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Innovation, Science, & New American Breakthroughs

At the start of a new year, we look at what’s on the frontier, and where the next big innovations will come from.

Generation after generation, the rocket fuel of American economic vitality has been scientific innovation. Free-thinking minds in great labs and humble garages, opening up huge new horizons for life.

So what’s the next steamboat, light bulb, transistor, supercomputer that’s going to crack open the future? What might this year bring?

We’ve got the editor-in chief of Scientific American with us. The west coast chief for Popular Science. And the president of MIT.

We look at algae power, stem cells in eyeballs, grabbing dark matter, and the frontier of scientific innovation in 2011.

-Tom Ashbrook


Susan Hockfield, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Mariette DiChristina, editor in chief of Scientific American.

Jacob Ward, deputy editor of Popular Science magazine. He is in Las Vegas attending the Consumer Electronics Show, which starts today. See his magazine’s roundup of best recent innovations.

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  • at, from the lime sconched derbys of Irfuten Dwufna

    I for one can barely wait for the future. I thought it was supposed to be the future by now, but they postponed it. It’s one of those infinitely adjacent trifurcating self-referential self-similar things. Can I get a witness? That’s what makes it dynamic. The seer, the seen, and the seeing. When you finally give me immortality and a flying car I want more than a simple up/down, positive/negative, right/wrong, I/everything else, subjective apperceptive apparati to appreciate the whole existence so-called Life thing. OK! . . .Jeez/ I want a whole quantum zoo of charges to bounce my self-referential semi-self-correcting self-concept/perceptual matrix offa. K? If you can’t deliver that; it’s all technology and guess what will happen? More of the same. . . .

    PS. You do realize we made the whole “life” thing up, nobody really knows what to call it — yet.
    Check back later.
    PPS. I will give odds that somewhere on some level there is some thing (in the original sense of the word)that bears the same relationship to life as life does, to what we presently consider inanimate.
    self-similar hoo!
    Remember “If it weren’t for metawhores nothing would mean anything.” — Carlos Dwa

    • Maplesyup1998

      First things first, before the US does anything more in the “awesome, energy-efficent” industry, why don’t we get our Economy get running. And while we’re at it, why don’t we go ahead and kick or lazy Congress’ [###]. 

      I’m tired of all these “scientific break-thoughs”. What’s the point in them if you can’t get the funding? Act now, imagine later. Who wants a plane that turns into a phone, vice versa? I’ll take my iPhone, check out the stocks, see what kind of junk DC is making, and see what our future holds. Veto, anyone?

      I’m Jeremy, I’m 13, I talk like a poli-geek.

      And I approve this message. 

      -BSA 2nd Class Jeremy Payne, Chattanooga, Tennessee

  • at, bedtime in Santa Cruz

    Do I mean bare? darn.

  • at, fading fast into the past

    I wrote “PPS. I will give odds that somewhere on some level there is some thing (in the original sense of the word)that bears the same relationship to life as life does, to what we presently consider inanimate.

    I should ha rote “(in the original Frisian sense of the word)”


  • Zeno -Central NE

    In a world where the continued existence of 5.5 Billion people depends on Oil, we need immediate solutions to offset this dwindling resource. Is fusion still 40 years away?. Where are we on STP superconductors? Can tri-frequency solar cells be produced cheaply?

    The world oil supply is now bouncing along the median (peak) production. We will never have more than we have right now. Deep sea drilling, arctic exploration, Natural gas fracking, and tar sands are the visual proof that peak oil has been reached.

    The most pressing and urgent technological necessity to overt the collapse of world economies and social structures is ENERGY, ENERGY, ENERGY. The US needs a Manhattan project for energy production that is not based on oil, and is in large part decentralized.

  • Zeno -Central NE

    avert, not overt. I need coffee.

  • cory


    Do you think we are capable of replicating a “Manhatten Project” level of effort, dedication, and spending anymore? Wouldn’t the right scream that the private sector should be doing it, or that we can’t afford it?

    Leftfield, Wisconsin

  • cory

    The fantasy of course is the discovery of fusion power or some other bottomless fountain of energy that would dump the human notions of work and economy on it’s head. A John Lennon, Star Trek future where people’s pursuits focus on elightenment, exploration, and self improvement.

    In the meantime we should ramp up the renewables like wind, solar, and tidal power. We need to couple this with learning to reduce the amount of enegy each of us use. I don’t mean turning off lights and turning down the thermostat either. I mean travel less, garden or eat more locally, use less plastics, and tone down our lifestyles in general. Maybe if we do, we’ll someday make it to that “Star Trek” future.

    Leftfield, Wisconsin

  • Sheila Newtown

    My question is will science be allowed to make people here jobs? The answer to that is no. The conservatives make sure that any jobs in new fields that don’t have to do with the old money makers(oil,coal,finance)are sent oversees or killed. The moneymakers of the past 50 years have gotten themselves so entrenched in politics and media and faith based groups they’re not going to allow any threat to their financial well-being to go unchallenged.They get massive infusions of cash through subsidies,they certainly aren’t going to allow any real renewable initiatives because that might cut into their part of tax payer money. The same goes for the monopolies in pharmaceuticals,finance,media,and technology. When will renewable energy get the nod? When those who monopolize coal and oil have gotten it all under their control. Then the campaign will start for real funding. Corporate America only likes science it can control and manipulate so that it keeps the same groups wealthy.

  • http://brainmindinst.blogspot.com Peter Melzer

    You see the dragon logo at the bottom right in the video above? It belongs to an Italian energy conglomerate. U.S. innovation is outsourcing itself. Optimization of globalization is the future.

    That said, advances will hopefully be made in regenerative medicine. Read more here:

  • Martin Voelker

    A pending American discovery is the realization that there aren’t enough jobs leading to a rewarding career in either academia or industry.
    Thousands of highly trained (over) specialized post docs are finding they’ve worked 60+ hours per week for a decade, burdened with debt, underpaid and exploited only to find out there’s no job with commensurate pay at the end of the tunnel.

    Miller-McCune magazine featured this issue in June 2010:
    “The Real Science Gap
    It’s not insufficient schooling or a shortage of scientists. It’s a lack of job opportunities. Americans need the reasonable hope that spending their youth preparing to do science will provide a satisfactory career.”

    Martin Voelker, Arlington, MA

  • Yar From Somerset, KY

    I have a design in my head for a modular photovoltaic and thermal solar collectors based on inert gas filled double walled glass tubes that has water flowing though the center.
    My idea is to keep the photovoltaic surface at an optimum temperature for producing electricity. The surplus ‘waste’ heat is used along with the electricity.
    I can see installing these on residential dwellings all across the nation.
    The breakthrough we need is one of action, we have the ability we just need implementation.

    Our state has a Phillips lighting plant closing next month, instead of putting these skilled workers out of a job making florescent tubes, it seems they could start making solar collectors.

  • Zeno

    @ cory, at 7:58 AM

    The answer is no. The focus of our government for the past 30 years is to enact legislation for the continuance of corruption. Corporations of every ilk involved with centralized (controllable and billable) will purchase the protection they require. Which is how we have an oil economy. There is 10 calories of oil in every 1 calorie of food.

    The oil economy is so intertwined with almost every aspect of industrialized life, that it cannot be quickly removed politically or realistically without collapsing the economies of the world. We and all of the other countries that are addicted to oil, only have a brief time (perhaps 10 to 30 years) to ease the problem.

    Politically the Right and Left will stick to the oil lie, as long as it serves money. Remember the value of US dollar is backed by OIL, not gold or silver. Iraq was on the planning books before 911, and we invaded because of Saddam’s push to move oil pricing into Euros.

    Technologically there is NOTHING that can stop a sustainable energy plan from being put into effect.

    Politically it will be impossible until the crisis is in full effect. The down slope of the oil curve will destroy every industrialized economy on the planet. Imagine government subsidized gasoline at $20/gal. How much would groceries cost, heat, tires, paint, pesticides, all manufactured goods, etc.

    The problem is that the window of financial opportunity is closing very fast, because it requires huge amounts of cheap oil to manufacture the generating equipment to replace oil. It is a race against time that will never have the political backing until millions are starving to death.

  • Pancake, at 36%apr, in NC

    Sheila Newtown and Martin Voelker understand why there are no new green jobs. The people who have all the money “can’t afford them” and that will be our ecological undoing. The most progressive liberal democrat who has investments is at root “conservative” (ass-backward) because structural change risks their interest income.

    “at” mocks our understanding of the future, refers to the song “Imagine”, and defines wealth and power as “relative.” Yes, our society is imploding because it lacks imaginatiion. Greed and usury will cause a financial black hole if we don’t get beyond the illusion of money.

    Nearly free energy is here now if we were truly conservative of human nature and the natural world we can never escape. Conservative without avarice is good, and never ass-backward. Liberal just means,”When it comes to making money, anything goes.” We should be able to imagine a world without usury. Why can’t we?

  • Jeff in NH

    Cool show topic

  • jim

    I fear a growing percentage of scientific break-throughs will originate in other countries. Many of the high-earning managers and consultants I deal with are scientifically illiterate, or close to it. And are probably not encouraging their kids to study science or engineering. Where’s the money and prestige in that? Perhaps you can ask your guests if they too sense something is shifting.

  • Grady Lee Howard

    It’s just like medicine: All the hoses and monitors and pumps in the world can’t save you when it’s your time to go. The increasingly complex and expensive to manufacture technology we have is through cumulative complexity its own undoing. We are losing mental grasp on the computers that control our Rube Goldberg schemes. The water and air are increasingly toxic. And then the profit motive adds a crippling drag. This civilization is due for a collapse. Genetic manipulation, space travel and replacing natural systems with synthetic failures are only perverse jokes as we plummet over the falls. Somewhere Horton hears the Whos’ cry.

  • Raymond

    Do your guests feel American religious fundamentalism, aided by a political party that caters to it’s members, with it’s emphasis on faith and it’s denial of much science, will hinder our ability to compete internationally?

    Johnson, VT

  • cory


    I agree that oil is with us until it can no longer generate a profit. Not one second earlier. I think the wildcard might be violence. The $20/gal gasoline world you describe will be an angry and dangerous place. This environment might also facilitate the change we must have.

    Leftfield, Wisconsin

  • Charlie Wehrmacher

    As far as energy is concerned, efficient storage and retrieval system for electricity. The missing link for all the small and large scale green electrical generation. Lots of other pieces but this is the key.

  • Carlo Danese

    Doubtful We’ve gone from ‘LET’S TRY IT’ to ‘IF IT AIN’T BROKE DON’T FIX IT’
    During the 70′s America could have led the world in the development of alternative energy on every level and in every sector. Instead auto, oil, and road construction industries bought congress and suppressed. any real development while we became, as a society, complacent and middle aged. Now we are playing catch up and Americans still don’t get it. They are buying the lies of the Republicans and watching celebrity gossip. Our poor educational system is a big part of the problem. Will we catch up? Maybe.

  • Yar From Somerset, KY

    Look at the development of penicillin. Compare if a cure for diabetes is found today. Would it be available for all or only to those rich enough to can afford it?

    If you were a private company that had the cure for diabetes, would you share it with the world or would you keep selling the current treatments until the patient runs out?
    Does private enterprise encourage development or hold it back?

  • Zeno

    cory – The transition will occur..because it will be forced upon us. It is sad that, like everything else it will not be done with foresight, and intelligence. It will be done under the gun of crisis to maximize profit.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Investment in R&D — was that mostly Defense Department investment (Cold War investments?)? Like the internet?

  • Schuyler

    Enough already, where is the flying car we’ve been promised sine what the 1950s?

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Is it more expensive (in real dollars) to “move” a scientific innovation than it was in the 1960s? Are the banks (lenders) expecting quicker projections of success? Aren’t there hedge funds that help MIT students launch?

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    If China is better at launching, could it also be due to American competitiveness working to squelch innovations that might threaten Old Industries (fossil fuels come to mind).

  • http://cardinalville.com Bill

    Super Symmetry does not only point to what the universe was like before the Big Bang, but is half of the description of the universe today. If you combine this view with a computation view of the universe where particles are equivalent to information. Entropy becomes the natural outcome. Also, you would expect to find an accelerating universe where information builds upon itself.

    You can take the super symmetrical universe to be a parallel universe that provides the potential energy for the change and growth to occur in our space-time information universe. This model could be used to explain the effects of quantum entanglement i.e. Bell’s theorem.

    In short, the whole of our universe is a binary system where a pure space Super Symmetrical universe/dimension provides unlimited potential for our space-time dimension. The barrier between the two is Planck Space-Time complete with quantum probability gates that are governed by the Uncertainty Principle.

  • Jim

    I would like to see nuclear power be developed so that the nuclear fuel is not used to just boil water, but instead uses detectors similar to solar to convert to electricity.

  • David

    I think the fear with new scientific innnovation is that America won’t be able to capitalize on them. The companies that can spend the money to invest in new technology also employ globally, allowing innovation to disseminate. This is a numbers game, we need more scientists and engineers in the U.S. that can out-compete those abroad.

    Dave, salt lake city

  • Yar From Somerset, KY

    For every supernova I think; Another world that discovered the God Particle.
    We have plenty of fusion energy on earth, I prefer to keep the reactor 93 million miles away.

  • Sam Osborne

    Our nation’s future is in electricity generated from the boundless and largely untapped sources of energy that over the eons turned an accumulating biomass into fossil deposits. This is the sun, wind and gravity that belongs to all of us, is free for the taking, transports itself and leaves no costly waste to be disposed of.

    The nation needs to build a new power grid that accommodates the dispersed generation of a peak-plus supply of electricity from parabolic mirror solar concentrators, wind turbines, and thermal wells. The plus supply of electricity used for online generation and use of electrolytic hydrogen for fuel-cell and turbine generation when the skies are dark and the wind is still.

    With the commitment and by putting people to work building this new infrastructure, so much electrify can be generated and distributed into already wired homes and public facilities that is can be licensed for free use and prompt real free enterprise.

    We will either move forward by empowering a freeing future or be destroyed by a reductively entangling past

  • Ian MacDonald

    I am a big proponent of Nuclear power. Misunderstanding and fear of radiation is the principle stumbling block. Fuel reprocessing (currently banned) offers a nearly endless source of energy.

    The largest windmill in the world produces 7 MW under the best circumstances while 1 nuclear power can produce 1 GW continuously.

    In terms of safety it might be noted that with exception of Chernobyl – bad design – there have been no life threatening nuclear accidents. petroleum has a deadly and terrible track record in comparison – most recently 11 deaths and 200 million gal of oil spilled.

  • Mark


    The flying car is here

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    A couple months back OnPoint had business school deans on the show talking about training businesspeople. The top skill they pointed to was Organization.
    Yet American voters seem to be saying organizations, whether governmental or corporate, are disconnected from reality, often more of a drag, like dinosaurs demanding huge sacrificial offerings in the way of tax cuts, meanwhile offshoring and so on.
    So listening to the difficulties of getting innovations into the “marketing phase,” Susan Hockfield’s phrase, I think of the pressures to become suited-up in the appropriate manner to please the shadows of Wall Street (profit) that lurk everywhere, which is the farthest from the minds of many an innovator. The scientist is not always the one with that sort of vision.
    We orient to gizmos, profitable gizmos. Very short-sighted. Someone with a great idea will be directed to take that super idea to Russia, where it will take longer to come back home and mess with their market share.

  • Avery

    I would LOVE to know how the panel thinks that American success on the international stage has been hindered by our own political gridlock. What have we done at home to undermine advances in technology? Why hasn’t our government more proactively supported extensive scientific research. China, Korea, and Japan are leaving us in the dust. How can we catch up again? Are we catching up?

  • http://globally.be Jeffrey


    Talk of the Nation + Others
    Just Talk of the Nation
    Just Others

    Jeffrey Barrows
    Jeffrey Barrows ♥
    7 minutes ago · Like · Comment
    Jeffrey Barrows
    Jeffrey Barrows Thanks for taking the time M’am!

    And Education for the nations is the NEED!!!! We should focus on need//not so much want
    7 minutes ago · Like · Comment
    Jeffrey Barrows
    Jeffrey Barrows Water == Hydrogen == Fuel == Broken-down elemental innovation
    10 minutes ago · Like · Comment
    Jeffrey Barrows
    Jeffrey Barrows Or the whole ‘Shapers’ vs ‘Mechanists’? ;Sterling, Bruce]
    11 minutes ago · Like · Comment
    Jeffrey Barrows
    Jeffrey Barrows but with the accelarando’ into ‘singularity-states’
    13 minutes ago · Like · Comment
    Jeffrey Barrows
    Jeffrey Barrows FUSION & Dyson spheres?
    14 minutes ago · Like · Comment
    Jeffrey Barrows
    Jeffrey Barrows YES! Materials science!

    What I hope to end up with as my undergrad major!
    18 minutes ago · Like · Comment

    a comment…

    meant for Susan, went to the wrong site! *hides, blushes*


  • Yar From Somerset, KY

    Didn’t Grumman land on the moon?
    At least they made the Apollo Lunar Module.

  • http://globally.be Jeffrey

    Would you say that we hold back on certain technologies (or at least have in the past) in order to basically ‘use-up’ others? [[Or possibly hold off await9ing certain breakthroughs in one science or another, then leapfrogging our way' way'far ahead? ]] ****

    **** Movement from rare-earths to more comment elements on the chart? ****

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Your local innovators and scientists are probably just as much locking horns with planning boards and financing issues as they are struggling with the strength and validity of their innovations.
    Or they can suit up and join somebody else’s lab. But academia and established labs aren’t the whole answer.

  • Sophia

    Bill: “The barrier between the two is Planck Space-Time complete with quantum probability gates that are governed by the Uncertainty Principle.”

    So open the box to let the cat out.

    “No time left for you. On my way to better things.”

    The “barrier between the two” is our minds. Problem is, we’ve got multiple universes going on here. This one is screwed. Let’s invent something else. I.e., mind = consciousenss, consciousness orders space, and thus creates time.

    Turn back the clock: How about we go back to living in caves (thermal energy) and insulated tents and take it from there. We do the antibiotics thing (plant-based, when possible), but for the most part skip the tree-burning, oil-burning parts and go straight to solar and wind. Hand-woven water filters. Animal-powered transport. Maybe Native Americans had it about right.

  • http://globally.be J.B.; W. Somerville, MA, USA

    ** Understanding of our earths spheres magnetism on a much deeper level, also gravities powers upon darker materia ***

    * Pizza delivery & Entertainment **

    ***** I think we should just reboot the concept of economy in general and open up the idea of newer states of mind/societal untie-ring::: Share!?!??? ***


  • at, from dawning Santa Cruz

    Charlie Wehrmacher wrote — As far as energy is concerned, efficient storage and retrieval system for electricity. The missing link for all the small and large scale green electrical generation. Lots of other pieces but this is the key.

    Why not use gravity as a storage device? Like those advanced 18th century clock makets? Too advanced?

  • Rick Evans

    China doesn’t need Jing-Jing’s “cooperation”. China is already in the habit of breaking into government and corporate databases and stealing secrets. Add to that its decades old habit of ignoring intellectual property law.

  • at, at a loss

    Umm . . . — makers

  • http://globally.be JB

    dark matter + containment + ‘Harvard’s “”dark gravity””
    Mushing them all together & there ya go. Accelerando…

    Danke Mariette! Jake, TOM

  • http://globally.be jb

    Steam Punk Krunkin’GoGo-Dancers!

  • Zeno

    There is an old technology used to store energy using gravity. It is certainly just as capable of storing solar energy. Peak hydro pumps water to the top of a hill (with significant losses), and then regenerates energy (hydro) when released. But its obviously restricted to mountainous areas.

  • Jack Kershner

    Regarding all the battery research and development there was little mention made of ultracapacitors, which could possibly eclipse batteries as electrical energy storage devices. These devices recharge in minutes, dole out energy as nedded (as a battery does), and they can be recharged many more times than a battery. For that reason alone they reduce the need for costly, toxic disposable. Research at the University of Idaho, and by people trained there has already produced an ultracapacitor flahlight that’s on the market.
    Please contact me if you’d like more information such as a website, contact people, etc. It might lead to a segment on a future show!
    Thank you.
    Batavia, NY (WBFO,Buffalo)

  • at, from the land of the happy homeless

    Ellen Dibble wrote – If China is better at launching, could it also be due to American competitiveness working to squelch innovations that might threaten Old Industries (fossil fuels come to mind).”

    Wow, then they would do things like rip the solar collectors off of the White House roof. It big oil ever got into power that is — but that’s re-dick-callus.

    Jac, if you are out there, what was that nonsense you were spewing about the CIA (Bush {big oil}) getting rid of Jimmy Carter? What president was it again wo warned us about what had to be done? Who was that?

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Zeno, Cory, plenty of global climate predictions point to the real problem now being how to REVERSE global warming, which might come into focus at about the time when the planet is well-nigh uninhabitable, getting worse not by a degree or so, but gathering steam, so to speak, and spiking.
    I’m not a scientist, but I notice that there is plenty of denials by the established oil-based economy, and the same who buy into that perspective also buy into the idea that it is too late to care, that the planet will be consumed. The Final Days of Apotheosis of Humanity are upon us, and get ready for it with arms upstretched toward the stars. Welcome it. We will become stardust again.
    So I think we therefore don’t hear much about the scientific challenge of REVERSING a well-nigh irreversible skid into the plume of smoke. Something like that. The BBC has presented approaches taken by a few scientists, but political reality leads us to shun the issue. I think such science must be like the Cold War efforts conducted in caves; it is terribly important, but terribly secret. Nobody must know how threatened we really are. But the rest is all fluff.

  • TomK

    Scientific breakthroughs are primarily made in university labs with government funding. With the budget cutters running wild in DC, and state universities like U of California, which was one of the mainstays of the entire US economy, devastated by state budget woes, I’m not optimistic.

    Meanwhile, China is pouring $ into science. While it is very difficult for the best students to find a job in the US, representatives of the shiny new Chinese research institutes are touring the US recruiting our Chinese students, in one recent case touting 50-60 jobs in diverse areas.

    Ralph Nader quoted a 1933 edition of Progressive magazine in a letter to the NY Times”

    “In sum, the whole public school system of the nation faces imminent breakdown, the disastrous social and moral effect of which will be felt for generations. No ‘economy’ is so false as the false economy that breeds ignorance, poverty and crime in this enlightened republic. America must save the schools to save herself. What is the federal government going to do about it?”

    Cutting education, and research, is still just as false an economy as it was in 1933. However, instead of demanding that the gvt do something, we have been brainwashed into accepting the austerity programs of the budget cutters, for the sake of saving our overlords from taxation.

  • at, from the land of the future passed

    Mark wrote – “The flying car is here”

    That’s not a flying car. That is an airplane that can haul itself down the road. A flying car doesn’t need a runway. You keep it in your garage then fly it to where you want to go. See George Jetson

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    TomK, thanks. Well said. Is there anyone, any group, in government or out, that can bring this “home” to the House of Representatives? If Nader was quoting in a letter to the New York Times (writing when?) a 1933 edition of Progressive Magazine about disastrous moral and social effects of a school system in imminent breakdown, then we are the blind leading the blind. We are the products of a broken system. If you want to get your brain ticking smoothly (like that car certain young people want) and ticking in sync with the world in the present moment, then can the school system do that for your kids? Did it do it for you?
    How could that be effectuated?
    Well, for starters close down the Department of Education (people have been suggesting that in this forum for years). Eviscerate funding. Keep the school year to accommodate for child labor in the fields during the summer.
    Come ON!
    Where do the students at MIT come from? Does native brightness surface them for that training? Does a safe, nontoxic environment enable them optimize their brains for optimal performance?
    Sometimes I think we are lucky to have able students to fill such schools. And I think about China’s gray polluted skies and wonder what happens to human potential there, super education or no. If our population has multiplied since the founding of MIT in 1860 (I believe I heard Tom say), has the pool of qualified students multiplied by the same factor?
    Or do we only need a few super scientists, the Shaqil ONeal (spelling?) of brains, the Dawn Upshaw of brains? Or is science a field where a lot more is a lot better. Definitely the latter.

  • TomK
  • http://biopsychica.blogspot.com/ Albert Marinus

    Break minus up relative a-top to down realize a-bottom energy strange real a-charm mass charm realistic a-strange lightspeed bottom relate a-down square top really a-plus too plus through.

    No bang realism no hole, from my website.

  • TomK

    Aargh, sorry. That’s the letter above. The letter is cited, and Progressive Magazine quoted, in this article that is not by Nader…Tom


  • Pancake, eaten by chopsticks, in NC

    The upshot of brains is not mostly nature, it’s nurture.
    Mostly the off-spring of academics and scientists go to MIT but not because of breeding, it’s resources. It works the same way as when newscasters kids become newscasters. An impoverished society produces dummies at both ends. No economy is built from violent video games and wrestling robots, and that’s what they feature at MIT. Visit sometime, you’re pretty close. Globalism means we have an impoverished planet. If China is a dynamo, the bearings are getting pretty hot, and it could jump out the cradles any time.
    The upshot of brains is commanding the Enterprise: “This will be my final XO video, so you bleeding hearts go hug yourselves for about twenty minutes,” or go where no man or woman has gone before? Chris Hedges understands where this ship is headed. Tom wouldn’t let him finish the thought.

  • Pancake

    Ralph Nader was in vitro in 1933, didn’t come out until Feb. 1934. Now that’s a savant!

  • http://www.freeaire.com Laura Arnesen

    The best comment was “the cheapest energy is the energy we don’t use.” There is a new green technology for refrigeration that moves filtered cold winter air into refrigerators (instead of running the compressor) and cuts energy costs in cold climates by 10 – 45%. A friend of mine, Richard Travers, invented it. The Greater Boston Food Bank, Harpoon Brewery, Vermont Foodbank and many other businesses have adopted this new technology, http://www.freeaire.com, 877-305-3733.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    I guess Nader agrees with whoever was on NPR last night saying if you want to know what Congress will do this year, listen to Glenn Beck. If you think there is not Progressive push-back, consider the source. Consider, according to Nader, that the New York Times (et al) cover the hijinks of the far right (my word) to the exclusion of … see the links.
    When Tom asked the Constitutional scholar for an ADD version of some issue, consider that the voting public wants/needs an ADD version of reality. The comic-book version. I have been avoiding the New York Times partly because I assume their version of reality gets absorbed where it counts without my pushing. I’ve assumed their being a counterbalance to the Wall Street Journal as well.
    There was a Masterpiece Theater production a few weeks back — )Program: MasterpieceEpisode: FramedAn eccentric Welsh village learns that London’s National Gallery is storing its entire art collection in a nearby mine during the museum’s renovations — leading to curious encounters between the village locals and the gallery’s urbane, lovelorn curator. Trevor Eve and Eve Myles star in this gentle comedy, based on Frank Cottrell Boyce’s best-selling novel.) about an able teacher in a small Welsh town.
    It opens a window on what good teaching is, in its social context (in this case, joblessness, social and personal upheavals and stresses) as well as towards the children. She wasn’t making scientists out of them, but she had all her social wiring in learning mode and thus transmitted the same to the children.
    Here’s the word “milieu” again. The environment was conducive to opening up rather than shutting down, and the same could not be said about the art-world elites who brought their masterpieces to be buried in their mountain. (I mean, families can orient themselves likewise, to conform and march or to engage as a separate individual and adapt.)

  • at, everything old is new again California

    Laura Arnesen wrote – “There is a new green technology for refrigeration that moves filtered cold winter air into refrigerators (instead of running the compressor) and cuts energy costs in cold climates by 10 – 45%. A friend of mine, Richard Travers, invented it. The Greater Boston Food Bank, Harpoon Brewery, Vermont Foodbank and many other businesses have adopted this new technology”

    Good idea but hardly new. At his dairy, my grandfather, and I am in my sixties used to use a thermostatically controlled door to the winter cold on his walk-in refrigerator in the forties.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA


    I hopped in Green Taxi of Amherst last month only to be told that the particular vehicle I was in would be the first of a kind to go on a kind of book tour for a unique green car technology. See the link above. Pre-retirement the driver had worked for a local company that in the 1990s recaptured refrigerants from air conditioner compressors, and once the ozone hole was repaired moved on to recycling exhaust or something like that (See the link). These companies are apparently not MIT-types, not Harvard Business School types. These are your greasy mechanics solving problems. I’ll copy a bit from the 2008 piece. (I think I heard this technology on the show.)

    Bosch Engineering to Assist Scuderi Group in Developing Air-Hybrid Engine Prototypes
    WEST SPRINGFIELD, Mass., USA – The Scuderi Group, developer of the world’s most fuel efficient internal combustion engine, has announced that Bosch Engineering GmbH will assist in the prototype development of the Scuderi Air-Hybrid Engine. As one of the world’s leading engineering services companies, Bosch Engineering will apply its expertise to the development of the timing system for the gasoline and diesel prototypes. Specifically, Bosch will assist the Scuderi Group and its independent laboratory in defining the technical requirements and supplying component specifications. The team will start by focusing on the Otto (spark ignition combustion) cycle and then address the diesel cycle. “Bringing the top tier talent of Bosch Engineering to our team developing the Scuderi Air-Hybrid Engine provides exceptional engineering resources that will help advance the Scuderi Engine technology,” commented Sal Scuderi, president of the Scuderi Group. As announced recently, the first independent lab report has predicted that the Scuderi Split-Cycle Engine under full-load (FL) conditions provides higher power, torque, and efficiency ratings than are currently attainable by the conventional turbocharged engines used in vehicles today. The Scuderi Engine The Scuderi Split-Cycle Engine is expected to provide significant improvements in the area of power, efficiency, and environmental protection. The Scuderi Group has made these latest improvements by focusing on fluid and thermodynamics in the engine core. The results of state-of-the-art modeling and testing indicate:
    •Fuel efficiency 25-50 percent higher than in today’s gasoline and diesel engines
    •Nitrous emissions up to 80 percent less than that of today’s gasoline and diesel engines
    •Improved performance of hybrid engines
    •Considerably more torque and power over conventional engines
    •Minimal increased manufacturing and tooling costs due to use of similar or common components How the Scuderi Air-Hybrid Engine works Through the addition of a small compressed air storage tank with only a few control elements costing only a few hundred dollars, the Scuderi engine can recover the energy that is normally lost when a vehicle is decelerated. To apply this principle in an electric-hybrid vehicle, a complex electrical system is needed that costs thousands of dollars and consists of generators, motors, and batteries. The Scuderi air-hybrid, unlike electric hybrids, also has the unique ability to recapture energy from the engine’s exhaust stream. This makes it possible to also use the Scuderi air-hybrid technology in stationary applications such as in generators, an area of application in which the electrical hybrid is considered impractical. “

  • Tony Fleming

    Finding solutions to the climate-energy nexus is the most daunting challenge standing in the way of a future of abundance and enlightenment. Fossil fuels damage the environment and will eventually be depleted. While small scale solar and wind may be appropriate for off-grid locations where they can charge a battery that produces a steady but small amount of power, they are intermittent and unreliable for grid-scale applications and cannot be shown to reduce carbon emissions since they must constantly be backed up by conventional generators. So my question for your guests is: what is the status of liquid fluoride thorium reactors? It is my understanding that at least one prototype successfully generated electricty at Oak Ridge for several years, but didn’t go beyond that because the military wanted the transuranic wastes from light watyer reactors for the cold war. In any case, what is the science behind LFTR’s, and in your estimation, how long would it take to get this comparatively safe and clean nuclear technology up and running?

  • Joseph

    I am actually very optimistic about the future of American innovation in science and technology. Despite the constant laments about our failing education system we still have some of the best research universities in the world that continue to attract students worldwide (many who remain in the U.S.) after their education. We also continue to have some of the best public and private research institutions. The problem for the future is not lack of scientific innovation. The problem is that of what use will it be coming up with the cutting edge inventions and technologies if the actual manufacturing is then done in China, India, Mexico . . . ?

  • Bobby B

    at wrote: Remember “If it weren’t for metawhores nothing would mean anything.” — Carlos Dwa

    I always suspected that, and now Carlos nostrificates my suspicions. I’m not exactly sure were your at, at, but you are cracking me up — Pancake too. Were else you gonna get this kind of material? Full of funny and true. Thanks for the laughs.

    PS Does your name have anything to do with that old metagnostic diddy — “Name Yourself at and Mean it.”?

  • JaMu

    cory wrote

    “The fantasy of course is the discovery of fusion power or some other bottomless fountain of energy that would dump the human notions of work and economy on it’s head. A John Lennon, Star Trek future where people’s pursuits focus on elightenment, exploration, and self improvement.

    In the meantime we should ramp up the renewables like wind, solar, and tidal power. We need to couple this with learning to reduce the amount of enegy each of us use. I don’t mean turning off lights and turning down the thermostat either. I mean travel less, garden or eat more locally, use less plastics, and tone down our lifestyles in general. Maybe if we do, we’ll someday make it to that “Star Trek” future.”

    Maybe I shouldn’t have quoted that whole thing, but I really like it. I’m with him. . . but I thought, “Wouldn’t the type of personality who over-consumes because of habit and expectation, and an kind of hollowness, wouldn’t someone like that consider it like surrendering, if they become frugal. Did you ever watch the documentary Born Rich by the Johnson and Johnson heir. I mean these people obviously knew they were being filmed so they were offering up their best persona, and still, what seeped through in spite of this, (Well watch is sometime. It may even be on youtube. [My favoite documentary of all time is The Century of the Self by Adam Curtis, you will not find this on netfix or anywhere in America that I know of, but maybe on Youtube. It is about Edward Bernays and Freud and the programming of the American Subconscious mind. . . .Tangents again, but it’s really good anyhow. Really really good

    • Wm. James

      Because you had the good sense to mention Star TreK, I will add that,by thinking big we could solve so,so many problems. Things like the deficit and shortages. For your FYI:

      The near-Earth asteroid known as 3554 Amun has a market value of about 8 Trillion US dollars, the cobalt content adds another 6 Trillion , and the platinum-group metals add another 6 Trillion. . There are more objects of this type in the universe than you could ever count !

  • http://analogousdesign.blogspot.com Dave Eger

    How about biomass pyrolysis?

  • http://analogousdesign.blogspot.com Dave Eger

    Also, for the caller asking about getting drinking water from saltwater, solar stills can be an easy DIY local solution.

  • jean from NYC

    I find it interesting that “160 miles on a single charge with the Leaf is not enough.” I thought that the majority of people drive much less than that on a daily basis. What’s wrong with charging every two or three days, usually, and only needing a roadside station when we travel long distance? This is not a legitimate argument.

    Unless you’re talking about making long-haul trucks and coal trains run on batteries? Or airplanes??

    I also find the comment about iPS cells being a fabulous source of tissue replacements wrongheaded. iPS cells are nice, but they don’t behave like true embryonic stem cells.

  • Jake Cunningham

    Good Evening, I live in Irvington NY, a mile south of the Tappan Zee Bridge. In the book published several years ago, “The Hydrogen Economy” by Jeremy Rifkin, the difficulties of large scale production and transportation of hydrogen was acknowledged. Subsequently, substantial work has been completed at MIT, under the direction of Professor Daniel Nocera, to develop a cheap method of electrolysis, making feasible home scale production of hydrogen as a storage medium using electricity produced through solar or wind turbines, the hydrogen in turn used to fuel a fuel cell to power homes and vehicles. Thereby solving the problem of hydrogen transportation. I think this is a very exciting development that deserves much more publicity and support than it’s received to this point! Thanks!

  • http://cyberfumes.blogspot.com Dave Eger

    You can think that’s very exciting Jake, but if you have solar panels or wind turbines, why wouldn’t you just use the electricity directly by putting it into the grid? There is energy lost going back and forth to and from hydrogen, so I don’t see that as being an effective strategy unless you have an over abundance of solar panel or wind turbines. It would be great if that was our problem, but currently, the appliances themselves are cost prohibitive, and the demand for hydrogen isn’t there.

  • Mark

    Desalination!! We’ll never have to worry about running out of usuable water! Let’s not use up what’s left of the planet’s fresh water supply before we do this!! I’m sure if we put our heads together, we can develop a better technology to do this!!

  • http://stellargraphix.com Brian

    There is already at least one reference – but this is a very cool available flying car craft out of Woburn Massachusetts: http://www.terrafugia.com/ If i remember correctly it will cost a citizen $200K, but as long as they have their Sportscraft pilots’ license. They have a fully working prototype from 2009, and ” First delivery [public availability] is scheduled for late 2011.” You can drive it down the highway, then pull into the airport, press the wings button and take off and land from “any general aviation airport with at least 2,500′ of runway. This represents the majority of the over 5,000 public airports in the United States.”

  • Rachel

    Is congress up for the challenge? No. Not as long as we have career politicians more concerned about their jobs in the White House.

    No worries – other countries like China and India will gladly move ahead on these things while we wallow in red tape.

  • TomK


    “Despite the constant laments about our failing education system we still have some of the best research universities in the world that continue to attract students worldwide (many who remain in the U.S.) after their education.”

    That is correct. The question is, what is the trend? I know from personal experience that a growing number of foreign students, who would have accepted offers to study in the US with 100% certainty 15 years ago, now choose competitive institutions in their home countries. Similarly, while the students who came to the US ALWAYS wanted to stay 15 years ago, a growing number want to return home. This is in large part because the governments of india and china are pouring $ into research, creating new institutions and supporting established ones, while we struggle to keep what we have. IOW, they follow the jobs.

    More significantly, research universities run on gvt funding. It takes time, but given enough budget cuts, star researchers do leave and quality deteriorates. This is happening to the great U of CA, where I got my PhD, right now, and it is very sad. If the budget cutters in DC turn their chainsaw on science, one of our last remaining economic strong points will suffer a serious blow.

  • Kurt Bateman

    The topic of improving efficiencies may be boring but there is an enormous potential to reduce the amount of energy that we use while maintaining the same service. A. B. Lovins in his essay “Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken?” 1976 talks about the potential of a four fold increase in the effective energy available for useful work just by increasing the efficiencies. Increasing efficiencies is a little more subtle than what we normally think of. The method uses waste heat and distributed production in order to reduce the amount of conversions. It also won’t happen overnight, it considers the fact that existing transportation and housing would be replaced at the end of its useful life so it is a long term goal. His work was done a many years ago but people still refer to that factor of 4. That in an enormous potential and really should be seriously considered.

  • http://www.dogoodgauge.org The Do Good Gauge

    I’ve heard many experts in various fields of science ill equipped to speech on topics nearing moral consequence. In other words, there are few Carl Sagans reaching the public ear.

    I hope the next scientific break through addresses public discourse. That it provides a system of argument theory, reasoning and problem solving, linguistics, communications, and social science to help build popular and intelligent understanding.

  • Wm. James

    Some time ago on NPR, some energy guru noted that the energy contained in a barrel of oil was equivalent to eighty human slaves. Now, we all know that slavery is immoral and illegal. Without a cheap source of energy life will become more that just a little difficult. Americas domestic oil production peaked in the early 1970’s . Does anyone think that cheap energy is not related to our current wage and lifestyle decay ?

    We must take investment in R&D more seriously.

  • Otto Sanchez

    Hi tom I am a avid listener to your program. I listened to a program of yours sometime ago about the breakthroughs this year in science and technology and it inspired a question. It seems to me that some people, maybe a significant component of the population, think that the status of the United States as the world most powerful nation is due to its military power, but I think that the reason why the US has such a strong and influential position in the world is its capacity for innovation and technology. I thought that you could do a program discussing the importance of each of these factors (military vs. innovation and technology) as the source of influence and power for the US in the world.

    Thanks for your time

    Otto A Sanchez MD PhD
    University of Minnesota
    School of Public Health

Sep 2, 2014
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., talks with Mark Wilson, event political speaker chairperson, with his wife Elain Chao, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, at the annual Fancy Farm Picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky., Saturday, August 4, 2012. (AP)

Nine weeks counting now to the midterm elections. We’ll look at the key races and the stakes.

Sep 2, 2014
Confederate spymaster Rose O'Neal Greenhow, pictured with her daughter "Little" Rose in Washington, D.C.'s Old Capitol Prison in 1862. (Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

True stories of daring women during the Civil War. Best-selling author Karen Abbott shares their exploits in a new book: “Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy.”

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This Friday, Aug. 22, 2014 photo shows a mural in in the Pullman neighborhood of Chicago dedicated to the history of the Pullman railcar company and the significance for its place in revolutionizing the railroad industry and its contributions to the African-American labor movement. (AP)

On Labor Day, we’ll check in on the American labor force, with labor activist Van Jones, and more.

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