cared for in the Native Plant Nursery, by Giannini Hall.

Piper’s Promotes: Bowling for Camarones Community Coalition, May 12, 2012

The Camarones Community Coalition is hosting a bowling fundraiser on Saturday, May 12, 2012 from 3 pm until 5 pm at the Yerba Buena Ice Skating and Bowling Center (750 Folsom St., San Francisco- 3 blocks from Powell St. BART station).

Camarones, Ecuador is three hours from Quito in the Manabi province and is home to approximately 70 families, most of which are below the poverty line. The mission of CCC is to provide education opportunities for adults and children in the community. Their upcoming event seeks to raise funds to build a community center that will provide a location for town meetings, health services, environmental education programs, and activities for adults and children. Land for the community center has been donated by a family in Camarones.

Problematic prions and the history of Mad Cow Disease

Well, folks, it has happened again. A dairy cow from California was recently diagnosed with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as “mad cow disease.” The cow was already at a rendering plant when the diagnosis was made and, apparently, was never headed toward our food supply. The last confirmed BSE infection in US beef was in 2006, and in total, only four cows have ever tested positive in our country’s entire beef industry. Meanwhile, in just a handful of decades, over a hundred people in the UK have gone “mad” and ultimately died from consuming BSE-tainted beef. In addition, over four million head of cattle have been culled in the UK in an effort to eradicate the problem.

The history of spongiform encephalopathy, however, begins long before the relatively recent BSE crisis — and its victims have included everything from human cannibals to farmed mink. Yet, rarely does science news cover spongiform encephalopathy beyond the context of the grilled burger patty. Burgers are indeed delicious (I prefer mine with BBQ sauce and cheddar cheese), but trust me, the history of spongiform encephalopathy as a disease is way more interesting than this one dairy cow might lead you to believe.

Circa 1920, two German doctors, Hans Gerhard Creutzfeldt and Alfons Maria Jakob, each individually identified the symptoms of spongiform encephalopathy in humans. Hence, the pathology was named Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in their honor. The patients that the doctors studied, however, did not develop their diseases as a result of eating tainted beef. Rather, these patients “spontaneously” developed the condition as the result of a rare (and natural!) genetic anomale.