Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy 2011!

Man... Wyoming is beautiful in Winter.  Snow blankets cover the massive Teton Mountains.  In Yellowstone the thermal features give snow melt and fresh grasses to the wildlife brave enough to stay the winter.  It's fantastic to see Buffalo grazing near hot springs, elk huddled in massive reservation land, and bald eagles soaring over Yellowstone.  Here are some of my favorite photos from the trip.

Happy New Year,

Old Faithful Pre-Eruption

Old Faithful

Castle Geyser Erupting


Brave Winter Birds

Sunday, October 31, 2010

How Do We Get Electricity From The Sun?

You can see solar energy powering your calculators and tax dollar funded NASA satellites, but imagine your house and cars powered by the sunshine! There are two main ways to generate electricity from the sun: the main groups being "Photovoltaics" aka "PV" and "Thermal solar".  In layman's terms, "PV"= sun hits solar panels and electricity is produced. "Thermal solar"= sun hits solar panels and heat is produced in a working fluid to provide hot water or create steam that's used to generate electricity.

I want to talk about PV solar because its what most people think of when they hear solar power!

What solar cells are made of:

The basic idea is that photons of light are absorbed by a solar cell and electric current is produced.  However the full picture is much more complicated.  Silicon, Si, which makes up the majority of the solar cell structure is a semiconductor.   The main concept is that the silicon alone would not be able to form a productive electrical field, thus "impurities" are added to create an effective solar cell.  Addition of impurities is also known as "doping" the Si.  The top layer of silicon is doped with Phosphorus (n-type layer), and the bottom layer of Si is doped with Boron(p-type layer), where the two layer meet is called the "p-n junction".  Additionally, there is a solid conductive backing on the bottom, and conductive metal collector comb on the top, sandwiching the doped Si layers.  An external circuit that connects the metal comb and conductive backing.


How they work:

Atoms are a lot like people in that they don't want to be lonely. Every atom has an outer ring of electrons called valence electrons that keep them stable, like our friends keep us from going crazy sometimes. However, the valence electron spaces are not always fully occupied, and atoms hate going without a full team of valence electrons.   An atom that has less than the full # of possible valence electrons tries to attract additional electrons.  The phosphorus doped silicon layer has an extra electron (not complying with my earlier analogy about loneliness , this makes the phosphorous doped silicon layer "Negative", n-type layer).  The boron doped silicon layer has an incomplete valence shell, we refer to this as an "electron hole". The boron doped silicon layer has a positive charge, thus it is referred to as a p-type layer.

When a photon hits the solar cell, an electron-hole pair may be split in the upper n-type layer resulting in mobile electrons and electron holes.  The electrons move to the upper metal comb and the electron holes travel down towards the p-type layer, contributing to a flow of current through the external circuit.  Electrons will want to travel the external circuit from the n-type layer to the p-type layer where there are holes for the electrons, producing work along the way.  This work is converted from DC to AC, stored and distributed for use as electricity. Solar cells are commonly connected to form panels, which are connected to make larger solar arrays, like the one seen below.

Right now solar energy is way less than 1 percent of our electricity produced in the U.S.  So why then should we be concerned with it?  Well, I'm glad you asked... there are billions of dollars invested in this stuff!!   We are getting a move on cleaning the way we make electricity!

Please comment about solar!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Creating a Company Logo is so easy!

Especially in this web 2.0 age, companies are going for simplicity in their designs.  The hardest thing is developing brand recognition, which can only be done with advertising, company success, and word of mouth.  Look at Google, eBay, and Apple logos.  They all have designs a middle school student could have came up with!

I was recently asked to design the logo for a Cornell Engineering team Agua Clara that I took part in.  At first I was a bit nervous, thinking that I may not come through with an improvement to their current design.  I thought, does the current design embody the AguaClara mission?  It looked more like a hand soap company logo than a 3rd world water treatment facility non--profit organization.  So, I popped open adobe illustrator (downloaded the trial version from their website) and using the default font started messing around with the company name and a few simple design features.  I think I may have come up with an improvement.  Comment which you think is the best.

Original Design

Attempt 1

Attempt 2

Attempt 3

Attempt 4

Attempt 5

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Is Compressed Air Power the Future for Cars?

I made the mistake of going on youtube this morning for no apparent reason, but it landed me in an interesting place.  I started at the old spice man on a horse to Michael Franti to an interesting video on compressed air cars!  Now, the car video looked like it was made in the 80s and I must say the car was unimpressive, but the technology is what interested me.  So, as a responsible environmental engineer I thought I should briefly analyze the possibilities of compressed air technology and form some sort of opinion on it.

 -Air is free!
 -Cost of refueling compressed air is inexpensive compared to gasoline
 -gasoline is running out so this is a potential alternative

Environmental/Human Health Advantages:
-Air is a renewable resource
-Emissions from car engine will be 100% clean air!
-Emissions from the whole process of compressing the air and firing the small gas combustion engine in the car total to about half the carbon dioxide when compared to toyota Prius, equivalent to 106 mpg.

 -Cars don't have the power of our current car fleet (I saw a model with top speed of 43mph).
 -Car must be be very light, and thus there are questions about their safety
 -Production of compressed air at refilling stations and homes will require electricity.
 -from what I studied in thermodynamics I know that not all energy produced in reactions is useful energy, thus the two      reactions necessary to create compressed air results in a lot of wasted energy!
 - the range on a full tank and 8 gallons of gasoline or ethanol is about 100 miles
 -compressed air fill-up stations are uncommon, making long travels difficult
 -potentially dangerous because the tanks are at such a high pressure.

Now I wonder, is this a good long-term solution for our dependence on fossil fuels?  Looks to me that it may be, especially with possibility to have a near zero emissions vehicle (possible with the increasing amount of research in renewable energies for electricity generation needed to compress the air).  Also, for future success the air engine must eventually be independent of the small gasoline engine that it currently requires.

The only issue, and this is quite an issue, is the safety of this proposed car.  Will the cars be too light, and potentially get squashed by larger SUVs and trucks, like a middle school kid playing tackle football with the neighborhood college graduate? Also, is it possible that these tanks can explode if impacted? 

Regardless, there are companies working on selling cars with this technology, although many have recently been having various setbacks.  There was word a few years ago that India's Tata Motors was going to have these in production now, but that obviously hasn't happened.  Who knows if this is the best option for our future, but I think its worth a shot.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Free Laptop in great condition

I've been trying to figure out what to do with my old Dell Inspiron Laptop.  First I checked Buy-back quotes and the value was a meager $70.  I knew this laptop was worth a lot more than that, but could I get someone to buy it for its actual value, probably not.  So, I was in a predicament. Then I got to thinking, it may not be worth much to me, but it could be useful to another person.  Donating the laptop to someone in need sounded like a noble idea to me.  So, I propose to you, reader of my blog who do you know that could really use a laptop? Send me an email stating in one paragraph why you could really use this laptop and I will gladly give you it, no strings attached.  Email me at

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Top 4 Most Awesome Pictures

Reflective Fisherman in Ilha Grande, Brazil (this one shot by CHARLIE)

Laser Camels in Israel

Stairway to Nowhere, Mendoza Argentina

Reflection of Sao Paulo, Brazil taken at a huge park

Monday, August 30, 2010

Awesome South America Adventure ( Brazil)

So, I spent the past month traveling in South America with my brother. Neither of us spoke a word of Spanish of Portuguese prior to the trip but we didn’t let this hold us back. Also, first time on the continent for both of us so we decided to see a lot. The city of Rio De Janeiro was our first destination. Rio is a tropical coastal city of tremendous beauty, famous carnival celebrations, and complex history.
On our third day in Rio we went to see the famous Cristo Statue (aka giant Jesus on a Mountain). Here we met a family from Queens , NY , who were originally from Brazil and their 21yr old cousin who lives in Rio. We chatted a bit and they kindly offered us a ride to our next destination, the Sugarloaf Mountains (see picture) and we gladly accepted. This family served as temporary local tour guides, translators, and transportation. This accomplishment perhaps blinded us into taking them up on their next recommendation. Instead of taking a cable car to get to the top of the Sugarloaf Mountains, as the normal tourist and local alike do, we would hike the mountain.
My brother and I were under the impression that we’d hike the first flat-topped mountain that you can see in the picture and then take a cable car to the higher peak. However, after 30 minutes of hiking it appeared obvious that our expectations were off, we were in the process of hiking the tallest peak! The 21 yr old cousin guiding reassured me “I did this hike with my ex girlfriend and her mother”. That was good enough reassurance for me to keep on going. As you can imagine from the pictures, the hiking had intense, steep slopes, I was often relying on metal bars to prevent sliding down to the crushing stone at the intersection of the mountain and the Atlantic Ocean.
About 3 hours into the hike my brother and I were sweaty and out of breath, but we were high on adrenalin and the surrounding beauty and only had one short very steep wall left to face. We got to the wall and there were some 20 men all dressed in black jumpsuits, shaved heads, scared knuckles, and numbers identifying them to their leader. The leader was yelling commands to his men as he helped them climb with supporting rope tied around him for safety. These men were in training for a very elite group of police in Rio called BOPE (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais). This police force is known for its brutal and competitive training program, and deadly short range fighting tactics to combat druglords in Favelas. The Favelas in Rio, are huge populations of poor people where drugs and violence are predominant forces (I highly recommend seeing the movie City of God if you are unfamiliar, and also see the movie Elite Squad which is specifically about the BOPE).
Back to the story, the commander refused to let us climb the mountain before his troop finished. He scolded us at the top of his lungs “you stupid tourists! Did you not see the sign that forbid you to hike! It is dangerous here you may die! What did you do this for a fucking adrenaline rush you fucking idiots!”.  Yupp, I was scared, and we didn't even get the worst of the yelling, that went to the father and the cousin of the family we were following. We all waited for 3 hours until it became pitch black outside and the final soldier climbed up the mountain. At that point, the commander realized the girl in the family was a minor and suddenly he had a legal responsibility to keep her alive. He tried to get her up the mountain in pitch dark, and realized it wasn’t possible. So, he tied her to his waste and told the rest of us we had to follow him back down the mountain! It took us about 4 hours to crab-walk down the entire mountain on our hands and butts with no source of light, except the leaders flashlight that was more blinding than helpful. But, we made it down and we were all thrilled to be alive. It turned out the commander was a really nice guy when he wasn't trying to intimidate his troop. He was a professional Marine Biologist who saw a greater calling in protecting his people and joined BOPE. He also had an article in a famous Brazilian magazine Veja ( check out that baddass dude in the picture).
That night I got the best pizza and soda of my life even though it probably cost 50 cents and was made of cardboard. What did I learn from this? If you want to appreciate what you have try to hike the steepest peak in you're respective locations with minimal water and no equiptment... no actually how about don't blindly trust everyone who comes off as friendly and helpful (even though these people had good intentions). Also love what you've got. Peace!

Works Cited: the second picture in the post was taken from: