July 25, 2016

Human Ingenuity Proves to Be the Ultimate Resource Yet Again

By Chelsea Follett
Ultimate Resource Makes Rare Earth Less Rare

Once again, humanity has risen to the occasion and overcome a seeming case of resource scarcity. When China, the world’s main producer of rare earth metals, cut its exports in 2010, prices initially skyrocketed and panic ensued. But, as the Wall Street Journal notes, “[N]o apocalypse was nigh. Beijing’s mercantilist gambit had predictable effects—predictable, at least, for anyone familiar with the work of Julian Simon. The economist taught that fears over natural-resource scarcity often underestimate the flexibility of markets and the ingenuity of the human brain, which Simon called the ultimate resource. Those who warned about ‘peak oil’ were blindsided by fracking, and rare-earth doomsayers failed to foresee how Beijing’s supply squeeze would spur overseas investment in new supplies and substitutes.”

African Teen Revolutionizes Crop Hydration

A 16-year-old from South Africa has potentially invented a way to improve farmers’ ability to grow crops in some of the most drought-prone regions across Africa. The Johannesburg teen, Kiara Nirghin, was recently awarded Google’s Science Fair Community Impact Award for her invention, “No More Thirsty Crops.” Her innovation is made from orange peels and avocado skins, making it easy to reproduce even for impoverished farmers, and it “can hold hundreds of times its weight in water, in the soil.” The “super absorbent polymer” functions as a natural, in-ground store of water for the surrounding crops. The hope is that the teen’s invention will enable some of the continent’s farmers who are most affected by droughts and changes to the climate to operate their farms more effectively.

Sharing Rides while Slashing Emissions

A new study from the University of California at Berkeley suggests that ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft cut greenhouse gas emissions substantially by reducing traffic and private car ownership. For every single car involved in ride-sharing, approximately 5.5 to 12.7 fewer metric tons of greenhouse gas are emitted each year, cutting total CO2 emissions from traffic by roughly 10 percent. As one of the researchers behind the study stated, “Our exhaustive, three-year research effort into one-way car sharing reveals that [ride-sharing] vehicles result in fewer privately-owned vehicles on the road, fewer vehicle miles traveled and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.”

Titanium and Gold Surpass Steel’s Strength

A new alloy of titanium and gold has proven to be three to four times harder than most steels, thanks to its molecular structure consisting of densely-packed crystalline cubes. The alloy is produced by combining three parts titanium and one part gold at very high temperatures. According to the scientist who led the alloy’s creation at Rice University in Texas, not only is the alloy harder than steel, but it's also “four times harder than pure titanium, which is what's currently being used in most dental implants and replacement joints.”  The new compound is easy to produce, strengthening the likelihood that it could replace titanium for various medical purposes and in other applications.