Wednesday, September 01, 2010
  Leaning on their microshovels

Article in latest New Superstitionist about a promising technology, discovered by the best kind of science.

Concrete reinforced with steel forms the skeleton of many buildings and bridges. But any cracks in its gritty exterior make it vulnerable: "Water is the culprit for concrete because it enters the cracks and it brings aggressive chemicals with it," says Henk Jonkers of Delft University of Technology in Delft, the Netherlands. These chemicals degrade both concrete and steel.

Jonkers thinks the solution is to fight nature with nature: he suggests combating water degradation by packing the concrete with bacteria that use water and calcium lactate "food" to make calcite, a natural cement.

Unfortunately, most organisms keel over in a pH above 10, which is typical of concrete. To find bacteria that are happy in such an alkaline environment, Jonkers and his colleagues looked to soda lakes in Russia and Egypt where the pH of the water is naturally high – and found that some strains of Bacillus thrived there.

Moreover, the bacteria can take on a dormant spore state for long periods – up to 50 years, according to Jonkers – without food or water. He compares them to seeds waiting for water to germinate.


This is beautiful. Breathtakingly beautiful.

Physicists try to destroy the universe to "prove" their lunatic mathematical babblings about "particles".

Climatologists try to destroy human civilization to "prove" their lunatic mathematical babblings about carbon.

Meanwhile, the materials scientists are moving ahead on many fronts, using observations of actual nature plus high creativity to make civilization better.

If we can dethrone the Satanic physicists and climatologists, this could be a great century.

Many millenia ago, humans turned fire and yeast to our own purposes, but since then we've mostly been fighting Nature instead of using it. Now we're returning to basics again. We're starting to understand the real fabric of Nature, namely bacteria and algae, well enough to turn them to our own uses.

Later: My admiration for the idea led to a graphic version of the story.
 


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Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.

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