Inside a nuclear fusion research lab

In downtown Cambridge, Mass., there's a research laboratory where scientists create plasma — the superheated, energy-dense gases that make up the Sun — and then try to manipulate that matter in ways that could, someday, be useful to the human race. Last week, the folks at The Physics Central Buzz Blog went inside this facility. Follow along on their virtual tour of a plasma physics lab.

The Archer Live! tour is coming to your danger zone

FX has announced that the animated characters of Archer are turning into real people and invading four cities for live readings with the cast and creator of the show! Jon Benjamin, Aisha Tyler, Chris Parnell, Jessica Walter, Amber Nash, and Lucky Yates will all perform some of the more memorable scenes from the show under the direction of show creator Adam Reed and executive producer Matt Thompson. Here are the show dates and locations:

  • January 3: The Echoplex, Los Angeles
  • January 4: The Fillmore, San Francisco
  • January 11: The Theatre of Living Arts, Philadelphia
  • January 12: Irving Plaza, New York
  • The show dates lead up to Archer's fourth season premiere on Thursday, January 17 at 10:00 PM (Eastern). In case you needed a reminder that January can actually be exciting! If you aren't already familiar with the show, please allow our publisher Jason Weisberger to introduce you to it. (via A.V. Club)

    Photo credit: FX

    The dirtiest wind power in America

    In the left-hand corner of this photo, towards the back of the shot, you can see what researchers at Colorado State University jokingly call "the dirtiest wind power in America."

    In reality, it's a diesel-powered electric generator—just a smarter version of the kind of machine that you might kick on at your house during a blackout. But this dirty diesel is actually helping to make our electric grid cleaner. This room is a smart grid research laboratory, a place where scientists and engineers learn more about how wind and solar power affect our old electric infrastructure, and try to develop systems that will make our grid more stable and more sustainable.

    They use this diesel generator to model wind power on a micro-grid. The electricity produced by a wind farm doesn't enter the grid as a steady, flat signal. Instead, it fluctuates, oscillating up and down with shifts in wind currents. The diesel generator can mimic those patters of electricity production. With it, Colorado State researchers can study the behavior of wind currents all over the United States without having to have labs in all those places. They can also recreate wind events that have already happened—like a major storm—to find out how that event affected the grid and learn how to better adapt the grid to future situations.

    The Energy and Engines Conversion Lab at Colorado State University

    Learn more about how the grid works and how renewables fit into our existing infrastructure in my book, Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us.

    Image: Dan Bihn, courtesy Colorado State University

    Inside Santa's science workshop

    On Saturday, I spoke at an Earth Day Tweetup at the Science Museum of Minnesota. As part of the event, the museum took tweeters on a behind-the-scenes tour, including the exhibit workshop. (The Science Museum of Minnesota is one of the few science museums in the United States that designs and builds all its own exhibits from scratch.) Also on the tour: Science House, a nifty resource center for Minnesota teachers. That's where this photo comes from.

    Science House is a separate, detached building, set in the Museum's "backyard", that's open to teachers during after-school hours and during the Summer. It's home to a vast array of science paraphernalia. Besides this collection of skulls and plastic biology models, there's also racks of microscopes and chemistry glassware, a bookshelf full of solar system models, a regiment of Van de Graaf generators, and a full human skeleton dangling from a hook in the ceiling. There's also dozens and dozens of intriguing red plastic tubs lined up on shelves. The tubs are full of equipment, tools, and books that aren't available in every school. Teachers can check out any of these things from the museum, like you'd check out a book from a library.

    See more pictures from the tour at my Google+ account.

    Find out more about Science House, and how teachers can use the space.