By Jeff Danner Jeff has worked in both the chemical and biotech industries and is the veteran of thousands of science debates at cocktail parties and holiday dinners across the nation. In his Common Science blog, Jeff aims to make technological and scientific concepts accessible to all.
  • How to Teach an Engineer to Play Guitar

    September 7, 2014 at 9:49 pm

    I am on the road again this week. So as I cruise at 34,000 feet over Knoxville, Tennessee, let me share with you the long, circuitous history of my learning to play guitar. It’s a story which has lessons about mathematics as well as the importance of matching teaching styles to students. A prominent feature […]

  • Why Solar Roads are a Bad Idea

    August 31, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    If you paid attention to the news last spring, you may remember that solar roads were experiencing their 15 minutes of fame. There were newspaper articles, TV reports, viral Facebook messages, and at least one Kickstarter campaign to fund this ambitious project. The concept was to start covering our roads with small, modular solar panels […]

  • Methane in the Water Part II: Fires and Explosions

    August 24, 2014 at 10:21 pm

    Since methane, the primary component of natural gas, is quite flammable, the question I will address this week is what level of methane contamination in drinking water wells represents a fire or explosion hazard.

  • Methane in the Water Part I: Toxicity

    August 17, 2014 at 11:44 pm

    In recent weeks, there have been many reports in both the local and national media regarding a study published by Duke University showing elevated methane levels in drinking water wells located near fracking operations in New York and Pennsylvania. In my opinion, these reports do not provide sufficient information for the reader/viewer/listener to evaluate the […]

  • Soil Part II: An Optimistic Global Warming Column

    August 10, 2014 at 7:47 pm

    I was inspired to write this two-part series on soil by reading Kristin Ohlson’s recent book, The Soil Will Save Us. Part I focused on the management of minerals in the soil and suggested that increased use of seaweed-based fertilizers could improve our agricultural productivity as well as the quality of our diets. In Part II, […]

  • Meanwhile In The Arctic

    August 3, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    If you’ve been following along with me for a while, you will have read quite a few columns on global warming and climate change with the view that significant problems will be visited upon us sooner than is commonly predicted, leaving me open to criticism to being alarmist. It is with my potentially alarmist lenses that I have been following a series of events and trends in the Arctic that I find to be both troubling and consistent with my concerns.

  • Image provided by the UNC Institute for the Environment

    UNC Program Promotes Energy Awareness Among Local HS Students

    July 28, 2014 at 7:14 am

    This week the Institute is hosting 28 local high school students who will spend a week on the campus of UNC exploring topics related to current energy use, climate change, alternative energy and sustainability as part of the Climate Leadership and Energy Awareness Program (Climate LEAP).

  • Soil Part I: Seaweed Fertilizer

    July 27, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    I am frequently drawn to write columns about soil, due to its vital importance as a national resource as well as the fact that we treat it so poorly. In this column, I will weave together some of the points I have made in the past and also explain why we should consider using seaweed-based fertilizers.

    First, let’s talk about soil. An ideal soil has approximately 50% of its volume filled with solids and the other 50% with water and air. Ninety percent of the solids should be minerals, basically eroded rocks, and 10% should be organic matter such as decaying leaves. The spaces between the solids accommodate water and allow air to reach plant roots, a vital step in plant growth. Healthy soil is the most biologically productive environment on Earth. A single gram of soil can contain up to a billion organisms, representing over a thousand species.

  • Chikungunya Is Coming Part II

    July 20, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    Despite the fact that it has been clear for a long time that chikungunya would eventually reach the U.S., we have not been preparing in a meaningful way. In particular, we have not created a vaccine nor have we been trying very hard to do so. A vaccine for chikungunya would come from either government labs or the pharmaceutical industry. Government health research has been hampered for the last several decades due to funding cuts, and developing new vaccines is not viewed as sufficiently profitable by the shareholder-value driven pharmaceutical industry. As a result, we are about to be caught with our pants down.

  • Chikungunya Is Coming: Part I

    July 13, 2014 at 8:44 pm

    I have some troubling news to share with you. If not this year, then next, the United States is almost certain to experience an epidemic from a disease of which you may not have heard, chikungunya virus. Before I explain why I feel so confident in this prediction, let me give you some background on […]

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